Double Feature: Wedding Season (2022) & Look Both Ways (2022)

Wedding Season (2022)

Director: Tom Dey

Cast: Pallavi Sharda, Suraj Sharma, Arianna Afsar, Sean Kleier, Veena Sood, Rizwan Manji

Pressured by their parents to find spouses, Asha and Ravi pretend to date during a summer of weddings, only to find themselves falling for each other. – IMDB

The latest Netflix romantic comedy plays into the Indian culture as it revolves around a summer full of weddings and two kids who are set up together and decide to fake a relationship to avoid all the chatter. Asha (Pallavi Sharda) is the main character who is the central point of view where the plot is concerned. In some ways, it plays along a generation gap and culture gap that drives with kids born and raised in another country and while some details aren’t quite the applicable, the general story does apply to a lot of immigrant families. Its a fun angle to take for the story even if the romantic comedy of fake relationships turning real isn’t exactly a really unique idea overall and honestly has been done to death a lot, much like when I talked about the same general concept with another recently released Netflix film Purple Hearts (review).

Despite the predictable elements, the characters and cultural elements are pretty fun. The nagging parents and the whole wedding scenes all in different styles and the fun banter between the two leads are fairly entertaining. Its probably where the charm of this film is mostly centered on. Asha’s character is done pretty well as she plans this own thing because she wants to achieve better things in work and forgets about the core values of the project she is working on so as she tries to distance herself from her background because of growing up in the Western society, she eventually realizes a little something more about herself that exceeds that of just romance in the whole picture of the film. There’s a certain depth for Asha as her mindset shifts especially as her and her sister also have a lot of moments which eventually derives to a deeper understanding for the arranged marriage and relationship between her parents as well.

This is a romantic comedy so its time to take a look at the male character Ravi, played by Suraj Sharma. Honestly, I haven’t seen this actor since Life of Pi (podcast discussion). He definitely plays the more chill and fun character here but there is a definite secret that he and his family are trying to keep away that gets revealed by the end. Its a rather silly secret but the reaction from it is on one side fairly comedic because it did feel a little over the top but also a bit annoying because it felt like something that shouldn’t have gotten the reaction from Asha seeing as she is more modernized in her thoughts. Regardless, Ravi does have some fun bits and does also represent a certain other group of immigrant children who take on their own path against their parents’ wish.

To be fair, Wedding Season isn’t a bad film overall. The romantic elements actually are the weaker links here as the cultural elements take over to make the film more unique in this area. That’s not saying that the chemistry for the two main leads isn’t there as there definitely is even if some bits feel like it just jumps over fairly quickly. However, the film shines with the family moments with Asha, her sister and parents as well as the supporting characters from the nosy auntie to the judgmental views of others. There’s some truly charming elements here.

Look Both Ways (2022)

Director: Wanuri Kahiu

Cast: Lili Reinhart, Danny Ramirez, Aisha Dee, Andrea Savage, Luke Wilson, David Corenswet, Nia Long

On the eve of her college graduation, Natalie’s life diverges into parallel realities: one in which she becomes pregnant and remains in her hometown to raise her child and another in which she moves to LA to pursue her dream career. – IMDB

Look Both Ways is one of the latest Netflix films and balances really well the romance, drama and comedy elements of its story. The story itself while being compared a lot to Sliding Doors (a film that I haven’t seen yet) runs a parallel storyline which starts at the beginning when its main character is thrust into a situation following a quick decision when it bases around her pregnancy test on her graduation night. On one hand, the positive result turns her life around and the negative one takes her to execute her five year plan. Look Both Ways is a story about options in life regardless of what things may pop up accidentally and the positive message that it will all work out in the end as both sides of her realities lead to a different level of success and achievement and its own set of challenges as well.

With that said, a film like with alternating realities is heavily reliant on its execution and flow. In this case, it does a pretty good job. There is a logical bounce between the realities which is easily to follow and is a long enough set piece that doesn’t feel like the jumping from one reality to the next is too abrupt or lacking in delivering the feelings of the scene. It does help that the storyline keeps itself simple. On one hand, the planned reality focuses on the workplace challenges while the other side sticks to the challenges of a having a baby and the mixed feelings and responsibilities that come with it as well as how to rebuild her own life. While its a very hypothetical element to give the story two outcomes and their own timeline, these two timelines still feel rooted in a lot of realistic feelings and trials and tribulations especially when even the planned moments in life will have their unplanned obstacles. The positive message is truly what makes this film a fun one, despite perhaps a few plot point flaws here and there which doesn’t take away from the feel-good elements.

Look Both Ways stars primarily Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart, an actress that is very underrated as she does a great job with the role of Betty in Riverdale and despite the supporting role was pretty good in Hustlers (review) as well. In Look Both Ways, she is the focal character and all the events revolve around her and she gives both sides of the realities a really good portrayal and connects really well on both ends with the sentiments at that moment. Its nice to know that destiny doesn’t play a big part here mostly as both realities sees her end up different romantically as well. In reality, the two parts actually play together to create the full person that she becomes. Much like the LA career five year plan focuses on her career and friends more, letting the story focus more on her friendship, the pregnancy sidetrack takes her back home where it brings in a lot of nice conversations between her parents (Luke Wilson and Andrea Savage) as they have to also accept this new reality and gradually despite their disappointment also brings their own form of support.

Overall, Look Both Ways is a pretty good film. The cast is pretty decent especially with Lili Reinhart doing a great job at portraying her character. Its also a film with a wonderful positive message that ends in an open-ended way which gives the film a good thoughtful ending as well. Perhaps, its a good point of view for life in general to explore the reality that when things don’t quite go as planned that it will work out one way or another.

Double Feature: Persuasion (2022) & Purple Hearts (2022)

Persuasion (2022)

Director: Carrie Cracknell

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Henry Golding, Richard E. Grant, Yolanda Kettle, Ben Bailey Smith, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Mia McKenna-Bruce

Eight years after Anne Elliot was persuaded not to marry a dashing man of humble origins, they meet again. Will she seize her second chance at true love? – IMDB

Based on Jane Austen’s novel of the same name (review), Persuasion tells the story of Anne, a woman well past her prime for marriage who ends up moving to Bath due to his father’s frivolous spending as the return of a man she once refused marriage after persuasion due to status returns to town after 8 years and brings back her inner struggle as they attempt to run in the same circle as friends.

Years ago when I did a Jane Austen books read, Persuasion was one of the hidden gems considering Pride and Prejudice is the most talked about. The Netflix adaptation is a little odd in execution. Dakota Johnson is rather suitable in her role as Anne and she remains the narrator of her own story as it brings in some fourth wall breaking elements as she speaks her feelings to the audience throughout the film. Unlike the clever use in Enola Holmes, it keeps her character development amusing but still feels almost  little too modernized. However, the attempt to make this unique is a good effort, considering this is one of the key elements of the execution.

Persuasion is a story that embodies a deeper and more mature story as a love slowly rekindles and Anne and Captain Wentworth need to get through their past differences from the failed proposal years ago. The issue here is that these two have no chemistry and part of it is the film execution with how their encounters are written but the other part is that Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Wentworth doesn’t quite have the acting depth to interpret those quiet brooding stares as he observes or as they exchange glances. Arguably, the best moment between them, a lot thanks to some nice cinematography, is their final moment as they rekindle their romance and realize that they both still love each other.

Persuasion does hit a lot of expected elements of a period drama like the setting and the soundtrack are pretty good, much like the costumes themselves are decent as well. Some of the supporting cast including the other suitor played by Henry Golding also does a good job. Where the film falls short is in its tone which adds in a bit of silliness and humor as well as breaking the fourth wall which is a unique take but the script might have let it down a little, much like the romance which felt like it didn’t have the chemistry it needed to make it more memorable.

Purple Hearts (2022)

Director: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum

Cast: Sofia Carson, Nicholas Galitzine, Chosen Jacobs, John Harlan Kim, Kat Cunning, Linden Ashby, Scott Deckert, Anthony Ippolito, Loren Escandon

In spite of their many differences, Cassie, a struggling singer-songwriter, and Luke, a troubled Marine, agree to marry solely for military benefits. But when tragedy strikes, the line between real and pretend begins to blur. – IMDB

At this point, Netflix delivers a good amount of romance films a year in whatever genre and usually its a pretty mixed bag and truly a test of chemistry and casting rather than script. Purple Hearts is the latest offering as a romance drama which sets a premise of a marriage out convenience for a young soldier being shipped out very soon and a waitress/musician, both with their own hardships that this arrangement would offer.

Deal is, as someone who watches a lot of Chinese drama, marriage before love premise has been done to death over the past two years in all kinds of premise. Of course, it usually is more humorous and light hearted at the beginning rather than the dramatic twist here. While the general premise is fairly predictable, the use of a soldier and his situation that gives him a purple heart is one that makes this journey much more memorable as while it isn’t so much about war, Luke finds meaning in becoming a Marine through it despite the danger and connects more to his father (Linden Ashby) because of this choice despite the bad decisions he had made prior.

Much like Cassie who as the child of an immigrant family also makes her reconsider her feelings about the sacrifices the Marines are making as she learns more about Luke as they do what they need to do to keep up appearances. This understanding also helps her find inspiration to write powerful music which brings her growing success. This brings in the additional music element which is probably the purpose to cast Sofia Carson. While I don’t avidly listen to Sofia Carson, the two songs that she performs here are pretty good and fit the story well. In some ways, it does tie to the story itself in a meaningful way so its a way for her character to express herself despite the arguments and banter between her and Luke.

Honestly, I’m not too hard on romance dramas. In reality, a predictable story is acceptable when they can deliver a believable chemistry between the two main leads. In this case, the chemistry between the two could definitely be better since their characters are fairly thin in development, however the premise and the execution gives this story a little more than just a love story so with everything rounded together, the two coming together from despise to leaning on each other to their revelation that they love each other by the end , its a pretty decent heartwarming and touching journey between the two. A romance where two people help each other grow in one way or another creates their chemistry subtly and a story with this premise of living the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows despite the fake marriage at the beginning.

To be fair, when it comes to romance films and I’ve seen quite a few of them being the sappy romantic that I am, this one might come up fairly average but it still works for various elements. The ending even had me feeling rather connected with Cassie and Luke’s love when these two finally figure out their feelings.

Double Feature: Girl’s Revenge (哈囉,少女, 2020) & Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror (2022)

Girl’s Revenge (哈囉,少女, 2020)

Director: Weica Wang

Cast: Yu-Ping Wang, Yuri Chen, Shiny Yao, Pii Liu, Mike Lin, Edison Song, Teng-hong Xia, Moon Lee

Bullying. Humiliation. An ugly truth. She’s standing up for her friend. But her retaliatory quest is about to unravel. After a sex video subjects her friend to mockery and bullying, a transfer student sets out to reveal the truth as campus secrets come to light. – IMDB

There’s been a really big focus on bullying in Asian film and TV lately in the past few years from Girl From Nowhere, Better Days and Cry Me A Sad River, etc. A lot of these films focus on the extremities of the situation. Girl’s Revenge takes it from another angle which looks not only at bullying but how social media plays a big part in the modern school environment when a sex video leaks from a party gone out of control. Its more of emotional bullying than a physical one.

Girl’s Revenge is basically set up in 2 parts. The first focuses on the new transfer student Yun-heng and her bond with her new group of friends leading up to the birthday party where one of her friends Li-Chia gets involved in this sex video being taken and distributed after an edgy party game. The second part is how Yun-heng teams up with other students to try to figure out what actually happened at the party to give some justice to her friends. It all dials down to walking the line between whether Yun-Heng’s justice for her friend is making her into the bullies that she despises by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

Girl’s Revenge runs at a tight 81 minutes and for that, it has its pros and cons. The story keeps itself very quick-paced and moves forward from Yun-Heng’s transfer to making new friends and drawing those lines of certain other classmates. The conflict happens quickly much like the investigation itself but the quick-paced also keeps it focused on the situation at hand. On the other side, the tighter runtime sacrifices a little on building up more on the characters as there just isn’t enough time to do it. There’s a basic background of what happens and hints of Yun-Heng’s past as to why she’s been transferred to this school which affects her decisions in the end, especially when its exposed at the end. Its somewhat of a twist to the story itself which at one part does push a little too far and becomes slightly apparent where the plot wants to take it.

The cast here is pretty close-knit, focusing on a few key characters from the three friends, the in-running class ambassador, the boy pursuing Yun-Heng, another classmate who initiates the investigation and the school teacher and principal. The roles are pretty clear-cut and the characters here faced with this situation do work well, especially for the character of Ke-Chien, the class ambassador who is the main suspect of what goes down as she seems to be a wolf in a sheep skin trying to be nice to everyone but also having the resources to make it seem like the subconsciously exposes other student’s secrets but acting innocent about it. Its never been so clear that someone is a suspect but then, its these characters that do create some good friction especially since there is no outward and obvious bullying, so how do you subject such a person to what they’ve done. The film takes a good approach in this situation.

Girl’s Revenge might lack a little bit of character depth but its portrayal of this form of bullying in the modern world in a school setting is one that doesn’t forget to make sure we know that these are high school students in the set-up who find joy in life’s simple things but also that easy accessibility of social media is one that can easily be misused and it no longer has to be a physical act but an emotionally disturbing one.

Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror (2022)

Director: Jin-seong Choi

Anonymous and exploitative, a network of online chat rooms ran rampant with sex crimes. The hunt to take down its operators required guts and tenacity. – IMDB

Continuing on the online crime investigation documentary angle, Netflix recently delivers Cyber Hell, a South Korea n crime that involves a mystery chat room, the dark web and a slew of police officers, reporters and hackers working together to trace down hidden manipulators who use compromising footage of young girls to make them do bad things to themselves which gets shared online with paying members. As internet becomes our main form of connection more and more, these real life horror stories really do deserved to be shared, not focused on the killer themselves but both the devastation of its victims but also bringing attention to the dangers lurking in the deep dark corners of the web and condemnning not only those who created the space but also those who create the demand for it.

Unlike other limited series, Cyber Hell is executed as a 2 hour documentary film. It fits the investigation really well as it moves through the time frame of how they track the culprits down from the angle of the police and others who are simply reporting the investigation to bring awareness to the public about such crimes. This investigation is also one that is much closer to the present as it took place starting in 2018 and follows each step that they discuss until the eventual capture of the culprits. The documentary focuses heavily on the process and the hardships of looking for a killer in today’s online space especially with the advancement of technology and the more securitized software or online chatrooms which provides a safe space where information isn’t saved but also can be a useful tool for those who mean harm to others, much like creating spaces like the Nth room.

As it moves from one interviewee to the next, it makes it more real that some of these people remain hidden while others are from various fields of job willing to join the case at the time. Luckily, the ones involved were eventually caught and the final highlight of the issue didn’t talk about those who did it but also who else is responsible and bringing in a bigger point of how easily what we consider safe information can be used to blackmail.

Much like ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’ which was made into a Russian film #Blue_Whale (review) which was adapted to talk about the issue of the dangers of online darker spaces, Cyber Hell achieves that by telling the story of the hunt from those involved from their online interactions with the ones involved to those actually implicated into the situation and afraid to talk about it and being used to delay the investigative work. Considering its something in South Korea and wasn’t exposed further, it was an intriguing case to learn about and well worth a watch.

TV Binge: Riverdale (Season 2, 2017)

Riverdale (Season 2, 2017)

Creator: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Cast: K.J. Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse, Madelaine Petsch, Casey Cott, Madchen Amick, Vanessa Morgan, Mark Consuelos, Charles Melton, Marisol Nichols, Skeet Ulrich, Martin Cummins, Luke Perry

While navigating the troubled waters of romance, school and family, Archie and his gang become entangled in dark Riverdale mysteries. – IMDB

Picking up from the events of Season 1, Riverdale which was already a darker version of its original comics takes a step further into the darkness. Everyone finds themselves faced with the aftermaths of the previous season’s events and having to step up to take some dire measures. Archie faces his own inner struggles as he tries to make a stand against the Black Hood and the havoc wreaked, while wrestling with feeling like a coward for how he couldn’t protect his dad. Betty is faced with both family issues as it falls apart while she has to isolate herself due to Black Hood approaching her to pull out her darkness. Veronica gets more involved into Lodge Industries operations while struggling with how much she wants Archie involved. Jughead is dealing with joining the Serpents and standing up for his Southside family but being judged for growing up in the Northside alliances with his friends and Betty. Between the Riverdale mayoral elections in the horizon and Lodge Industries having some mysterious plans as they buy up a lot of the key locations and the Southside High’s merge with Riverdale High, more characters get involved and more issues get caught up in the mix.

Its been a while since I’ve watched Riverdale Season one but the feelings that I initially had with it were decent. The tone and atmosphere being the main thing that stands out especially since it is based on the graphic novels and not the comics, which already explains the dark tone. At the same time, my biggest criticism for the first season was Archie’s character really not quite hitting the mark and in turn, Betty and Jughead seemed to stand out a lot more. With the second season, a lot of that still applies. Riverdale takes a much darker tone this time around as it involves a lot of other elements with politics and isn’t just about the high school crew. Its about gangs, the underworld, the politics, etc. All this actually builds up pretty well for the Riverdale world as it gives the town even more life and draws a clearer picture of the nitty gritty elements of Riverdale and its division between the Northside and Southside as well as some of the deeper secrets of the key families. Having just finished Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, its also pretty nice to see constant nod to Greendale even if its not actively involving any of the characters there, mostly due to the different networks that the series have been released on albeit being created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

When you dial it down, Season 2 is about two big plot points that trigger all these other little bits. The first is the whole Black Hood situation especially as it involves Betty directly since it almost seems like the Black Hood wants to use this to fully bring out her dark side so that she will do his bidding. Of course, its also once of the big twists as to who the Black Hood is. With that said, Lili Reinhart does Betty so much justice and truly captures that role so well that she’s definitely one of my favorite characters in the series.

On the other side, its all about what the Lodge Industries scheme is as they start buying up a lot of the Southside real locations with his shady connections coming into town, the conflicts between Veronica and her family’s choices as well as Archie’s gradual involvement into this which also puts a strain on his side. The upside is that Archie’s character does get a little more development since he is one of the titular characters and while Archie making dumb choices is all part of the character design in the comics and graphic novel, it gets frustrating to see him constantly be manipulated. It does match with the characters as well as Veronica and Archie as an item also seem to live in a rather shallow relationship in comparison to Betty and Jughead that seem to be more intellectual since they team together to solve mysteries, which is one of the very fun parts of the series itself.

Of course, Jughead has his own involvement here as he gets darker and more dangerously proactive as he joins the Southside Serpents and finds his place there. On that front, Season 2 did a good job of building up the characters further with these events and its not only the main characters but also expanding to the parent characters as well.

Season 2 was definitely a step in the right direction. Its a little dark and dramatic overall which is one of the reasons that I had stopped watching it in the first place since it just wasn’t the vibe I was looking for but they do capture the whole thing really well. Riverdale as a fictional town and the society comes to life just as much as the characters in it do as well. Not to mention, Season 2 had a cameo role with Tony Todd. With Season 2 done and dusted, it time to step into Season 3. There’s 6 seasons as this goes live so I have a bit of catching up to do especially with the final Season 7 set to premiere in 2023.

Double Feature: A Perfect Pairing (2022) & Trust (2021)

A Perfect Pairing (2022)

Director: Stuart McDonald

Cast: Victoria Justice, Adam Demos, Luca Asta Sardelis, Samantha Cain, Craig Horner, Lucy Durack, Antonio Alvarez

It follows a hard-driving LA wine-company executive who travels to an Australian sheep station to land a major client and there she ends up working as a ranch hand and sparking with a rugged local. – IMDB

The latest Netflix romantic comedy released pairs up Afterlife of the Party (review) Victoria Justice and the Sex/Life actor Adam Demos as they meet on a sheep station, one trying to use her hard work to prove her capabilities as a self-starter and win a contract from a wine company executive while also sparking a connection with the “boss cocky” as he teaches her the ins and outs. Suffice to say at this point, romantic comedies are rather rinse and repeat and for the most part with Netflix rom-coms, they haven’t really been too groundbreaking. A Perfect Pairing doesn’t escape the rom-com formula or deliver anything too special. What does give it a fun vibe is that the chemistry between the main leads are pretty good overall and the setting with the beautiful scenery of the Australian countryside.

With most rom-coms nowadays, the selling point is the chemistry that the main leads deliver. In this case, A Perfect Pairing is pretty good. Adam Demos and Victoria Justice do work rather well together in their respective roles and the progression of everything is pretty fun especially when you have a city girl thrust into a foreign rural setting, learning something from the start. The fun isn’t only with them but also the co-workers that she encounters there who go from doubting her to accepting her gradually in their own way. The little bickering and conversations are pretty good since there is a variety of people there. It makes Victoria Justice’s character’s initial goal to bag a deal for her little wine distribution company fall into the background. Like I said, that sort of thing isn’t exactly unseen, in fact its a plot point for many rom-coms for the main female lead to head out to achieve something with extreme measures to eventually realize that its not the point. Only difference here is that hers is very clear right from the start and in this scenario, Adam Demos’ character is the one with a bigger secret to hide (which actually didn’t feel like it was such a big secret overall and the reveal causing such big reactions).

Overall, A Perfect Pairing isn’t anything too special in terms of plot points or execution. However, where it works best is capturing the beautiful Australian vineyards and rural setting, adding in that bit of fun as Victoria Justice’s character gets dirty as a farm hand and the pretty decent chemistry between the two. In reality, Victoria Justice has proven time and time again that she does capture her roles pretty good.

Trust (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Brian DeCubellis

Cast: Victoria Justice, Matthew Daddario, Katherine McNamara, Lucien Laviscount, Ronny Chieng, Lindsey Broad

In this sexy and twisty ride, New York gallery owner Brooke and her husband Owen each face exceptional temptations, with most unexpected results. – IMDB

Trust is an erotic romance drama which is based on Kristen Lazarian, one of the co-screenplay writer’s play Push. I’m always a little skeptical when I start any film that sells itself as an erotic and romantic film. Most of the time, it lacks a lot of those elements and just turns into a really soapy sort of deal. Trust is a rather middling experience. There are some really good execution plot points that help make it feel pretty unique to watch. Its like a semi-Shadowhunters reunion with Katharine McNamara and Matthew Daddorio in bigger roles and then there’s Victoria Justice which I’ve been catching up on a lot of her films, much like the Season 2 of Emily in Paris actor, Lucien Laviscount. While the plot itself does try to seem more clever than it really is, it actually does work through the whole “trust” element in relationships pretty good. The ending is a bit silly but the overall feeling of the film does have a decent use of these two people who are encountered by their own temptations and emotions as they have their own experiences.

Taking a look at the execution, Trust uses a non-linear format to shed light on unveiling the story here from both the main characters Brooke (Victoria Justice) and Owen (Matthew Daddario) side of the story, filling in the pieces as it becomes relevant. Its one of the stand-out elements of this film as it keeps the mystery in place and helps keep up those questionable trust moments but also making the reveals gradually, sometimes being more effective than others. There is no doubt that the film itself takes up a rather soapy drama tone especially when dealing with a relationship square as there are 4 parties involved and the two mains having their own temptation: Owen with a girl at the bar Amy (Katharine McNamara) and Brooke with the artist that she represents Ansgar (Lucien Laviscount).

That leads to the characters themselves. The cast itself is rather small but is pretty sufficient for a story like this one that keeps it rather simple on the surface but when adding in the elements of trust between the characters, it does pull a few nice tricks out of the hat. That has to do with how these characters are portrayed as they develop throughout the film and does add a nice element of how trust should be portrayed and questions the element of trust effectively in its scenarios on both sides. The roles themselves are pretty much on the surface but then the story itself doesn’t really need too much depth since its more about the situation than the characters themselves.

To be fair, Trust isn’t anything to call home about and the ending itself seems a little flimsy. There’s a little play on details about trust and how Brooke and Owen will move forward after this all settles down. Its plays out thinking its more clever than it actually is, however, there is some decent entertainment here. I can’t say that its very romantic or erotic in that regard but there are definitely some moments that work relatively well that regard. For sure, its not a film for everyone and some moments and dialogue even feel a little cringeworthy but somehow, maybe the clever execution or how the story is plotted out that it works for me to a certain extent.

TV Binge: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Part 1, 2018)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Part 1, 2018)

Director: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Cast: Kiernan Shipka, Ross Lynch, Lucy Davis, Chance Perdomo, Michelle Gomez, Jaz Sinclair, Tati Gabrielle, Richard Coyle, Miranda Otto, Lachlan Watson, Adeline Rudolph, Abigail Cowen, Gavin Leatherwood

As her 16th birthday nears, Sabrina must choose between the witch world of her family and the human world of her friends. Based on the Archie comic. – IMDB

Being yet again wildly behind on most Netflix series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina finally made its start as I work through the Netflix back catalogue. Being fans of Archie comics and originally meant as a spinoff of the show but no longer exactly the case, despite the mention of Riverdale in some occasions of the show in dialogue, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina starts off in its Part 1 setting up the stage from the get-go as Sabrina enters into her 16th birthday and has to decide whether she will be following her witch side or mortal side. Of course, she chooses neither, making her life split in half as she fulfills both sides of her obligations. With threats popping up from various locations and her human emotional side taking over her to protect her friends as some unknown manipulating forces also affect her situation as a whole, the show revolves around various topics in this world set in Greendale which has both the witch/warlock network but also the mortal network coming into play as Sabrina tries to strike a balance and starts to realize that maybe its not quite so easy to do that.

The first part lays out its foundation for everything and usually for these sort of teen shows are aimed to build up the scenario, the world and the characters. For the most part, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina does a decent job. From start to the finish, all 11 episodes do contribute to crafting this dark world of Sabrina both on the mortal and magical side. Sabrina’s life takes a turn as it gets affected from her family to friends to love, making clear those divisions but also the things that makes her unique as a “half breed”. On a storyline level, it manages to keep it rather good but of course, with its fair share of teenage angst added into the mix as it brings up themes of bullying and gender much like the darker side has its own set of issues from the patriarchy and more older beliefs of the darker world at hand. There are some odd frustrating moments here and there especially since Sabrina’s character, as she shifts between the worlds, becomes rather annoying at parts but its all part of the character building as her character does solidify, much like the other ones, by the end of Part 1.

Perhaps one of the more head-scratching elements of the show is the visuals that the production or perhaps post-production decides to take as the show in almost the entirety has this blurry hue that soaks in the background. Its uncertain whether its meant to give the show the visual uniqueness or to create the separation of the two worlds, however as much as for some scenes, it does it some favors, in others, it is quite a nuisance to be present all the time and maybe even taking away the effectiveness it could have it wasn’t present most (if not all) of the the time. The revamped style of Sabrina the Teenage Witch to this version of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (much like Archie versus Riverdale) is already a darker and more graphic version so it almost feels unnecessary to try to push more of it onto its viewers. Sure, it is quite noticeable and gives it that unique feeling but when its the whole show that uses this, it eventually fades into the background and loses its meaning or purpose (if it had any in the first place other than just as a visual aesthetic).

Overall, Part 1 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a pretty fun ride. As a teen show, it still keeps a lot of the expected elements of teenage angst in the mortal world but still mirrors itself well into the magical world as she enters into The Academy of Unseen Arts. There are still the little cliques and the contrast of the values from each side, much like the contrast of the two worlds where the mortal emphasized the light/good element and is what the normal person would use in terms of lingo but the other side, the witch/warlock side is all about embodying the darkness which swaps things around turning things around. Its a pretty interesting world to dive into by the end even if there are some rather frustrating parts here and there but the show does keep things pretty constant with its conflicts and dilemma that surrounds Sabrina constantly.

TV Binge: Deadly Class (Season 1, 2019)

Deadly Class (Season 1, 2019)

Creator: Miles Orion Feldsott & Rick Remender

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.

TV Binge: Hellbound (Season 1, 2021)

Hellbound (Season 1, 2021)

Creators: Sang-ho Yeon & Gyu-seok Choi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Feature: Time (殺出個黃昏, 2021) & American Girl (美國女孩, 2021)

Time (殺出個黃昏, 2021)

Director: Ricky Ko

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.

TV Binge: Fishbowl Wives (Season 1, 2022)

Fishbowl Wives (Season 1, 2022)

Director: Matsuyama Hiroaki & Namiki Michiko

Cast: Ryoko Shinohara, Takanori Iwata, Masanobu Ando, Kyoko Hasegawa, Wakana Matsumoto, Shizuka Nakamura, Saori Seto, Anna Ishii, Hadekazu Mashima, Shingo Fujimori, Atsuhiro Inukai, Yuki Kubota

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.