Double Feature: Great White (2021) & The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Halloween month kicks off with an Australian shark film double feature. I couldn’t think of a better way than to pair up my fave horror subgenre to kick things off! Let’s check it out!

Great White (2021)

Director: Martin Wilson

Cast: Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Jason Wilder, Tatjana Marjanovic

A fun filled flight to a remote atoll turns into a nightmare for five passengers when their seaplane is destroyed in a freak accident and they are trapped on a raft, 100 miles from shore with man-eating sharks lurking beneath the surface. – IMDB

Great White is an Australian shark film which is mostly similar to The Reef (review), playing on the more serious shark film style where it builds up on tension and atmosphere. The story takes form with the group stranded in open waters and being circled by sharks in a lifesaver as they gradually paddle their way to the closest land. In theory, the film holds a lot of potential since this formula does work well. The emptiness and loneliness of the location plus the unknown elements at play all contribute to that formula. However, what puts Great White in disadvantage is that the story and writing itself is not well-executed and the characters mostly feel a little lacking.

Looking at the story and writing, there’s some big execution issues here. If you follow the time stamps on the film, there’s a decent set up for the situation where the bad stuff happens also relatively quickly. In usual circumstances, that’s a rather decent pacing. However, where things fall apart is that the events focus heavily on the group of stranded characters and the many hidden emotions they have with each other which leads to the story, despite the presence of the shark in the background being a threat, it also brings up on the human side a lot where some characters truly become a very grating experience and wondering when the next attack would be. Thing is, once they start off, things do happen but they do have a great deal of time together in this floatation device before the shark makes a move. The shark attack themselves are rather fun especially since a good part of the film is in the dark so the unknown becomes even more apparent.

The writing issue touched on the characters themselves and Great White has a cast of some good and some bad characters. On one side of the spectrum, there are the knowledgeable resourceful people and on the other hand, the whiny and annoying character (one truly stands out) who is filled with some jealousy in his mind that causes him to act out with some dire consequences. If there was any sort of redemption, its that the final face off with the shark, because there always is one, was really fun to watch. A little wild but still an exciting way to wrap up this whole thing while tying together some of the story pieces together.

Overall, Great White is a more serious shark film that leans on tension and atmosphere. In this case, this was counterbalanced by its human interaction which had its pros and cons. The shark bits themselves were done really well however there were some petty human relationships and conversations that ended causing a lot of nuisance to the story as a whole.

The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Director (and writer): Andrew Traucki

Cast: Teressa Liane, Ann Truong, Saskia Archer, Kate Lister, Bridget Burt

After her sister’s murder, Nic, her younger sister and two friends seek solace through a Pacific island kayaking adventure. Hours into the trip the women are stalked by a shark and must band together, face their fears and save each other. – IMDB

For those who have seen The Reef, this one has no connection to it other than featuring a shark who stalks its characters. The Reef: Stalked plays a little faster pace than The Reef which was a much more slow-burn experience. Looking at this one, the pacing and more frequent action bits adds to the shark film experience while the part which lowers it might be the obvious lower budget Go-Pro camera filming and the very odd cuts from one scene to the next at times including the snippets of the shark, however the shark does make a good few appearances. As much I am comparing the two, its truly to give a general picture for those who have seen The Reef, like myself. The Reef sequel wasn’t really necessary but it can be appreciated.

Taking the approach of films like 47 Meters Down which takes their sequel in a new story with a similar shark concept, The Reef: Stalked definitely finds itself in a different sort of film. This time, the characters are at sea coping with a loss with different members having different experiences and know-hows which contribute or hinder the group’s progress as they go out on kayak. Its mostly focuses on the flotation devices at this point from kayaks to boats to balances which can create their own dangers with the shark’s appearance. Its a neat element for sure as a lot of the more mainstream shark films haven’t played around with kayaking yet so it feels fresh in that sense. The shark also is more active in this one so the danger hits much quicker. Trading in relationship issues, this time the main character is torn between a tense sister relationship and something like post-traumatic stress disorder from a past event creating its hindrance as well.

The acting here is okay for a shark film. No one here feels like they are super awkward but its adequate to get the role across. The dialogue has some decent moments and some that truthfully feels a little hard to digest. It does have a moment which calls sharks “men in grey suits” which of course, that character gets offed first because we all know to not mock sharks in silly descriptions and strip them from their danger element in these films. There is also a moment of childhood endangerment that also creates a rather tense piece which has somewhat of a callback to various other shark films but fits well in this piece to kick off the final act to not only seek help. It is a rather awkward transition of events when the group decides the only way to escape is to kill it which feels like an oddly sudden deduction of events for their situation.

The Reef: Stalked is an average shark movie overall. Compared to its first film, this one is probably easier to get into because it has more action and shark attacks and things move along much quicker after the first scene is established to build up its main character. However, the film does have some moments which transition awkwardly from the weird shark footage cuts to some odd decisions from its characters, its not exactly unpredictable but there are a few good moments.

What’s Up & Adventures – September 2022

ADVENTURES

Halloween Marathon

Its the time of year again, even if I think its a bit hard to believe we’re already here. I’m going to admit right now that this may go very bad with very little output as mostly my sporadic lack of sleep does affect my writing efficiency. However, Halloween Marathon is something that I truly enjoy and with some changes in circumstances, via a one-month sub of a streaming service that I will talk about in the Movies section, I have some great choices to add to the line-up plus Netflix and Shudder has some nice stuff to watch as well. If you follow me on Letterboxd, you know what I’ve been watching and what reviews will be coming up. With that said, the first post for the marathon starts tomorrow. Expect TV binges and Double Features in the line-up.

Baby Update

Triple V has been quite a bundle this week as he passes his 3 months. For Chinese people, we like to celebrate 100 days so my mom got him some little gifts. On top of that, his 100 days also signified a change because he’s a whopping 15lbs now which means he can’t sleep in his bassinet anymore and had to be moved to the crib. The transition was the biggest highlight since we had just mastered some great sleeping habits in the bassinet to find that the transition to the crib felt almost like it was starting all over again, which was a little deflating on our already lack of sleep and slowly gaining back sleep stage. However, as I write this post, it was really only the first few nights with the first where Triple V decided he wanted to explore the ENTIRE space and started going in circles and then getting himself stuck and woke up and cried. A few days later, he is still doing it but all the trying to flip over and the getting stuck and waking up is done. He now wakes up mostly in desperate hunger and some weird need for attention in the early mornings but mostly he can go back to sleep fairly well or get himself out of the corner on his own. Slowly we will get there…

Exercise Update

Its been over 3 months so I’ve been taking longer walks now. I’m not jumping into intense exercising (not that I’ve done that in a long while) so its mostly morning and evening strolls with Triple V and they are gradually getting a bit longer. While I can’t remember to track everything,

Broadwalk “Hiking” – Marais de la Rivieres aux Cerises

Marais de la Rivieres des Cerises

With the whole exercise chat, we decided that we would go for a little fall foliage since we seem to always miss it when we go during Thanksgiving. However, this year it seems everything is a little delayed so we were a tad early. There were some areas with a lot of trees that had changed colors but a lot of places that didn’t really have it yet. It was nice to take a little easy hike even we had already been here before (probably about a decade ago) but this time it was a little first road trip adventure with Triple V.

WHAT’S UP

Books

  • The Summer I Turned Pretty (Review)

Currently reading: Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3), Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle

Look at me and reading. I can’t really recommend The Summer I Turned Pretty and you can read all about it in the review. In terms of YA novel content, The Lunar Chronicles does a better job as Cinder is a stellar book and its sequel is passable so I decided to start that one up but then got attracted to my new purchases of Kiki’s Delivery Service (which I never read the source material before) and Howl’s Moving Castle (which I have but wanted to re-read). I should finish a part of that list during October, let’s hope.

Movies

  • Spirited Away (2001 rewatch)
  • The Reef: Stalked (2022)
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 rewatch)
  • The Little Mermaid Live (2019)
  • Waitress (2007)
  • Hocus Pocus (1993 rewatch)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (2018 rewatch, review)
  • Sheng Wang: Sweet and Juicy (2022)
  • Death On The Nile (2022)
  • Turning Red (2022)
  • The Maze Runner (2014 rewatch, review)
  • Do Revenge (2022)
  • Monsters University (2013)
  • Incredibles 2 (2018)
  • Jennifer’s Body (2009)
  • Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
  • Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015, Review)
  • Underwater (2020)
  • Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018, Review)
  • Antlers (2021)
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
  • Captain Marvel (2019)

Currently watching: Nightmare Alley

As I mentioned before, I got a one month subscription to Disney Plus for the Disney Day deal for $1.99. Last year I got it, I forgot that it existed and didn’t really make use of it too much so we’re making back for it this year. There’s quite the catalogue even outside of the Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars content so it was pretty good. There’s still a little less than half a month left so you will probably still see some more of this service’s titles pop up in the next month.

With that said, its been a very low amount of reviews written mostly because a lot of this is prep work for the Halloween Marathon or for Movies and Tea podcast. If its not, you should see those soon, probably after October’s marathon month. I do have an ambitious goal of catching up with Marvel’s films since I stopped at Infinity War so I buckled down to do it. You can see that I’m already slowly catching up.

My recommendations this month goes to Turning Red, Do Revenge, Underwater and the Maze Runner trilogy.

TV

  • I Just Killed My Dad (Limited Series, 2022)
  • The Oasis鄧錄圓魚洲
  • The Rap Of China中國説唱巔峰對決
  • The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist (Limited Series, 2022)

Currently binging: Great Escape Season 4 密室大逃脫第四季, Love Between Fairy and Devil 蒼蘭訣, Call Me By Fire 2 披荊斬棘的哥哥, Heart Signal Season 5心動的信號, Hello Summer Relationship相遇的夏天, Rock & Roast Season 5脫口秀大會,

Oh boy, TV series will be hard to talk about unless you have a massive interest in Chinese Variety shows or dramas. Its honestly just the time of year where all the shows I like have gathered together to be released at the same time. Most of them are currently playing in the currently binging one. The standout is always Great Escape where Season 4 has truly notched up the fun element and they expanded and blended the Escape Room with other game elements.

I actually was planning on finishing Love Between Fairy and Devil before Netflix added it but got lured to watch other stuff and never got around to resuming it however, its a pretty great show and if you have Netflix, it makes it so much easier to watch.

Games

  • A Plague Tale: Innocence (to be finished)
  • Coffee Talk (Review)
  • AI: The Somnium Files (not finished)

I’ve been taking a little more time on gaming when I have the time to spare. I mean, I have a fixed amount of time where I can do my own stuff when the little one naps or goes to bed at night so its not really a ton of time. However, with a lot of the Game Pass catalogue leaving during September, I tried to get through the ones that I wanted to play hence the unfinished two games. A Plague Tale: Innocence is actually pretty good but I saved myself the rush mostly because I didn’t realize that my husband bought it on Steam so I will get back to that eventually. AI : The Somnium Files is a pretty good game and super expensive to buy in general but its a visual novel with investigative elements and you can’t really rush those so I unfortunately didn’t get to finish it. I was pretty much a third into the game at that point looking at some of the game chapter breakdown. This one’s a little quirky and odd but there are some pretty graphic murder scenes in this one.

Now, lets talk about something that I did finish: Coffee Talk which is also a visual novel and once where you brew coffee while listening to what goes on with the customers. Its a relaxing game to say the least plus there are some fun drink blends that they include which were fun to discover as well.

Double Feature: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) & Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

If you haven’t seen the review for the first film, you can check it out HERE.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Rosa Salazar, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk

After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. – IMDB

The Scorch Trials picks up right after the events of the first film when they escape the maze and is flown away to a closed compound which they eventually realize has ulterior motives which takes them on the run again. With both WCKD and the new dangers in the new desert landscape in the midst, the group has changed a little but still they are working together in hopes to find a rumored safe haven.

Its no secret that I’m a big fan of The Maze Runner books so its even more exciting to see that the films do live up to the world building and atmosphere of each desolate place that Thomas and the Gladers traverse. Much like its first film, The Scorch Trials excels in creating those two elements really well. The second film has a lot more than just an empty space with an ever-changing maze, this time its a vast desert landscape but shows the deterioration of time and battles and such with its ruins scattered around. It gives a better idea of what the world has now become and the dangerous creatures called Cranks that have inhabited it which are basically zombies. They are the reason that WCKD is looking for the cure with belief that the kids are immune. While the film market is saturated with zombie films at this point, perhaps its the fact that Scorch Trials brings out the “zombies” as an unexpected element adds to the surprise element a little.

Usually, I’d complain about the runtime as this one does go over the 2 hour mark. However, The Scorch Trials keeps things action-packed and builds up on the tension of each scene, making the film very entertaining and captivating to watch for the most part as it moves from one quick-paced scene to the next from one dangerous situation and escape to the next one. These spaces where the action is taking place also range quite a bit from dilapidated buildings to sewers to vents. Even the Cranks themselves have their own evolution in having a variety of two as we can see from the film. The visuals here do add to the whole environment and setting for the film.

Despite its long runtime, character development does leave a bit to be desired. All the characters don’t really expand a lot on terms of personality. The focal characters, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) extend their storyline a little to build up their purpose and where they stand after the events of the maze. Aside from them, in my opinion the characters that felt more well-constructed through his actions is Minho (Ki Hong Lee). This film brings out a lot of where the loyalties lie. While the lack of character development was acceptable in the base movie, it feels like the supporting characters could benefit from a little more depth especially for Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who was a fun character in the first film and while this film gives him more screen time still feels like it doesn’t quite do justice to his character completely. Breaking out of the maze also means that they now have new groups of people to deal with including one group led by Jorge, played by Giancarlo Esposito and the other led by Vince, played by Barry Pepper. Both of these creating their own dynamics.

As someone who has read the source material (review), the film does capture most of the big moments and the atmosphere up to the world-building elements. What’s good about The Maze Runner trilogy really is that even though they aren’t completely self-contained, each book starts with a new area and phase so while the other movies would help to complete the image, its not incredibly hard to follow except for the character alliances in some cases.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Will Poulter, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Walton Goggins

Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as “The Flare”. – IMDB

Taking place a little while after the end of events in The Scorch Trials, mostly able to tell with the unitedness of the three crews of last once and the mid-length hair that Brenda, a new female character from the previous film, The Death Cure is a last hurrah which continues on with the quick-paced action-packed world. Attempting to keep this spoil-free, the previous film flipped a lot of things around with Minho being caught and Thomas keeping his promise to never leave him behind, Brenda bringing a little love triangle but not really while betrayal is the center of how things are the way they are with WCKD.

This film’s adventure starts off with a bang with a rather adventurous and daring rescue plan to hijack a train car which ends up leading them off to their new setting this time, the Last City aka the headquarters of WCKD and meeting the rebellion group in that area lead by Lawrence played by Walton Goggins and they see an old face, Gally who has mellowed out a little and willing to help them. The Last City is a pretty good new setting as it differs from the previous two in a metropolitan setting full of tall skyscrapers and guarded to protect from Cranks and those infected by the Flare. The contrast of the rebellion group in the outside area in their underground dark and gloomy base to the sci-fi WCKD headquarters, this movie adds a lot of scope.

The big finale brings a lot of big moments as the characters start pivoting more and having a little more screen time. The atmosphere is still captured very well from the characters in the WCKD building following orders and having a one track mind to create a cure while the other group with Thomas is planning to not only rescue but also steal the cure. The dangers gives this group another chance to navigate this cityscape maze, something we haven’t talked about is each place having its own maze. The first one being an actual maze whereas its all a maze as they navigate the unknown in the desert landscape of Scorch Trials and the cityscape and WCKD headquarters of Last City.

In some ways, the big finale does get harmed a little by the lack of character development since the ending does create quite the event. For a little comparison, the book (review) does a much better job in that scene (if I remember correctly, its been a while). However, the final film of the trilogy does achieve quite a bit with some pretty fantastic scenes especially the elaborate rescue and escape plan in Last City which creates some gripping moments.

Overall, The Maze Runner is a pretty entertaining adaptation. Its not exactly the same as the book and some of the character development leaves a little to be desired which makes the ending lack a little of the punch that it wants to deliver, however the world building and the settings along with the gripping atmosphere and the visuals really are the elements that stand out quite a lot.

The Summer I Turned Pretty (Summer#1) by Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty
(Summer #1)
By: Jenny Han

Some summers are just destined to be pretty.

When each summer begins, Belly leaves her school life behind and escapes to Cousins Beach, the place she has spent every summer of her life. Not only does the beach house mean home away from home, but her favorite people are there: Susannah, her mother’s best friend, and her sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. Belly has been chasing Conrad for as long as she can remember, and more than anything, she hopes this summer will be different. Despite distractions from a new guy named Cam and lingering looks from Conrad’s brother, Jeremiah, Belly’s heart belongs to Conrad. Will he offer his to her? Will this be the summer that changes everything?  – Goodreads

Expectations are a very dangerous thing. Its no secret for frequenters of my humble blog that I’m a huge fan of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. While the trilogy had its imperfections as it went along, it still had a lot of great moments much like the Netflix adaptations that still managed to capture the essence of the story from both a coming of age and teen romance angle. I’m not going to lie that the synopsis of The Summer I Turned Pretty wasn’t exactly capturing me a lot in the first place however, sometimes the actual read could give some surprises. The issue is that The Summer I Turned Pretty basically didn’t give me any surprises and was what I expected out of an average teen romance.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is pretty much a through and through teen romance. Its a little bit of coming of age and friendship but overall, its mostly focused around its main character Belly (short for Isabel) and her sweet sixteen summer. Belly is not a very captivating character, in fact as a main character from her point of view, it probably painted her out to be much more annoying than anything else. The deal is Belly has a certain grounded-ness, which is the good part like her insecurities as a teenager and trying to feel accepted in a group of friends. Those things worked in favor to her character however for the most part, she did make some pretty bad decisions or inconsiderate ones, although sometimes I feel that its my age reading this now that makes me see this more mature and this stuff is normal for someone at sixteen.

However, talking about the mature element, there are parts of this where Belly feels like she is more than sixteen in terms of how she views love itself and how she words certain things. Its a very odd character that’s been put together. Thing is, looking at the other characters, they feel even less fleshed out and while this inevitable love triangle between her and the brothers Conrad and Jeremiah, the two brothers also feel very lightly written and then the ending gives them a sudden shift.

This does bring us to the execution and structure for The Summer I Turned Pretty. The execution style is actually one that I do enjoy which creates something of a scrambled storyline as she talks about the current and then it links back to a past story regarding a younger self at the summer house vacation. Its meant to create context to give some depth for the story itself, which it does do for the most part. Even if the story itself doesn’t really feel that surprising most of the time, it still adds to the story itself to build up on the events that bring these characters together. That’s the main thing is everything is just about the events but never truly about the growth of the characters other than their expected growth due to getting older.

Overall, The Summer I Turned Pretty is very average. It all dials down to some rather lackluster characters stuck in a predictable teen romance situation. The best part of the story actually are the moments when its not about the romance and the vibe of how the summer house is with the two mothers and their kids in the little anecdotal chapters. Some of them show a rather heartwarming and positive family vibe. Its hard to talk about this one since it stands a bit in the middle. Considering the ending did feel like it had a resolution, it did feel self-contained which is a trait I love in books that are meant to be some form of series. In this case, I’m rather hesitant about reading the rest of the trilogy.

Goodreads score: 3/5

Music Obsessions – September 2022

Welcome to this month’s Music Obsessions! I honestly can’t believe its already September and I’ve actually managed to keep up with this segment with actual content. Its a little wild overall. Either way, here we are so let’s go right into it!

Cruel – Jackson Wang

At this point, Jackson Wang really has proven that his variety in his music with his resources has truly grown quite a bit including the music video themselves are really creative. While I can’t say that I love all his music the same level, there’s a certain catchiness to them that jives well. Cruel is pretty good and the video is pretty impressive. I wonder whether Jackson Wang will one day jump into being a director at this point seeing as all his music videos now have a certain fantastical story background.

眼淚落下之前 Before Tears Fall Down – Silence Wang 汪蘇瀧

This summer’s youth romance film, since it seems like there’s always one highlight film of that regard in China is My Blue Summer. The source material for My Blue Summer has already been adapted into 2 separate Chinese TV series before called Unrequited Love both times with the only difference being its network and the cast. While I think that’s kind of pointless, they’ve gone and adapted it into a film as well. Which brings us to Silence Wang’s song which I really liked when he performed it in Wonderland Season 2, a Chinese lifestyle variety show so found the original MV.

寻一个你 Searching You- Yuning Liu刘宇宁
(“Love Between Fairy and Devil” Theme)

One of the hit Chinese fantasy dramas this summer has to be Love Between Fairy and Devil so of course, I’m also watching it right now. Not binging quite the way that I normally would but everything fits so well for me from the cast to the soundtrack. Its theme is by Yuning Liu which I have shared him music quite a bit over the time this segment has been around. Probably one of the newer singers that I like nowadays since the last time I followed someone so intently has be at least a decade ago. Regardless, I’m always happy to watch series and find his song part of the OST. Its a really nice one that matches this series pretty well.

臟藝術家 Dirty Artist – MC HotDog熱狗

Its crazy how time does fly by but MC HotDog was the original first generation Chinese rapper back in my teenage days and its great to see the status that he’s achieved as a hip hop artist. In the last few years popping on music related variety show, there’s a humble side of him that makes him so respectable. In the latest season of Rap of China: All Stars Season, not only did he take all the new generation rappers under his wing in his team, there’s no doubt that during the performances that all these years experience with his writing and the messages he wants in his songs now. There’s a versatility that can’t be duplicated. Either way, he tried to not outshine his other team members most of the time but this song he did himself is probably the best of the show.

粉色海洋 Pink Ocean – 周杰倫 Jay Chou

I’d like to say that Jay Chou’s latest album seems to be all songs paired up with Taiwanese lyricist Vincent Fang who found his popularity writing up the majority of the hit songs from Jay Chou’s beginning albums, so there’s a real taste of nostalgia as this album’s songs remind me a lot of the earlier albums of Jay Chou back in 2000. This music video also is one filmed with Jay Chou’s son so its pretty fun overall. While most of the songs in the recent music videos are pretty good, this one is so light-hearted and positive.

That’s it for this Music Obsessions!
What have you been listening to lately?

What’s Up & Adventures – August 2022

ADVENTURES – AUGUST 2022

Welcome to the adventures for August 2022. Honestly, I should just change this coming year into baby adventures more than anything. Considering I’m on maternity leave right now, there’s really nothing else in my life more important than taking care of my newborn and making sure the house doesn’t slip gradually into chaos. With that said, there were some nice little baby updates which includes no pictures and we did have family visit which is quite the unusual since we really haven’t seen anyone out of town since before the pandemic.

Baby Updates

Triple V had a few little adventures of his own. For one, he had his 2 month vaccinations which went as well as could be expected with both of his thighs getting vaccines for various illnesses. Despite some crying, he did calm down fairly quickly and fell asleep so I consider him quite the champ. Considering that this month, we’ve also experienced some crazy evenings with some intense crying and a hard time pinpointing what was the issue.

With that said, he also had his first medical check-up. Yay to our healthcare system where you can’t find a family doctor anymore so the 2-4 weeks check-up turned into a 2 months old check-up. Luckily, all is well and he is growing up quickly. Apparently, we have a “big baby”, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t need the doctor to tell me since he was pretty big in my belly already and then he waited until the last day so he spent some quality time growing before he hit the outside world.

On that front, we are getting in some more exercising. More that I’m taking him out for strolls when its not raining or heat wave. August has been rather abundant in those two fronts. However, its quite relaxing to get out of the house every now and then and get some fresh air. At least for myself, it feels like I’m getting a part of my own active lifestyle back. Its going to take a while but I’ll eventually get back there to some form.

Podcast Update

With that said, I guess I should mention a little update on the podcast which probably is the only thing really goin on track in the case of these projects. Podcast recording is gradually back in production. Much like my post before I went on leave announcing a semi-hiatus, I had pretty much said that it wouldn’t affect it to much and it didn’t since we created quite a bit of backlog for both Movies and Tea and Game Warp so its just a matter of getting those out one by one. I will get back to reposting those. In the meantime, you can always check out both podcasts on most podcast platforms. Those places will have the most recent updates.

As things calm down gradually hopefully, I am starting to think about getting that revamped version of my solo podcast off the ground again. I’m still working out how to approach the content but I have a solid list of topics for the episodes already and it will be really relevant. If my plans go well, you might see something soon-ish. I’m not so worried about recording as it is finding time to edit. I’ve been thinking about it more and more so it should at some point happen.

WHAT’S UP – AUGUST 2022

Books

Currently reading: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

As I spend more time at home now, I am gradually wanting to expand during baby’s naptime to do something other than watching TV so I’ve literally just cracked open The Summer I Turned Pretty. There’s not too much to say. My expectations for it: An equally entertaining time as Jenny Han’s previous book To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Might be a tall order but hey, who knows, right?

Movies

  • Purple Hearts (2022, Review)
  • The Lorax (2012 rewatch, Review)
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989 rewatch)
  • Wedding Season (2022, Review)
  • Bewitched (2005)
  • Porco Rosso (1992 rewatch, Review)
  • Look Both Ways (2022, Review)
  • Princess Mononoke (1997)
  • Inside The Mind of a Cat (2022)
  • Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968)

Packed with a few rewatches and some new films from Netflix for the most part, the movies I watched this month were relatively good. Netflix rom-coms are always about the same but then I did already write the reviews so you can check those out. Among that pack of films, Look Both Ways definitely stood out as its not exactly a rom-com. Other than that, I FINALLY watched Princess Mononoke which was a Studio Ghibli title that my friends have been hassling me about not having watched for years. You will hear my extended thoughts on that on Movies and Tea in a good while. For the most part, I really liked it for the scope of the film and compared it to Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind but didn’t quite resonate with the characters as much. Wrapping up the month is a new Netflix documentary about cats called Inside The Mind of a Cat which was super fun to watch and gave me some terms to attach to cats and some extra knowledge that explains some of my own cat’s behavior.

TV

  • Boo, Bitch (Limited Series, 2022)
  • Twinkle Love Season 2怦然心動20嵗第二季
  • The Most Hated Man On The Internet (Limited Series 2022)
  • Never Have I Ever (Season 3)
  • Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist (2022)
  • Wonderland Season 2五十公里桃花塢2
  • I Hear You 最動聽的事
  • Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives (2022)
  • The Puppet Master: Hunting The Ultimate Conman (2022)

Currently watching: I Just Killed My Dad, Great Escape Season 4 密室大逃脫第四季, The Oasis登錄圓魚洲, Love Between Fairy and Devil 蒼蘭訣, The Rap Of China中國説唱巔峰對決, Call Me By Fire 2 披荊斬棘的哥哥, Heart Signal Season 5心動的信號

I have to give myself a nice pat on the back for creating a decent mix between the Chinese drama and variety shows versus the English content, even if most of the English content are all limited series for Netflix crime documentaries. Its my latest thing that I’ve really liked seeing as Netflix has some pretty strong crime documentaries and are pretty consistent in quality. The four gave me an array of emotions: Most Hated Man was very upsetting and fit its title, Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist was truly well done and had a nice message about forgiveness, Bad Vegan made me question whether someone would truly believe something like that or its all excuses (still contemplating that one) and Puppet Master was just a wild ride since its unbelievable how someone can get away doing that stuff.

Onto more lighthearted stuff, I had a ton of fun with teen series Boo, Bitch and Season 3 of Never Have I Ever. They were so entertaining and still had some pretty good moments. Both of those TV binges are almost done so you should see them soon. I lack of TV series review writing inspiration currently happening. As for Chinese series, a lot of the currently watching TV shows are about to end but man, Wonderland Season 2 was a such a great one. I didn’t watch the Season 2 so currently debating if I should, hopefully it isn’t under VIP since I don’t want to subscribe to another streaming service, although I probably will at one point to WeTV since I have a lot of series that is locked in VIP that I missed before and I don’t really like watching them on YouTube.

A fun update is that I’m currently watching Love Between Fairy and Devil (yes, the title is stupid but the series honestly isn’t) which will land on Netflix in September some time (I can’t remember the date so if you want to check out Chinese fantasy dramas, this one is good and not too long. Netflix has been doing a good job at picking up some of this year’s heavy hitters. Now, maybe they can also get Love Like The Galaxy, which is another breakout series currently playing which is on my watchlist.

Games

  • Spiritfarer: Farewell Edition

After starting up Spiritfarer last summer, I finally went back to it to play through the rest of the main content plus all the updates in 2 weeks. The updates were really great since the last one did give it such a well-rounded ending to the whole experience which adds so much to the narrative element of the game itself which plays a big part. There’s so much to love about Spiritfarer. Even though I finished the game with probably the most amount of hours and the closest I’ve ever gotten to 100% of the game content, I still am considering picking up this game at one point and revisiting it just for the beautiful world and stories that it tells.

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

Wedding Season (2022)

Director: Tom Dey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look Both Ways (2022)

Director: Wanuri Kahiu

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

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

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

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

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

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

TV Binge: Never Have I Ever (Season 2, 2021)

Never Have I Ever (Season 2, 2021)

Creators: Lang Fisher & Mindy Kaling

Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Poorna Jagannathan, Darren Barnet, John McEnroe, Jaren Lewison, Benjamin Norris, Richa Moorjani, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young, Megan Suri, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Adam Shapiro, Christina Kartchner, Niecy Nash, Dino Petrera, Common, Utkarsh Ambudkar

The complicated life of a modern-day first generation Indian American teenage girl, inspired by Mindy Kaling’s own childhood. – IMDB

Picking up right where Season 1 (review) left off, Season 2 continues on as Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) is now faced with her mom deciding to move with her to India as this prompts her to believe that dating both Paxton (Darren Barnet) and Ben (Jaren Lewison) secretly is a great idea. However when the India idea is cancelled, she now faces the consequences of her actions when both of them now despise her. At the same time, another cooler Indian girl Aneesa transfers to Sherman Oaks which makes her feel uncomfortable. On the side, Kamala (Richa Moorjani) has to deal with her new lab and labmates and her long distance relationship while Devi’s mother, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) is faced with dealing with another dermatologist Dr. Jackson (Common) who has opposing approaches to their practices as well as still trying to figure out how to deal with Devi’s constant issues.

The second season of Never Have I Ever is pretty fun. Arguably, probably even better than the first season because the foundation has already built for all the characters. The series still focuses on Devi quite a bit as she is still coming to terms with a lot of herself as she constantly made bad decisions which always lead to some bad situation that she needed to resolve. She is a very imperfect teen and that’s what makes her so easy to connect to as she struggles with her culture and blending into the student body with a lot of the high school drama. Before getting into the student body, its really about navigating between her two boys, Paxton and Ben and learning that she can’t really get everything, her temper/rage needs to be in check and she needs to embrace that she doesn’t have to be perfect despite remembering that her father would always call her “perfect girl” but slowly feeling less confident about things as everything seems to fall apart. Amidst all this, its learning about honesty and trust throughout this season (which was cleverly introduced through one of her therapy sessions) as well as not feeling the need to reach unrealistic expectations for herself (which leads to great revelation when she dreams of her father who explains why he calls her “perfect girl”. Devi’s journey is a fascinating one to say the least, even if sometimes she seems to truly go way off in her interpretation but its what makes her charming and comedic to watch.

As for the rest of the characters, the script makes them go through a lot of the issues that teens would encounter whether its from a teen dealing with their single parent like their disapproval of their new love interest. For Kamala, who is in her lab rotation, she has to deal with the realities of workspace in terms of gender and blending in. The high school setting brings on the issues of not fitting into despite coming out for Fabiola and somewhat losing herself in the process while Eleanor deals with a toxic relationship which she soon learns to differentiate. At the same time, Paxton gives a new angle to the jock forced to turn academic due to unforeseen issues. With dances, PDA and boyfriend/girlfriend issues to deal with, there’s a lot of area to cover for the show and probably a lot more issues to explore.

While the first season also had these characters, the second season really gave the smaller supporting characters so much room. They aren’t very deep characters but they had their purpose of being either very over the top or simply weird to mostly give insight to the main characters but a lot of times add in another level of comedy. The one that comes to mind is absolutely the history teacher Mr. Shapiro (Adam Shapiro) who is such an odd teacher especially with his freestyle of teaching history and his reactions to certain things but so funny to watch in all his weirdness. There’s characters who are impactful like Paxton’s sister Rebecca (Lily D. Moore) who is there to be the person to set Paxton straight. The new addition this time is Devi’s English teacher Mr. Kulkarni (Utkarsh Ambudkar) who comes in as a love interest for Kamala but also has the cool teacher vibe.

The culture and the generational gap plays a big part in the show breaking some of the stereotypes. That’s a big element of the show that also makes it rather appealing. Its nice to see Netflix embrace these things especially as its an international streaming service, much like its recent release of the romantic comedy film Wedding Season. Another big part of the show’s appeal which makes it unique is the voice-over by John McEnroe for Devi which adds a ton of charm to the show as someone who judges her on the spot a lot. Last season had Adam Samberg do a voice-over commentating on Ben and this season, there was one episode for Paxton with Gigi Hadid doing her narrative for his point of view which was quite a nice change of pace.

Running at 10 episodes of around 30 minutes ( makes it approx. 5 hours in total), Never Have I Ever is completely bingeable. To be fair, much like most comedies, the humor does depend a lot of a person’s taste. For myself, the first time watching Season 1 didn’t quite work too well but the show did grow on me that I’ve gone on to rewatch it a few times since its release of Season 1 and 2. Its an easy and fun watch overall and one that does share a lot of deeper topics despite navigating a teen’s life as she constantly messes up and learns from those mistakes. Isn’t that what life is, even if we’ve probably not gone through all of it.

Music Obsessions – August 2022

Welcome to this month’s Music Obsessions! The last month was pretty fun as a lot of new music videos landed and others popped up on my list from various shows and whatnot. All Chinese music from different spaces and styles but all very fun stuff! Let’s check it out!

最偉大的作品 Greatest Works of Art – 周杰倫 Jay Chou

Jay Chou is basically my youth seeing as he got famous in the prime of my post-secondary days around 2003 and he became the center of a lot of conversations and his songs became the focus of karaoke days back then as well making him an musician that I’ve been following for a long time (with some gaps in the middle) and I’ve shared quite a few songs of his. I should really considering doing a focus post on him when we get a slower month. This month, he dropped this one which the song itself is nice but the video is one that is even better, especially for those who watched his J-Style Trip on Netflix where you see some of his best friends pop up in this music video as well as he travels through time, performs a few magic tricks while recreating the art masterpieces.

一格格 Frames – 衛蘭 Janice Vidal

There’s a chunk of Janice Vidal’s discography which is an empty space for me when I stopped listening to Cantopop for a while (or at least the new stuff over a decade as I lost a little faith in what was coming out) and now its a lot of catch-up. This popped up mostly because of the Chinese singing variety show and their really good rendition but the original very nice. The whole chill vibe really suits the song and is such a feel good song in general.

賽勒斯的愛 Cherlas – 張敬軒 Hins Cheung

Its been a long time since I have looked up Hins Cheung’s new music. Funny enough he is rather underrated since he went onto the music scene fairly quietly and had a few hits but no one really knows him that well (at least in my circle of friends). This one oddly popped up my recommended videos recently. Somehow I found it rather catchy. The story is well portrayed in the music video as well. The lyrics are decent as well.

隆里电丝 Lonely Dance – KEY.L刘聪/ICE杨长青/盛宇DamnShine/Ricky

My latest variety watch is the latest season of The Rap of China Season 4 or something. I’m not an avid watcher of this variety show but this season is a competition of the best of the best or something so some pretty cool competitors in competition show. While I don’t really share a ton of variety show stuff, this one did get released as a single by one of the performers here but I still prefer the performance version more, mostly because I really do like ICE as a rapper and the whole guitarist Ricky is a super nice addition. Its a fun funky rap song which is kind of how I like hip hop music or just the fact that rap itself can be incorporated into so many different styles of music. This is a great example of it.

最後一堂課 Graduation – Eric Chou 周興哲
(“Mom, Don’t Do That!” End Theme)

I’m not sure if people actually watch Taiwanese series, even if they are Netflix series but I’ve had my eyes on them for a while and slowly catching up with it. The recent release of Mom, Don’t Do That! Is where this song is from. I do like Eric Chou quite a bit as well and he is diving into acting as he takes a cameo role in the series. The song does match certain parts of the series pretty well.

That’s it for this Music Obsessions!

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

Persuasion (2022)

Director: Carrie Cracknell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purple Hearts (2022)

Director: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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