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

Ashes of Love (香蜜沉沉烬如霜, 2018)

ashes of love

Director: Yui Bun Chu

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

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

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

QUOTE/SCENE

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

STORY

ashes of love phoenix jingmi

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

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

ashes of love war

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

ashesashes2

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

LENGTH/PACING

ashes of love jingmi

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

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

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

CHARACTERS/CHEMISTRY

Leads: Jing Mi & Phoenix

ashes of love phoenix jingmi 1

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

Brothers & Family Feud: Phoenix & Run Yu

ashes brothers

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

Love Interests, Villains & Other Characters of Interest

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

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

OVERALL

ashes phoenix

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

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

MAIN THEME

To Dream is to Die (Dead Dreamer #1) by Sarah Lampkin

To Dream is to Die (Dead Dreamer #1)
By: Sarah Lampkin

to dream is to die

Eighteen-year-old Brenna Whit is entering college as a freshman and starting to meet new people, but she hides a dark secret. Because of an accident that happened three years ago, her spirit wanders the Fade whenever she falls asleep. It’s something she wants to keep hidden from the world, but when she sees someone watching her in spirit form, she fears the secret’s out. With new friends, possibly new enemies, school, and a new crush, Brenna has too much to worry about for just her freshman year of college. – Goodreads

Feeling a lot along the lines of young adult shows, To Dream is To Die is the first book in the Dead Dreamer series. As a first book, it does a lot of things right especially in setting up a foundation quickly. The author Sarah Lampkin quickly lets us know the situation and what is the new situation that our main protagonist Brenna is in with her new phase in life, moving into her dorm in college and then revealing that she essentially doesn’t sleep and wanders in her spirit form instead, an ability that she has because of her near death experience. A secret that she soon has to divulge to her new friends, Aeria and Damon who the latter actually is also learning about his own abilities.

First books of series are always a little tricky. The author needs to be able to show off these characters and their charm while giving them a situation that lets them learn about their dilemma. Here it is set up very well and paced in an intriguing way as everything links to each other but also having pieces of the puzzle that need to be figured out and revealed gradually and more characters coming into the mix. At the same time, what helps this all is using chapters that switch their different narratives. Its mostly in the narrative from the point of view of Brenna but when the situation temporarily changes, it switches over to her friend and it adds a unique touch.  These types of narratives is something I personally enjoy a lot in novels as they help execute storytelling elements so well and let the readers connect with the characters better as well.

Every character here from Brenna, Aeria and Damon all have their value in the story while adding in some more supporting characters that get involved in the situation and the supernatural/paranormal elements of demons, fairies, spirits and possession. All three are fairly strong characters. There’s a lot to discover about their spiritual plane called the Fade, whether its the history or the mysteries, it really only feels like the type of the iceberg has been discovered. Book one shows that there is so much more room for the story to grow and expand and it’ll be interesting to see where they take the sequel which is already available.

Overall, To Dream Is To Die is a well-paced page-turner. Its paranormal and fantasy elements are pretty creative and intriguing to discover in this new world that Sarah Lampkin has created. At the same time, she also brings to life some strong characters. Its definitely one to follow as well as for myself, catch up with the second book.

*Book received in exchange for honest review via R&R Book Tours*

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

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


Holy Motors

Holy Motors (2012)

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

Holy Motors

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

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

Holy Motors

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

Holy Motors

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

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

Holy Motors

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

A Five Star Film

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


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

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

TV Binge: Eternal Love (三生三世十里桃花, 2017)

Eternal Love (三生三世十里桃花, 2017)

Eternal Love

Cast: Mi Yang, Mark Chao, Ken Chang, Dilraba Dilmurat, Vengo Gao, Maggie Huang, Vin Zhang, Alan Yu, Lawrence Wang, Bambi Zhu, Wayne Liu

After a devastating war, the immortal tribe paid a heavy price to seal the demon lord. 70000 years later, in an attempt to re-seal the demon lord who broke free, Bai Qian was sent to the mortal realm. In the mortal world, she meets Ye Hua and falls in love with him after forgetting about her life as a goddess. Ye Hua gifts her the name of Su Su. Su Jin, who is jealous of Ye Hua’s love for Bai Qian, intentionally creates a series of misunderstanding between them and causes Bai Qian to lose her eyes. Thinking that Ye Hua has betrayed her, the devastated Bai Qian jumps off from the Zhu Xian Terrace. At her request, all her memories have been erased and she forgets Ye Hua. Hundred years later, the two meets again as deities. Another lifetime another world, Ye Hua recognizes Bai Qian but the latter remains indifferent. Three lives three worlds, her and him, are they fated to bear an entangling love? – MyDramaList

Eternal Love is currently available on Netflix (as on January 15, 2020)
You can also find it on Youtube via Croton Mega Hit Channel with English subs.
Below is the playlist:

STORY

ten miles of peach blossom

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Tang Qi and later translated, titled To The Sky Kingdom, Eternal Love aka Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms is the most watched Chinese Drama in China to date. The C-drama tells the story that spans over Three Lives, Three Worlds (as the Chinese title calls it) and as its about the love story that happens between the many trials and tribulations between Fox King’s youngest daughter Bai Qian and Nine Heaven’s Prince, Ye Hua. Their story is told over the events of the Sky Kingdom: Nine Heavens, Ghost Tribe, Kun Lun Mountains, Fox Clan and other fantasy lands as well as the mortal world. Suffice to say that, the story itself might sound a little back and forth with its focus on the three lives and three worlds for these two characters and their love stories.

eternal love baiqian

However, the story is done well that it gives room for each of the characters to grow and each love life in each world has their own depth. Plus, the supporting characters also have a good amount of entertaining filler to guide these characters. Between good and evil, love and trust, and the schemes and power balance, the story has a lot to love. It has its frustrating moments with some of the scheming characters but overall, its done really well.

LENGTH/PACING

ten miles fighting

Episodes: 58

58 episodes is the norm for a Chinese drama of this calibre. Anything set in the fantasy world and such always has the 50 or more episodes attached to it. Its something that doesn’t always work depending on what the story interpreted is. Surprisingly, while there are some small moments that feels like the plot stays or simply some characters being frustrating as times because of their stubbornness or whatever character trait (which I will talk about in the characters section below), the story does move forward.

It does so by giving it enough places to move around these fantasy worlds. Between the rigid rules of the royalties in Nine Heavens to the much more relaxed Fox Clan’s Fox Burrow  setting to the dark Ghost Tribe and the beautifully enchanting Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms owned by the Phoenix God, the story shifts from its political elements of war between good and evil to maintain peace and the romances and friendships that happen between the characters and with that, its own set of misunderstandings. There’s a decent amount of action scenes which are well-executed and the dialogue is done naturally, while giving it a good amount of space for building the chemistry between the characters.

CHARACTERS/CHEMISTRY

eternal love dilraba

If you haven’t noticed, characters and chemistry are my favorite parts of TV series and with Eternal Love and its 58 episodes and different worlds, we’re in for a ride in this section as there are some really good ones to highlight and talk about.

Bai Qian & Ye Hua
(and their 2 other lives/worlds)

eternal love 1

I’m not going to lie that its a little hard to totally figure out which romance this whole Three Lives and Three Worlds was initially for Bai Qian and Ye Hua but they do make an effort to point it out at the end which is pretty cool. There’s a lot to love about these two as their different romances each have a different sort of feeling whether its the type of love or the conflicts that happen that cause them to break apart and in the end, solidifies their love more by the end. Its the first time I’ve seen Yang Mi in this sort of role and she is so pretty in her various outfits and they match well with Mark Chao’s character in his various prince transformations. Mark Chao’s character becomes one that changes in his personality and not so much the lives prominently so its easy to quickly feel and connect with his character quickly.

Dong Hua Di Jun & Bai Feng Jiu

eternal love fengjiu dijun

While the main couple was done really well, this supporting characters of Bai Feng Jiu, the rare nine-tailed red fox niece of Bai Qian portrayed by Dilraba Dilmurat and Dong Hua Emperor Lord who is has lived so long that he has let go of emotions. These two are the focus of the sequel coming up this year. Suffice to say that they were done very well. Their romance is one that is not only fun because of Bai Feng Jiu who is a bit clumsy and naive but will do anything for love but facing Emperor Lord who seems to care but not reciprocate affections, it turns into a roller coaster of emotions that probably hits even harder than the main couple.

Li Jing

ten miles li jing

Li Jing is the second son of the Ghost Tribe Emperor and ends up taking over when his father’s war against Nine Heavens fails. He is a character that is one that isn’t very ambitious but at the same time, a rather frustratingly silly character as he constantly gets led astray by Xuan Nu, a childhood friend of Bai Qian who uses a prettier face to gain attention. Li Jing also is the first person that Bai Qian falls for romantically but due to Xuan Nu’s action, it causes them to break apart. Li Jing is not exactly a bad character. He actually fills up some of the spaces well as Xuan Nu is one of the “bad gals” who orders harm because of jealousy. Li Jing becomes a fairly tough character who stands up for peace and rights as the Ghost Tribe King and has a bit of character development that suits him well.

Bai Zhen & Zhe Yan

eternal love alan yu

I’m a huge fan of Alan Yu as an actor. There’s something very unique about him that I enjoy about him and as Bai Zhen (Alan Yu), the fourth son of the Fox King and the older brother of Bai Qian, he pops up occasionally in a very carefree and relaxed way randomly and yet him and his best friend (who seems like they have a special relationship) Zhe Yan (Ken Chang), a Phoenix Immortal both spend time together drinking peach blossom wine and playing Reversi and then randomly have arguments that makes Bai Zhen run off to his palace in the Northern Seas. These two are something of a comedic relief as well as surprisingly insightful guidance for all the characters and the myriad of dilemma.

There’s a ton of other characters that we could also talk about but I’m going to leave it at these top ones that truly appealed to me. However, one of the bad ladies in this one is the woman who loves Ye Hua called Su Jin and her role was to create a lot of the misunderstandings and misguidances that lead to a lot of the drama happening. As frustrating as her character was because she was able to get away with it because of her status, it was all merited because she was a character that had nothing to like.

OVERALL

Eternal Love is a much easier mountain to climb than expected. Other than the elements that I talked about for the story depth and the great fantasy world that is presented here with gods and fairies and spirits and a roundup of some well-written and well-developed characters, it also has some lovely visual effects. Every scene is done really nicely. Sure, some of the flowers might look a little fake in some scenes but overall, its done relatively nice for TV dramas. At the same time, as I was researching this up, the costumes are actually rather intricate with each one done by hand to show off the details for each of the characters plus all the sets were newly built to not have any replicas. Not to mention, the soundtrack here is amazing. Every song is so great that I almost wanted to share it all. Eternal Love is definitely one of the better Chinese dramas out there. Sure, its a bit long but it has enough content to make it really nice. If you watch the behind the scenes, its actually a pretty involved process between the actors and the director with how they work the script and how each scene is done. All things great for bingeworthy TV.

MAIN THEME

BITS 2019: She Never Died (2019)

BITS 2019 banner

She Never Died (2019)

She Never Died

Director: Audrey Cummings

Cast: Olunike Adeliyi, Peter MacNeill, Kiana Madeira, Michelle Nolden, Noah Dalton Danby, Edsson Morales, Katie Messina, Murray Furrow

When a girl goes missing, a woman with a mysterious past tracks down the people responsible. – IMDB

Set in the same universe of 2015’s Canadian horror drama/comedy/thriller He Never Died, She Never Died is not a direct sequel but rather focuses on another character – a strong female character called  Lacey, played by Olunike Adeliyi. Lacey is  an immortal who lives in tedium of existence and hunts down the villainous bad guys in the society to keep her compulsions in check. In one of her huntings (or feedings..whichever you want to call it), she gets discovered by a detective Godfrey (Peter MacNeill) who is following the same man as she uses for her huntings called Terrence (Noah Dalton Danby), who is suspicious of human trafficking. Together they join together to pursue him and ends up diving deeper into their operations.

What contributes a lot to She Never Died is having this mysterious creature and having something more unique in the form of something like a vampire in its immortality but having reactions almost like a werewolf but also these marks on her back. Watching the character of Lacey on screen, with her sparse words and her badass appearance and attitude, there’s a righteousness that fills the air. In fact, the three main characters here: Lacey, Godfrey and even the girl that joins their little team, Suzie (Kiana Madeira) all have their not so glorious decisions but still has this good in them that helps them stick together with each other despite the fact they are actually all very much strangers to each other. These characters and the cast that brings them all to life, add so much to how it becomes incredibly enjoyable aside from the nice grasp of atmosphere and tone from director Audrey Cummings.

Some of the elements are a bit questionable. You could call the mystery of Lacey a lack of depth as her character does have very vague expressions but at the same time, its not exactly a very deep film. There are no questions on how the story will turn out especially with the bad guy, Terrence that dabbles in the dark web who is a rather cookie-cutter sort of villain that feels like he has an unsettling nature but is the brawn of the operation while the hint of incestuous relationship with his sister (Michelle Nolden) who is a much more mysterious as character has not a lot of appearance to add intrigue. There’s a lot going on and its ending definitely hints at a huge possibility that this world still has space to build upon and even a possible sequel.

While having never seen He Never Died, She Never Died is a decent film. Packed with some dark humor, some action, a good bit of gore and the whole question of what Lacey actually is (which does have a huge hint at the ending). Its a huge mystery and yet, surprisingly no one questions her being but accepts her differences and how her abilities adds to the situation. There’s an obvious lack of depth in the film for its myriad of characters and yet the film itself has a decent pacing to keep it interesting with the action and the flow.

*She Never Died is screening at Blood in the Snow Festival on November 22nd at 9:30pm*

FNC 2019: Little Joe (2019)

LITTLE JOE (2019)

Little Joe 2019

Director (and co-writer): Jessica Hausner

Cast: Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw, Kerry Fox, Kit Connor, Phénix Brossard, David Wilmot

Alice, a single mother, is a dedicated senior plant breeder at a corporation engaged in developing new species. Against company policy, she takes one home as a gift for her teenage son, Joe. – IMDB

It’s never a good idea to play God and mess with the biology of any living organism as we’ve seen time and time again in movies of all genres. Little Joe plays as a science fiction fantasy drama with horror elements. It probably would most be related to films like Invasions of the Body Snatchers and yet, Little Joe, this new species of red flower that is both sterile and produces a fragrance that generates happiness looks a little like Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax’s Truffula trees (in a smaller flower version).

Little Joe is a slow-burn fantasy drama. Running at 105 minutes, the execution of pacing in this film could definitely have been polished further. A lot of the scenes do manage to leave enough space for the viewer’s imagination to wonder which way it could go as well as what the flowers named Little Joe’s real effect is. The mystery element is present giving it some fairly thrilling moments.

Little Joe is a reflection of how nature’s biology, no matter how it is changed, will always find a way to survive. Just like animals in the wild who adapt and change to protect themselves, Little Joe’s also manage to do the same. When discovering the “motives” of Little Joe (it does sound silly to think a plant has motives), its what gives the layers of the film. However, there is too much in the middle part of being stuck in the cycle of the after-effect of Little Joe and not so much progressing the story further, which makes it drag out a little too much before the finale. Its the technical elements here that works well like the design of Little Joe, the color palette, as well as how some of the scenes are done which gives it so much style.

There are only a few central characters which keeps the story tightknit and easy to follow. The main character is Alice, played by Emily Beecham who does a pretty decent job as she discovers that her experiment has a more serious effect than she anticipated. Her performance is one of the better elements of Little Joe as a while. Playing opposite her is Ben Whishaw as her colleague Chris who has romantic feelings for her. Ben Whishaw has the look to him that just shows off something strange is going on so it makes his character give away a little too much at times. At the same time, the other element of the story is who Little Joe is named after which is her son Joe, played by Kit Connor. Much like a lot of the very obvious character personality shifts throughout the film, its anything but subtle, which is odd. 

All of those little issues with characters and performances and pacing can probably be overlooked however, Little Joe also likes to use the overbearing sound effects to create the jumpscare element or create an uneasiness. Subtle films (like this one or The VVitch or Vivarium) would benefit from letting those unsettling feelings come from the power of quiet scenes rather than bombarding the audience’s eardrums with an array of sounds which after a few times feels more annoying than unsettling.

Its a pity that Little Joe is somewhat of a disappointment as it had a lot of very nice technical elements and a premise that had a lot of potential to be good. However, the repetitive pacing and the over-deliberate need to make the characters act strange as well as the overpowering soundtrack wears it down. As good as the cinematography is and how the colors of both the species and the lighting here works, it feels a bit like style over substance. Of course, if you are fans of films I mentioned above, then this film might be for you.

Little Joe has one more screening at Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 20th at 5:15pm at Cinema du Parc. You can find more info HERE.

TV Binge: A Discovery of Witches (Season 1, 2018)

A Discovery of Witches (Season 1, 2018)

A Discovery of Witches

Cast: Matthew Goode, Teresa Palmer, Valarie Pettiford, Malin Buska, Owen Teale, Alex Kingston, Aiysha Hart, Edward Bluemel, Gregg Chillin, Trevor Eve, Louise Brealey, Elarica Johnson

Diana Bishop, historian and witch, accesses Ashmole 782 and knows she must solve its mysteries. She is offered help by the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, but he’s a vampire and witches should never trust vampires. – IMDB

A Discovery of Witches is a fun little gem. Season 1 is neatly packed at 8 episodes and stars the talented but rather underrated (in my opinion) Matthew Goode (I mean, have you seen him in Stoker?) and the very charming Teresa Palmer as they are paired up as two magical individuals, vampire and witch who unexpectedly and much against the magical order’s rules, fall in love with each other, except maybe its not that surprising with later discoveries.

A Discovery of Witches

Granted its only a few episodes long for the first season, the story does have some odd execution issues that probably lean more on building a romantic foundation between the two characters a lot in the first half before bringing in the magical dangers in the second half. This execution is good and bad. Its good because the characters of Matthew and Diana become quite the connected couple and we can root for them together. The bad is that, it takes a little away from the thrills of this world of magic and keeps that part relatively more shallow and piles it on a lot more in the second half. I haven’t read the source material so maybe that is also how the book is.

A Discovery of Witches Season 1

While I say that, Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer are amazing as a couple and probably will end up on couples to ship together for sure. Their characters Matthew and Diana are fascinating together even when some of the dialogue is very been there done that and maybe even a tad cringey however somehow whenever ancient vampires come into play, it all becomes a little more acceptable because they are expected to be old-fashioned. The connection they have is great on screen and they have some believable chemistry and passion between them. It also helps that Diana learns from him as he learns and protects her from the magical world that she isn’t quite familiar with. At the same time, they balance out because while she lacks control in her powers, she is also a tough character with determination not only for their love but other elements as well. TV couples that somewhat grow and better themselves together make for strong characters.

A Discovery of Witches Season 1

Where this season and possibly the story itself has its limits is in some relatively annoying characters who almost seem endless and have no sense of danger to them. Like the girl above playing Satu (Malin Buska) who honestly is supposed to be scary or unsettling through the constant character design of quiet and glares. Her character felt quite useless throughout although how they end the season 1 (and depending on what Season 2 does with it) might change that thought. While there are other fairly disposable characters here presented, which probably only feels that way because the season is so compact and has a good number of characters revealed but never quite having enough place to be memorable or meaningful.

This first season of A Discovery of Witches is honestly setting up a lot of foundations and giving an outline of the characters and the world and magical politics, that set the stage for whats to come in future seasons. Many shows tend to do that as something of an introductory. Luckily, there’s enough here to have Season 2 greenlit and hopefully will be released soon.