Double Feature: Southpaw (2015) & Miss Sloane (2016)

Welcome to the next double feature. I rented Southpaw and Miss Sloane on discount on Play Store last month. Two very different films and two very different feelings about it however both heavily reliant on their main character.

Southpaw (2015)

Southpaw

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Oona Lawrence, 50 Cent, Naomie Harris

Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Wills to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services. – IMDB

If there is one word to describe Southpaw, it would be disappointing. It isn’t particularly a bad film as the performances were great. Rachel McAdams did great for what it was. Jake Gyllenhaal was fantastic and I absolutely love Forest Whitaker who is an underrated actor. The girl who played the daughter was Oona Lawrence and that arc was decent.

However, the flaw lies in the fact that Southpaw is pretty much another Rocky story in many instances and we already had Creed recently that was much more engaging. It didn’t help that Southpaw was a little too dramatic at parts but never made it feel very exciting to watch. Seeing the stellar cast being in this uninspired script truly was a lackluster experience.

Miss Sloane (2016)

miss sloane

Director: John Madden

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Lithgow, Jake Lacy

In the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, Elizabeth Sloane is the most sought after and formidable lobbyist in D.C. But when taking on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds winning may come at too high a price. – IMDB

Miss Sloane was a movie that I went in with no idea of what the premise is. I have heard good things about it and I have enjoyed Jessica Chastain. Miss Sloane is such a vibrant character wrapped up in a tough and ruthless shell. She is strong and strategic in all her plans and for all the reasons, it makes us wonder on what she has under her sleeve even in the most desperate of situations but it is what makes her compelling to watch.

Miss Sloane, just as the title implies, is truly based on Jessica Chastain and how she takes on the role and she did an outstanding job. As we navigate through her way of life and the little things, while she isn’t exactly a character you would cheer for because of her lack of ethics and morals in some of her decisions, every part whether planned or not comes into play and that gives full credit for the screenwriters doing a fine job at giving it a good pacing that keeps everything moving and finding a balance to learn just enough about Miss Sloane and keeping enough to make everything make sense and surprise when it falls into place.

While Miss Sloane isn’t typically the movie that I would watch, I’m glad that I did because it was absolutely awesome. Gripping, compelling and full of twists and turns around every corner. This one is a must see.

Have you seen Southpaw and/or Miss Sloane?

Fantasia Festival 2017: Napping Princess (2017)

Going to Fantasia and not checking out at least one anime or other animated films would be a pity. While some great choices slipped through because of scheduling like Senior Class, I wasn’t going to let this one go.

Napping Princess (2017)

Napping Princess

Director and writer: Kenji Kamiyama

Cast: Mitsuki Takahata, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Tomoya Maeno

In the car-clogged Eastopolis, capital of the kingdom of Heartland, Princess Ancien is confined to gilded cage of sorts. Gifted with remarkable powers, she can bring the inanimate to life using a magical digital device. But she also draws to the city the Terrible Colossus, placing her father’s realm at risk. Back in the real world, it’s three days before the Tokyo Olympics of 2020, and sleepyhead Kokone awakes again from her dreams of Heartland to the realities of life in small-town Okayama. All is not well, though, as her struggling widower father has become tangled up in some sort of corporate intrigue. Soon, the divide between her reveries and the real world will begin to crumble… – Fantasia Festival

Napping Princess, also called Ancien and the Magic Tablet, is a fun and magical adventure animated feature. Straddling between reality and the dream world, a different but linked story with all the same characters come to life in an endearing and a lot of times, humorous way. Cute characters and fantastic environments and the magical kingdom being so pretty, truly makes it something of an eye candy. Napping Princess however does seem to get lost in its length a little and the final act meshes together in a way that makes it hard to follow.

The concept of Napping Princess is outstanding and this anime takes its audience for a ride both literally and figuratively. Our main character is college bound Kokone who has an awkward but close relationship with his widower father who ends up being arrested by the police because he is accused of stealing something. This takes Kokone and her school friend, Morio on a journey as they tumble and roll through one scene after the next, funnily getting through it despite the danger. Napping Princess is definitely a family friendly feature and in many ways, remains innocent. Not only is Kokone and Morio colorful but even the more subtle characters also are. Between the reality and dream sequences, many characters are portrayed differently however also a joy to watch. Even the enemy may have a secret agenda that we soon learn about by the end, however he and his goons are comedic goofballs. What makes it funnier is the fact that the audience is the smarter person here and it becomes obvious that the scenes were written as in our seats we react accordingly with disbelief of the innocent acts of revealing where Kokone is for example in a situation where she may be too trusting.

Napping Princess is an anime that aims to keep its audience on its toes as Kokone escapes and learns about her parents. While the audience gets to see a bigger picture as we can see the villain’s schemes as well as the father’s interrogation, the journey is primarily with Kokone and her friends. While the kingdom of Heartland is a steampunk world filled with mesmerizing designs and a war that is incredible to watch. The real world is in a much more personal journey. Princess Ancien may know much more about her powers and her capabilities but on the contrary, Kokone is only learning about her background as she heads off on this escape and its an adventure that takes everyone quite the turn. Plus, everyone likes an adventure with a magical bear. In this case, he’s called Joy and an adorable little thing that is Princess Ancien’s companion in the kingdom of Heartland.

While Napping Princess is a rather long anime, it does create two fun worlds: the kingdom of Heartland and the future reality of Japan in 2020. In a world of corporate schemes and a dream world of impending war from giant creatures attracted by magic, both are in danger and its all on Kokone or Princess Ancien to hatch a plan that will fix it. Its fun, entertaining and filled with lots of laughter. Its never too serious or even too dangerous even if there is a little bit of violence. With cute and colorful characters, Napping Princess is a family friendly animated feature that is altogether a fun time.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Dead Shack (2017)

Dead Shack (2017)

Dead Shack

Director: Peter Ricq

Cast: Lizzie Boys, , Lauren Holly, Matthew Nelson-Mahood, Gabriel LaBelle, Donovan Stinson, Valerie Tian

While staying at a run-down cabin in the woods during the weekend, three children must save their parents from the neighbor who intends to feed them to her un-dead family. – IMDB

Described as The Goonies meets Night of the Living Dead, Dead Shack comes as a fun zombie romp with a  young cast fighting to save their drunk father on a camping trip when they accidentally discover their neighbor and her undead family. This femme fatale next door does everything to make sure to keep her family safe and fed. With a runtime of 85 minutes, Dead Shack knows how to pace its movie to be fast and filled with moments of tension, comedy and action.

The young cast here creates a nice balance in characters. Matthew Nelson-Mahood playing the son’s best friend, Jason who is socially awkward as he tries to impress his best friend’s sister, Summer (played by Lizzie Boys) every chance that he has. He captures the role very well and in turn, with his awkwardness, brings in quite a bit of comedic relief along with the banter in moments of panic with the young trio. The three here create a balance of intelligence, common sense and spontaneous reflex and this leads them to really pull up a lot of strength and courage. Its also impressive to see that the story quickly shifts these teens, particularly Jason that starts the movie being told to toughen up and quickly does.

While the young cast is the focus here, the rest of the characters are well-used also. The father, played by Donovan Stinson is the most hilarious part of this movie. He starts off the movie with a lot of funny moments. However, even the supporting roles are there in their oddly disposable way but still have their value, mostly for comedy as well. Its realizes how to capture the humor in spite of the horror tension they want to create here. It also helps make the teens more useful and responsible than their parents.

The setting of the movie is in the middle of nowhere however fits perfectly. While Dead Shack feels like it is riddled with cliches, it uses them to their advantage whether by making some smart comeback in the dialogue or turning it into a comedic moment or adding some common sense that most horror movies don’t have. The music builds the moments really well also whether it is to create tension or the soundtrack that compliments some of the scenes. Along with some clever camera work capturing close-ups and angles, it works wonders for Dead Shack as a whole.

It is a shame that it feels that the enemy is largely underused. While it works because it helps create tension as to wondering when the undead or the Blonde will show up. This movie is definitely more a comedy in a horror setting. While there are more undead as the movie moves along and it never feels like we’re really invested into any of the characters, it still finds a way to make this into a fun romp that surprisingly works really well.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)

Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)

vampire cleanup department

Director: Pak-Wing Yan, Sin-Hang Chiu

Cast: Babyjohn Choi, Min-Chen Lin, Richard Ng, Siu-ho Chin, Susan Shaw

Tim Cheung joins the Vampire Cleanup Department which is a secret task force for dealing Chinese vampire Goeng Si. He is instructed by his uncle Chau and he saves a female Goeng Si, Summer from her evil lord Goeng Si who buried alive her. – IMDB

For those familiar with the Mr. Vampire series decades ago and their introduction to the hopping Chinese vampires, the recent years has seen a resurgence to seemingly revive or perhaps catch Hong Kong’s own wave of the vampire popularity. In 2013, Rigor Mortis saw the debut directing work of Juno Mak get the cast of the originals and create a serious horror full of gore and symbolism. However, Vampire Cleanup Department this year aims to do the same thing but uses more of the horror action comedy angle, in turns more in vein with the original series while still taking the familiar actors. It feels like a true revival or remaster or perhaps modernized reboot of this Chinese cult favorite and not only appeal to the fans of the franchise but also grab a new generation and educate them about these hopping vampires. Screened in Cantonese, the English subtitles were done well enough to still carry the humor it wanted for the most part. We always like to make sure that the jokes will still carry well to an international audience.

Vampire Cleanup Department does many things right. It is hard to say that anymore in terms of comedy or horror. Two things the Hong Kong industry in general seems to have hit a snag as it settles for ineffective and trope-y horror or dumb and nonsensical humor. However, this movie is littered with clever jokes and puns and most of all, actors that deliver them seamlessly and perfectly. It also uses the CGI that they have access to in order to make these vampires and other action/horror effects feel more authentic and less campy. Its a re-skin and one that is done tastefully. For those who were too young when this released or never quite had access to it before or simply the new generation, Vampire Cleanup Department never forgets to educate its audience as it educates and trains its long awaited new blood. Using this story line works in this situation because we as the audience will also learn about how hopping vampires came to be, how to get rid of them as well as how this secret department originated as a new vengeful vampire is unleashed into the city accidentally.

Another great aspect of Vampire Cleanup Department is its veteran actors. Siu-ho Chin and Richard Ng are the main characters in this as they take a supporting role that links to the past. They are fun and entertaining. Siu-ho Chin contributes to a lot of the action as he is the younger of the original crew. Richard Ng brings a lot of the humor. Its truly hard to not feel nostalgic when watching them on screen as they have both been part of memorable films aside from the Mr. Vampire movies. They are the anchor of this film and despite the younger actors seeming to be a focus of the film. The scenes they are in keep the movie grounded as their opposite personalities in their characters also create a nice friction.

The one downfall of this flick truly goes to the young romance, Tim and Summer, played respectively by Babyjohn Choi and Min-Chen Lin. This factor is less to do with their performance but more with the more than familiar romance. Its sappy and redundant. In fact, the humor elements added into their budding romance makes it fun and cute however never lets us feel too invested either, at least not enough to feel emotional about their outcome. Sadly, the romance does take up a decent portion of the movie. While still successfully entertaining us for the most parts, it falls short from what the rest of the movie creates and could of been done a little more concisely.

Vampire Cleanup Department is a treat. Despite its rinse and repeat romance that doesn’t have the connection with the audience it is meant to have, everything else is done very well. It creates a beautiful balance of action, comedy and horror. It revives and reboots this Geong Si, aka hopping vampires, from the late 80s to 90s from the Mr. Vampire series. It also brings in some new blood to possibly (and hopefully) continue the franchise in a modern way. This film has found a way to keep itself self-contained while remembering to honor its predecessors by creating a link of the world the earlier movies created. It brings back the atmosphere those movies had while giving it a fresh look successfully.

Fantasia 2017: Tilt (2017)

Tilt (2017)

Tilt poster

Director & co-writer: Kasra Farahani

Cast: Joseph Cross, Alexia Rasmussen, Jessy Hodges, Kelvin Yu

An unemployed documentary filmmaker’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic in the months after his wife becomes pregnant. – IMDB

A mind’s control over a chaos. Tilt is a movie about exactly that. Also, it stems from possibly the main character, Joe’s first documentary called Tilt and its tagline about control and chaos and skill in regards to pinball which could easily be carried forward to how we watch him slowly spiral towards his urge of becoming someone that he doesn’t recognize. The best way to describe Tilt would be a slow-burn character study of a person who slowly changes as perhaps their subconscious desires take a path they try to resist.

Tilt is an interesting one. We love horror thrillers and slow-burn movies and honestly, those types of movies are possibly the hardest to get right. Tilt does a decent job at setting up the stage. The technicalities from sound design to production set to the cast were done very well. It was captivating in parts and intriguing in others. Tilt’s first and third act were all of these things, wrapped up in a lot of questions and slowly gives the audience pieces to put together and wonder whether our main character Joe, played by Joseph Cross, will eventually spiral to. Where the film may fall a little short is in the incredibly dragged out second act that we can understand the purpose of watching our character, his observations and his resistance come into full force however, it also was a grinding experience to get through falling into the tedious territory for a few brief moments. What does redeem this movie is the unknown and the unsaid. Things happen and we can only wonder and link and imagine some, (at times) disturbing ideas.

It is hard to do a film like Tilt where it combines the thriller genre with a character study. For all its intrigued and ideas executed well most of the time, perhaps one of the harder things to invest into would be the characters themselves. The cast did incredibly well with how these characters are scripted, particularly our main couple, Joe and Joanne. We see the stress and the sacrifices and the tears that the pregnancy and upcoming addition to their family has caused. Perhaps this is what causes these issues to arise subtly in Joe’s personality as he spends many hours by himself.  However, as impressive as Joseph Cross and Alexia Rasmussen portrayed their characters, it is hard to be rooting for any one of them in particular. Perhaps that isn’t the point because it does feel like these characters were created to not truly be likable as they struggle with this new stress that has entered their lives as they have to face a new reality.

With that said, Tilt does a lot of technical aspects right. The scenes, moods, atmosphere are done incredibly well. They help create that sense of fear and dread as well as danger and intrigue. The script itself tells just enough to make us wonder and link things but never truly know if our guess is correct or not. That is what makes a thriller fun as the finale pulls together masterfully. It has some disturbing scenes and ideas and all this is thanks to a great performance by Joseph Cross. However, the downfall of this film lies in characters we can’t seem to get behind and that make sit harder to truly feel invested into their outcome and also a second act that could’ve been perhaps executed a little better in various parts. Not a perfect thriller, however one that executes many things well enough to deserve a watch.

Fantasia 2017: Abu (2017)

Kicking off the Fantasia Festival this year for myself surprisingly is a documentary called Abu. It screens on July 16th at 2pm at Theatre D.B. Clarke. You an find the Festival information HERE.

ABU : Father (2017)

Director/Writer/Producer: Arshad Khan

As a gay man, Filmmaker Arshad Khan examines his troubled relationship with his devout, Muslim father Abu. Using family archives and movies, Khan explores his struggle with his identity and compares it to his parents attempts to fit into Canada. – IMDB

Documentaries aim to educate, invoke thoughts about certain issues and tell its audience a true story which generally is the raw truth. Director, writer and producer of Abu takes us on a deeply personal journey of his life. While the movie Abu, meaning father, entails a heavy focus on his troubled relationship with his own father from values and views, his story dives into deeper issues of assimilation into Canada as a immigrant family, particularly as a Pakistani family. It also looks at his personal struggles and coming of age of being a gay man and in this also looks at the struggle between his family of modernism and traditionalism. Abu says quite a lot in its 80 minutes run-time.

No one can judge someone else’s life story, as we can’t judge Arshad Khan’s. This is his journey. For that, he exposes many truths and realizations from his youth to the present; starting his story from letting the audience understand where his parents came from and how they met and got married. His documentary laces together video clips from back in Pakistan and snippets of popular Bollywood movies (and performances, etc) and interviews with a few members of his family as he narrates his story step by step, bearing his observations, feelings and experiences. There is no doubt in our minds that this documentary shows us his hardships and it should relate to many people: immigrants, men, LGBT community, those growing up in Pakistan, those who relate to generation gap issues with parents, and the list goes on. Even if it doesn’t relate to it, this story tells truths about how he grew up and some very poignant issues ring up particular issues that are hidden away from other’s eyes, be it because of conservatism or religion. However, what is a downfall of this documentary is that while some events may seem to set a platform for various issues, there are mundane parts that make this documentary lose a bit of where it wants to take its audience. While it may seem necessary in his journey, some bits are extras that only serve to extend the running time and doesn’t serve to add to what this documentary is trying to portray.

The creativity of using real life video clips and interviews from family as well as adding in the modernization of cinema which addressed the issues he was talking about, helped create good supporting material to his narration. Plus, it is impressive to see the use of the once familiar VCR static fuzziness be used as a transition tool here. The documentary itself starts off with an animated sequence and these sequences do appear sporadically throughout this journey. The experiences he tells us about in this personal journey also resounds on many levels and highlights mostly hidden issues that many don’t talk about publicly. What Abu does well and truly deserves our attention is telling this poignant and emotional story, particularly in the last third (or second half) of the documentary as the issues truly come to light and Arshad Khan talks about dealing with issues such as anger, frustration and forgiveness as well as the change of dynamics not only with his father but his mother as well. Perhaps it takes a while to get into understanding why anyone would want to hear someone else’s story but give this documentary some time to get its ducks in a row and everything truly comes together in a meaningful, thought-provoking and educational way regarding religion, immigration and family.

***As a personal thought, most of you know that I’m not an immigrant but my parents are. I’m not part of the LGBTQ community. However, this documentary still managed to strike a chord especially in some of the later scenes. Its the family aspect that truly gets me. This goes to a point that in many ways, this film brings up many issues the relate in a multi-faceted way and that problems can transcend through different people because of similar instances. For that, there was one part that truly had me emotional.***

Double Feature: Alleycats (2016) & As Above So Below (2014)

The next double feature is here! We are looking at two newer titles. In a lack of inspiration to decide what to watch on my Netflix list, I went back to my favorite way to choose, alphabetically. I had already watched Alleycats before making this decision so I decided to watch another A title that I had started coincidentally, As Above So Below.

Let’s check it out!

Alleycats (2016)

Alleycats

Director: Ian Bonhote

Cast: Eleanor Tomlinson, John Hannah, John Lynch, Josh Whitehouse, Sam Keeley, Hera Hilmar, Frederick Schmidt

When bike courier Chris witnesses what looks like a murder, his first instinct is to cut and run. But when his curiosity draws him back in, he’s soon embroiled in a world of corruption, political power, and illegal bike racing. – IMDB

Alleycats is an action thriller that is a bit too obvious before its reveal. However, it has its good moments where it has a bit of tension. The main character Danni is cool. While there is somewhat of a mystery aspect, the execution could have been done  little better to keep things a little more compelling. Although the pacing was pretty good, it still was missing an element of surprise because the one they had here was simply pretty easy to figure out early on and it is because it takes on a trope or two from other thrillers. Perhaps with the nature of bike racing and courrier, it does keep the action going and the pace moving along while adding in tension, its a shame that there weren’t more of those scenes and adds in a little too much drama for its own good, making it somewhat lost in its own plot. Sometimes, keeping it simple will make it more effective.

However, Alleycats is a decent action thriller. It may not have big names attached to it but the story is a good one that wraps up political power, corruption into a fast-paced mystery that may be predictable but still intriguing enough to watch.

As Above So Below (2014)

as above so below

Director (and writer): John Erick Dowdle

Cast: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro

When a team of explorers ventures into the catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris, they uncover the dark secret that lies within this city of the dead. – IMDB

I still remember when As Above So Below first showed up in my trailers feed and it looked so good. I don’t know why I didn’t end up seeing it. Maybe its the found footage which I’m indifferent to or its the fact that I remember there being a lot of unenthusiastic reviews, or maybe I just had something better to see. Whatever the reason, its on Netflix Canada and I finally decided to give it a go. Found footage is tricky to get right and not turn it into a nauseating experience. As Above So Below does a few things well. The found footage part is done very well. It uses the light and dark really well to build an atmosphere as they go deeper into the catacombs. However, that is where the movie also falls apart.

Its never good to watch a movie and feel like its a lesser version of another movie just in a slightly different setting and that is how I felt for a good portion of this movie. Sure, it takes the fact that going down is the only way out as they go for a treasure/artifact hunt and enter into what is to be hell, pretty obvious if you look at the poster above to be honest. As Above So Below is referred to as part of some ancient scripture describing the journey to hell and the gates of hell or something. It lost me a little somewhere. To be honest, regardless if that is true or not, those parts were pretty cool to listen to as the main characters, Scarlett (played by Perdita Weeks) and George (Ben Feldman) talk all this fancy talk that I didn’t understand about old scriptures describing the Philosphers’ Stone and whatnot. Also, this movie goes through a decent part of it with no deaths. It may seem uneventful but those parts was all about building the atmosphere of the claustrophobic danger underneath.

I’m slightly indifferent to As Above So Below. There are some nice concepts here and to be honest, it felt like National Treasure crossed over with The Descent. Some scenes even paralleled to the latter title mentioned. However, I can’t say that I disliked it. At a certain point, I felt like I just wanted it to end and at other points, it felt like the characters didn’t make a ton of sense in their actions of how things just flipped around. I just thought it could have maybe been more. It has the potential and the story is there, just the execution of the story could be better. Its a shame.

There you go! Our double feature!
Have you seen either of these movies?