Double Feature: The Crossing (2018) & Mank (2020)

The last double feature for 2020 is here! Today is a big day like previous years so this is the first post, a little different since I usually just have that one post for the annual wrap-up which will be the adventures post coming up a little later. This pairing was a little tough but I had to review Mank at some point (since the David Fincher season for Movies and Tea still has a way to go before we get to that episode) and I’ve paired it up with probably one of my favorite discoveries this year and that’s 2018’s The Crossing.

Let’s check it out!

The Crossing (过春天, 2018)

Director (and writer): Xue Bai

Cast: Yao Huang, Sunny Sun, Carmen Soup, Elena Kong, Hongjie Ni, Kai Chi Liu

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea – Friday Film Club*

The Crossing is a 2018 coming of age drama about a 16 year old student Peipei (Yao Huang) who makes plans with her best friend Jo (Carmen Coup) to go to Japan during Christmas break but struggling to raise funds due to her living situation, she ends up getting caught up with her best friend’s boyfriend Hao (Sunny Sun) who works for a lady Hua (Elena Kong) who is the business of smuggling iPhones across to Mainland China. Being someone who lives in Shenzhen but goes to school in Hong Kong, Peipei crosses the border everyday unsuspectingly making her a great asset to their operation while being able to make lots of money for her Japan trip so that she can finally see snow. However, when she realizes that the operation is more than just phones and Hao has other plans and she has a growing connection with Hao, things start to fall out of her control.

The Crossing is a solid directorial debut for Chinese female director Bai Xue. Its a slow-burn, quiet and subtle sort of film that explores youth from a fresh angle. It looks at the straightforward desires of being young and not caring about other things but being single-minded focused on certain goals while also looking at the relationship of youth and money. At the same time, it looks at the landscape and situation between the border of Shenzhen as a connection of Mainland China and Hong Kong and the smuggling situation. Whether its the characters and their relationships, a lot of it is between the lines and discovered through Peipei’s observation as the movie is shot from her point of view. There is a good shift and development from her character and Hao from the beginning to the final moment.

One of the standout point of the film is in its arthouse style of cinematography playing a lot with lighting and focusing on sounds and choosing a decent soundtrack and pairs well with the scene playing out. Not to mention there’s this great scene of tapping cell phones to their body that is much sexier than it should ever be. The dialogue also is well-written and matches to their young characters and the more young adult characters Hao. However, there is some great veterans here like Elena Kong and Hongjie Ni (playing Peipei’s mother) in supporting roles.

I probably should note that The Crossing isn’t an easy movie to find. I’ve only found it on the Tencent app/viewer after depleting all other possibilities (with English subtitles for those interested). Maybe its been distributed in other countries but at least for Canada, I haven’t found it anywhere else. However, if you do find it, this one is a hidden gem.

Mank (2020)

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton, Joseph Cross, Charles Dance, Tom Burke

1930’s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane (1941). – IMDB

My Mank review will be a little different from others. For someone like myself who hasn’t seen Citizen Kane or know of the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, Mank is less of a biopic and more of simply a film for exactly what it is. With that said, it saves all the comparisons that others might have. Mank is also a very different film in David Fincher’s filmography. Visually stylistic along with some beautiful outfits set in a black and white film, Mank does deliver on style alone as well as the quick dialogue between the characters also delivering a much wordier film than usual in Fincher’s films but perhaps it had a lot to do to keeping the essence of the screenplay written by his late father, Jack Fincher.

One of the standout elements of the films definitely does go to the cast that embodies these characters. Can you call them characters if it is based on real people? I don’t know but you get what I mean. They definitely do come to life as Gary Oldman delivers a stellar performance as Herman J. Mankiewicz surrounded by an array of people whirling in and out of his life running on the past and present, cleverly portrayed with timestamps whenever it hops from one place to the next. Other than Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried’s portrayal of Marion Davies is absolutely charming particularly the one scene where Marion and Mank has a walk in the garden. Marion is married to Hearst which becomes a rather big topic as Hearst does have an interesting character that creates some contrast and incredibly well done by Charles Dance even if the role is a little more in the backdrops. Of course, there are other roles by Lily Collins as the secretary typing up Mank’s screenplay and Joseph Cross playing Charles Lederer and the list goes on. Because of the heavey dialogue, the characters play a huge part in the movie’s enjoyability and for the most part the quick conversations do add quite a bit.

With that said, Mank is a tad on the long side. It almost feels like it could be cut down a little bit to give it a tighter execution. Very rare movies make me feel like its worth over 2 hours of watch time without it wearing on its pacing a little (but that is definitely my own issue). There is no doubt that Mank has great production value and the movie itself has a lot of charming elements and there’s something much deeper here. I do wonder whether watching Citizen Kane and having a greater knowledge of the source material and what the biopic revolves around would make it a more or less enjoyable experience. As of now, as a standalone piece without any comparisons, its definitely one that I would recommend seeing as its pros almost outweigh its cons.

Hall (2020)

Hall (2020)

Director: Francesco Giannini

Cast: Carolina Bartczak, Yumiko Shaku, Mark Gibson, Bailey Thain, Julian Richings

When a debilitating sickness spreads across a long hotel hallway, a few scattered victims fight for survival, and try to escape from the dark narrow stretch of isolated carnage. – IMDB

Matching very well to our current times, Hall is a horror movie surrounding a viral outbreak except it is fairly contained at the beginning phases in a hotel hallway. Its a bit vague on how the whole thing goes down but it does show how it starts and how the virus itself evolves as it infects the people on this normal hotel floor, especially focused from the angle of three characters: Naomi, a Japanese pregnant woman overseas for work running away from her past, Val, a mother getting ready to leave her abusive marriage with her daughter Kelly.

These three people are the choice characters as the story dives a little deeper into their story in something of a parallel execution in the first half of their arrival and what they all are doing before they realized something was wrong whether to themselves or those around them, including the people that they meet in the hallways who are now infected. The focus on three characters gives them each their own struggles that they need to overcome as they slowly come to grips with this infection happening to a different level. The backstory does feel like it cuts in to set up their situation and give them a connecting point to show what is at stake for their survival and their desire to escape this viral infection. Especially with their struggle to do it especially as the movie starts off with someone infected by the disease, crawling slowly down the hallway in their paralyzed state. Its a powerful way to open up a movie and quickly grabs attention to find out how it got there. The movie starts off more focus on one side of these characters and then ends with another side of the equation.

Its a clever way to execute this whole thing as everyone while similar in how they are escalating in their infection, each seem to progress in a different way. As clueless as the people on this hotel floor, Hall is all a mystery for its audience to discover how the virus works on its infected as the movie progresses. Hall is a subtle movie especially with its virus infection premise. Its a much more psychological fear that digs deep in its scenes of crawling down the hallway to how the infection changes the appearance of the infected. For some, its creates a more psychological effect and adding in the factor of the three characters especially Val and her daughter Kelly being separated for a duration of the film. In reality, Val’s subtle signs of her abusive relationship is also rather unsettling in its various scenes which builds more on a desire for her to escape this with her daughter.

Hall is decent horror film about a virus infection in its early spread in a normal everyday single setting of a hotel hallway. The long narrow setting gives the ones trying to leave its share of obstacles. There are some familiar tropes and some would argue they sandwich perhaps one crawling scene too much which points out a little pacing issue. It loses its effect a little at a certain point before changing the direction and pulling it the story back on track. At the same time, how the infection progresses in its different states is where the horror truly lies and perhaps partially with the people that these characters are escaping from. The characters are all scripted really well even if children will be children and Kelly’s character makes some silly child decisions which can be a little frustrating but overall, they all pull out pretty decent performances.

*Screener received from ChicArt PR*
*Hall will be screening in Blood in the Snow Festival 2020 on October 30th*

By Night’s End (2020)

By Night’s End (2020)

By n

Director (and co-writer): Walker Whited

Cast: Michelle Rose, Kurt Yue, Michael Aaron Milligan, Carlos Aviles, Matt LaBorde, Jeff Ridgway, Troy Faruk, Lucius Baston

A couple wake up in the night to a man searching for something in their home. After they are forced to kill him in self defense, they decide to take one hour before calling the police to search for what they hope is a hidden fortune. – IMDB

Home invasion films can be quite a thrill to watch. The most unexpected things come out of the independent films scene sometimes and By Night’s End does have a decent premise even if there are a few issues with it overall. However, if you are a fan of alternate Christmas movies, this might be one to take into consideration since its set on Christmas even if all it has is a Christmas tree, ornaments and some funky holiday hat before things really take a turn.

By Night's End

By Night’s End is a small film both in cast and its single setting and passing through a single night, except for the opening scene that sets a little earlier to set up the plot and mystery. The story focuses on a couple who is trying to move on after the loss of their daughter while struggling to make ends meet as they both have employment issues. While those issues do come into play as the couple is trapped from one bad decision to another struggle to avoid the home invasion from happening in their conversation to give their relationship a basis, the story’s strength is really in the interaction with their home invader and the action bits which is enforced as the female lead Heather is a stunt woman turned actress who makes those action scenes more engaging. The execution of the movie from one suspense moment to the next action and the power balance between especially Heather and the home invader is done rather well even if the dialogue between the characters do fall flat. While the dynamic between the home invader and the couple are decent, the home invader’s character does fall into very familiar territory for this sort of character.

With that said, for a fairly barebones home invasion story, the story does give a few twists. One that happens fairly early in the movie that changes it direction to something else which adds a little more complexity to the story, even if that the first scene shows an obvious clue that drove me a little crazy when the characters didn’t connect the dots until a lot later in the story. However, there is a good amount of depth and little surprises especially in the little escapes and action scenes as the couple fights for their survival and escape while trying to find out why their home has been targeted. There’s a good building of atmosphere and tension as it plays with lighting and darkness. By Night’s End may have a little issue with script and dialogue however, for the most part, it does hit a lot of the home invasion tension that makes it a rather fun watch overall.

DarkCoast will release By Night’s End on October 6th on various digital platforms (Amazon, iTunes, DirecTV, FlixFling, Google Play, Vudu and AT&T)

*Screener provided by DarkCoast*

Fantasia Festival 2020: Alone (2020)

Alone (2020)

Alone

Director: John Hyams

Cast: Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Anthony Heald, Jonathan Rosenthal

A recently widowed traveler is kidnapped by a cold blooded killer, only to escape into the wilderness where she is forced to battle against the elements as her pursuer closes in on her. – IMDB

Being an American remake of 2011 Swedish film Gone, Alone is co-directed and written by its original source material. Alone is a simple thriller. It strips itself back to its basics while keep sounds mostly blending with the nature surrounding the characters, the cast kept limited to mostly the two main leads in a cat and mouse chase and the setting in an isolated forest that goes through different weather, phases and structured in swift chapters defining the different landmarks of the film.

Alone starts off with a rather slower first act. It consists of the main female lead, Jessica (Jules Willcox) making the decision to pack up after a tragedy much to the disapprovement from her family. Her story reveals itself over the course of the movie as she fights her grief and guilt and tries to survive from this unknown Man (Marc Menchaca that is hunting her down. The first act is incredibly strong especially having strong vibes of Duel as The Road part of the film sees her having this risky and eerie engagement with a muddy Jeep that she encounters and then follows her around. Unlike Duel, the Man approaches her in various instances and the conversations get more and more unsettling.

The strongest elements of the film does go to its main leads. Jessica and the Man play incredibly well off of each other. Their interaction and the chase between them heightens over the course of time. At the same time there is still a lot of subtlety. The two characters are dialed down to their absolute basics of one that is hunting and the other that is surviving. However, these characters also have enough backstory in little glimpses of phone calls or conversations that make them feel real.

The cinematography plays a big part in this film. It has many moments that feels like its almost comparable to David Fincher with the use of visuals and lighting. It might have to do with the fact that the film heightens a lot during the nighttime that the use of lights flare and the focus on dim lighting and how the film crafts the motion all comes into play. The isolated nature and not being scared to use darkness to its advantage adds onto the tension.

Overall, Alone is a well-executed thriller. Its not about all the fancy things and actually its at its best when the film focuses on being zeroed in on the characters interaction and the chase as well as using its environment to create the atmosphere and tension. The only part if I had to nitpick would be the parts of increasing in the background sound that builds at certain points of the films at times feels like it actually takes away from the tension a little and breaks from the subtlety that it works with. Luckily, its not too frequent. Sometimes less is more and Alone definitely applies that successfully.

And Then We Vanish: Collected Stories by D.H. Schleicher

And Then We Vanish: Collected Stories
By: D.H. Schleicher

and then we vanish

Eleven twisting tales curated from nearly a decade of work, And Then We Vanish features five new stories and six previously published stories from acclaimed independent author D. H. Schleicher.

In these stories we encounter characters who are victims of their own poor decisions…These characters might be longing to disappear or left behind by those who already have, and their stories challenge us to connect with them while they navigate the waves of mystery, violence, and the absurd that filter into their everyday lives. – Goodreads

*Book received in exchange for honest review*

And Then We Vanish is a collection of stories which is exactly as its title implies, about people who vanish in one way or another. The stories all have their own backdrop and range in different sort of characters. Its quite the box of chocolates to open and discover. Each of the characters in this story are more than they seem and as their characters reveal, most of them are rather displeasing personalities.

One of the elements that stand out in all the stories of And Then We Vanish are its characters. Each of them in their own backgrounds and their own settings and backdrop. In some cases, these characters take a rather extreme path and the story will leave it with some room to contemplate on the overall situation of the story. Knowing when to end a story shows how clever this author is. Doing it with short stories and having a certain pacing to make it all mostly work together that these characters reveal enough to be relevant and criticize their course of action but still think further about it. The best part is that these characters are all living in the everyday lives of the society whether its a parent, child or colleague, etc.

Some of these stories shine because of the setting. The specific one that comes to mind, especially as a Canadian and having vacationed there a few times in my life, is the incredibly creative take on Niagara Falls (which personally is the story that I liked the most) called When Night Falls on Niagara. There’s some other stories like: A Ballerina in Battery Park, Upon the Unfortunate News of My Death, The Pumpkin Thief , Somebody You Used to Know and Anthrax and Cherry Blossoms are some of the my other favorites from this collected stories.

D.H. Schleicher crafts each of these stories in a vivid writing style. The characters all come to life and it all has some kind of lingering effect for the characters that leaves room for reflection. The clever combination of the everyday characters and their settings gives them each a nice twist. You can tell from the titles above that there is always a twist of effects. Much like other anthologies and collected stories, some stories do land better than others and have the clever angle that makes it memorable however, they all deliver fairly well overall.

Score: 4/5

Double Feature: The Lodgers (2017) & Luz (2018)

Welcome to the next double feature as we continue with the alphabet and head into our L selections! The first is an Irish gothic horror called The Lodgers and the second is a German (and Spanish) supernatural horror film. Let’s check it out!

The Lodgers (2017)

the lodgers

Director: Brian O’Malley

Cast: Charlotte Vega, Bill Milner, Eugene Simon, David Bradley, Deirdre O’Kane, Moe Dunford, Roisin Murphy

1920, rural Ireland. Anglo Irish twins Rachel and Edward share a strange existence in their crumbling family estate. Each night, the property becomes the domain of a sinister presence (The Lodgers) which enforces three rules upon the twins: they must be in bed by midnight; they may not permit an outsider past the threshold; if one attempts to escape, the life of the other is placed in jeopardy. When troubled war veteran Sean returns to the nearby village, he is immediately drawn to the mysterious Rachel, who in turn begins to break the rules set out by The Lodgers. – IMDB

The Lodgers is a gloomy sort of film. Its filmed with a dark atmosphere and lingers in a mysterious air as the story of The Lodgers, their rules and these twins’ stories are gradually revealed of why they are bond to the house and what is expected of them. The story does take a nice pace in revealing it and maintains a rather creepy vibe especially in the first half when its laying out the story and the mysterious vibe with the crumbling estate and what the predicament of the twins and the lodgers. Its in the second half when things start unfolding that it starts feeling like it loses a little of its steam since the twist is revealed in a fairly obvious way by that point and its easy to understand where the twist is. To be fair, its actually one of the scenes of the female lead seeing the figures of her parents in the lake that seem to repeat itself one time too many.

The Lodgers falls under one of the issues where the “monster” aka The Lodgers reveal is where it renders the horror element lesser than when it was a mystery.  While that is the case, the whole underwater scene is shot so nicely of where the lodgers reside and who they are. There’s something very fantastically creepy about the deep underwater darkness and its captured so well.

Other than that, there are essentially three main characters here. The female lead Rachel (Charlotte Vega), her twin brother Edward (Bill Milner) and Rachel’s suitor Sean (Eugene Simon). There are a few other supporting cast that help further set up the story and the mystery surrounding the twins and their estate. The three main leads do create a nice dynamic especially watching the interaction between the twins as well as between Rachel and Sean.

The Lodgers do have a few tropes and such but somehow it does have this very chilling and ominous feeling throughout. Its twist is revealed gradually but is rather easy to find the hints to what its trying to build towards by probably the middle of the movie. There are some unique elements to the story that definitely deserve a watch especially with its estate setting being used from inside the house to the grounds as well as having a great cinematography.

Luz (2018)

luz

Director (and writer): Tilman Singer

Cast: Luana Velis, Johannes Benecke, Jan Bluthardt, Lilli Lorenz, Julia Riedler, Nadja Stubiger

Luz, a young cabdriver, drags herself into the brightly lit entrance of a run-down police station. A demonic entity follows her, determined to finally be close to the woman it loves. – IMDB

The best way to describe Luz is probably “odd” and “bizarre”. The whole setup of the movie has this old film filter over its scenes. At the same time, its incredibly psychological. Visually, it uses a lot of close-up shots as well as still shots to capture the moments and emphasize an uneasiness in the scene. It fluctuates between what is reality and hypnotic dimension especially for the character of Luz. There are so many little details set up to bring in a lot of intrigue (and maybe get lost a little in this whole possession) of what is actually happening in the room and what is happening in Luz’s mind. Its all done in such a unique style that adds so much to the story itself.

I do have to say that what works for Luz for some viewers might be what doesn’t work at the same time. Its a strange experience watch and one that challenges piecing together the different parts of the story line especially at the beginning as the events seem to blend together and connecting the characters. As it works towards the finales, the characters and the possession element and the hypnosis world and reality all easily can become this confusing to follow story. For some this confusion might be quite the fun ride. For myself, that ride was unique and as things started to slot back into place, the execution is key to where it all stands out at its best from the cinematography to its use of sounds.

Luz is a hard film to talk about it. Its quite the horror experience on a psychological level and takes a unique approach to the whole possession premise right from start to beginning.

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

Double Feature: I Kill Giants (2017) & I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Moving right along with our double features into the I selections! Trust me when I say that I don’t deliberately choose movies in decades apart, it just happens. The first is 2017’s fantasy film I Kill Giants paired with a movie that, believe it or not, is a first watch, 90s slasher film I Know What You Did Last Summer. Let’s check it out!

I Kill Giants (2017)

I Kill Giants

Director: Anders Walter

Cast: Madison Wolfe, Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade, Rory Jackson, Art Parkinson

Barbara Thorson struggles through life by escaping into a fantasy life of magic and monsters. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club*

Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by writer Joe Kelly and artist J.M. Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants also has its writer as the movie’s screenplay writer as well. I Kill Giants is a fantasy drama about a young girl called Barbara (Madison Wolfe) who lives in this world inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and baseball player Harry Covelski where she is defending her hometown from giants with her handmade weapons and traps. With this important task at hand, she keeps mostly to herself until one day, a new girl from Leeds, Sophia (Sydney Wade) comes to town who befriends her. As Barbara finally opens up about her world to Sophia, her fantasy world starts colliding with the reality as Barbara has to face the new school psychologist Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana), the school bully Taylor (Rory Jackson) as well as her older siblings who doesn’t understand her like her older sister, Karen (Imogen Poots), as they all try to get pull her back to face the reality that she’s running away from.

While I Kill Giants does drag a little here and there, the imaginative and creative story that it tells is one that is fairly poignant. Visually, its also really captivating. Right from the beginning shots when we see Barbara clad in her bunny ears head band running through the forest, avoiding a giant and pouring this jam-like liquid onto the trees. The cinematography is done incredibly well. At the same time, the fantasy creatures, both giants and the harbingers also are well-designed and fun to watch. The story itself is expected that it would take a more psychological turn as it creates a twist for the character of whether this fantasy world is real or only in Barbara’s mind.

I Kill Giants also packs in an interesting cast with Imogen Poots and Zoe Saldana both having key supporting roles to this younger actress. Not to mention that Madison Wolfe captures Barbara incredibly well. The story itself tackles a lot of issues from school bullying to unhappy circumstances, escaping from reality and eventually finding joy in the reality. There’s a lot to like about this adaptation whether its the message or its creativity.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

i know what you did last summer

Director: Jim Gillespie

Cast: Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Muse Watson, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki

Four young friends bound by a tragic accident are reunited when they find themselves being stalked by a hook-wielding maniac in their small seaside town. – IMDB

Like I mentioned in the intro paragraph, I Know What You Did Last Summer is indeed my first watch. I might have seen snippets on TV before but never have seen the film in entirety but I’m a big fan of movies like Scream (review) and 90s slasher since they have this cheesy dialogue factor that I really love a lot. I Know What You  Did Last Summer definitely does tick those boxes really well. It was a lot of fun to watch. Not exactly a very scary movie but there was a few tense jumpscare moments that worked really good. The best moments are anticipating a jumpscare but not knowing when it will land and still feeling startled.

If we look at the cast, the four main leads in 90s reflected the general criteria of 90s slasher films. There was a good balance of the characters needed in this group of four friends of what slasher movies usually would have.  The dialogue is definitely one of the elements that is full of cheese and actually some of it is a bit wooden but somehow the 90s slasher films always seem to have those very cringe-y dialogue that brings a lot of enjoyment. Of course, this element is one that differs between people. While its something of an enjoyment here, the acting in reality leaves a little to be desired. Some of the characters are a tad over the top. One of the surprises was seeing Johnny Galecki in this for sure.

Overall, I Know What You Did Last Summer is pretty fun. Its one that easily can be compared to Scream, which in my opinion is better overall in terms of all the elements and the tension, but this one is just entertainment. The mystery and how the four try to figure out who they killed and how the story itself is executed is done well. There are issues with this one but its not enough to prevent me from wanting to watch it again.

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

Double Feature: Gwen (2018) & The Garden of Words (2013)

As we get back to more frequent double features, we head into the next letter in our alphabet run as we get to G. G selections on Shudder are rather slim pickings so I went ahead and started up 2018’s slow-burn film Gwen and then paired with also a shorter title with Japanese animated film by the same director as Your Name, The Garden of Words. Let’s check it out!

Gwen (2018)

Gwen

Director (and writer): William McGregor

Cast: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Maxine Peake, Richard Harrington, Mark Lewis Jones, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Richard Elfyn

A folk tale set in the hills of Wales during the industrial revolution. – IMDB

Gwen is a slow pace Welsh horror drama set during the Industrial Revolution, mostly set in the isolated hills where this family of a mother and two daughters live on their farm. Unfortunate situations keep happening as the older daughter Gwen holds up the family and strives to survive while dealing with the farm animals dying mysteriously and her mother being overcome with a mysterious illness. Its a dark story and well-portrayed in its landscape and setting under its dim lighting and gloomy shots.

If we look at the characters, Gwen is played by Eleanor Worthington-Cox who does a really great job in this character. Its a quiet movie so dialogue is much less and there’s more of an observation of the situation and she does that very well. At the same time, her mother is played by Maxine Peake who also captures her role fairly well. There’s some rather “creepy” moments for lack of a better word. The movie itself isn’t exactly scary per se but it is a little unsettling at parts.

Gwen is for the patient audience that doesn’t mind a slow paced horror drama. Its not scary in the jump scare sense but more of a slow unwinding unsettling feeling that goes with where its set and the gloomy darker environment that surrounds this tale.

The Garden of Words (2013)

The Garden of Words

Director (and writer): Makoto Shinkai

Cast: Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, Takeshi Maeda,

A 15-year-old boy and 27-year-old woman find an unlikely friendship one rainy day in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. – IMDB

The Garden of Words is a 45 minute Japanese animated drama film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, the person behind Your Name. Its interesting to see that this story also features two strangers Takao and Yukari who the latter is the mysterious woman who we actually don’t know the name until much later when her identity is revealed. The Garden of Words is something of a coming of age as the two characters have their own personal struggles of being a bit of a loner or misunderstood and finding it hard to know how to move forward. It uses the 15 year old boy, Takao’s passion for being a shoemaker and shoes in general as a metaphor for life.

Because of that focus, there’s a lot of scenes that capture the feet with how they sit and position their feet or walking through the streets, etc. Makoto Shinkai is a nice storyteller. His stories, at least the two to date that I’ve watched, has been rather meaningful. Its always about some element of life and adds a hint of romance in it that helps the characters grow. While this story isn’t quite as complex, it does take a level of careful execution to allow the story to work in the realm of keeping one of the character’s a mystery until giving her identity reveal. At the same time, Shinkai always gives these rich in color and beautiful animated scenery. In this case, its capturing the realistic rain fall set in the beautiful garden and capturing the light beams  and such.

The Garden of Words is a mere 45 minutes and because it doesn’t have a overly complex story but still with a little mystery, it adds enough to move the story in a quick paced. Its well-animated and has a rather careful metaphor. The story focuses on two characters with an age gap and while there are some elements of it that feels a little odd at first, its a rather interesting friendship that happens between them. Its a bit unlikely but then its not the friendship itself but rather how it develops emotionally perhaps. The Garden of Words is a quick viewing that’s definitely worth your time if you liked Your Name. Its not the same sort of story but its still a pretty good watch.

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

Double Feature: Hell House LLC II:The Abaddon Hotel (2018) & Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire (2019)

Wrapping up the Hell House LLC franchise from the first movie’s review HERE, its time to look at the remaining two movies. Let’s check it out!

Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel (2018)

hell house LLC II

Director (and writer): Stephen Cognetti

Cast:  Vasile Flutur, Jillian Geurts, Joy Shatz, Dustin Austen, Brian David Tracy, Kyle Inglemen, Amanda K. Morales, Laura Frenzer, Danny Bellini

It’s been eight years since the opening night tragedy of Hell House, LLC and still many unanswered questions remain. Thanks to an anonymous tip, investigative journalist Jessica Fox is convinced that key evidence is hidden inside the abandoned Abaddon Hotel-evidence that will shed light on the hotel’s mysteries. She assembles a team equally hungry for answers with one goal: break into the hotel and discover the truth. – IMDB

I’m going to be honest here and say that after watching Hell House LLC, it never seemed like it needed a sequel or that a sequel would be in the picture. Of course, it did leave some space to explore the whole Abaddon Hotel mystery a little further. Hell House LLC 2 is supposed to be just that. It takes up the same found footage concept. This time, its years later and this anonymous tip sets this new crew on a search to find some answers. Suffice to say that things get a little out of hand, or else there wouldn’t be a movie to watch.

Thing is, Hell House LLC 2 is about The Abaddon Hotel and yet, the story itself seems like it gets lost in its story a little and what it wants to tell. While the haunted house element pays a lot of tribute back to its original and it tries to dig a little deeper into the history of it again, the story is not quite as unique as its first one. A lot of elements are very predictable and it doesn’t have the same effect of making this work out quite the same way as this group goes in with something of a paranormal investigation mindset. There’s a little more paranormal and less of the atmosphere building that gives it what it originally shone in the first one.

Overall, Hell House LLC 2 felt a tad unnecessary. It does try to add more context to the Hell House LLC haunted house deal and who is behind the situation that went down in the first movie and does add to the story. Its execution, however, is where it falls short. The movie starts off relatively okay as the crew groups together and they break into Abaddon Hotel but the further it goes along, the movie loses a bit of steam up to this ending with a rather annoying monologue bit.

Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire (2019)

hell house llc 3

Director (and writer): Stephen Cognetti

Cast: Elizabeth Vermilyea, Sam Kazzi, Theodore Bouloukos, Brian David Tracy, Brigid Abrams, Leo Defriend, Jordan Kaplan, Danny Bellini, Gabriel Chytry

The Abaddon Hotel will once again be open to the public. Russell Wynn has taken his audience-interactive show, Insomnia, into the abandoned hotel that is rumored to be haunted. – IMDB

Right after we talk about how unnecessary Hell House LLC 2 was, this series ends on the third movie, Hell House LLC: Lake of Fire. Lake of Fire was talked about in the second movie and here we see something of a first movie rehash as they try to rebuild the haunted house. The movie itself tries to pull the first and second movie together and then propels itself to an ending that wraps up the whole ordeal. There’s a lot of cuts that go back to those previous films as they go through the haunted house parts and draws parallels to the original and first sequel.

Its hard to tell whether its the pacing or the constant flashbacks or parallels drawn that make this film feel slow and rather boring. As the movie progresses, despite its shortcomings, it does add to bring in the “lake of fire” idea to the whole story and what makes it work especially when the haunted house experience is open the public. Its not hard to imagine what will be the result but how it all happens is on one hand cool in certain areas especially in this one area with the white corridor and adding in those creepy elements that link all three movies together actually work really well but then there are some shots that are cool in execution like using the camera on a turn table or display case or something that works out really well but at the same time, the believability of that scene has some flaws.

One of the better elements of this movie is how it chooses to wrap up the series to makes it more grounded and has some kind of conclusion. The ending ending itself is pretty clever. It sounds bad to say that the ending is the best part but the ending itself is structured to give the whole Hell House LLC something of an answer to what happened and why this is happening and how it all finds some kind of ending. Horror movies nowadays refer on the cliffhanger ending so they can have the “what happens next?” but with this third movie, Hell House LLC feels like its wrapped up and done and while I think it would have ended at the first movie at its strongest leaving some questions unanswered, somehow the ending of the third movie was good to have those answers as well.

Overall of the franchise: While Hell House LLC is strongest at its first movie, the haunted house and the whole location and lore that it brings is pretty solid. The execution in the second and third leaves a lot to be desired for the most part but the base story and what it tries to tell is still there.

That’s it for this double feature!
We wrapped up another horror franchise!
Have you seen the Hell House LLC movies? Thoughts?

Double Feature: Dog Soldiers (2002) & Hell House LLC (2015)

Welcome to the next double feature! Something of a horror double feature as we start bouncing between Shudder and Netflix more (so more horror in the horizon..a lot more). The first to appear is a pairing of one movie that I’ve been wanting to watch the finally go on Shudder, Dog Soldiers and the second is a random choice by my husband, the first of three movies called Hell House LLC. Let’s check it out!

Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers

Director (and writer): Neil Marshall

Cast: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Thomas Lockyer, Darren Morfitt, Chris Robson, Leslie Simpson

A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland wilderness. – IMDB

Werewolf movies are rather hard to come by and its nice to see that here and there they do come up even if a lot of times, it sometimes still feels a bit lacking. Dog Soldiers has my praise for tackling this subgenre in horror films but at the same time, the movie itself is something of a slow-burn. It plays up on the unknown of who is hunting them and why this military team is at the location at the time and that takes a lot of time to build, probably longer than I’d have wanted.

There are some decent scenes and yet, while the script tries to give all the characters something more, its main players do dial down to 4 of the characters especially when they end up trapped in the house. The two military exercise leaders of sorts is Sean Pertwee’s character Sergeant Wells and Kevin McKidd’s character Private Cooper who takes over when Wells ends up injured rather seriously. The next two is a woman who lives in the area and knows of these odd events happening played by Emma Cleasby as a character of Megan who gives them a lot of the information as she saves them from the wilderness  while the last is a Captain who won’t talk about what happened but was involved in the last attack that killed his team pretty much.

Dog Soldiers itself has a decent premise. The story its trying to tell and the way they want to add in the twists and answer all those mysteries. Even some of the attack scenes and werewolf designs, despite its budget, still works alright. The biggest issue here dials down to execution where the first half seems to lag a little and when the reveal happens and things get serious (even though there were attack scenes and other scenes before that), it seems a little late in the game making the second half definitely stronger than the first.

Hell House LLC (2015)

Hell House LLC

Director (and writer): Stephen Cognetti

Cast: Gore Abrams, Alice Bahlke, Danny Bellini, Theodore Bouloukos, Jared Hacker, Ryan Jennifer Jones

Five years after an unexplained malfunction causes the death of 15 tour-goers and staff on the opening night of a Halloween haunted house tour, a documentary crew travels back to the scene of the tragedy to find out what really happened. – IMDB

Found footage films are always a somewhat interesting horror genre to see. They usually all reliant on the execution and finding how to create the right atmosphere. With Hell House LLC, its the first in what is now a 3 movie franchise. We’ll be looking at the other 2 later on as a double feature. This is an independent movie and yet somehow, found footage films are usually still very good with a smaller budget. This first movie does a great job in its execution and especially in using its cameras and background to have this lurking horror atmosphere. There are a few little jumpscares here and there but they are also very effective.

What does shine here is in the premise of looking back at this documentary that five crew members have joined together for their next haunted house tour in this abandoned hotel called Abaddon Hotel located in a small town . It shows the entire lead-up through the surveillance cameras and other filming cameras that document the whole making-of up to the night of the malfunction. It uses its lighting and darkness pretty well and also builds a decent lore with the story of the hotel and its previous hotel owner. It all makes sense but lacks enough information to keep it a mystery and how these characters one by one change in their own ways and it becomes a question of whether its because of the hotel and whatever seems to be haunting it or just the haunted house weighing down on them for other reasons. 

Overall, Hell House LLC is a strong found footage film. It has enough of a creepy factor and helps itself by having all these mysterious stories and how it brings in different horror elements in the background. There’s a change in the characters as well as the entire haunted house deal making it have a lot of opportunities to play with these suitable horror elements to appear amidst the haunted house props that also play well with the whole premise. Its one location makes Abaddon Hotel a worthy horror setting. Its definitely worth a watch if you  haven’t seen it yet!

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