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.

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Director: Derek Tsang

Cast: Dongyu Zhou, Jackson Yee, Fang Yin, Ye Zhou, Yue Wu, Jue Huang, Yifan Zhang, Xinyi Zhang, Xuanming Gao, Xintong Xie

A bullied teenage girl forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of her final examinations. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea for Friday Film Club*

Perhaps one of the more surprising titles to be nominated in the best International feature category at the upcoming Oscars is 2019’s Chinese romantic crime film, Better Days. Better Days is based on a Chinese YA novel called In His Youth, In Her Beauty. Faced with difficulty to release due to censorship in China, Better Days focuses on school bullying while looking at the stressful and demanding environment of preparing for the National Exam which determines the future of a student and where they end up in university while also looking at the reality of family situations in China. It takes a snapshot of Chinese society, call it a social commentary if you will but the movie does end with a discussion of the progress that’s been made with the different ministry departments of creating laws to protect against school bullying. With that said, the movie rather lengthy running at 2 hours 15 minutes, which is structured fairly well as it starts off right away highlighting the school issue and building up those tensions while moving to a second act which is focused on the relationship between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei as he protects her in the shadows. A lot of their relationship is built through actions more than words which thanks to a good direction of director Derek Tsang makes it work. Making the third act one that tugs at heartstrings despite all that’s happening and question the morals of who is right and wrong as well as bringing up how much teens believe in the adults surrounding them and how much they can help.

Talking about the director, Derek Tsang brings in some interesting direction choices whether its how he uses the lighting or moving through a montage of how time passes or just how he chooses to use the cinematography and camera pans to structure the scene to create a great effect and capture what he wants and leaving some mystery, its done pretty well. Of course, the other surprise for most familiar with Chinese pop culture is seeing Jackson Yee do rather well in his role as Xiao Bei especially since he started out at a young age in a youth boy band TF Boys. Taking up this powerful role and delivering on a decent level and especially being able to act at the pace of Dongyu Zhou who is a much more seasoned actress with a lot of great and diverse roles under her belt, a few of them previously Friday Film Club picks, Us and Them and This Is Not What I Expected. Being the central role here, Chen Nian under Dongyu Zhou is done incredibly well. She is able to bring it to a good level of tension and connection especially with a character that doesn’t say a lot and the ability to play a high school senior while being in her mid-20s and making it believable to follow her devastating experience but still in all the bad still wanting to “protect the world” and points out how no one’s taught them about how to be an adult. The most touching line in the movie between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei when he says: “It’s a deal. You protect the world. I’ll protect you.”

Sure, Better Days has its issues especially for those not too familiar with Chinese films, it might bring in the elements of losing traction and shifting focus of the film and having some melodramatic moments as it loves to bring romance in any type of film. However, what Better Days does remind me a lot of is a 2004 Taiwanese series called The Outsiders (currently on Netflix if you want to check it out) which has a similar romantic arc. While it might not be for everyone, Better Days has its heart at the right place, shares an important topic of teen bullying in China and what has been done so far while also having a decent crime story to wrap up the whole thing. Definitely one to check out if you get a chance!

Double Feature: Lila & Eve (2015) & Hustlers (2019)

Next up for Double Feature, we take a look at a Jennifer Lopez double feature as we look at 2015’s crime drama thriller Lila & Eve and 2019’s Hustlers. Two films that feature also are about crime and female duo as their main characters. Let’s check it out!

Lila & Eve (2015)

Director: Charles Stone III

Cast: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Aml Ameen, Ron Caldwell, Yolonda Ross, Elisa Perry, Shea Whigham, Andre Royo

Two distraught mothers, whose children were gunned down in a drive-by, team up to avenge their deaths after local authorities fail to take action. – IMDB

Considering this one as a spontaneous watch as I only found it as it was about to leave Netflix but it has Viola Davis who is a fantastic actress so it was a great selling point. This is a pretty decent thriller overall. It does pull a Fight Club sort of twist but the overall execution is pretty good. The devastation of two mothers bonding together over a grief group with opposite personalities creates a nice contrast between the two as they decide to follow the clues to figure out who is responsible for their children being gunned down in a drive-by, making this into a revenge crime thriller.

There is some things to like about this film. For one, Viola Davis is as usual very good in her role of Lila and the friendship that she has with Jennifer Lopez’s Eve is done really well also. There’s a good build-up of their friendship from how they meet to their views and conversations about what has happened to their own children and not being able to just accept the grief and move on but rather find out what really happened. Also, Jennifer Lopez delivers a decent performance here. I give a lot of grief about watching lackluster Jennifer Lopez performances mostly because the movies itself usually aren’t anything to call home about. Lila & Eve might not be perfect as it does have some issues of its own but Jennifer Lopez’s role is fitting for the character that has been written here.

With that said, there are some faults to this movie. The script and pacing might be a little off. The script is alright however it might have to do with some of the supporting roles that aren’t delivered well enough which makes some lackluster dialogue and such. However, the finale is well worth a note as it does deliver fairly well and did take me a little by surprise. Overall, Lila & Eve is an alright thriller with some good and some bad elements but has two good performances from Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez that could be worth a watch.

Hustlers (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Lorene Scafaria

Cast: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Mette Towley, Wai Ching Ho, Vanessa Aspillaga, Trace Lysette, Marcy Richardson, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Mercedes Ruehl, Cardi B

Inspired by the viral New York Magazine article, Hustlers follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. – IMDB

With a good amount of decent reviews and a group of female cast, Hustlers is inspired by a true story which feels a bit like the situation of The Bling Ring and has a little bit of pacing almost like Pain & Gain. In some ways, it takes a look at the world of strip club employees whether its the change with the economy, the survival and even the sexy moves and shows that comes along with the territory. The whole crime that goes down from how its structured to the execution has some fun elements to it. The atmosphere, environment as well as the narration of an interview that looks back at the past which eventually tests the friendship between Destiny and Ramona becomes a highlight that frames these characters into who they are gradually.

The female cast here has a few familiar faces. Jennifer Lopez being the experienced and dynamic character Ramona to prove that she not only has the body and physical ability to carry out the role but also bring in a fairly deep character that plays like a mentor and leader to this crew who moves forward to make money when the economy changes. On the other hand, she carries along a new member of this business Destiny played by Constance Wu, previously known for her role in Crazy Rich Asians which is definitely a change of pace and character. There’s no doubt that Hustlers is at its best when Ramona and Destiny. Their mentorship, friendship and partnership moves from one step to the next that creates a good dynamic between the two. . With them are some other familiar faces like Julia Stiles, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer and Cardi B as some of the girls while also having Wai Ching Ho as Destiny’s grandmother, they all add a little something as well. Perhaps for myself is seeing Lili Reinhart in something aside from Riverside where she also has an interesting character but also different from this one.

Being unfamiliar with the article or the inspiration of the true story, Hustlers plays out like a movie and yet, most of it doesn’t get as far-fetched as say, The Bling Ring however, the whole dive into the story that spans over years and through the different economic setting of US plays into the shift in the industry does bring out an interesting angle to how this is executed. Plus, Jennifer Lopez yet again delivers a great performance and probably the stand-out of the crew especially with her eye-catching fur coat outfit. The execution isn’t perfect but overall, Hustlers is an entertaining watch.

Ultimate Decades Blogathon: The Maltese Falcon (1931) by MovieRob

The next entry in the Ultimate Decades Blogathon comes from MovieRob, a blogger with an amazing repertoire of reviewed movies to check out and also the host of his monthly segment Genre Grandeur plus a regular on this blogathon with always fantastic picks. This year, he dug deep and went way back to 1931 to look at the original film, The Maltese Falcon. Check out his review of The Maltese Falcon and remember to check out his blog.


“Good day, sir. I deeply regret that you are left without a fall guy. ” – Casper Gutman

Number of Times Seen – 1 (14 Feb 2021)

Brief Synopsis – A private detective is hired to find a valuable statue of a bird that is worth millions, but he gets in over his head when he finds out how many others are seeking the same prize.

My Take on it –When Drew and Kim announced this blogathon, I liked the challenge that they presented us to try and find films from the early years of film to watch and review.

This is a film that I came across in my research and was intrigued to watch since it is based on the same Dashiell Hammett story featuring Sam Spade that would eventually become a household name just a decade later.

I have always been an advocate that remakes are usually unnecessary, but this is among the few occasions where that is not true.

The 1941 version of this film which famously features Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor is so much better and more engaging than this film is despite following the same story.

This is further proof at how much the director and actors add to a particular film since John Huston’s version is so much grittier to look at, yet still works even better than the story does in this film.

The film stars Ricardo Cortez in the Bogart role and Bebe Daniels in the Astor role, yet neither helps find a way to make us care even more about their characters as the story unfolds.

Roy Del Ruth directs this film, but he is no Huston.

Yes, this film was made prior to the code and has some very intriguing references that were banned a decade later, but they don’t add enough to help make tings more intriguing to watch unfold.

The story itself is still told quite well, despite the fact that the cast and directing drag things down a bit along the way.

The noir atmosphere seems missing here and that might have helped make things more thrilling than the way it is all presented here.

MovieRob’s Favorite Trivia – When originally sold to television in the 1950s, the title was changed to “Dangerous Female” in order to avoid confusion with its illustrious remake, The Maltese Falcon (1941). Fifty years later, Turner Classic Movies restored its original title card. However, as recently as April 27, 2017, the service used by cable companies to provide data for their viewing guides used the “Dangerous Female” title for TCM’s showing of the movie on that date. (From IMDB)

Rating – BAFTA Worthy (6/10)

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Thanks to MovieRob for his fantastic post on The Maltese Falcon! You can check out the full list of entries updated daily HERE.

Double Feature: Shanghai Fortress (2019) & S Storm (2016)

Time for the next double feature! Its a pairing of a Netflix Chinese Sci-fi film Shanghai Fortress with the sequel of Hong Kong crime thriller Z Storm called S Storm. Let’s check it out!

Shanghai Fortress (2019)

Director: Hua-Tao Teng

Cast: Han Lu, Qi Shu, Godfrey Gao, Liang Shi, Sen Wang, Vincent Matile, Jialing Sun, Yu Cheng

In 2035, aliens have wiped out mega cities around the globe to get their main source of energy, Xianteng. Will Shanghai be able to defend itself and maybe even launch a counterattack? – IMDB

Looking solely at the premise, Shanghai Fortress has a great setting. Think a little like the Chinese version of Independence Day with elements of Ender’s Game and hints of Pacific Rim. The whole setting in the future and the world being destroyed where Shanghai wants to counterattack and the world coming together to try to eliminate the alien invasion is a good premise to say the very least. Where Shanghai Fortress has more issues is in its execution and some of the CGI effects especially when it comes to the aliens which looks like toy action figures in some scenes (a lot of it when its attacking from the sky).

Where the movie does its best story bits is with its sci-fi elements as it talks about the war and the reality that the world now dwells in. The source of energy that is being fought for and the reality that the world now dwells in while still a bit lacking in detail still works for the most part and even with the technology that the world now has and the team that they put together to try to fight them as well as their secret weapon. With that said, where the story falls apart is putting in the romantic arc of the main lead trying to win the heart of a superior. It almost felt unnecessary as it was put there to give them a dramatic element but then, they already had the whole team and friendship that was done in a more natural way.

Despite the story, the cast is fairly alright. With the material they had, the main cast does deliver well enough. Qi Shu brings in the role of the captain and is the crush of the main male lead played by Han Lu, who is the leader of the little “task force” (not sure if that’s how you call it) that got brought up after they come together to help an attack. Godfrey Gao also takes part in this film as one of the last few movies in his career before his unfortunate death in 2019. There are some more familiar faces that work out including the rest of the “task force” and friends that I’ve seen appear and are relatively well in their roles.

Overall, its quite disappointing that Shanghai Fortress had such a good premise but just couldn’t deliver a better script and execution, which made a little harder to get into it completely whether it was the war or the human relationships.

S Storm (2016)

Director: David Lam

Cast: Louis Koo, Julian Cheung, Ada Choi, Vic Chou, Bowie Lam, Dada Chan, Janelle Sing, Sau Sek, Hoi Pang Lo, Jacky Cai

No sooner is a team at ICAC set up to investigate irregularities in soccer official betting in Hong Kong before a suspect is assassinated. – IMDB

The sequel to 2014’s Z Storm (review) takes on another corruption story and this time its within the Jockey Club with the soccer betting system. The ICAC end up following the clues from one lead to the next to realize that each of the suspects are being killed before they get there. S Storm is a fairly decent thriller. The only issue is that it adds too much to the equation that it almost feels like there’s too many characters to go through. It does keep it fairly engaging since there’s always a next step and in the beginning, its a race between the ICAC and a disrespected homicide detective’s team for the trail.

S Storm excels because of its talented cast. The ICAC being lead by Louis Koo’s character who is a staple in many Hong Kong thrillers in the past decade (if not 2). The homicide team lead by Julian Cheung, a singer and actor that I personally like quite a bit as well. The assassin is played by Vic Chou and the former F4 member and had his debut in the original Taiwanese version of Meteor Garden as Hua Ze Lei, the 2nd male lead. Its been a while since I’ve seen him in anything so this role does feel small and very quiet but his character is missing some depth perhaps. Other roles like Ada Choi, Bowie Lam, Sau Sek are all familiar faces in TV mostly but have dabbled in film before and all give fairly decent supporting roles.

While there are some issues with S Storm, its a series that I do enjoy for the corruption case angle. Its more about the clever dealings and inner network of people and such. This one does have a decent amount of action as well considering its about gambling so the triad and such gets involved. The audience gets the story step by step in bits and sees the danger before the ICAC and homicide gets there even if it doesn’t always reveal the culprit, leaving that in the dark for a while. Some good elements and some not so good ones but its an alright thriller overall.

As a side note, it would be interesting to check out what other stories will come in the other movies in the series and how it links to the letters they use really does make me wonder sometimes.

By Night’s End (2020)

By Night’s End (2020)

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Director (and co-writer): Walker Whited

Cast: Michelle Rose, Kurt Yue, Michael Aaron Milligan, Carlos Aviles, Matt LaBorde, Jeff Ridgway, Troy Faruk, Lucius Baston

A couple wake up in the night to a man searching for something in their home. After they are forced to kill him in self defense, they decide to take one hour before calling the police to search for what they hope is a hidden fortune. – IMDB

Home invasion films can be quite a thrill to watch. The most unexpected things come out of the independent films scene sometimes and By Night’s End does have a decent premise even if there are a few issues with it overall. However, if you are a fan of alternate Christmas movies, this might be one to take into consideration since its set on Christmas even if all it has is a Christmas tree, ornaments and some funky holiday hat before things really take a turn.

By Night's End

By Night’s End is a small film both in cast and its single setting and passing through a single night, except for the opening scene that sets a little earlier to set up the plot and mystery. The story focuses on a couple who is trying to move on after the loss of their daughter while struggling to make ends meet as they both have employment issues. While those issues do come into play as the couple is trapped from one bad decision to another struggle to avoid the home invasion from happening in their conversation to give their relationship a basis, the story’s strength is really in the interaction with their home invader and the action bits which is enforced as the female lead Heather is a stunt woman turned actress who makes those action scenes more engaging. The execution of the movie from one suspense moment to the next action and the power balance between especially Heather and the home invader is done rather well even if the dialogue between the characters do fall flat. While the dynamic between the home invader and the couple are decent, the home invader’s character does fall into very familiar territory for this sort of character.

With that said, for a fairly barebones home invasion story, the story does give a few twists. One that happens fairly early in the movie that changes it direction to something else which adds a little more complexity to the story, even if that the first scene shows an obvious clue that drove me a little crazy when the characters didn’t connect the dots until a lot later in the story. However, there is a good amount of depth and little surprises especially in the little escapes and action scenes as the couple fights for their survival and escape while trying to find out why their home has been targeted. There’s a good building of atmosphere and tension as it plays with lighting and darkness. By Night’s End may have a little issue with script and dialogue however, for the most part, it does hit a lot of the home invasion tension that makes it a rather fun watch overall.

DarkCoast will release By Night’s End on October 6th on various digital platforms (Amazon, iTunes, DirecTV, FlixFling, Google Play, Vudu and AT&T)

*Screener provided by DarkCoast*