Double Feature: The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021) & Knives Out (2020)

The Mitchells Vs. The Machines (2021)

Directors (and co-writers): Michael Rianda & Jeff Rowe

Voice Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi

A quirky, dysfunctional family’s road trip is upended when they find themselves in the middle of the robot apocalypse and suddenly become humanity’s unlikeliest last hope. – IMDB

*Originally written for Friday Film Club*

Most known for his work on Gravity Falls as creative director and writer, Mike Rianda’s debut directorial feature film is one that combines his personal family experiences with his childhood love for robots. The Mitchells vs. The Machines, which was once titled Connected but retitled back to its original name upon its shift to a Netflix distribution due to the pandemic, tells the story of the dysfunctional family The Mitchells who are all a bit odd in their own ways who embrace their quirky daughter Katie’s departure to university by going on a family road trip to take her there however, they collide with a robot takeover as the leading tech company PAL Labs loses control over his virtual assistant who ends up exacting revenge by using the newly designed robots to capture all humans. The Mitchells try to escape together and with their odd ideas and surprisingly lucky twists and turns try to save the world together.

The Mitchells vs the Machines is pretty balanced in all its elements. Its comedy is one of the standouts especially since it features a dysfunctional family on a road trip during a robot apocalypse especially when it includes their silly dog Monchi. Driving in an old car and each of them wielding their gifted tool, the Mitchells bond together in the oddest way and yet embraces their oddities while learning about each other a little more. The story never rests on the drama too long and remembers constantly that its a dangerous robot takeover and that they are on the run. The constant moving keeps the film quick-paced and entertaining as it throws in different obstacles, solutions and things going wrong constantly which adds to the entertainment level.

That’s not to mention that the voice cast also is pretty decent. Maya Rudolph voices Linda, the mother character who is a wild ride while Danny McBride voices Rick, the father character. Katie is the main character and the focus of the show as her relationship with her family is the biggest element here along with her knowledge of technology and social media along with her imagination and creativity. She is voiced by Abbi Jacobson. Her younger brother Aaron is voiced by director Mike Rianda himself. The villain is a virtual assistant voiced by Olivia Colman who also captures a nice villain for an animated film which is has this comedic villain sort of feeling, still a little threatening but very entertaining as the whole thing unfolds. The voice cast also includes these cameo characters of a perfect family that Linda envies secretly The Poseys where the parents are voiced by Chrissy Teigen and John Legend.

The Mitchells vs the Machine is a fun little animated film which plays well with its premise. While the story layout itself isn’t completely unique as most comedic family adventures, animated or not, usually include some type of dysfunctional family but the whole film is constructed really well from the voice cast, comedy and pacing while tackling the themes pretty well.

Knives Out (2019)

Director (and writer): Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson

A detective investigates the death of the patriarch of an eccentric, combative family. – IMDB

Inspired by the early murder mystery from Agatha Christie and feeling like bringing to life another character similar to Hercule Poirot, Rian Johnson directs and writes Knives Out, a film that sets itself in a modern world but has the little twist and turns of the classic murder mystery style. Packed with a star-studded cast of great actors and actresses and a wonderful set piece for its main location along with some great cinematography and screenplay, there’s a lot to love about Knives Out. Plus, its a great time to catch up to it seeing as there are two sequels scheduled for Netflix with the first one expected to show up some time in 2022.

While I am personally unfamiliar with Rian Johnson’s work, Knives Out is a brilliant murder mystery. He structures his story in a few acts which moves through the initial setting of what happened which leads to the interrogation which introduces each of the characters and their own statements along with their own truth and lies as they each recount the situation. Everyone is included from the dysfunctional family members who all seem suspicious as they each have their own reasons and conflict. At the same time, it introduces the sleuth hired by an unknown party, Benoit Blanc. The second act focuses a lot around him trying to get more out of those unrelated to the family like the caretaker to get a good idea of what is actually going on. Until the big will announcement turns the tables and the story unfolds further as the schemes, misdirection and twist reveal comes alight. The execution of these events from one to the next is well-measured and keeps it engaging to watch.

Looking at the cast, its quite a packed one: Christopher Plummer as the deceased father and famous mystery author, Jamie Lee Curtis as the eldest daughter and Rian Johnson as her husband and Chris Evans as their son followed by Michael Shannon as the son with his family, his son played by Jaeden Martell (known for his role in IT) and finally, the daughter in law of the second son played by Toni Collette. While all these stars together would seem like quite the crowd, they actually all do their part, no matter how big or small and the spotlight is mostly cast on Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc packed with a Southern accent and the caretaker played by Ana de Armas. There’s also LaKeith Stanfield who is one of the main detectives.

Its hard to talk about these types of murder mysteries without giving away the whodunnit element so lets say that, for a 2+ hours film, this has very good pacing and execution and a lot of it has to be credited to Rian Johnson’s writing. His directing also can’t be dismissed as he starts and ends the film with a very basic item: a quirky mug, giving it a full circle sort of feeling whole also making use of the space especially bringing in the Knives element with the Game of Thrones-esque throne of knives. There’s so much to appreciate and have fun with with this film as a whole.

TV Binge: Hellbound (Season 1, 2021)

Hellbound (Season 1, 2021)

Creators: Sang-ho Yeon & Gyu-seok Choi

Cast: Ah-in Yoo, Hyun-joo Kim, Jeong-min Park, Jin-a Won, Ik-june Yang, Do-yoon Kim, Shin-rock Kim, Kyung-soo Ryu, Re Lee

People hear predictions on when they will die. When that time comes, a death angel appears in front of them and kills them. – IMDB

Running at a swift 6 episodes, Hellbound presents a story circling society, belief, religion, cult and human nature. This South Korean series breaks its story down into two parts. The first sets itself at the start of these events as a society gradually is exposed to these predictions of death which soon is believed to be the consequences of sins by that individual. The first part focuses on the police follow the trail of these mysterious deaths from these hellbound gigantors that come and go in their predicted time, they soon lead to a priest of a small religious organization, played by Ah In-Yoo, previously known for his main lead in Netflix zombie film #Alive (review). With the final moments of the first half, the second half heads into a few years after this and how the country has dealt with this situation and the huge growth of this religious society that has spread to many people turning to religion for their salvation however this happens to lead to an unexpected prediction that groups up a bunch of people who hasn’t fallen for this religious cult as they try to reveal to the world the truth behind them.

Hellbound has an interesting premise to be sure and it runs at only six episodes which is one of the main reasons for its bingeworthiness. Its easy to consume and makes it pretty well-paced. However, the series does have some deceiving moments especially with these hellbound creatures that pop up which never truly get a resolution as to what this death angel and creatures truly represent in the end game. However, it takes the story and moves it away from this more supernatural element and turns into a human nature, society and belief angle which shows a lot of the ugliness of a cult taking advantage of their followers. It turns into more of a crime investigation in the second half that takes a different turn in events. It takes a more sentimental turn of events as well with the last hellbound prediction especially with how the previous predictions met their end in a violent manner.

Looking at the characters, its a pretty decent cast whether you look at the first or the second part which has some overlapping characters but takes a bigger switch in who is involved in this whole scheme of things. The characters themselves have some complexity as it wraps up in their back story and their stance on the whole situation regarding this organization and afterwards, the cult. There are a few twists added in. With strong topics about belief in society and the extent that some people will go to fight for those beliefs, it does end up having some very extreme moments as it looks at this grey area where belief can lead to good with good intentions and also the complete opposite of using it to manipulate the population to their benefit. This creates the extremities in also how characters are viewed and the desperation of others who have put their trust and faith in the wrong people, adding both drama and tension.

Overall, Hellbound explores some pretty serious topics in this fantasy crime drama series. Its swift pacing and the clear cut execution of its story is definitely some of the pros of this series. The first 3 episodes does feel a lot slower in comparison to its last 3 episodes but it has to do with different characters and a different purpose to set up the situation. Hellbound might not be quite what anyone expected and it might take some time to get pulled into its series but give it some time and it does get better as the plot thickens.

Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022: The Godfather (1972) by Various Ramblings of a Nostalgic Italian

Welcome to the first guest post of Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022. The first guest is a fresh face to our blogathon, Keith from Various Ramblings of a Nostalgic Italian. Let’s all give him a warm welcome. If you haven’t checked out Various Ramblings of a Nostalgic Italian, you definitely should as its a fun personal blog with little bits on TV and movie-related parts. Remember to head over and check out his blog and give him a follow if you haven’t already. Keith is joining us with his thoughts on the 1972 classic The Godfather.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

THOUGHTS ON THE GODFATHER (1972)

It has been some time since I have been able to participate in a Blogathon, but when I saw that The Ultimate Decades Blogathon was being hosted by my friends over at Tranquil Dreams (Kim) and Drew’s Movie Reviews, I had to take part in it. The basic theme is to blog about a movie that was released in a year ending in “2.” While scanning the releases from 1972 – it became very obvious which movie I would be writing about – The Godfather. (This blog may contain spoilers.)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is godfather-hd-movie-title.jpg

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film. This puts me at a disadvantage. Why? Because, let’s face it, there will be plenty of articles, books, internet articles, magazine special editions and more about this movie. You will not have to go far to find material on this masterpiece. As a matter of fact, I am currently reading one of the books that was released just a few months ago about the film.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 615w6qmp6cl.jpg

I had actually hoped to finish the book prior to having to write this blog. I am just over halfway finished and it is fantastic! 

This week, I watched the film in its entirety in preparation for this blogathon. With every viewing, I come to appreciate it more and more. It remains a film that I never tire of watching. It never gets old. It still holds up 50 years later. The Mark Seal book I am reading has certainly made me more aware of the difficulties that surrounded the making of The Godfather. At times, you wonder how it ever was finished! 

At any rate, what could a lowly blogger like me possibly present to you about the Best Picture Winner of 1972? My thoughts, my observations, and my reasons for loving it. Now that I think about it, I guess I chose this film for selfish reasons. I have quoted it and referred to it in passing in past blogs, but I have never actually devoted an entire blog to it.

Unlike some blogs, mine is a personal blog that features stories from my past, posts about my family, posts about my struggles, posts about my passions, likes, and dislikes. It is a picture of “me.” No picture of me would be complete without The Godfather. So, here goes….

The First Viewing

I was two years old when The Godfather came out. I don’t recall exactly how old I was when I first saw it. What I do remember is that it was not a complete viewing. 

As a teen, I remember my dad would always be laying on the floor watching TV. I had come into the room and my dad was watching the movie which was playing on one of the local networks. I remember being instantly being caught up in it. As my memory serves me, the scene I was watching was where Michael goes to the hospital and no one is watching his father. I remember him begging the nurse to help move him because people were coming “to kill him.”

Once the Don (Marlon Brando) is moved to another room, Enzo the baker is shown walking up the stairs and down the hall. The entire scene where Michael and Enzo are out in front of the hospital as the car carrying the murderers pulls up (and drives away) had me at the edge of my seat! I watched the rest of the movie with my dad and remember asking him a gazillion questions.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 500full.jpg

Eventually, my dad purchased the movies (Part 1 & 2) on VHS. I remember watching Part One from beginning to end and being blown away. I was never really aware of the film’s length because it held my attention all the way through. Admittedly, it took more than a couple viewings to finally get all the names of the various characters right.

For the next couple years, it seemed like HBO or The Movie Channel played the Godfather films in a hot rotation right around Christmastime. I remember going over to my girlfriend’s house and her dad was watching it. I sat down on the couch and we bonded immediately over the film. I’m not sure she was too happy that our time together was sitting on the couch watching a “mob movie.”

The movie is one of the few films that I have to sit down and watch if it is on TV. If I am scanning channels and it is on, I stop and watch. I can’t help it. I get caught up into it immediately. 

The Big Screen

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 151-17-6-22-19-26-18m.jpg

In 2002, select theaters were showing the film for its 30th anniversary. This was an opportunity that I had to take advantage of. My wife at the time had never seen the movie and I asked if she would like to see it. She said yes and we bought tickets. 

I wish I could convey to you the amount of excitement that I felt as I sat in the seats of the Royal Oak Main Theater (in Michigan) as the lights dimmed and the movie started. This was my first time watching this masterpiece on the big screen. The camera fired up and there was the solo trumpet playing the opening 7 notes of The Godfather Theme. I had chills! 

“I believe in America….” The words of Amerigo Bonasera came through the sound system. The camera fades in on his face as he tells the story of his daughter and the boys who beat her. The camera pulls further and further away from him and eventually we see the back of Don Corleone. We hear the dialogue between them and it isn’t until we see Bonasera whispering in the Don’s ear that we finally see the man – Don Corleone, played by the great Marlon Brando!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 3504.jpg

The opening scene of the film remains one of my favorites of all time. It is just brilliant. It is perfect. Watching it on the big screen for the first time remains one of the coolest moments!

Mario Puzo’s novel does not open with this scene. Director Francis Ford Coppola stated that he knew this was the scene that should open the film. I can’t imagine it opening any other way. So much is conveyed it this scene – respect, disrespect, power, and family. It is the perfect springboard for the remainder of the film.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mario-puzo.jpg
Mario Puzo, author of the Godfather

Casting

It is probably easy for me to say that the cast of the Godfather is perfect, especially since it is 50 years old. Believe it or not, Paramount was against Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone. They also were not keen on Al Pacino as Michael. Can you imagine James Caan as Michael (and NOT Sonny)? How about Martin Sheen instead of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen? There was quite a lot of fighting over who should play who in the movie. In the end, Coppola wound up with the cast that he wanted, and when you see the finished product, you see that he had it right all along.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is godfather-the-family.jpg
The Corleone Boys – Michael, Vito, Sonny and Fredo

Fun Fact: Mario Puzo actually wrote a letter to Marlon Brando telling him that he thought Brando would be perfect for the role of Don Vito Corleone in the film. He stated in his letter that Brando was the “only actor who can play the Godfather.”

Not Just Another “Mobster Flick”

People who have never seen the Godfather assume that it is just another mobster film. I would tend to disagree. To me, it is more about family, greed, power, and loyalty. Coppola stated somewhere that he wanted to show that the Corleone family were real people, with jobs (illegal or not), children, a home life, etc… 

One of the first things we see in the film is a huge family wedding. There is laughter, dancing, music, food, and plenty of friends and family. We also see the mixture of business and family, as the Don is “working” in his den as the wedding is going on. We see him as a husband and father, dancing with his wife and his daughter at the wedding festivities. The importance of family is present as the family poses for a photo, but the Don states that it cannot be taken until Michael arrives. 

Fun Fact: Throughout the entire film, the word “mafia” is never uttered.

The “Family” Business

The phrase “family business” is used a few times in the film. To me, the term illustrates that the two are separate, yet connected. It becomes very clear that when it comes to business, the Don, his consigliere (Tom Hagen) and his two older sons (Sonny and Fredo) are involved. The youngest son, Michael, however is not a part of the family business. Sonny says that he (Michael) didn’t want to “get mixed up in” it. Michael is also referred to as a “civilian” by family members. Yet his entering the business is one of the most intriguing things to me about the movie.

When Michael makes his entrance into the film he is walking hand in hand with his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) in his military uniform. We see him walking from behind almost swaying, without seeing his face, we know that he is happy and in love. He is a far cry from the man he will transform into. He is soft spoken, even when he explains to Kay some of the terrible things his family is responsible for. He also makes it a point to explain, “That’s my family, Kay. NOT ME.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 746b1cf335d7fdeb46ea076a1c379dd0.jpg

In an interesting turn of events, not very far into the movie the “star” is shot and absent for much of the middle of the film. I am talking about The Godfather himself, Vito Corleone (Brando). This event leads to the beginning of the transformation of Michael. The soft spoken son, who has had his jaw broken by a corrupt cop, is now telling his brothers that he will step in and knock off the man responsible for shooting his father (which brings about a lot of laughter by them at first, but ultimately is what the family decides to do).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mike.jpg
It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s just business.

In this scene, Coppola again works magic with the camera. As Michael describes what he wants to do, the camera slowly moves closer and closer to him. As the camera stops he states firmly, “I’ll kill them both.” The transformation has begun.

It continues quickly. During the scene where Michael is going to shoot them, you can see him lost in thought as Virgil Solozzo (who set up the hit on the Don) and the police captain are sitting across from him at the table. I love that as the camera sits on his face, the sounds of the trains get louder and louder until he finally stands and shoots his victims.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mike-2.jpg

By the end of the film, Michael has become Don. His dark eyes tell a story of tragedy and anger. He is cold and heartless. He has “settled” all family business. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is answersantino1.jpg

To me, this is one of the most amazing character transformations in all of film. He has gone from likeable to someone you cringe at when you look at him. He makes your stomach turn.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 116273-1532336916.jpg

Final Thoughts

I feel as though I have not even begun to scratch the surface of just what a powerful movie this is. When someone thinks about the Godfather, they think of:

  • The horse’s head
  • Leave the gun. Take the cannoli
  • Sonny getting shot at the toll booth
  • Luca Brasi 
  • The meeting of the Five Families
  • The interplay between the “settling of family business” and the baptism

There are so many wonderful scenes throughout this picture. I could write a blog about each of those scenes just as easily as I could write a blog about each character. The things presented here, are the things that stood out for me right from the get go when I wondered what to present.

For anyone who has never seen the movie, it is a must watch. You also need to watch it more than once. As I stated, it gets better every time. I also recommend reading the book, whether you do it before or after watching the movie, it really doesn’t matter. In some cases, reading it before will give you a better chance at remembering who is who. For me, it gave me a lot more insight as to what characters were thinking during key scenes. 

(Note: Pick up Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Notebook. It has pages from the novel and his notes. It is fun to see how he thinks about what to keep and what to leave out. It is also cool to see what he thought was important and just how to convey things on film.)

There is plenty of imagery throughout the film. One of my favorite examples of this involves the scenes where someone kisses the Godfather’s ring. Like a pair of book ends – we see two Dons (Vito from the beginning of the film and Michael from the end of the film) in an almost identical scene. The family’s power has been transferred from one to another. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is godfather.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is al-pacino-1.jpg

Coppola is a master at tying things together and the pictures above illustrate that. 

I, on the other hand, tend to ramble (hence the title of my Blog Page). I hope that you have found my thoughts on the film enjoyable. I hope that they move you to watch the film again or for the first time. 

In closing, I want to thank my friends at Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews for allowing me to take part in this blogathon. I highly recommend that you follow them for some pretty amazing content. 

Cue the Godfather theme …..

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thanks so much to Keith from Various Ramblings of a Nostalgic Italian for sharing his personal experiences and thoughts on The Godfather, no doubt a classic to many. Remember to check out his blog and give him a follow!

Head over to Drew’s Movie Reviews tomorrow to check out the next entry in the blogathon. Hint: This one goes WAY back!

Double Feature: The Hustle (2019) & Falling For Figaro (2020)

The Hustle (2019)

Director: Chris Addison

Cast: Anna Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Olivier, Nicholas Woodeson

Two con women – one low rent and the other high class – team up to take down the men who have wronged them. – IMDB

Taking a little break from teem comedies, its time to take a look at an actual comedy about con artists which is a female-centered remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which is a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story. I haven’t seen either of the films that The Hustle is based on. The Hustle is a tad odd and probably will be divisive on how you feel about these two actresses as they team up and face off as con artists. The film primarily circles around them and they play off each other to create the comedy. The contrast of the character’s personality and style being the main driving force of the comedy itself as they fight for the Beaumont-sur-mer turf in a wager for conning a tech guy’s $500K.

Anne Hathway and Rebel Wilson are a little hard to peg down their style. While Anne Hathaway has a lot of different films under her belt, she always seems to fall into comedy quite a bit. And in more recent films of hers that I have seen, she plays a lot with accents (The Witches (review) being the most recent example). They aren’t particularly bad accents and actually it is rather fun since it works well with these cons that her character is doing especially while Rebel Wilson’s Penny is convinced that she is the renowned international con artist, Medusa. Rebel Wilson plays into her style of comedy right from her days from Pitch Perfect (or even earlier in the smaller role in Bridesmaids) and she has come into her own but her comedy style is not exactly for everyone as it does go a little over the top and exaggerated. There is no doubt that Rebel Wilson has her own silly charm. In the contrast of things in this film, it works alright.

Call it a form of buddy film if you will because this does have that sort of feeling to it as these two work together and eventually adapt each other’s con strategies to play against the other. They do have a decent dynamic here even if some of the comedy might not always land right. The Hustle all comes to a twist sort of ending and the setting is absolutely beautiful. Its not a phenomenal comedy but it is pretty fun overall.

Falling For Figaro (2020)

Director: Ben Lewin

Cast: Danielle MacDonald, Shazad Latif, Joanna Lumley, Gary Lewis, Hugh Skinner, Rebecca Benson, Christina Bennington

A brilliant young fund manager leaves her unfulfilling job and long-term boyfriend to chase her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club*

As Valentine’s approaches, Netflix is bringing on a lot of different romantic comedies for their release schedule. There’s no doubt that when you look at Danielle MacDonald, her filmography has been rather diverse. Looking at some of her leading roles, she’s been truly wrapped up in trying to be something to break out of what others view her as from wanting to be a rap star in Patti Cake$, to breaking the norm of a pageant queen in Dumplin’ and her latest film right here as Millie who is striving to be an opera singer despite starting later than most would and giving up her own money-making successful career and being apart from her boyfriend for a year to pursue this dream with a harsh opera teacher Meghan (Joanna Lumley) and her only student Max (Hugh Skinner) who is reluctant about her presence as they both try to enter and win the upcoming opera singing competition. However, her presence brings on a journey that doesn’t only discover her talent for opera but also sparks the necessary change for Max to get in touch with his emotions.

Romantic comedies nowadays are really a challenge to truly enjoy especially as a lot of them are formulaic. Falling For Figaro still has a lot of those romantic comedy tropes but also has that comedy element that does deliver rather well as it features a cast of supporting characters and main characters that are colorful to watch in both dialogue and interactions. Not to mention that Danielle MacDonald does tend to connect herself to feel-good films. This one has a few awkward moments especially with her boyfriend character (Shazad Latif) that seems to be an odd presence but the film also focuses on the natural progression of the feelings for Max as they start to train together and despite his reluctance still tries to help her with some of the skills and understanding. The training bits with Meghan also have some comedy and adds to the whole film pulling away from the romance part to not focus too much on it. Its how the film overall strikes a decent balance between the training and the romance that makes it feel pretty fun to watch overall.

Perhaps calling Falling for Figaro a romantic comedy is stretching it a little since the romance is rather subtle and minimal overall. Its spaced out rather well and focuses more on the musical training element. Danielle MacDonald, Joanne Lumley and Hugh Skinner do make the film very fun to watch their entire dynamic both as mentors, friends and potential romance. Of course, the snarky inn owner (Gary Lewis) also adds to the comedy adding to the whole small-town charm much like the setting itself.

The Tinder Swindler (2022)

The Tinder Swindler (2022)

Director: Felicity Morris

A fraud man who attracts women using the popular dating app and tricked them out of millions of dollars. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club*

As the world moves into finding love on dating apps, Netflix has taken as an inspiration for many different shows like The Circle which bases itself around how to make yourself likeable via solely social media and no physical contact and films like its latest Holiday film, Love Hard (review), each of them with the similar angle of catfishes. Whether its guilty pleasure reality shows or fictional rom com, nothing prepares you for the modern day dating apps like Tinder which is just a series of swiping through someone’s picture to decide their interest and to hopefully find a match. The Tinder Swindler is a documentary about the going-ons of three women who almost simultaneously was caught up with Simon Leviev who keeps his expensive lifestyle by using the money he cheats from one woman for the next venture and essentially accumulating enormous debts and how these women team up to fight back to try to get him caught by the police.

The Tinder Swindler starts off with Ceclie, a woman living in UK who has been a lot of dates from Tinder to try to find her love and talks through her thought process of deciding who to swipe right on. No matter the expert or not, her story tells of a long haul con game by this man that almost comes out of a fantasy. As the documentary follows her story step by step, the con truly starts when another woman from another country enters the picture even if they don’t know each other. These are the anchor points that start showing the money trail that is going on in this whole swindling business. Its not outwardly explained by the way the documentary unfolds is chronologically shown which helps with piecing everything together.

Much like how exposing this man in one country eventually does bring in some backlash and judgement, also emphasizing the harshness of the online community but still managing to achieve its purpose, which also probably is the purpose of this documentary being made acting both as a cautionary tale but also a specific target on this specific individual who has put these three women in debt that they have to pay off for making their bad decisions.

This documentary has a lot of great elements in the sense that it does fit into the current world especially as the pandemic is still looming in the air and dating apps seem like the only way to meet anyone. Its cautionary tale element and the purpose is essentially achieved as different articles have come up since the documentary’s release, and perhaps even before when the initial article was released. Its a great effort to share this story despite all the judgement.

Call it a little well-deserved revenge that doesn’t exactly change anything for their own situation but at least, the knowledge of the exposure makes up for it a little. Will the documentary do anything for the dating app users, maybe just in being more cautious and careful when approaching online, but its not a problem that can easily be solved especially if someone is intentionally trying to do it and when the convenience is just basing it on first impressions of a few pictures and a little blurb. For those who have been enjoying Netflix’s documentary releases, this one is a pretty decent one to check out.

Raging Fire (怒火, 2021)

Raging Fire (怒火, 2021)

Director (and co-writer): Benny Chan

Cast: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Lan Qin, Angus Yeung, Patrick Tam, Ben Lam, Deep Ng, Henry Prince Mak, Tak-Bun Wong, Jeana Ho, Ken Lo, Simon Yam, Ray Lui

Cheung Sung-bong is an officer of the Regional Crime Unit who worked in the front line for many years. His protege, Yau Kong-ngo, respects him and manage to reach up to him. However, fate pits them against each other. – IMDB

Benny Chan’s final directorial effort is this Hong Kong action crime film which he also co-writes. Raging Fire hones a fantastic cast full of acting veterans and crafts a rather familiar crime action tale but still manages to make it an engaging film experience with great action choreography and even some rather over the top moments and adds in the casting of Donnie Yen in the leading role facing off a vengeful character played by Nicholas Tse. The film’s credits also paying tribute to the director with their filming snippets instead of the commonly seen bloopers or behind the scenes.

Raging Fire itself feels a little like the story that was crafted in New Police Story and has the twist of this year’s earlier release of Thr Fatal Raid but with better execution. The immensely better casting and the wonderful use of the cinematography and set design all contributes to it being a very engaging sort of film experience packed with some explosions and even one or two ridiculous Fast and the Furious level car chase execution. It sounds like a lot but it does keep a good balance and pacing between the two sides of the story, the police and the villains as their whole story gradually gets revealed right up to an ending with a question about whether things would have been different if roles were switched.

With that said, the cast is a rather packed cast with a lot of familiar faces for people who do watch a decemt amount of Hong Kong crime action films. You have some less frequently seen but once big names like Raymond Lui or cameo roles from Simon Yam. With the power of Tencent Pictures behind the production, it also includes a popular actress Lan Qin playing Donnie Yen’s character’s wife. All that aside, we all know the selling point of this film is the two main leads: Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse. For most people everywhere in the world, it really might just be the former. However, they both deliver fantastic roles as as Bong and Ngo respectively.

As their story reveals, there is a lot more depth to these two characters especially the opposing side wreaking all the havoc with Ngo and his team which feels like they are out for some type of unknown revenge as they gradually do things that almost feel like they are one step ahead of the Ngo and his cops. Ngo (Donnie Yen) is a rather familiar character who is a righteous cop with very set standards on how he believes in the law and doing things the right way, no shortcuts or selling favors to move up in his ranking to the higher ranking police chiefs and he does a great job at the whole thing and packs in some fantastic action sequences as well. Nicholas Tse on the other hand, shows a lot of growth in his acting as he dives into this more villainous role with strong plans and a very defined team. Ngo is a character that has a silent sort of unwinding and breaking point as he deals with everything quietly and calm and yet with purpose but shows signs of betrayal. Both of these lead roles being well-executed overall.

Raging Fire might seem like the normal action crime film and its general plot is very familiar right down to the plot points or even the little moment when everything comes together. However, the execution is solid from all angles whether its the cinematography, the action choreography (gun fights, hand to hand combat, car chases, etc), the pacing and the acting quality. It is a very good final work by Benny Chan and definitely brings up a desire to revisit all his previous works.

Raging Fire is currently available on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD and Hi-Yah!, The Martial Arts Channel!

*Film provided by Taro PR in exchange for honest review*

BITS 2021: Funhouse (2019)

Funhouse (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Jason William Lee

Cast: Valter Skarsgard, Khamisa Wilsher, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Amanda Howells, Mathias Retamal, Dayleigh Nelson, Jerome Velinsky, Kylee Bush, Bradley Duffy

When 8 celebrities from around the globe are invited to compete in an online reality show, they soon realize that they are playing for their very lives, as those voted off suffer horrific consequences, broadcast live to the entire world. – IMDB

There’s really nothing like the horror of being danger for a fight to be the only one standing. Its almost like Big Brother, The Circle mixed with Danganrompa (video game if you don’t know). Last one standing film content is so frequently seen especially after the recent Squid Game which notched things up quite a bit. Without any comparisons however, Funhouse is a good premise but lacks the proper execution however, credit where its due, they did execute a decent ending.

Funhouse sets up with these characters who are all different level of social influence on different media platforms but each having their own unworthiness of their fame which leads them to being picked to be here. These eight contestants are all introduced in a decent way. Worth a mention is probably Gigi Saul Guerrero is plays one of the contestants Ximena as she is quite the name in both being an actress and a director in the indie horror world. At the same time, there’s also the male lead played by Valter Skarsgard, another of Stellan Skarsgard’s children making an appearance on the big screen. The plan to make you want to cheer for them to survive is their little interactions and what they talk about in their camera moments and then the film’s audience votes. The problem for the actual film audience is the whole film feels repetitive and in turn, gets boring by the time the same cycle goes a few time. Its camera time, 2 seconds later not knowing them more its voting time and then their death in whatever gruesome way and rinse and repeat. Things do change when the characters flip after they realize this is a game with deadly stakes. However past that, it doesn’t quite manage to stay entertaining. No one seems like they deserve to die no matter how unworthy their Internet fame is but they also aren’t intriguing characters. The intriguing moments comes a little too late.

The previous point does lead to the more important element which is the execution and scripting being more of an issue. These two is what creates these characters and the flow of events. What helps is that the tone itself isn’t exactly serious so the characters can be as over the top (or not) as they are written without a lot of limits. Same goes for the rich guy who runs the show in the background showing himself as an animated panda on screen and going off on cheeky rants. Another point that is good is that it does circle around and gives a basic idea of who this mysterious behind the scenes guy is and why he set this whole thing up by the end, giving it a bit of resolution as well.

Thing is, Funhouse is rather below average. Its leans on the boring side of horror. Sure, it has some creative and varied ways to kill its contestants and it has a decent premise overall but it just lacks the tension these films should have. There is no sense of sympathy towards them other than the reason of why they were picked seems a little over the top ridiculous, which does match with the mentality of some killers in these sorts of film. The whole broadcast element does show an issue with Internet control for younger audiences if anything and it does also cover the scrutiny of other media sources towards the authenticity of these sorts of shows. There is something deeper trying to be told here, I assume but something just feels missing to make it more entertaining of a watch whether as a horror or even a not so serious dark humor film.

*Funhouse was part of the Super Channel program for Blood in the Snow Film Festival. The physical film festival is on November 18th to 23rd in Royal Theatre Toronto. You can check out the line-up HERE.*

The Fatal Raid (不義之戰, 2019)

The Fatal Raid (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Jacky Lee

Cast: Patrick Tam, Jade Leung, Min Chen Lin, Jeana Ho, Elaine Tang, Michael Tong, Sin-hang Chiu

An ultraviolent cops vs. gangsters bloodbath leaves casualties on both sides. Fast-forward 20 years as surviving team member Madam Fong leads a new squad in pursuit of reckless young anarchists terrorizing Macao. An apparition from that fatal day falls into the fray, bringing everything full circle for a serpentine and explosive final confrontation.  – IMDB

The Fatal Raid is a 2019 Hong Kong crime action film telling a story which mixes girls with guns and justice vs. anarchy set in Macau before and after its handover. The selling point of this film is pretty decent. In fact at first glance, for fans of 90s and 00s TVB series would probably recognize faces like Patrick Tam, Jade Leung and Michael Tong who is a focal core of the story in The Fatal Raid as their characters talk about justice and are all affected by the Macau face-off that causes their lives to all go out of control as the government tries to hide the failed operation to the public causing the colleagues who lost their lives to be credited for but also promoting those who were involved and survived despite their irresponsibility in some cases, making those who survived question. The premise itself is pretty good also as it brings in a little bit of the history of Macau using the handover as an anchor point and bringing in some action and crime as its focus. Unfortunately, the film has some serious issues whether in script and post-production.

Let’s start with the first issue which is actually the least serious but is understandable considering its co-scripted by three people who seemed like they didn’t really sit down to make something more coherent. It ended up affecting the tone of the film and the story didn’t end up focusing as much in what it was trying to sell where it had moments of extreme drama as Patrick Tam was very serious (but Patrick Tam is a pretty tense actor in general) but also touched on various things but never felt enough to bring this character fully understandably in his end game. Jade Leung was also a rather bland character making the portrayal feel a little lacking. Its not the acting so much as her character seemed rather one dimensional. The best character having a decent moment had to go to Michael Tong who not only carries some good action moments but also had a really good scene that carried the drama well.

The other side was girls with guns being a major selling point and while the young ladies were around and they were rather sexy, they were more dressed with little clothing than selling them in a more realistic action sequence, other than the opening where they were undercover and that made more sense but they also didn’t have as much time in front of the camera making their characters just shallow female portrayals to come to a slow motion changing scene to see them all in their sports bras standing around. While the tone also tried to bring some abrupt absurd comedy which was just a few random cuts in sudden happy upbeat music with one of the investigators mesmerizing over one of the young lady cops. This created some execution issues where the flow of the whole story was disjointed.

Usually, I don’t talk about post-production. However, in terms of sound editing and subtitles, there are some major issues here. This is a foreign film being distributed to North America making that equally as important to get it right so the audience can understand it. Perhaps the sound editing where the voices are rather off from the person talking seems not as important but makes a difference as I understand Cantonese however, the subtitles also have a few spelling mistakes and inaccurate translations. There’s not a lot to say here other than the revision not being as thorough as it should have been.

Overall, I really wanted to like The Fatal Raid because the premise felt like it could be a really fun action romp. It didn’t even need to be deep as the angle they took felt like it would have some silly elements. While the whole nostalgia for the older cast and the general premise was good, the action sequences had some decent choreography, the film was too imbalanced in tone to be enjoyable. It wasn’t sure whether it wanted to be serious and discuss topics like justice and anarchy in the evolving political atmosphere and crime but it also didn’t know whether it wanted to be full-on silly and mindless entertainment. A pity as either angle they could have chosen if expanded a little more probably would have been a decent film, albeit two drastically different stories perhaps but still decent concepts if they had executed and scripted it better.

The Fatal Raid is currently available on Bluray and VOD via Well Go USA. Click HERE for more info!

*Film provided by TARO PR*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Baby Money (2021)

Baby Money (2021)

Directors: Mikhael Bassilli & Luc Walpoth

Cast: Danay Garcia, Michael Drayer, Joey Kern, Taja V. Simpson, Jean St. James, Robert Mammana

When a home invasion turns into a bloody shoot-out, a pair of ragtag fugitives take refuge in the house of a single mother as they wait on their fiery (and very pregnant) getaway driver to hatch an escape plan in time for a major payday. – IMDB

Baby Money is a 2021 crime thriller using the angle of a very pregnant girl Minny (Danay Garcia) who gets looped into helping her boyfriend Gil (Michael Drayer) with a break-in for some money to kickstart their life with a baby. Of course, things go awry and suddenly, she is caught in a situation where she is the only one to help get the situation settled when Gil and another guy doing the break-in Dom (Joey Kern) takes refuge at a single mother (Taja V. Simpson) and her son’s (Jean St. James) home. Baby Money is a pretty simple thriller set-up. Simple does fit this thriller pretty well as it has constant elements that change the situation right down to the end. Its not exactly unfamiliar in terms of plot points but the characters are rather interesting as each have their roles and reaction when facing this desperate situation.

Perhaps the better way to put it is that the characters all are unbalanced in their own way. Each of their unknown factor that could suddenly switch the trajectory or create change whether its Minny being able to get a car and bring the phone in time for the deal to work out so that the entire night hasn’t gone to waste and the obvious situation that she is pregnant or Gil’s ability to control the situation and get out of this whole mess or even Dom’s unstable personality which creates the danger that he might just shoot everyone in panic. The same goes for their hostages who is a mother trying to protect her son with cerebral palsy who could have seizures at any minute and not be in a life-threatening situation more than they already are. Everyone has something to lose and the characters all have their own end goal.

Baby Money is executed rather well. While there isn’t some wild ending that boggles the mind, the story stays relatively grounded. The build-up in tension with the whole break-in gone wrong is a pretty engaging watch. The basic elements are all work together well enough especially as the “what’s in the box” is brought up but never really addressed, making that part also something of a mystery that passes by quickly. If there was anything to nitpick about the film would be the whole turning point in the relationship of Gil and Minny that seems a little silly en lieu of what’s going on but then its a common plot point to use to give these characters a more dramatic turn of events. That of course is more of a script point than the cast issues as the cast does a pretty good job.

Overall, Baby Money is a fun thriller. Its nothing too deep but doesn’t exactly need to be as it still manages to stay relatively engaging, focusing less on the twists but more on the characters and their behavior and reaction. It is rather refreshing to see a simple thriller. Its a good premise and angle for sure and yet, it does feel like the whole baby element and pregnancy seems to almost be put in the background which has its pros and cons in the big picture.

*Baby Money had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 10th*

Double Feature: My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014) & Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Welcome to the next documentary double feature! Documentaries are definitely a little more frequently showing up here as I’ve been interested in checking out more of these especially the ones related to crimes and such. The first is 2014’s The Beautiful Broken Brain is not crime-related but a personal journey and the second is this year’s Why Did You Kill Me about a family’s journey to hunt down the killer of their family member after her death in a drive-by shooting.

Let’s check it out!

My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)

Director: Sophie Robinson & Lotje Sodderland

MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN is 34 year old Lotje Sodderland’s personal voyage into the complexity, fragility and wonder of her own brain following a life changing hemorrhagic stroke. Regaining consciousness to an alien world – Lotje was thrown into a new existence of distorted reality where words held no meaning and where her sensory perception had changed beyond recognition. This a story of pioneering scientific research to see if her brain might recover – with outcomes that no one could have predicted. It is a film about hope, transformation and the limitless power of the human mind. – IMDB

Documentaries like My Beautiful Broken Brain is not usually my go to however, the premise of this documentary is quite fascinating to watch as it shows the sudden changes that can happen in terms of health to anyone and how her journey is different as she has to embrace a changed world and her path of recovery. For a documentary about a girl who loses quite a bit due to the hemorrhagic stroke, its actually executed in a fairly positive way and sends out a positive message about how we should view our own life whether its about hope or not taking things for granted.

The execution of the film is done a good portion with videos filmed by Lotje Sodderland which builds up on her personal journey through her own recovery from her own feelings and the different steps she takes in order to embrace this “distorted reality”. Its truly hard to imagine what she went through especially when the most basic abilities are striped away through on incident. The execution builds from the start of how Sodderland ends up the way she is described from herself and her family and the reality that she now faces, outlining the effects the stroke had on her brain. As she moves forward, she compares her world to David Lynch’s work and hence her will to document what has happened to her and the journey of her recovery to eventually meet him. In the world of medicine and science, there isn’t really a lot of guarantees especially facing anything with the brain and perhaps that’s the takeaway here as this is a never seen before (or at least rarely seen) especially hard to watch when it gets into the neurological experiment bit.

In some ways, My Beautiful Broken Brain reminded me in premise of 2005’s Japanese TV series 1 Litre of Tears that was based on the true story of Aya Kito who suffered a rare brain degenerative disease and had documented it in her own diary. Where that one brings forth a lot of sorrow, My Beautiful Broken Brain has a lot of heart-wrenching moments but it makes the supposedly successes truly shine through. Its a little scary to watch that the senses and abilities that we use everyday is diminished to being unrecognizable. Overall, The Beautiful Broken Brain is decently executed and offers up a lot of information and a very personal journey that shares both a positive message about hope but also reminds us how lucky we all are to be able to do everyday things like reading and writing.

Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Director: Fredrick Munk

The line between justice and revenge blurs when a devastated family uses social media to track down the people who killed 24-year-old Crystal Theobald. – IMDB

Social media and technology has been a huge basis on how crimes are solved on a lot of the recent Netflix crime documentaries. In some ways, perhaps Why Did You Kill Me feels a little lesser in terms of the depth of the case itself as it somehow loses the depth of the topics that it can go. This one focuses primarily on the case on hand and following the footsteps of finding who is involved and why it happened. It also is one of the few where for the most part, the ending is relatively resolved and not exactly some form of call for action.

Why Did You Kill Me takes the angle of a family that wants to find the killer and using the help of a young cousin on Myspace to reach out to different gang members of the suspected gang involved and finding the clues to narrow down who it is and what happened after showing signs of not trusting the police. As much as the documentary is about solving the crime, its more about the line between justice and revenge.

Between interviews and crime scene restructures with minimized scenes, the whole crime is shown in a good detail as it goes from its suspect to exploring the involvement of family members and their own backstory. The crime documentary starts off rather solid because it focuses on the whole early days of Myspace and how eventually it turned into a very extreme way of using the victim’s picture to build the online profile which does end up attracting the person involved. The whole investigation circles around a lot of the same motions and that’s where the pacing of the documentary does feel sometimes like it lacks the content as a full length feature. Its not saying that this case isn’t worth shining light on as the final note on justice and revenge is pretty decent.