Double Feature: Chasing the Dragon (2017) & Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Welcome back to the next double feature! Its been a while, right? I’ll try to be better…I guess I was more burnt out from writing reviews that even I could imagine. Overall, I’m just feeling mostly burned out and not in the mood for writing lately but I’m slowly getting back on track.

With that said, no specific reason when I first chose these two together but the banners are looking like there is a versus vibe to it. 😉 This double feature is 2017 Hong Kong film Chasing the Dragon starring Donnie Yen and Andy Lau, which had its wave of popularity when it was announced and released in Hong Kong (judging from Facebook activity) and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a DC film that I honestly didn’t care too much about to begin with but it was going to leave Netflix and I just went for it, hoping that low expectations might make it a little more entertaining. One high hopes and one low expectations, lets see how they truly fare, right?

Chasing the Dragon (2017)

Chasing the Dragon

Director: Jason Kwan, Jing Wong, Aman Chang

Cast: Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Philip Keung, Wilfred Lau, Kang Yu, Kent Cheng, Bryan Larkin, Ben Ng, Ken Tong, Dongdong Xu

An illegal immigrant from Mainland China sneaks into corrupt British-colonized Hong Kong in 1963, transforming himself into a ruthless and emerging drug lord. – IMDB

Chasing the Dragon is said to be based on a true story of real life gangster, Ng Sek-ho and also a remake of the 1991 film, To Be Number One. I don’t know much about the history and I don’t think I’ve seen that movie before so I have no idea how it compares. However, Chasing the Dragon is a good one. Its a bit different from how you would normally perceive in a movie solely focused in Donnie Yen’s fighting abilties.

In this one, he plays the gangster Crippled Ho who while has one or two really good fight scenes, he spends most of it being a triad leader. For audience who don’t speak Chinese, it is a pity because the achievement here is how Donnie Yen takes over the character and nails this really fantastic accent while not making it sound goofy but still manage to feel threatening especially since the movie is set in characters sitting in grey areas. On one hand, there’s a lot of bad that has happened and it feels like Crippled Ho was pushed into the situation and we can’t help but to fight for his escape and Andy Lau (the awesome actor that he is) plays Lee Rock, a corrupted cop who will do anything to be number one and finds his support with Lee Rock. You can see where his grey area is because he becomes fairly ruthless. Their appearances are aided a lot by an even more evil cast by Bryan Larkin as Hunt, an arrogant and even more ruthless British cop who is the top dog and feels threatened by Lee Rock’s promotion. This guy is scripted in such a  way that makes him so hard to like, and it was the intent.

Chasing the Dragon is very much a Hong Kong film and rather meant for a Chinese speaking audience. Be it the way the movie is and how the language, especially the slang nature of Cantonese can get lost in translation easy. The successes of the film also rely on various elements that rely on understanding why Donnie Yen is so convincing in his role. I’m not sure that if I was just reading subtitles and not totally understanding some of the history (the little bit that I know), how it would changed my enjoyment for it. There are some pacing issues and some rather forced bits possibly over-dramatized. While its a pretty good film, its definitely not the best. It met my expectations but I have to say that might have to do with my respect for both of these actors as well as the great supporting cast that was on screen.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. – IMDB

Let’s make it really clear that I haven’t seen Man of Steel so I don’t know what happened to make Batman so angry except for the little recap snippet in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. As I said before, my expectations for this one wasn’t high. My difference here is just that I  didn’t feel convinced about this film from the trailer. I have no issue with Ben Affleck as Batman, maybe a tiny issue with Henry Cavill as Superman, mostly because I haven’t seen a movie he has done that I like. The issue with the film might not exactly be the cast because they are all great actors and do a pretty good job. Where this film falls apart is its length which made the pacing so horrible. The story itself falls apart and is flat out boring. It never feels like much happens. There’s some stealthy useless stealing scene, Wonder Woman gets in the way, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor does his crazy act and then takes them down a notch from their high superhero ways and they put aside from issues and team up to fight him. Not exactly a riveting story in my mind but some basic stuff with a lot of padding in between. I wonder if its because I haven’t seen Man of Steel that I don’t have that connection with Superman so I don’t have any stake in how much I care about his making it out of this or not. But the movie itself just wasn’t good because it was boring and at times, felt so pointless.

Either way, not one that I’ll go visit. So far, the top DC film out of the two (and a tenth of Man of Steel) that I’ve seen is definitely  Wonder Woman (review). Not in a hurry to catch up with the DC films just yet. I had low expectations and this one possibly even went a bit lower than that.

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To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Check out the book review HERE.

Its not a secret that I’m not a huge fan of adaptations because a lot of times they lack the beauty what the words portray. However, I loved To All The Boys I’ve Love Before and you can see the review in the link above that I went and bought the second book full price (something I don’t do often so its a big deal). When Netflix showed off their trailer for it, I was pretty much sold. A part of me wondered how it would turn out but then, it had some a great premise that I thought there was no way that they could destroy it, especially when they even cast an Asian-American as their lead just like the book. Consider me happy just with that sole point.

However, let’s be objective, as much as I can and check it out!

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Director: Susan Johnson

Cast: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Israel Broussard, John Corbett

A teenage girl’s secret love letters are exposed and wreak havoc on her love life. – IMDB

Its not surprise that I was a little skeptical as much as I wanted to be objective and not assume too much going in. To be honest, I was a little worried. Why? Well, the teen movies they’ve had on Netflix has been worryingly bad. F the Prom, #RealityHigh are just two very bad examples of how much I hated watching those two movies a lot. But then, To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved is based on a really solid novel. Its a simple premise with charming characters. Its pretty hard to mess up. And you know what? Netflix delivered all the way!

I loved the tone of the trailer and when we saw the actual outcome of the entire movie, it worked so well together. It took a moment or two to embrace some of the characters are the beginning and get into it but it really captured the essence of the novel itself, especially when I was feeling every bit the feelings I had when I was reading the book. So great job on that, Netflix! Its nice to see a well done adaptation, even with a detail or two changed around. I’m not really bothered a lot by changes in details as long as they work in the realm of films because some things works well in books and they don’t translate as well into movies. However, there is one thing that was changed around which made me wonder what the point was because it affected probably one other scene and didn’t make much of a difference whether it was shown or not. I’m avoiding spoilers here so if you read the book, you may know what I’m talking about.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before

 

For one and probably the most important, the Song sisters play a big role in the film in whichever presence they have. Lana Condor does a great job at being our main lead here as she takes on this clueless teen who has these fantasy notions of romance in her imaginary world and scared to actually fall in love. There’s a good deal of humor and clumsiness as you would seem in the teenage world from her unconfident driving to her desire to take over the role of her older sister and the fictional romantic world that gives her these more “behind the times” sort of love concepts. At the same time, this makes her letters being sent out every bit as amusing as the two main guys are the main contenders on her mind. The first being her sister’s recently ex-boyfriend Josh (Israel Broussard) and the most popular boy in her grade, Peter (Noah Centineo) who she ends up making a deal with to not let Josh think that she likes him anymore. I have to say that Noah Centineo casted as Peter was a little out of the left field for me. I didn’t quite picture him like that but his character did grow on me. Especially in his scenes with Lara Jean and watching how their characters developed and then their relationship also grew as their chemistry and connection was more apparent. It works because they are quite the clueless first love teenage characters who make bad decisions and have their own reasons for justifying it. Its this cluelessness especially in Lara Jean (who reminded me of one of my friends at that age) that makes it so charming and fun to watch.

to all the boys i've loved before

Aside from the fun romance bits, which does take up a decent amount of screentime, it also emphasizes on the family aspect. The three sisters are quite the presence. While Janel Parrish’s older sister Margot role is quickly disappeared into the background as more of a mental presence with everyone, her scenes are very much the big sister role who takes care of her family very well but also trying to find herself as she spreads her wings and leaves the comfortable protection of her home. At the same time, the physical charming and smart-aleck younger sister Kitty played by  Anna Cathcart is incredibly comedic as she pokes fun at her lame older sister who lacks the basic social skills and driving skills (and other things) but when the end of the day, they all do things for each other. That sisterly bond is shown so well also. John Corbett plays the father of these girls who is a widower trying to make things work amidst his busy job. His role wasn’t huge but at the same time, these girls along with their dad is living up to mom’s memories and her words as they try embrace those memories in each of their own way to be more courageous about their life decisions. Its a touching subplot in what feels like a teen romance but has a little more than just that which is what makes it also a great watch that has some heart string tugging moments outside of those romantic parts.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before

Overall, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a fun and charming teen coming of age romance drama/comedy all mixed up in a lovely package. Its a great adaptation of the novel albeit its slight changes because it captures the characters, their heartbreak, their fears and insecurities and gives them enough back story to make their relationships, whether friendship, family or romance, enough space to grow but paced properly to make it always have something meaningful. There are some over the top moments but to be honest, the book had some of those moments as well. The charm and charisma of the film comes not only in the fun source material but also how this young cast gave it life especially when we look at Anna Cathcart, Lana Condor and Noa Centineo. If you like teen romance drama/comedy type films, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is an awesome choice.

The Meg (2018)

Wow! Its been quite a while since I went to go see a movie at the theatres. The last one was probably Ocean’s Eight. I mean, aside from Fantasia where I’m still in a semi-break from movies but I love shark films and Jason Statham and The Meg has been one of those films that I’ve been anticipated the moment I knew of its existence so it was a opening weekend must-see for myself. Its taken a little bit to get this review up but better late than never. To be clear, I haven’t read the novel that this movie is based on so this is completely on how I felt about the movie and nothing related to how well the adaptation works.

Let’s check it out!

The Meg (2018)

the meg

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Cast: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Shuya Sophia Cai, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Jessica McNamee

After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible. – IMDB

Being a fan of shark films and Jason Statham, The Meg was one anticipated movie that truly delivered on all my expectations. Its refreshing to be able to say that. Shark films have a special place in my heart and the best comparison that I have for The Meg is something like Deep Blue Sea, which happens to be one of my favorite shark films ever. Featuring a 70 foot Megalodon as its star predator is a tough feat and director Jon Turteltaub does a great job at making sure that it holds the suspense and builds on using the underwater sequences to create the thrills with the unexpected. Sure, there are some parts here because of the Chinese collaboration that makes it build the story with some filler drama and romance that feels unnecessary but the cast here delivers on this simple script. Let’s face it, this is a shark movie and not some award-winning film. Its a popcorn flick meant to be entertaining and it does exactly that. There is some suspension of belief and some far-fetched ideas that they try hard to give us the justifications in the story which mostly works, but the thrills of the Meg is in some of the parallels and nods it gives to the ultimate shark movie, Jaws. For some, that might be issues because this isn’t quite the Spielberg masterpiece but for myself, it never was meant to be that so I appreciated it for being exactly what it was.

The Meg

Looking at the cast, Jason Statham also does a great job at being the leading man. He still is equipped with his one liners and his hardcore tough guy act. It works for him and its what I love about the movies he is in. For that, he fits well into his role as Jonas. His sequences against the shark adds in those comedic touches before heading into the intense sequences against a prehistoric shark. Even tough guys get scared, they just mask it with some humor and it works so well for him. Its not often we see Jason Statham with a lot of romance in his films but as odd and misplaced as this one feels between him and the character played by Bingbing Li, there are some bonding moments here that also work out. It helps that Bingbing Li is not only a pretty face but also a talented actress. However, nothing quite steals the show like the little girl playing the daughter by Shuya Sophia Cai who is not the typical whiny and annoying little girl but one that is smart and knows her stuff around. She’s charming and cute and intelligent and some of the best moments are actually between her and Jason Statham.

The Meg

Aside from these main players, there are a ton of familiar faces here. Playing the sponsor of the research facility is Rainn Wilson who plays this billionaire who goes to visit and has his mind on all the wrong things at times but does add a nice twist of giving the normal do everything to make this work character have a twist. While he isn’t straight and narrow and still makes some dumb decision in the end, it takes on another tangent. On the other hand, a lot of people aren’t a big fan of Ruby Rose but I’ve liked her style since  her role in Orange is the New Black. As one note and as much as she is put in similar roles, I like the addition of that type of character. However, in this one, you end up losing count how many times she draws the short straw and ends up falling into the water.

The Meg

As predictable as The Meg is and as forced as the romance here, The Meg knows what it is and it delivers exactly as expected. A 70 foot shark is a huge presence literally and Jon Turteltaub is masterful as making it scarce and taking his time to reveal this beast completely. There are incredible lighting and cinematography underwater that makes it all work so well. I probably should have mentioned this but I forked out the big bucks (because it was the only way my theatre was showing it) and saw it UltraAVX and 3D. Let me tell you, a lot of parts got me jumping in my seat and genuinely tense. It may be my love for shark films and just how thrilling these films can be but The Meg is a fun popcorn flick. There are some solid moments that are fairly unique to watch. Plus, it achieves a level of making the megalodon be scarce to build up the tense moments and it works out a lot of time. Running a fairly tight run time, it is pretty well-paced. Sure there are some filler material but it never lingers long enough to make it completely in the way of the real purpose we’re there: to see a prehistoric shark. Its a shark film, you’re either on board or you aren’t. Maybe its a simple way to put it but popcorn movies don’t need depth, it needs entertainment and I was thoroughly thrilled and entertained. I get the criticism and I have some of my own as you see, but its still a solid shark film.

I only wish that it does well enough to get a franchise going because I can’t wait to see Jason Statham get back into going against some more prehistoric underwater creatures. Now, that would be so awesome!

Double Feature: Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) & Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

Welcome to the next double feature! Its been at least a month since the last one and I’m slowly feeling up to writing reviews after a 2 week (or so) break after Fantasia! I did watch these two around the beginning of Fantasia Festival.

Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016)

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Director: James Bobin

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway

Alice returns to the whimsical world of Wonderland and travels back in time to help the Mad Hatter. – IMDB

Alice Through the Looking Glass is the sequel to the live action Alice in Wonderland. While this live action adaptation is usually negatively rated, I see the flaws but somehow these  whimsical things work okay for myself. It becomes quite entertaining. Alice Through the Looking Glass has its issues and sometimes it doesn’t work as well as it might have hoped for but there are a few redeeming traits here. Lets just get it out there that as many times as I have started reading the source material by Lewis Carroll, I haven’t finished it so I have no idea how similar it is to the book. I do feel that some things were a little over the top in possibly the way it was portrayed however, the whimsical suspension of belief is expected and never a surprise. I like over the top fantastical elements so its why I still watch these movies.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

There is a lot of silliness in Alice Through the Looking Glass. The redeeming character is still always Mia Wasikowska as Alice. She is such a spectacular actress who takes on different types of roles but excels in them. In this one, I loves her outfits and the journey she takes and altogether, keeping to how Alice is with the character traits. To be honest, most of the characters from the previous film did keep in character. Which pretty much means that if you didn’t like the first one, chances are that you might not like this one as it feels a little bit even more odd than before. Something here doesn’t fit together completely and yet I never pinpoint what it is. Perhaps its the weird Anne Hathaway performance as the White Queen and the story behind her and the Queen of Hearts. There is a slight entertainment value to Sacha Baron Cohen as Time.

Visually, Alice Through the Looking Glass delivers just like the first film. The characters also carry a lot of fun elements to them and are a joy to watch. However, the story behind her fighting to retrace the Mad Hatter’s childhood and learning about the White Queen and  Queen of Hearts story as well as having Time chase her through time and space felt a little lacking. Maybe its just not so personal when Alice does learn something about herself through this but the link of everyone in those stories just doesn’t feel like it adds up to more than it should.

Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Director: Simon Curtis

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly MacDonald, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther

A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne. – IMDB

I’m not much of a biopic person. If you haven’t noticed, I try to stay away from biopic or drama or something like that. Movies are a means of entertainment to escape from drama so its one of the reasons why they tend to be the least chosen genre in film. I still watch them but they are infrequent. With that said, its hard to resist the biopic of A.A. Milne, the man who brought to life Thousand Acres Woods and Winnie the Pooh and his gang. As much as this is about the fame of Winnie the Pooh and this world, this biopic focuses on A.A. Milne’s relationship with his son and the reason of why this fun and fictional world even exists in the first place.

goodbye Christopher Robin

If there’s something more than Pooh Bear that I can’t resist, its a father and son relationship, well any parent and child relationship usually tugs pretty hard at my heartstrings. It feels pretty genuine in the way that this whole thing is portrayed. Domhnall Gleeson has a huge part in this because he does a fantastic job at portraying A.A. Milne. His character and the father he is and the man that he is and just how what he has gone through has changed him but no one quite understands him, especially his wife, played by Margot Robbie. However, we all have something to thank in this world and even adults sometimes make the choices when they get carried away with a situation and this is how Winnie the Pooh may have saved a lot of kids and was the world for so many people but in the end, it somehow deteriorated this father and son relationship and created a misunderstanding. Its this story and this human relationship that makes this film really good.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a fairly simple story and the feelings and relationship is so genuine that it makes it tug at our heartstrings even more. There’s a lack of communication and a bonding that grows over time because of the choices made by everyone. In some ways, it makes us wonder about this world that has given joy to so many people and yet the bittersweet feelings that come with learning about how there were sacrifices to sharing this world that A.A. Milne created with his son with everyone else and the fame and popularity ate away at their relationship. After you watch this, it feels like its a conflict that never quite gets resolved and whether it feels like everyone else had invaded into someone else’s imaginary world. Maybe I’m thinking too much into it but this movie is pretty bittersweet by the end.

After Hours #1 – The Meg

Who would have known that we’d both head out to see The Meg this past weekend! And of course, it paired up perfectly as one of our anticipated films for 2018 and also a perfect selection to kick off our After Hours over at Movies and Tea!

Check out our discussion on The Meg over on Movies and Tea Podcast!

Movies and Tea

Hey folks and welcome to the first episode of “After Hours” a series of bonus shows were we will be looking at the films which mean the most to us, but whose directors don’t need require us to work through the director’s filmography.

Kicking things off is “The Meg” whose troubled production history we look into as we finally got to see the rampaging Megalodon brought to the screen.

We not only look at the film, but Elwood perhaps geeks out hard on the comparisons to Steve Alten’s books.

So come join us in the booth!

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Movies and Tea #9 – Pompeii

And we’re here at the final episode of Season 1 of Movies and Tea Podcast as we take a look at the final movie in the selection from Paul W. S. Anderson’s filmography, Pompeii. Head over to Movies and Tea Podcast to check it out for our thoughts and how it is as a Paul W. S. Anderson directorial effort and give us your thoughts on this movie that blends a Gladiator-esque story with a disaster film.

Movies and Tea

Our season one re-evaulation of the Paul W.S. Anderson filmography comes to a close with a film that sees him taking a note from James Cameron, Anderson’s “Pompeii” sees him deliving a sword and sandel / disaster flick the end result being a film which disappeared off the radar of most movie goers as quickly as it appeared.

We also reveal our favourite, worst and hidden gems of his filmography.

Come join us in the booth!!

Further Viewing

Gladiator
Kingdom of Heaven
Conan The Barbarian
Volcano
Dante’s Peak
San Andreas
Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Music on this episode

Keith Mansfield – Funky Fanfare
Clinton Shorter – The Mountain

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Fantasia Festival 2018: Big Brother (World Premiere 2018)

Big Brother (2018)

Big Brother

Director: Ka-Wai Kam

Cast: Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Yu Kang, Mingji Lou, Fung Woo

Big Brother is an unexpected title in Donnie Yen’s filmography however, also one that he has been wanting to do. It is about education and sending the positive message that everyone can follow their dreams even those left behind and ignored by the very competitive Hong Kong education system. It only takes an honest and passionate educator to go beyond their duties to make sure their students go back on the right path. Playing as Mr. Chen, Yen’s role is one that marries the sparse but exciting action scenes that we have come to expect with a more profound dramatic moments focussing specifically on five of the students considered the losers in the “bad” class. His heartfelt performance has some comedic moments especially in the unorthodox way of teaching which fits incredibly well to this out of the box character.

Big Brother

While there are some cameo and supporting roles with more seasoned actors and actresses especially the Taiwanese actress Joe Chen as one of the teachers and Fung Woo as the ex-principal in an inspiring role as well, the five young actors are all first time actors. This decision is a smart one to keep their stories feel real and genuine.  While some of the stories feel dramatized for the movie, the reality is that in the Hong Kong society, their stories are common: alcoholic dad; Hong Kong born Pakistani origins; daughters feeling less important than sons and the high risk of the triad preying on high school students to get them to do their dirty work. For these young cast, they did a great job at each of their respective roles as they each had their own dreams which broke the barrier of the expectations of where they are from.

Big Brother

A lot of praise does have to go to assistant director turned director Ka-Wai Kam as he steps into the director’s chair a fourth time with this project. It is obvious that he has a lot of experience tucked away with the way he maneuvers his shots to capture the moments. He finds a way to add in the action seamlessly to a more dramatic film while not forgetting the focal point of reflecting how a flawed education system breeds the issues that are occurring and puts its focus on a few members to give these characters their well-deserved development and never making them feel disposable. Not to mention, the scenes itself speak for themselves and how these vibrant characters have connected with its audience.

World premiering at Fantasia Festival a whole two and a half weeks before its release in Hong Kong, Big Brother brings both heartwarming and heartbreaking stories about some very real and human everyday life aspects of the Hong Kong education system, the criticism towards its teachers and the society views of it all.  Add this to your collection of inspirational education movies like Freedom Writers, Big Brother might have some societal barriers to understand some of the finer details but its heart to bring a positive message and highlight the flaws in the current education system is one that needs to be addressed. It takes one person willing to go above and beyond to make a difference. It’s perfectly suitable for Donnie Yen. Big Brother is a positively inspiring movie that manages to tug at your heartstrings and cheer for following your dreams and paying it forward.