TV Binge: Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Creators: Lee Eung-bok, Hong So-ri, jan Young-woo, Kim Hyeong-min, Park So-hyeon

Cast: Song Kang, Lee Jin-uk, Lee Si-young, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Nam-hee, Ko Min-si, Park Kyo-young, Go Youn-jung, Kim Gap-soo, Kim Sang-ho

Following the death of his family in an accident, loner Cha Hyun Soo moves to a new apartment. His quiet life is soon disturbed by strange incidents that start occurring in his new building. As people turn into monsters, Hyun Soo and other residents try to survive. – MyDramaList

Based on the webtoon of the same name, Sweet Home takes place as the world heads into an apocalypse where humans are turning into monsters. In an apartment building, the residents suddenly are locked in and soon realize why. As they hatch their plans of defense, its not whats outside but what is trapped inside that is their concern as well as who is infected and will turn. Being at a well-paced 10 episodes, the series moves through the characters foundation and the main characters slowly have their own story unravel whether in flashbacks or in conversation. The story also progresses in the sense that survival brings out the best and worst of people, making them at times the real danger as is the desires turning into these monsters. It makes you wonder whether its based a little on Buddhism and the concept of desire making someone unable to achieve happiness and in this sense, the infected will turn into monsters, some lethal and some harmless. With that said, there are two elements at least to look at Sweet Home: the characters and the monster design.

Sweet Home’s monsters are rather varied. There isn’t an expansive understanding of how someone gets infected but the symptoms are outlined fairly clearly. The change can be rather subtle unless someone is sitting around when someone’s nose fountains with a huge nosebleed. The monsters are rather varied and at one part, it stems from desire so there are many different types of monsters whether its one that is super fast with centaur legs or a giant eye or a gooey monster or a spider looking creature and so on so forth. They all are done fairly well. There are obvious moments of CGI use and its not as smooth as it should be but overall, it does look pretty nice. The only issue I had was one of the monsters was meant to be hulking and giant with this sinister grin and to me, it felt rather hilarious. Probably not the effect that the series was looking for but the monster itself was scary for its strength and relentlessness.

There are quite a few characters in Sweet Home. A decent bunch of ragtag supporting characters which bring some comedic relief and add some uselessness that usually causes more problems plus adds to the potential body count. The few main characters go more to Hyun-so, an eighteen year old that lives alone as a playtester and constantly thinks about suicide, a medical school student brother Eun-hyeok and an aspiring ballet dancer with a foot injury sister Eun-Yoo who is in disagreement with each other, a firefighter lady Yi-Kyeong, a musician girl Ji-soo and a mystery man with burnt scars on his face Jin-wook. The story revolves around these characters as their backstories get revealed one by one. What works well here is that these characters do slowly grow as they start to differ and show their worth as the situation gets more and more dire.

Sweet Home is an interesting first season to say the least. While I have little issues with the computer effects, the monster design, the atmosphere and especially those awesome fight scenes paired with “Warrior” by Imagine Dragons really does it all great favors. At the same time, the cast of characters and their development does work really well as they form their alliances and friendships and it all comes to a decent twist by the end. If there was any issue, its that the first season sets up for a second season and yet, if it doesn’t happen, that ending might be quite a pity. Fingers crossed that it will get a second season!

TV Binge: Bridgerton (Season 1, 2020)

Bridgerton (Season 1, 2020)

Creator: Chris Van Dusen

Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Regé-Jean Page, Jonathan Bailey, Ruby Barker, Nicola Coughlan, Ruth Gemmell, Adjoa Andoh, Claudia Jessie, Luke Newton, Luke Thompson, Polly Walker, Golda Rosheuval

Wealth, lust, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Regency-era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family. – IMDB

Based on Julia Quinn’s first book of the Bridgerton book series called The Duke and I, Bridgerton’s first season is like a Regency London’s era of Gossip Girl. Its scandalous and there’s a mystery lady called Lady Whistledown writing on everyone’s gossip and spreading her speculations about different situations. Set during the beginning of the season where the debutantes go into society to look for their suitors, the first season is all about Daphne, the oldest daughter of the Bridgerton family as she enters into society and navigates her way through everyone’s different opinions before hatching a plan with the newly arrived Duke Hastings who wants to craft a fake connection with her to avoid having to deal with other mothers of available daughters as he doesn’t want to marry while creating the smoke screen for Daphne that will make other men desire her more because of already being desired. Of course, its no doubt that Daphne and Duke Hastings form a real connection eventually and it becomes quite the push and pull relationship, full of drama and soapy elements as well as the many sex and intimate scenes going on.

Bridgerton is thoroughly a guilty pleasure. There’s no other way to put it. Its not exactly untapped territory especially for myself that watches a ton of Chinese dramas which revolve around crafting fake relationships that turn into real connections and so on so forth. What makes Bridgerton fun is of course the Regency London era with its beautiful houses and lovely clothes and the very innocent and protected debutantes who are protected from everything about sex and intimacy. At the same time, the world that its crafted is a racially integrated Regency era London where (according to Wikipedia because I haven’t read the source material) it differs from the book’s setting. However, they do a great job and justifying how it all came to be briefly in conversation. The story itself definitely has those expected frustrating moments where the two misunderstand each other and then there’s some scheming that creates them to diverge in their feelings and its a whole roller coaster ride in terms of the few months of the season that Daphne and Duke Hastings go through.

Other than the setting, Bridgerton is all about the characters. For starters, the main couple Daphne and Duke Hastings has a ton of chemistry and that reflects well as their connection grows stronger and they love each other more. The sex scenes are done incredibly well and very believable. Above all of it though, its about Daphne’s sexual awakening and the gradual revelation and learning about how sex works and how getting pregnant works and all that comes together that crafts her character in a certain way. Aside from these two, the story does also deliver some other great characters. The favorite going to Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) who is Duke Hastings aka Simon’s mentor. Hands down the best character in the whole first season. The first season also laid down the foundation of the Bridgerton family whether its their widowed mother Violet or the three brothers, Anthony, Benedict, Colin and Gregory or the younger sisters Eloise, Francesca and Hyacinth who all make an appearance, big or small. Seeing as the following seasons will be about the other members of the family, that foundation is rather important plus the first season also follows some of the relationships and character development for a few of the siblings especially for Anthony, Benedict, Eloise and Colin.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the 10 episodes of the first season of Bridgerton. For those who like Regency era London settings, this one is a pretty decent choice. The first season’s most compelling parts are the scenes that build up the relationship between Daphne and Simon. The slow connection and the comfort; the change from disapproval to love; the fake relationship to real; what they teach other and grow together: it has its frustrating moments but then it also has some well-crafted moments. The second compelling element has to be trying to figure out who is Lady Whistledown especially when she’s voiced by Julie Andrews. When I finished watching it the first time, I had some mixed feelings about it but when I watched it a second time around, I realized that there is something there that does work.

As an aside, Season 2 has been confirmed and its going to follow the brother Anthony who had his tangent in season 1 although, I was rather lukewarm to the whole thing. However, the season ended hinting that it would be focused on him finding a wife so we will see where that goes. In the meantime, I’m going to catch up with the series when I have a moment see how the series match up to the source material.

Still the Water (2020)

Still the Water (2020)

Director (and writer): Susan Rodgers

Cast: Ry Barrett, Colin Price, Spencer Graham, Christina McInulty

The men in a broken family reunite many years after a domestic tragedy drives them apart. – IMDB

Still The Water is a fairly straightforward family drama. It tells the story of three brothers that have grown apart because of their past. This past is the mystery that carries the story forward for the most part as no one truly addresses it in full. As the pieces fall into place, the division between the brothers, especially the older two Nicky (Colin Price ) and Jordie (Ry Barrett) come into the play. A part of the division that is further emphasized because of the neighbor Abby (Christina McInulty) when Jordie comes back to town.

Set in the beautiful and rarely filmed Prince Edward Island, the setting itself adds a lot to the small town feeling and yet the beauty of the land that they are in. The film was at its best when it was about the family drama as they try to get through the past and reconcile while the present has its own challenges that is breaking one of them apart as well. The other bits with Abby seems more of a necessary stressor that feels like the character is almost there with too much of a purpose and the romantic elements there but never fleshed out enough to connect. With that said, there is plenty of family drama as the movie does focus on the brothers and their father a lot as well as the dynamic of Jordie come back and how he affects each of them a different way as well as the changes in him.

With that said, Still the Water is powered by its cast, most notably the two lead actors, Ry Barrett and Colin Price. For both, its a change in pace as these two actors frequented my own watch list in various horror films which never had this much drama. This film is a fairly quiet one and really shows off their acting skills as they both carry their role incredibly well. The dynamic in their performances do connect very well especially for Colin Price’s Nicky that goes through the most development throughout the film as his character almost breaks apart by the end. Ry Barrett’s character is the main lead in this story as most of it revolves around him, his coming back and the impact that it has with everyone and yet his character is a contrast since it is a lot more quiet despite the character’s beginning parts that show his anger management issues. Its also great when they almost use hockey, boat repair business (I think that’s what it is) and the lobster fishing as means that not only connect to the setting but as a means of how the two brothers express themselves.

Still the Water has some issues of story flow. However, it also adds in a nice soundtrack that matches well with the area and the tone of the film. At the same time, there is a nice addition of this mystery cat that never shows its face living at the house the Jordie temporarily stays which becomes almost a little fun moment of questioning when or whether the cat will show up. These little bits of detail do add to the overall film plus the family drama does piece itself together in a nice way especially as it carries itself with the mystery of what happens and building up to what happened at the end. Its a well thought-out execution for the storyline.

Overall, Still the Water is a decent family drama. The setting, the soundtrack and especially the two main leads adds a lot to the movie as a whole. The family drama is also done well in execution and pacing. Where the movie has its issues is in some of the flow especially with the romantic tangent. Still the Water is well worth a watch as a family drama especially since, without any spoilers, has an ending that I personally like quite a bit.

You can also listen to Movies and Tea movie discussion of Still the Water below:

Double Feature: Go Back to China (2019) & The Farewell (2019)

Its the last week before the end of 2020 and I’m working on getting all the backlog on movie reviews and TV binges (more on the ones that were more memorable from my Top 10 TV series) to come out during this coming week! First up is a pairing of movies set in China with Go Back to China and The Farewell.

Let’s check it out!

Go Back To China (2019)

Director (and writer): Emily Ting

Cast: Anna Akana, Richard Ng, Lynn Chen, Kelly Hu, Aviva Wang, Tiger Ting, Jejie Esquerra, Ray Yumul

When spoiled rich girl Sasha Li blows through most of her trust fund, she is cut off by her father and forced to go back to China and work for the family toy business. – IMDB

As a follow-up feature film by Emily Ting, Go Back to China hits a little closer to home for the director as it is semi-autobiographical and relates to her own relationship with her father. Looking at how its categorized, the film does have a lot of elements that I do love whether its fish out of water or coming of age, its all my sort of film and the comedy elements also hit most of the time.

There’s a lot to love about it aside from the subgenre/genre that it sits in. The story itself is pretty fun for the most part about the culture clash and the rich spoiled girl finding her path a little more as she goes to China to get some work experience. At the same time, it helps her use the design skills a little and helps her find responsibility even if she ends up making some mistakes in the process. The sibling relationships and the world of stepsiblings as well as rekindling her relationship with her father all comes into play. Between all the comedy, there are more serious moments that anchor the film into those key elements of Chinese values and how things are done that emphasize on the East meets West. Plus, it features a key role from seasoned actor Richard Ng which only got a cameo in Emily Ting’s debut, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (which happens to be one of my favorite films). Plus, Anna Akana is very good in delivering those comedy moments as well as capturing the essence of her role.

Go Back to China does have some little missteps perhaps here and there and the story isn’t quite as captivating as that of Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong. There is a certain love for toy making in her movies especially since her first featured a female lead that switched from fashion design to toy design and the character of Sasha here also ends up following the same path except actually in the China factories (which Ruby in Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong also talks about). I’m not sure if its deliberate to have that link but to me, who has seen both of these movies definitely thought it was such a nice subconscious link between the two.

The Farewell (2019)

The Farewell

Director (and writer): Lulu Wang

Cast: Shuzhen Zhao, Awkwafina, X Mayo, Hong Lu, Hong Lin, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Yongbo Jiang, Han Chen, Aoi Mizuhara, Xiang Li

A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies. – IMDB

Its already the second viewing of The Farewell and I honestly thought that I had reviewed it the first time around at the beginning of the year. Imagine the surprise of it not being reviewed yet so here we are! The Farewell is a fantastic movie and probably one of the movies that actually hit me a lot harder in the second viewing. Perhaps it has to do with the current pandemic situation we’re in that hits harder on the family element and being away and not being able to do anything when there’s anything that happens. The Farewell is very much a dramedy in many ways. It does stay in the field of being more in the drama element even if there are some of Awkwafina’s quirky remarks that makes it have a little humor to it.

The Farewell crafts the East meets West values really well especially in a family dynamic sort of scene. Its even more intriguing that its based on a true lie. The whole concept of the family suffering the pain and leaving the grandmother to live every day without the knowledge of her illness is portrayed so well as the family tension really starts to show in all the characters and revealed one by one in discussion and reactions. As Billi starts off being fairly resistant to this lie, she does join in at the end which creates this fantastic slow motion scene walking down the street. That shot was one of my absolute favorites. Plus, its a big emphasis on these little things in Chinese tradition and values and also on justifying why they choose to create these lies while also using a happy event as a reason for the family to gather together.

Awkwafina is truly crafting herself into a really great actress. She appears in a lot of different movies but no doubt The Farewell is a very memorable roles, probably my favorite of hers so far. Not to mention that the film is mostly in Mandarin and the grandmother only referred to as Nai Nai is such a cute old lady character but also tough as nails in some ways especially when she tries to arrange the wedding details with the restaurant and then how she deals with her family. There’s a few sides to her character.

Overall, The Farewell is an exceptional movie. There’s so much to love about it from how it structures the culture clash to highlighting the different Chinese values and beliefs to the acting and performances of the characters and the unbelievable fact that it is based on a true event and quirkily referred in the beginning as based on a true lie while also giving an update on the actual situation of Nai Nai in real life.

TV Binge: Forget You Remember Love (忘记你记得爱情, 2020)

Forget You Remember Love (忘记你记得爱情, 2020)

Cast: Fair Xing, Garvey Jin, Cavan Wen, Xing Cheng Jiang, Joyce Zhao, Ming Na Yang, Alex Dong, Zheng Jun Li, Jurat Kutilai

A story between an ordinary girl who rescues a downtrodden CEO that has lost his memories, thus beginning a dreamy fairy tale. – MyDramaList

Where to watch: Tencent (Youtube Channel or App)

Forget You Remember Love is a remake of 2005 Taiwanese TV series Prince Turn To Frog (currently available on Netflix Canada, you would need to check your own area to see if its also available there). The original starred a popular cast lead by Joe Chen and Ming Dao. The 2nd female lead of the original actually plays a supporting role as the female lead’s stepmother in this Chinese remake. I can’t remember a whole lot of the original series so I can’t really compare the two but the course of events feels pretty similar but probably expanded on since the original was 31 episodes and this one is 38. Forget You Remember Love tells a rather common story especially when its remaking a storyline told in 2005, everything becomes less unique and much more predictable. In 2005, this type of storyline was quite the tale that brought chemistry and laughter and maybe even some tears so its a wonder to me whether the same ideas still work in the 2020 landscape. Speaking from my own view, some of it does work and then some of the really dramatic bits really do get a little frustrating. That’s the extent of comparing to the original that I will go.

Before we get ahead, lets do a more expansive recap of the story. Forget You Remember Love is a story about a small town girl Qianyu who saves a rich and cold CEO Junhao from drowning. They part ways with a pretty bad impression of each other to eventually meet again after he gets washed up after an accident with amnesia where she takes him in. For a few months (I think that’s what the timeline is), he stays with her family and helps out while the two fall in love but when his real life catches up, she means to bring him back when some power hungry people from his corporation plot to make him vanish causing him to have another accident that brings him memories back but forgetting the whole time that he stayed in the small village and his relationship with the Qianyu. For her village’s inn, Qianyu ends up having to work with him in order to save it and then causing him to fall in love with her again. Of course in the background, there’s Junhao’s fiancee and then the best friend that secretly crushes on his fiancee and then Qianyu also having a second male lead who helps her unconditionally causing a heavy case of the second male lead syndrome. There’s family and social class issues as well as revenge and dirty manipulation put into play. Like I said, pretty basic plotline for dramas especially for people like myself that have been watching TV dramas since the 2000s (or even before).

However, with that said, chemistry and character design can pull it through. I mean, I didn’t review Meteor Garden remake and even with its issues, that was a pretty successful remake overall (but I really should since my ambitious plan fell through). That’s where Forget You Remember Love might have some issues. First of all, the pacing creates some issues. Running at 38 episodes, there some major repetitive moments that drags on for much longer than it needs. The same issues keep coming up and the same reactions keep happening which creates more frustration than enjoyment at a certain point. With that said, there were some pretty great moments in the first half when amnesiac Junhao, now named Tong Hao is living with Qianyu that plays out really well. The happy and positive person that he becomes and the friendship turned to love that happens between them that wakes up this other side of him.

The key chemistry and fleshed out characters are Qianyu played by Fair Xing, an actress that I personally think is very natural when she acts, Garvey Jin as Junhao who really does give off a very opposite vibe in his normal life and amnesiac life and shows a change when he falls back in love with Qianyu. Its a fairly dynamic performances. Taichu as the second male lead played by Cavan Wen is also a charming and handsome guy who really maked you root for him but knows that he won’t get the girl. The direction for his character especially at the ending bits really adds so much to his character. Qianyu’s mother and and the people at the fishing village, mostly the prior is incredibly fun to watch. Her personality and the little bickerings adds a lot of laughter to the whole series. Where it falls into some fairly one dimensional characters does go to the fiancee Yunyi whose character is the most annoying as all she does is be sad, pretend everything’s okay and then lie about a situation which always backfires and it cycles between being sad and insecure over and over again. The same goes for the best friend character Ziqian who is a rather flat character until they give him a revenge plot.

Overall, Forget You Remember Love is an okay watch. The first half being a lot stronger than the second half. The main issue being that it drags out the ending a little more than it should. The plot is fairly basic as it is a remake however the main leads do have decent character arcs and chemistry making it a fun watch. The moments between female lead and first and second male leads being some of the best parts of the series while the fishing village parts and amnesia parts being the other standout parts.

FNC 2020: Sin La Habana (2020) & Poissonsexe (2020)

Its taken a while to wrap up the Festival du Nouveau Cinema coverage but we’re in the final double feature. Both a romance in their own regards is a Canadian film, Sin La Habana and a French movie, Poissonsexe. Both having a romance wrapped up in highlighting a bigger plot and both carrying a different tone and atmosphere.

Sin La Habana (2020)

Director (and writer): Kaveh Nabatian

Cast: Yonah Acosta Gonzalez, Aki Yaghoubi, Evelyn Castroda O’Farrill, Julio Cesar Hong Oritz, Ahlam Gholami

Set in Cuba and Montreal, Sin La Habana tells the story of a love triangle that grows from a desire to find a better life in another country. A big plan for the main character Leonardo to find a better future in another country that can’t be found in a closed country in Cuba by charming a Montreal traveler Nasim into a relationship in the goal of having her bring him over and eventually get married to immigrate to Canada. When settled, he needs to find a way to bring his girlfriend Sara in Cuba to Montreal so that they can find a way to be together again. However, the issues are piled up when their relationship takes a turn for a more complex when the new country brings on its own problems, not only for Leonardo and Sara but also Nasim who being an immigrant herself has her own issues to deal with.

Looking at the issues of relationships, immigration, assimilating in a new country, Sin La Habana covers quite a few topics. Immigration and how its not as great as people imagine it plus the story of these great ploys at going to no lengths to achieve their goals for a better life to find that things don’t ever go as planned. One in the dark (kind of) and one that isn’t and yet dreams aren’t easier to achieve in another country, its something that is from within as Leonardo goes through from his first moments as a ballet dancer to a roundout point of trying to get a position in a dance group in Montreal. On the other side, Nasim’s character might seem a softer character at first but soon to realize that she knows exactly what is going on and stays cautious but she is fighting her own fight with her family and her future. These two’s story comes in the front that the love triange element falls in the backdrop along with the character of Sara after the Cuba side of things shifts over to the Montreal setting.

Its always nice to see Montreal as a location in movies as a personal little highlight for myself. Montreal is a diverse location but a harder place to fit in because of its language barrier as a French-speaking province in Canada along with the cold winters and it makes for a fitting location for this story. Sin La Habana talks about an issue and perhaps loopholes of the immigration system. A story that probably someone has heard of about one person or another or the news however its the characters that are crafted and their journey that gives Sin La Habana an interesting angle. They each have their good and bad character traits that make them believable and real people and each chasing some form of their own dream and life.

Poissonsexe (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Olivier Babinet

Cast:  Gustave Kervern, India Hair, Ellen Dorrit Peterson, Okinawa Valerie Guerard, Alexis Manenti

Daniel, a biologist studying the disappearance of fish, is haunted by paternity. It is by looking for a woman who could be the mother of his children that he will come across a strange fish and discover what he really lacks: love. – IMDB

Poissonsexe, called both as Fishlove or Fishsex on FNC site and IMDB respectively, is a peculiar little story. The characters are peculiar and they find a strange fish and altogether it has this unique take on the environment especially on a biological marine/aquatic side. Its about love and sex and babies but in the end, its also about these fairly lonely people who do the same things everyday and want to find companionship. A bit of a comedy and a little of drama pulls this story together in a charming way.

The story’s focal character is Daniel, played by Gustave Kervern. He is a rather routine and boring sort of fellow. He has everything planned out for an upcoming baby room without even having a girlfriend and then he gets set up by his friend for online dating. When he meets a woman who finds him parked on the beach, they end up finding a strange fish with legs. This brings their connection together and he slowly realizes that he wants love and not just a child. The whole movie is a little quirky and moments of comedy and awkwardness and yet it manages to find its own balance to make the whole thing fairly charming.

Other than the leading roles standing out, the little strange fish creature adds this almost psychedelic nature to it. Sometimes it feels like it overdoes some of it a little but then, it feels deliberate to make this fish have its own pull for Daniel. However, what is a big theme that pulls the story together is about the environment and how its being wasted away does to the smallest fish which grow extinct because they no longer can reproduce despite the best scientific effort. Yet what goes on this lab almost reflects the story line that Daniel’s character goes through right down to the most entertaining part which its finale.

Poissonsexe is a little odd and the strange fish is a quirky little addition and putting together the parallels of extending the next generation whether in the fish world or human world, the story is about love and feelings instead of the science. There are some disjointed moments and some supporting characters do feel a little one dimensional but its a lot of fun. French humor always seems to have this interesting charm when balanced well and this one definitely.has those charming elements. The love story is a fairly basic element here but what makes it different are the other elements all combined together.

Thats it for this double feature and it wraps up my FNC 2020 coverage! (FINALLY!) Hopefully there were some smaller films that caught your eye. These two were okay for me alhough Sin La Habana did win one of the festival awards.

FNC 2020: Moving On (2019) /Wisdom Tooth (2019)/The Thief’s Daughter (2019)

In an effort to wrap up the FNC 2020 coverage, the final reviews will be in multiple movies. The first is a trio of family dramas, each with their own angle and premise that makes them rather unique (and all three that I did enjoy) plus a focus on a female main character.

Moving On (2020)

Director (and writer): Yoon Dan-Bi

Cast: Choi Jung-Un, Yang Heung-Ju, Park Hyeon-Yeong, Park Seung-Jun

After her parents get divorced, Okju, her father and her little brother move in with a grandfather she barely knows. Life in the new family unit proves challenging for the already traumatized teenager. – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

A lot of Moving On is about coping. Coping with change in a world that feels like everyone is trying to move on as nothing had happened before and dealing with the inner feelings of neglect and loneliness. That is what Okju is dealing with throughout but not only her has some issues, her father also has some tough decisions while her aunt who has moved into the home as well have her own issues. Everyone tries to act like nothing is wrong in fear of their grandfather knowing about all their issues as he also has his own health issues that they worry about. And yet, in all this, the little brother seems to be the one that has escaped all these feelings. He gets a lot of the attention but at the same time, seems less scarred by these effects.

Moving On is a subtle films that focus on everyday people going through everyday issues and as they stay together in this home, they get to know each other’s issues and what bothers them or lingers in their thoughts from the past and present. As the family connections come into play, they each have their form of conflict and struggles that craft these characters especially the main teenage girl Okju who spends a good part of the movie trying to seek attention despite her quiet personality from small things like fighting to have a room to herself and her personal space to getting the attention of a boy that she likes and even the little moments that she shares with her father and aunt that all makes her feel special for little short moments.

Its hard to explain Moving On that makes it not feel like its fairly mundane however, the best movies (arguably) are those that use an everyday life premise and create believable characters and relationships. In this case, its one about a family going through divorce, break-ups and a change in living situation. The subtlety of how its executed really does give a lot of focus on an outstanding premise and story, heavily focused on each of the characters, especially with Okju.

Wisdom Tooth (2019)

Director (and writer): Ming Liang

Cast: Xingchen Lyu, Jiajia Wang, Weishen Wang, Xiaoliang Wu

Gu Xi and her half-brother Gu Liang lead a hardscrabble life in a village in northern China, where they struggle to make ends meet. Their unusually intimate relationship takes on a new dimension with the arrival of the charismatic QingChang, daughter of a rich businessman.  – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

Wrapped up in both a family drama featuring a close sibling relationship where the brother and sister’s life revolves solely around each other. However, as their lives take a turn for new opportunities, Gu Liang meets a new girl which opens up a mostly behind the scenes romance. Viewed mostly from the point of view of Gu Xi, she needs to adapt to a world where she isn’t the center of her brother’s world as an outgoing rich girl QingChang gets into the picture. Call it an unusual love triangle if you want but aside from the family/romance side, a fairly more subtle subplot lies in the little details of the dealings that Gu Liang and his best friend are involved in in the fish business as well as her boss’s issues due to her undocumented status.

One of the best elements of Wisdom Tooth is the link of Gu Xi’s wisdom tooth issue at the beginning that pulls back to it at the end as she finds back her way. At the same time, its the execution of the premise from the lighthearted sibling relationship at the beginning that defines them right away to its gradual addition of QingChang and the best friend which leads to a friendship between WingChang and Gu Xi as they try to bond together which all comes crashing down one day and she needs to make a huge decision. Set in the 1990s China backdrop and its cold weather in a part of a more northern China (I can’t remember the exact location) but the looming winter adds a lot to the setting and cinematography.

Aside from that, this story is heavily focused on its characters and the relationships between each of them. With that said, the entire cast does an outstanding job. The standout goes out to crafting the character of Gu Xi, played by Xingchen Lyu who is followed throughout as she starts to find herself by the end and her independence. At the same time, Gu Liang played by Xiaoliang Wu is also done really well. His struggle between his sister, his love relationship and his “career” is well-portrayed. The ending of the story is done in a fairly unique manner that I quite liked. If there was one little element that held the movie back, it would be the imbalance of how it treated the mixed genre of family drama, romance and crime thriller.

A Thief’s Daughter (La Hija de un Ladron, 2019)

Director (and co-writer): Belén Funes

Cast: Greta Fernandez, Eduard Fernandez, Alex Monner, Tomas Martin, Adela Silverstre

Her father is a convicted, her boyfriend rejects her, her brother is troublemaker, her baby needs money and she’s half-deaf of one ear. Bad times to be Sara. – IMDB

A Thief’s Daughter is a movie about coming to terms with what is the current situation and striving for a better day than settling for the life with a criminal. Sara, played by Gerta Fernandez is the central character as she moves through her various responsibilities as a mother, a girlfriend, a sister, an employee and as a daughter. The relationship between her and her father is the plot that constantly builds throughout the film. However, Sara’s life is a struggle in general. As she finds a more stable job to support her desire to get her younger brother’s custody, her relationship with her father is further worsened along with her brother’s attachment to their father. The feeling of loneliness is what gradually becomes more apparent as she ends up dealing with everything on her own, whether its her own doing or the better choice to keep away from the trouble.

A Thief’s Daughter has relatively decent pacing. The different relationships she has all outlined and built upon throughout to give them all purpose and depth. Her father’s presence although not completely apparent, it appears with enough context to highlight their issues. Its a great work of the writing that gives this looming sense of dread that something bad could happen to Sara when her one good thing being finding a stable job at a school kitchen due to all the conflicts that happens to her throughout. In the end, it becomes a worry that hits her about whether she will be alone for the rest of her life, a rather heartbreaking revelation for Sara, a character that tries her best to do the right thing by everyone but rarely seems to get treated with the same about care from others. There’s a lot that’s done very well in A Thief’s Daughter. Its subtle and quiet but Sara’s character really does end up being rather powerful. Especially when faced with people that don’t seem to stick around her life and her father who she finally stands up to about her own feelings.

That’s it for this Festival du Nouveau Cinema features.
A good batch of family drama with central female characters overall which are all well worth a watch.

FNC 2020: Cocoon (2020)

Cocoon (Kokon, 2020)

Director (and writer): Leonie Krippendorff

Cast: Lena Urzendowsky, Jella Haase, Lena Klenke, Elina Vildanova, Franz Hagn, Kim Riedle

One long, hot summer, 14-year-old Nora spends most of her time with her sister and her sister’s best friend. While the two older girls run around with the crowd of boys who flock around them, shy Nora stays meekly in the background. When she meets anti-conformist Romy, a girl unlike anyone she’s ever met, unexpected desires take hold of her. – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

Cocoon is a 2020 German coming of age film about a 14 year old girl who starts figuring out who she is despite facing the different voices around her as she hangs out with her sister and her friends through an exceptionally hot summer. Cocoon feels similar to movies like Call Me By Your Name and last year’s FNC movie Mickey and the Bear as she confronts both her sexual orientation, first love and change in her own body while having some of her own family issues to deal with both her sister and her mother. Cocoon is two fold as she relates to the caterpillar that she has in a jar which over the course of the film eventually disappears and reappears as a butterfly by the end. It creates a nice parallel of her emotions over this snippet of her life as she toughens up to embrace who she is and be brave enough to walk her own path.

For main character Nora, its a slice of life about this hot summer in the neighborhood and city where she lives. She narrates segments of videos from her cellphone that recaps what happens and her feelings all shown in vertical phone clips perspective and acts like chapters to this summer. She starts off as something of a wallflower as she lurks in the background, having to follow her sister, Jule and her friends because of her mother being rather uncaring for them. Her sister and her friends are fawning over boys and how to lose weight to look like models and generally be cool and slightly reckless. For her, she’s changing alone and has no one to talk to about this when she meets Romy, a girl that she starts to have a friendship/relationship with but with resistance from her sister but opens up her feelings for the first time to be herself and accept her differences.

In many ways, Nora is a great coming of age character as she doesn’t just face finding herself but the movie also makes a great effort in telling about her struggles at home especially when faced with being the one that seems be okay with her mother’s lack of caring in comparison to her sister that seems to do a lot of things that tries to get her mother’s attention and she is there to pick up the pieces. It showcases her multifaceted relationships in all of its dysfunctions: parent-child, sibling and sisterhood, friendship and especially with herself. Lena Urzendowsky portrays Nora in a wonderful way that gives her quite a change as she moves from her introvert and outsider in social settings from the beginning to the end where she becomes comfortable in her own skin despite the things she overcomes throughout the film. The story isn’t as simple and normal but in a lot of the characters and their underlying traits are portrayed in their actions shot through only the eyes of Nora.

I’ve always had some issues with German films especially in their pacing elements but Cocoon is really good as the execution of the phone snippets as chapter breaks helps a lot in drawing Nora’s inner feelings with the quiet and introvert character that breaks out of her own cocoon through the process. The parallels are done well and the story is well-written that makes it all come together nicely.

FNC 2020: The Book of Vision (2020)

The Book of Vision (2020)

The Book of Vision

Director (and co-writer): Carlo Hintermann

Cast: Charles Dance, Lotte Verbeek, Sverrir Gudnason

Eva, a mysterious doctor, searches for an answer to her urgent dilemma as she unravels Dr. Anmuth’s Book of Vision. Stellan gets involved in her life and is forced to confront his own nature, as Eva faces the biggest decision of her life. – IMDB

The Book of Vision feels like its a movie to ponder upon a little especially in terms of life. Its told in two storylines. The first is the present with Eva (Lotte Verbeek), a doctor who decides to leave the practical elements to study the history of medicine in hopes of solving her own illness. It leads her to meet a man, Stellan (Sverrir Gudnason) who leads her to look at Dr. Anmuth’s Book of Vision, a book that explores his experiences with medicine. This is where the second storyline comes in as it bounces between the happenings of Anmuth’s past as a physician as he gets phased out of his profession with newer views and practices in medicine. The two come to this blend as the two stories start to blend together much further propelled by the characters in past and present both leading different roles but existing together, leading to perhaps a theme of how perhaps life doesn’t exactly end when it does but exists in another form while others move on to some sort of reincarnation or something. I can’t truly say that I understand the complete depth of the film but at least that’s my takeaway from it.

There’s something so beautiful of The Book of Vision though. Its the cinematography mostly that shows this incredibly elegant and sophisticated air. The 18th century Book of Vision bits focus around this sense of belief in the concrete or whether some superstitions exist outside of what feels like a harder to believe realm of fantasy. The design of that element is breathtaking and mysterious all at the same time and yet, the imagination and creativity feels beautiful to look at. The outfit and the tone all coming together in those 18th century scenes so well. In the reality, there is another feeling as it focuses around not only the mystery but the gradual connection and relationship between Eva and Stellan and there’s a different feeling to the scenes using the lights and the work they explore. One of the most beautiful elements are when the more fantastical elements where the past leads to the present and the characters fall into each other’s world. Its these little subtle details. A little hard to understand what it all means but the way its put together is really quite the spectacle.

The Book of Vision is Carlo Hintermann’s narrative feature film debut after having done previously four documentaries. This one dives into a part costume drama, part romance drama and bringing in a creative dose of medicine, life and fantasy. Its not a piece to digest on the first viewing perhaps of the deeper connections and meanings. While that usually isn’t exactly the best selling point, there’s something so mesmerizing about how its portrayed and the beautiful cinematography plus the wonderful performance of this connection between these three characters paralleled in the past and present between Anmuth, Eva/Elizabeth and Stellan played by Charles Dance, Lotte Verbeek and Sverrir Gudnason respectively, that all makes it well worth a watch.

FNC 2020: Red Post on Escher Street (2020)

Red Post on Escher Street (2020)

Director (and writer): Sion Sono

Cast: Sen Fujimaru, Riku Kurokouchi, Mala Morgan

It follows a film-maker who holds auditions for his net project. Several of the actors who fail to win roles participate as extras. – IMDB

While Sion Sono is a well-known director from Japan, its one that is a bit of a blindspot in my watch list. Red Post on Escher Street is an odd film. It almost feels like one long audition reel with a lot of different groups of friends and touching a little on the different backstories from a widowed young girl and her family to a group of friends who do theatre shows today or a group of extreme fangirls of the director of this film, etc. Looking at both sides from the auditions to the different people behind the scenes like the director’s story and the executives funding the film and their influence and all coming to the finale where the film is being made and all these people who didn’t get the roles become these extras and it all goes to a crazy finale. The whole thing feels like a lot of something and nothing and almost feels like its not very significant and yet, there is something so charming and entertaining about the whole ordeal which is what makes Red Post on Escher Street such a fun movie experience despite its long runtime of almost 2.5 hours long.

Red Post on Escher Post highlights a film set and the difficulties plus the differences in viewpoints. The director wants to find his roots and a new muse of sorts that he had with a previous actress that he worked with however, things are set up in a certain way to be coerced to have the investor’s wishes of casting his own choice of cast. The pressures on all sides and the different backstories of the people all reflected and come together by the end. It all gets so ridiculous at the end and yet so hilarious as we have the shoot all fall apart when the extras want to fight for their chance and follow their dreams, each warped in their own thoughts and this whole string of people running down the streets. I’m sure the Red Post Box is meant to have some significance but its really great how it shows up in different scenes as a purpose for various events whether its finding certain items or delivering their audition application forms or whatnot.

Red Post on Escher Street is a movie to just experience. Its hard to say that anything is especially outstanding but yet it all seems to work together in a rather over the top way. Some of it doesn’t all make sense but then the script is done that by the end a lot of the randomness comes together in subtle details in dialogue and a little reveal for one of the characters. The scenes and outfits are colorful and the characters themselves are also quite catchy and oddly intriguing. Among the tons of serious movies in this year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema, its quite the palate cleanser to have a movie that discusses a very serious themes of grief, loss, chasing dreams, oppression but all wrapped up in this colorful and oddly comedic tone.