Double Feature: Little Big Women (2020) & Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020)

Next double feature is here! I went ahead to check out two 2020 movies. The first is Netflix Taiwanese family drama Little Big Women followed with a drama thriller adapted from a book, Lost Girls & Love Hotels.

Let’s check it out!

Little Big Women (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu

Cast: Shu-Fang Chen, Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, Vivian Hsu, Ke-Fang Sun, Buffy Chen, Ning Ding, Han Chang

Family members grapple with the passing of their estranged father and the remnants of the life he led during his absence. – IMDB

Based on the 2017 short film, Little Big Women tells the family picking up the pieces after the estranged father leaves as his life story gets brought back to life through their memories. Through the conversations of the family and the memories of his wife, what drove the man away slowly gets revealed by the end which causes family separation between other family members and why other members seem to have harsh judgement towards them. The father’s estrangement also causes a different change in each of his daughters as they also embrace their own life whether its married with a child or being single or hiding away secrets. Also, as the mother’s motives seem to be the most supported by her granddaughter. This Taiwanese family drama reminded me at the beginning a little of Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman. Its quiet and slow-paced as the characters slowly reveal who they are and the roots of their issues with both their father and their mother. Being a quiet film, its not about a lot of fancy things and dials it all back down to the narrative itself. Death even with the most estranged people will bring about about personal and social issues: reflection, letting go of the past and of course, how society views the traditions of the whole ordeal.

Little Big Women isn’t too different from other family dramas outside from the emphasis on perhaps showing some of the culture in Taiwan regarding death whether its choosing the religion and what ritual to use or how the family structure changes. Sometimes, its the smallest things and yet, the significance is big to how others perceive it or even on a personal level. In this film, there’s a lot of narrative the evolves around the three daughters but at the same time, the mother has a lot also as she is the one that one of the daughters is trying to convince to fulfill her father’s wish and let the father’s girlfriend attend. The whole process of accepting her and making peace between the two actually comes to a very well-executed segment near the end that has probably one of the best scenes especially since the process throughout the film as she tries to find this lady lets her learn quite a bit about her through other people’s interpretation which makes the final talk so well-deserved.

At the same time, the daughters also have a big emphasis here. Each of them having their own moments and struggles. Its been a while since I’ve seen Vivian Hsu, who undoubtedly is probably one of the bigger names here (and I could be wrong as I’ve broken off of Taiwanese movies for quite a while) as she started her career fairly young (and made me want to rewatch 1997’s We’re No Bad Guys). There’s some pretty touching sequences between them especially when the father being estranged has different effects on them as their knowledge of their family changes with the different siblings. Family events are truly where all the family secrets come out and that is shown really well here as well.

Overall, Little Big Women is a family drama. Its nothing groundbreaking or shocking about the whole film. The narrative does build up these characters as they face the death of their estranged father and the process of preparing his funeral. The family secrets, the struggles, self-reflection, letting go: all these themes pop up in this film and as quiet as this film is, it does manage to pack quite the emotional punch by the end.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020)

Director: William Olsson

Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Takehiro Hira, Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney, Misuzu Kanno, Kate Easton

Haunted by her past, an English teacher explores love and dust with a dashing yakuza gangster in Tokyo. – IMDB

Adapted from the book of the same name and having the author also be the screenplay writer for Lost Girls & Love Hotels, this story almost feels a little like Lost in Translation except a little edgier and hardcore. Being an adaptation and one that I haven’t read the original source material, it feels like there’s a few things that seem to make its appearance that may have been overlooked when putting together this story. However, seeing that the author of the novel also acts as the screenplay writer here, it perhaps holds a good part of the essence of what is key to her story or at least we can only assume that. With that said, while the story execution feels at times a little disjointed as it hops from one scene to the next and some of it feeling like it loses its purpose a little for certain side characters like her friends, the cinematography is done really well. Capturing Japan on one hand while mostly capturing the sensual shots really well especially when talking about the lighting used in every scene that adds to the overall visuals and ambiance to elevate the passion between the two characters.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels is focused primarily on the journey of Margaret, played by Alexandra Daddario as she seems live a rather messy life as she starts off being a girl that seems to not quite seem to fit in her role in her day job and then seems to be falling in a sexcapade life at night full of boozy times at bars with her friends and hooking with men at love hotels. While not too familiar with Daddario filmography, it definitely feels like one of the more dramatic roles as her character is trying to escape from something on her mind and settling with being alone hence her trip to Japan. This film is where she is “reborn” as she meets this Yakuza gangster where she embraces her feelings for him while having an element of forbidden love. In some ways, what feels lacking here is the portrayal of Margaret’s desire of BDSM being her turn-on which could be where the thriller element of the story would appear however, its not shown nearly enough to make it have that effect that would inevitably lead to a very obvious foreshadowing at the beginning. Due to the lack of the character building for her as well except for some hints of what she is running away from, her character feels less authentic in some ways. The closest that she feels is the scene above when she starts talking about being alone.

While not exactly groundbreaking character building for her or her love interest Kazu, played by Takehiro Hira, the scenes of them together does have okay chemistry, although it might be the cinematography and sex scene choreography that is done really well. Kazu’s body-long tattoo covering the backside of his body creates a really nice visual overall. Not to mention that Takehiro Hira does stand out in this film as he has a more quiet character that has a lot more mystery plus he has a rather charming sort of look. A lot of it is hidden between the lines through conversations or observation from Margaret. Its a little sad since these characters lack a little more depth in their portrayal in this adaptation. It makes me wonder whether the novel would have fleshed them out more than just their relationship and having a more hollow personality especially for Kazu whose dialogue seems to hold some depth which does eventually enlighten Margaret not before one decision pushes her into a downward slope of bad consequences.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels is a decent watch overall. It helps that its the type of movie that I generally enjoy where its a piece of someone’s life where there’s some type of self-discovery plus it adds in that whole passionate romance which always works for myself when done well. However, this film does lack character depth and perhaps some more thriller-esque moments as currently, it definitely feels more like a romance drama. Not exactly the same thing, right?

Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2021: Shrek (2001) by Starry Traveler’s Road

Next up for the Ultimate Decades Blogathon is from my (now in hiatus) Battle of Ingredients co-host, Phoebe from Starry Traveler’s Road. While Starry Traveler’s Road is posting far and few the last few months, you can go check out her DIY crafts, gardening and other projects and thoughts. Being a regular of the blogathon, Phoebe brings us a review of 2001 family animated film, Shrek.


Starry Traveler and family review: Shrek (2001)

Big thanks to my Battle of Ingredients co-host Kim and Drew of Drew’s Movies Review for hosting this Ultimate Decades Blogathon! It has definitely been a nice distraction from COVID-19’s brouhaha and caregiving tasks to spend some time trying to watch a movie as a family.

Why did I say, “trying to watch a movie”? The story behind it is, we tried to watch Shrek over dinner, but Bun Bun freaked out and asked me to stop because she finds some scenes scary even if there were some parts in the introduction that she laughed her head off like potty humor. I went on to finish the movie on my own that night only to ask Bun Bun the next day if she wants to try and finish it again while I prepare dinner and dad can watch with her (my husband successfully calmed her down when we watched Frozen 2 for last year’s movie review). They did finish it but Miss Bun Bun did not want to discuss it on numerous days so my conclusion is that I will do future movie reviews alone or with my husband unless Bun Bun volunteers to watch it with us.

Before I go into the movie review, I must be honest and say that I am extremely puzzled by Miss Bun Bun’s avoidance of kids’ movies. She told us that many movies are scary or too sad (she cried buckets when we watched Tigger Movie during first lockdown but she was fine with Zootopia on a flight a few years back). As a concerned mom, I ultimately decided to look up the phenomena only to find out there are other kids like her who find some TV shows or kids movie scary. (https://www.todaysparent.com/kids/is-your-child-afraid-of-kids-movies/) For parents with sensitive kids like Bun Bun, sounds like family movie nights with popcorn are not part of quality family time.

Without further ado, here is a summary of Shrek from IMDB:

A mean lord exiles fairytale creatures to the swamp of a grumpy ogre, who must go on a quest and rescue a princess for the lord in order to get his land back.

Directors: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson

Writers: William Steig (based upon the book by), Ted Elliott | 6 more credits »

Stars: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz | See full cast & crew »

To be honest, I did not really like Shrek when it first came out. The fact that it was a dysfunctional fairy tale while containing a bad sense of humor did not really appeal to me. Also, I found donkey utterly annoying in capital letters. Fast forward ten years for 2021, I still did not like it except for some of its messages like not judging people by their looks. I did learn to appreciate the strong female lead that I found in Princess Fiona. Her internal struggles about her terrible secret make her very relatable. Her fighting scene with Robin Hood and his Merry Men to defend Shrek was wonderful.

There might be some bad words that are not so good for younger kids (especially those in copycat phase) but I do use some of them when I am extremely angry, so it is not as if Bun Bun has not heard them before. Therefore, I let this category slide a bit.

Music is so-so if I must compare. The only one that stood out was the Hallelujah with some modified lyrics as it went well with the emotional scenes. I am maybe biased as well since I performed it with my choir group in my graduating year.

Graphics are ok for that time period after double checking movies from 2000s as I did not watch that many movies during that time period.

To end, this is my husband’s review for Shrek:

I found it clever in that it inverted a lot of the usual fairy-tale tropes. All the typical expectations were subverted. However, I still do not get why Shrek mysteriously decides to pick up random bits of knights’ helmets and put them on while looking for the princess nor how she fails to notice that Shrek has green skin. Regardless, the movie was funny and decent overall. It probably takes a good amount of knowledge about other fairy tales and nursery rhymes as there are many cameos. I would not necessarily expect young children to have known even most of them. I would consider this an above average movie.

Thank you for reading my little family’s movie review. I definitely hope all of you stay healthy and safe in this difficult period!


A huge thanks to Phoebe and her family for offering up this review!

To see the full list of entries of this blogathon, you can see HERE.

Double Feature: Over The Moon (2020) & Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is something of a musical double feature as we look at Netflix animated film Over The Moon and the Mamma Mia sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Let’s check it out!

Over The Moon (2020)

Directors: Glen Keane, John Kahrs

Voice Cast: Cathy Ang, John Cho, Edie Ichioka, Ruthie Ann Miles, Sandra Oh, Robert G. Chiu, Margaret Cho, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong

In this animated musical, a girl builds a rocket ship and blasts off, hoping to meet a mythical moon goddess. – IMDB

Over The Moon tells the story of a Chinese girl Fei Fei who is told the story of the Moon Goddess who takes a potion of immortality and is sent to live on the moon with her Jade Rabbit and waits for her lover there. A story that has its own different versions but has its own set of life lessons. Living with her parents who make moon cakes for a living, her life eventually falls apart when her mother is sick and eventually leaves her and her father as well a little pet bunny Bungee. Years later on Moon Festival, her father introduces her to Mrs. Zhong, a woman that will be her stepmother and Chin, a weird little boy who thinks he has the superpower to run through walls to be his stepbrother. Her father and family judge her for her belief in Chang’e and she goes to build a rocket to go to the moon which takes her a crazy journey when Chang’e and the moon isn’t all that she imagined, especially when she finds that Chin has tagged along for the ride. 

Using the legend of the Moon Goddess and a quick look at the Moon Festival as a jumping point for the story, Over The Moon’s delivers a message about moving on and family. With some colorful imaginative parts especially from the part of building the rocket and flying to the moon and the whole sequence on the moon with Chang’e and all of the moon’s occupants, it’s a fun little adventure and the studio’s take on what the Moon Goddess is doing after being sent to the moon. The animation and creativity in those sequences are pretty good but perhaps the parts of the animation with the Fei Fei’s mom at the beginning with some watercolor/Chinese painting coming to life stands out even more just based on how beautiful those scenes are executed. 

Over The Moon also has a great voice cast with John Cho, Margaret Cho, Sandra Oh and Ken Jeong even if some of the roles might be a little smaller. Fei Fei is voiced by Cathy Ang and does a pretty good job much like Chang’e is voiced by Phillipa Soo. This is a musical so the songs are pretty fun for the most part. It’s not quite as memorable as other musicals but some of the scenes are pretty nice as well. Talking about voice casts and languages, the film actually took some time for the Mandarin voice casts and script to have little changes that cater to their own audience especially with the comedic elements, which is a cool little detail seeing as this is American-Chinese but it is based on an animated film set in China. 

Overall, Over The Moon is a fun little animated film. It might not be particularly as deep and probably caters more to children with its cute little elements of Bungee and the dog on the moon Gobi and other little colorful creatures on the moon. It is rather heartwarming.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Ol Parker

Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Andy Garcia, Alex Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Hugh Skinner, Pierce Brosnan, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Cher, Meryl Streep

Five years after the events of Mamma Mia! (2008), Sophie prepares for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna as she learns more about her mother’s past. – IMDB

Being a fan of the first movie, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is released ten years after and its a rather good look as the characters have all gotten older as well just like Sophie and her return. In some ways, the movie does feel like a fun little jump back into the story especially for fans of the musical since they got back a lot (if not all) of the original cast of the first one and the sequel adds a little something as it fills in those pieces of the first movie, like how Donna met her three suitors and ended up with Sophie and staying on the island. For sure, its not exactly a needed story to tell but as much as I had my own doubts about it, it still has that feel-good vibe of the first film that left me really happy as I watched the musical and the musical numbers play out one by one.

With that said, one of the best things for sequels is having the original cast show up for this one. It shows the family essentially being separate but each on a different path in this future but the island and the family pulling them all back together. These characters are rather fun and charming. Fluctuating between the past and the present does add a lot of fun to it. The younger cast still manages to carry the film fairly well especially as Lily James plays the young Donna. It also comes with a cameo of Cher and Meryl Streep which is also pretty cool.

Overall, I honestly feel that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is for the fans of the original film. If you didn’t care of it, this sequel probably will do nothing for you. While its story is fairly straight forward that you don’t really need to know the first film to catch on to the story (maybe it will hinder the relationships of the characters in the present time), its still just a feel-good musical with those fun ABBA songs. Its just a fun time for those who enjoy musicals. Plus, I really liked the Waterloo performance in those outfits at the end of the first film and they did it again for this one in a slightly different way which was also entertaining.

Still the Water (2020)

Still the Water (2020)

Director (and writer): Susan Rodgers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Feature: Operation Santa Drop (2020) & Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

I’m super behind on these Christmas reviews going out so I figured that I’d double down to get all of them out. Back to the double feature reviews, we’re in for a Netflix Original double feature for holiday films.

Hope everyone’s having a Merry Christmas Eve and lets check out these two movies!

Operation Santa Drop (2020)

Director: Martin Wood

Cast: Kat Graham, Alexander Ludwig, Trezzo Mahoro, Bethany Brown, Rohan Campbell, Virginia Madsen, Jeff Joseph, Janet Kidder

Congressional aide Erica (Kat Graham) forgoes family Christmas to travel at her boss’s behest. At a beachside Air Force base, she clashes with Capt. Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig), who knows her assignment is finding reasons to defund the facility. – IMDB

Operation Christmas Drop takes a tropic setting for Christmas, much like last year’s Holiday in the Wild (review). In this case, its about the Air Force base doing a good deed on their own means but the facility being on the verge of possibility defunded because of it. Its pretty much a holiday romantic comedy with a bigger cause at heart which has all the right intentions however also feels very familiar. Of course, if these types of movies are your cup of tea, its definitely going to work other than perhaps the computer animated gecko sitting on the wall that looks the most out of place. In the current state of pandemic across the world, it perhaps helps that this sort of destination is one to look forward to in the future when things get back to some form of normal.

Its hard to criticize Operation Christmas Drop. In many ways, the meaning of Christmas and the good deed makes this a rather feel good movie. However, putting it in the context of the romance at heart, it feels a little light. The chemistry is on and off between the two main leads and yet, the whole exploring the place and mostly the character Erica, played by Kat Graham does change her heart as she would have to for to movie to have to fight against her boss, the congresswoman played by Virginia Madsen. The charm is really in how it portrays the villagers and the people in it, plus the setting gives it a lot of extra points. The whole Christmas Drop scene might be the most fun to watch.

Operation Christmas Drop is an alright movie. Its pretty harmless overall and has a decent story to tell especially since its based on a true situation which it makes a point to highlight at the end of the movie. Nameless heroes are the best ones to talk about and possibly the most heartwarming stories. Its very fitting for a holiday film, even if it doesn’t hit all the notes for the romantic arc.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

Director (and writer): David E. Talbert

Cast: Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Madalen Mills, Phylicia Rashad, Ricky Martin, Justin Cornwell, Sharon Rose, Lisa Davina Phillip, Kieron L. Dyer

An imaginary world comes to life in a holiday tale of an eccentric toymaker, his adventurous granddaughter, and a magical invention that has the power to change their lives forever. – IMDB

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a musical fantasy film. I’m all about Netflix putting together these musical films. I also caught up with The Prom shortly after this one but that’s for another post. While its not exactly a Christmas movie in the conventional way, it is one that’s full of magic: the magic of creation especially in terms of toy creations. Its about family and making peace. There’s a bit of silliness to the whole situation as well and some imagination elements but its a fun journey to say the least.

There’s a lot to love about Jingle Jangle even if there are some small pacing issues perhaps and the story is rather predictable in where it will go. However, the musical numbers are really fun and I’m also a sucker for those big musical scenes which almost feels like flash mob. The music itself is good as well. The cast performs it very well. There are some memorable songs in the mix.

Perhaps one of the things that also stand out is that the cast is exceptional, at least to me. Forest Whitaker takes on the main inventor role Jeronicus that has lost his magic after his creation ideas are stolen from his apprentice and at the verge of losing his store that has now turned into a pawnshop, his granddaughter is sent over with the same type of inventive bone as him to warm his life up and also bring back his magic. With a new young boy that wants to be his apprentice in the mix and the postal service lady that wants to win his heart in the most entertaining way and so much personality, it also brings into the mix of Keegan-Michael Key as Gustafson, his apprentice that was actually mislead by Jeronicus’ invention Don Juan Diego who has so much of a human conscious that it doesn’t want to be replicated. Don Juan Diego is animated and voiced by Ricky Martin who does a fantastic job as well. Not to mention that the young stars including the main lead of the granddaughter Journey by Madalen Mills.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is really quite the fun spectacle. The magic and the music and the characters all are quite the charming. Not to mention the setting of the village is nice as well as the toy design that is in the making turns out to be this uber cute Wall-E-esque looking robot. There may be some flaws with this and it has some overacting here and there but then musicals always seem to have that sort of feeling to it and its those moments that blend well with the musical numbers and boosting the story elements.

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

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

Moving On (2020)

Director (and writer): Yoon Dan-Bi

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

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

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

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

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

Wisdom Tooth (2019)

Director (and writer): Ming Liang

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director (and co-writer): Belén Funes

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

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

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

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

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

The 5th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon: The Land Before Time (1988)

The 5th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon is going on this weekend from August 21 to 23. You can see what this blogathon is all about HERE.

The Land Before Time (1988)

The Land Before Time

Director: Don Bluth

Voice Cast: Pat Hingle, Gabriel Damon, Candace Hutson, Will Ryan, Judith Barsi, Helen Shaver, Burke Byrnes, Bill Erwin

An orphaned brontosaurus teams up with other young dinosaurs in order to reunite with their families in a valley. – IMDB

The Land Before Time has run over 25 years with 13 direct to video musical sequels in its entire franchise, 1988’s The Land Before Time first movie that started it all is a strong beginning and one worth revisiting years later to see if it lives up to expectations while also, in the heart of the blogathon, discuss the music composed by James Horner.

The Land Before Time is a fun family friendly children’s movie set in the prehistoric times when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It focuses on a group of little dinos of different herds that end up together because they are separated by an earthquake. As an animated and children’s film, The Land Before Time is pretty good. The dinosaur designs are pretty cute from the color choice of each type of dinosaur and the design of how they show their characteristics when they hatch from an egg and their baby dino appearances to later on when the movie pulls them together on the adventure. Not to mention that each of them are very adorable and they balance each other in personality which makes it a lot of fun to watch.

The children movie elements does bring in a lot of good themes from teamwork and friendship being a big part to include family as well. A lot of the story is about the adventure they go on to get to the Great Valley and finding their way together from meeting the T-rex to getting lost on the way and facing difficulties together. The family element brings in the big scene of the bond of parents and child. All these elements work together to put together a great story. Not to mention the narration by Pat Hingle is really nice and how the story is laid out.

The music in The Land Before Time is also quite nice. The theme is very well-known from now on and fairly familiar. The music is used a lot during the adventure moments to boost the fun elements while having the quiet orchestral music to carry forward the more emotional scenes effectively. At the same time, there is some areas where its used as a subtle background music as well. Every bit of the music adds to the story and tone.

Overall, The Land Before Time remains a great animated family film. Its unique because of its adorable characters, its beautiful music as well as its fun adventurous story.

Previous years of Remembering James Horner Blogathon
Once Upon A Forest (1993)
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
The 33 (2015)
The Perfect Storm (2000)

Double Feature: Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) & The Lodge (2019)

A little of an early announcement that this the last double feature for August. Double Feature will resume in September however, don’t worry, movie reviews will be the main focus for the next two weeks. The double feature is wrapping up the rentals that I’ve been working through. One is an movie that released earlier this year as video game adaptation Sonic the Hedgehog and that is paired with independent horror movie, The Lodge.

Let’s check it out!

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Director: Jeff Fowler

Cast: Ben Schwartz (voice), James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell

After discovering a small, blue, fast hedgehog, a small-town police officer must help him defeat an evil genius who wants to do experiments on him. – IMDB

Video game adaptations seem to be more and more of late. Maybe its the surge of video game popularity or something but Sonic the Hedgehog is a fairly classic game and its one of my faves and because of this and the cast involved, it was one that I had on my radar. With the pandemic happening, it was something that just fell through until it circulated around on the rentals list. Sonic the Hedgehog has a similar tone to Pokemon Detective Pikachu and it has to do with aiming towards a younger audience for the most part and having the family/children’s live action with CG animated characters mesh.

With that said, Sonic the Hedgehog does manage to deliver on the children’s elements and a lot of the essence of the characters involved. There’s quite a bit of charm to each of them. Its a harmless and entertaining movie that aims to be an enjoyable experience and lands on its comedic points. For the older audience, it might be the charming element of Jim Carrey going back to his comedic roots like The Mask and Ace Venture: Pet Detective style with some jokes and movements really giving those vibes a lot as he portrays the villain Doctor Eggman.

Sonic is voiced by Ben Schwartz which is a fun character in general, both portraying the speedy blue hedgehog and as an actor himself. He is a good choice for the role and works it out really well. Sonic in CG animated form is pretty hilarious as well. Paired up with a rather dynamic performance by James Marsden, its a fun ride. There are some truly over the top moments but with the cast and material on hand, its rather expected.

The Lodge (2019)

Directors (and co-writers): Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone

A soon-to-be stepmom is snowed in with her fiancé’s two children at a remote holiday village. Just as relations begin to thaw between the trio, some strange and frightening events take place. – IMDB

The Lodge is a slow-paced atmospheric horror film. Its filmed in Montreal (where I am) which is why a lot of the road going up to the cabin looks incredibly familiar to myself which makes the isolated lodge in the familiar gloomy winter landscape feel even more unsettling. The Lodge builds on its quiet moments and its subtle sounds and creating this dark atmosphere. Whether its between the characters stuck in this lodge or dealing with the past and the events that happen, its all comes to spiral out of control even after the twist is revealed. It shows the dynamic and mentality between children and adults as well as the unsettled and unhinged mind. The setting creates a lot of the atmosphere to build up this story giving it the isolation and separation and even helplessness when things go bad.

At the same time, a lot of the movie is built up by its characters. The abrupt moments at the beginning and the simple-minded thoughts of children dealing with their soon-to-be stepmother and the nonacceptance of this new person in their lives followed by the dark past of said person all comes into play. Riley Keough delivers an outstanding performance as Grace, the soon to be stepmother who is trapped in this lodge with the two kids who are mostly ignoring her with the brother Aiden, played by Jaeden Martell being a big influence on the situation and having some unsettling moments of his own. Jaeden Martell made quite the performance in IT: Chapter One (review) previously and in The Lodge, its a different dynamic in his character.

The Lodge excels in its atmosphere and its characters and the surprise element that creeps along in the background until its final reveal. The way it concludes also takes a shocking path. This movie resides in knowing the least possible going in and experiencing its story so I won’t say any more. I do highly recommend it.

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

Double Feature: Maniac (1980) & Matilda (1996)

Taking a moment to get back to our alphabet double feature as we continue onto the M selections. The first is a 1980s slasher Maniac followed by 1996 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel of the same name Matilda. Let’s check it out!

Maniac (1980)

Maniac 1980

Director: William Lustig

Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Kelly Piper

A psychotic man, troubled by his childhood abuse, loose in New York City, kills young women and takes their scalps as his trophies. Will he find the perfect woman in a photographer, and end his killing spree? – IMDB

Maniac is an odd film. Its not a particularly long one and the premise itself is rather spine-chilling. There’s this appeal of the abrupt attacks that this serial killer deals with its victims. The aftermath of taking the scalps and the whole killer by himself is all fairly well-done psychologically especially in terms of its final act to the actual final moments that are actually the best part of the film in terms of delivering its final surprise.

However, Maniac has a lot of elements that didn’t quite work for it. It could be that the film didn’t really age too well from the 80s until now or its the general lack of appeal that I’ve had lately for 80s films. I feel like its more of a personal preference element. One thing that I truly didn’t appreciate though was how each scene of killing or hunting its victim was filled with this overlap of heavy breathing sounds that seemed like it was added in afterwards to make the scene more nerve-wrecking except it was more annoying and retracted from those scenes.

Its obvious that Maniac didn’t quite work for me (or my husband). The story itself has something there so I’m interested to see whether the 2012 remake will land a little better.

Matilda (1996)

matilda

Director: Danny DeVito

Cast: Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, Pam Ferris, Paul Reubens, Tracey Walter, Kiami Davael

Story of a wonderful little girl, who happens to be a genius, and her wonderful teacher vs. the worst parents ever and the worst school principal imaginable. – IMDB

Having read a few of Roald Dahl’s children’s novels when I was younger, Matilda has been one that I’ve never read before although I might have owned it at some point (or it might be in a box somewhere when I moved, I can’t remember). However, its been a movie on my radar for all the time that its been released since Mara Wilson in the child actor days was absolutely fantastic. Matilda is something of an odd movie but yet its one that’s a tad over the top in all the characters especially when it comes to the actions of the principal Trunchbull, played amazing by Pam Ferris. But then, children’s films tend to have these silly and ridiculous moments to give it that extra entertainment value.

Mara Wilson is definitely the charming element of this film. As well as her parents played by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman which was downright hilarious as they were simply ridiculous parents. They almost seem like the inspiration behind the parents in this year’s Netflix animated film, The Willoughbys (review). As she learns about her abilities, Matilda is so much fun to watch since she uses her powers essentially to payback the adults that have been mean to her. Sure, we’re not supposed to encourage the concept of revenge but its all about teaching a lesson to bullies who deserve it and standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, just like taking on this actual bond with her teacher, Miss Honey played by Embeth Davidtz.

Matilda is fun children’s movie. The premise is good and while I haven’t read the source material, its one that I would like to check out for fun. The cast is incredibly colorful and suitably over the top as it fits the genre.

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

Double Feature: A.M.I. (2019) & Albion: The Enchanted Stallion (2016)

Next Double Feature is here! Its been a while since I’ve gone on an alphabet double feature! This time, I’m going to try to work through both Netflix and Shudder titles for the pairing as much as possible. Its a decision that I made after the A selections though so here we are! A selection starts with 2019 horror film A.M.I. and then followed by 2016’s indie fantasy-adventure film Albion: The Enchanted Stallion. Let’s check it out!

A.M.I. (2019)

A.M.I.

Director (and co-writer): Rusty Nixon

Cast: Debs Howard, Philip Granger, Bonnie Hay, Sam Robert Muik, Veronica Hampson, Havana Guppy

A seventeen year old girl forms a co-dependent relationship with an artificial intelligence on her phone and goes on a murderous rampage. – IMDB

Movies based on AI and possibly corrupted or misused technology is definitely been on the rise. We did recently watch Child’s Play remake (review) and then there’s been a few short films screened at film festivals that had that sort of concept as well. A.M.I. plays with that concept where the AI becomes the mother figure anchor for Cassie, who loses her mother and can’t seem to see eye to eye with her father, grows distant with her friends (who aren’t all that great) and then a scumbag of a boyfriend. With all these factors, A.M.I. turns into her “person” and eventually becomes the manipulating force that drives her to start killing all those that have wronged her.

The story and premise, while not entirely fresh, has a decent foundation. The only issue is that the film is filled with really bad characters. Bad in the sense that they are truly bad people with some really warped sense of friendship, love, relationships, etc. As Cassie breaks down from seeing everyone’s true personality, her character is supposed to have some kind of pity, I suppose but then, the story never gives enough to make her feel that way and instead brings her straight into this rampage that she goes on. The characters here are built so incredibly thin and so unwelcoming that its hard to side with any of them and care about what happens to them either. A part of that might have to do with some overacting on all parts and some ridiculous dialogue.

A.M.I. has a lot of issues that hides the fact that the premise itself wasn’t a bad one and has some creepy parts but the tone it chooses and the characters it uses during this makes it actually a rather funny movie. Perhaps if it didn’t feel like it took itself that seriously, it would have been a fun little movie romp to have a good laugh at some of the ridiculous bits that happen.

Albion: The Enchanted Stallion (2016)

Albion: The Enchanted Stallion

Director (and co-writer): Castille Landon

Cast: Avery Arendes, Stephen Dorff, Castille Landon, Daniel Sharman, John Cleese, Liam McIntyre, Jennifer Morrison

A twelve-year-old girl is transported by a magical black stallion to the mystical world of ALBION, where she discovers that she alone is the key to saving an entire race of people. – IMDB

Albion: The Enchanted Stallion is a fun little fantasy adventure. There’s a lot of creativity here and introduces a new fantasy world that the young girl enters unknowingly on the back of a stallion that she tends to. In this world, she learns that its not all coincidence and yet has something linked to herself and it gives her the courage and bravery to do the right thing and help her newfound friends in saving the people in this magical world called Albion.

Albion is a world split between the good and bad. There are people fighting to regain the balance that once was despite its perils and challenges. Evie is brought into this world and almost doesn’t believe that things that she experiences and tries to find a way back. Its a fun world to say the least. Plus, each of the characters that she meets is rather entertaining as well. They run into their own dangers and while some of the characters could have a little more depth, this is something of a family film (although there are some rather disgusting bits), it satisfies the adventurous tale that it wants to tell. Everyone’s character whether good or bad has its own standout moments. Special mention to Jennifer Morrison who plays The Abbess and her part is absolutely awesome.

Albion: The Enchanted Stallion has its little issues here and there but it executes itself pretty well and its a harmless little film that packs in a lot of fun dialogue and banter and also brings in some colorful characters. I’d definitely say that its something of a hidden gem and a pleasant surprise in the landscape of family fantasy adventure films.

That’s it for the A title double feature!
Have you seen these movies? Thoughts?