Double Feature: Angela’s Christmas Wish (2020) & The Grinch (2018)

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wrapping up this year’s Holidays marathon on Christmas day is how it usually works so the next double feature is the final 2 movies of the marathon, although I did have one more alternate Christmas movie but we’ll pair it up later after Christmas. This time, its a animated Christmas films double feature with a Netflix sequel, Angela’s Christmas Wish and 2018’s adaptation, The Grinch.

Let’s check it out!

Angela’s Christmas Wish (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Damien O’Connor

Voice cast: Lucy O’Connell, Ruth Negga, Moe Dunford, Brendan Mullins, Shona Hamill, Oscar Butler, Janet Moran

A sequel to the much loved Angela’s Christmas, Angela’s Christmas Wish is a heart-warming tale of a determined little girl who sets out to reunite her family in time for Christmas. – IMDB

There’s something so heartwarming about Angela’s Christmas Wish. It has that same type of charming little girl character for Angela that continues from Angela’s Christmas (review) where Angela’s imagination is one that makes it so beautiful to be a child because of the naivety to believe in the things that she knows probably isn’t true but also shows her big heart. Last year was keeping baby Jesus warm and stirring up a lot of commotion that the townspeople hasn’t quite forgotten as it still gets mentioned but this year, its running around trying to bring her father home. Being an adult watching this, its obvious that whatever she is thinking up is absolutely impossible to happen and the adults do bring it up, however its the persistence and the pure hope of bringing her father back home that makes this such a heartwarming tale, which takes her on an adventure and makes a new friend in the process.

Wrapping it up with a tale about a pauper and what he wished for that made him happy as a string between the conversation and a Christmas surprise to look forward to, Angela’s Christmas Wish is all about family, the meaning of happiness and the best intentions. The story is all about the kids and their shenanigans especially based on their simple minded ideas that kids have, liking digging to Australia. Its all the world that crafts up these cute funny moments that make up this story and makes Angela such a charming character who has this convincing enthusiasm that makes her brother and this other little girl to follow along her since her wish would make for her father getting involved and that would allow him to spend time with her. Its all these little desires from children to be close to their parents and yet, adults can see through those beyond the lines moment that make it so meaningful to watch.

Angela’s Christmas Wish is a fun and heartwarming story. One that has all the right values and such charming characters in a cute little town. The ending bit was so touching also that I got a little teary. Its one definitely worth a watch, especially since its less than 50 minutes in length.

The Grinch (2018)

Director: Yarrow Cheney & Scott Mosier

Voice cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Pharrell Williams, Tristan O’Hare, Kenan Thompson, Sam Lavagnino, Ramone Hamilton, Angela Lansbury, Scarlett Estevez

A grumpy Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) plots to ruin Christmas for the village of Whoville. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea Friday Film Club*

Based on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the third screen adaptation following the 1966 classic TV adaptation and the 2000 live action film, The Grinch is a computer animated film and the second Dr. Seuss by Illumination following The Lorax. Illumination is rather on point with these adaptation. For those who are unfamiliar of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, its about a green-furred Grinch who was born with two hearts too small who lives alone in the mountains with his dog Max above Whoville. The Whos are festive and love Christmas a lot which rubs The Grinch the wrong way that he decides to put a stop to it by disguising as Santa on Christmas Eve and stealing all their decorations, gifts and foods to stop them from celebrating Christmas however, he soon realizes that Christmas is more than the material things and that its all about the Christmas spirit which lives in them and ends up with this revelation making his heart grow two sizes and deciding to give back all that he stole to the Whos who in turn, take him in for their Christmas holiday.

While the first adaptation in 1966 is the one that most interprets the original story, these adaptations all add their own twists to fluff up the full length. In this adaptation, it gives the Grinch a backstory that makes him less of the disagreeable character but one where he grows up suffering from being alone that he doesn’t know how it feels to have companionship whether as friends or family. At the same time, giving a lot of life to certain characters in Whoville and not just focusing on Cindy Lou Who. She still plays a big element but giving her more of a backstory, a ploy to meet Santa with her friends and a connection with her mom. Sure, maybe it does stretch far from the original but all this does add a lot of fun characters. Cindy Lou Who and her friends are very adorable in design just like Max and the addition of a buffalo and then there’s the very fun neighbor Mr. Bricklebaum.

Plus, there’s a decent cast of voice actors from Grinch by Benedict Cumberbatch, Cindy Lou’s mom by Rashida Jones, Cindy Lou by Cameron Seely and Mr. Bricklebaum voiced by Kenan Thompson. Of course, a big part of Dr. Seuss story is the Narrator. In this case, its narrated by Pharrell Williams who actually has some narration that strays away from the original text but still keeps the rhyming and creative elements.

This adaptation of The Grinch still has a lot of heart. Its light and fun and fairly entertaining. There’s no doubt that The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is its best without all the extra bits but as its straightforward story like the 1966 TV movie, however this version does an exceptional job at making it very entertaining. Its still full of the Christmas spirit and its a great effort as an adaptation plus in my opinion, its much more redeeming than the 2000 live action adaptation. This one might have some slight pacing issues but it still delivers as a family holiday animated film.

Double Feature: Operation Santa Drop (2020) & Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

I’m super behind on these Christmas reviews going out so I figured that I’d double down to get all of them out. Back to the double feature reviews, we’re in for a Netflix Original double feature for holiday films.

Hope everyone’s having a Merry Christmas Eve and lets check out these two movies!

Operation Santa Drop (2020)

Director: Martin Wood

Cast: Kat Graham, Alexander Ludwig, Trezzo Mahoro, Bethany Brown, Rohan Campbell, Virginia Madsen, Jeff Joseph, Janet Kidder

Congressional aide Erica (Kat Graham) forgoes family Christmas to travel at her boss’s behest. At a beachside Air Force base, she clashes with Capt. Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig), who knows her assignment is finding reasons to defund the facility. – IMDB

Operation Christmas Drop takes a tropic setting for Christmas, much like last year’s Holiday in the Wild (review). In this case, its about the Air Force base doing a good deed on their own means but the facility being on the verge of possibility defunded because of it. Its pretty much a holiday romantic comedy with a bigger cause at heart which has all the right intentions however also feels very familiar. Of course, if these types of movies are your cup of tea, its definitely going to work other than perhaps the computer animated gecko sitting on the wall that looks the most out of place. In the current state of pandemic across the world, it perhaps helps that this sort of destination is one to look forward to in the future when things get back to some form of normal.

Its hard to criticize Operation Christmas Drop. In many ways, the meaning of Christmas and the good deed makes this a rather feel good movie. However, putting it in the context of the romance at heart, it feels a little light. The chemistry is on and off between the two main leads and yet, the whole exploring the place and mostly the character Erica, played by Kat Graham does change her heart as she would have to for to movie to have to fight against her boss, the congresswoman played by Virginia Madsen. The charm is really in how it portrays the villagers and the people in it, plus the setting gives it a lot of extra points. The whole Christmas Drop scene might be the most fun to watch.

Operation Christmas Drop is an alright movie. Its pretty harmless overall and has a decent story to tell especially since its based on a true situation which it makes a point to highlight at the end of the movie. Nameless heroes are the best ones to talk about and possibly the most heartwarming stories. Its very fitting for a holiday film, even if it doesn’t hit all the notes for the romantic arc.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

Director (and writer): David E. Talbert

Cast: Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Madalen Mills, Phylicia Rashad, Ricky Martin, Justin Cornwell, Sharon Rose, Lisa Davina Phillip, Kieron L. Dyer

An imaginary world comes to life in a holiday tale of an eccentric toymaker, his adventurous granddaughter, and a magical invention that has the power to change their lives forever. – IMDB

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a musical fantasy film. I’m all about Netflix putting together these musical films. I also caught up with The Prom shortly after this one but that’s for another post. While its not exactly a Christmas movie in the conventional way, it is one that’s full of magic: the magic of creation especially in terms of toy creations. Its about family and making peace. There’s a bit of silliness to the whole situation as well and some imagination elements but its a fun journey to say the least.

There’s a lot to love about Jingle Jangle even if there are some small pacing issues perhaps and the story is rather predictable in where it will go. However, the musical numbers are really fun and I’m also a sucker for those big musical scenes which almost feels like flash mob. The music itself is good as well. The cast performs it very well. There are some memorable songs in the mix.

Perhaps one of the things that also stand out is that the cast is exceptional, at least to me. Forest Whitaker takes on the main inventor role Jeronicus that has lost his magic after his creation ideas are stolen from his apprentice and at the verge of losing his store that has now turned into a pawnshop, his granddaughter is sent over with the same type of inventive bone as him to warm his life up and also bring back his magic. With a new young boy that wants to be his apprentice in the mix and the postal service lady that wants to win his heart in the most entertaining way and so much personality, it also brings into the mix of Keegan-Michael Key as Gustafson, his apprentice that was actually mislead by Jeronicus’ invention Don Juan Diego who has so much of a human conscious that it doesn’t want to be replicated. Don Juan Diego is animated and voiced by Ricky Martin who does a fantastic job as well. Not to mention that the young stars including the main lead of the granddaughter Journey by Madalen Mills.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is really quite the fun spectacle. The magic and the music and the characters all are quite the charming. Not to mention the setting of the village is nice as well as the toy design that is in the making turns out to be this uber cute Wall-E-esque looking robot. There may be some flaws with this and it has some overacting here and there but then musicals always seem to have that sort of feeling to it and its those moments that blend well with the musical numbers and boosting the story elements.

The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020)

The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Chris Columbus

Cast: Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, Darby Camp, Julian Dennison, Jahzir Bruno, Tyrese Gibson, Judah Lewis, Kimberly Williams-Paisley

Kate Pierce, now a cynical teen, is unexpectedly reunited with Santa Claus when a mysterious troublemaker threatens to cancel Christmas – forever. – IMDB

We’re big fans of The Christmas Chronicles (review) so suffice to say, we were looking forward to the sequel. The sequel takes place a year after the events of the first film again during Christmas season where the family is on vacation in the south with the mother’s new boyfriend and son. There’s resistance to both the new relationship and where they are by Kate who ends up scheming a way to escape but ends up falling into a trap that takes her to North Pole.

The Christmas Chronicles 2 is a bit of mixed feelings. On one hand, there are some very fun bits and the characters including the elves and exploring Santa’s Village plus Kurt Russell as Santa Claus and Goldie Hawn having a bigger part this time around as Mrs. Claus are all very entertaining bits for the movie. The animation of the elves and how they are designed is so cute that I went trying to see if somewhere sells these plush but with no luck.

Along with the pros, there were some cons. Most of it had to do with the plot and the whole revenge bit from Belsnickel, an elf that gets punished for doing misdeeds after Santa doesn’t pay attention to him that he act out and gets turned into human. The main issue is the Belsnickel character that is rather an annoying character design and feels a little disjointed in general. Perhaps, its supposed to fit with a child lashing out and being bratty but the execution just felt lacking on his development. The character is more of an issue in the first half and does feel better as it goes further although his character still just feels like the means of creating issues for Santa and his village.

Playing with tech a little as it moves through time travel a little and morphing through locations, The Christmas Chronicles 2 still had the adventure bit locked down and the young characters finally reaching Santa’s village as a means for Belsnickel turns out to get them involved which also brings on some fun characters and adventures. Starting with cameo characters, Tyrese Gibson plays the mom’s boyfriend which is pretty fun and the first time that I’ve seen him out of the Fast and Furious franchise. With Judah Lewis’s brother falling into a smaller role, Kate is paired with a tag along of the boyfriend’s son, Jack played Jahzir Bruno who ends up bonding the two but giving him a journey as he starts fighting his wide array of fears and finding his courage all with the help of Mrs. Claus. Probably the character everyone has been waiting for since the surprise appearance at the end of the first film is Goldie Hawn as Mrs. Claus, who turns up on quite the role. She creates this balance for Santa. Plus, the whole village’s elves going nuts was quite a hilarious turn of events in a brutally cute way.

Overall, The Christmas Chronicles 2 is alright. It still has the entertainment level and the tone especially with the comedy and family film is done pretty well. The real selling point is in Kurt Russell as Santa who holds up his role really well while expanding it to a memorable Mrs. Claus by Goldie Hawn. It takes on this message about discovering Christmas spirit and a bit like the story of The Grinch where it doesn’t matter so much about where it is but its in their hearts sort of deal. Not quite as outstanding as the first film but still a fun enough one to enjoy for the holidays.

The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020)

The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020)

Director: Mike Rohl

Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Sam Palladio, Mark Fleischmann, Nick Sagar, Mia Lloyd, Suanne Braun, Lachlan Nieboer, Ricky Norwood, Florence Hall

When Duchess Margaret unexpectedly inherits the throne to Montenaro and hits a rough patch with Kevin, it’s up to her double Stacy to save the day before a new lookalike, party girl Fiona foils their plans. – IMDB

The Princess Switch, while not exactly a fresh idea, was a fun one in its original release. Vanessa Hudgens is rather fun playing two different characters, playing around with accents and different background and identity swaps. Something like a version of It Takes Two for grown-ups. You can read my review of the first film HERE.

When Netflix announced that there was a sequel, it was hard to imagine what direction they would take. It didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of other stories to tell especially seeing as A Christmas Prince had already gone through 2 sequels by last year and each one feeling less and less entertaining. The Princess Switch: Switched Again hits much lower than the original. Its not exactly unexpected but having a third Vanessa Hudgens character, Fiona, a different sort of character of the prior two is still fun enough however, the plot as a whole is lacking. Because of so many Vanessa Hudgens, everyone becomes passing figures. The story falls really flat as this new scheme comes into play, there’s just more pieces that don’t fit together and its not exciting or entertaining to watch. Some of the new characters try to be funny but it all seems to miss a mark. Nothing seems to be out of the expected and just turns into a fairly disappointing sort of ordeal. Of course, like I said before, its not unexpected.

Much like the first film, Vanessa Hudgens holds up the movie and is definitely the highlight here. She plays these three characters with a different style and vibe. Margaret and Stacy both being different while Fiona is a much more outward character and brings a little more sass and silliness especially with her two minions. Adding into the equation a guy that wants to win over Margaret’s affections, it all boils down to a fairly predictable sort of movie and the characters all being rather one-dimensional. Not that anyone is expecting more (at least I hope not). Other than Vanessa Hudgens and some of the characters from the first film, the thing that gives this one a little more points is that it finally ties up the world that Netflix is building between A Christmas Prince and this one as the royal family from there makes a cameo appearance.

Overall, The Princess Switch: Switched Again is a fairly normal movie, nothing that’s unexpected and everything stays rather predictable. The whole three personalities for Vanessa Hudgens just feels like she works really hard. Everything else feels a little more normal like the relationship between Stacy and her prince while Margaret sorting out things with Kevin. In comparison, it seems to give more weight to Margaret’s character this time as its in her kingdom this time. The whole world that Netflix creates for their Christmas stories is pretty neat. As a finishing thought, seeing as I’ve had rather lackluster feelings to both A Christmas Prince 3 and this one, I really don’t know where Netflix plans to take these stories or this world.

TV Binge: The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli, Tahirah Sharif, Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Alex Essoe, Roby Attal, Kate Siegel, Katie Parker, Martn McCreadie

After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with the chef Owen, groundskeeper Jamie and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. – IMDB

After the success of The Haunting of Hill House (review), Mike Flanagan helms his next mini- series with another haunted house story called The Haunting of Bly Manor. The Haunting of Bly Manor takes some of the execution style of Hill House but is essentially its own story. After the Hill House experience, its hard to go into this one with a little more alertness and always on the lookout for whats hidden in the background (at least for us, it had that effect for at least a few episodes). Its unfair to compare the two even if there are a similar cast returning from Hill House in mostly supporting roles and being helmed by Flanagan as a creator but less this time as director. In fact, Bly Manor is a different beast in itself with Bly Manor being a new haunted house that comes to life with new characters and backstories and some new ghosts to discover which makes Bly Manor a creepily fun time and its has children so add in a little of the unsettling creepy children element.

Using the same execution of breaking down the episodes to discover the backstory of each of the characters on the past and present is a clever way to do this. In some ways, it gives it this feeling of peeling layers of an onion before every piece fits together and one twist/ secret gets revealed after the next while also getting to know each of the characters more to give them greater connection. Other than that Flanagan takes on the main role of writing which is what gives this piece a lot of style and atmosphere. He only takes the director’s seat for the first episode which sets off the story in a great direction in terms of setting up the proper atmosphere however, even in the hands of other directors, the TV series does still manage to keep a certain atmosphere that is always rather unsettling and creepy but in this one, its definitely more about the mystery and suspense built from what is actually happening.

With that said, the characters are the true star as each of their story comes to life. Victoria Pedretti plays a great role as the American au pair Dani who brings on some change to Bly Manor as she tries to dig into what is causing those abnormal things to happen whether with the children or the inexplicable things she sees or experiences. At the same time, the baggage she carries does brings on a few twists as well. The cook Owen (Rahul Kohli) is also a really fun character especially with some hilarious puns like Al-Cohol You Later (one that we have a lot of fun right now saying randomly). One of the best characters and possibly the one with one of the best episode is for the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller) who delivers a hell of a performance. Not to mention the kids deliver some great performances by Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Flora and Miles respectively. Then you have some comeback roles with one or two episodes as some decent characters with Henry Thomas as the uncle, Carla Gugino who is the narrator and Kate Siegel as a key character to the past of Bly Manor to just name a few. There’s a whole lore of how the ghosts and spirits work that becomes a very nice twist.

Bly Manor brings its own setting by itself. The grounds and the manor itself all comes to life with all the stories that slowly comes to surface. The cast brings quite a lot to the story just like the first one as they all have a great deal of depth and its never solely a ghost story but much more than that which is what makes The Haunting of Bly Manor so good. Its something of a love, revenge, family, drama with supernatural elements. There’s some heartwarming moments and some comedy and then there’s a lot of creepiness and fantastic eerie atmosphere at times that’s pretty well balances. Its the not the same as Hill House but different in an equally good way.

Double Feature: The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020) & Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

After our single feature yesterday, we’re back to the the next double feature! This time we’re looking at a pair of horror sequels. The first is Netflix Original film The Babysitter’s sequel: The Babysitter: Killer Queen and Unfriended (aka when I saw it it was called Cybernatural)’s sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web. Let’s check it out!

The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)

Director: McG

Cast: Judah Lewis, Samara Weaving, Jenna Ortega, Emily Alyn Lind, Andrew Bachelor, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Hana Mae Lee, Ken Marino, Leslie Bibb, Chris Wylde

Two years after Cole survived a satanic blood cult, he’s living another nightmare: high school. And the demons from his past? Still making his life hell. – IMDB

The sequel of The Babysitter (review) is something of a disappointing follow-up. In some ways, it has a bit of the rinse and repeat formula where its also about performing a satanic blood cult and it brings back the ghosts of Cole’s past in the form of the cast from the first film. On one hand, the original cast brings in a lot of callbacks from the first one whether its their personality or what happens to them that adds a lot of fun moments for fans of the first film. I’m not quite sure it lands as well for someone watching this without the first film (although I’m not sure who goes into sequel without watching the first one especially since The Babysitter is also a Netflix Original film so its all the same platform). With that said, the other side is the partnering with an unlikely ally which is the first twist fairly early in the movie that brings in the second group there to perform this ritual and also targeting Cole. With that said, Cole has a spontaneous partner in the new girl in school, Phoebe (Jenny Ortega) which links back to Samara Weaving’s character, Bee which also takes on a parallel storyline.

If anything, Killer Queen is disappointing because it loses its simplicity of the first film being as straightforward and scripted better in its originality of the characters and the babysitter running a cult which has some comedy and some more abrupt moments. This one runs on a lot of tangents and a bigger setting. The setting itself does it a lot of favors and the original cast also is very enjoyable to watch as well as Jenny Ortega’s character is a standout as well. But then, they bring in the parents which is meant to be rather funny but a lot of times runs on fumes at times and falls short of the comedy that it should land. Perhaps the beginning it was a lot more entertaining than by the time it reaches the end. The end is redeemed when it takes this different twist which was a little obvious by the end but gives a little redemption to the characters.

Overall, its still a little disappointing. Its not exactly bad as it just loses the horror comedy elements by the end. Its a little disjointed and tries to add too many moving parts than the story actually needs. It falls short in a few elements. Its a little sad since I was really hoping to like this one but by the middle, it just got a little frustrating to watch, mostly with the new cast being a little overacting and the characters just not really working as well.

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

Director (and writer): Stephen Susco

Cast: Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Savira Windyani

A teen comes into possession of a new laptop and soon discovers that the previous owner is not only watching him, but will also do anything to get it back. – IMDB

When Unfriended (review) released, it was the beginning of a cyber found footage style. While the first movie some of its issues, the concept itself proved to be a good one. One that would prove to be especially engaging watching since in some ways, the audience was the invisible spectator in the story as this is all going on through a Skype call. It was a little surprising to see that they ended up making a sequel for it but set in another realm, the Dark Web (which was conveniently on my radar because some video games had explored that as well). In many ways, Unfriended: Dark Web actually is better than the first movie. For one, the setting and the tension is a lot better. The execution and how they facilitate the call even if the technology is pretty much the same. Adding to the equation a deaf girlfriend and some relationship issues and the whole message of not taking what isn’t yours, these friends start off with a virtual game night and ends up being dragged into this dark web community of craziness with what starts off as a simple deed to return the laptop turns into a bigger reach when it involves the Dark Web and the members.

Unfriended: Dark Web is really quite an intense ride. There are twists and turns throughout and it uses the found footage concept effectively. Some of the characters and dialogue might have some little issues here and there but overall, the experience is really good. Its a lot more subtle horror and tension build-up than it is about how they all die. Its plot and the way things flow actually matches up to the little surprises with how the dark web members plan out their kills in a very clever way that all clicks together at the end. An impressive sequel and one that honestly is a rare case of the sequel being better than its original.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen this pair of sequels?

TV Binge: The American Barbecue Showdown (Season 1, 2020)

The American Barbecue Showdown (Season 1, 2020)

Hosts: Rutledge Wood, Lyric Lewis
Judges: Melissa Cookston, Kevin Bludso

Food competition that follows the country’s best backyard smokers and competitive barbecuers as they compete for the title of American Barbecue Champion. – IMDB

Netflix has been really embracing this whole summer and barbecue theme in its latest food shows. Its latest reality food competition show is The American Barbecue Showdown which gathers up 8 contestants from America compiled of both female and male pitmasters in a series of themes challenges ranging from making different cuts of meats to assorted wild game and also having different requirements of sides and desserts as well as additional challenges announced in the middle of the main challenge. This show does go by very fast as its really one challenge per episode and announcement of one best pitmaster and the lowest one leaves the competition. The structure itself is definitely pretty good as well as the array of challenges set forth.

The judges and host are also pretty on point. Rutledge Wood who has been hosting a few Netflix shows from Hyperdrive (review) (which is definitely in his domain) to Floor is Lava (review) to this food competition. He definitely has a lot of energy that pairs up well with this show. I haven’t seen his partner Lyric Lewis before but she’s pretty fun to watch as well. I’m going to say that I know nothing about barbecue pitmaster competitions so whether the two judges are big names or not really is not in my field of knowledge but they definitely sound like they know their stuff and are very experienced plus they both have their own sort of personality that adds to the show especially Melissa Cookston who is the stricter judge but something about how she reacts added to the show. The discussions between the judges and/or the hosts also bring a lot to the table that adds context to their concerns or whatnot. Barbecue isn’t that much different from general cooking shows since its another cooking technique at least for myself is not that knowledgeable.

There’s not a whole lot to say about American Barbecue Showdown. At this point, Netflix has created a lot of these original reality TV food competition sort of shows and they have this similar structure with little tweaks that pair up with the task on hand that works pretty well and its fun and engaging. At the same time, its a professional barbecue competition so pitmasters are different from normal people who are barbecuing in their backyards and has a lot more knowledge to share as well as strategies whether its about the different cuts of meat and their quality or how it should be made or even the different smokers and such, there’s a lot to learn and as much as the show was fun because the competitors were a lot of fun to watch over the 8 episodes to see their abilities and what they come out with, the show also had a lot of other stuff to offer in terms of educating on the world of barbecue and the complexities of fire and seasoning paired with everything else. Overall, The American Barbecue Showdown is a good time.

TV Binge: The Big Flower Fight (Season 1, 2020)

The Big Flower Fight (Season 1, 2020)

The Big Flower Fight

Hosts & Resident Judge: Natasia Demetriou, Vic Reeves, Kristen Griffith-Vanderyacht

Ten pairs of florists, sculptors and garden designers face off in a friendly floral fight to see who can build the biggest, boldest garden sculptures. – IMDB

Netflix comes up with a lot of reality competition shows and a lot of times, they do work for the most part and then sometimes, we have shows that make us wonder whether there is an actual market and who else is watching it? The Big Flower Fight is one of those shows where I did enjoy watching it because I’m a big fan of flowers, plants and gardening in general but then I’m wondering how many of us have that ambition to go and make some relatable garden sculptures like these 20 people are doing over 15 hours. However, what makes its fun is that competition element and the whole different themed weeks which bring in different types of flowers and plants that give it that educational element.

the big flower fight

If we take a look at the hosts Natasia Demetriou and Vic Reeves, they do have a nice humorous charm in their hosting style. There’s a lot to love about how they approach each stage. Sometimes, its a big over the top but it does feel like its in the context of giving this tense competition process some kind of relief. I think other than the hosts themselves, the judges themselves deserve some discussion. I’m not an expert at these renowned event florists and landscapers and horticulturist so none of these people mean anything to me and they could be saying anything in terms of their vision and what is being done to judge it, but if anything, it goes back to expanding our knowledge in this field. At the same time, they also share a lot of knowledge on the different plants available in the nursery that fit the theme on hand. The resident judge, Kristen Griffith-Vanderyacht is also quite a fun addition because he has some charisma and character that it brightens the show and his views are rather interesting as he looks at each of these sculptures.

the big flower fight

Just like baking shows and whatnot, while this feels definitely more of a niche market, it gives a platform to a different group of people around the world who has a passion for different types of planting from urban indoor gardens to event florists to artists as their outlet and a chance to show the world their skills. For that, The Big Flower Fight does a really good job. Life’s about learning new things. Just like a fraction of anyone is going to join into Hyperdrive or Ultimate Beastmaster, the same goes for The Big Flower Fight where its mostly a learning process. In the end, garden sculptures is something of an art/exhibition piece. Everyone’s interpretation and execution as the show goes along sheds some light on how they use their plants and the whole process of giving them alive. I’m not going to go and plant a garden sculpture anytime soon (or ever) and while I question how popular this show actually is and how many people are turning this on, its a unique angle to focus on and one that I’ve had a rather fun time watching as its not only about plants but also about the engineering behind each of these structures and sculptures and the balance that it achieves. There’s quite a bit of finesse, knowledge and skills needed to do all this.

Have you seen The Big Flower Fight or at have an intention to watch it?

The Half Of It (2020)

The Half of It (2020)

the half of it

Director (and writer): Alice Wu

Cast: Leah Lewis, Alexxis Lemire, Daniel Diemer, Becky Ann Baker, Catherine Curtin, Collin Chou, Wolfgang Novogratz

When smart but cash-strapped teen Ellie Chu agrees to write a love letter for a jock, she doesn’t expect to become his friend – or fall for his crush. – IMDB

In the mass of Netflix Originals that gets released in a year, every once in a while, we find some hidden gems. While coming of age films are rather formulaic in many ways, The Half of It is unique in its own way as it packs in a lot of layers of teen issues altogether as well as immigrant family struggles. All these elements combines with a balanced execution focus on coming of age mixed in with bits of romance and friendship. If we think about this in similarities, the story here is similar to Sierra Burgess is a Loser (review), except you trade out physical insecurities with  some other issues like LGBT and immigrant family issues. The things that stand out in Sierra Burgess actually work really well here as well, like the friendship element between Ellie and Paul as well as her interaction with her father. 

The Half of It really works because of its cast that brings to life these well-written characters. Each of them presenting their different characteristics in a believable and charming manner, even behind their many awkward moments which adds to the humor. Leah Lewis plays the main character of Ellie Chu who keeps to herself and breaks her rules when she decides to help “edit” (but really write) a love letter for Paul (Daniel Diemer), a jock with rather undesirable writing skills, because she coincidentally needed the money. And yet, sometimes these perfect coincidences presents itself as a blessing in disguise when she bonds this unexpected friendship both with Paul and as the voice for Paul to appeal to Aster (Alexxis Lemire). Its the awkwardness moments that work well here whether its Ellie and Paul or when Paul interacts with Aster on their little dates. At the same time, like mentioned before, one of the highlights is between Ellie and her father (Collin Chou) who usually is known for his villainous and action roles in Asian cinema. The father element plays a decent part in the story and it makes this story always centered around Ellie which makes it truly her coming of age story and never loses sight of that.

The Half Of It might seem like a familiar tale in its execution but it also is unique because of the different issues that it tackles. Perhaps its because its about a Chinese immigrant family that it relates better to myself that it also strikes a chord and the family element here plays out really well. Or perhaps its the portrayal of Ellie Chu that really is quite appealing even though she doesn’t seem to find the same confidence in herself but actually finds it as she confides in Paul while helping him subconsciously building their friendship. While there is an unrequited love element there and teen romance that never quite gets a lot of resolution, it seems like the story is never quite about that but actually manages to create a fairly positive and sweet ending despite of it. All these elements makes The Half Of It such a charming coming of age movie. While I’ve never seen Alice Wu’s previous work Saving Face, I do hope that it won’t take her over a decade before making a new movie as she has quite a decent vision as a director and writer that it would be interesting to see what other stories she will tell in the future.

TV Binge: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner (Season 1, 2019)

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner (Season 1, 2019)

breakfast lunch and dinner

Host: David Chang

Guests: Seth Rogen, Chrissy Teigen, Lena Waithe, Kate McKinnon

Chang accompanied by a different celebrity guest exploring a single city, its culture and its cuisine. As the pair travels through each city, they will also uncover new and surprising things about themselves. – IMDB

Hosted by David Chang, Breakfast Lunch & Dinner is a new Netflix docuseries, much like Ugly Delicious, exploring food and culture. The structure of this series is different in this 4-episode series. Each episode sees David Chang going to one city accompanied by one celebrity  that may or may not be from the area to explore the food offered there. In some places, its about authenticity and in others, its about reflecting the place itself. The episodes span over Vancouver, Los Angeles, Morocco and Phnom Penh where the pair will go for a day out in the city eating the different meals throughout the day and talking about the city, the culture and of course, the cuisine which eventually goes to talking about their own lifestyle and more.

Four episode seasons are always a quick binge. It almost feels like this one should have been paired up with Ugly Delicious Season 2’s four episodes to create a full season. However, there is nothing to complain about. This new structure is very refreshing. To a certain extent, this one is more lighthearted to watch. Its less about those societal issues that are often linked in Ugly Delicious but takes a more entertaining level as they talk about the celebrities career and living in the city or other more casual friends hangout topics. It does touch on the societal topics every once in a while but overall, its a rather fun discussion most of the time to see the dynamic of David Chang and his guest celebrity and each one of them brings something new to the table.

Its really hard to expand too much on this show since it is not only short but also with a rather straightforward concept. Breakfast Lunch & Dinner is a pretty fun show. It would definitely be nice to see where they can take this and what other guests will join David Chang as he explores a city in one day and all the food that he tries (especially since I have some foodie friends that I’ve travelled with where our trips are like that as well). Its a nice snapshot of a city experience and in some ways, its almost like a casual hangout or interview that gives space to discuss a wide range of topics. There’s a lot to love about this show and is much more focused on one place and culture and cuisine that gives its a lot of substance as well. Its a different approach to a food docuseries and while I like both this structure and Ugly Delicious’ structure, it would be nice to see this one have more episodes if they manage to get a Season 2.

If you haven’t seen the reviews for Ugly Delicious, you can find it below:

Season 1
Season 2