Double Feature: I Kill Giants (2017) & I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Moving right along with our double features into the I selections! Trust me when I say that I don’t deliberately choose movies in decades apart, it just happens. The first is 2017’s fantasy film I Kill Giants paired with a movie that, believe it or not, is a first watch, 90s slasher film I Know What You Did Last Summer. Let’s check it out!

I Kill Giants (2017)

I Kill Giants

Director: Anders Walter

Cast: Madison Wolfe, Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade, Rory Jackson, Art Parkinson

Barbara Thorson struggles through life by escaping into a fantasy life of magic and monsters. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club*

Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by writer Joe Kelly and artist J.M. Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants also has its writer as the movie’s screenplay writer as well. I Kill Giants is a fantasy drama about a young girl called Barbara (Madison Wolfe) who lives in this world inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and baseball player Harry Covelski where she is defending her hometown from giants with her handmade weapons and traps. With this important task at hand, she keeps mostly to herself until one day, a new girl from Leeds, Sophia (Sydney Wade) comes to town who befriends her. As Barbara finally opens up about her world to Sophia, her fantasy world starts colliding with the reality as Barbara has to face the new school psychologist Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana), the school bully Taylor (Rory Jackson) as well as her older siblings who doesn’t understand her like her older sister, Karen (Imogen Poots), as they all try to get pull her back to face the reality that she’s running away from.

While I Kill Giants does drag a little here and there, the imaginative and creative story that it tells is one that is fairly poignant. Visually, its also really captivating. Right from the beginning shots when we see Barbara clad in her bunny ears head band running through the forest, avoiding a giant and pouring this jam-like liquid onto the trees. The cinematography is done incredibly well. At the same time, the fantasy creatures, both giants and the harbingers also are well-designed and fun to watch. The story itself is expected that it would take a more psychological turn as it creates a twist for the character of whether this fantasy world is real or only in Barbara’s mind.

I Kill Giants also packs in an interesting cast with Imogen Poots and Zoe Saldana both having key supporting roles to this younger actress. Not to mention that Madison Wolfe captures Barbara incredibly well. The story itself tackles a lot of issues from school bullying to unhappy circumstances, escaping from reality and eventually finding joy in the reality. There’s a lot to like about this adaptation whether its the message or its creativity.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

i know what you did last summer

Director: Jim Gillespie

Cast: Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Muse Watson, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki

Four young friends bound by a tragic accident are reunited when they find themselves being stalked by a hook-wielding maniac in their small seaside town. – IMDB

Like I mentioned in the intro paragraph, I Know What You Did Last Summer is indeed my first watch. I might have seen snippets on TV before but never have seen the film in entirety but I’m a big fan of movies like Scream (review) and 90s slasher since they have this cheesy dialogue factor that I really love a lot. I Know What You  Did Last Summer definitely does tick those boxes really well. It was a lot of fun to watch. Not exactly a very scary movie but there was a few tense jumpscare moments that worked really good. The best moments are anticipating a jumpscare but not knowing when it will land and still feeling startled.

If we look at the cast, the four main leads in 90s reflected the general criteria of 90s slasher films. There was a good balance of the characters needed in this group of four friends of what slasher movies usually would have.  The dialogue is definitely one of the elements that is full of cheese and actually some of it is a bit wooden but somehow the 90s slasher films always seem to have those very cringe-y dialogue that brings a lot of enjoyment. Of course, this element is one that differs between people. While its something of an enjoyment here, the acting in reality leaves a little to be desired. Some of the characters are a tad over the top. One of the surprises was seeing Johnny Galecki in this for sure.

Overall, I Know What You Did Last Summer is pretty fun. Its one that easily can be compared to Scream, which in my opinion is better overall in terms of all the elements and the tension, but this one is just entertainment. The mystery and how the four try to figure out who they killed and how the story itself is executed is done well. There are issues with this one but its not enough to prevent me from wanting to watch it again.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two films? Thoughts?

Double Feature: Hush (1998) & Humanoids From The Deep (1980)

Next double feature is here as we move to the H selections. Two very random titles picked on my part. The first is 1998’s thriller Hush and followed by 1980’s Humanoids From The Deep. Let’s check it out!

Hush (1998)

Hush

Director (and writer): Jonathan Darby

Cast: Jessica Lange, Gwyneth Paltrow, Johnathon Schaech, Nina Foch, Debi Mazar

A couple with jobs and apartment in NYC, decide to move to his mom’s farm, get married and have the baby there. They can also make the changes to get a better price for the farm. However, there’s something seriously wrong with his mom. – IMDB

What to say about Hush? I think its fairly laid out in the plot summary above. Its one of those movies that doesn’t really give you more than its presenting. Jealous mother-in-law who plans out a great plot to get her son and daughter-in-law back to the farm house and then has some more plotting going on. The way the story itself is executed is actually also quite following that line. It doesn’t give the characters a lot of place to guess where its going, perhaps because we have something of a “god’s eye” to the situation, its meant to build the tension of how the characters will do. There are some little moments where its much more intense in the scene of what the mother-in-law characters decides to do and how far she will go to reach her objective that has a shocking element but its much more in the end. The movie in general is a fairly slow paced business with  not a whole lot going on.

Gwyneth Paltrow is being mostly how you would expect her to be. She does fit well enough into her role as Helen, the daughter in law who eventually does see through to her mother in law, Martha’s schemes to a certain extent. At the same time, the son character, Jackson played by Johnathon Schaech is more written to be a bit of an idiot. Some things that he believes doesn’t quite make sense. The biggest issue with the characters is that Martha, played by Jessica Lange does everything in such a suspicious way from every dialogue to every reaction to deliberate move that its all in her face that its hard for someone to not notice something is wrong and yet, the son and daughter-in-law characters seem too absorbed in their own situation to notice (or maybe that’s its intention?).

I’m honestly  not really hating on Hush. There wasn’t a lot of expectations going in as it was a random pick but at the same time, the movie felt a tad disappointing to watch as it didn’t have much of a high point. When it did reach a more shocking point, it was already in the final act and felt a little bit too late to re-ignite interest. The premise itself is alright but the movie just needed to be executed with a little more mystery perhaps.

Humanoids From The Deep (1980)

Humanoids From The Deep

Director: Barbara Peeters & Jimmy T. Murakami

Cast: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow, Cindy Weintraub, Anthony Pena, Denise Galik, Lynn Theel, Meegan King

Scientific experiments backfire and produce horrific mutations: half man, half fish, which terrorize a small fishing village by killing the men and raping the women. – IMDB

I sometimes wonder why I keep choosing these 1980s horror movies to watch. There’s this feeling that some movies really haven’t aged well over time and Humanoids From The Deep feels a little like that. The crazy part is that the poster itself already reveals the general plot. It sounds like I’m hating on it but putting all the aging part aside, Humanoids From The Deep is not all bad. The Humanoids itself is pretty fun to watch. The way that it attacks and its design and all that actually is entertaining enough. After all, isn’t that what creature features are meant to do?

Humanoids From The Deep does feel like its inspired by movies like Jaws and Alien in some ways. However, those movies are meant to be rather serious whereas this one feels like it feels like its a lot more serious than the movie needs to be. I’m not exactly sure how to feel about this one. On one hand, there are some good bits, mostly with the Humanoids bits but then everything else feels a little forgettable.

While I don’t think that Humanoids From The Deep is something that I’d rewatch, the plot itself actually might be more relevant science experiment gone bad and movie technology combined in the landscape where remakes/reboots/sequels are frequently done that might actually give this a nice reboot quality in the right hands. In whose hands? I don’t know but it could be fun (unless its already a thing and I just don’t know about it which is also highly probable).

That’s it for this double feature!
I’m rather meh about both of these but let me know how you liked them if you’ve seen them?

Double Feature: Gwen (2018) & The Garden of Words (2013)

As we get back to more frequent double features, we head into the next letter in our alphabet run as we get to G. G selections on Shudder are rather slim pickings so I went ahead and started up 2018’s slow-burn film Gwen and then paired with also a shorter title with Japanese animated film by the same director as Your Name, The Garden of Words. Let’s check it out!

Gwen (2018)

Gwen

Director (and writer): William McGregor

Cast: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Maxine Peake, Richard Harrington, Mark Lewis Jones, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Richard Elfyn

A folk tale set in the hills of Wales during the industrial revolution. – IMDB

Gwen is a slow pace Welsh horror drama set during the Industrial Revolution, mostly set in the isolated hills where this family of a mother and two daughters live on their farm. Unfortunate situations keep happening as the older daughter Gwen holds up the family and strives to survive while dealing with the farm animals dying mysteriously and her mother being overcome with a mysterious illness. Its a dark story and well-portrayed in its landscape and setting under its dim lighting and gloomy shots.

If we look at the characters, Gwen is played by Eleanor Worthington-Cox who does a really great job in this character. Its a quiet movie so dialogue is much less and there’s more of an observation of the situation and she does that very well. At the same time, her mother is played by Maxine Peake who also captures her role fairly well. There’s some rather “creepy” moments for lack of a better word. The movie itself isn’t exactly scary per se but it is a little unsettling at parts.

Gwen is for the patient audience that doesn’t mind a slow paced horror drama. Its not scary in the jump scare sense but more of a slow unwinding unsettling feeling that goes with where its set and the gloomy darker environment that surrounds this tale.

The Garden of Words (2013)

The Garden of Words

Director (and writer): Makoto Shinkai

Cast: Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, Takeshi Maeda,

A 15-year-old boy and 27-year-old woman find an unlikely friendship one rainy day in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. – IMDB

The Garden of Words is a 45 minute Japanese animated drama film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, the person behind Your Name. Its interesting to see that this story also features two strangers Takao and Yukari who the latter is the mysterious woman who we actually don’t know the name until much later when her identity is revealed. The Garden of Words is something of a coming of age as the two characters have their own personal struggles of being a bit of a loner or misunderstood and finding it hard to know how to move forward. It uses the 15 year old boy, Takao’s passion for being a shoemaker and shoes in general as a metaphor for life.

Because of that focus, there’s a lot of scenes that capture the feet with how they sit and position their feet or walking through the streets, etc. Makoto Shinkai is a nice storyteller. His stories, at least the two to date that I’ve watched, has been rather meaningful. Its always about some element of life and adds a hint of romance in it that helps the characters grow. While this story isn’t quite as complex, it does take a level of careful execution to allow the story to work in the realm of keeping one of the character’s a mystery until giving her identity reveal. At the same time, Shinkai always gives these rich in color and beautiful animated scenery. In this case, its capturing the realistic rain fall set in the beautiful garden and capturing the light beams  and such.

The Garden of Words is a mere 45 minutes and because it doesn’t have a overly complex story but still with a little mystery, it adds enough to move the story in a quick paced. Its well-animated and has a rather careful metaphor. The story focuses on two characters with an age gap and while there are some elements of it that feels a little odd at first, its a rather interesting friendship that happens between them. Its a bit unlikely but then its not the friendship itself but rather how it develops emotionally perhaps. The Garden of Words is a quick viewing that’s definitely worth your time if you liked Your Name. Its not the same sort of story but its still a pretty good watch.

That’s it for this G double feature!
Have you seen these two movies? Thoughts?

Double Feature: Black Mountain Side (2014) & Berlin Syndrome (2017)

Time for the next Double Feature! We’re moving right along with the B selections. The first is a Shudder pick, Black Mountain Side and the second is a movie currently on Netflix called Berlin Syndrome! Let’s check it out!

Black Mountain Side (2014)

Black Mountain Side

Director (and writer): Nick Szostakiwskyj

Cast: Shane Twerdun, Michael Dickson, Carl Toftfelt, Marc Anthony Williams, Andrew Moxham, Timothy Lyle, Steve Bradley

At a cold, desolate, northmost outpost in Canada, an archaeological discovery is made. A specialist arrives Nov. 1. Strange things happen. All contact with the outside world is down. – IMDB

Black Mountain Side is a slow burn indie horror film. I think its important to grasp all those elements because the first half is one that is slow and quiet. The setting itself in the Canadian North makes it a unique setting to say the least. The first part does a good job and laying out the land of how communication and its cast of characters are all there and their purpose in this archaeological dig site and the outpost itself. Paced by its calendar execution in chronological order of what happens on what day and how much time has past is a decent way to give a sense of progress.

At the same time, the lay of the land itself and the things that happen does get intriguing once actual things start snowballing and the pacing picks up a little more. Thing is, it does feel like there’s not enough that happens in the first half to have the second half make up for it. Its not only that issue but also the fact that it doesn’t use its isolated landscape or give each of  the character’s dig site as a decent area to create more suspense. The suspense is mostly in the unknown. While that does create a lot of questions, its ending relates heavily to a better executed film recently with a similar premise, The Ritual.

That’s not to the say, the premise here doesn’t have potential. Its mostly execution issues that becomes most of its downfall. Its a very slow-burn film overall, and takes patience to get through the first part without a lot of things happening and just building up foundation and setting up the scene to have a better quarter and the ending is also not exactly one that I’m quite fond of (although I won’t talk about it too much to avoid spoilers). Its sad because the Canada’s Great North has a lot to offer as a setting and its a shame that its not used more.

Berlin Syndrome (2017)

Berlin Syndrome

Director: Cate Shortland

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich, Emma Bading, Elmira Bahrami, Christoph Franken

A passionate holiday romance leads to an obsessive relationship, when an Australian photojournalist wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave. – IMDB

While Berlin Syndrome’s premise isn’t exactly groundbreaking, what it does is execute a good abduction thriller. Berlin Syndrome tells the cautionary tale of an Australian young woman who travels to Berlin and ends up having a holiday romance with a young man who ends up abducting her and trapping her in his apartment to keep her by his side. It manages to balance a good level of obsessive romance, fear and danger as well as dependence and some deeper psychological thriller elements.

One of the best elements in Berlin Syndrome is in its characters and of course, the two leads that take on the respective roles. Teresa Palmer takes on a great role as the female lead and possibly the first time that I’ve seen her act in her native accent and not an American accent. Its rather refreshing plus, her character as Clare is not a damsel in distress but full of survival. Even when it feels like she is stepping down from conflict in the situation, she is always quietly looking for the next step and adapting to her situation. Her character has a bit of complexity. Just like Max Riemelt as Andi who plays the abductor and obsessive lover who wants to keep her there and yet his character is full of psychological elements to consider as more is revealed, there is a depth to his character and why he does it as well as his dependence on the relationship even with his priorities in life outside of his secret life of having an abducted girl at his home which shows the different sides of him with family and his job and the mental struggles he may be having to keep his life in control.

Berlin Syndrome is a pleasant surprise. Its always great to find movies like this kind of hidden gem that gets tucked away. It was packed a good balance from great execution to the rather one location element and the abduction as well as the relationship dynamic and changes from the start to finish between Clare and Andi as well as the characters development. All done really well and well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it yet.

That’s it for this B double feature!
Have you seen these two films? Thoughts?

What’s Up 2020: Week 16

Welcome to Week 16 of 2020! Self-isolation has been going on for a month or so. Its been quite an experience. I can’t say that I’ve been able to do a whole lot of things different from usual since work has been quite busy and its all about getting through April. Week 16 was a lot of wanting to do something but not being able to because of work overtime or home things.

READING

Undead Ultra

Currently reading: Undead Ultra

Still reading Undead Ultra and I can tell you that I’ve moved forward very very little. The time to read wasn’t quite as much as I’d like but I am aiming to finish the book soon. Its not a particularly long novel but I just need to sit down to do it.

PLAYING

doors awakening

  • Doors: Awakening

Currently playing: Concrete Genie, Happy Color, Bounce That Bird, Color Spots

I’ve been working on a lot of Game Warp stuff lately. Concrete Genie is our upcoming game of the month so its one that I’ve been playing through in preparation for the next recording. As for the other games, Doors: Awakening is a game very similar to other puzzle games published from Snapbreak and its part of the Google Play Indie Games Festival Finalists along with Bounce That Bird and Color Spots and a whole bunch of free games that I’ve been playing through for a little capsule reviews, something like a Mobile Game Roundup.

WATCHING

The Farewell

  • The Game (1997)
  • The Farewell (2019)
  • Black Mountain Side (2014)
  • Berlin Syndrome (2017)

I have a ton of movie reviews lined up to write so all of these are currently in line to be written. This week’s highlight goes to The Farewell which I finally got around to seeing thanks to a cheap rental. Its a great film. The story and characters and whatnot all make for a great watch. Other movies in here are for Movies and Tea recording (you can guess which one yourself). Black Mountain Side is a movie on Shudder which I personally don’t recommend but apparently some people on Letterboxd seem to like it more than I did. While on the other hand, Berlin Syndrome ended up being surprisingly decent and Teresa Palmer acts in her own Australian accent instead of playing an American so that was quite a surprise as well.

BINGING

breakfast lunch and dinner

  • Find Yourself (rewatch 2020)
  • Too Hot to Handle (Season 1, 2020) Review
  • Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner (Season 1, 2019)

Currently binging: Me to Us, The Singer 2020, The Love Equations, J-Style Trip, Youth With You 2, The Untamed

As usual, with a lot of work, TV is the most abundant thing since I like binge-watching on my spare time the most. Plus, TV means a lot of times that I can multitask and that was exactly what I needed. After some though, I decided to watch Too Hot to Handle and it was something that fit into my current mindset so I even finished up a review so you can read my thoughts there. I did a rewatch for Find Yourself which I’m working on a review right now and then wrapped up Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner which was a decent structure as a documentary series. While I like the Ugly Delicious style of docuseries, I like this one a lot too.

Currently binging is really not that different. The Singer 2020 is about to end as they wrap up the semi-finals and head into the finals in the coming week. J-Style Trip is my filler show since it only has one episode a week and it blends well with Me To Us that updates one episode a week on the weekend. I’m enjoying everything that I’m binging right now actually and its just a matter of choosing which I want to watch and which to watch over the course of the following week although my weekend mornings are watching the premieres on Youtube for The Love Equations so I binge those 4 episodes released over the weekend a lot. That series is so fun. On the other hand, I finally started The Untamed which was a HUGE deal last year and I can see why as I binged 10 episodes in one day and if I kept this pace, it’ll be done in no time, even at 50 episodes total. Lots of great TV to watch and catch up with!

That’s it for this What’s Up!
What have you been reading/watching/binging/playing?

TV Binge: Ashes of Love (香蜜沉沉烬如霜, 2018)

Ashes of Love (香蜜沉沉烬如霜, 2018)

ashes of love

Director: Yui Bun Chu

Cast: Andy Yang, Allen Deng, Leo Luo, Adonis Liao, Zhi Yuan Xia, Faye Wang, Ting Wei Zhou, Yukee Chen, Kathy Chow, Bella Du, Yang Peng, Run Jun Wang, Zhong Hua He

In ancient times, the Flower Goddess dies after giving birth to a daughter. Before she passed, she fed her daughter the Unfeeling Pill, ordered her subordinates to keep the girl’s birth story a secret and to imprison her within Shui Jing for 10,000 years. The girl’s name is Jin Mi. 4,000 years later, the Heavenly Emperor’s second son, Xu Feng, was entrapped by someone and mistakenly entered Shui Jing. He was saved by the ignorant Jin Mi. After living together for 100 years, Xu Feng gradually developed feelings for Jin Mi. Someone close to them wants to use those feelings for their own benefit. – MyDramaList

Where to watch with English subtitles (as at March 25, 2020): Netflix Canada & Youtube

QUOTE/SCENE

Jing Mi: That one’s so ugly. Why did you bring it here also?
Phoenix: I feel that one is the most beautiful of all the Phoenix lanterns, because it contains our memory.
Jing Mi: This is the memory of Saint Girl and King Yi. [pause] What a beautiful view!  It’ll be great if we can drink some self-made osmanthus wine. In fact, before I descended to the mortal world, I buried some osmanthus wine I made here.
Phoenix: I dug it out several days ago. Let’s try  your wine today. [next scene] The wine you made is indeed savory and mellow.
Jing Mi: I must have some skills amongst the six realms. Why are you staring at me like that?
Phoenix: Its great that I don’t have to look at you through the veil.
Jing Mi: Isn’t it beautiful?

STORY

ashes of love phoenix jingmi

Ashes of Love is essentially a love story and its where it thrives at its best. Much like the structure of 2017’s Eternal Love (review) and background, this one is set a little different  in the actual fairy world where this one has six realms however, the Sky realm is still the highest one (as it usually is) and the story resides in these different deity/fairy ranging from flowers to nocturnal creatures to celestial creatures and all kinds of animals and even inanimate objects. In terms of creativity, the story is full of them and that is one of the many highlights of this one and can bring so much fun to this as it makes for some leaps of beliefs but in a fantasy world like this one, its more about learning about it first. And that is a lot of the charm especially as it starts off fairly light-hearted and fun.

The realms here are really where the many past dilemmas have ignited from the past generation between the Floral Goddess, Heavenly Emperor, Water Immortal and all the other people linked to them. Its created essentially what happens to Jing Mi to have been given the Unfeeling Pill when she was born to prevent her from meeting her curse of love with the first 10,000 years of her life, which ends up being the catalyst of all the events that end up happening as misunderstandings happen as the truth unfolds. But that said, each of these realms of the three focused on among the six is different in its own way and has its own traits reflective of the place but yet still has their own good and evil characters.

ashes of love war

At the end of all this, between war and feuds and misunderstandings and realm battles for power, it all dials down to the romance and the love triangle between Jing Mi, Phoenix and Runyu instigated by jealousy and unfairness on one end and then creating revenge and hatred, making things worsen. Its all a story of the basic philosophy and belief in Chinese that what is meant to happen will happen regardless of how you plan on changing its course, that act alone is also destined to happen. Also goes along with you reap what you sow at the end of the day especially as what is given off from one generation can affect its next. Its all very common plot points and themes in ancient Chinese fantasy TV series as Eternal Love has about the same kind of plot point (as an example since its the other one in the same genre). What does work here is that once you get past those similar plot points and embrace what they do different in building this new world and its characters, Ashes of Love has a stronger bond with its love story and leads (for myself) whereas in comparison, Eternal Love is entertaining well-rounded but perhaps didn’t quite connect as much in terms of the main leads and their love story. I don’t mean to compare but I did watch them almost back to back.

ashesashes2

Before we jump to pacing, I need to mention that the costume designs here are really nice. There’s a lot of thought of each one from the Birds Realm to the colorful Flower Realm to the dark Demon realms outfits as as well as the gold and white and more royalty colors in the Heavenly Realm. Its one of the elements that make me love watching Chinese Fantasy TV series. The costumes and the hair ornaments and hair styles are just so beautiful! While I’m talking about this, I do have to mention that when they do close-ups of the props, fake flowers and such, it is pretty apparent, maybe one of the lesser elements of this series. But then, I guarantee you that there is one “sex” scene in this (its public TV so nothing explicit) and its filmed so poetically and beautiful that I was really impressed by the whole thing especially when you remember the true forms of the leads on hand.

LENGTH/PACING

ashes of love jingmi

Episodes: 63
Episode length: 40-45 mins approx.

Its incredible how long Chinese TV series are sometimes especially these big production Chinese fantasy ones. Ashes of Love is surprisingly long at 63 episodes and yet, the script is done so well that the story progresses in phases that gives time for each stage of these characters to grow and develop individually and together in their different relationships, friendships, family, brothers, etc. It doesn’t take a break from this other than maybe the secondary couple from the demon realm which ends up being a rather touching story as well by the end.

Looking at the phase, the first part (as I mentioned) before is about the meeting between Phoenix and Jing Mi and her introduction from the Flower Realm to the Heaven Realm and gradually the reveal of her true identity as well as her growing relationship in their few hundred years as the helper and disciple of Phoenix. As her true identity gets revealed, it jumps into the next phase of the story where it shares about the past and the characters involved and what actually happened, throwing the hatred of the Heavenly Empress and her desire to split up Jing Mi and Phoenix while Phoenix’s brother, Runyu gets pulled into the mix and he learns about his mother and it builds on his revenge and his plot slowly conspire. Things gets more messy here as this also get intermitted with Jing Mi’s mission to become an immortal by going to the Mortal Realm to experience the suffering of mortal life to gain knowledge where she ends up connecting with her feelings more as a turn of events takes Phoenix to have a rather intense romance. Finally, the third phase appears after all the plots of phase 2 unravels and Jing Mi unexpectedly breaks the Unfeeling Pill’s effects and realizes her real feelings and makes up for her mistakes to Phoenix. That turns into the most painful, emotional and heartbreaking moments of search and hopelessness and this last part is just such a ode of how the beginning builds up its characters and relationships so well that this part ends up working a lot. (I mean, I bawled my eyes out a ton in the last 8-10 episodes or something)

CHARACTERS/CHEMISTRY

Leads: Jing Mi & Phoenix

ashes of love phoenix jingmi 1

Ashes of Love takes a lot of time and attention on building these two characters. Its great because the focus never quite leaves them even when they are apart and doing their own thing. There’s a lot of factors that work here. The first is that its not dubbed voices and the actual actors are voicing these characters because both Andy Yang and Allen Deng are really talented actors and in their respective roles as Jing Mi and Xu Feng (aka Phoenix, as I keep referring to him), they are incredibly convincing and hard to not ship them, to be honest. These two characters are strong individually as they both have their own family, relationship and realm issues to deal with and consider in all their choices and their own secrets to uncover. Its what makes their love story so heartbreaking and bittersweet altogether because each of their own issues and it all comes down to Jing Mi and the Unfeeling Pill that stops her from realizing her own feelings until its too late which makes their relationship take a very heartbreaking turn of events. The chemistry between these two characters are fantastic especially in some scenes of how the director uses close-ups to the dialogue around them where they both are able to act with their eyes and interpret some genuine feelings without saying anything.

Brothers & Family Feud: Phoenix & Run Yu

ashes brothers

All royalty has their own conflicts and Phoenix’s family is the Heaven realm’s family which creates all kinds of crazy as the Heaven Emperor reveals to be a rather unloyal man where his past creates the Empress’s hate and jealousy making a lot of issues become unfair to the older son, Runyu the Night Immortal. What starts off as a rather good brother relationship despite the parent issues ends up turning sour as Runyu’s character ends up having a subtle villain type of change full of plot and schemes, creating this character that flips from the nice guy at the beginning.

Love Interests, Villains & Other Characters of Interest

Love Interests for Jing Mi is mostly Runyu as well as some other characters that don’t really have too much to mention however the main villains of the series is one, the Heaven Empress, aka Phoenix’s mother (as mentioned before because of jealousy) and the second is Phoenix’s “cousin”/crush who likes him a lot and believes she is the one destined for him and does increasingly evil acts. The two villains in the end are the main cause of Phoenix’s “demise”. Everything comes in full circle in Chinese philosophy and nothing proves it quite like how TV series stories work. You can’t say these two villains don’t do a great job. Empress is portrayed by 90s Hong Kong TV actress Kathy Chow who does a fantastic job that its hard to not dislike the character much like Faye Wang as the love interest who plays on the more annoying side of things.

Of course, the more fun additions do go to the Green Snake and the other colorful character of the Flower Realm just like the Moon Immortal (Phoenix’s uncle) who are comedic but in desperate times, knowledgeable and contribute to the dilemma in their own ways. There’s a lot of characters in Ashes of Love so its hard to talk about all of it.

OVERALL

ashes phoenix

Ashes of Love is a really great series. Its one that takes its sweet time to move through its different story levels to gradually connect with each of these characters as they develop and learn about the different secrete in their life, especially with the main female character, Jing Mi. The magical elements and this new world and the possibilities gives it the space to believe in all the twists and turns and thats because its already given it such a creativity to begin with which also sparks some deeper thoughts on how certain plot points would work but never quite doubt its possibility, leaving space for the audience to draw their own conclusions. The different worlds have beautiful CG effects that make them unique as well as their own kingdom and rules as well as different worlds and their feuds with each other.

Aside from all that is crafting these characters that work so well on their own in complexity. Having 63 episodes to do it definitely feels like it would be a drag but it isn’t most of the time because these characters need it and its because of that, it makes especially Jing Mi and Phoenix’s story so much more emotional to watch whether its happy moments to the extremely heartbreaking moments. Fantastic series that makes me want to watch and rewatch and notice those little story plot details more.

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Double Feature: The Night Comes For Us (2018) & Come and Find Me (2016)

Next double feature is here! This time is a bit of a fast pace film duo with Netflix distributed Indonesian action crime film The Night Comes For Us and drama thriller Come and Find Me. The first I originally watched as a contender for opening the Ultimate 2010s blogathon and the second was just a random pick and I hadn’t watched an Aaron Paul movie in a while. Let’s check it out!

The Night Comes For Us (2018)

The Night Comes For Us

Director (and writer): Timo Tjahjanto

Cast: Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Zack Lee, Salvita Decorte, Sunny Pang, Hannah Al Rashid, Dian Sastrowardoyo, Abimana Aryasatya

Ito (Joe Taslim), a gangland enforcer, caught amidst a treacherous and violent insurrection within his Triad crime family upon his return home from a stint abroad. – IMDB

Indonesian cinema has been gradually finding its spot in the last decade or so especially when The Raid: Redemption arrived in 2013. With the two main leads from that film being the leads in The Night Comes For Us, the least we do know is that there will be some fantastic action. There’s a lot to love about The Night Comes For Us even if its very much a lot of the same bloody, fast-paced and action-packed sort of deal that Indonesian action films have been showing (at least in my very little experience from the 3 films I’ve seen..so I could be wrong, and if I am, please let me know other Indonesian movies to check out).

Running the movie and being caught up in this action thriller is Ito played Joe Taslim who is amazing because he is this good-looking rugged action star who truly has some fantastic moves, not surprising since he was on the Indonesia Judo national team for a while. Between him and Iko Iwais as well as the femme fatale characters and Ito’s buddies, the action has a lot of variety and keeps it pretty fresh throughout with different weapons and stylishly violent.

A lot of people want to bring in the Chinese into their action crime thrillers these days. Being Chinese myself, I naturally tend to judge the believability of the people speaking this language and for myself, the actors speaking Chinese definitely could be better. However, the story itself was in some ways rather straight forward and it was somewhat of big plan or just reasoning as to why Ito wanted to make that first decision to save the girl and slowly gives an idea of his spot with the Six Seas and then into the relationship with his friends.

Come and Find Me (2016)

come and find me

Director (and writer): Zack Whedon

Cast: Aaron Paul, Annabelle Wallis, Garret Dillahunt, Enver Gjokaj, Terry Chen, Zachary Knighton, Chris Chalk

When his girlfriend goes missing, David must track down her whereabouts after he realizes she’s not who she was pretending to be. – IMDB

Its not surprising that Come and Find Me was an unknown title to myself. It did only have a limited release and VOD. Its quite a pity because while Come and Find Me follows the motions of a general thriller of this type in a relatively predictable way, its actually executed pretty well. I might also be a little skewed because this type of setup where past and present intertwine when done well is a pretty neat structure. I do admit thay there is a beginning sequence that feels like the setup took a little longer than needed.

Aaron Paul is definitely the central character here as David who finds his girlfriend missing one day and then realizes something isn’t quite right when her friend comes to trash their place in search for something. Its this that starts his search for her in another direction and leads him to find him her different secrets and essentially who is really is. Aaron Paul does deliver a great role here. Plus, I love movies that throw their characters on wild and unexpected rides turning them from clueless innocents into tougher characters.

Come and Find Me was a pleasant surprise. It had some slower moments but overall it was executed fairly good. There was a bit of intrigue and mystery and thrills. Its a decent random pick.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two films? Thoughts!

Ultimate 2010s Blogathon: Holy Motors (2012) by Flick Hunter

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Next up in the Ultimate 2010s Blogathon is Norman from Flick Hunter. Flick Hunter is a movie review site who shares both reviews and commentary on film festival screenings. He also covers new releases as well as a focus on contemporary foreign films. Head over to check it out HERE. Its no surprise that he brings a very unique 2010s  pick which he says is his number 1 pick for the decade which is 2012’s fantasy drama, Holy Motors.


Holy Motors

Holy Motors (2012)

We first meet Monsieur Oscar as he leaves his home at the crack of dawn dressed in a business suit headed for the office.  His wife and family send him off with good wishes and armed guards occupy the rooftops of his family compound as he walks down the driveway towards a white stretch limo. He is greeted by his female driver and settles into the back of the vehicle for the drive into the city. Monsieur Oscar discusses business deals and the need for an upgrade in weaponry for his guards during the drive. His driver (Edith Scob) then hands him a folder that prompts Monsieur Oscar to undergo a transformation the back of the limo emerging as a beggar woman complete with cane and cup to panhandle for money in a busy downtown square. After a while, Mr. Oscar returns to the limo to prepare for his next appointment as a motion capture actor. These are the opening sequences of Leo Carax’s Holy Motors the director’s first feature in thirteen years since 1999’s Pola X.  Carax himself has a brief part in the film billed as the sleeper. He wakes up up a room with a wall featuring a forest mural. A screwdriver appears extending from one of his fingers that he uses to enter the balcony of a movie theatre above an audience full of sleeping patrons.

Holy Motors

Carax has evidently built up a lot of material in the period between films. The plot of many of the film’s appointments could have stood alone as subjects of their own films. When interviewed Carax indicated that he came up with the concept of the film while wandering around Paris mulling over his problems obtaining financing for other projects. He noticed an abundance of limousines and always came across the same elderly female panhandler those early elements were the seeds of the film.

Carax’s regular muse Denis Lavant is mesmerizing as the central character. He switches from one character to the next in the back of the limo that resembles a theatre dressing room. Throughout the day he reviews the folders passed back by his driver Celine ahead of each appointment, completes his own elaborate makeup in a large movable dressing room mirror and his wardrobe options cover the  back two-thirds of the limo.

Holy Motors

The film serves as a low tech take to Cloud Atlas on a multiple character feature. Lavant plays 11 different roles in the film including one where he plays both ends of a deadly encounter. The film is rich in dialogue the day-long banter between Monsieur Oscar and Celine serves as it’s backbone. Along with being his driver Celine plays confidant, motivator, assistant, shrink, mechanic  and there are hints that their relationship has or may grow intimate throughout the film.

Holy Motors

Music is thoughtfully chosen and adds to each scenario.  It has a particularly telling impact in the scene where Lavant assumes the role of Merde a sewer-dwelling goblin that bursts through a cemetery and into the middle of a Paris fashion shoot harkens back to the silent era of monster films.  Then there is the iconic Rock and Roll accordion sequence to R.L. Burnside’s Let My Baby Ride in an old church billed as the films interlude.

Part-way through the film Oscar returns to the limo to find a mysterious older gentleman sitting in the far end of the vehicle. A discussion ensures about Oscar’s motivation and commitment to his role. Oscar responds commenting on how in the beginning the cameras were large and evident, then smaller and hidden and now he is not sure if there are any cameras at all regardless he continues his tasks for the beauty of the Act.

Holy Motors

Holy Motors is why we go to the movies. It’s captivating, breaks entirely new ground and is a fresh take on movie making it my number 1 film of the 2010’s.

A Five Star Film

Holy Motors | Loes Carax | France 2012| 115 min.


A huge thanks to Norman from Flick Hunter for joining in and sharing this very unique pick for his number 1 film of 2010’s! Remember to check out his site!

As always, you can find the list of blogathon entries updated daily HERE.

Battle of Jangsari (2019)

Battle of Jangsari (2019)

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Director: Kyung-taek Kwak

Cast: Minho Choi, Myung-min Kim, In-kwon Kim, Megan Fox, George Eads, Si-Yang Kwak, Jae-Wook Lee, Ho-Jung Lee, Gye-nam Myeong, Sung-Cheol Kim

A depiction of the Battle of Incheon during the Korean War in 1950. – IMDB

Battle of Jangsari is a South Korean action war drama based on true events. This film is mostly in South Korean but also has American collaboration in the efforts of mostly the American support present during this event and playing the roles is a general played by George Eads and correspondent played by Megan Fox. The movie is set during the few days length of this battle and revolves around inexperienced student soldiers that haven’t even completed their training who end up being shipped out to face this battle. Battle of Jangsari does make the effort of focusing on a few of the characters here with different backgrounds and back stories to be revealed throughout to build their characters. 

Battle of Jangsari

One of the best elements of this film goes to its cinematography. It captures the different elements and hurdles that they have to face with a lot of impact and danger and devastation. The war action is done well as the camera follows the troop through the trenches and across the land trying to capture the vantage point or even as they try to ambush. War dramas are heavily reliant on these elements to make the whole film feel the grave matter at hand especially in a battle that feels like it was a shot in the dark to begin with. All this shows well in how it builds the situation from the little moments of drama as these students realize that the opposition might be soldiers much like them. One of the best moments is when one of the soldiers find a letter from the opposing side written to their mother explaining his situation and final words. 

Battle of Jangsari

When we look at the characters, its a pretty big cast with probably about 5 or 6 soldiers along with some of their captains that have their own back stories to navigate but its never used a lot, making these characters never developed completely and perhaps their situation is easier to feel bad for than their story or any specific character. However, the focus on the student soldiers and how little they know of each other ends up sparking up their own issues whether its prejudices and misunderstandings leading them to not cooperate as well. Its the human element between this fight between North and South Korea that is pushed to the forefront. Over fighting for survival together, the story lets these soldiers also find trust and bonds and friendships. 

Battle of Jangsari

Perhaps one of the lesser elements of this film is with the very vague moments between the General and Maggie where the American side of the story is very weak. Its dialogue doesn’t seem to give the story a lot of support. Its not the fault of Megan Fox or George Eads and feels much more like the script issues. It almost feels unnecessary for most of the conversations they have and their characters also prove to be rather empty with the main purpose of having their a part of the finale. 

Overall, Battle of Jangsari is a good action war drama. Its action and war depictions are filmed very well and incredibly captivating to watch this event unfold. While the actual event exceeds my knowledge and I’m not sure how much of it is accurate, the movie itself does have a good deal of drama that portrays the struggles and misunderstandings and more between the characters. Individual character development is a bit lacking but the situations that they face actually does make up for it as it makes this battle focus on the devastation from the people involved on both sides as well as the urgency of the opposing force with much more reinforcements a constant pressing matter. 

You can find more info on this film as well as where to watch it HERE.

Ultimate 2010s Blogathon Kick-Off: The Wandering Earth (流浪地球, 2019)

Welcome to the official kick-off of this year’s ultimate decades blogathon hosted by myself and Drew from Drew’s Movie Reviews, Ultimate 2010s Blogathon! As we wave goodbye to the 2010s, its the best time to talk about the movies that defined it. Whether its a favorite or one that shows off  an element that represented the decade, both movie choices are good. With a lot of movies to choose from between 2010 to 2019, there are endless possibility.

Kicking off the first two days is myself and my fantastic co-host, Drew from Drew’s Movie Reviews. Starting this off on day 1 as I take a look at one of the biggest trends and changes in the movie landscape is the power of the rise of streaming services opening up a variety of movies, giving a platform for distribution and creation of independent and international titles that may otherwise have remained unknown or less accessible.

The Wandering Earth (流浪地球, 2019)

The Wandering Earth

Director (and co-writer): Frant Gwo

Cast: Jing Wu, Chuxiao Qu, Guangjie Li, Man-Tat Ng, Jin Mai Jaho, Mike Kai Sui, Hongchen Li, Jingjing Qu, Yichi Zhang

As the sun is dying out, people all around the world build giant planet thrusters to move Earth out of its orbit and sail Earth to a new star system. Yet the 2500-year journey comes with unexpected dangers, and in order to save humanity, a group of young people in this age of a wandering Earth fight hard for the survival of humankind. – IMDB

Loosely adapted from a novella of the same name by Li Cixin, The Wandering Earth is not only China’s third highest grossing film of all time but also the third highest non-English film of all time. Taking a change in landscape from the normal Chinese New Year movie release, The Wandering Earth is set on Chinese New Year but isn’t the normal happy movie but rather a high budget science fiction film.

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Set in a future where the sun has become a threat to Earth, the world has united into the United Earth Government and collectively has initiated The Wandering Earth Project, installing Earth Engines across the surface of the planet to propel Earth out of the Solar System 4.2 light years away to the Alpha Centauri to preserve human civilization. However, as they cross Jupiter, the gravitational pull of the bigger planet takes control of Earth and causes a possible collision while causing other side effects. As teams travel with their Lighter Cores to reignite the failed Earth Engines, the dangers that await them are numerous with the unexpected changes in the environment.

wandering earth

This premise alone of creating a future where Earth is being pushed in movement out of the solar system is unique to say the least and one that has so much room for exploration. The story uses its environment to its full potential as it shows off right from the get-go how the world has changed from its inhabitants living in various underground cities that have everything that you’d have when the world lived above ground to the current frozen above ground and its operations. The visuals of these are done with grandeur, showing off the technological advances in both this film but also in showing off slick cinematography and CGI used in the current Chinese filmmaking landscape which is pretty much  on par with the Hollywood blockbuster films at least delivers the same feeling, especially as the film’s story starts stepping into the dangerous elements.

wandering earth

The story is two-fold. On one hand, it takes place with the father and Chinese astronaut Liu Peiqiang (Jing Wu) who left at the initiation of the Wandering Earth Project 17 years ago and now is on the last day before retiring back to Earth but now is stuck on the space station. On the ground, his son, now a young man Liu Qi (Chuxiao Qu), decides to take his grandfather’s driving access card to show his sister, DuoDuo (Jin Miao Jaho) the world above ground, unknowing getting caught up in the mess as they get caught along with their grandfather (Man-Tat Ng) in the midst of the Earth crumbling as the side effects of crossing through Jupiter and as they try to escape, get commissioned to help transport the rescue mission lead by Wang Lei (Guangjie Li).

Wandering Earth

The story here, while isn’t quite as fresh as its premise, managing to add some little comedic moments through some goofy elements and characters and adding in the expected Chinese drama, in this case, mostly within the family drama with the main characters as well as the hardships and loss of hope through the rescue mission and its possibility of failure. However, where the film shines is in its emphasis on keeping on track with the action and giving this movie in its science fiction a certain level of disaster film quality as well that keeps the film propelling forward. The movie runs for over 2 hours and while some of the slower dramatic moments might drag out a little, the film does focus heavily on the concept of being united and keeps itself focused on these everyday realistic characters but never let them be heroes but rather to let them fight for mankind’s survival together. There’s something so precious and touching about this story as it works up to its endgame and reveals a little more about the state of the United Earth Government and adds in the internationalism with the different languages and authorities working together that makes this future feel hopeful and even utopic.

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The Wandering Earth might not be the best film of the decade (although it definitely is pretty close to at least the Top 20 for myself), but it does achieve a lot and defines a lot of the 2010s. While I would have loved to pick a movie that was also created by Netflix (or some other studio), the global distribution rights for Netflix shows off the change in landscape and how international films are more visible especially as they manage to reach platforms globally and become more accessible especially in the Chinese film market which has its many restrictions and is less openly advertised than other Asian films. As the world moves closer together, these channels give a chance to have access to more international films and especially, those that are as significant as The Wandering Earth with all the success its had in its own country. Its definitely worth a watch to see how far and competent Chinese film are especially great with one that is pretty much a sci-fi blockbuster.


You can check out the full archive of Ultimate 2010s blogathon posts as they go up, updated daily HERE.

Remember to head over to Drew’s Movie Reviews to check out my co-host’s kick-off movie review!