Double Feature: Wedding Season (2022) & Look Both Ways (2022)

Wedding Season (2022)

Director: Tom Dey

Cast: Pallavi Sharda, Suraj Sharma, Arianna Afsar, Sean Kleier, Veena Sood, Rizwan Manji

Pressured by their parents to find spouses, Asha and Ravi pretend to date during a summer of weddings, only to find themselves falling for each other. – IMDB

The latest Netflix romantic comedy plays into the Indian culture as it revolves around a summer full of weddings and two kids who are set up together and decide to fake a relationship to avoid all the chatter. Asha (Pallavi Sharda) is the main character who is the central point of view where the plot is concerned. In some ways, it plays along a generation gap and culture gap that drives with kids born and raised in another country and while some details aren’t quite the applicable, the general story does apply to a lot of immigrant families. Its a fun angle to take for the story even if the romantic comedy of fake relationships turning real isn’t exactly a really unique idea overall and honestly has been done to death a lot, much like when I talked about the same general concept with another recently released Netflix film Purple Hearts (review).

Despite the predictable elements, the characters and cultural elements are pretty fun. The nagging parents and the whole wedding scenes all in different styles and the fun banter between the two leads are fairly entertaining. Its probably where the charm of this film is mostly centered on. Asha’s character is done pretty well as she plans this own thing because she wants to achieve better things in work and forgets about the core values of the project she is working on so as she tries to distance herself from her background because of growing up in the Western society, she eventually realizes a little something more about herself that exceeds that of just romance in the whole picture of the film. There’s a certain depth for Asha as her mindset shifts especially as her and her sister also have a lot of moments which eventually derives to a deeper understanding for the arranged marriage and relationship between her parents as well.

This is a romantic comedy so its time to take a look at the male character Ravi, played by Suraj Sharma. Honestly, I haven’t seen this actor since Life of Pi (podcast discussion). He definitely plays the more chill and fun character here but there is a definite secret that he and his family are trying to keep away that gets revealed by the end. Its a rather silly secret but the reaction from it is on one side fairly comedic because it did feel a little over the top but also a bit annoying because it felt like something that shouldn’t have gotten the reaction from Asha seeing as she is more modernized in her thoughts. Regardless, Ravi does have some fun bits and does also represent a certain other group of immigrant children who take on their own path against their parents’ wish.

To be fair, Wedding Season isn’t a bad film overall. The romantic elements actually are the weaker links here as the cultural elements take over to make the film more unique in this area. That’s not saying that the chemistry for the two main leads isn’t there as there definitely is even if some bits feel like it just jumps over fairly quickly. However, the film shines with the family moments with Asha, her sister and parents as well as the supporting characters from the nosy auntie to the judgmental views of others. There’s some truly charming elements here.

Look Both Ways (2022)

Director: Wanuri Kahiu

Cast: Lili Reinhart, Danny Ramirez, Aisha Dee, Andrea Savage, Luke Wilson, David Corenswet, Nia Long

On the eve of her college graduation, Natalie’s life diverges into parallel realities: one in which she becomes pregnant and remains in her hometown to raise her child and another in which she moves to LA to pursue her dream career. – IMDB

Look Both Ways is one of the latest Netflix films and balances really well the romance, drama and comedy elements of its story. The story itself while being compared a lot to Sliding Doors (a film that I haven’t seen yet) runs a parallel storyline which starts at the beginning when its main character is thrust into a situation following a quick decision when it bases around her pregnancy test on her graduation night. On one hand, the positive result turns her life around and the negative one takes her to execute her five year plan. Look Both Ways is a story about options in life regardless of what things may pop up accidentally and the positive message that it will all work out in the end as both sides of her realities lead to a different level of success and achievement and its own set of challenges as well.

With that said, a film like with alternating realities is heavily reliant on its execution and flow. In this case, it does a pretty good job. There is a logical bounce between the realities which is easily to follow and is a long enough set piece that doesn’t feel like the jumping from one reality to the next is too abrupt or lacking in delivering the feelings of the scene. It does help that the storyline keeps itself simple. On one hand, the planned reality focuses on the workplace challenges while the other side sticks to the challenges of a having a baby and the mixed feelings and responsibilities that come with it as well as how to rebuild her own life. While its a very hypothetical element to give the story two outcomes and their own timeline, these two timelines still feel rooted in a lot of realistic feelings and trials and tribulations especially when even the planned moments in life will have their unplanned obstacles. The positive message is truly what makes this film a fun one, despite perhaps a few plot point flaws here and there which doesn’t take away from the feel-good elements.

Look Both Ways stars primarily Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart, an actress that is very underrated as she does a great job with the role of Betty in Riverdale and despite the supporting role was pretty good in Hustlers (review) as well. In Look Both Ways, she is the focal character and all the events revolve around her and she gives both sides of the realities a really good portrayal and connects really well on both ends with the sentiments at that moment. Its nice to know that destiny doesn’t play a big part here mostly as both realities sees her end up different romantically as well. In reality, the two parts actually play together to create the full person that she becomes. Much like the LA career five year plan focuses on her career and friends more, letting the story focus more on her friendship, the pregnancy sidetrack takes her back home where it brings in a lot of nice conversations between her parents (Luke Wilson and Andrea Savage) as they have to also accept this new reality and gradually despite their disappointment also brings their own form of support.

Overall, Look Both Ways is a pretty good film. The cast is pretty decent especially with Lili Reinhart doing a great job at portraying her character. Its also a film with a wonderful positive message that ends in an open-ended way which gives the film a good thoughtful ending as well. Perhaps, its a good point of view for life in general to explore the reality that when things don’t quite go as planned that it will work out one way or another.

Double Feature: Persuasion (2022) & Purple Hearts (2022)

Persuasion (2022)

Director: Carrie Cracknell

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Henry Golding, Richard E. Grant, Yolanda Kettle, Ben Bailey Smith, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Mia McKenna-Bruce

Eight years after Anne Elliot was persuaded not to marry a dashing man of humble origins, they meet again. Will she seize her second chance at true love? – IMDB

Based on Jane Austen’s novel of the same name (review), Persuasion tells the story of Anne, a woman well past her prime for marriage who ends up moving to Bath due to his father’s frivolous spending as the return of a man she once refused marriage after persuasion due to status returns to town after 8 years and brings back her inner struggle as they attempt to run in the same circle as friends.

Years ago when I did a Jane Austen books read, Persuasion was one of the hidden gems considering Pride and Prejudice is the most talked about. The Netflix adaptation is a little odd in execution. Dakota Johnson is rather suitable in her role as Anne and she remains the narrator of her own story as it brings in some fourth wall breaking elements as she speaks her feelings to the audience throughout the film. Unlike the clever use in Enola Holmes, it keeps her character development amusing but still feels almost  little too modernized. However, the attempt to make this unique is a good effort, considering this is one of the key elements of the execution.

Persuasion is a story that embodies a deeper and more mature story as a love slowly rekindles and Anne and Captain Wentworth need to get through their past differences from the failed proposal years ago. The issue here is that these two have no chemistry and part of it is the film execution with how their encounters are written but the other part is that Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Wentworth doesn’t quite have the acting depth to interpret those quiet brooding stares as he observes or as they exchange glances. Arguably, the best moment between them, a lot thanks to some nice cinematography, is their final moment as they rekindle their romance and realize that they both still love each other.

Persuasion does hit a lot of expected elements of a period drama like the setting and the soundtrack are pretty good, much like the costumes themselves are decent as well. Some of the supporting cast including the other suitor played by Henry Golding also does a good job. Where the film falls short is in its tone which adds in a bit of silliness and humor as well as breaking the fourth wall which is a unique take but the script might have let it down a little, much like the romance which felt like it didn’t have the chemistry it needed to make it more memorable.

Purple Hearts (2022)

Director: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum

Cast: Sofia Carson, Nicholas Galitzine, Chosen Jacobs, John Harlan Kim, Kat Cunning, Linden Ashby, Scott Deckert, Anthony Ippolito, Loren Escandon

In spite of their many differences, Cassie, a struggling singer-songwriter, and Luke, a troubled Marine, agree to marry solely for military benefits. But when tragedy strikes, the line between real and pretend begins to blur. – IMDB

At this point, Netflix delivers a good amount of romance films a year in whatever genre and usually its a pretty mixed bag and truly a test of chemistry and casting rather than script. Purple Hearts is the latest offering as a romance drama which sets a premise of a marriage out convenience for a young soldier being shipped out very soon and a waitress/musician, both with their own hardships that this arrangement would offer.

Deal is, as someone who watches a lot of Chinese drama, marriage before love premise has been done to death over the past two years in all kinds of premise. Of course, it usually is more humorous and light hearted at the beginning rather than the dramatic twist here. While the general premise is fairly predictable, the use of a soldier and his situation that gives him a purple heart is one that makes this journey much more memorable as while it isn’t so much about war, Luke finds meaning in becoming a Marine through it despite the danger and connects more to his father (Linden Ashby) because of this choice despite the bad decisions he had made prior.

Much like Cassie who as the child of an immigrant family also makes her reconsider her feelings about the sacrifices the Marines are making as she learns more about Luke as they do what they need to do to keep up appearances. This understanding also helps her find inspiration to write powerful music which brings her growing success. This brings in the additional music element which is probably the purpose to cast Sofia Carson. While I don’t avidly listen to Sofia Carson, the two songs that she performs here are pretty good and fit the story well. In some ways, it does tie to the story itself in a meaningful way so its a way for her character to express herself despite the arguments and banter between her and Luke.

Honestly, I’m not too hard on romance dramas. In reality, a predictable story is acceptable when they can deliver a believable chemistry between the two main leads. In this case, the chemistry between the two could definitely be better since their characters are fairly thin in development, however the premise and the execution gives this story a little more than just a love story so with everything rounded together, the two coming together from despise to leaning on each other to their revelation that they love each other by the end , its a pretty decent heartwarming and touching journey between the two. A romance where two people help each other grow in one way or another creates their chemistry subtly and a story with this premise of living the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows despite the fake marriage at the beginning.

To be fair, when it comes to romance films and I’ve seen quite a few of them being the sappy romantic that I am, this one might come up fairly average but it still works for various elements. The ending even had me feeling rather connected with Cassie and Luke’s love when these two finally figure out their feelings.

Double Feature: Profile (2018) & Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

Profile (2018)

Director (& co-writer): Timur Bekmambetov

Cast: Valene Kane, Morgan Watkins, Christine Adams, Emma Cater, Amir Rahimzadeh, Shazad Latif

An undercover British journalist infiltrates the online propaganda channels of the so-called Islamic State, only to be sucked in by her recruiter. – IMDB

Released as part of the initial three Screenlife films aka cyber found footage along with Searching (review) and Unfriended (review), Timur Bekmamtov delivers Profile, a film about a UK journalist Amy (Valene Kane) who goes undercover and engages into an online conversation with a jihadist Bilel (Shazad Latif) to learn about their ways of recruiting religious converts, their operations and how these converts are transported. As she uses her alias profile Melody to talk to Bilel, a leader who wants to woo her, she starts to blur the reality of her assignment with this new relationship during the process and things go out of control with both her boyfriend and her boss. 

Screenlife is a fascinating subgenre that fits very well to the modern world we live in and breathes new life into the found footage genre. The three Screenlife productions by Bekmamtov all vary in scenario and genre, showing the potential of the variety of stories it can tell in a convincing way through the screen of someone. The cyber element used here focuses heavily on the accessibility of information at our fingertips and the ability to multitask while in a conversation. It exposes a world of danger that resides online. Unlike the other screenlife stories, this one is based on a non-fiction book In The Skin Of A Jihadist. The fact that its based on a real event makes it even more captivating. 

When dealing with cyber found footage, this one is centered around two main people, Melody aka Amy and Bilel. Their characters become the focal point especially for the former as it’s all from her point of view aka her computer screen. Her character is fantastic as the contrast of nervousness of setting up the first conversation to the ease of diving into believing Bilel to the big finale makes her character rather complex or perhaps gives a nod to how convincing the character of Bilel is. He becomes a real and convincing person when he seemingly can offer so much and knows the right things to say: shedding a bit of personal information at the right time and sharing an insight of the positivity that surrounds him as well as the dangers. However, it’s all an expectations versus reality situation that drives to a rather intense finale. There are some sudden character shifts and it has to do with the subtle and fast moving timeline however the interactions between the two along with Amy’s research along the way is some shocking stuff.

Profile might not quite hit the epicness of Searching in the Screenlife films by Bekmamtov, however, it definitely packs a punch with the narrative. A lot of these films do work so much better watching it on a computer screen than the big screen in terms of involvement. Much like documentary films like Caught In The Net which tries to lure out its predators in a real situation, this adapts a true story into a believable scenario with this format which suits the whole investigation very well. It’s definitely worth a watch. 

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

Director: André Ovredal

Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Lorraine Toussaint, Kathleen Pollard

On Halloween 1968, Stella and her two friends meet a mysterious drifter, Ramón, and uncover a sinister notebook of stories. – IMDB

Based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark was co-produced and the screenplay co-written by Guillermo Del Toro. The story follows three friends as they find a sinister notebook of stories which writes itself and eventually, the people around her start disappearing. As danger creeps closer to themselves, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) has to act quickly to find out the truth about the girl Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) who lived in the haunted house where they found the notebook in order to hopefully put an end to the string of events which as befallen them.

In some ways, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark almost plays out like a horror anthology. The different stories being written throughout the story reflect a different segment for the different characters who are Stella’s group of friends. While the film focuses on the angle from Stella’s point of view as she is the one who took the book and asked for its help in the first place, it becomes an “evil” that she can’t get rid of even after regretting her choice. Its also because of these moments that the film’s main storyline around Stella and finding out about the Bellows history becomes what strings along the story but its hard to not feel like there is a sense of disjointedness when the strength is in the little stories themselves and this isn’t meant to be an anthology. That is coming from a person that hasn’t read any of the source material so maybe its the issue of adaptation.

The cinematography is the standout element for the film. While the stories themselves might not be all that scary in execution, the horror elements is mostly from the different forms of the horror figures that it brings to life in a varying dark and creepy atmosphere that somewhat exceeds that of what you’d expect from a children’s book adaptation. Each story has their own horrific element and as the story is being written and the actual events are going down, it leaves space for anticipation of what comes next and what horror is waiting for that character. Most of them are great imaginations and as they come to life really add in the darker element for this film set around these simple horror stories to scare children. Perhaps its the simplicity that makes them work even more.

Overall, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is visually appealing especially when bringing to life the horrors of the stories. The premise itself is also quite good as a foundation especially for a children’s books series and actually some of the horrors in the film feel almost too much for children however, the execution does leave a little to be desired. While the separate stories are really fun to see come to life, the main plot line isn’t quite as well told and with the teen cast, some bits are still rather silly.

Double Feature: Girl’s Revenge (哈囉,少女, 2020) & Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror (2022)

Girl’s Revenge (哈囉,少女, 2020)

Director: Weica Wang

Cast: Yu-Ping Wang, Yuri Chen, Shiny Yao, Pii Liu, Mike Lin, Edison Song, Teng-hong Xia, Moon Lee

Bullying. Humiliation. An ugly truth. She’s standing up for her friend. But her retaliatory quest is about to unravel. After a sex video subjects her friend to mockery and bullying, a transfer student sets out to reveal the truth as campus secrets come to light. – IMDB

There’s been a really big focus on bullying in Asian film and TV lately in the past few years from Girl From Nowhere, Better Days and Cry Me A Sad River, etc. A lot of these films focus on the extremities of the situation. Girl’s Revenge takes it from another angle which looks not only at bullying but how social media plays a big part in the modern school environment when a sex video leaks from a party gone out of control. Its more of emotional bullying than a physical one.

Girl’s Revenge is basically set up in 2 parts. The first focuses on the new transfer student Yun-heng and her bond with her new group of friends leading up to the birthday party where one of her friends Li-Chia gets involved in this sex video being taken and distributed after an edgy party game. The second part is how Yun-heng teams up with other students to try to figure out what actually happened at the party to give some justice to her friends. It all dials down to walking the line between whether Yun-Heng’s justice for her friend is making her into the bullies that she despises by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

Girl’s Revenge runs at a tight 81 minutes and for that, it has its pros and cons. The story keeps itself very quick-paced and moves forward from Yun-Heng’s transfer to making new friends and drawing those lines of certain other classmates. The conflict happens quickly much like the investigation itself but the quick-paced also keeps it focused on the situation at hand. On the other side, the tighter runtime sacrifices a little on building up more on the characters as there just isn’t enough time to do it. There’s a basic background of what happens and hints of Yun-Heng’s past as to why she’s been transferred to this school which affects her decisions in the end, especially when its exposed at the end. Its somewhat of a twist to the story itself which at one part does push a little too far and becomes slightly apparent where the plot wants to take it.

The cast here is pretty close-knit, focusing on a few key characters from the three friends, the in-running class ambassador, the boy pursuing Yun-Heng, another classmate who initiates the investigation and the school teacher and principal. The roles are pretty clear-cut and the characters here faced with this situation do work well, especially for the character of Ke-Chien, the class ambassador who is the main suspect of what goes down as she seems to be a wolf in a sheep skin trying to be nice to everyone but also having the resources to make it seem like the subconsciously exposes other student’s secrets but acting innocent about it. Its never been so clear that someone is a suspect but then, its these characters that do create some good friction especially since there is no outward and obvious bullying, so how do you subject such a person to what they’ve done. The film takes a good approach in this situation.

Girl’s Revenge might lack a little bit of character depth but its portrayal of this form of bullying in the modern world in a school setting is one that doesn’t forget to make sure we know that these are high school students in the set-up who find joy in life’s simple things but also that easy accessibility of social media is one that can easily be misused and it no longer has to be a physical act but an emotionally disturbing one.

Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror (2022)

Director: Jin-seong Choi

Anonymous and exploitative, a network of online chat rooms ran rampant with sex crimes. The hunt to take down its operators required guts and tenacity. – IMDB

Continuing on the online crime investigation documentary angle, Netflix recently delivers Cyber Hell, a South Korea n crime that involves a mystery chat room, the dark web and a slew of police officers, reporters and hackers working together to trace down hidden manipulators who use compromising footage of young girls to make them do bad things to themselves which gets shared online with paying members. As internet becomes our main form of connection more and more, these real life horror stories really do deserved to be shared, not focused on the killer themselves but both the devastation of its victims but also bringing attention to the dangers lurking in the deep dark corners of the web and condemnning not only those who created the space but also those who create the demand for it.

Unlike other limited series, Cyber Hell is executed as a 2 hour documentary film. It fits the investigation really well as it moves through the time frame of how they track the culprits down from the angle of the police and others who are simply reporting the investigation to bring awareness to the public about such crimes. This investigation is also one that is much closer to the present as it took place starting in 2018 and follows each step that they discuss until the eventual capture of the culprits. The documentary focuses heavily on the process and the hardships of looking for a killer in today’s online space especially with the advancement of technology and the more securitized software or online chatrooms which provides a safe space where information isn’t saved but also can be a useful tool for those who mean harm to others, much like creating spaces like the Nth room.

As it moves from one interviewee to the next, it makes it more real that some of these people remain hidden while others are from various fields of job willing to join the case at the time. Luckily, the ones involved were eventually caught and the final highlight of the issue didn’t talk about those who did it but also who else is responsible and bringing in a bigger point of how easily what we consider safe information can be used to blackmail.

Much like ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’ which was made into a Russian film #Blue_Whale (review) which was adapted to talk about the issue of the dangers of online darker spaces, Cyber Hell achieves that by telling the story of the hunt from those involved from their online interactions with the ones involved to those actually implicated into the situation and afraid to talk about it and being used to delay the investigative work. Considering its something in South Korea and wasn’t exposed further, it was an intriguing case to learn about and well worth a watch.

Double Feature: Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020) & Rogue (2007)

Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020)

Director: John Pogue

Cast: Tania Raymonde, Nathaniel Buzolic, Emerson Brooks, Bren Foster, Reina Aoi, Alex Bhat, Siya Mayola, Avumile Qongqo

Studying the effects of climate change off the coast of Mozambique, a marine biologist and her team confront three genetically enhanced bull sharks. Now, a new bloodbath is waiting to happen in the name of science. Will humans never learn? – IMDB

While Deep Blue Sea (review) is undoubtedly one of my favorite shark films ever, Deep Blue Sea 2 (review) was absolutely one of the most unsatisfying ones that I have watched. Its hard to fathom what this final film in this series is going to bring especially as it plays out as a direct sequel to the second film. Deep Blue Sea 3 might not really be any incredible shark film but it does deliver some decent entertainment. Of course, this depends what you look for in shark films. For myself, itself some creative shark kills (ridiculous as some of it might seem) and some fun characters and dialogue that might even add in a few laughs. As serious as Deep Blue Sea is, whether its the age or the bad effects, it had a decent balance of tension and fun to make it stand out. Deep Blue Sea 3 might not be in the same league as tension isn’t exactly high on the charts as the plot is a little too silly but there are some things that are done well enough to have a good time.

As mentioned before, Deep Blue Sea 3 picks up after the events of the second film as they try to track down the genetically enhanced bull sharks before they mate. Conveniently, they end up at an abandoned village on the water which has 2 inhabitants remaining and a small shark preservation crew has taken over with a underwater nursery to help monitor and preserve great white sharks. The crew itself consists of marine biologist Emma (Tania Raymonde) and Shaw (Emerson Brooks) who is something of a mentor and the muscle here, much like the tech-savvy Spin (Alex Bhat) and marine analyst Miya (Reina Aoi) are behind the scenes monitoring the situation when the boat carrying Emma’s college fling Richard (Nathaniel Buzolic) and his crew who are commissioned to find the bull sharks enter into the picture but decides to hide the grittier facts of the whole situation until they slowly get revealed and things get way out of control.

Let’s be honest here: Deep Blue Sea 3 is not exactly a great shark film, its not probably not even considered a good one. Looking at the plot and the dialogue, it walks on some thin ground. There’s some unnecessary romance side plot that doesn’t get anywhere; the usual untimely confession of feelings right before things go bad; some of the attacks are extremely predictable; dialogue feels a little ridiculous and cheesy at times. We’re not even looking at the big picture of the plot especially with the “bad guys” being not only the genetically modified bull sharks who not only swim backwards (which was a trait from the first film) but also recognizes bombs and reacts to mommy shark’s frequency, the bad guys are the crew from the big corporation who suddenly decides that they need to get down to business to get rid of the sharks and then decides to do stupid decisions like getting their minions to finish up a fight or just drop their weapons and go into hand to hand combat. Its actually quite funny to watch in all its ridiculousness. However, as much as there are things to criticize about the film, Deep Blue Sea 3 doesn’t really take itself that seriously and that really does help with the whole thing since it makes the second half when the whole island village goes down all the more fun with the sudden and unexpected shark kills to the big showdown finale.

There’s really not a whole lot to say about Deep Blue Sea 3 because its a rather middling experience. Its a fun time for sure if you enjoy shark films the way that I do in all its stupidity and ridiculousness but delivering some shark kills that take you by surprise. I mean, the effects here for the sharks at times reminds us that Deep Blue Sea from the start until now doesn’t seem like its changed much and that is a good or bad thing. Deal is, there are a ton of issues with Deep Blue Sea 3 that you can hate on it a lot. Honestly, I feel like they should have just left Deep Blue Sea in 1999 and never done any sequels but since the sequels are here, at least this one isn’t quite the wreck that the second film was. Maybe it simply had to do with the fact that its not another underground facility but much more minimalistic and embraces the “open waters”/open space a little bit more and keeps things above ground a little more as well.

Rogue (2007)

Director (and writer): Greg McLean

Cast: Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell, Sam Worthington, Caroline Brazier, Stephen Curry, Celia Ireland, John Jarratt, Heather Mitchell, Geoff Morrell, Damien Richardson, Robert Taylor, Mia Wasikowska, Barry Otto

An American journalist on assignment in the Australian outback encounters a man-eating crocodile while trapped on a rapidly flooding mud island. – IMDB

Allow me a moment to celebrate as Rogue finally gets added to the Netflix catalogue (Netflix Canada at least). Not the Megan Fox action thriller but the Australian crocodile creature feature. With the fun experiences of several crocodile/alligator creature features like Crawl (review), Alligator and Lake Placid (review), Rogue has been a film on my radar for a pretty long time and it lived up to my expectations. Directed by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean, Rogue steers away from the torture porn horror style and dives into the creature feature genre as a group of tourists get stuck on a tiny mud island as the tide comes in with a crocodile lurking nearby ready to attack.

Australia is such a prime location with all it deadly animals lurking about for creature feature content and yet, there’s not quite enough films to use that setting. Rogue actually takes the creature feature for a very different ride. The film captures the beauty where this tourist excursions are taking place, focusing on the nature around them and the lay of the land from up above and takes the time at the start to give this boatful of tourists as well as their tour guide a chance to show some of their characteristics and personalities before thrusting them into danger. It gives some context to who this group will be dealing with.

At the same time, the crocodile doesn’t really get as much camera time and is slowly revealed bit by bit. It gives it the mysterious element of how big this crocodile actually is while still using a crocodile’s hunting both to educate the viewers but creating some foreshadow of what to expect. There’s the unexpected window between kills which looms over the tourists and just how quickly they can be picked off while how much risk is too much risk to try to get off the island with both the night and the tide coming in all becoming pressuring factors. The way that the film uses these elements is what makes Rogue a tense creature feature.

Looking at the cast, there are some familiar faces here with Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan and Sam Worthington are the obvious recognizable ones. They also are the leading and bigger roles here with a little more focus on their characters throughout the film. Michael Vartan plays a travel journalist who finds himself becoming quite the hero in the process as the group starts falling apart and everyone’s true colors start showing. For Wolf Creek fans, John Jarratt appears here in a much more toned down type of role, much like there’s a young Mia Wasikowska playing the young daughter of a couple on the tour. With bigger groups of this, there are always a few characters which are outlined a little frustratingly and this was no exception.

Overall, Rogue is a pretty effective creature feature. It delivers a pretty tense crocodile creature feature. The beginning set up is a great contrast to the actual crocodile hunt portion. As much as its almost one location, the final act takes it into another area which gives it a nice change and adds to the danger element to push it a little further. Definitely an enjoyable one and one that I’d highly recommend to check out.

Double Feature: A Perfect Pairing (2022) & Trust (2021)

A Perfect Pairing (2022)

Director: Stuart McDonald

Cast: Victoria Justice, Adam Demos, Luca Asta Sardelis, Samantha Cain, Craig Horner, Lucy Durack, Antonio Alvarez

It follows a hard-driving LA wine-company executive who travels to an Australian sheep station to land a major client and there she ends up working as a ranch hand and sparking with a rugged local. – IMDB

The latest Netflix romantic comedy released pairs up Afterlife of the Party (review) Victoria Justice and the Sex/Life actor Adam Demos as they meet on a sheep station, one trying to use her hard work to prove her capabilities as a self-starter and win a contract from a wine company executive while also sparking a connection with the “boss cocky” as he teaches her the ins and outs. Suffice to say at this point, romantic comedies are rather rinse and repeat and for the most part with Netflix rom-coms, they haven’t really been too groundbreaking. A Perfect Pairing doesn’t escape the rom-com formula or deliver anything too special. What does give it a fun vibe is that the chemistry between the main leads are pretty good overall and the setting with the beautiful scenery of the Australian countryside.

With most rom-coms nowadays, the selling point is the chemistry that the main leads deliver. In this case, A Perfect Pairing is pretty good. Adam Demos and Victoria Justice do work rather well together in their respective roles and the progression of everything is pretty fun especially when you have a city girl thrust into a foreign rural setting, learning something from the start. The fun isn’t only with them but also the co-workers that she encounters there who go from doubting her to accepting her gradually in their own way. The little bickering and conversations are pretty good since there is a variety of people there. It makes Victoria Justice’s character’s initial goal to bag a deal for her little wine distribution company fall into the background. Like I said, that sort of thing isn’t exactly unseen, in fact its a plot point for many rom-coms for the main female lead to head out to achieve something with extreme measures to eventually realize that its not the point. Only difference here is that hers is very clear right from the start and in this scenario, Adam Demos’ character is the one with a bigger secret to hide (which actually didn’t feel like it was such a big secret overall and the reveal causing such big reactions).

Overall, A Perfect Pairing isn’t anything too special in terms of plot points or execution. However, where it works best is capturing the beautiful Australian vineyards and rural setting, adding in that bit of fun as Victoria Justice’s character gets dirty as a farm hand and the pretty decent chemistry between the two. In reality, Victoria Justice has proven time and time again that she does capture her roles pretty good.

Trust (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Brian DeCubellis

Cast: Victoria Justice, Matthew Daddario, Katherine McNamara, Lucien Laviscount, Ronny Chieng, Lindsey Broad

In this sexy and twisty ride, New York gallery owner Brooke and her husband Owen each face exceptional temptations, with most unexpected results. – IMDB

Trust is an erotic romance drama which is based on Kristen Lazarian, one of the co-screenplay writer’s play Push. I’m always a little skeptical when I start any film that sells itself as an erotic and romantic film. Most of the time, it lacks a lot of those elements and just turns into a really soapy sort of deal. Trust is a rather middling experience. There are some really good execution plot points that help make it feel pretty unique to watch. Its like a semi-Shadowhunters reunion with Katharine McNamara and Matthew Daddorio in bigger roles and then there’s Victoria Justice which I’ve been catching up on a lot of her films, much like the Season 2 of Emily in Paris actor, Lucien Laviscount. While the plot itself does try to seem more clever than it really is, it actually does work through the whole “trust” element in relationships pretty good. The ending is a bit silly but the overall feeling of the film does have a decent use of these two people who are encountered by their own temptations and emotions as they have their own experiences.

Taking a look at the execution, Trust uses a non-linear format to shed light on unveiling the story here from both the main characters Brooke (Victoria Justice) and Owen (Matthew Daddario) side of the story, filling in the pieces as it becomes relevant. Its one of the stand-out elements of this film as it keeps the mystery in place and helps keep up those questionable trust moments but also making the reveals gradually, sometimes being more effective than others. There is no doubt that the film itself takes up a rather soapy drama tone especially when dealing with a relationship square as there are 4 parties involved and the two mains having their own temptation: Owen with a girl at the bar Amy (Katharine McNamara) and Brooke with the artist that she represents Ansgar (Lucien Laviscount).

That leads to the characters themselves. The cast itself is rather small but is pretty sufficient for a story like this one that keeps it rather simple on the surface but when adding in the elements of trust between the characters, it does pull a few nice tricks out of the hat. That has to do with how these characters are portrayed as they develop throughout the film and does add a nice element of how trust should be portrayed and questions the element of trust effectively in its scenarios on both sides. The roles themselves are pretty much on the surface but then the story itself doesn’t really need too much depth since its more about the situation than the characters themselves.

To be fair, Trust isn’t anything to call home about and the ending itself seems a little flimsy. There’s a little play on details about trust and how Brooke and Owen will move forward after this all settles down. Its plays out thinking its more clever than it actually is, however, there is some decent entertainment here. I can’t say that its very romantic or erotic in that regard but there are definitely some moments that work relatively well that regard. For sure, its not a film for everyone and some moments and dialogue even feel a little cringeworthy but somehow, maybe the clever execution or how the story is plotted out that it works for me to a certain extent.

Double Feature: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) & Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Director (and writer): Johannes Roberts

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough, Lily Gao, Chad Rook, Marina Mazepa, Nathan Dales

Set in 1998, this origin story explores the secrets of the mysterious Spencer Mansion and the ill-fated Raccoon City. – IMDB

*Originally reviewed for Friday Film Club*

Adapted from the first and second game of the Capcom video game series of the same name, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City sets itself on a parallel storyline which sets itself in 1998 when the zombie outbreak starts in the small town of Raccoon City and the group of survivors try to make it out where the events take place both in the Raccoon City Police Department but also at the Spencer mansion where the outbreak was suspected to have started.

Being undeniably avid fans of Resident Evil here at Movies and Tea as we covered all the Resident Evil movies by Paul W.S. Anderson being one of our biggest episodes to work on, and an upcoming episode in the works for its animated films, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is a film that was announced with rather mixed sentiments, some didn’t like the casting feeling like it didn’t do the actual character design justice to its original game design however the film also did finally bring in all the favorite characters and created a story adapted from the actual games. However, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent alignment for a video game adaptation. Taking away the lesser role for their favorite character Leon Kennedy and dropping him to his rookie status who genuinely grows throughout the film as he encounters more, the fan faves are also all here with Claire and Chris Redfield holding down the fort on each of the locations as they move closer to each other. At the same time, the film also manages to bring in some other key characters like the well-known Albert Wesker and Jill Valentine, giving them an origin of where they come from.

This new reboot of Resident Evil, under the direction of Johannes Roberts does give it a lot more link to the story that the games are telling and the world building also deserves a lot of credit. Some scenes are almost identical to its game counterpart making it quite the treat for lovers of this gaming franchise, especially with its recent game remakes. At the same time, it still adds in a lot of eerie scenes whether being the zombie design to the mutations caused by the virus and looks into the connection of Claire and Chris Redfield’s story both when they were kids and their encounters to the present day, centering the story around them. Sure, in terms of story direction, Leon Kennedy being one of the bigger characters of the games does fall into the backseat a little and becomes more of a goofy rookie who is trying to catch up with the situation with better and more experienced cops but perhaps its a nice change to see the focus remain on one part of the story and if it does have sequel, it gives it more space to expand on the other characters’ storylines.

Overall, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent reboot. Its one that stays much more true to its source material and still manages to recreate these eerie atmospheres using its two key locations as their focal points. It has a little something for both fans of the games and new viewers trying to follow the story. Its pretty well-balanced film in terms of action and horror.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroines Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord. – IMDB

Superhero and comic book films have really been a bit overwhelming and not exactly on my radar regardless of Marvel or DC at this point. However, as Birds of Prey is leaving Netflix Canada and I do really like Margot Robbie, it felt like a decent film to catch up on. Surprisingly, the film was a pretty fun ride and also brought another femme fatale role for Mary Elizabeth Winstead as The Huntress which was also nice little surprise. The film overall is about these different female characters who team up against a vicious crime lord for their own personal reasons despite focusing on a post break-up with Joker Harley Quinn who ends up making some ridiculous decisions like blowing up the chemical plant and buying a hyena as her pet.

While superhero films all seem to entail the same thing and it all feels rather cookie cutter in terms of plot, making the whole situation fairly predictable, Birds of Prey is pretty fun. Perhaps its the over the top element which makes everyone from Harley Quinn to its villain feel rather cartoony and comic-like or its the fact that this film is about superheroines who find themselves teaming together for their own purpose and having their own style when it came to the big final showdown, these things all add color to the film and makes it entertaining. All the odd elements come together especially all these different ladies to make it a fun team-up.

With that said, the casting is pretty good, not only for its main ladies from Margot Robbie as the titular lady but also Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez as the cop Renee Montoya who is fed up with not being fully recognized in her efforts and Jurnee Smollett as a talented singer with a killer voice as Black Canary plus a little pickpocket girl Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco, but it also includes a rather over the top villain playing Black Mask with Ewan McGregor who was pretty decent and almost channelling the rich boy begging for recognition type of character so lashes out in extreme ways to get what he wants but also a supporting roles by Ali Wong.

Birds of Prey is a pretty fun movie overall. There’s not a whole lot to say about it but the stylistic approach and the wonderful kick-ass femme fatale casting does make for some entertaining moments. Its refreshing to see a group of superheroines band together against the villain and this film delivered the whole package pretty well.

Uncharted (2022)

Uncharted (2022)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Steven Waddington

Street-smart Nathan Drake is recruited by seasoned treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan to recover a fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan, and lost 500 years ago by the House of Moncada. – IMDB

Based on the Uncharted video game franchise developed by Naughty Dog, the film is set with a young Nathan Drake on his first recruit with Sully for some treasure hunting action as they try to use their wits and Drake’s know-how to finish up what his brother Sam started before his disappearance while outrunning a Moncada heir and his highly paid team. There are two ways to look at this film: the first would be in the accuracy and efficacy of its adaptation to the games itself and the other way would be for the normal movie-goer who doesn’t have any or little knowledge of the game and treats this as a straight-forward action adventure treasure hunt film. Luckily, I fall a little in between these as the game follows one of the later games which I am not as familiar with but also have a decent knowledge of these main characters, Nathan Drake and Sully so I will try to touch on both of these angles.

Looking at this from its adaptation angle, perhaps the biggest discussion amongst gamers would be whether Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg are suitably as Nathan Drake and Sully respectively. In that sense, its the biggest issue with the film perhaps as this element works better on the star power for the normal movie goer than them feeling like these two characters from the video game. Whether from the idea of appearance, even if they put Drake in the game’s outfit, or the idea that their personalities match with that of the game, some dialogue does match up but it still lacks a little something that these characters’ bring in the game, giving them a very different feeling. If there was a character that felt very similar to its video game version, that would be Chloe Frazer portrayed by Sophia Ali and still, it lacks a bit of sass. However, the film does work with a very straight-forward plot, while this might be a let-down for something expecting more, it is pretty entertaining overall and adds in certain cinematic cues and cameo that links back to the game whether its the Naughty Dog sticker on the suitcase or a Nolan North cameo appearance along with the CGI camera pan through certain puzzle elements which bring in those game parallel.

With that said, looking at this from purely an action adventure film, there is no doubt that this feels generic from a plot angle but then the point remains on how much expectation was put into it based on the trailer versus the normal context of these types of films. Uncharted is an entertaining movie experience. It has some over the top CGI which is almost reminiscent of the Fast and Furious movies (and you probably already know what scene I’m referring to) but also has the element of the banter between Drake and Sully which can be fun at times even if it revolves mostly around how much trust they can put into each other. The villain here is a bit two fold as you have Antonio Banderas as Moncada but also Tati Gabrielle as Jo Braddock who is more dangerous as she is more than just a rich man with a bunch of minions. The action pieces are pretty fun and the adventure and puzzle element is done rather well also especially when you get into the big finale with a change in setting from the big city to the vast open seas.

Overall, Uncharted might not be quite the video game adaptation that people want especially from the angle of its main characters Drake and Sully mostly since they are missing a bit of the pizzazz these video game characters however if talking about the plot itself, while generic for an action-adventure film but it actually does match up to the game well enough. Movies like these truly depend on what you expect out of them. For myself, there are some flaws in terms of casting choices from the video gamer side however as a popcorn flick, the entertainment level is still a good time.

*Uncharted is currently available on digital on April 26th and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on May 10th*

*Screener provided by TARO PR*

The Sadness (哭悲, 2021)

The Sadness (2021)

Director (and writer): Rob Jabbaz

Cast: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying-Ru Chen, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Emerson Tsai, Wei-Hua Lan, Ralf Chiu

A young couple trying to reunite amid a city ravaged by a plague that turns its victims into deranged, bloodthirsty sadists. – IMDB

The feature film directorial debut for Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz is a Taiwanese horror gorefest. Heavily inspired by the Cross comic book series, The Sadness sets in a viral pandemic called Alvin Virus that infects its victims making them fulfill their homicidal desires from extreme violence to rape. Basically just think about the most maniacal, bloodthirsty and wrongest things that could happen that The Sadness manages to get it in, probably even some of it being unthinkably horrible. While horror isn’t normally a go-to for Taiwanese films, Rob Jabbaz makes this one completely out of control. The gore element delivers to a disturbing level and this film is definitely not for the weak stomached and is full of all kinds of trigger warnings. For those who love this sort of film, this one goes for both a visual gore fest but also keeps some more disturbing elements off camera for your own imagination to fill in the blanks.

The Sadness builds its story around two perspectives which are from the two characters who are a couple called Cat (Regina Lei) and Jim (Berant Zhu) trying to reunite amidst the craziness that is surrounding them. Cat and Jim has a pretty thin back story from the start but does craft them through the little disagreement at the beginning in their fairly mundane life of two youths trying to make a career with Kat heading off to work while Jim takes her to work but is between jobs. When the viral outbreak starts, the two set off on different paths which gives way for an array of different scenarios to occur from the mountainous secluded areas to the tight spaced subway car and station tunnels to its big finale at the hospital. This viral outbreak crafts different groups of infected and the film touches on all of it even if its not as extensive as the homicidal elements especially focused on one older man (Tzu-Chiang Wang) who can be considered as the main villain of the film. And oh boy, does the script take his character far into the depths of the worst impulses triggered by this virus.

As I consider whether this film is just about presenting something very on the surface with its extremity and using a viral outbreak to craft a scenario suitable for it, the story does reflect a bit on society and its doubts and ignorance but also the virus itself does have a little moment at the beginning and the final acts when its basically outwardly discussed. However, as much as its not really talked about, there are little signs here and there that help paint a picture of what it is and makes you think a little more about what it does and why the film itself is titled The Sadness. There’s still a small part in my mind that thinks the actual nature of the virus should have more explanation but there is a power in not explaining too much since it brings in a different element of unknown as to when the trigger point of the virus attacks the infected.

Overall, The Sadness is a crazy ride: gory, blood-soaked, gut-wrenching, disgusting, sitting on a ton of trigger warning. Its definitely not for everyone. For myself, its really does get a little extreme at certain points and one scene in particular really did bother me quite a bit. However, there’s a lot to appreciate about The Sadness and its mostly the ability to push the content and go all the way. There are some low budget practical effects and then some contrasts in music selection to what’s happening on scene and a myriad of ways that people are killing each other and yet somehow, it all does work together, even if the main characters Cat and Jim are not exactly well-constructed but they do feel relatively realistic and human.

* The Sadness will premiere theatrically across Canada on April 29th and 30th in selected theatres. Starting May 12th, it will then be available as VOD on iTunes (preorder on April 26), Cineplex on Demand, Shaw VOD, Vimeo on Demand as well as landing on Shudder Canada. The Sadness will also be available on May 12th on Shudder USA, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.*

*Screener received by GatPR*

Double Feature: The Invisible Man (2020) & The Crazies (2010)

The Invisible Man (2020)

Director (and screeenplay): Leigh Whannell

Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman

When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see. – IMDB

*Originally published on Friday Film Club*

Inspired by H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name, directed and written by Leigh Whannell, mostly known for the co-creator of the Saw franchise as the writer, he modernizes a story using the invisible man science fiction concept and puts it into a domestic abuse story between a scientist and his ex-girlfriend. The Invisible Man tells the story of Cecilia who decides to escape her rich optics scientist boyfriend’s home because of his controlling nature to find out that shortly after, she can stop living in fear when he is reported to be dead. However, she starts experiencing some odd events that makes her believe that he is stalking her with some invisibility technology, trying to isolate her from the world she knows however no one believes her and thinks she is mentally unstable.

The Invisible Man is a pretty competent horror thriller. It takes the source material its inspired by and puts together a tense and thrilling environment from start to finish. It doesn’t actually give you the feeling that all is well, mostly because not being able to see the threat means that it can be constantly anticipated and gives the sense of insecurity to its audience. Leigh Whannell doesn’t only put together a well-crafted story but also uses the cinematography with both the light and the camera work to build up the tense atmosphere, playing with what could happen and what might be in the empty space as it follows an increasingly suspecting female lead played by Elisabeth Moss. The great part about a story is like this is that there is no hiding the threat’s existence and the reveal that there is someone lurking in the emptiness is very quickly revealed and Cecilia’s sense of security doesn’t last too long. However, what is the goal and who is behind the whole thing is still the big question as the threat doesn’t talk and just acts abruptly.

While there are other character’s in the whole story, a lot of the acting credit does go to Elisabeth Moss who mostly feels like she’s in this film by herself and interacting with thin air. For the most part, its very believable as the invisible man does make her life fall apart. While there are some mechanics of this threat that feel a little off as it plays with the invisible, the saving grace is that the film is always building on the tension in different scenarios but also keeps the threat mostly invisible for the most part, letting the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks which in this case proves to be very effective.

While Leigh Whannell is mostly credited for writing, The Invisible Man proves that he has quite the eye for directing as well especially when crafting a tense environment for a horror film. Whether its the theme, the writing, the execution and pacing or the horror thriller element, The Invisible Man is one well worth a watch.

The Crazies (2010)

Director: Breck Eisner

Cast: Radha Mitchell, Timothy Olyphant, Danielle Panabaker, Joe Anderson, Christie Lynn Smith, Brett Rickaby, Preston Bailey, John Aylward, Joe Reegan

After a strange and insecure plane crash, an unusual toxic virus enters a quaint farming town. A young couple are quarantined, but they fight for survival along with help from a couple of people. – IMDB

Being a remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film of the same name, The Crazies sets itself in a viral outbreak that overtakes a small farm town as it follows four people who are luckily not infected and join together to find a way to escape town before either the turn called The Crazies get them or the military who is trying to contain this outbreak.

Lets put it out there right now that I haven’t seen the original. For myself, this is a fresh story and movie. Its interesting that infected humans are mostly regarded as zombies and yet, the root of this is very similar to Resident Evil where the whole issue is rooted from an accidental viral outbreak with a group of military trying to contain it by all means. While there is that parallel, the viral outbreak concept is still pretty well structured as The Crazies do have a rather solid cast and the story starts off on a creepy note which ends up turning into a mystery as the Sheriff and Deputy hunt down why this is happening and much like other horror films, the mayor doesn’t take their suggestion and yet, despite their rebellious efforts, its just a little too late.

The horror of the film is much more toned down than other viral outbreaks which do focus more on the bloody and gory element. This one has more violent moments and the infected appearance makes for creepier moments as the group encounters infected previously introduced before their infection, reinforcing the core issue with this bioweapon that is trying to be contained. As each side of the spectrum reveals itself, the situation clarifies quickly. Its a film about the survival as the government’s extreme stance makes them out to be villainous which is as dangerous as the infected around these four survivors.

The cast is pretty decent as well. The Sheriff is played by Timothy Olyphant. Along with him as the core group of survivors is his wife, a doctor in the small town played by Radha Mitchell (most probably know her for Silent Hill films). There is also the Deputy played by Joe Anderson who is the MVP of the whole survival operation. His character has the rarely seen accuracy as the sharpshooter as he saves everyone in a tight situation more than once but also wavers the most in personality. Also part of the group is a young Danielle Panabaker which isn’t really contributing much but worth a mention.

Overall, The Crazies is a pretty good viral outbreak romp. While it lacks in the gore department, it does do well in building up the story and laying out how the whole situation went down and how the bioweapon virus works and has some decent reveals. Its well worth a watch.