Double Feature: Desperado (1995) & Rebecca (2020)

Desperado (1995)

Director (and writer): Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Carlos Gomez, Tito Larriva, Danny Trejo, Quentin Tarantino

Former musician and gunslinger El Mariachi arrives at a small Mexican border town after being away for a long time. His past quickly catches up with him and he soon gets entangled with the local drug kingpin Bucho and his gang. – IMDB

Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, Desperado is an action Western film and is the second part of his Mexico trilogy. While I can’t say how much you need to have seen the first part since I went into this pretty clueless about the existence of the trilogy and not quite a fan of Westerns in general, Desperado is a fairly fun romp despite its storyline revolving around a revenge plan, mostly because the film felt a little cheesy at times especially with the romantic interactions between the characters portrayed by Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, both of them oozing with sex appeal from their chemistry to their appearance. Plus, Desperado does keep a relatively light-hearted tone with a lot of scenes going over the top and the tone is set right from its first scene at the bar with the whole story-telling moment describing the gunslinger.

Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are two actor and actress that I don’t watch too much of in general. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen them in anything other than voicing Puss in Boots for both of them. While I can’t say that Desperado is the film to showcase the acting talents they possess, their roles are done pretty well as El Mariachi and Carolina respectively. El Mariachi has a pretty epic type of gunslinger action sequence for his introduction and keeps up with building up on his story as the film moves along of why he is exacting this revenge and such. His plan and course of action takes shape throughout the film but perhaps one of the best moments are when he is spending time with the young guitar player and trying to set him on the right path. It adds a lot of depth to his character overall. In contrast, Carolina’s character is a little more shallow as she does save him and has a tough edge when needed but still plays more of a love interest. Of course, the film also includes some fun cameos with Quentin Tarantino and a side character which adds to the whole bad guys plot with Danny Trejo, who doesn’t have any dialogue but because partially a threat.

Desperado isn’t exactly a film to be dissected in depth since it is mostly a fun time with a lot of action. However, that isn’t saying that the execution isn’t good. There are some weird moments like how El Mariachi and Carolina really do move very quickly through their attachment or this one escape scene where this obviously a physics issue that doesn’t seem to make sense which gives the more flair but maybe not quite so much context. There is a lot of building up a moment especially for the El Mariachi’s entrance to the big action scenes where there’s a lot of gun action going on between the two sides and everyone wondering who this El Mariachi fellow is and what his deal is overall. It does put together some stylistic action for him.

While I’m not exactly a fan of Westerns, Desperado does have its fun moments. The story itself especially for El Mariachi might not feel very deep for the film overall but surprisingly does have some pretty good moments. There are some odd transitions for the plot points but still manages to keep it rather fun and focuses enough on the action to make it even more entertaining. I’m pretty late to the party (as my husband constantly reminds me) and didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did so I think this one is winner overall.

Rebecca (2020)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Cast: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Keeley Hawes, Ann Dowd

A young newlywed arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death. – IMDB

Rebecca is one of those memorable book discoveries born out of complete spontaneity for a school project decades ago and yet remains one that I have been meaning to own and re-read at one point. Having watched none of the adaptations, Netflix’s Rebecca fell under the radar for myself also sparked the discovery of the Armie Hammer issues that came to light, making this a rather conflicting watch and whether to review it. However, the film itself regardless of everything, is rather disappointing overall.

Looking at the best parts of Rebecca, it has to go to the costume design, style and the setting itself. The beauty of wherever they were gave life to the scene itself especially with the color palette that it chose. Of course, the manor itself also is a big highlight as it adds the suspense with all its corridors and mystery behind doors and hidden secrets. It usually does come with the whole big manor setting especially when the point of view is through the eyes of the new and young Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) who is only learning about her husband’s first wife and getting an incredible amount of resistance from the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).

The casting is actually not too bad. The main focus of the film from the point of the view of the new Mrs. de Winter portrayed by Lily James. This is probably one of the more complex roles that I’ve seen her in and she does do a pretty decent job. Especially faced across the housekeeper played by Kristin Scott Thomas who is a rather underrated actress overall but seems to pop up nowadays in films here and there. This role sees her being a housekeeper who has ulterior motives and trying to do many plans against the new Mrs. de Winter through manipulation and such. The strength of these two characters brings so much to the film that the Mr. de Winter character actually falls behind into this annoying and useless sort of character by the end, making the value of his role being the gentleman who sweeps his new bride off her feet and ends up sinking back into a mysterious front when he returns back to his mansion.

Overall, Rebecca is a pretty average film. It brings a bit of the suspense and mystery and visually from setting and costume design, it is quite a bit of eye candy but the film itself overall doesn’t seem to pull together a well-executed plot especially for the outstanding source material that they were working with.

TV Binge: Archive 81 (Season 1, 2022)

Archive 81 (Season 1, 2022)

Creator: Rebecca Sonnenshine

Cast: Mamoudou Athie, Dina Shihabi, Evan Jonigkeit, Julia Chan, Ariana Neal, Matt McGorry, Martin Donovan, Kate Eastman, Charlie Hudson III, Kristin Griffith, Eden Marryshow, Georgina Haig

An archivist hired to restore a collection of tapes finds himself reconstructing the work of a filmmaker and her investigation into a dangerous cult. – IMDB

Based on the podcast of the same name, Archive 81 follows an archivist Dan (Mamoudou Athie) hired to a secluded building to restore a collection of tapes left behind by a college filmmaker Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi) who moves into the Visser building hoping to capture the lives of the residents but also look for her biological mother but ends up realizing that that the building’s history is a lot more sinister and starts to investigate leading her to discover a cult.

Due to the nature of the show which dives from the present day with Dan and the past via the tape restoration and his process of watching it, the film story unfolds on a parallel. The writing is what truly shines in this series as it crafts both sides very effectively both in terms of the primary mystery element but also having the ability to craft a tense and sinister vibe throughout as it captures the isolation of Dan as he discovers his own side of the mystery as odd occurrences take place and the help of his friend (Matt McGorry) as an outside resource. Much like Melody Pendras who starts to gradually feel more and more of the cult that surrounds her through the strange residents that live there. The sense of danger and insecurity within the building is constructed incredibly well. The use of the VHS grainy element reminding that it is still an image that is being watched does a good job of pulling in and out of this parallel worlds of the past and present especially when it feels like its just watching two sides of a story and forgetting the time element.

While there aren’t any big name actors in the cast, probably the most familiar being Matt McGorry for his role in Orange is the New Black way back in Season 1 (I think) and he has gone on to do some other roles over the years, the main cast revolves around Mamoudou Athie and Dina Shihabi playing as Dan and Melody respectively. They both do a pretty decent job for what their role needs to deliver. Perhaps the supporting characters and their odd personalities delivers more although some of it does go a little overboard at times. Luckily, the show does only focus on a few main characters of the Visser building while Dan’s side focuses mostly around a few characters as well. The events craft a lot more of the atmosphere than the characters involved since the sounds and eerie and bizarre situations and the fear of being caught is what brings out most of the effective tense atmosphere. The characters’ interactions and encounters do bring up a lot of mystery and questions that slowly get revealed in the final episodes.

Overall, Archive 81 is pretty good. Its gripping and tense and the mystery is done really well. The angle and the twist also works pretty effectively. The tone and sound design and setting all add to the mystery much like the characters themselves. Unfortunately, the show does end on something of a cliffhanger and wasn’t renewed for a second season. A pity really since it would be interesting to see where it would have headed if it had the opportunity.

Double Feature: The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021) & Knives Out (2020)

The Mitchells Vs. The Machines (2021)

Directors (and co-writers): Michael Rianda & Jeff Rowe

Voice Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi

A quirky, dysfunctional family’s road trip is upended when they find themselves in the middle of the robot apocalypse and suddenly become humanity’s unlikeliest last hope. – IMDB

*Originally written for Friday Film Club*

Most known for his work on Gravity Falls as creative director and writer, Mike Rianda’s debut directorial feature film is one that combines his personal family experiences with his childhood love for robots. The Mitchells vs. The Machines, which was once titled Connected but retitled back to its original name upon its shift to a Netflix distribution due to the pandemic, tells the story of the dysfunctional family The Mitchells who are all a bit odd in their own ways who embrace their quirky daughter Katie’s departure to university by going on a family road trip to take her there however, they collide with a robot takeover as the leading tech company PAL Labs loses control over his virtual assistant who ends up exacting revenge by using the newly designed robots to capture all humans. The Mitchells try to escape together and with their odd ideas and surprisingly lucky twists and turns try to save the world together.

The Mitchells vs the Machines is pretty balanced in all its elements. Its comedy is one of the standouts especially since it features a dysfunctional family on a road trip during a robot apocalypse especially when it includes their silly dog Monchi. Driving in an old car and each of them wielding their gifted tool, the Mitchells bond together in the oddest way and yet embraces their oddities while learning about each other a little more. The story never rests on the drama too long and remembers constantly that its a dangerous robot takeover and that they are on the run. The constant moving keeps the film quick-paced and entertaining as it throws in different obstacles, solutions and things going wrong constantly which adds to the entertainment level.

That’s not to mention that the voice cast also is pretty decent. Maya Rudolph voices Linda, the mother character who is a wild ride while Danny McBride voices Rick, the father character. Katie is the main character and the focus of the show as her relationship with her family is the biggest element here along with her knowledge of technology and social media along with her imagination and creativity. She is voiced by Abbi Jacobson. Her younger brother Aaron is voiced by director Mike Rianda himself. The villain is a virtual assistant voiced by Olivia Colman who also captures a nice villain for an animated film which is has this comedic villain sort of feeling, still a little threatening but very entertaining as the whole thing unfolds. The voice cast also includes these cameo characters of a perfect family that Linda envies secretly The Poseys where the parents are voiced by Chrissy Teigen and John Legend.

The Mitchells vs the Machine is a fun little animated film which plays well with its premise. While the story layout itself isn’t completely unique as most comedic family adventures, animated or not, usually include some type of dysfunctional family but the whole film is constructed really well from the voice cast, comedy and pacing while tackling the themes pretty well.

Knives Out (2019)

Director (and writer): Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson

A detective investigates the death of the patriarch of an eccentric, combative family. – IMDB

Inspired by the early murder mystery from Agatha Christie and feeling like bringing to life another character similar to Hercule Poirot, Rian Johnson directs and writes Knives Out, a film that sets itself in a modern world but has the little twist and turns of the classic murder mystery style. Packed with a star-studded cast of great actors and actresses and a wonderful set piece for its main location along with some great cinematography and screenplay, there’s a lot to love about Knives Out. Plus, its a great time to catch up to it seeing as there are two sequels scheduled for Netflix with the first one expected to show up some time in 2022.

While I am personally unfamiliar with Rian Johnson’s work, Knives Out is a brilliant murder mystery. He structures his story in a few acts which moves through the initial setting of what happened which leads to the interrogation which introduces each of the characters and their own statements along with their own truth and lies as they each recount the situation. Everyone is included from the dysfunctional family members who all seem suspicious as they each have their own reasons and conflict. At the same time, it introduces the sleuth hired by an unknown party, Benoit Blanc. The second act focuses a lot around him trying to get more out of those unrelated to the family like the caretaker to get a good idea of what is actually going on. Until the big will announcement turns the tables and the story unfolds further as the schemes, misdirection and twist reveal comes alight. The execution of these events from one to the next is well-measured and keeps it engaging to watch.

Looking at the cast, its quite a packed one: Christopher Plummer as the deceased father and famous mystery author, Jamie Lee Curtis as the eldest daughter and Rian Johnson as her husband and Chris Evans as their son followed by Michael Shannon as the son with his family, his son played by Jaeden Martell (known for his role in IT) and finally, the daughter in law of the second son played by Toni Collette. While all these stars together would seem like quite the crowd, they actually all do their part, no matter how big or small and the spotlight is mostly cast on Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc packed with a Southern accent and the caretaker played by Ana de Armas. There’s also LaKeith Stanfield who is one of the main detectives.

Its hard to talk about these types of murder mysteries without giving away the whodunnit element so lets say that, for a 2+ hours film, this has very good pacing and execution and a lot of it has to be credited to Rian Johnson’s writing. His directing also can’t be dismissed as he starts and ends the film with a very basic item: a quirky mug, giving it a full circle sort of feeling whole also making use of the space especially bringing in the Knives element with the Game of Thrones-esque throne of knives. There’s so much to appreciate and have fun with with this film as a whole.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl On The Train
By: Paula Hawkins

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller/Suspense

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train… – Goodreads

Having reached a decent popularity after its release, The Girl On The Train is compared with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (review), which happens to be one of my favorite books. While its not quite the same level as Gone Girl, the novel embraces the culture of people watching to its full potential and structures its point of view between three main female characters as they each experience different sides of the spectrum. The first being Rachel, the girl on the train who lives a routine life and envies the life of this home and couple that the train she commutes on at the same time everyday, making her reminisce her own marriage before it was broken and when she used to live a few houses down from this couple. As she fantasizes about this couple, the second point of view turns to the woman of the house that she looks at, Megan who ends up missing and the police investigation opens for her which leads Rachel to share what she’s seen that could be suspicious and also approach Megan’s husband, Scott which opens up another can of worms as she ends up peaking the attention of her ex-husband’s current wife, Anna who takes up the third point of view. Through these three, the mystery unfolds as to what happens to Megan and who is involved.

The Girl On The Train is a good premise. Mystery thrillers have been rather plentiful to say the least however this one does build up a pretty decent reveal. The novel is well-written and the structure is good as well as the first person view from three characters helps piece together the novel but still with a good amount of unknowns from both their own characters and the people around them. It helps construct these three very different sort of female characters with their own pasts and different values that end up setting up their relationships around them as well. Alternating between characters and point of views is probably one of my own favorite novel structures and this story fits in it really well. This in turn builds up these three characters so that they each can also have their own interpretation. In this case, Rachel takes a center stage since she is “the girl on the train” which is the book is titled after and her character is by far the one with the most depth which crafts her into a rather realistic sort of character who has plummeted into alcohol after her divorce, making most of her life rather blurry and spiraling downwards with this mystery giving her something new to focus on.

The mystery element of the novel is the highlight of the story as a whole. It builds up and is crafted rather well. The thriller element is definitely there mostly because these characters all are rather imperfect in their own ways, making them feel hard to truly erase them from suspicion for one reason or another. However, the thrill is mostly with all the characters, not just the main three female characters but also the other ones who all feel like its one big cycle of waiting for their stories to unfold to rid them of suspicion. It throws a few twists here and there, some land more unexpectedly than others. The big reveal of who is responsible does end up being rather surprising and a decently executed twist.

Overall, The Girl On The Train is pretty good overall. There are some little bits here and there that feel like it could be polished a little better in execution. Sometimes, reading a slew of characters which was completely imperfect also feels a little hard to completely bond into the book and its events as is the situation here which at times feels a bit tiring as it cycles around some events a little too much. However, the mystery is decently crafted, the structure keeps things moving from one side of the story to the next, even if some of it jumps back and forth in the timeline and the thrilling parts are mostly from character development and a believable yet unpredictable reveal.

Goodreads score: 4/5

Halloween Marathon 2021: Escape the Undertaker (2021)

Escape the Undertaker (2021)

Director: Ben Simms

Cast: Mark Calaway, Ettore Ewen, Kofi Kingston, Austin Watson

Can The New Day survive the surprises at The Undertaker’s spooky mansion? It’s up to you to decide their fate in this interactive WWE-themed special. – Netflix

Escape the Undertaker is a mystery comedy Halloween interactive film which runs about 30 minutes to get to the end. The goal is to escape the spooky mansion alive and destroy the Undertaker’s urn. First things first, wrestling is a blind spot for myself. The only wrestlers I have heard of are the mega famous or turns to actor ones and all I know about wrestling world are the basics, mostly from the documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette (review).

However, this special has nothing to do with it other than the wrestling figures here, The New Day and The Undertaker as the leading roles as The New Day goes to The Undertaker’s mansion to borrow his urn which takes them for a ride when one of them ends up almost losing their soul and needs to save it before the ritual is complete, sending them on their separate paths. Of course, in the heart of choose your adventure, you only get to choose one of the three to follow, meaning you can always go back to see what the other paths are like, depending how much time you want to toss into this film. For myself, I at least went through until I could get the intended ending where they escaped and destroyed the urn. Its pretty straightforward so it was achievable on the second run where it also gave the chance to explore some other options to see a little bit more of this mansion. Its not particularly hard to find the right path that they want but I’m sure there are many other outcomes if you wanted to test out other paths to expand the experience.

The New Day has a pretty positive vibe overall and they seem fun enough to watch without anything too cringe-y in terms of dialogue or acting so its decent entertainment. Much like The Undertaker that has this somewhat campy villain sort of feeling as well. The two sides of the spectrum from the good and bad have a decent contrast taken from their wrestling personas. I mean, I’m just basing it on what I saw in this film so you can let me know if I’m completely wrong or this film was playing it up on any element.

With that said, Escape the Undertaker is somewhat of a silly idea and feels a little random overall as its all a little too straightforward perhaps. However, its a fun enough time. You are going into a film featuring a cast of wrestling figures in this interactive movie, so I’m not exactly sure how high the expectations should be. For myself, its not exactly anything too special but it was a good time. As a simple Halloween themed choose your adventure, I think its ticks the box well enough with some silly, fun and not so spooky escape adventure.

Book Review: The Visitor by Terry Tyler

The Visitor
By: Terry Tyler

Genre: Mystery/Post-Apocalyptic

In 2024, a mystery virus ravages the entire world. ‘Bat Fever’ is highly contagious and a hundred per cent lethal.

A cottage tucked away in an isolated Norfolk village seems like the ideal place to sit out a catastrophic pandemic, but some residents of Hincham resent the arrival of Jack, Sarah and their friends, while others want to know too much about them.What the villagers don’t know is that beneath Sarah’s cottage is a fully-stocked, luxury survival bunker. A post-apocalyptic ‘des res’.

Hincham isolates itself from the rest of the country, but the deaths continue―and not from the virus. There’s a killer on the loose, but is it a member of the much-depleted community, or someone from outside? As the body count rises, paranoia sets in; friend suspects friend, and everyone suspects the newcomers.

Most terrifying of all is that no one knows who’s next on the list… – Goodreads

Having read two books before by Terry Tyler, The Visitor continues on being able to showcase her ability to craft engaging murder mystery thrillers. The Visitor’s plot benefits from our current pandemic situation as it sets itself in the future after another pandemic has struck the world which is 100% lethal and much more brutal but sets it in a little village where another threat has hit them simultaneously in the form of a murderer which causes the fear to grow in its inhabitants. The backdrop is one that feels almost like it could happen in our current landscape with variants popping up in our current landscape, making it hit home a little more.

There’s a lot to love about The Visitor other than its familiar backdrop. One of them is a familiar form in Terry Tyler’s books which focuses around the point of view from a few of its core characters. In this one, its from the view of the few inhabitants living in the cottage and bunker who ends up there through some connection whether it is the leftover family and companions of friends that had gotten the invitation. As they gather in the bunker and keep it secret, they observe the people around them and get to know the different members of the village. As they each struggle with their own loss and current situation, they each have their own speculations. The benefit of jumping between characters is that it leaves some blind spots and blank spaces giving the unknown to spark. At the same time, who actually knows the depths of someone’s mind although the killer’s perspective usually does draw certain clues from one chapter to the next and slowly does give an idea of who is behind it by the end.

The Visitor also crafts really good characters. The group in the bunker themselves having their own differences and backgrounds and how they get there is one that definitely sets their own character as much as what they do after the settle into the village and each having their own pursuits and responsibilities. Two of them being best friends but also old flames, one of them being a survivalist (but also could be viewed as selfish), one dealing with her massive loss but navigating through being more of a loner: add in their own sort of purpose and personality that grows throughout the story as they get more involved into the village’s affairs and the villagers themselves, human nature is a tricky thing to say the very least.

The great part is how the focus of the novel smoothly shifts from its beginning of the big threat with this mystery virus which takes the front seat and determines their own means to survive and the desperation of the whole situation due to its lethal nature. However, subtly the story shifts to the murder and slowly the routine of surviving through this “post -apocalyptical” world becomes secondary as the murders become more frequent. It almost blends the two together so well that the story and character plot shift is done incredibly well.

Overall, The Visitor is a fantastic murder mystery. Not only does it have well-developed characters but it also builds a great post-apocalyptic world that is not only relatable in the current age but also pushes it further. Perhaps at times it feels a little bit too soon to be already diving into it but it also adds to the unsettling and uneasiness. Smooth plot transition and executed well, The Visitor is a well-paced and engaging thriller to dive into.

Double Feature: The Land of Steady Habits (2018) & Edge of Fear (2018)

Its been a while since the last double feature! I do apologize for the tardiness. Writing time has been limited but I do have a lot of double features backlogged that will be going up soon. The first two is Netflix drama film The Land of Steady Habits and a home invasion thriller Edge of Fear.

Let’s check it out!

The Land of Steady Habits (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Nicole Holofcener

Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Elizabeth Marvel, Connie Britton, Bill Camp, Charlie Tahan, Edie Falco, Thomas Mann

After leaving his wife and his job to find happiness, Anders befriends a drug-addicted teen, sending him down a path of reckless and shameful behavior. – IMDB

The Land of Steady Habits is a film about a man struggling with the new norms after retirement. Anders is by far an character that is very unlikable, by his own self-destructive nature and the way that he doesn’t hold by what he says. From the the start, its a character that is meant to be flawed and feeling more realistic and closer as a regular person and its because of Ben Mendohlsohn’s portrayal of this character that truly gives this story a lot of depth into this man’s change from the old ways: divorce, moving to a new home, early retirement and yet giving up all the things of old hasn’t really brought him a lot of joy as he tries to find companionship in sleeping with strangers but having issues there as well. Because of the character almost unable to find happiness in this new norm and yet constantly barging unreasonably into his old life aka his wife’s house, it almost gives this character a lot of deeper moments about the dilemma he is in.

The father-son relationship that portrays as well as the “friendship” that he has with the family friend’s seemingly delinquent kid ends up being a big focal as it portrays a growth of a man to slowly become more responsible especially in the face of what happens at the end. It helps question the character about who he is both as a parent and as a person in reflection of his choices.

Overall, The Land of Steady Habits feels a lot like a trip down a complex character study. Its a bit out of my league as its far from where I am in life. However, the character’s development and depth is rather depressing at parts especially on the twist of situations. Plus, as with movies with this, its rather quiet and subtle especially how the movie starts following through this routine of this man. It probably isn’t for everybody but as a drama film, it definitely does deliver on some levels especially in this flawed character.

Edge of Fear (2018)

Director: Bobby Roth

Cast: Rockmond Dunbar, Zhu Zhu, Shen Lin, Robert Knepper, Dean Cudworth, Robert Crayton, Robert Patrick, Amaury Nolasco, Andy Mackenzie, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe

After being stabbed in the heart by ruthless home invaders, a man is left for dead. Now weak, outnumbered, and knife sticking from his chest, he attempts to do the impossible: save his wife from these murderers before he bleeds to death. – IMDB

I think I watched Edge of Fear because it was going to leave Netflix or maybe I just did because it seemed like a movie that was good as background noise. In some ways, Edge of Fear has a good idea with its setting in the middle of the woods isolated and with no form of transportation to exit if anything happens. Not sure why anyone does that, but sure, I can buy that since no one expects to have their home invaded by criminals. Part mystery, part thriller and kind of an home invasion film, Edge of Fear lacks a lot of each of those things. The main reason being that its all very generic from the characters to the crew that takes over the cabin to the turn of events. Nothing is very unpredictable. Plus, the dialogue itself leaves a lot of space to be elevated.

In reality, the characters here aren’t too bad. The main characters going to the victims who are the Chinese doctors who were invited out. The fight to survive is definitely there except they are also faced with a bunch of fairly all brute and no brains (or at least it feels that way) minions who are doing the wrong things at the wrong times. Leading these two is the character portrayed by Robert Patrick who is obviously the better actor of the cast especially since he seems to really be great at these darker characters and can be rather menacing. The other would be the man that this crew helped escape from prison played by Robert Knepper who had an interesting sort of character design which all comes into play for the big finale.

Overall, Edge of Fear is a rather lackluster film. I didn’t have particularly high expectations for it seeing as I went into this film not knowing much about it.

That’s it for this double feature!

TV Binge: Detective Chinatown (唐人街探案, 2020)

Detective Chinatown (唐人街探案, 2020)

Director: Sam Quah & Dai Mo

Cast: Roy Chiu, Janine Chang, Zhe Yuan Chen, Yi Shang Sha, Xiao Cheng, Victor Ma, Ming Shuai Shi

Strange crimes occur in Thailand as the ranking for the world’s best detective sees a shift. New detectives come into the picture to tackle three difficult cases. Lin Mo is the student of Chinatown’s number one detective. Lin Mo pursues two cases: Four-Faced Buddha and Name of the Rose that not only takes place in Bangkok but also in Kaoshiung. The third case about the Ghost’s Invitation takes the story back to Bangkok and then to Tokyo. – MyDramaList

Where to Watch: iQiYi

Detective Chinatown is adapted from the Detective Chinatown movies (which I have yet to see). However, this series is really three cases wrapped up as a series. Each case being 4 episodes. The first two revolving the detective Lin Mo played by Roy Chiu and directed by Sam Quah who also directs Sheep Without a Shepherd (review). I mention this because he uses a few cast members that make up the cast from that movie. The third case goes off in a completely different direction: set on an island in the middle of the ocean, about e-sports competition and starring a five person team lead by Noda Koji, played by Zheyuan Chen.

In many ways, Detective Chinatown should be seen as three separate stories as the timeline becomes a little fuzzy. The first case feels the most recent as Roy Chiu’s detective and high school substitute teacher character Lin Mo takes on almost this modern day Sherlock Holmes sort of role cooperating with policewoman Sa Sha (Yi Shang Zhang). There’s a level of quirkiness that makes him rather charming to watch. The first case, Four-Faced Buddha is rather intriguing as it investigates a group of girls after one of their friends commit suicide. The case gets quite a bit of twist and turns and gives Lin Mo a fun look at how he is plus there’s a decent amount of comedy with the other inspectors in the police HQ getting involved. Its probably my favorite of the three. The second dives back in the timeline before Lin Mo is part of the Detective Chinatown agency and first encounters the police woman in the first case Sa Sha but actually tells the story of his connection with this mystery assassin group that wants to kill him for some reason and he gets entangled with this flower shop owner Ivy (Janine Zhang).

Where the series feels the most disjointed is the third case where Lin Mo is not part of the story and it switches over to an esports tournament and five people team who gets lured to the island for this tournament as a final battle before this online game shuts down the server but becomes a rouse for a disappeared legendary player setting up an elaborate game. As an individual case, its pretty decent but just doesn’t seem to correlate well with the first 8 episodes. It feels like a completely different world with just a hint of connection at the beginning when Sa Sha is sent to handle this case. It definitely feels like an attempt to promote a new direction for this franchise, maybe a second season especially since the five people team includes a few up and coming celebrities like Arthur Ma and Xiao Cheng along with Zheyuan Chen. These young cast lack the acting experience so they don’t reflect as well especially since Arthur Ma and Xiao Cheng gained popularity through music and the third story has a lot of characters and a lot of the supporting cast are much more seasoned actors.

Overall, running at 12 episodes, Detective Chinatown is very bingeworthy. The three separate stories is a good way to execute this series and the pacing is pretty good. Sure, the third case is a little odd and its a bit overacted but the set up and case development is pretty good. Roy Chiu is honestly fantastic as Lin Mo and well worth a watch just for his performance. Plus, the first 8 episodes are directed by Sam Quah who has a great eye for capturing the atmosphere and how some of the shots are done are very well-executed. Its rare that I watch series like this which is focused on investigation and twisty cases that its a breath of fresh air.

FNC 2020: The Tremor (2020)

The Tremor (2020)

The Tremor

Director (and writer): Balaji Vembu Chelli

Cast: Rajeev Anand, Semmalar Annam, Sasikumar Sivalingam

Following a tip-off, a rookie photojournalist sets off to report on a destructive earthquake but soon finds himself on a mysterious journey that questions the line between fact, myth, and sensationalism. – IMDB

The Tremor is one of those movies that is very hard to sell. The plot of it (just like described above) is rather intriguing but the execution is one that is going to test a lot of the viewer’s patience. The Tremor follows an unnamed photojournalist who spends most of his film driving in his car through mountain paths. The movie starts with scenes of the aftermath of an earthquake in first person as it sees trees fallen down and people being carried out in stretchers and there’s this brewing sound effects in the background that gets louder and louder and yet, back on the road, the movie spends a lot of time with a GoPro or dashcam bouncing around in first person of the mountainous roads that he drives on or close-up of his face whether trying to figure out where to go next or smoking.

The few encounters he has turns out to be fairly cryptic with different information being shared about whether an earthquake did happen and where it is exactly. That is where the suspense lies: in the unknown and whether this did happen and whether the tip-off was a real thing because it starts feeling a lot like its misinformation at a certain point. Its what keeps the plot going and the intrigue of following this man drive around the movie and visit different places and climb through mountainous locations and these little villages along the way looking and questioning the people that want to talk to him. Its these little conversations that much like him, the viewers are learning about the location and what happened or has happened.

In reality, what does give The Tremor the most style is the setting. The mountainous roads and the forest along with a deep fog that creeps in from the valley that starts covering up what is going on. It seems to come in slowly and unexpectedly, following him around. The isolated roads and the vast mountain range and valleys and just the emptiness of the whole location gives it so much suspense. As the past is revealed and almost always constant denial, much like the main character, its easy to wonder what is real or myth. If it wasn’t for the mountainous roads that feel like they loop (or maybe they do) and the unknowing direction of just moving forward and keep hitting figurative dead ends of this situation either having never been heard or the connection of a past earthquake that has been lingering in the village’s memory, it all gets a little uncertain and unclear.

In some ways, The Tremor really is quite an outstanding movie. The cinematography, the setting, the soundtrack all give it the suspense and mystery to keep the viewer intrigue. But at the same time, its a grueling experience where it ends and its a wonder how it was one to get into because in reality, its the most basic elements of watching one man drive through a mountain constantly going forward with almost always fruitless effort and it lies on whether the endgame is one that is satisfying enough. For myself, its a little half and half.

*The Tremor is currently playing virtually for Festival du Nouveau Cinema until October 31st, 2020*

Fantasia Festival 2020: Perdida (2019)

Perdida (2019)

Director: Jorge Michel Grau

Cast: José Maria de Tavira, Cristina Rodlo, Paulina Davila, Juan Carlos Colombo, Sonia Franco, Paulette Hernandez, Luis Fernando Pena

Shattered by the unexpected news of their irreversible break-up, an aspiring orchestra conductor is puzzled by his girlfriend’s mysterious and seemingly inexplicable case of disappearance. But, can he look beyond the facts? – IMDB

Perdida is the 2019 remake of the 2011 Columbian thriller called La Cara Oculta aka The Hidden Face (review). The source material itself is an outstanding piece of psychological horror thriller kind of deal with great execution and a stellar twist. It comes as a surprise after some research for this film that there was a remake before this one which was Bollywood film Murder 3. Its always been somewhat of a mystery in my mind whether knowing the twist of this plot would change its value in a second viewing and its probably one of the reasons that I haven’t revisited the original since I saw it years ago in the early days of the blog. Its also a movie that is very rarely talked about and it makes me wonder whether people actually have seen the original. Putting all that aside, Perdida was one that had a lot to live up to and one that is hard to not at least compare it to its original a little especially since movies that live in my brain years after its viewing is a rarity.

For the most part, Perdida stick fairly close to the source material especially in structure. Its atmosphere and the characters all come together quite well. Its interpretation of the suspense and the thriller also works well. What it does really well is the cinematography as it creates all the tension with ambiance as well as making some visually appealing scenes using the dim lighting and shadows. There are some passionate sex scenes and then the music score is probably what blends the best with the film which pulls together the orchestra conductor profession of Eric. The score builds up a lot of the scenes. At the same time, the contrast of subtlety in sound also crafts the suspenseful side of the story.

Where Perdida might not quite work so well is that the characters feel a little empty. The main leads between Eric, Fabiana and Carolina do a good job as their dynamic and the scenes sees the shift in those relationships. However, the need to cast suspicion on the husband being responsible isn’t as prominent and that has to do with a lack of the police officers presence in the story. There’s a bigger focus on the passionate love between Eric and Fabiana, a little bit of Eric’s obsession for this conducting career and a bit of his darker character perhaps, while Carolina is a someone who seems very resourceful but also having some extremes in her character.

Overall, Perdida on its own is a decent thriller. It follows the source material a lot and that originally had a very good story to begin with. The three main leads as Eric, Fabiana and Carolina all do a decent job while the other elements also come together fairly well. They also make the new home as a setting some kind of life as well with the little things that happen. In case anyone hasn’t seen The Hidden Face or Perdida, I’m going to avoid talking about the twist here which is executed fairly well. However, on a personal level, Perdida didn’t quite live up as a remake of La Cara Oculta since in my memory, the original still seemed to have a better control of a lot of these elements but that’s all comparison which if you haven’t seen it, Perdida is done pretty well overall.