TV Binge: Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever

Creators: Lang Fisher & Mindy Kaling

Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Darren Barnet, Jaren Lewison, Poorna Jagannathan, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young, Richa Moorjani, Niecy Nash, Adam Shapiro

The complicated life of a modern-day first generation Indian American teenage girl, inspired by Mindy Kaling’s own childhood. – IMDB

While I haven’t been following Mindy Kaling’s career and probably only have seen one movie with her (Ocean’s Eight) and haven’t been exposed to her humor a lot, Never Have I Ever has a fun and unique script and layout. For one, a lot of shows that puts together cultural background with teenage coming of age do create a good effect. This show is no exception. When you look at the different elements of this teen coming of age comedy, there’s a lot to love.

For one, the script itself really brings these characters alive. Its not only Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who has her spotlight even if she is a major focal as this season focuses heavily on her desire to be different whether its acting out from a deeper issue stemmed from her father’s death. At the same time, her two best friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) have their own unique quirkiness that makes the three of them really fun to watch together. Much like the two boys, Paxton (Darren Barnet) and Ben (Jaren Lewison) which also have their differences that separate them significantly as they start stepping more into Devi’s life. However, the show is much more than that as the cultural elements come with majorly with Devi and her family which consists of her mother and her pretty older cousin. As she navigates through school, family, grief, friends and boys, her life is narrated charmingly by John McEnroe with a special episode narrated by Andy Samberg for an episode focused on Ben. A great part of the series charm and humor does come from these voice-over bits as they are a little sarcastic, judgmental and analytical of the whole situation.

The main plot of the story with Devi almost links to films like The Edge of Seventeen (review) where it focuses on a high school girl trying to pursue a school hot guy to lose her virginity where Devi is in the same situation where she tries to break out of her nerdy and invisible presence at school with her friends and try to start the school year after a year of being mysteriously handicapped as her body’s defense mechanism after her father’s death, making her having the wrong kind of spotlight. With that mind, the three set out to pursue the good-looking popular guys which gives revelations on multiple levels as Fabiola embraces her sexual orientation while Devi starts building affections that exceed that of pure appearances as she starts to know Paxton more but also getting to find the points that she can connect with her school competition Ben. Much like Paxton and Ben also have their own set of issues with their own lives. Each of these characters are full of personality as they start to revealing them bit by bit giving them a lot more substance.

What makes them more relatable is that they aren’t perfect especially when looking at Devi who makes some of the worst judgment calls. It all builds up from her sessions with her psychiatrist which highlights the unsolved issues she has as she still hasn’t completely coped with the loss of her father which also has its weight especially in the family segments particularly her conversations with her mother. The family segments giving a lot of weight as it brings in a more dramatic side which definitely hits Devi harder especially with her mother (Poorna Jagannathan) while with her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani), its more of an envious side as she believes that her beauty covers up how nerdy she is which is something that she doesn’t think that she has. Devi turns into a rather unlikeable character at one part and needs to slowly redeem herself and these moments are constructed really well much like the character’s development all progress consistently and does make sense.

In many ways, Never Have I Ever’s first season is a pretty fun season to build a foundation for the show. The characters are built up well and there’s a good sense of how the relationships and chemistry with everyone as they can easily develop further from where they end at this point. Running at 10 episodes, Never Have I Ever is absolutely binge-worthy as its both fun and comedic. It has a really strong script giving a lot of memorable characters. There are some very awkward moments but then it does feel normal for a bunch of awkward teens making questionable decisions. Plus, while its mostly about an Indian American teenage girl acting out and pissing everyone off (its literally the title of one of the episodes), the story has a lot of depth and meaningful moments as it also deals with family, grief and loss which definitely adds to the whole story.

Afterlife of the Party (2021)

Afterlife of the Party (2021)

Director: Stephen Herek

Cast: Victoria Justice, Midori Francis, Robyn Scott, Adam Garcia, Timothy Renouf, Gloria Garcia, Spencer Sutherland, Kiroshan Naidoo

A social butterfly who dies during her birthday week is given a second chance to right her wrongs on Earth. – IMDB

Afterlife of the Party is a supernatural comedy film. There’s a certain trajectory for these films which focus mostly on the person who has lost their life trying to redeem themselves. In this case, its about Cassie (Victoria Justice) who is stuck in the in-between with a deadline to resolve three issues with three people on her list: her dad, her mom and her best friend, as they all cope with her death as it approaches its one year anniversary, each with their own sets of skeletons in the closet. With the help of her “guardian angel” almost like an emotional support, she starts to figure out how to connect with the living and move forward through her observations to figure out how to help them and herself to move on before the window of opportunity to amend her ways passes.

The journey for Cassie is one that is expected but feels less heavy-handed and fairly natural in Victoria Justice’s portrayal of her growth as it shifts from her self-centred party girl living self to the after death version which slowly starts to face up to the hard things and making this journey about helping them than about herself moving on. In that sense, the story does hit some good heartwarming notes as she does connect and resolve those feelings bit by bit. Victoria Justice fits into this role incredibly well and a lot of what makes this film fun to watch is her dynamic along with her best friend’s Lily played by Midori Francis. Midori Francis did a great job when she was leading the Netflix series Dash & Lily and it carries forward here although an older but still more closed character. However, the contrast of these two characters does keep them relatively grounded especially as Cassie tries to pull together Lisa and her little crush with the neighbor Max (Timothy Renouf). Those moments are definitely the more comedic moments. Much like the “guardian angel” role, Val played by Robyn Scott which is absolutely charming and fun to have around, it gives the film an overall fun vibe.

On the other hand, Cassie’s face-up to her dad (Adam Garcia) and her mom (Gloria Garcia) individually brings up a whole other element. The mom bits actually don’t pull the heartstrings as much as the connection she has with her sister, which ends up being a nice little surprise. While her relationship with her father which gets a good idea of where they stand from the beginning of the film actually rounds it up in a fairly heartwarming manner.

Overall, Afterlife of the Party is a pretty simple premise and relatively formulaic. However, it does feel better executed as its more natural trajectory and the characters are more appealing to watch. As much as Cassie feels like she isn’t great in the first impressions, she still has moments that do redeem herself throughout which feels well-transitioned and comfortable to watch. Plus, the cast all around is fun overall and does a decent job which makes this film a pretty entertaining.

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Vince Marcello

Cast: Joey King, Jacob Elordi, Joel Courtney, Molly Ringwald, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings

It’s the summer before Elle Evans is set to head off to college, and she has a big decision to make. – IMDB

The final film of The Kissing Booth trilogy takes place the summer before college which pretty much picks up almost after the last film. With college decisions, friendship and love to balance out, Elle is stuck trying to please everyone but not exactly being able to achieve it especially when she has to accept her father also moving on and finding himself a girlfriend who seems to want to replace her mom. If you have seen my review of the first (review) and second (review) films, you will probably know that I am not a big fan of the films, in fact The Kissing Booth getting 2 more films after the first one was a pretty surprising development overall. Still, there’s always hope that it can get better since the second one was a tad better than the first. Who knows, right? With the mentality to finish up the trilogy and to keep on track with Netflix releases (since I’m not going to the theatres yet), here we go!

The Kissing Booth 3 feels pretty much exactly how I felt about the previous two. The story itself is pretty basic. The characters are not really too likeable and the dialogue itself feels a little forced. The chemistry is mostly not too great between Noah and Elle. It really feels like I’m being a bit harsh with the film but I’m not trying to. Its not all bad to be fair. Every single film has one highlight event and that usually lands pretty well. Much like the second movie’s dance competition preparation, this film was all about Lee and Elle’s summer bucket list. That part was a ton of fun as it really focused on their friendship and the fun ideas that they had, no matter ridiculous or silly that it would be. Those moments packed in some fun surprises overall.

These films really are at its worst when it focuses on the deeper feelings as it just doesn’t carry well. In fact, they become really frustrating to watch in general. I’m usually pretty easy to please in this department (considering I watch Asian dramas which are probably the most formulaic). However, Elle and Lee has this solid friendship that seems to easily break apart when life throws them curveballs and Elle doesn’t choose Lee in some situations, which on some level is understandable. Elle and Noah is just an annoying relationship as their chemistry isn’t too great and the arguments increase with each film over the same issues essentially. Its this vicious cycle that whether its one person being careless about the other or they are fighting for each other, it just feels like something is missing between them while they seem to pair up much better with their other friends.

With that said, the character development here is visible. For Elle, she’s a much more likable character as she is working hard to balance everything even if some moments still sees her being a little insensible as she’s overwhelmed but there are shining points of her that truly get shown here. Its the same for Noah and Lee individually. Perhaps the most heartwarming moments are the family ones especially the conversations between them and the parents. Molly Ringwald’s character as Mrs. Flynn is one that truly shines when she acts as a parent figure for Elle much like Elle and her dad’s conversations also are pretty heartfelt as well. However, I do want to mention that the character of Marco, played Taylor Zakhar Perez is pretty good even if his role here is even lesser than his previous one. He is a pretty good second male interest which is a likeable character overall.

Overall, The Kissing Booth 3 is one that I felt pretty indifferent. It delivers about the same feelings as the previous two films. Its not a complete loss but its really not my type of film. While some bits are fun to watch, it never adds to the story as a whole. It might be a script problem or an acting problem or just the cast and chemistry issue. Its hard to really say at this point. As a little spoiler (highlight to see if you have seen the film or don’t mind reading it) and a general thought about the ending: the best part of the film was breaking up the characters at the end and if the film had kept them broken up as the big finale, years down the road, it would have landed so much better. But then, it wouldn’t fit the film genre and turn into some romantic drama, I suppose. If you’ve liked the previous 2 films, you will probably like this one, if you didn’t, then its really up to you whether finishing the trilogy is worth it or not.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: King Knight (2021)

King Knight (2021)

Director (and writer): Richard Bates Jr.

Cast: Matthew Gray Gubler, Angela Sarafyan, Andy Milonakis, Kate Comer, Nelson Franklin, Emily Chang, Johnny Pemberton, Josh Fadem, Barbara Crampton, Ray Wise, Aubrey Plaza (voice), AnnaLynne McCord (voice)

The High Priest of a modern-day coven finds his life thrown into turmoil and ventures out on a journey of self-discovery. – IMDB

King Knight is a 2021 comedy about a man living in a coven who confesses his past truth about his high school days to his coven family when he receives an invitation to a high school reunion that brings him to his self-discovery about being true to himself.

Comedy is a tricky thing. King Knight delivers this through a quirky humor and using a serious dramatic tones and reactions to some ridiculous bits that make the humor land because of this. The film is odd right from the start when the coven is introduced right down to its cast portraying a variety of different characters each with their own charm. The witch coven are filled with a group of people who have their everyday issues and they look towards their leader Thorn to help them solve it. As they go through different rituals, the coven becomes a little more clear that as much as witches usually are portrayed as scary, these modern-day witches are anything but. They live in their own little world with their own rules and rituals alongside this coven family who promotes honesty, acceptance and positivity in general.

King Knight does feel like a simple film about self-discovery and yet this one is very focused on its different characters. Matthew Gray Gubler carries the film rather well as the leading role Thorn. From his reluctance to face his past including his mother to his opening up to his high school past and facing up to its consequences in the first part to his journey to the reunion which leads him to many funny moments like hallucinating conversations with talking pine cones and rocks and his encounter with Merlin (yes, the powerful wizard). His role is colorful and adventurous even if it all sounds a little weird. Playing his companion is Willow played by Angela Sarafyan who is absolutely fantastic and perhaps in her seriousness of how she faces these rather silly revelations about Thorn, her interpretation is so animated that it carries a lot of humor especially with her reaction to his high school popularity that many titles of being prom king and playing lacrosse which puts her in an overreaction that is completely out of proportions and yet is amazingly entertaining to watch.

Much like the other supporting characters who also bring in different people of the society that all group up to be this coven family that promotes their diversity and acceptance to anyone. They each have their own little revelations throughout that come into play as they also need to embrace their world with and without their leader as they discuss a topic of being hypocrites, in some ways. The with coven creates this endearing ragtag family that sticks together as they start to accept Thorn. Much like the other side of the spectrum shows a smaller role for indie horror film favorite Barbara Crampton who pulls a small but stellar role as Thorn’s mother who emphasizes on her disapproval of his life choices as she mocks him a little when he finally reaches out to her.

King Knight also brings in some pop culture into its script. In some ways, it uses these different clever dialogues and metaphors to talk about the reality of people and society. As it all comes to a very fun little ending where Thorn finally embraces being true to himself which is reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine to some extent. Sure, the film has some oddities to it and the pacing sometimes feels a little funky but when you think back to it, the clever scripts and some of the performances by this cast does work out for the better. It might not all feel like its balanced very well and maybe some might feel this journey a little too weird to be fun but comedy doesn’t land the same for everyone. What does make King Knight unique and worth watching is the different outlook on how witches are normally portrayed on film and for the most part, this one promotes a wonderful message of positive vibes and acceptance.

*King Knight had its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on August 8th, 2021.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Tiong Bahru Social Club (2020)

Tiong Bahru Social Club (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Bee Thiam Tan

Cast: Thomas Pang, Guat Kian Goh, Jalyn Han, Jo Tan, Munah Bagharib, Noorlinah Mohamed

Ah Bee goes on a comedic odyssey through Tiong Bahru Social Club, a data-driven project to create the happiest neighborhood in the world. Little by little, his encounters with the neighborhood’s residents reveal the absurdity of life. – IMDB

Tiong Bahru is a Singaporean comedy film set in Tiong Bahru in a little community that aims to build an algorithm that will generate the most happiness whether its the people, the employees or the environment and activities offered right down to an AI in the room that tries to keep them positive. Yet, this world with all the colorful pastel environment and the smiles at every corner points out a very odd and awkward vibe where happiness is an inner thing and not so much one based on an algorithm.

While its easy to see influences of films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Paradise Hills or video game We Happy Few (in a less sinister way), whether its from a visual style, color palette or even tone, Tiong Bahru feels a lot more simple and even odd. Perhaps when any community tries to create happiness, it always feels a little overdone and forced and that brings a lot of awkwardness and yet, as the main character Ah Bee leaves his current job to be an employee at the Tiong Bahru Social Club, his already rather simple life with his mother becomes even less fulfilling despite all the positive remarks from his AI or the happy co-workers around him and the happiness workshops, his assigned client Mrs. Wee, an elderly woman who loves cats and thinks of herself as a cat but is very sarcastic about the entire social club concept. As rude and direct that Mrs. Wee is towards everyone, she is almost the anchor of reality in this community and because of that, her character is one that stands out. Much like the two female co-workers Orked and Geok who each of have their own roles in his life with the former having some odd but feels natural and happy interactions versus Geok which eventually is deemed as his “perfect match” and is an awkward interaction where they follow the rules to pursue a happy relationship right down to a nifty little animated scene about having sex.

The film in general focuses on the main character Ah Bee (Thomas Pang) who shares his inner thoughts and remains fairly quiet throughout with the others around him about his thoughts on society and how that’s changed his view of life from the modern society providing too many options that create a difficulty to make decisions to viewing a simple party question of shoot, shag and marry into a philosophical question. Ah Bee is a character in all his oddities and awkwardness. He feels like a person that wants to please those around and trying to break out of his normal routine life to find a whole other sort of routine life in the Social Club that allows him to finally make a decision. Thomas Pang does a great job at carrying this role throughout as there are some very odd moments and probably his most notable connection is with the Tiong Bahru cat (I honestly remember it being how they addressed the cat) which leads to an fantastic scene of him eventually getting a bunch of elderly residents helping him look for a cat. Being a cat person, its both funny and heartwarming. Especially when all these residents were initially there to talk to him about complaints. So much for being a happy community when you think about all the random complaints everyone has.

Tiong Bahru Social Club is a pretty fun film. In reality, it never really feels like there’s any turning point or whatnot to Ah Bee’s slice of life working and living in this community but when he decides to leave, that probably is where the character’s subtle changes in his mentality is most vibrant. Perhaps not exactly an exciting movie to watch for many as there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on and even the science fiction, while some parts making it feel a little suspicious, isn’t exactly fleshed out except for the technology that runs the social club. However, the visuals, color palette and the cinematography sets a pretty decent mood for this film. In all its deeper messages about modern society and happiness, Tiong Bahru Social Club is a rather feel-good sort of film.

*Tiong Bahru Social Club is screening on demand on Fantasia Festival’s virtual platform throughout the festival from August 5th to 25th. You can check out the info HERE.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2021)

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Droste no hate de bokura, 2021)

Director: Junta Yamaguchi

Cast: Kazunori Tosa, Aki Asakura, Riko Fujitani, Gota Ishida, Yoshifumi Sakai

A cafe owner discovers that the TV in his cafe suddenly shows images from the future, but only two minutes into the future. – IMDB

Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes is a Japanese indie low-budget one-take time travel sci-fi comedy Japanese. Look at those hyphens. A few of those things might even sound like gimmicks but let us not forget the success the surprises that One Cut of the Dead (review) brought using a similar low-budget one-take concept. While its hard to say that this one is as clever as that one but comparing a zombie movie to a sci-fi comedy is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. While time travel and time loop films usually are rather complicated deal with a lot of loopholes most of the time, but this plot execution flips it around to feel like a much more simple sci-fi element and focuses it more on the events and people involved.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is another type of beast in itself. Its fun and extremely enjoyable in all its absurdness and time loopy elements that at some point, it almost feels like it might lose itself and not exactly know how to get out of that loop to wrap up the plot and somehow, it does using something as simple as TV and PC monitors and a delayed surveillance camera link creating a 2 minute void. The concept feels so simple and other than wondering who actually has monitors with such long cables that you can run up and down the stairs with a screen within one setting, there’s a lot of credit to give for a movie filmed entirely on iPhone in one-take.

There’s something so great about simplicity in films. Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes dials it down. All it takes is 2 screens facing each other and a constant growth in the cast from one person to two and slowly the group forms with friends and employees each offering up their thoughts on how to use this 2 minute advantage. As each person in the group pitches in their thoughts on how to profit from the future, they soon realize that its unreasonable to go too far ahead as they have to keep the loop consistent. 2 minutes might not feel like a lot of time and yet, it creates a lot of busy work as they use it to pull minutes ahead in time to utilize the future to teach the past selves that help their present situation. Its a pretty clever execution overall. Perhaps, it might not work if you dissected the film in depth but I do have to admit that at a certain point, the loop just got a little hard to track but the plot itself was so engaging that it sold the time loop element convincingly.

While the films general time loop concept seems like a much simpler affair, the cast here is what brings in a lot of the charm. The cast itself consists mainly of members of a theatrical troupe and this is their debut as film actor in collaboration with the voice talent Aki Asakura for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. While film might be new to the cast, they all deliver really well. The main character Kato (Kazunori Tosa) is a fairly quiet character that constantly brings in his reluctance to know about the future to the other people while he’s contrasted by the other much louder and colorful characters that are both friends, customers and employees who push the whole thing forward as they start off testing out the time loop in ridiculous outfits and little tasks to eventually bigger plans of how to expand the time loop and the many ideas to help them make money in whatever small way. This eventually to leads to a much more “dangerous” situation as they pull in others. While no one ever feels like they are any sort of the threat and the film never feels like it has the ultimate peak and turning point like other films, somehow the film does wrap up in both an absurd and heartwarming way.

Overall, Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes might almost sound like a gimmick playing with the one-take as the jump-off point but its so much more than that. A simple time loop concept with a fun plot that pushes itself further and further in plot set in one location, albeit an entire building, and a charming cast of basic characters keeps both the sci-fi and comedy elements fresh and entertaining. Its a fun little ride from start to finish, no matter how absurd it might seem. Don’t forget to stick around to see some of the filming process inserted in the credits with a hilarious looking moment as they scrabble up the stairs with cables, cast and crew, really showing how one takes really take the entire team to make it all happen.

*Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes is on demand on Fantasia Film Festival’s virtual platform from August 5th to 25th. You can find more info HERE.*

Good on Paper (2021)

Good on Paper (2021)

Director: Kimmy Gatewood

Cast: Iliza Shlesinger, Ryan Hansen, Margaret Cho, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Beth Dover, Kimia Behpoornia

After years of putting her career first, a stand-up comic meets a guy who seems perfect: smart, nice, successful and possibly too good to be true. – IMDB

When you go into a romantic comedy where its cast is full of comedians, its easy to assume that comedy will be probably prevail over its romance. Good On Paper is pretty much like that. Of course, comedy is subjective so its probably best to decide on the style based on how much you enjoy Iliza Shlesinger’s stand-up comedy. The story is a little ridiculous but considering that its inspired from something that actually happened to Iliza Shlesinger, the whole piece feels a lot like a comedy skit which also means that (in my limited understanding of comedy skits and stand-up comedy) that there’s bound to be bits that work and bits that don’t. Plus, its hard to not feel like there’s a little over the top element to the acting which definitely feels deliberate and also works for some parts and doesn’t really land for others. That being said, the overall feeling is a little average however, I do have to say that the approach and end-game is definitely different from the usual romantic comedy, which does make it refreshing to watch.

Being a film filled with some familiar faces, its hard to not look at the acting element. Iliza Shlesinger is a decent actress as she plays Andrea. A part of the execution is paralleled with a stand-up comedy performance that runs throughout the film which pretty much uses the situation on hand as her reflection of it and turning it into content for her show. The other part is the movie itself which still feels a lot like herself when she is in this role. Its very genuine and believable for her character itself even if some of the situations might not feel as believable but this is “mostly true love story” so I’m sure some bits are exaggerated to be the way that it is. Paired up with her is the male lead played by Ryan Hansen. A lot of the interaction is meant to be laid on really heavy so that its obvious that she’s falling into a trap (at least to me). I guess proving the point that when something is too good to be true, it most likely is. Perhaps even something of a cautionary tale about catfishes…maybe? That’s actually a tangent to talk about Ryan Hansen who was pretty convincing in this role since there were some pretty good shifts in the little details in his reactions and stuff that built his character up to be pretty sketchy.

Its hard to not talk about the female comedians and cast here that definitely steals the show and arguably, this film is its best when its their interaction. Iliza Shlesinger’s best friend is a bar owner called Margot played by Margaret Cho who is absolutely hilarious and absolutely is the highlight of this film. Plus, Margot and Andrea’s friendship is pretty fun especially when you add in the other ladies here whether its one of the guy’s roommates played by Beth Dover and the fake competition between a more successful actress Serrena played by Rebecca Rittenhouse. The three end up having a hilarious ride around town tracking down the lies of Andrea’s beau.

When its all said and done, Good on Paper is okay. It works much better as a comedy, if you like this sort of comedy style than as a romantic comedy. However, the fact that it is mostly based on a true story, it feels like a fun way to share a cautionary story and even with how they choose to end it is a lot different from how a normal romantic comedy would do it which makes this one that I can appreciate.

Double Feature: Teeth (2007) & The First Purge (2018)

Time for the next double feature! Horror seems to be my recent phase as I pair two horror films together although The First Purge isn’t really a horror and Teeth is a fairly mild horror so nothing too wild.

Teeth (2007)

Director (and writer): Mitchell Lichtenstein

Cast: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Hale Appleman, Lenny von Dohlen, Vivienne Benesch, Ashley Springer, Laila Liliana Garro

Still a stranger to her own body, a high school student discovers she has a physical advantage when she becomes the object of male violence. – IMDB

When you think about a horror movie based around a girl with a vagina with teeth, it sounds like a ridiculous idea and probably a horror movie that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. I mean, the closest example is with Piranha 3DD where the girl had a baby piranha in her vagina that had the same concept..kind of. And that wasn’t exactly a good movie.

However, the premise here works and doesn’t in terms of a full-length movie. It works because what the girl has is a vagina with a defense mechanism which literally activates when boys or men are taking advantage of her or against her will. I would say its nifty to have although perhaps a tad extreme in terms of consequences for the boys/men in question. This film is classified as a horror comedy but the comedy at times is put in at some odd moments. Perhaps a little bit of sarcastic and dark humor. Some parts of it just felt like it was well-deserved or the reaction itself that was fairly entertaining.

The film doesn’t work so well because essentially the premise of this whole thing has one way to attack and its pretty much hidden so the mystery is the reveal of how and when it attacks where the events slowly reveal the whole concept. The attacks itself actually makes for some “funny” moments mostly because the reactions are rather over the top to say the least. However, there’s only so many bad guys she can meet in her life before she realizes the purpose of the whole thing. It doesn’t help that as viewers, its almost easy to spot the bad guys a mile away and those trying to use her and some of the plot points that feel a little far-fetched.

Teeth is a good premise. It works on my hand but doesn’t on some other ones. Its mostly that the way the danger happens in this one is wrapped up in a little bit of the unknown and partially our imagination of how it all looks however, the straight forward vagina with teeth does feel a little repetitive over the course of a full-length film although some of the kills did feel pretty entertaining to watch.

The First Purge (2018)

Director: Gerard McMurray

Cast: Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Marisa Tomei, Luna Lauren Velez

America’s third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, comes to power and conducts an experiment: no laws for 12 hours on Staten Island. No one has to stay on the island, but $5,000 is given to anyone who does. – IMDB

The First Purge is the fourth film in the franchise. Suffice to say, its fine time to bring back the origins of the The First Purge which highlights a lot of the reasoning behind this as well as the original concept and test run which actually turned out to be something a little more of a government scheme. The setting and the execution is pretty decent. The Purge series at this point has broken out of the horror genre for the most part and leans towards action as it has a lot of weapons and fighting and such.

The story revolves around not only the different groups of civilians and their reactions to the introduction of this Purge concept to Staten Island but also the incentives for participation and to even stay on the island but also the government’s stance from the differences between the public stance, the need for its success and the “secret” agenda. Because this is set back to the origins, there is no doubt about the end game that The Purge experiment will be a success at the end and how it goes about isn’t exactly unpredictable considering the future of The Purge in the previous films. Not to mention, these characters and their respective arcs aren’t exactly anything too exciting.

However, while I’m sounding rather negative about the whole thing, the story does move pretty fast thanks to the action. Its executed pretty smoothly and rather quick-paced. While the different elements aren’t explored very deep, its enough to get a grasp of what’s going on on all fronts and perspectives but still be able to put together an entertaining film. Its nothing exceptionally deep but still a decent addition to the whole franchise. The cinematography on how the action and the hunt for The First Purge actually looks pretty good whether its the technology or using the colorful neon lit eye contacts which appear and how the masks came to be: it not only builds on how things originated but also has a good setup for some of the hunt to have the creepy vibes, especially when it builds up on the danger element bit by bit as more people seem to be buying into the concept and the streets get crazier with the different groups.

While The First Purge isn’t anything too unique or different, the origin story angle is a good one at this point of the franchise. Its not too deep in most of its premise however, it still manages to be pretty fun and entertaining to watch thanks to the decent progression of events.

Double Feature: Come To Daddy (2019) & Secrets In The Hot Spring (2018)

Its been a while since we’ve done a double feature but we’re back! Movie watching has really taken a big hit this year somehow (in comparison to previous years..at least with the first few months). This time’s pair-up is a horror comedy double as I look at 2019’s Come To Daddy and 2018’s Taiwanese film Secrets In The Hot Spring.

Let’s check it out!

Come To Daddy (2019)

Director: Ant Timpson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Garfield Wilson, Madeleine Sami, Martin Donovan, Michael Smiley

A man in his thirties travels to a remote cabin to reconnect with his estranged father. – IMDB

Suffice to say that in recent years, Elijah Wood has been getting involved in some interesting independent horror films especially with his company SpectreVision that has also put out some awesome horror films (psychedelic for the most part). Its hard to not be intrigued by anything that has his name attached to it. Come To Daddy was one that I avoided during the festival circuit because it would be accessible and no doubt, Come To Daddy is another intriguing one. The tone and pacing is a little odd at times with the first half being landing a lot better than the second half but always playing with some horror and slipping in some comedy breaks in between. The second half definitely seems like it loses a little steam after the “twist” is revealed which causes quite the change in atmosphere.

The cast and performances here are really great. Elijah Wood is fitting in this role Norval as a man in his thirties which has been with some privilege that ends up trying to get some kind of resolution from his estranged father who is not a very appealing person played incredibly well by Stephen McHattie. The dynamic and dialogue between these two characters creates this very entertaining and unsettling sort of atmosphere. Not to mention the whole character design of Elijah Wood’s character The side characters also have some weird moments and have little character reference points whether its a cop who believes that criminals have a certain type of eyes for example. However, there isn’t a big cast here so its not hard to follow.

To be fair, its hard to really talk about this too much without giving the twist away as that lays out a lot of the purpose of the film and the reason of why his estranged father reaches out to him years later, a question that the character also asks as a pivoting point despite everything that happens surrounding him. There are some minor illogical moments as well. Overall, its a fun little movie which was both odd and intriguing

Secrets in the Hot Spring (2018)

Director (and writer): Kuan-Hui Lin

Cast: Ting-hu Zhang, Sing Hom, He-Hsuan Lin, Mimi Chu, Kar-Ying Law, Chin Chi, Kai-Wei Chiu, Shu-yao Kuo

Three youngsters meet by accident at a mysterious hot springs hotel. There, they fall into an unforgettable adventure. It starts off scary but soon turns funny when they have to try and save a family. – IMDB

Secrets in the Hot Spring probably isn’t going to stand-out to anyone as they browse the horror or comedy or international films section however it is something of a fun little hidden gem. Diving into a part horror and part comedy balance for the most part, this Taiwanese film is downright silly and yet fittingly so. Of course, I must yet again reiterate that comedy is very suggestive and I feel like this type of humor might not be for everyone. The best way to probably determine for familiar Asian film viewers is the type of humor that Hong Kong veteran actor & actress, Kar-Ying Law and Mimi Chu brings as they are part of this film as the grandparents running the hot springs hotel. They really pull together the film with their performance. The three youngsters are played by less familiar faces (at least to myself as the current scene of Taiwanese actors in the recent decade is one that I have yet to dive into). The contrast in each of the youngster’s characters also balance out the their performances whether in dialogue or reaction. It’s pretty good choice in casting.

Perhaps what makes Secrets in the Hot Spring fun is that its conscious about how silly it is and embraces it using both horror tropes and some ridiculous reactions from the characters to make it work on many levels and be just a very simple entertainment. However the writing is fairly clever as it uses its horror and comedy blend to create the twist as well. There are some little jump scare moments but overall, its not a very scary experience so hardcore horror fans might be disappointed. What also adds to the simplicity is the small cast of 5 (or maybe 7) characters and a good use of the hot spring hotel setting as it uses the location really well bringing together the past for the main youngster character who is meant to be the future heir and slowly reveals his past and his reluctance. The big finale is a little cheesy but then its arguable that the story itself not taking itself seriously being the tone actually works together in general.

Another one where the twist is one that is well-executed and makes it rather fun and elevates itself from a bit of the Asian film melodrama. There is no doubt a little considering it has a portion of the family back story shared here. In some ways, I can’t say that this movie is particularly sophisticated but it sure was a fun time making it a little hard to evaluate whether its a good movie but it is an entertaining one that’s not completely mindless but the humor also is more physical and interaction between the characters than in its dialogue which doesn’t have as many translation issues also. Overall, Secrets in the Hot Spring is a fun film. Hardcore horror isn’t really a forte in Taiwanese films (in my limited experience) so its nice that they approach it with humor.

TV Binge: Use For My Talent (我亲爱的小洁癖, 2021)

Use For My Talent (我亲爱的小洁癖, 2021)

Director: Cong Cai

Cast: Yue Shen, Jasper Liu, Yunfan Dai, Charles Lin, Yanan, Mengdi Su, Sirui Huang, Quan Tan, Ran Xiao

Because of his incomplete family, Gu Ren Qi has a closed up personality and mysophobia. Shuang Jiao used to have a happy family, but later lost her mother in a car accident, and became a slovenly person. The two became acquainted when Shuang Jiao becomes an employee in Gu Ren Qi’s cleaning company. The two became closer as they get to know each other. Under each other’s influence, they began to heal from their wounds. – MyDramaList

Watch on: Mango TV (Youtube & App) & Netflix

Use For My Talent is a Chinese adpatation of 2018 Korean series Clean With Passion For Now. Let’s just get this out of the way right now that I’m not a big fan of Korean series so I usually don’t go and watch them so I haven’t seen the original of this series. However, Use For My Talent landing on Netflix was such a treat although it does have Shen Yue who is on another Netflix series, Meteor Garden (a Mainland China modernized remake of the 2001 Taiwanese series both directed by the same director Angie Chai) and Jasper Liu in Taiwanese Netflix series Triad Princess and Korean/Taiwanese collaborated variety/travel show Twogether (review). These two main cast members are no doubt talented in their own regards and great to see them together especially as Jasper Liu seems to have moved his focus into Mainland Chinese series now and making a more frequent appearance.

Running at 24 episodes (my favorite length for these types of romantic comedy-drama series), Use For My Talent is a fun one to watch. There’s a good balance of humor, drama and romance that blends together to create this one. It does get a little peculiar in parts but the characters are done pretty well. Not only the main couple, Ren Qi and Shuang Jiao is fun to watch but the two other supporting/secondary couples are also very fun to watch and each having their own dynamic which gives a good variety. Plus, it takes time to look at mysophobia that Ren Qi has and dives into that angle to give it its own drama moments but also using it as some parts of humor especially when encountered with his polar opposite Shuang Jiao who opens up his eyes to slowly accepting the world and treatment to be able to get closer to her. I’m sure some of this stuff is either exaggerated or simplified for the drama’s purpose but it does expose an element of this phobia which leads to using the cleaning company while having a focus on how technology can’t necessarily replace the human element of some services.

Having touched on it a little before, the characters here are absolutely a treat. The main leads played by Shen Yue and Jasper Liu are really great. Shen Yue is probably one of my top favorite young actresses in the last few years as most of her series and roles have been both fun and believeable especially as she gradually moves into TV series set outside of the school setting. I’ve seen most of her shows (even if I never got around to the review). She has this natural and down to earth essence to her that makes her really believable in her roles and carries the emotions really well. The same applies for Use For My Talent where she plays as Shuang Jiao and the character is pretty decent. Funny how things turn around as this show adapts from a Korean series and earlier this year, Korea adapted a Chinese series that was her debut role in A Love So Beautiful (review). On the other hand, as popular as Jasper Liu is, I haven’t seen him outside of two variety shows but there’s something about him that is very charming and he does have pretty good acting skills as well. The chemistry between the two worked really well and came off fairly natural even by the end when he would do the very sappy/cringy sweet talk. It was hard to not cringe but also secretly like it just a little especially as it was a nod to a conversation from a prior part of the series.

Of course the series isn’t just about them but also has some colorful characters. Another couple is RenQi’s assistant DongXian who is very slow and unromantic but ends up with a popular lifestyle streamer QianQian. They are a little fun to watch especially since DongXian’s character is rather hilarious overall but has a little bit of a sad backstory (like a lot of the main cast). Aside from them is ShuangJiao’s little brother JunJie who ends up chasing up her sister’s best friend Yan who has their own sweet moments. The process for both of these having a similar dynamic but pretty funny and entertaining. No series is complete without some sort of love triangle and that brings in Yunfan Dai’s character Lu Xian, a psychiatrist that recently returned to China for 2 purposes: one to repay a debt that ShuangJiao’s mom offered him at a young age (which leads him to falling for her) and the second to act as the consultant for RenQi’s phobia and hopefully control and cure him to a certain extent. His character is pretty decent as well. In most Chinese series, family is also a big part and here the two leads family can be considered opposites of each other and on one side very comedic in dynamic and on the other side, very strict and maybe a little intentionally frustrating.

If there was something to nitpick a little, it definitely would be regarding the choice of melodrama that they used to break the two apart which is an inevitable part of these series but how is always where it works or doesn’t. What they used is always a frustrating choice although props to the two leads for being able to create some genuine sad feelings for this break-up.

Overall, Use For My Talent is an absolute treat. In terms of pacing, comedy and romance, everything works really well. The ending is a little odd with the whole melodrama but thanks to well-connected characters, despite the situation set up, they still manage to carry through the heartwrenching breakup feeling between the two. Its a rather impressive one which highlights some of the talent in the Chinese market.

With all that said, next mission…catch up on Jasper Liu’s series. Anyone have suggestions from the Netflix available ones? Please let me know.