Fear Street: Part Three -1666 (2021)

Fear Street: Part Three – 1666 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Leigh Janiak

Cast: Kiana Madeira, Ashley Zukerman, Gillian Jacobs, Olivia Scott Welch, Elizabeth Scopel, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Matthew Zuk, Fred Hechinger, Michael Chandler, McCabe Slye

The origins of Sarah Fier’s curse are finally revealed as history comes full circle on a night that changes the lives of Shadysiders forever. IMDB

Picking up right after Part Two, Part Three takes a turn as it changes its tone and style from the slasher genre (at least the first part) into a more slow-paced 17th century superstitious supernatural setting. In some ways, it takes a similar approach to films like The Witch where it plays a lot on its characters and the sudden bad omens that bestow what used to be Shadyside. This last part of the trilogy takes it back to the beginning and origin of how this Sarah Fier curse all started before heading into Part 2 of 1994 as its big finale as the current day situation tries to be solved. Part Three is structured to build up the big reveal of what this curse is all about and how it started and then the big finale so it really does complete a full circle of events. The contrast between the first half set in 1666 and the second half where its the continuation of the Part One in 1994 is very apparent but also what makes this one rather intriguing as well.

Looking at the 1666 origin story, Part Three takes a rather different route in both tone and atmosphere and it has to do with the setting in time. That’s of course a given. Plus, in contrast with the previous two parts, it does take a turn. The soundtrack also changes to something more of an orchestral soundtrack with more classical sounding music to match the times. The dialogue also shifts over while the story switches to a small town mentality towards the suspicions of witchcraft causing the town to be cursed because Sarah Fier does things against the religious teachings.

There’s some familiar character structures even for these types of films and they are introduced using the familiar faces from the previous parts and even perhaps how characters in their past lives are very similar to how they are in their other lives. Its a pretty nice character building in that level to be able to callback to these characters in their different times. Stories that start off more slow paced and reserve do usually boost up very well in its peak of events and reveal as this comes to a nice twist of who is cause of this Sarah Fier curse and giving clues to Deena who had been embodied in Sarah Fier in 1666 to figure out a way to end all this.

What makes the 1666 stand out is how its paired up with the 1994 continuation which brings to a very fun and fast-paced finale as not only the characters come together, giving Gillian Jacobs grown-up Ziggy from Part Two more screen time, but also a visual contrast dialing back to a neon color palette from its earthy tons in the past setting while also using its setting from Part Two and Part Three to all link back together from all the knowledge from travelling through to 1978 and 1666 and then finally bringing that back to 1994 as its big finale where all the elements piece everything back together.

Fear Street Part Three is a definite treat. The first part set in 1666 might not land as well for some due to its setting and the general tone those horror movies tend to have. Plus, the horror is still mostly not there except for the gore levels. However, the story does make up for a lot of this in its story and style to make it a lot of fun. Part Three brings it to a satisfying high point for its finale which is executed really well.

As a final thought on Fear Street trilogy event as a whole, it does work together really well. Plus, expanding a story into three weeks is also a good idea. Its almost like watching a TV series or mini-series but this one, each film wraps itself up well enough but still manages to leave some room for intrigue for the next film. If anything, Fear Street demonstrated the diversity of Leigh Janiak as a horror director as she moves through various styles of horror films but builds up the atmosphere to match up each element and keeps pretty well-rounded whether its as a teen Scream homage or a summer camp slasher or a old-time supernatural. The three films do piece together really well and it all dials down to execution and the events moving backwards to reveal its beginning in order to get to its end. Hopefully this is a start to Netflix building more stories around this sort of film event.

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Director: Leigh Janiak

Cast: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Ashley Zukerman, Maya Hawke, David W. Thompson

A circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. Welcome to Shadyside. – IMDB

Based on teenage book series by R.L. Stine, Fear Street is adapted as a film trilogy to be released over 3 weeks. The first one is set in the story in 1994 and oddly the trilogy goes backwards to part 2 in 1978 and part 2 in 1666. At first glance, it looks like a unique way to approach story telling and execution especially as its about diving into a lore looming over this town for centuries. While I do love Goosebumps, I have never read the source material or any of the Fear Street novels so this review is solely based on the film.

As the first film of a trilogy, 1994 sets the stage for the present scenario of how Shadyside is towards this evil presence and what brings it to life and whether it is possible to break out of the curse and how as the film follows the teens as they discover with a little trial and error. In the process it refers back to 1978 and 1666 which are the next two films in the trilogy, giving it both a link but also leaving anticipation for the mystery ahead. In some ways, it feels a little backwards and yet, it might work. Being a R.L. Stine adaptation though, it has a more horror comedy feeling to it and even for the killer itself feels almost like a parody or a homage. I’m not sure which its meant to be. With that said, the film isn’t too scary but has decent amount of blood considering it is a slasher film. The film score is full of 90s music which not only matches to the setting but also is a great fit for the different scenes.

The cinematography also deserves a mention. All the settings that the teens move through are great. The opening scene sets the tone and style of the film immediately using both the setting, the lighting and colors to create suspense and tension. The film moves through a good few locations from shopping mall to the school to outdoor areas. It moves rather quickly through its scene keeping it quick-paced and engaging.

However, Fear Street 1994 has some issues as well. Well, I guess one of the bigger problems might be the acting. There’s nothing wrong with the whole teen thing and in reality, playing teens gives a lot of forgiveness for saying weird and awkward stuff or even saying and doing things that don’t logically make sense. But, I do offer a lot of lenience personally on silly decisions in teen-focused films especially slasher.

Overall, Fear Street Part One is a decent start. If anything, it lays out the intrigue for the horror/mystery on hand, whatever you want to call it. However, for hardcore horror fans, I feel like the scary elements a little low but there is some gore. Plus, the setting and atmosphere is done really well along with the fantastic soundtrack, it really boosts the film up in enjoyability. As an ending thought, while I don’t have anything bad to say about it for the most part and I do look forward to the next part. I can’t help but feel like the film is a slightly forgettable in plot as it feels very familiar like a mesh of a few other popular things around (maybe that’s why it feels like a homage or parody either/or…I don’t watch enough parody to be able to tell).

Good on Paper (2021)

Good on Paper (2021)

Director: Kimmy Gatewood

Cast: Iliza Shlesinger, Ryan Hansen, Margaret Cho, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Beth Dover, Kimia Behpoornia

After years of putting her career first, a stand-up comic meets a guy who seems perfect: smart, nice, successful and possibly too good to be true. – IMDB

When you go into a romantic comedy where its cast is full of comedians, its easy to assume that comedy will be probably prevail over its romance. Good On Paper is pretty much like that. Of course, comedy is subjective so its probably best to decide on the style based on how much you enjoy Iliza Shlesinger’s stand-up comedy. The story is a little ridiculous but considering that its inspired from something that actually happened to Iliza Shlesinger, the whole piece feels a lot like a comedy skit which also means that (in my limited understanding of comedy skits and stand-up comedy) that there’s bound to be bits that work and bits that don’t. Plus, its hard to not feel like there’s a little over the top element to the acting which definitely feels deliberate and also works for some parts and doesn’t really land for others. That being said, the overall feeling is a little average however, I do have to say that the approach and end-game is definitely different from the usual romantic comedy, which does make it refreshing to watch.

Being a film filled with some familiar faces, its hard to not look at the acting element. Iliza Shlesinger is a decent actress as she plays Andrea. A part of the execution is paralleled with a stand-up comedy performance that runs throughout the film which pretty much uses the situation on hand as her reflection of it and turning it into content for her show. The other part is the movie itself which still feels a lot like herself when she is in this role. Its very genuine and believable for her character itself even if some of the situations might not feel as believable but this is “mostly true love story” so I’m sure some bits are exaggerated to be the way that it is. Paired up with her is the male lead played by Ryan Hansen. A lot of the interaction is meant to be laid on really heavy so that its obvious that she’s falling into a trap (at least to me). I guess proving the point that when something is too good to be true, it most likely is. Perhaps even something of a cautionary tale about catfishes…maybe? That’s actually a tangent to talk about Ryan Hansen who was pretty convincing in this role since there were some pretty good shifts in the little details in his reactions and stuff that built his character up to be pretty sketchy.

Its hard to not talk about the female comedians and cast here that definitely steals the show and arguably, this film is its best when its their interaction. Iliza Shlesinger’s best friend is a bar owner called Margot played by Margaret Cho who is absolutely hilarious and absolutely is the highlight of this film. Plus, Margot and Andrea’s friendship is pretty fun especially when you add in the other ladies here whether its one of the guy’s roommates played by Beth Dover and the fake competition between a more successful actress Serrena played by Rebecca Rittenhouse. The three end up having a hilarious ride around town tracking down the lies of Andrea’s beau.

When its all said and done, Good on Paper is okay. It works much better as a comedy, if you like this sort of comedy style than as a romantic comedy. However, the fact that it is mostly based on a true story, it feels like a fun way to share a cautionary story and even with how they choose to end it is a lot different from how a normal romantic comedy would do it which makes this one that I can appreciate.

Double Feature: The Eye (2002) & The Eye 2 (2004)

Next double feature is here as we revisit 2002’s The Eye and check out its sequel, The Eye 2.

The Eye (2002)

Director: Pang Brothers (Oxide Chun Pang & Danny Pang)

Cast: Angelica Lee, Lawrence Chou, Candy Lo, Edmund Chen, Pierre Png, Yut Lai So

A blind girl gets a cornea transplant so that she will be able to see again. She gets more than she bargained for upon realizing she can also see ghosts. – IMDB

I saw The Eye in the mid 2000s before I had any real knowledge or experience watching horror films. Being one of the first films, it was one that I remembered profoundly as it scared me a lot back then. Revisiting in 2012 for the first Halloween Marathon for the blog, still fairly inexperienced with horror, it still managed to scare me despite knowing the twist and the scares. Since 2012, I have never gone back to watch it and its been almost a decade and here we are, revisiting what in my mind was a tense horror film. Will the past few years of horror desensitize me to the film? Will it no longer be as impressive as I remember it? The answer is yes and no.

The Eye as a premise is a pretty good as it is both a horror and a thriller/mystery where the main character needs to adjust after getting her vision after a cornea transplant which shifts her life from being blind since she was 2 until the present where everything is unfamiliar in appearance to her. It leaves room for mystery and suspense and to play to whether what she’s seeing is real or supernatural. Using vision (or any sort of sense or lack of it) in a horror movie usually can create some interesting atmosphere (much like Hush did). The Eye uses this and manages to create some atmospheric tension playing with a unfamiliar setting like her grandmother’s home and creating some supernatural encounters. While the effects in general haven’t aged well considering it is a 2002 horror film, when I first saw it, it was fairly decent. There are of course some horror tropes since Chinese horror isn’t exactly their forte but thanks to The Pang Brothers’ storytelling they do manage to add in some unexpected twists which are rather well-executed.

Angelica Lee is pretty good in her role. Psychological or supernatural horror/thrillers tend to be her forte as she has been in other films of similar genre. There’s something rather good about her acting that is quite enjoyable and believable. Playing as the blind girl that finally sees and has to accept that abnormal things that she sees, the role itself is constructed well. However, the other characters sometimes feels a little less even if its the doctor who ends up helping her through track down what is going on. Most of the other characters are mostly done as supporting roles as a means to an end.

Overall, The Eye is a pretty straight-forward horror film. It moves between its horror elements and the psychological thriller elements pretty well. There are some really good visual elements specifically one where it plays with the visuals of shifting between the actual location and one the one from her vision which creates a cool effect. It also brings in some of the Chinese culture when it comes to death and unfulfilled wishes.

The Eye 2 (2004)

Director: Pang Brothers

Cast: Shu Qi, Eugenia Yuan, Jesdaporn Pholdee, Yuan Yuan Ren

After a failed suicide attempt, a pregnant woman gains the ability to see ghosts. – IMDB

The Eye 2 is a completely story from the first one. Sequels are usually a little iffy overall however Shu Qi takes on a lead role as she moves through this film mostly on her own with the few other characters. This time, it takes on the supernatural belief that attempted suicide will bring on the ability to see ghosts which is what happens after she does that in a foreign country without success. When she comes back to Hong Kong, it essentially is for nothing as she tries to cope with her break-up and realizing that she can now see random abnormal people around her and experience other odd things that come up while eventually realizing that she is pregnant and must go through it alone. Taking this supernatural story of reincarnation as a foundation for the story as well as suicide being pretty much a “sin” but of course, in Chinese beliefs more as an opening for letting the supernatural in as a bad omen.

Shu Qi does a pretty decent role here. Her character Joey is faced with quite a lot of drama. The character shifts through a lot of different phases whether its from the dramatic attempted suicide (which almost feels like she doesn’t mean for it to succeed) to the obsessive stalking of her ex-boyfriend to the adaptation to the supernatural events she starts to face right down to the end when she decides to take some extreme actions in the final goal of protecting her baby. Its all a little crazy but she manages to capture that character fairly well even if it doesn’t feel completely logical sometimes, she still holds up the character in a believable enough way. Much like the first film, the supporting characters are all very much a means to an end and even less people involved. The final deduction of how they pull the reincarnation element to the story makes sense overall but her reaction to it seems a little intense.

As a sequel, The Eye 2 still carries a lot of the good elements. While the horror is a little more obvious this time, its not as atmospheric and actually leans more along the lines of cheap jumpscares. It even has a scene which is pretty disgusting to watch, maybe a little bit of a warning against committing suicide via overdosing. However, its a decent story overall using a mental instability and suicide and pregnancy to carry the supernatural elements. In reality, the end game is less scary when you realize what the twist of the story arrives. . Its not quite as shocking as the first film however, it still is a tad clever.

Double Feature: Little Big Women (2020) & Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020)

Next double feature is here! I went ahead to check out two 2020 movies. The first is Netflix Taiwanese family drama Little Big Women followed with a drama thriller adapted from a book, Lost Girls & Love Hotels.

Let’s check it out!

Little Big Women (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu

Cast: Shu-Fang Chen, Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, Vivian Hsu, Ke-Fang Sun, Buffy Chen, Ning Ding, Han Chang

Family members grapple with the passing of their estranged father and the remnants of the life he led during his absence. – IMDB

Based on the 2017 short film, Little Big Women tells the family picking up the pieces after the estranged father leaves as his life story gets brought back to life through their memories. Through the conversations of the family and the memories of his wife, what drove the man away slowly gets revealed by the end which causes family separation between other family members and why other members seem to have harsh judgement towards them. The father’s estrangement also causes a different change in each of his daughters as they also embrace their own life whether its married with a child or being single or hiding away secrets. Also, as the mother’s motives seem to be the most supported by her granddaughter. This Taiwanese family drama reminded me at the beginning a little of Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman. Its quiet and slow-paced as the characters slowly reveal who they are and the roots of their issues with both their father and their mother. Being a quiet film, its not about a lot of fancy things and dials it all back down to the narrative itself. Death even with the most estranged people will bring about about personal and social issues: reflection, letting go of the past and of course, how society views the traditions of the whole ordeal.

Little Big Women isn’t too different from other family dramas outside from the emphasis on perhaps showing some of the culture in Taiwan regarding death whether its choosing the religion and what ritual to use or how the family structure changes. Sometimes, its the smallest things and yet, the significance is big to how others perceive it or even on a personal level. In this film, there’s a lot of narrative the evolves around the three daughters but at the same time, the mother has a lot also as she is the one that one of the daughters is trying to convince to fulfill her father’s wish and let the father’s girlfriend attend. The whole process of accepting her and making peace between the two actually comes to a very well-executed segment near the end that has probably one of the best scenes especially since the process throughout the film as she tries to find this lady lets her learn quite a bit about her through other people’s interpretation which makes the final talk so well-deserved.

At the same time, the daughters also have a big emphasis here. Each of them having their own moments and struggles. Its been a while since I’ve seen Vivian Hsu, who undoubtedly is probably one of the bigger names here (and I could be wrong as I’ve broken off of Taiwanese movies for quite a while) as she started her career fairly young (and made me want to rewatch 1997’s We’re No Bad Guys). There’s some pretty touching sequences between them especially when the father being estranged has different effects on them as their knowledge of their family changes with the different siblings. Family events are truly where all the family secrets come out and that is shown really well here as well.

Overall, Little Big Women is a family drama. Its nothing groundbreaking or shocking about the whole film. The narrative does build up these characters as they face the death of their estranged father and the process of preparing his funeral. The family secrets, the struggles, self-reflection, letting go: all these themes pop up in this film and as quiet as this film is, it does manage to pack quite the emotional punch by the end.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020)

Director: William Olsson

Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Takehiro Hira, Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney, Misuzu Kanno, Kate Easton

Haunted by her past, an English teacher explores love and dust with a dashing yakuza gangster in Tokyo. – IMDB

Adapted from the book of the same name and having the author also be the screenplay writer for Lost Girls & Love Hotels, this story almost feels a little like Lost in Translation except a little edgier and hardcore. Being an adaptation and one that I haven’t read the original source material, it feels like there’s a few things that seem to make its appearance that may have been overlooked when putting together this story. However, seeing that the author of the novel also acts as the screenplay writer here, it perhaps holds a good part of the essence of what is key to her story or at least we can only assume that. With that said, while the story execution feels at times a little disjointed as it hops from one scene to the next and some of it feeling like it loses its purpose a little for certain side characters like her friends, the cinematography is done really well. Capturing Japan on one hand while mostly capturing the sensual shots really well especially when talking about the lighting used in every scene that adds to the overall visuals and ambiance to elevate the passion between the two characters.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels is focused primarily on the journey of Margaret, played by Alexandra Daddario as she seems live a rather messy life as she starts off being a girl that seems to not quite seem to fit in her role in her day job and then seems to be falling in a sexcapade life at night full of boozy times at bars with her friends and hooking with men at love hotels. While not too familiar with Daddario filmography, it definitely feels like one of the more dramatic roles as her character is trying to escape from something on her mind and settling with being alone hence her trip to Japan. This film is where she is “reborn” as she meets this Yakuza gangster where she embraces her feelings for him while having an element of forbidden love. In some ways, what feels lacking here is the portrayal of Margaret’s desire of BDSM being her turn-on which could be where the thriller element of the story would appear however, its not shown nearly enough to make it have that effect that would inevitably lead to a very obvious foreshadowing at the beginning. Due to the lack of the character building for her as well except for some hints of what she is running away from, her character feels less authentic in some ways. The closest that she feels is the scene above when she starts talking about being alone.

While not exactly groundbreaking character building for her or her love interest Kazu, played by Takehiro Hira, the scenes of them together does have okay chemistry, although it might be the cinematography and sex scene choreography that is done really well. Kazu’s body-long tattoo covering the backside of his body creates a really nice visual overall. Not to mention that Takehiro Hira does stand out in this film as he has a more quiet character that has a lot more mystery plus he has a rather charming sort of look. A lot of it is hidden between the lines through conversations or observation from Margaret. Its a little sad since these characters lack a little more depth in their portrayal in this adaptation. It makes me wonder whether the novel would have fleshed them out more than just their relationship and having a more hollow personality especially for Kazu whose dialogue seems to hold some depth which does eventually enlighten Margaret not before one decision pushes her into a downward slope of bad consequences.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels is a decent watch overall. It helps that its the type of movie that I generally enjoy where its a piece of someone’s life where there’s some type of self-discovery plus it adds in that whole passionate romance which always works for myself when done well. However, this film does lack character depth and perhaps some more thriller-esque moments as currently, it definitely feels more like a romance drama. Not exactly the same thing, right?

Double Feature: Come To Daddy (2019) & Secrets In The Hot Spring (2018)

Its been a while since we’ve done a double feature but we’re back! Movie watching has really taken a big hit this year somehow (in comparison to previous years..at least with the first few months). This time’s pair-up is a horror comedy double as I look at 2019’s Come To Daddy and 2018’s Taiwanese film Secrets In The Hot Spring.

Let’s check it out!

Come To Daddy (2019)

Director: Ant Timpson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Garfield Wilson, Madeleine Sami, Martin Donovan, Michael Smiley

A man in his thirties travels to a remote cabin to reconnect with his estranged father. – IMDB

Suffice to say that in recent years, Elijah Wood has been getting involved in some interesting independent horror films especially with his company SpectreVision that has also put out some awesome horror films (psychedelic for the most part). Its hard to not be intrigued by anything that has his name attached to it. Come To Daddy was one that I avoided during the festival circuit because it would be accessible and no doubt, Come To Daddy is another intriguing one. The tone and pacing is a little odd at times with the first half being landing a lot better than the second half but always playing with some horror and slipping in some comedy breaks in between. The second half definitely seems like it loses a little steam after the “twist” is revealed which causes quite the change in atmosphere.

The cast and performances here are really great. Elijah Wood is fitting in this role Norval as a man in his thirties which has been with some privilege that ends up trying to get some kind of resolution from his estranged father who is not a very appealing person played incredibly well by Stephen McHattie. The dynamic and dialogue between these two characters creates this very entertaining and unsettling sort of atmosphere. Not to mention the whole character design of Elijah Wood’s character The side characters also have some weird moments and have little character reference points whether its a cop who believes that criminals have a certain type of eyes for example. However, there isn’t a big cast here so its not hard to follow.

To be fair, its hard to really talk about this too much without giving the twist away as that lays out a lot of the purpose of the film and the reason of why his estranged father reaches out to him years later, a question that the character also asks as a pivoting point despite everything that happens surrounding him. There are some minor illogical moments as well. Overall, its a fun little movie which was both odd and intriguing

Secrets in the Hot Spring (2018)

Director (and writer): Kuan-Hui Lin

Cast: Ting-hu Zhang, Sing Hom, He-Hsuan Lin, Mimi Chu, Kar-Ying Law, Chin Chi, Kai-Wei Chiu, Shu-yao Kuo

Three youngsters meet by accident at a mysterious hot springs hotel. There, they fall into an unforgettable adventure. It starts off scary but soon turns funny when they have to try and save a family. – IMDB

Secrets in the Hot Spring probably isn’t going to stand-out to anyone as they browse the horror or comedy or international films section however it is something of a fun little hidden gem. Diving into a part horror and part comedy balance for the most part, this Taiwanese film is downright silly and yet fittingly so. Of course, I must yet again reiterate that comedy is very suggestive and I feel like this type of humor might not be for everyone. The best way to probably determine for familiar Asian film viewers is the type of humor that Hong Kong veteran actor & actress, Kar-Ying Law and Mimi Chu brings as they are part of this film as the grandparents running the hot springs hotel. They really pull together the film with their performance. The three youngsters are played by less familiar faces (at least to myself as the current scene of Taiwanese actors in the recent decade is one that I have yet to dive into). The contrast in each of the youngster’s characters also balance out the their performances whether in dialogue or reaction. It’s pretty good choice in casting.

Perhaps what makes Secrets in the Hot Spring fun is that its conscious about how silly it is and embraces it using both horror tropes and some ridiculous reactions from the characters to make it work on many levels and be just a very simple entertainment. However the writing is fairly clever as it uses its horror and comedy blend to create the twist as well. There are some little jump scare moments but overall, its not a very scary experience so hardcore horror fans might be disappointed. What also adds to the simplicity is the small cast of 5 (or maybe 7) characters and a good use of the hot spring hotel setting as it uses the location really well bringing together the past for the main youngster character who is meant to be the future heir and slowly reveals his past and his reluctance. The big finale is a little cheesy but then its arguable that the story itself not taking itself seriously being the tone actually works together in general.

Another one where the twist is one that is well-executed and makes it rather fun and elevates itself from a bit of the Asian film melodrama. There is no doubt a little considering it has a portion of the family back story shared here. In some ways, I can’t say that this movie is particularly sophisticated but it sure was a fun time making it a little hard to evaluate whether its a good movie but it is an entertaining one that’s not completely mindless but the humor also is more physical and interaction between the characters than in its dialogue which doesn’t have as many translation issues also. Overall, Secrets in the Hot Spring is a fun film. Hardcore horror isn’t really a forte in Taiwanese films (in my limited experience) so its nice that they approach it with humor.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Bushwick (2017)

Bushwick (2017)

bushwick

Director: Cary Murnion & Jonathan Milott

Cast: Brittany Snow, Dave Bautista, Angelic Zambrana, Christian Navarro, Arturo Castro

When a Texas military force invades their Brooklyn neighborhood, 20-year-old Lucy and war veteran Stupe must depend on each other to survive. – IMDB

Bushwick sets in an intriguing scenario if the southern states would be persuaded by Texas to join in to overturn the government. Their plan is to use insurgence to forcefully takeover unwilling cities. Their next target to get the Northern states was to make a small city of Bushwick located in New York. As the insurgence starts, we fall on scene with Lucy, played by Brittany Snow on her way to her grandmother’s house to introduce her boyfriend. It doesn’t take long before they head out and realize that something is very wrong and separated from her boyfriend almost immediately from the start, she has to avert danger. Luckily, circumstances lead her to meet Stupe, an ex-Marine who knows everything she doesn’t about survival and has a few guns to protect as well and who reluctantly agrees to take her to her destination, while trying to figure out what actually is going on.

Bushwick is a tight and tense ride. While the subtext is the insurgence from the private military force which terrifies the city itself and is the centre of all the danger, the best part of it all is truly the unlikely team in Lucy and Stupe. Together, the character development here and how they bond together throughout the film which is really only set over a few hours was compelling and engaging. One of the best parts of Bushwick is how they chose to film it. It has somewhat of a found footage way even though it isn’t. The start of the film is the best example as they choose to begin using the angle of the helicopters scanning the city from above. However, the best parts is how it chooses to follow the characters. We never seem to follow them directly in back but in fact, it chooses to go watch their feet as they scurry from location to location. It creates a sense of suspense as the camera plays with what we can see and in turn allowing us to be shocked just as the character by the unknown situations ahead.

Lucy and Stupe are two very different people. In fact, the story focuses on their story while not making it too dramatic and keeping it with the action. In fact, it focuses more on the situation at hand and how they work together to get themselves out. Because of this, there may be a difference in tone throughout the movie. While it may seem to make us wonder how serious to take Bushwick, it is well-timed and particularly makes Lucy’s character more believable when she makes some silly decisions in the beginning that may end up having serious consequences. As the movie moves along, their character growth and the value of their team is what will keep it intriguing as they see what this insurgence has caused the people around them especially the reason why a small town like Bushwick was targetted. Brittany Snow and Dave Bautista pull out some of their best acting in this one and delivers two great performances.

Talking about the reason of why Bushwick is chosen make this film seems like an obvious social commentary of sorts. It reflects perhaps the disagreements and wars about the values and beliefs of Northern and Southern states in America. However, the more prominent one is the fact that Bushwick represents a lower class multicultural community which seems like they are disjointed because of that and make them an easier target. However, surprisingly the film takes a turn of how the city’s different groups each may react differently to the insurgence but still survival may just bring everyone together. Going deeper into the message this may convey will enter spoiler territory so we’ll refrain.

To be honest, Bushwick is an interesting premise and it does take the path of some contrived moments. There may even be some predictable happenings that are meant to shock however, it also succeeds in creating an engaging experience by delivering characters such as Lucy and Stupe that make us want to cheer for them to get out of this ordeal. There are quiet and dramatic moments to help see a deeper side of the characters as well as endearing bonding moments, added in with a few comedic moments to slice through the tension a little. All of these moments tie in very well together. There is no doubt in the end that this is meant to be taken with a serious tone and for the most part everything fits together for an action and suspenseful watch through Bushwick. Its not so much about the politics of it all as it is about survival. Just for the performances and the premise and setting, Bushwick is worth a watch.

Fantasia Festival 2017: A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story 2017

Director and Writer: David Lowery

Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo

In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife. – IMDB

Perhaps one of the first things to start off is that A Ghost Story is not a horror movie. It shouldn’t be expected to be one as it is a fantasy drama. David Lowery crafts up a passion project that brings to life an old perception of a ghost covered in a bedsheet who lingers for their loved one in the background. This character may seem like a goofy concept and the movie may have its quirky moment however it isn’t meant to be funny. A Ghost Story is a slow burn movie, more than possibly anything else you will encounter. It has lingering shots before it switches, teasing the audience perhaps to expect something to happen that often doesn’t. It has almost no dialogue but focuses heavily on its soundtrack and its subtle noises in the surroundings. It doesn’t give the characters any names which creates a world where we see only this ghost, a ghost of a husband who has come back to console his wife however not making contact but stirs up memories throughout. A Ghost Story is for those extremely patient because this movie may make you wait for things that won’t happen and answers that you might not get. It seeks to dig a little deeper and expands farther than its star-studded main characters, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. Whether the slow-burn works for you or not, this is an odd but unique experience. One that makes you question where the line falls for the audience between tedium and depth.

A Ghost Story is shot in an almost square aspect ratio. Its something that native moviegoers may notice right away. However, what the movie lacks in dialogue is greatly made up by the perfect cuts and transitions between scenes. The ghost moves at a slow pace and frequently shots are taken from his slow movement as he enters a new room or observes something different. He may simply turn and the scene will change. All this is done slowly and seamlessly. The first part of the film focuses on the husband and wife relationship and the love and loss as well as the moving forward and holding on in two people. Despite the silence, we feel the connection between these two characters in the pieces scattered as the time moves on after C (played by Casey Affleck) dies in a sudden accident. There is a great use of time moving forward particularly in the fluidity of creating a scene where M (played by Rooney Mara) goes day by day, carrying on with life.

This fluidity of transition shifts through time as the story turns to a second act of various future tenants. While the technical scenes work well, the second act moves forward and we can only wonder how David Lowery will wrap this story up and how do you end something as random as the scenes he has linked together. This question will lead the audience straight to the final act which unfolds what can only be described as a masterful story writing that somehow does lead this story to giving us a lot of the answers that we’ve been wondering with the bits and pieces.

A Ghost Story is not the conventional way to make a movie. In the final Q&A session of this movie, its apparent that this project turned out as he would like. The slow pace, the sound design and the voiceless and nameless man under the bedsheet all serves its purposes. However, this is an incredibly experimental piece that is definitely not for everyone. Its for those with incredible patience, especially when this movie requires a few minutes watching someone eat pie, as well as attaching to a bedsheet ghost, that will oddly seem to start feeling like they are emoting by just standing there and the camera angles.

For what this movie accomplished, it is one that gets better the more you think about it. It is also one that best seen with as little knowledge as possible. The best movies create discussion and it certainly feels like this one will have that kind of impact.

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

Finally back to the theatres! It has been a while.

With work taking up a ton of time and then my general lack of desire to write long form reviews, I’ve been shying away from the theatres. However, I promised my friend that I’d go see Transformers: The Last Knight with him so during my week of staycation, we went on Tuesday evening. I really need to go back and review the entire franchise. As of now,  I only have Age of Extinction reviewed here. I’m on record to enjoy this franchise for the most part, although 2 and 3 are slightly blurry and I can’t decide which I liked less. The Last Knight’s trailers looked really fantastic and it had me hyped up to see it again. Honestly, I don’t expect much for these movies. Its very mindless entertainment with explosions and robots and action-packed thrills. If it checks all those boxes, I’ll be pretty happy.

Let’s check it out!

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

Transformers: The Last Knight

Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner, Santiago Cabrera

Autobots and Decepticons are at war, with humans on the sidelines. Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth. – IMDB

I feel like reviewing Transformers franchise is like talking about the Fast and Furious franchise or Resident Evil franchise, you either are on board or not with the style and tone. However, I’d like to say that Transformers: The Last Knight’s trailer did feel a lot more epic than the previous movies. While others had issues with Age of Extinction, I personally couldn’t hate on it because I had a really fun time at the theatres watching it. You can read the review HERE.

 

Transformers: The Last Knight brings us into a world that is in shambles as Transformers keep dropping in and wreaking havoc. Mark Wahlberg continues his path in this franchise as Cade Yaeger as he takes care of the Autobots still remaining as Optimus Prime is no longer with them. No one really knows whats going on but the Decepticons attacking Earth has broken many families. While the Transformers, regardless of Autobots or Decepticons, have been classified as dangerous and a special unit has been put together to keep them under control. One of the reasons why Cade Yaeger needs to be in hiding with his robotic friends when they have a fourteen year old girl orphaned from one of the attacks , Izabella (played by Isabela Moner) ends up joining them. Before all this starts, the movie starts in an odd fashion as the Transformers are brought into the Knights of the Roundtable and King Arthur and Merlin all get brought into the story as the origins of where the first time Transformers were part of human history. Now how does those events link to the current situation? That is what the movie is focused on. A rather simple and pretty disjointed story that gets made into a three hour movie, however, the characters are pretty fun as they have some of the normal banter exchanges, an expected (yet unexpected) romance and of course, lots of explosions and action-packed moments. Add in the Dinobots from the last movie and some baby dinobots and this movie pretty much made it into my heart.

Transformers

Perhaps that is what I love about Transformers in general, the cool cars and the whole transforming thing. The action is sometimes a little odd and there was a part where it did kind of feel a little dragged out, which is normal for a three hour movie, however, I do like Mark Wahlberg in this franchise. I actually enjoy his presence quite a bit. It was also great to see Anthony Hopkins also enter here as the Earl of Folger and talk a little more about the back story and how Sam Witwicky from the first three movies got pulled into this as well. A nice link, maybe unnecessary, but I thought it added a little more to the story. We also saw the return of Josh Duhamel in the army.  I do like him as well. There are some extreme suspension of imagination but then, Transformers are something of a fantasy/alien so I guess it could happen. I mean, Cade Yaeger walks in the midair, hopping from drone to drone in one part of the escape, like it was some easy stepping stones on a river or stream or something. It doesn’t get more entertaining to watch than that. However, it is also this stuff that I eat up.  They add in a lovely lady who pretty much gets kidnapped and clueless about the whole Transformers thing called Vivian, played by Laura Haddock.

Transformers: The Last Knight

What is pretty cool is that the scale of the movie has truly grown in this one. As they truly embrace the sea, sky and land aspects of the action and fighting. There are alien planets making appearance and the mastermind deceiver, Quintessa who shows up in space as she pulls some tricks to put Optimus Prime under her spell. That part doesn’t get fleshed out as much as it should, however, I don’t know how much more all the ideas they have can get fleshed out because the movie is already over three hours and that is incredibly lengthy. On that note, I love the Transformers design and the cars they get to morph into and stuff. Its really fantastic. I was totally on board with Dinobots and then I loved the baby dinobots but man, a dragon – bot or whatever you call it. That is incredibly epic.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Overall, Transformers: The Last Knight won’t be hard to follow if you just hopped in right now because the story is pretty thin. You just really need a very basic knowledge. But then, I’d like to know if anyone would just jump in to watch this one. This one has a pretty thin storyline as well however, it does try to give it more of a backstory so that we get why the world has been plagued with the Transformers dropping in on them non-stop. The story may be a little disjointed and nothing really gets the attention it needs as we flip from the army to Cade Yaeger to Vivian to Anthony Hopkins to Megatron and Quintessa. There isn’t really a moment to digest everything and piece it together. However, something about The Last Knight grabbing a piece of history and putting it together with the Transformers and why this is all happening along with the new and old Autobots and Dinobots and dragonbots all are so fun to watch. The action sequences are thrilling and entertaining and the characters and their banters are also a lot of fun. Sure, its not going to win any awards but this was a fun, mindless fun at the theatres. To be honest, if I had to compare this one and Age of Extinction, I actually think this one did was better than the last one.

 

As a closing note, if movie makers do read this (and I doubt it), could you please stop making long movies that end with water or underwater scenes? Just please. I try to ration my hydration levels but man, it gets tough after 2.5 hours to control my desire to go to the washroom when there is some long drippy underwater scene. I keep thinking that a ton of long movies do that, and I just wanted to add it in while I remembered to. Just a random thought.

Have you seen Transformers: The Last Knight? What do you think of the Transformers franchise?

Double Feature: A Stork’s Journey (2017) & The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

As I work through maintaining a little bit of everything every single week, here we are with the double feature of the week showcasing a free movie for a limited time on Google Play Store called A Stork’s Journey and 2016’s teenage coming of age favorite, The Edge of Seventeen. Going into both of these is completely fresh, for one, I just saw Storks and this is A Stork’s Journey, a movie I know nothing about, while on the other hand,  I don’t know much about The Edge of Seventeen, but Hailee Steinfeld has yet to convince me that she is a young actress to watch out for. Maybe this will be the one to do it.

Let’s check it out!

A Stork’s Journey (2017)

A Stork's Journey

Director: Toby Genkel & Reza Memari

Voice Cast: Drake Bell, iJustine, Jane Lynch

Even though everybody else thinks he’s a sparrow – Richard himself holds tight to the conviction that he is in fact a stork. – IMDB

A Stork’s Journey is a pretty generic story. While there is some fun acting and some cool use of characters and play with words as well as incorporating the modern terms, it still has moments where it does fall flat a little. What does it give an edge is perhaps Jane Lynch doing the voice of Olga, the Pygmy Owl. This is definitely a rag-tag aviary team as Richard sets off to prove that he is a stork by making it to Africa, and on the way meeting other birds which are different in their own way to their own type of bird, be it an oversized pygmy owl or an over the top parakeet that wants to be a singing star and the great amount of techie pigeons that divulge a lot of information. A Stork’s Journey is a simple and innocent journey that pretty much tells us to dream big and never downsize ourselves. We can be whatever we want to be but also accept that we are who we are, big or small, and have our purpose and excellence. Absolutely a family-friendly film and probably geared towards a younger audience.

I mean, I probably wouldn’t pay to see this but it was free on Google Play Store and might still be, if you know, then do leave a comment below. I can’t see the price because I own it now. Its a tad cliche as a bird adventure story which might remind you a little of Rio at parts, but the story that move along fast enough and the animation has some adorable bits and I personally love Jane Lynch and her voice for Olga was really cool. There are some clever word plays and I like those in anything. I’m kind of in the middle here. Its not exact a hit but not exactly a  miss either.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

The Edge of Seventeen

Director (and writer): Kelly Fremon Craig

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Hayden Szeto, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick

High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother. – IMDB

At this point, I’ve watched The Edge of Seventeen once and then rewatched it two more times. I’ve seen The Edge of Seventeen be compared to Sixteen Candles and in some ways, I can see it particularly with an awkward main character who loathes the idea of high school and is really over it. Suffice to say that I like this one a whole lot. Part of it is that the story is written so well with enough awkward dialogue and awesome characters that really highlight the melodrama of being in high school. For Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), this means losing her only friend to her popular and hot (almost perfect) brother who already has everything and takes away her only spark of joy as well. Call this a blessing in disguise, while Nadine flips out in her odd ways and makes some stupid decisions (as you would expect), she ends up meeting Erwin (Hayden Szeto), a fellow classmate who reaches out to her unexpectedly in her time of need.

the edge of seventeen

The Edge of Seventeen is full of great characters. I’d have to say that the highlight is the equally awkward Erwin, played by Hayden Szeto. He took portrayed his awkwardness with silly joke and the dialogue between him and Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine was a lot of fun. All their scenes were quite fun and meaningful. On the other hand, the scenes with Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson was also really great as its mostly pretty hilarious with his unexpected brutal honesty. Woody Harrelson’s Mr. Bruner is somewhat of a odd support system, his straight forward answers or comments on her situation spoke a lot of the harsh truth and in many ways, as someone that is past the high school phase, it reminds me of why someone didn’t point those things out.

Honestly, its been a while that I’ve seen something so fun with coming of age elements and kind of at a point really tugged at my heartstrings. I’m starting to see that potential in Hailee Steinfeld although, I do believe the fantastic script and the great cast all around made this memorable. I totally recommend this movie!

Have you seen A Stork’s Journey and/or The Edge of Seventeen?

(Sorry for the later than expected post. I thought I had posted this up. Apparently, I forgot to schedule it…)