Holidate (2020)

Holidate (2020)

Director: John Whitesell

Cast: Emma Roberts, Luke Bracey, Kristin Chenoweth, Frances Fisher, Andrew Bachelor, Jessica Capshaw, Manish Dayal, Alex Moffat, Cynthy Wu

Fed up with being single on holidays, two strangers agree to be each other’s platonic plus-ones all year long, only to catch real feelings along the way. – IMDB

Netflix earliest Christmas/holiday themed romantic comedy was Holiday, released at the end of October. Bearing the talented Emma Roberts who has done quite a few quirky movies in her filmography, Holidate holds a decent premise revolving around the concept of being single during the holidays and the judging eyes of family and friends for not having someone in their life or simply life choices in general. Entering into a holiday contract plus these two people together. While the premise itself is fairly unique using the holiday angle, the whole concept of contractual relationships and the flow of the romantic comedy offers nothing too refreshing.

Romantic comedies aren’t exactly fresh nowadays and yet for those who like to watch it, a lot dwells on the chemistry between the main leads that at least give a reason to root for them. Here’s where some of the deepest issues do occur in the execution. The holiday premise causes the film to jump through the different holidays almost in montage speed giving them very little character build. The scenes that give these two characters the most backstory is in little pieces at the beginning for set-up before the contract, once or twice in the middle and then at the end, when they inevitably face up to their feelings. They have little moments like hooking up after a drunk rendez-vous or helping each other out of embarrassing situations or whatnot and yet, the connection between them is slightly lacking.

If we look at the comedy parts, that part might be a little more successful depending on what your comedy style is. For myself, some of the comedy does land. Embarrassing moments or some over the top bits are good. However, some of the over the top stuff mostly with Kristen Chenoweth’s character sometimes rides along the fine line between being funny and being too much. However, comedy is very subjective. In the comedy department though, Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey do land those moments fairly well.

With that said, Emma Roberts is a really good actress and with what she’s given here, her role is pretty fun. Holidate as a whole is a fairly lackluster and predictable sort of romantic comedy set up and yet, the premise here is fun. It makes sense that it didn’t go full Christmas movie selection since its more about the holidays than set solely during Christmas. Thing is, Holidate is somewhat of a middling viewing. If you enjoy romantic comedies, this one is okay and you can give it a shot. Its nothing super memorable but it has some fun and awkward moments.

BITS 2020: Come True (2020)

Come True (2020)

Come True

Director (and screenplay): Anthony Scott Burns

Cast: Julia Sarah Stone, Landon Liboiron, Tedra Rogers, Chantal Perron, Carlee Ryski, Christopher Heatherington

A teenage runaway takes part in a sleep study that becomes a nightmarish descent into the depths of her mind and a frightening examination of the power of dreams. – IMDB

Dreams, nightmares, science fiction and fantasy all come into play when talking about Come True. It starts off on a premise that may feel familiar as its about a teenage runaway who ends up joining a sleep study in order to find a place to stay while making money but at the same time, it helps her look further into her dreams and nightmares. As the study comes to play and it starts to see what the study is about, she starts to get closer to the unknown figure that appears in her sleep. What is reality and nightmare and where does it all draw the line?

Come True is one of the best offerings of BITS 2020 and that has to do with a good combination of everything: visuals, characters, the story and wrapping all that up with a mindblowing ending. The atmosphere creates a building tension. Its a deep question about what is going on with this character and her dreams and how does it all connect which makes it stand out all the more as it creates this looming question. Perhaps what makes it stand out is using one unique situation to build on, giving shape to a more fleshed out situation from it being in the dreams to how dreams a converted into visible elements on screen and then further into how this translates into reality or not. The unknown is the main element of horror and its done fairly well.

These characters and cast are pretty well done also. The character that is the most fleshed out is the main character Sarah, played by Julia Sarah Stone, who experiences this whole situation where is everyone else seems like they just cross by her. However, it never forgets that the main character may be going through her issues but she is still a runaway teenager and she can still have fun with her best friend and find ways to fix her situation on her own even if its an unsettling choice to join an sleep study off some ad for money. She has suffice back story to make the audience care about what she’s going through. On the other side is the researchers who are observing these subjects, including Jeremy, played by Landon Liboiron who seems to be popping up on my radar quite a bit since he was in Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare (review) who is a pretty decent actor and this role is works well for him. Jeremy is also a relatively well-written character. He plays a character that has some unknown motive and creates this connection with Sarah. To be fair, the story focuses on Sarah’s character the most, which is a good direction to not create too many tangents and makes it more complex.

Unlike Anthony Scott Burns debut feature film (review), Come True is definitely a hidden gem. One that carries an intriguing story and a well-crafted atmosphere. Its a mixed genre sci-fi horror that dives into the world of nightmares, dreams and reality, blurring the lines between them. If dreams could be mapped out, wouldn’t that be something, right?

FNC 2020: Sin La Habana (2020) & Poissonsexe (2020)

Its taken a while to wrap up the Festival du Nouveau Cinema coverage but we’re in the final double feature. Both a romance in their own regards is a Canadian film, Sin La Habana and a French movie, Poissonsexe. Both having a romance wrapped up in highlighting a bigger plot and both carrying a different tone and atmosphere.

Sin La Habana (2020)

Director (and writer): Kaveh Nabatian

Cast: Yonah Acosta Gonzalez, Aki Yaghoubi, Evelyn Castroda O’Farrill, Julio Cesar Hong Oritz, Ahlam Gholami

Set in Cuba and Montreal, Sin La Habana tells the story of a love triangle that grows from a desire to find a better life in another country. A big plan for the main character Leonardo to find a better future in another country that can’t be found in a closed country in Cuba by charming a Montreal traveler Nasim into a relationship in the goal of having her bring him over and eventually get married to immigrate to Canada. When settled, he needs to find a way to bring his girlfriend Sara in Cuba to Montreal so that they can find a way to be together again. However, the issues are piled up when their relationship takes a turn for a more complex when the new country brings on its own problems, not only for Leonardo and Sara but also Nasim who being an immigrant herself has her own issues to deal with.

Looking at the issues of relationships, immigration, assimilating in a new country, Sin La Habana covers quite a few topics. Immigration and how its not as great as people imagine it plus the story of these great ploys at going to no lengths to achieve their goals for a better life to find that things don’t ever go as planned. One in the dark (kind of) and one that isn’t and yet dreams aren’t easier to achieve in another country, its something that is from within as Leonardo goes through from his first moments as a ballet dancer to a roundout point of trying to get a position in a dance group in Montreal. On the other side, Nasim’s character might seem a softer character at first but soon to realize that she knows exactly what is going on and stays cautious but she is fighting her own fight with her family and her future. These two’s story comes in the front that the love triange element falls in the backdrop along with the character of Sara after the Cuba side of things shifts over to the Montreal setting.

Its always nice to see Montreal as a location in movies as a personal little highlight for myself. Montreal is a diverse location but a harder place to fit in because of its language barrier as a French-speaking province in Canada along with the cold winters and it makes for a fitting location for this story. Sin La Habana talks about an issue and perhaps loopholes of the immigration system. A story that probably someone has heard of about one person or another or the news however its the characters that are crafted and their journey that gives Sin La Habana an interesting angle. They each have their good and bad character traits that make them believable and real people and each chasing some form of their own dream and life.

Poissonsexe (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Olivier Babinet

Cast:  Gustave Kervern, India Hair, Ellen Dorrit Peterson, Okinawa Valerie Guerard, Alexis Manenti

Daniel, a biologist studying the disappearance of fish, is haunted by paternity. It is by looking for a woman who could be the mother of his children that he will come across a strange fish and discover what he really lacks: love. – IMDB

Poissonsexe, called both as Fishlove or Fishsex on FNC site and IMDB respectively, is a peculiar little story. The characters are peculiar and they find a strange fish and altogether it has this unique take on the environment especially on a biological marine/aquatic side. Its about love and sex and babies but in the end, its also about these fairly lonely people who do the same things everyday and want to find companionship. A bit of a comedy and a little of drama pulls this story together in a charming way.

The story’s focal character is Daniel, played by Gustave Kervern. He is a rather routine and boring sort of fellow. He has everything planned out for an upcoming baby room without even having a girlfriend and then he gets set up by his friend for online dating. When he meets a woman who finds him parked on the beach, they end up finding a strange fish with legs. This brings their connection together and he slowly realizes that he wants love and not just a child. The whole movie is a little quirky and moments of comedy and awkwardness and yet it manages to find its own balance to make the whole thing fairly charming.

Other than the leading roles standing out, the little strange fish creature adds this almost psychedelic nature to it. Sometimes it feels like it overdoes some of it a little but then, it feels deliberate to make this fish have its own pull for Daniel. However, what is a big theme that pulls the story together is about the environment and how its being wasted away does to the smallest fish which grow extinct because they no longer can reproduce despite the best scientific effort. Yet what goes on this lab almost reflects the story line that Daniel’s character goes through right down to the most entertaining part which its finale.

Poissonsexe is a little odd and the strange fish is a quirky little addition and putting together the parallels of extending the next generation whether in the fish world or human world, the story is about love and feelings instead of the science. There are some disjointed moments and some supporting characters do feel a little one dimensional but its a lot of fun. French humor always seems to have this interesting charm when balanced well and this one definitely.has those charming elements. The love story is a fairly basic element here but what makes it different are the other elements all combined together.

Thats it for this double feature and it wraps up my FNC 2020 coverage! (FINALLY!) Hopefully there were some smaller films that caught your eye. These two were okay for me alhough Sin La Habana did win one of the festival awards.

What’s Up 2020: Week 47

Welcome to another Weekly recap! Week 47 friends! Its almost the end of 2020 and winter is definitely arrived for us as we’re snowing outside as this posts goes up! Its been a decent week overall. Sorting out a few things and finding time to do some other bits and pieces of stuff. Work is still a bit wild so I’m taking it easy on the blogging front so its been fair and few for posting schedule (which let’s admit is close to non-routine at this point). Let’s check it out!

READING

Currently reading: Wayward Kindred

I haven’t actually started it but I figured I needed something to cleanse my palate from reading novels so I wanted to check out my latest graphic novel addition from TO Comics that I had backed for Kickstarter. They always publish really awesome content but they had mentioned that COVID-19 has caused some potential issues so hopefully, it won’t be the end. I haven’t gone back to check on the news regarding the TO Comics situation. Excited to start this one up.

PLAYING

  • Typoman: Revised

We finished an entire game in one sitting on Saturday night which was crazy. Its been a while since we’ve done that. Typoman: Revised is a pretty fun platformer. Short and sweet for the most part. Its fairly straight-forward and plays with the use of battling with words. The words do get a little more repetitive by the end as to which to make but the final battle is about quick reflexes so that was pretty fun. I’ll get a review on Game Warp soon. Game Warp activity should be getting back soon with written reviews as our main focus and the podcast being discussion content but we are organizing schedule to make it all work out right now. Too many projects, too little time..haha!

WATCHING

  • Kevin Hart: Zero F**ks Given (2020)
  • Dumplin’ (2018)
  • Work It (2020)
  • The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020)
  • The Crossing (2018)

This week has been pretty great on the watching front. A good pile of fun stuff. Kevin Hart’s latest Netflix Comedy special is very to the times as the audience is all wearing masks plus, its overall a fun time. Some bits worked a little less but that’s normal in any stand-up comedy show. I had a lot of laugh out loud moments so for me, that’s already pretty good.

On the movie front, there were some meh movies but I’ll talk about Princess Switch’s sequel for next month’s Christmas rundown. The movies that I’ve been watching on repeat a lot in the background or whatnot is Dumplin’ and The Crossing. Dumplin’ is a feel-good movie through and through and The Crossing is this indie Chinese film that is done so well. Every time I watch it, I see these subtle details that make it even better. Really awesome stuff! If anything, its made me really focus on hunting down some indie Chinese cinema. There seems to be a lot of hidden gems and some upcoming talent to discover.

BINGING

Currently binging: Meeting Mr. Right S3, You Are So Sweet, Professional Single, Walk Into Your Memory, Our Song S2, Sing or Spin S2, Detective College S3, Everybody Stand By S2, The Wolf, Nothing But Thirty

Everything I’m watching is fairly decent although I’m debating whether to finish Walk Into Your Memory right now as its starting to lose its appeal halfway through. Professional Single and You Are So Sweet are my faves as its really just sweet romances overall but Professional Single is ending soon so I figured I’d share that one since the pairing is really cute.

As for new series, I started up a ton of new things, the only two that will stay right now is The Wolf which was a surprise drop that came with a lot of news which is why it caught my attention. Plus, its the first series of Sean Xiao released after the dumb news stuff that happened in February 2020 which I believe might still be stirring up another wave of stupid, but hey, I support the guy since I don’t think the situation is his fault. This series has high potential to be those revenge and love stories which I might find frustrating. Right now, its still okay. We will see since Sean Xiao hasn’t even showed up yet. I’m hoping his existence will help since I’m really not enjoying the main actress’s acting style. Some issues but nothing detrimental just yet since its only 6 episodes in.

With that said, I decided to finally start Nothing But Thirty because that was the breakout series this year about three ladies in their 30s experiencing different things. It churned up a lot of talk and its been recommended to me so I figured that I’d check it out. I’ll report back when I get further whether I think its worth all the chat.

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

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.

What’s Up 2020: Week 46

Its another week! And I finally remembered what day of the week it is! Improvements, right? Getting things back on track and trying to pull myself out of all this delayed posts that need to go up. Either way, this week was okay. I took things a little slower but its all moving forward gradually. Plus, its mid-November, which means I can start putting Christmas decorations in the house which making this gloomy autumn feel a little less gloomy.

Enough rambling, lets see what’s happening!

READING

  • Nothing Good Happens After Midnight (Review)

Currently reading: The Girl on the Train

After a huge reading frenzy for Nothing Good Happens After Midnight, I managed to get it up on time. Its a pretty decent book and definitely so because of the authors that was involved in all the stories compiled. I’ve only actually read one or two authors other works in this list but definitely going to look up some of their other books.

However, The Girl On The Train has been sitting around in the currently reading for a while so I’m going to work on finishing that. Once that’s done, 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge will be done and I can start surpassing it. I shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch though, right?

PLAYING

  • Double Kick Heroes

Currently playing: Numberzilla

Technically speaking, Double Kick Heroes is still something that I’m playing. I did finish up the second difficulty, Hard Rock and will working on some of the achievements. However, I’m on the 3rd difficulty Metal and I might have plateaued at one of the levels so I’m going to put it aside and start something else on PC soon while having it in the background as something to go back to. Double Kick Heroes is still a fun game. There’s some hidden achievements that will open up new levels that I’m aiming to do. For rhythm game lovers like myself, its a fun one especially since it packs the beat ’em up concept and zombies and metal. For a non-metal music listener typically, I liked a lot of its music.

As for right now, I’m playing Numberzilla on mobile. Surprisingly zen experience. It plays with matching numbers and a little simple addition to play through the puzzle. A fairly challenging sort of game seeing as I’ve only been able to clear the board once (or it might be just my own issue).

Still thinking about the next PC game to check out, I’ll check in with that next week.

WATCHING

  • The Reef (2010 rewatch, Review)
  • Robin Hood (2018)
  • Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia (2020)

A quiet movie watching week as I spent more time reading over the weekend and watching some TV and such. Either way, I did a rewatch for upcoming Season 6 production for Shark Week for Movies and Tea for The Reef. It’ll be a while before that gets released. Finally went back to finish up Michelle Buteau’s Netflix Comedy Special, Welcome to Buteaupia which was pretty good overall.

That leads up to the only new watch of the week making it no choice but to highlight it and that’s Robin Hood. It’s an alright movie. Its pretty much what is expected for this one. I had rented it as a cheap rental and it was going to expire so had to watch it. I do like the Robin Hood story and they shuffled it around a little. I couldn’t help but compare it to the Robin Hood segment for Once Upon a Time though, which feels like I probably shouldn’t…

BINGING

  • Dash + Lily (Season 1, 2020)
  • Love Signal S3 (2020)
  • The Journey Across The Night (2020)

Currently binging: Meeting Mr. Right S3, You Are So Sweet, Professional Single, Walk Into Your Memory, Our Song S2, Sing or Spin S2, Everybody Stand By 2

This week saw a few shows wrapping up. Love Signal Season 3 had its final episode where it had people from all three seasons showing up for a final little talk. I’m sure its a last minute arrangement due to issues with one of the candidates for Season 3 making them have to edit out a lot of content. At the same time, I also started up Dash + Lily on Netflix in preparation for December content. Its a fun series especially in COVID times where we can’t go anywhere and it goes on a little New York adventure.

However, my highlight goes to The Journey Across the Night which ended. The series itself is pretty good. I just thought maybe they ended it at a point where it could have gone on to more interesting premise. I’m hoping its all a plan to have a Season 2 but I don’t know. It has a focus on mental illness and the ending hints at this misunderstanding of this mental illness that takes on nice little twist. Either way, I’m going to do a TV binge on it at some point. Maybe clear out a bunch of this before the end of the year (which seems like it’ll arrive faster than I can imagine).

The only new addition this week would have to be starting up a drama that was released earlier this year called Walk Into Your Memory also starring Eden Zhao in You Are So Sweet. I have to say that I still like it using his own voice instead of being dubbed. Either way, we will see how both pans out. I can’t say I’m really engaged in Walk Into Your Memory so its something of a filler series right now.

That’s it for Week 46 recap!
What have you been reading/watching/playing/binging?

BITS 2020: The Return (2020)

The Return (2020)

The Return

Director (and co-writer): BJ Verot

Cast: Richard Harmon, Sara Thompson, Echo Andersson, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Erik Athavale, Gwendolyn Collins, Zoe Fish, Kristen Sawatzky

After the death of his father, a brilliant college student returns to his family home where he learns that the horrors from his childhood aren’t as dead and gone as he once thought. – IMDB

There’s no doubt that based on the synopsis above that The Return sounds like a unique horror experience. However, The Return isn’t quite as generic as it makes it out to be. In fact, its one that starts off with a general horror tropes seen in ghost stories. Creepy dolls, jumpscares, slamming doors: the basic elements of a haunted house, right? Its all wrapped up a college student going back to his childhood home after his father passes away in a questionable manner. With his girlfriend and best friend in tow, they go to the funeral and sort through the house when his long return dredges up something else and eventually bringing him to dig up some things in the past that he has forgotten.

The Return’s first part although fairly predictable in its scares actually manages to build a decent atmosphere. However, the first part is also the weaker part of the film. Not only are the scares fairly familiar haunted house tropes but its really the pacing of revealing this “ghost/monster” (whatever you want to call it) to quickly that messes up a little of the turning point/twist. With that said, it also tries to pack in too many scares in a short amount of time that decreases the scare element. At one point, the “monster” revealed itself over and over again in quick frequency and anything in frequent amounts tends to dull the effective of what its trying to achieve. With anything lurking in the background, the mystery of how its executed is incredibly important and somehow that seems lose a bit of that in the first half, even though the set up was done well enough story-wise.

The second half is much stronger as it consists of a clever twist and at the same time, it has a lot more action of the characters actually being in some kind of peril. The threat is in action a little more. While some reactions were a little silly, the search for what happened to the main character and his lost memory along with connecting all the dots to why his childhood home is haunted does add a lot to making it much more unique and adding in some of the mixed genre elements, in this case a bit of science fiction and time travel.

The Return is one of those movies that might not be really at first glance or even the beginning segment as the setup does feel a little been there done that in horror films however, once the past of the main character becomes more clear and and the things start to build up along with a clever twist, it does add a lot of charms to it. Its not exactly a pure horror film however, its unique because of this and adds a lot of extra points when those other elements come into play.

FNC 2020: Cocoon (2020)

Cocoon (Kokon, 2020)

Director (and writer): Leonie Krippendorff

Cast: Lena Urzendowsky, Jella Haase, Lena Klenke, Elina Vildanova, Franz Hagn, Kim Riedle

One long, hot summer, 14-year-old Nora spends most of her time with her sister and her sister’s best friend. While the two older girls run around with the crowd of boys who flock around them, shy Nora stays meekly in the background. When she meets anti-conformist Romy, a girl unlike anyone she’s ever met, unexpected desires take hold of her. – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

Cocoon is a 2020 German coming of age film about a 14 year old girl who starts figuring out who she is despite facing the different voices around her as she hangs out with her sister and her friends through an exceptionally hot summer. Cocoon feels similar to movies like Call Me By Your Name and last year’s FNC movie Mickey and the Bear as she confronts both her sexual orientation, first love and change in her own body while having some of her own family issues to deal with both her sister and her mother. Cocoon is two fold as she relates to the caterpillar that she has in a jar which over the course of the film eventually disappears and reappears as a butterfly by the end. It creates a nice parallel of her emotions over this snippet of her life as she toughens up to embrace who she is and be brave enough to walk her own path.

For main character Nora, its a slice of life about this hot summer in the neighborhood and city where she lives. She narrates segments of videos from her cellphone that recaps what happens and her feelings all shown in vertical phone clips perspective and acts like chapters to this summer. She starts off as something of a wallflower as she lurks in the background, having to follow her sister, Jule and her friends because of her mother being rather uncaring for them. Her sister and her friends are fawning over boys and how to lose weight to look like models and generally be cool and slightly reckless. For her, she’s changing alone and has no one to talk to about this when she meets Romy, a girl that she starts to have a friendship/relationship with but with resistance from her sister but opens up her feelings for the first time to be herself and accept her differences.

In many ways, Nora is a great coming of age character as she doesn’t just face finding herself but the movie also makes a great effort in telling about her struggles at home especially when faced with being the one that seems be okay with her mother’s lack of caring in comparison to her sister that seems to do a lot of things that tries to get her mother’s attention and she is there to pick up the pieces. It showcases her multifaceted relationships in all of its dysfunctions: parent-child, sibling and sisterhood, friendship and especially with herself. Lena Urzendowsky portrays Nora in a wonderful way that gives her quite a change as she moves from her introvert and outsider in social settings from the beginning to the end where she becomes comfortable in her own skin despite the things she overcomes throughout the film. The story isn’t as simple and normal but in a lot of the characters and their underlying traits are portrayed in their actions shot through only the eyes of Nora.

I’ve always had some issues with German films especially in their pacing elements but Cocoon is really good as the execution of the phone snippets as chapter breaks helps a lot in drawing Nora’s inner feelings with the quiet and introvert character that breaks out of her own cocoon through the process. The parallels are done well and the story is well-written that makes it all come together nicely.

FNC 2020: The Book of Vision (2020)

The Book of Vision (2020)

The Book of Vision

Director (and co-writer): Carlo Hintermann

Cast: Charles Dance, Lotte Verbeek, Sverrir Gudnason

Eva, a mysterious doctor, searches for an answer to her urgent dilemma as she unravels Dr. Anmuth’s Book of Vision. Stellan gets involved in her life and is forced to confront his own nature, as Eva faces the biggest decision of her life. – IMDB

The Book of Vision feels like its a movie to ponder upon a little especially in terms of life. Its told in two storylines. The first is the present with Eva (Lotte Verbeek), a doctor who decides to leave the practical elements to study the history of medicine in hopes of solving her own illness. It leads her to meet a man, Stellan (Sverrir Gudnason) who leads her to look at Dr. Anmuth’s Book of Vision, a book that explores his experiences with medicine. This is where the second storyline comes in as it bounces between the happenings of Anmuth’s past as a physician as he gets phased out of his profession with newer views and practices in medicine. The two come to this blend as the two stories start to blend together much further propelled by the characters in past and present both leading different roles but existing together, leading to perhaps a theme of how perhaps life doesn’t exactly end when it does but exists in another form while others move on to some sort of reincarnation or something. I can’t truly say that I understand the complete depth of the film but at least that’s my takeaway from it.

There’s something so beautiful of The Book of Vision though. Its the cinematography mostly that shows this incredibly elegant and sophisticated air. The 18th century Book of Vision bits focus around this sense of belief in the concrete or whether some superstitions exist outside of what feels like a harder to believe realm of fantasy. The design of that element is breathtaking and mysterious all at the same time and yet, the imagination and creativity feels beautiful to look at. The outfit and the tone all coming together in those 18th century scenes so well. In the reality, there is another feeling as it focuses around not only the mystery but the gradual connection and relationship between Eva and Stellan and there’s a different feeling to the scenes using the lights and the work they explore. One of the most beautiful elements are when the more fantastical elements where the past leads to the present and the characters fall into each other’s world. Its these little subtle details. A little hard to understand what it all means but the way its put together is really quite the spectacle.

The Book of Vision is Carlo Hintermann’s narrative feature film debut after having done previously four documentaries. This one dives into a part costume drama, part romance drama and bringing in a creative dose of medicine, life and fantasy. Its not a piece to digest on the first viewing perhaps of the deeper connections and meanings. While that usually isn’t exactly the best selling point, there’s something so mesmerizing about how its portrayed and the beautiful cinematography plus the wonderful performance of this connection between these three characters paralleled in the past and present between Anmuth, Eva/Elizabeth and Stellan played by Charles Dance, Lotte Verbeek and Sverrir Gudnason respectively, that all makes it well worth a watch.

BITS 2020: Bloodthirsty (2020)

Bloodthirsty (2020)

Director: Amelia Moses

Cast: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside, Judith Buchan

Grey is an indie singer who is having visions that she is a wolf. When she gets an invitation to work with notorious music producer Vaughn Daniels at his remote studio in the woods she begins to find out who she really is. – IMDB

After her psychological thriller team-up Bleed With Me, Amelia Moses’s second film at Blood in the Snow Festival is a psychological slow-burn werewolf film, Bloodthirsty. Feeling a bit like the psychological journey of Raw at the beginning with the main character Grey having these dream sequences of eating animals and going with her girlfriend tagging along to a music producer’s remote studio to create her album, it turns into a journey of self-discovery that unleashes another side of her. Without knowing anything about the film, Bloodthirsty feels like a lot of different horror movies and its the unknown the truly gives the first half a slow-burn but intriguing psychological trip. Both Grey and the music producer Vaughn have a mysterious dark edge. Vaughn seems to be hiding something about his past which comes to light as a final twist at the end.

Its always great to see more directors exploring a werewolf premise. Recent years has seen more of this films show up taking different tones. Bloodthirsty is a more serious story about a girl embracing her true nature but at the same time, struggling to let go of her current things. As she unleashes the beast inside, the main question is what are the consequences. Bloodthirsty grabs the right tone and atmosphere. As its characters are music-oriented, the soundtrack is also distinguishes the gradual changes in Grey’s character from the change in her music and the lyrics. Its a great angle and one of the strengths of this movie. Paired up with the remote setting of the house in the woods, they all come into play to give it an ominous feeling.

Looking at the characters, its a small cast that basically floats between the growing connection between Grey, played by Lauren Beatty (also in Bleed With Me which also questions whether the two stories have some sort of connection as both characters revolve around blood) and Vaughn (Greg Bryk). Vaughn becomes something of a mentor who helps Grey find her musical inspirations and make more music but at the same time, he pushes her into a certain direction to follow her desires and temptations starting from little things like eating meat (a big step for her vegan character). There’s a dark side to Vaughn which sometimes plays a little too heavy which destroys a bit of the subtlety of developing Grey’s character which takes a little more time. Perhaps its that push and pull that gives the pacing a little imbalance. Plus, these two dominant characters also render the two supporting characters of Grey’s girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) and Vaughn’s housekeeper Vera (Judith Buchan) feel a little insignificant except for two scenes respectively that help give the story a push.

Bloodthirsty is a decent horror film. Extra points for taking on the werewolf premise. It has a great setting as well as a good story premise. Lauren Beatty does a decent performance as Grey and same goes for Greg Bryk. Their characters build to the finale. The twist is fairly good although the ending is a little questionable (not exactly to my liking). Its really the imbalanced pacing and some execution choices that leaves me a little less enthused. However, the soundtrack sets the tone really well and a great angle. Plus, Michael Ironside has a cameo/supporting role which is always great to see. Overall, Bloodthirsty is a decent werewolf film but its definitely much more than that as it tackles more of a subtle psychological angle which I do appreciate.