Cast: Benedict Wong, Benjamin Wadsworth, Lana Condor, Maria Gabriela de Faria, Luke Tennie, Liam James, Taylor Hickson, Jack Gillett, Tom Stevens, Michel Duval, Sean Depner, Olivia Cheng
A coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of late 1980s counterculture, which follows a disillusioned teen recruited into a storied high school for assassins. – IMDB
Based on the comic book series of the same name by Remender and Wesley Craig, Deadly Class is set in the 1980s revolving around a hidden private academy called King’s Dominion which trains those skilled with assassin abilities, honing their unique and individual skills. Its with this that Marcus (Benjamin Wadsworth), who is on the run for allegedly burning down the orphanage he lived in that he is recruited by Master Lin (Benedict Wong) with a little help from his trusted student Saya (Lana Condor). Not from an elite dangerous order, Marcus finds himself not truly fitting in except for a group of misfits at the school as he navigates through this new environment and embraces his own capabilities as new dangers start targeting both the school and himself personally.
Deadly Class is an interesting existence. It embraces and integrates its comic book roots as it does add in these animated sequences especially when recalling the past of the key characters with this group of friends that has bonded together due to different issues. Their back stories help explain the motives of their characters. The comic book elements down to the whole cinematographic elements of the show gives its a lot of style whether its the character designs or King’s Dominion. The whole tone of the show blends well together and is visually appealing for the most part, capturing both the environment of the school but also the grimy outside world that exists which polishes them as they go on their own “missions”.
The tone and plot point can be a little off-putting as the high school drama for the most part. Especially by the middle of Season 1 when Marcus, Maria and Saya have this very wishy washy sort of love triangle that gets a little frustrating to watch as these three take a turn in their character arcs. Much like most series, when things go bad, everything else is going bad at the same time so its all goes a little crazy which is intriguing to watch how it all unfolds since it adds in other elements that help build up the world but also adds in some annoying bits that seem beside the point especially since Marcus is a character with his own issues that also seem rather easily manipulated into certain situations. With that said, the best parts of the show is the action and assassin oriented bits when each of these characters do work together or go into some outing together to achieve something. The danger and the classes do make it all the more intriguing to navigate but at the same time, it somehow does feel like the angle being this unique school gets lost in the bigger plot. Thats not to say that the enemy isn’t decent. For the most part, its the typical mentally unstable sort of character coming for some kind of revenge but there are some outside forces that are targeting the school as well. The two together works well enough.
Looking at the cast itself, everyone fits their role fairly well. Benjamin Wadsworth plays Marcus fairly well. It does capture that teen angst and inner struggle, considering the show is mostly about him. The standout of the show absolutely goes to Benedict Wong as Master Lin who is a tough headmaster of King’s Dominion but also done in such a well-balanced way. Much like its great to see Lana Condor as Saya to be playing this Japanese yakuza’s daughter who is a femme fatale in training with her motorcycle and her katana in hand. Much like Maria portrayed by Maria Gabriela de Faria whose character is on the more frustrating side but does have a lot of ups and downs but her assassin look is really great.
Overall, Deadly Class is a pretty fun ride for its first season. The premise is pretty original and isn’t quite like other teen dramas especially with the school for assassins setting. Sure, there’s a few things that I wasn’t particularly happy about but it did have some pretty decent style. Its a little sad to see that after the great foundation it set up and the cliffhanger ending that it was cancelled for season 2.
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.
Cast: Patrick Tse, Petrina Fung, Suet Lam, Suet-ying Chung, Sam Lee, J.J. Jia, Belinda Yan, Zeno Koo
Once famous for his quick blade, a retired assassin can no longer earn a living with his cut-throat skills. Summoned again, he partners with his chauffeur to carry out special missions – fullfilling the wishes of old people looking to kill themselves. When commissioned by a young girl who has been deserted by her parents and lover, the “Elderly’s Angel” squad finds an arresting way to complete its task. – IMDB
Having missed this one during last year’s Fantasia Festival, its great to see this one creep into Netflix very quietly. Co-written by Ka-Tung Lam and the directorial debut of Ricky Ko (mostly credited with the camerawork for making of and assistant director in other projects prior), Time tells the story of a retired assassin team that now struggles with their own lives as they become elderly: being phased out of work, loneliness, neglect, loss of health, etc. They find new purpose when they use their skills as the Elderly’s Angels performing euthanasia for the lonely and sick elderly. That is until their services are requested by a teenage girl Tsz-Ying who wants to die by all means and slowly gets acquainted with Chau, the lead assassin of the crew now in his 80s.
There is no doubt that Time’s main draw is its stacked cast of main leads who are acting veterans in all regards dating back to their hey-days back in the 60s. Patrick Tse was once the heartthrob of films and a main leading man in Hong Kong TV while Petrina Fung was known as the “Shirley Temple of Hong Kong” in the 60s. It also adds in the consistent supporting man of Suet Lam who seems to find himself in a lot of Hong Kong films in so many different roles and in this one scores himself a main role as the driver for this assassin team. However, this roles takes a much more dramatic turn of events.
Aging is a theme that matches to this leading cast and gives them a platform share their acting skills especially for Patrick Tse who is already in his 80s when filming this one and gives him a chance to reunite briefly with Chow Chung (currently 90 years old) in his cameo role as one of the elderly seeking the help from the Elderly’s Angels. The film executes the topic of aging and the elderly in the form of a dramedy. The drama and the humor does keep a decent balance. The drama is in these three characters lives as they deal with all the struggles that aging has brought for them, at the same, it also reflects bigger societal issues and the modern day values or lack thereof. Between all this, there are some bits that do come across in its dark humor or even a little silly at times that makes for some decent laughs.
Time is not your typical Hong Kong film filled with action and crime. However, this one shows off a wonderful talented cast when the basic Hong Kong acting pool is honestly growing a little thin. The story itself is relevant to the current society towards the elderly (and even dabbles into the topic of teen pregnancy). The film does give it a heartwarming overall feeling as old friends and unlikely acquaintances open up a whole new world for each other as life deals each of these elderly assassins a serious negative dose of aging.
American Girl (2021)
Director (and co-writer): Feng-I Fiona Roan
Cast: Karena Lam, Caitlin Fang, Kaiser Chuang, Audrey Lin, Teng-Hui Huang, Kimi Hsia
During the SARS outbreak of 2003, 13-year-old Fen returns to Taiwan. – IMDB
American Girl is the directorial feature debut for Feng-I Fiona Roan who tells a semi-autobiographical story of Lily Wang, a mother who returns to Taiwan from USA with her two daughters after she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Between adjusting to her life back in Taiwan which proves especially hard for her two daughters especially her eldest with her school work and making friends, the 2003 SARS outbreak also hits causing their alert to be high.
American Girl focuses mostly on the mother Li-li (Karena Lam) and the eldest daughter, Fen (Caitlin Fang) as they navigate through this new life. Li-li struggles with her illness and feeling herself again as she fears the breast cancer getting worse and death causing her to become a rather depressing sort of character which transfers over to her family. Fen in turn doesn’t quite understand all this but despises the negative energy causing her to fight with her mother constantly especially being stuck in Taiwan where its hard to be accepted by friends or the lack of understanding at her school when she falls behind. She also struggles with identity as well when she constantly is referred to as “American Girl”. While both Li-li, Fen or even her father (Kaiser Chuang), they each are flawed characters. Its easy to understand their position but also feel a little frustrated that they each lack the communication to fully portray their feelings properly in this time of adjustment after years of living apart.
The situation feels realistic and the film chooses to set itself during the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia which is something fairly relatable in our reality. The fear of infection and a mother’s own situation as her own health issues creates a sense of hopelessness when something happens to her younger daughter. There’s a lot of mixed feelings going on but each of these situations and how these characters deal with them help build up these characters and make them realistic. In fact, some of these things are happening as other things are, just like in real life.
Don’t get me wrong though, American Girl isn’t just a depressing slow-burn film. In fact, it is rather heartfelt in many ways. It might not be a film for everyone in terms of pacing or sentiments. There are certain elements that feel like it happens a little late in the story but it does however gives these characters the moment they need to reflect. There’s no big moments in this film and everything is fairly everyday life from conversations at the dining table between the family or arguments in the bedroom or classroom interactions however, it reflects the differences between certain cultures in Taiwan (an East versus West mentality, especially in the school setting) and the film does have some good moments when they do little things together as simple as it all feels.
In a luxury apartment tower, six different women in unhappy marriages end up crossing the line into infidelity. – IMDB
Fishbowl Wives dives into the married lives of various women in a pricey high rise where the higher the condo, the more expensive and wealthy the family is considered. Each of these couples struggle with their own issues which eventually lead them on the path of infidelity or in one case, pondering it. Based on the manga Kingyo Tsuma, the series is formed like an anthology where there is one central plot with the more successful and popular couple in the high rise penthouse who runs away from her abusive husband, giving up a life of luxury for a calmer and respected life at a goldfish store. The other stories of the other women are framed within their own individual episode. The structure itself creates an imbalance, leaving out a lot of actual substance for building these characters for the various women and leaving it with their decision to choose infidelity. With these stories also comes a lot of steamy sex scenes. Giving up their depth on the other characters, it does create space to elaborate on the main storyline revolving around Sakura (Ryoko Shinohara), her abusive husband Takuya (Ando Masanobu) and the goldfish shop owner Haruto (Takanori Iwata).
While the storyline is fairly thin overall, it does look at many different types of marriage especially highlighting the characteristics and values embedded in the Japanese (or maybe even some more traditional Asian) society. It looks at the different dynamics that exist within these marriages which essentially create the issues. While it seems in some cases a fairly ridiculous point for infidelity, it all dials down to the main point that some marriages might fade or change in their priorities or perhaps, all in all the lack of communication between these couples. Some of these affairs focused are truly hilarious to watch and a bit self-inflicted when the final episode shares all the end game of each of these couples. In some other cases, it also is a twist in the whole infidelity plot. It also brings in the whole concept of whether the one you marry is your “twin flame” as the eccentric Feng Shui lady in the high rise tells them seemingly leading them to these different affairs. There’s no doubt that the stand-out one that borders ridiculous and self-inflicted but a tad hilarious is the episode The Lunchbox Lady.
The central plot is where the main story does lie leaving many points to ponder in the whole situation. What makes it very respectable is the story itself especially revolving the growing bond between Haruto and Sakura is very comfortable to watch with a lot of very warm and romantic scenes without involving a lot of sex scenes. It gives their relationship a certain foundation that eventually comes to light a deeper story to the whole scenario. It shares a much more equal and balanced relationship compared to the marriage that Sakura escapes which is controlling and physically and mentally abusive. The whole fishbowl and fish brings in a lot of the analogy to her own life. The key here being that Ryoko Shinohara and Takanori Iwata are relatively good in their roles. I don’t watch any Japanese TV series so this is probably my first one so I’m not exactly sure whether this is below or above normal standard for this sort of show however, while their chemistry wasn’t always great and sometimes felt a tad awkward, it did manage to build up as it went along and the dialogue and their connection also managed to be pretty decent. Ando Masanobu playing Takuya does a good job as well since his character is pretty despicable right from the start and feels a bit more conflicted as it starts spiraling to the finale.
Overall, Fishbowl Wives is not exactly a great series. It lacks depth and character growth for the most part. It plays around with the concept of infidelity in marriage and does cover some interesting stories about marriage itself that may contribute or justify these choices (whether or not you accept it will probably also add or minus to the enjoyment of the series). These stories do reflect in its own way the societal values towards marriage and divorce in the Japanese society. However, if there’s anything to give it praise for selling itself in the steamy market, the show is pretty heavy on the steamy sex scenes and for the most part, they are filmed pretty well. In fact, not only those scenes are done well, there is a pretty decent use of cinematography overall. Not exactly the best first venture into Japanese TV series but it was pretty average, some good and some bad elements.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
Cast: Park Ji-hu, Yoon Chan-young, Cho Yi-hyun, Lomon, Yoo In-soo, Lee You-mi, Kim Byong-chul, Lee Kyoo-hyung, Jeon Bae-soo
A high school becomes ground zero for a zombie virus outbreak. Trapped students must fight their way out or turn into one of the rabid infected. – IMDB
The latest Korean series to land on Netflix is a zombie high school horror drama called All of Us are Dead set for the most part in the suburban high school and follows the different groups of students trapped in as this zombie virus outbreak hits. All of Us Are Dead is rather unique. The angle it approaches to how this virus was produced and the motive behind it attacks a core issue which essentially didn’t do anything to fix the problem itself but the intentions being respectable for a science teacher with a desperate mission to help his son find the courage to fight off his bullies. This factor alone makes the virus outbreak being in the high school seem like a reasonable and suitable location.
Running longer than the average Korean series available on Netflix, All Of Us Are Dead has 12 episodes where each runs over an hour long. While the execution of the show itself is relatively decent, the pacing is where it tends to feel little stretched out in parts especially with some of the side plots and side characters, some of which feels almost unnecessary as it isn’t developed in enough length to make them meaningful other than being an additional factor that changes the main group of high school students trying to move from one location to the next to find safety and escape.
With that said, there are some great elements in terms of execution. The zombies and their transitions are done really well. The exploration of the virus is explained as it follows these video logs from the creator as he tries to track its change and hopefully find a treatment which sporadically pops up as the students experience those moments. There are decently executed and well-spaced out twists that give the story enough pivot to keep it engaging. The students themselves also have some creative ways in defense and finding ways to escape their current predicament. Adding in a touch of humanity in times of crisis and survival and mostly decent character development and some meaningful supporting characters regardless of their screen time and All of Us Are Dead is definitely an engaging viewing experience.
All of Us Are Dead is actually much more than a zombie teen drama. In fact, the whole teen element adds in their own coming of age angle for a few of the characters. Its main storyline revolving around two teens who are neighbors and childhood friends On-jo (Ji-hu Park) and Cheong-san (Chan-young Yoon) who have the most character development throughout the series, making their friendship and bond very meaningful to watch. However, that doesn’t discount the other characters in this group of classmates who add in their own comedic relief and different know-hows that contribute to various solutions. Of course, also having some students who have their own selfish personality, perhaps one of the most irritating characters played by Squid Game’s supporting actress Ji-Yeong who lands a role as a classist and snobby girl, Na-Yeon (Lee Yoo-mi).
Much like the main antagonist of the story right from the start, Gwi-nam (In-soo Yoo) who also ends up having an annoying and hated role which feels like it doesn’t quite reach the satisfying sort of ending that his character would probably deserve in the end. Or even dialing right back to some of the other classmates who feel like significant characters but lack a more in-depth character development to give them more context. Of course, this is a survival show so a lot of the emotions grows as the body count increases as the classmates also start being infected one by one and the longer time surviving together creates a bond between them. That element plays incredibly well and is honestly the strength of the show, even when it expands later on when the military gets involved.
In the heart of keeping this mostly spoiler-free, I don’t want to dive into too many details. All Of Us Are Dead is a pretty decent Korean zombie series. It has a lot of great elements in terms of execution of the horror and tension while balancing it with some comedic relief. A lot of that is contributed by a rather solid cast even if some characters do lack more development, the friendship and bond between each of the groups do prove to be what carries a lot of the story and makes the more dramatic moments more emotional. There are some arcs that definitely could have been spared or shortened and some supporting characters that probably didn’t get enough screen time. The length did affect a bit of the pacing making some parts feel longer than it needed to be but overall, the series does a great job at building up to a good ending that makes for a great direction to expand if they were to have a second season.
Cast: Lucy Hale, Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Brooke Smith, Jerry MacKinnon, Satya Bhabha
A group of teenage girlfriends deal with their impending graduation from high school. – IMDB
Dealing with high school seems like a central focus of coming of age stories as the next step in life triggers change and insecurities. Dude focuses strongly on its group of four girl friends as they face loss right before their final year. As they each have their own worries, they all individually make their own decisions even if it isn’t always in agreement with their group. Between getting ready for graduation, getting high together and planning out their next step for college, their last 2 weeks before graduation is one filled with both comedic and dramatic moments.
Girl friends stories are always quite endearing to watch. These four friends each have their own unique personality. Two of the girls are specifically focused with Lucy Hale’s Lily and Kathryn Prescott’s Chloe who share the same loss at the beginning which makes each of them cope in their different ways. The film does a good job at building their friendship where they go to events/parties/school together but gradually all have their own experiences which change each of them, giving them their individuality as well. Lily has her encounters which takes her aback while Chloe chooses to pivot her plans to be closer to home. All these things highlighting the process of moving on to the stage and accepting change and separation. In comparison, Alexandra Shipp’s Amelia and Awkwafina’s Rebecca both have rather one goal oriented, giving them a much simpler role but still they add some fun scenes.
Overall, Dude is a fairly basic coming of age teen comedy/drama. The issues they face are fairly relevant and believable and the characters are decent. If anything, the characters do make the film rather enjoyable. Plus, you even get to enjoy a verse or two from Awkwafina rapping. The writers remember that the film is about teenagers so there is a good balance between drama and fun.
Every Day (2018)
Director: Michael Sucsy
Cast: Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Debby Ryan, Jeni Ross, Owen Teague, Lucas Jade Zumann, Katie Douglas, Jacob Batalon, Sean Jones, Nicole Law, Maria Bello
A shy teenager falls for a spirit who wakes up in the body of a different person every morning. – IMDB
Adapted from the young adult novel of the same name by David Levithan, Every Day stands out from its unique premise where a person “A” migrates through different bodies everyday of the same age. Despite this, they still find a girl Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) who is willing to love them for who they are, putting aside gender and appearances. The story itself feels relevant to today more than anything and tells a story about acceptance and love.
Every Day builds on this premise. The film’s focus in love and acceptance is due to this person’s personality or soul and their connection. Another side of this premise highlights all the different person exist within one community from homeschoolers to extremely religious student. While the story itself seems a little ahead of times for teenagers especially talking about romance in connections and such, the message here is pretty good. The whole body migrating mostly remain a mystery as they never quite figure out what it is however, there seems to be some control as they soon discover which also brings up the question of how unfair it is to take over someone’s life and make them lose out. The whole mystery of the situation also does lead to some unclear moments where A embodies the person but still manages to have their skills. Something that isn’t explored quite enough perhaps but then this is a teen romance drama and not some sci-fi or fantasy film.
The film itself works pretty well as the young cast delivers some good performances. The main constant being the female lead played by Angourie Rice as she faces this person and starts to accept him. Angourie Rice does a great job with the role at hand especially when faced with this odd person who morphs everyday. The conflict, the acceptance, the heartache is all well developed and portrayed by her. The cast which A migrates includes a handful of characters which have more screen time with Justice Smith, Owen Teague, and Lucas Jade Zumann. To be fair, the film itself does a decent job but while I haven’t read the source material, the premise itself has a lot to do with the intrigue. The execution is fairly well where credit is due but there are still parts that feel a tad disjointed.
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Victoria Ruesga, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Billie Lourd, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga
On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night. – IMDB
Olivia Wilde’s debut directorial feature film is a raunchy teen party film. Booksmart is a pretty fun little high school graduation romp that circles around two girls who have given up their social life for the duration of high school to excel in her studies to realize on the day before graduation that their dedication to the books was in vain as other students who also had fun also got into great Ivy League schools.
One night adventures are something that are quite the fun ride most of the time like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Booksmart actually works in a similar structure as the two best friends try to hunt down the biggest party that they should be at before their high school life is over but ends up in many other places and meeting some strange people along the way. The fun in all of it is that they soon realize that their classmates are more than meets the eye whether it is quirky or different, they all have their own passions and don’t quite have everything as together as they make it seem. Perhaps they don’t quite see it until the end, but a lot of the assumptions they make are eventually overturned throughout the night one by one as they get caught up in different scenarios.
Booksmart is very focused on its two young leading actresses, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein playing Amy and Molly respectively. These two bring their characters to life really well. The two both reveal some glaring differences that make them opposites which all comes crashing down as their own issues surface however, these two do have something great that defines their friendship in a positive way in that they have their own structure as friends and their own rules and words and the essence of their friendship is further encouraging as the two take every moment to lift each other up. The best is when they get changed into whatever outfit and they give each other endless oddly structured compliments which adds humor but is very endearing as well. All great friendships do have those little things and its what makes their feel genuine.
If there was something to nitpick about the film, it has to be that some scenes are taken a little overboard mostly in comedy which makes it sometimes a little unbearable and perhaps could turn some people away as it does come on a little strong. Its not too frequent but the quirkiness and oddities could sometimes feel that way. One of the bigger examples could be Billie Lourd’s character which pops up everywhere. Most of the time, she is very funny and her character does come together by the end when her underlying characteristics are further defined as they know the other people. There really isn’t a whole lot to criticize for this film. Booksmart has a lot of elements that work really well for a teen coming of age comedy about best friends. Its just a lot of fun.
Carrie Pilby (2016)
Director: Susan Johnson
Cast: Bel Powley, Nathan Lane, William Moseley, Desmin Borges, Vanessa Bayer, Colin O’Donoghue, Jason Ritter, Gabriel Byrne
A person of high intelligence struggles to make sense of the world as it relates to morality, relationships, sex, and leaving her apartment. – IMDB
Based on the novel of the same name by Caren Lissner, Susan Johnson’s full length feature directorial debut was for Carrie Pilby which centers around a young girl with high intelligence and realizes that outside of her books and routine, there really isn’t much else. In terms of human relationships, she lacks the ability to find her place, losing out on the social life that she should have at her age. When her therapist makes a list that she needs to complete, her life slowly starts to form together as the emotions with the people she meets brings back a past event that overshadows her in a certain way.
Carrie Pilby is a rather interesting film. The film has some great characters and it focuses a lot on the whole socialization of a the character as she enters the adult world ahead of her time, missing out on the experiences that could craft those skills. Instead her life is filled with books. Honestly, I don’t really see the issues with it being a reader and all, right? However, for her, its a much deeper issue that her therapist is addressing linking back to her family and her past. While not exactly a fish out of water sort of story, Carrie is an odd character and her interactions do turn out to be a little comedic when she easily overthinks a situation or misunderstands certain scenarios or simply making some bad judgment calls. However, it all dials down to her character development being set in a rather emotionless world to protect herself and these tasks help her take down her walls gradually and let those emotions back in. The execution of that element is done very well and Bel Powley does a great job portraying the character.
While Carrie’s character is done pretty well, the other characters do leave a little to be desired as they are designed fairly thin. The other more prominent character does go to her therapist played by Nathan Lane who does a rather decent job to achieve the means. The other characters are just scattered people from dates to neighbors to her father who really just help push her to learn more and see more about other people in the world to see what humanity is and embracing the imperfections of the world. It captures the essence of coming of age pretty well overall.
Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler- Nicholson, Molly McMichael, Alysia Lucas
A young couple, bound by a seemingly ideal love, begin to unravel as unexpected opportunities spin them down a volatile and violent path and threaten the future they had always imagined. – IMDB
6 Years is a familiar story about young romance. One that talks about about a lengthy young romance that’s been around for years with plans of their future that suddenly get shifted when their future plans take on the unexpected changes because of new opportunities. Do they continue or do they end it? That is the main question these movies take its audience on.
Front and center for this film is Mel and Dan who start the film off in a hot and heavy sex scene. Its a unique way to start it as it does show off their intimacy together. However, the film actually sets them apart a lot of the times to interact with their new circle of friends or their work environment as they start stepping into the young adult path into their new career paths. Mel’s friends are still about getting drunk and immature about their decisions, giving a glimpse of the younger age and the people she hangs out with that also makes for some bad decision-making. However, Dan is different. He feels more settled and grounded and just waiting for his turn to grow in his career and making the connections he needs by associating with work friends. As the film puts them in their own social environment and not so much involved in each other’s social environment, the insecurity also sets in, especially for Mel who starts to react both emotionally and aggressively. The film doesn’t take it too far but the hints of the changes in the essence of their relationship is there.
With that said, the film is mostly about these two characters played by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. Each doing a rather decent job at handling their roles respectively as they spiral away. Perhaps, some of the issues is mostly with the script as some of the dialogue feels rather annoying, no matter the scenario of Mel with her friends or Dan with his friends in the social environment. No one in this film other than them seems to believe that a 6 year relationship at their age would work and with all that negative force, its hard to not have some doubt planted in it. But then, when you think deeper, this also does bring up the issues that have been hidden from the comfort of having each other in their lives.
6 Years is a pretty basic film and whether you connect to the story itself and the content will probably determine how much you enjoy it in the end. These characters have their certain level of depths. The film does lack a little progress in general and makes some strong scenes to instigate those changes. However, the dialogue sometimes does get a little grating and annoying in parts. It does feel rather real and raw in some cases where the doubt does feel reasonable because their plans were made with stability and belief that there won’t be any change to their current situation, which also shows their naivety to real life. That is what brings these character to life and what makes this film an interesting one in terms of the material but lacks a little in the execution of the material to make it completely engaging with the whole situation.
All The Bright Places (2020)
Director: Brett Haley
Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Kelli O’Hara, Lamar Johnson, Virginia Gardner, Felix Mallard, Sofia Hasmik, Keegan-Michael Key, Luke Wilson, Chris Grace
The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something. – IMDB
Adapted from a novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven (review) who also co-writes the adapted screenplay, All The Bright Places tells the story of two teenagers, Violet and Finch who are both living unhappily for their own reasons. Violet is living with survivor guilt after her sister’s death which gives her a fear of cars and limits her to things that she finds are safe. Finch is a little more obscure as he is having consulting sessions at school with the counselor after an incident and is considered a freak by other students. When they work together on a project to wander the town, Finch takes Violet to a lot of adventures that slowly pulls her out of her sadness but slowly he retreats into his own darkness and struggles to get out from it.
While its been a few years since I’ve read the novel itself, the adaptation does have some differences from the novel but does keep it in the important parts to make it the story effective. One of the key elements of the story is between the two main characters Violet and Finch and in turn their portrayal by the two main leads, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. These two young actor and actress do capture their roles really well especially since they each have their own struggles. Justice Smith having the more obscure and complex one which never truly gets addressed as to what he has but his struggles from past to present is constantly shown in little details on screen. However, the film is only about these moments but rather it spends much of the time with Finch helping Violet find her happiness and smile again to break free of her own guilt and in turn, their adventures while rather insignificant at the beginning, each has their own meaning.
All The Bright Places has a very strong source material to begin with and a rather surprising ending when Finch gets a much more dramatic turn of events in its set up in comparison to the film. However, the film does capture the essence of the story in general which focuses on the neglect, ignorance, unknowns as well as struggles with mental illness in general and how Finch’s character is trapped in something he doesn’t quite understand but no one seems to notice that he needs the help either.
All The Bright Places might look like a teen romance that can just be brushed over but while there is some romance between Finch and Violet, the story is much more meaningful and has a lot of depth for what its trying to portray. Plus, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith does deliver some solid performances to capture these two teens very well from start to finish to truly feel their mental transition in both Violet and Finch right down to a very touching speech with Violet recapping the lessons she learned from the whole experience with Finch.
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Remy Hii, Sam Palladio, Nick Sagar, Amanda Donohue, Florence Hall, Ricky Norwood, Suanne Braun, Mark Fleischmann, Will Kemp
When a priceless relic is stolen, Queen Margaret and Princess Stacy enlist the help of Margaret’s cousin Fiona teams with a man from her past to retrieve it, with romance and resulting in a very unexpected switch. – IMDB
After two The Princess Switch movies, its really hard to think about what other roles they could switch at this point. Of course, last time’s introduction of the royal cousin comes into play as she amends her bad ways by helping them leading the story to focus on her this time around and her little story about why she is the way she is. To be fair, you have to love Vanessa Hudgens a lot to watch these films since she takes up 3 entire roles on her own. The only thing missing is if they cross worlds again and bring in her role from The Knight Before Christmas as another role for her. Now that film is majorly lacking a sequel although as a form of sequel for this film series might not be exactly what I am waiting for.
The Princess Switch 3 : Romancing The Star is actually not too bad. If anything, its along the same enjoyment level as the second film. Some things feel ridiculous especially in plot when the switch is now a last resort situation so seeing the imitation of imitation for Vanessa Hudgens actually is rather comedic especially when the other versions mock each other. Fiona is a huge change since that character wears over the top outfits and has a big personality, making both Margaret and Stacy pretending to be her also full of craziness. The films as they progressed do somehow out of their own craziness has their own logic and it seems logical that it starts off from a basic switch between two people and now its more about the other schemes and giving each of these Vanessa Hudgens’ their own sort of story as well. The romance and whatnot is not anything unique in all honesty but there is a feel good element even if this one hits some cringe-y moments.
With that said, the star of the show is Vanessa Hudgens and she does take each of these roles and runs with it. It sure is fun to see her really showing a lot of different sides of the people that she plays. It gets a little odd sometimes but at this point of the third movie, its not hard to accept a lot of it no matter as Stacy, Margaret or Fiona. Of course, this time’s focus is a lot more on Fiona and Margaret as they do the big switch and its great to see Margaret pretending to be Fiona even when we all know that its just the same person acting everything, normally or pretending. Its really hard to explain but somehow those moments still are the best in the film. The love arc is also a focus here as they usually are and this time its for Fiona as she embraces a childhood friend and a quick fling which of course meant more than she is ready to admit with Peter, played by Remy Hii (also in Crazy Rich Asians). Their moments are a little bit cringe-y as they have this very in-your-face type of chemistry with the long stares and paused moments close to each other. It tries really hard but I’m not exactly sure the chemistry is there although Remy Hii is a pretty charming guy and fairly suitable to be in the role.
Overall, The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star is alright. Its nothing to call home about in terms of a sequel but there are some fun bits. Since I do enjoy Vanessa Hudgens, seeing her everywhere in this film doing all these different personalities and pretending to be another version of someone adds a lot of humor and fun. There are some awkward moments and the romance is not exactly my fave of the three films but it has that whole heist and reverse heist stealthy element that does give it a different sort of angle which somehow works to a certain extent.