TADFF 2021: Canadian Shorts After Dark

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2021 goes completely virtual this year as it kicks off its 15th annual edition milestone filling five days of horror, sci-fi and action films from October 13th to 17th. If you are in Canada, film festival access is nationwide so you probably don’t want to miss out! You can find the schedule line-up HERE.

Kicking off the festival on Day 1 to start off in a little bit of a unique way and probably the way I’m used to previously covering TADFF is with its short films selections. Nothing like some Canadian Shorts to kick things off with 9 short films in the Canadian Shorts After Dark showcase. There’s a few that I have seen before in film festivals but the majority are first time watches.

Morbus (2020)

Director: Kerim Banka
Cast: Nicole Hrgetic, Benjamin Liddell, Konstantina Mantelos

Morbus is a second watch and one that I remembered fairly well except I can’t remember from which festival I first saw it and then didn’t end up reviewing. However, better late than never as Morbus does have a rather intriguing premise.

Morbus tells the story of a young couple that is halted on an isolated country road by blocked cars in their path. When they get out to investigate, the woman notices something in the distance and they follow in pursuit to find a woman in the woods who has some weird growths and attacks them.

There’s so much to love about this. The isolated road is a fantastic setting. There’s a lot of mystery with this type of body horror-esque phenomenon where its not certain what is going on but yet, it shows the signs of humanity of the woman’s infection causes the man to react in his own ways. As much as its horrific and a tad disgusting in terms of the whole body changing, there’s also a human element at play that gives the story a little more depth. Its only a short and yet, there’s so many things to explore with this one.

Le Reflet (The Reflection) (2018)

Director: Louis-David Jutras
Cast: Laurence Anais Belleville

Alone in her apartment, Anais realizes that something is wrong with her reflection. Trapped, she tries to escape this entity that manifests itself only through reflection. – IMDB

Reflections and mirrors are such a great tool when it comes to horror films. Le Reflet does a great job and using its sound design, a lot of quiet moments and the different reflective surfaces to play with this reflection premise. While some of the scares are rather predictable, it all depends on the timing and anticipation that it manages to ramp up before executing the scare that makes it rather effective. Plus, it creates this unknown of why this is happening.

I’m a big fan of films with this sort of horror style which is much more subtle and atmospheric. For myself, this short was absolutely outstanding. Plus, it leaves such a mystery that it feels like the premise could be expanded into a full film and potentially be a rather fun horror experience.

Maybe You Should Be Careful (2021)

Director (and writer): Megan Robinson
Cast: Dan Beirne, Brittany Rae Robinson, Kelly McNamee

Maybe You Should Be Careful is about a young couple trying to reignite their passion and intimacy when the boyfriend finds a post about a female killer in the neighborhood that is shockingly similar to his girlfriend and starts building paranoia and fear towards her in his mind.

Paranoia and fear is such a great pair to use when doing a horror film that it adds this whole psychological element to it that works incredibly well especially in this case. This is a quirky little short. There’s a weird dynamic between the couple but then the suspicions start to form, its quite fun to see how it progresses. In many ways, its simply a miscommunication between the two and a different type of focus during the entire encounter that drives to a finale that is fairly expected once it happens but does leave a lot of space during the entire short of whether the girlfriend is or is not the killer preying on the men in their neighborhood.

Family (2020)

Director (and writer): Mark Pariselli
Cast: Neil Paterson, Tarick Glancy, Peter Campbell, Tracy Woods

An accident on the way to the cottage has horrifying consequences for an interracial gay couple contemplating parenthood. – IMDB

The elements of the road trip are pretty well set up at the beginning from the relationship between the two and their many stops which fit this season especially with pumpkin stalls and corn mazes. Plus, for those familiar with the dark country roads, there’s really nothing quite as spooky as its only lit up by the car headlights making what’s ahead a complete mystery. The mood is set up really great with the isolation and quiet rural area while adding in this dire accident which needs to be taken care of. It takes quite the alarming twist as the film progresses which is a pretty neat turning point. For gamers like myself, it might actually feel very familiar giving hints of Resident Evil 7 especially with a dialogue. I’m not sure whether that is deliberate or just a coincidence but its pretty fun.

Kweskowsiu (She Whistles) (2021)

Director (and writer): Thirza Cuthand
Cast: Sera-Lys McArthur, Aiden Devine, Sebastian Bertrand, Eileen Li

On the way to her girlfriend’s place, an Indigenous woman is assaulted by her cab driver. Amidst the struggle, she discovers a deadly supernatural power that may help solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. – IMDB

There’s a lot to love about this short. For one, it dives into Native American beliefs and/or myths about the Northern Lights specifically regarding what happens when you whistle at it. Using this as not only a faux-pas in conversation but also afterwards, using it to the main girl’s advantage. Second is the familiar face of Sera-Lys McArthur who is really good here especially after seeing a good performance of hers earlier this year in Don’t Say Its Name (review). The conversation between the cab driver and her character during the taxi ride is actually rather unnerving especially awakening some fear about how much privacy is being pried but also touching on the prejudices towards Native Americans in the community as well.

Whether its the thriller element or the other messages portrayed in this short film, its a very intriguing one overall and one that opens up unfamiliar myths which adds to the intrigue and at least for myself, lead me to do a little more research.

Sang Jaune (Yellow Blood) (2019)

Director: Julie Roy
Cast: Catherine-Audrey Lachapelle

Sang Jaune crafts a story of Jenny whose life is relatively routine as it revolves around work and collecting sports cars. One day, she wakes up in a yellow field in the middle of nowhere when she starts realizing that her belly is growing abnormally and things start getting weirder after that.

Sang Jaune is a second watch for myself. I believe that I had seen it in Fantasia 2020 but never got around to reviewing it. There are some great ideas here which center around some kind of unknown creature or alien as a subcontext. It revolves around one character. The area and the premise is rather intriguing overall and leaves a lot of space to connect the dots. However, it is one that feels a little abstract at times.

The Silent Lay Steady (2020)

Director (and writer): Travis Laidlaw
Cast: Katrina Elmsley, Spencer Hanson, Justin Hay

A woman finds herself alone with the body after a funeral in her 1860’s farmhouse. – IMDB

The Silent Lay Steady is definitely one of the standout shorts in this programming. The premise and the story is very multilayer as it plays around with this starting point that loops back at the end. Its a rather fun play on the supernatural element and some shots actually remind me a little of The Haunting on Hill House (review). There’s a lot of different horror elements executed really well where there’s a bit focus on sound design to create the atmosphere.

The most outstanding element has to be its cinematography. Each shot is framed very uniquely that creates this different feeling, leaving some things hidden behind the walls. Whether the camera is following the character or its framed on one spot while the character moves in and out of rooms or keeping sounds and lighting coming from off screen, there’s a lot of really great visuals that make the whole short film even more engaging.

10-33

Director (and writer): Alexander Maxim Seltzer
Cast: Alison Louder, Andrew Chown

Ava’s quiet date night out at the cinema turns into a nightmare when she’s trapped in a toilet stall during an active shooting attack. With only a thin door separating her from the gunman, she is forced to confront him and try to find a way to survive. – 10-33 Website

Shootings anywhere is always a scary scenario to imagine. The films crafts it in one location when Ava is hiding into the toilet stall after hearing the other girls in the washroom being shot. As she tries to stay quiet, unnoticed and stay calm, things don’t go exactly as plan. The interaction between her and the gunman is through the stall door. Its a rather normal sort of conversation but reveals quite a bit about both Ava and the gunman which also works to build up the tension.

To be fair, the film premise and execution is overall very engaging. Ava’s fear and the gunman being an unknown factor other than his voice makes it all the more nervewrecking to watch. Whether its to show an aggression or frustration or to highlight the type of person the gunman is, the dialogue has a lot of f-bombs. At one point, it felt necessary but over time, it felt a little annoying as pushing something too much feels like an overuse. Its just a little observation for myself and very much nitpicking at the details since 10-33 really did standout a lot.

Crawl Space (2021)

Director (and writer): Andrew Ellinas
Cast: Andrew Ellinas

A man battles a giant spider in his garage. – IMDB

Wrapping up the Canadian Shorts After Dark is this creature feature which centers around this man finding this crawl space and digs through the spider webs to find a giant spider living in it and it ends up battling it. There’s a definite budget at play here that makes the spider a little funny-looking but spiders are really unnerving in general especially then its a big one. Its uses the things in the garage at hand for the fight and it is pretty fun overall in a silly sort of way.

Not exactly one that I’m especially impressed with but spiders as creature features seem to be wildly underused. I definitely appreciate that this one plays on that creature but also adds a little twist in the end.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Hello! Tapir (2020)

Hello! Tapir (2020)

Director (and writer): Kethsvin Chee

Cast: Run-Yin Bai, Lee-zen Lee, Hsueh Feng Lu, Charlie Yeung

8-year-old Ah Keat sets off in search of the mythical nightmare-eating creature in the forest, hoping it will bring his father back to life. – IMDB

Hello! Tapir is a 2020 Taiwanese fantasy drama that also happens to be Taiwan’s first live action animated film. Films that tackle young children tackling family trauma or grief and loss with their imagination is a wonderful premise. It reminded of another Taiwanese film adaptation called Starry Starry Night but if above anything, this film actually draws a lot of parallels to My Neighbor Totoro both in premise and even some of the shots are set up. Tapirs are actual animals that exist however, the fact that they use this in a story that spans from a father’s childhood encounter with the magical tapir living deep in their town’s forest that extends to a promise between a child and their father as the little boy Ah Keat waits for his father to come home while the adults, mostly his mother and his grandmother also have their own side of dealing with this family loss while trying to keep it a secret from Ah Keat without realizing that he actually is dealing with it in his own way.

The execution of the film overall is really great as the structure of the film is presented as a fragmented storyline or perhaps more as a parallel. The present is shown moving forward in time starting from the day that the father was lost at sea and the night before in his last few conversations with his family. The whole structure builds up the father’s character and his relationship with those around him but most importantly, also builds up Ah Keat’s character and why he insists on finding the Tapir. With that said, the cast does a great job. Ah Keat is played by Run-Yin Bai who captures the childhood innocence for a little boy really well but also giving those dramatic parts very good as well, carrying through the loss and confusion that he is feeling as well towards the situation. Playing his mother who comes to help from Taipei after the situation is Charlie Yeung, a rather famous Hong Kong actress who captures her role as she deals with this whole thing while trying to draw a little closer to her son, much like the distance between her and her ex-mother-in-law is very obvious as well while still hiding the loss of her ex-husband and has hit her hard as well as she stays strong for the family. The grandmother and father role, played respectively by Hsueh Feng Lu and Lee-zen Lee also are great performances. A part of it is that they are a great cast but also that these characters are scripted really well. All their dialogue contributes in the every detail to make them draw closer together or build them up.

This magical Tapir is also well-designed as its exterior is fantasy-like in itself as it has the body of a pig, ears of a horse, the trunk of an elephant and feet like rhinoceros. Anywhere with the Tapir, there is no danger and it wanders the streets of the town after everyone has fallen asleep to eat their nightmares. Its essentially a protector of the town. One that protects people from their bad thoughts. The interaction with the Tapir and Ah Keat is truly cute and heartwarming. The childhood innocence in Ah Keat and the motions of this magical world with illuminated bubbles floating around filled with all sorts of nightmares which also link to the characters in the film like Ah Keat’s best friends who follow his suit to think up silly ways to create enough glowing light to attract the tapir together. Plus, there’s a big Tapir and a baby Tapir which is almost a little reflection of the parent and child relationship focused in this story.

There’s honestly a lot to love about Hello! Tapir. The script is fantastic and builds such wonderful characters to a beautifully crafted magical beast. The whole idea feels almost healing to watch. Despite its heartstrings tugging moments where certain details get unveiled as the story unfolds whether its promises seemingly unfulfilled between father and son or the family structure or even facing this grief and loss together and learning to let it go and live with it, there is a lot of positivity that the concept of a magical creature like the Tapir brings. It brings forth the many worries in the world from the news headlines that are narrated as the dream bubbles float right down to the little adventures and simple hope that kids believe in. Not to mention the little fantasy-like score/song that plays when the Tapir shows up that makes it all the more magical. Sure, the story is about family, grief and loss but it also balances the fantasy and adventure plus childhood innocence so well that the ending makes it all the more heartwarming.

Being a fan of live-action animation films and stories like My Neighbor Totoro, this film was like a homage but at the same time also created a beautiful little fantasy tale also that was both emotional and heartwarming. Everything was done with such detail in its script to how the beautiful shots are framed to the very fun little conversations that all call back to each other from the past to the present in context that its really hard to not praise the cinematography, the script and the overall direction of Hello! Tapir!

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: When I Consume You (2021)

When I Consume You (2021)

Director (and writer): Perry Blackshear

Cast: Libby Ewing, Evan Dumouchel, MacLeod Andrews, Margaret Ying Drake, Claire Siebers

A woman and her brother seek revenge against a mysterious stalker. – IMDB

When I Consume You is a 2021 American horror thriller which revolves around siblings trying to make it together in the world until one day Wilson finds Daphne dead in her apartment. While the police claim its drug-related, he knows it isn’t and goes to follow what he knows to discover that her sister might be caught up with something supernatural which has now turned its attention to him. While he has relied on his sister in the past, he needs to find his own courage to face it. There’s a lot to love about When I Consume You. Whether its the plot, the characters and the cinematography plus of course, the horror element.

The plot is well-written and executed well. The focus on the siblings is a good one where they have hard lives and issues which are shown right at the beginning, outlining the two siblings contrast in personality and their bond. As the film layers out the whole situation and the threat that Daphne is protecting Wilson from, the film takes a rather more violent turn. The story also adds in elements of beliefs bringing in a symbol and the heart sutra. Having learned the heart sutra before, this was something rather interesting to see appear in the film. Its a little more than a horror film in that side as Wilson’s character finds an inner strength that he didn’t have anymore. The essence is in character building and bond that the siblings have that are very convincing which makes them all the more worth cheering for in the face of evil. A lot of credit does go to Libby Ewing and Evan Dumouchel who is great in their respective roles as Daphne and Wilson.

The horror element comes from this threat: a lingering figure in the closer with glowing yellow eyes which constantly appears throughout the film and remains unknown as to what it is until the end. To be fair, the effects for this has an unsettling feeling that builds. At the beginning, the effects actually made it a bit funny as it does feel a tad unreal and not too fitting with the tone of the film. However, as this mysterious stalker character starts being built up, it starts having a much more unsettling feeling overall.

The cinematography is definitely a standout here despite this odd shift occasionally to the first person perspective bringing some found footage wobbly camera elements on screen, which was a little less enjoyable as it felt like it pulled away from the film itself. However, on the overall element the cinematography does help create the tension and unsettling elements plus some scenes are crafted incredibly catchy. It packs in both horror and mystery which makes it all the more intriguing. There’s one part where its completely dark except for some neon pink lights on the background and phone screen and the sound effects with just a hand sneaking in to touch the phone screen which was an awesome stylistic scene. There are a lot of these moments which work very well.

Overall, When I Consume You is a wonderful horror drama/thriller with a great supernatural horror element and touching on the occult as well. It was both intriguing on its thriller elements but also managed to bring some unsettling feelings build up the horror elements and blends it well with the more drama elements for the characters itself.

*When I Consume You had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 18th.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Baby, Don’t Cry (2021)

Baby, Don’t Cry (2021)

Director: Jesse Dvorak

Cast: Zita Bai, Vas Provatakis, Boni Mata, Troy Musil, Helen Sun

Baby, A withdrawn and sensitive 17-year-old Chinese immigrant from a troubled home, is living in the outskirts of Seattle. One day, she meets a 20-year-old delinquent named Fox. Together they embark on a twisted journey to escape their hopeless fate. – IMDB

Baby, Don’t Cry is a 2021 coming of age romance and family drama that takes a look at both a cultural element for the main character but also a coming of age for Baby (Zita Bai), a simple and troubled seventeen year old with a filmmaker dream who ends up meeting a bad boy Fox (Vas Provatakis) and has a whirlwind relationship with him. As much as it is a visceral romance, it also embodies a lot of happy moments. The film uses not only the third person film angle to capture but also has a second camera which is that of footage filmed from Baby’s perspective to see what she sees. The family element is also presented here as Baby’s life is further emphasized by her troubled family situation mostly due to her mother’s unstable situation which creates a roller coaster of emotions having both good and bad days in their relationship.

Baby, Don’t Cry isn’t the normal film and has a rather unique voice. It takes a different angle on the Chinese immigrant as a teenager and the struggles to fit in and thrive while not exactly being from a wealthy or immensely, controlled family although it still grounds itself on a more closed parent who talks about bringing shame. However, Baby tries to fit into society despite some of the stereotypes that gets thrown her way. Plus, the film also lacks some groundedness as it floats between past memories, fantasy and the present reality. Much like how Zita Bai flips the characters around bringing in the sexual fox spirit in Chinese folklore which is usually a feminine character and reverses it into a male character and directly names the male lead Fox. Something that I have to admit escaped me until I saw the Q&A session after its screening.

The whole tone and pacing is a little odd at times and even the moments of adding in the fantasy and real elements sometimes even feel a little abrupt however its hard to not be wrapped up by the happy and sweet romance between the two struggling youths that seem absolutely improbable that would have crossed paths other than perhaps destiny and fate bringing them together but also seeing a little bit of power struggle between the two. They do have some fantastic chemistry that in parts of montage moments via Baby’s camera sees all the happiness between the two as they do all kinds of things together but also can switch incredibly quickly to this darker, tense and rather toxic feeling between the two that just can’t seem to find a balance whether its Fox wanting to walk away from the relationship or Baby reacting in her own way. Its this push and pull between Baby and Fox that makes their relationship intriguing to watch especially as it does open up the withdrawn Baby that we see at the beginning of the film.

Baby Don’t Cry is a rather odd film overall and it probably has to do with the main character Baby portrayed by the film’s writer Zita Bai in such a way who has a lot of rather quiet moments but manages to still be an interesting character to discover as she goes on this unique coming of age story. Its not the typical coming of age and yet it wraps up a lot of elements that might or might not be too abstract to be noticed by its audience. Whether if its a relationship between the mother and daughter highlighting some elements of the Chinese family structure albeit the more broken one presented here or the romance between Fox and Baby, it works for myself as I do love hearing other Chinese voices presented in film.

*Baby, Don’t Cry has its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 11th*

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.