Double Feature: Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (2022) & Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (2022)

Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (2022)

Director (and co-writer): Stephen Donnelly

Voice cast: Luke Evans, Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Fra Fee, Giles Terera, Trevor Dion Nicholas, James Cosmo, Jonathan Pryce

A supernatural, time-travelling, musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s cult Christmas story – IMDB

A Christmas Carol has been remade so many times at this point that whether you have read this classic novel from Charles Dickens before or not, its an extremely familiar story of a horrible man who has three ghosts to visit him in one night to reflect on his future, see the present and what his future will be if he keeps his ways. Even over here we have reviewed a good few versions despite never having read the source material.

Netflix’s version Scrooge: A Christmas Carol takes this Charles Dickens’ classic and pairs it with the 1970 Leslie Bricusse’s screenplay for musical film adaptation Scrooge and packs it with a decent voice cast. Having not seen the 1970 version, this Scrooge doesn’t offer anything too different. Instead, a lot of parts actually reminded me of Mickey’s Christmas Carol (which I watch almost on an annual basis). The animation is pretty decent especially for its design for the Ghost of Christmas Past which is a good reinterpretation of the character.

Turning A Christmas Carol into a musical is a good idea. Its rhythmic and adds some pep to this rather serious story. The singing is pretty on point and it helps that the voice cast is pretty decent with Luke Evans as Scrooge. Luke Evans has a voice that matches Scrooge very well and delivers the needed tone for the cranky money-obsessed man. Much like Olivia Colman as Ghost of Christmas Past which is a real joy and has some of the best lines in the film. However, as fun as some parts are, the songs are decent but not quite catchy enough. There are probably two songs that stand out like the first one with the nephew singing called I Love Christmas which sets up the stage perfectly and then Thank You Very Much which was a lot of fun in context.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (2022)

Director: Matthew Warchus

Cast: Alisha Weir, Emma Thompson, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham, Andrea Riseborough, Sindhu Vee, Carl Spencer, Lauren Alexandra

An adaptation of the Tony and Olivier award-winning musical. Matilda tells the story of an extraordinary girl who, armed with a sharp mind and a vivid imagination, dares to take a stand to change her story with miraculous results. – IMDB

My only venture into Matilda is surprisingly only the 90s adaptation and that was actually pretty recent years. Matilda is based on the Roald Dahl novel of the same name except this one is based on the musical adaptation. There’s so much to love about this version of Matilda. Its definitely a musical done right as most of the songs and dance choreography are very good. As I did a little research, these songs are all from the stage musical. Its a fun venture into this world.

The cast of Matilda unsurprisingly consists mostly of children and these young actors are quite good overall. There’s a focus on Matilda and a few of her classmates but also some of the older kids as well. Alisha Weir as Matilda is quite fitting as she nails both the singing and attitude of her character. The cast of kids around do put together some fun moments whether in their musical number or their scene. Around them are five adults in the cast with them. The most notable is Emma Thompson who has been transformed into the harsh headmistress of Crunchem Hall Trunchbull. Emma Thompson is starting to pop up frequently in these unexpected roles and in this one, she is nearly unrecognizable. While opposite her is Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey played by Lashana Lynch who does a pretty good job at the meek role. Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough has Matilda’s parents are actually quite funny and is an exaggerated version of crooked parents especially with their facial expressions. While not a big role, the most fun is probably the traveling librarian played by Sindhu Vee who always listens to her and her stories with fascination.

Matilda has a lot of heart and most of it is because the fun in the story is its naivety. The kids talk about telekinesis (or should I say as one of the kids in the film calls it telekinepsis) and even in their times of oppression and bullying from their headmistress, they still find a way to work together to revolt in their small little way and find their small victories. Throwing lizards in her cup or mixing care products together or gluing a hat to someone’s head: its all seemingly harmless actions. The songs in the musical also reflect this quite a bit since the highlights are definitely the ones with the kids like Alisha Weir’s solo with “Naughty” which ends up being a song that hangs in the air being reprised in different parts. Of course, the dance choreography of Revolting Children has its own hook which is commended on its complexity since it is for kids (and as my husband has told me has struck a TikTok revolution of people using that scene with all sorts of background songs).

At this point, Netflix has released a few musicals. While some of been star-studded like The Prom (review) and a few Christmas ones like Jingle Jangle (review), they have all been rather lackluster (yes, I haven’t seen Tick Tick Boom yet). Matilda the Musical is fun and charming and does so much right. The singing is great, the songs and choreography are creative and catchy and the cast ensemble does a fantastic job. Musicals should make us not only love the story no matter how familiar but also has the songs stuck in our heads and Matilda’s soundtrack has been hanging in my head for quite a while. Its been a long time since I’ve had this feeling and boy, does it feel good.

Project Wolf Hunting (2022)

Project Wolf Hunting (2022)

Director (and writer): Hong-Sun Kim

Cast: Seo In-Guk, Dong-Yoon Jang, Dong-Il Sung, Gwi-Hua Choi, Park Ho-San, Moon-sung Jung, Jung So-Min

Follows dangerous criminals on a cargo ship who are transported from the Philippines to South Korea, as they unleash a sinister force after an escape attempt leads to a riot.- IMDB

Premiered at the TIFF Midnight Madness as the opening film, Project Wolf Hunting is an violent action thriller that fits the term madness to a tee. Recent years (maybe even decade or more) has seen a rise of hyper violent films hit the market and create a lot of accolades and conversation especially on the film festival circuit, a good example being The Sadness (review) which is one of the most gruesome and disturbing films I have seen to date. Project Wolf Hunting does a lot right from the setting to the hyper violence but it also lacks in its overall plot and characters.

Setting a film on any marine vessel as its one setting (for the most part) is actually a rare move (although look at director Hong-Sun Kim’s filmography, one of his earlier films were also set on a ship). There are a few movies who do it but its still a fairly underused setting. Project Wolf Hunting utilizes its space very well as it moves its characters throughout the ship which poses its own issues right from the get-go. Everything comes into play and they all have their purpose. The narrow passageways and the close pipes and even the deck and different levels all add to what is hidden and how the group can use its abilities to their advantage but also leave space for more discoveries to expose a little backstory to the threat at hand.

This brings up a central issue of this 2 hour film: the story. Sure, we can argue that films like this is all about the visual element in the satisfaction of watching hyper violent scenes, the endless ways someone can be killed ruthlessly and the excessive amount of fake blood a human can actually exude with each kill until every surface is covered in blood. However, we watch this film, there’s no doubt that it all becomes rather mind-numbing especially when the plot is fairly generic in its twist of events. The first part is actually pretty clever when the actual prisoner escape attempt riot starts and not a whole lot of violence has happened at this point so it becomes impressive to see all this being a huge plan that had started even before everyone got on the ship. Even the twist and change of enemy force is expected since it was revealed early on but the enemy design is surprising at first. The deal is that there are a lot of characters, a lot of body count and just not enough cohesive backstory to keep itself engaging. It doesn’t help that while the plot takes some predictable twists that a bigger threat is brewing on the ship with a big secret that will gradually be revealed, how all this goes down feels a little unclear.

The question Project Wolf Hunting brings up for these sort of films is a key one: How do you balance plot, blood and violence? Is it enough to just cover a generic plot with blood and violence and use the shock factor? For myself, the answer is probably no as the film loses its appeal as the violence and blood loses its shock element from simply its overabundance, pounding away the purpose one kill at a time. To be fair, the film started on the right foot in the first half. The action sequences and the kills do have some creativity that works with the setting and some extremely brutal ones as well. Looking past all the violence, the prisoners grouping together to create a riot to escape is pretty clever and even if the leading prisoner character is a tad generic in its psycho-killer ways, he still had a certain extreme brutality that made him rather convincingly creepy. Even the timing for the entrance of the new enemy along with their design was sufficiently spine-chilling but what transpires from that point to the end right up to the finale and that ending that almost feels like it could work up for a possible sequel really does feel so lackluster.

For viewers who are there for simply the hyperviolence and bloodshed, Project Wolf Watching is everything it promises. There are every way possible to kill and some pretty creative deaths as well with various items and weapons. There is an over the top use of blood that would probably put Quentin Tarantino’s to shame (but then The Sadness was even more extreme in its bloodbath extremity). The sole amount of blood a head slowly being crushed can pour out from its orifices is apparently an astoundingly ridiculous amount and that’s just one very quick example. The director never forgets that the heart of the film is this element.

*Project Wolf Hunting will hit digital, Blu-ray & DVD on February 14th and available for pre-book on January 10th. Find more info HERE*

**Screener provided by Well Go USA

Double Feature: Tokyo Godfathers (2003) & Perfect Blue (1997)

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Director (and co-writer): Satoshi Kon

Voice cast: Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto, Shozo Izuka, Seizo Kato, Hiroya Ishimaru

On Christmas Eve, three homeless people living on the streets of Tokyo discover a newborn baby among the trash and set out to find its parents. – IMDB

*Posted on Friday Film Club*

Inspired by the 1948 American Western film 3 Godfathers, Satoshi Kon wrote and directed Tokyo Godfathers, a film that differed from his previous directorial efforts as it was grounded in realism and no fantasy. Tokyo Godfathers tells the story of three homeless people: a transgender woman Hana, a middled aged alcoholic man Gin and a runaway teenage girl Miyuki who find a baby in the garbage pile on Christmas Eve. They take the baby in and name her Kiyoko and decide to use the information provided in her belongings to seek out her mother and find out why. Its how this dysfunctional family comes together as this week long adventure ends up finding solace and resolution for the three’s own issues. 

Tokyo Godfather is a thoughtful film that portrays its homeless people not with sadness but with solitude . Each of these three have chosen homelessness because of a past event and now are all alone because they haven’t faced their problem. It’s a heartwarming story even if a bit odd at times especially since their search takes them to meet some very odd situations from a yakuza boss being trapped under his car to a Latino hitman right down to the big finale of finding the parents of Kiyoko. It’s all a series of events that connect these three together who were homeless friends but never really knew the deeper stories of each other. Each person’s story is different and representative of a different thing right up to the little baby’s as well.

Tokyo Godfathers delivers three colorful characters and takes us for a fun and sentimental journey from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve. While the time doesn’t really have a measure here and the three do a lot of walking to move around, it still feels like they do encounter a lot as they face one dead end after another and find more clues to the next location Kiyoko’s mother might be. There’s a lot to love about Tokyo Godfathers and is also a wonderful alternate holiday film to give a watch. 

Perfect Blue (1997)

Director: Satoshi Kon

Voice cast: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji, Masaaki Okura, Yosuke Akimoto, Yoku Shioya, Hideyuki Hori, Emi Shinohara

A pop singer gives up her career to become an actress, but she slowly goes insane when she starts being stalked by an obsessed fan and what seems to be a ghost of her past. – IMDB

Satoshi Kon’s feature directorial debut is animated psychological thriller Perfect Blue, which is based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Featuring one of Satoshi Kon’s trademarks of blurring the line between reality and fantasy, Perfect Blue tells the story of a idol singer who decides to give up her idol to become an actress and makes some immense changes to her image with the acting decisions which also make her start to lose grip of reality when the stress of the change and the uncertainty of her choice clashes with the external forces of an obsessive fan and a growing number of dead bodies connected to her.

Perfect Blue is some top notch animated film. While the film is a little behind its times in technology, the setting of idols and overobsessive fans is a conversation that is still relevant. The psychological thriller nature gives the film space to have some rather extreme moments but where the film starts boggling the mind is the constant feeling that the main character Mima is losing her mind as she sees the idol version of herself judging her for her actions which is an inner struggle that she is having. It doesn’t play only on the external fear of being stalked and her fans reaction to her decisions but actually dives deeper into Mima herself as she deals with them to change her image and reaches a breaking point. The twist in the big finale also matches with her reality and the psychological issue.

For an animated film, the film’s art style feels very grounded in reality. It doesn’t have the more cute animation but here it reflects the material. As you watch the film, Mima may be an animated character but she feels very real. The character has many dimensions much like the supporting characters that pop up around her whether its her agent or her manager. The agent drives her down this rabbit hole and slippery slope while her manager also has to face up to her decisions and has her own disagreement to it. The reveal of the stalker is also one that becomes rather shocking and does a good job in mostly giving it that set-up to make it more surprising. Perhaps what makes this animation stand out are the bigger obscene scenes whether its the filming for the rape scene to the attack and fighting scene against her stalker, it all gives this film the grittiness that the genre needs.

There’s a lot to love about Perfect Blue. Satoshi Kon’s animation style and directorial trademarks shows off perfectly on this film. While the film is based off a novel, other than the key elements of B-idol, stalker and horror being kept, the author allowed Satoshi Kon to create a story revolving those elements which he brought in another screenplay writer to achieve which brings in the play in a play and the inner psychological struggle for Mima. The collective elements of both the original source material and the screenplay are what makes this film fairly revolutionary back in the 1990s in terms of anime. Its a film with a lot of depth and honestly feels like another watch might even help catch some more details.

Music Obsessions – January 2023

Welcome to the first Music Obsessions of this year. First of all, a little wrap-up of 2022 as look at the Spotify Wrapped.

流沙 Everything’s Gone – 陶喆 David Tao

Man, this song brings me back. David Tao is probably Top 5 favorite music artists in my book. Everything’s Gone is a song that is probably my absolute as it was my go-to song at karaoke every single time. I sang it so much that I actually had the courage to perform it on a little event one time. I have no idea when I added to it my Spotify list but so suitable that its my most played song in 2022 as I was puffing up my list this year and getting really nostalgic in the process. David Tao is such a fantastic R&B artist and probably will take a Music Obsessions post to share a bunch of my faves of his. Hmm…thinking about that, maybe it might be a fun segment to add to the blog.

緋聞男友 Rumored Boyfriend- 劉浩龍Wilfred Lau

I actually own the album for this artist which is the few songs that were really popular that I remember of (maybe there’s more that I don’t know about). There’s actually another song back then from Wilfred Lau that I listened to a lot more but somehow after I added this song to my list, its one that has been popping up a lot and has really won me over in the past year. I don’t think its anything really special but somehow the lyrics are pretty catchy. On that note, its odd but one of this past month’s discovery is also with him.

I’ve shared the other songs from the Top 5 of Spotify Wrapped in one way or another before, I believe so I’m going to move onto regular programming.

行者Walker – 劉浩龍Wilfred Lau & 側田Justin Lo
(“Line Walker” TV series Main Theme)

I’m super late to the Line Walker party since they aired Season 3 in 2020 and I only caught up the first season in December. Its a really great series though. Its been a while since I’ve watched TVB series which used to be my main thing growing up and some of the best memories when I was younger. Coming back to it in probably a decade, it had to be a series that was worth it and not something that I would just sit down and feel like it was all done before and Line Walker definitely did that. Theme songs for TVB series used to mean the big times for Hong Kong artists because they were usually big hits and while I’m not sure how it is in the current decade, this song has Justin Lo and Wilfred Lau and is pretty great. I chose the opening theme sequence for this video over some of the other lyric videos but I think its worth it to showcase the series a little, in case you can find one with English subtitles.

2nd Favourite 第二最愛 – 古巨基 Tyson Yoshi

Honestly one of my favorite song in the recent weeks and I haven’t really found a lot of new music lately. This song has such a great vibe and the collaboration is pretty good as well. Some of the lyrics is a bit hilarious much like parts of the video with Leo Ku hanging out under the bed which is fairly silly but the song has a nice rhythm and fun.

Why Why Why – 王嘉尔Jackson Wang

Jackson Wang is probably one of the most diverse music producers in the current landscape. I’ve shared a ton of his music on Music Obsessions already and every single one has a different vibe from pop song 100 Ways to Electronic Dance song Pretty Please to Alternative/Indie song Blow and Cruel. Why Why Why is considered a pop song but this one differs from 100 Ways mostly in its more comedic take. Jackson Wang in a tree suit is just awesome. There are no words to explain how silly the video is but he also rarely sings in Mandarin and the lyrics are actually pretty good paraphrasing basically that there’s no reason why you love someone but for who they are.

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

Upcoming Plans 2023!!

Happy New Year everyone!

2023 is here. Honestly 2022 went by way too fast even if its probably the year that I slept the least, got my first hospital operation ( since wisdom teeth extraction is also considered an operation), birthed a little baby boy Triple V and my life milestones are celebrating his developmental milestones. In the midst of that, I managed to cover a couple of film festivals and took a few review opportunities as well.

For a general overview of 2022, you can find it HERE!

As we look forward to 2023, we’re looking at mostly the same but perhaps a little more goal-oriented (or an attempt to be). Maybe it will help with my indecisiveness when there’s just too many choices!

Let’s get right to it!

BOOKS

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2023: 15 books

Setting a rather ambitious goal of 15 books this year but above is all the books I do want to get through this year. I still have a ton of unread books that I physically own but I’m going to start with that. It will also have some children’s books in the mix since I’m reading a lot to the little one. Not that he understands anything as I write this up but hoping to get him used to the sounds and such to hopefully help his development.

Also, I’ve been thinking about reading all the Hercule Poirot books by Agatha Christie so I’m planning on trying to get that kicked off. I’m going to read them in order of release.

MOVIES

Not too many changes to movies this year. Much like previous years you can expect Double Features and single reviews on new releases, mostly those that I am more enthused about. My main source of entertainment remains Netflix and Shudder and sometimes Amazon Prime so I’m working mostly off those avenues. Not too sure whether I will getting on for the bigger festival coverages but I’m going to guess it will be a year or two more before I get back into it (if I’m still doing this by then). Marathons should remain the same with February Romance, October Horror and December Holidays. These suffered quite a bit this year but I’m hoping to shorten the length but get some decent reviews out. Still working on getting some themed months but hopefully this year will be it.

Also, seeing as my co-host for Ultimate Decades Blogathon announced last year his hiatus or possible permanent departure from blogging, this will not be happening.

My main focus has shifted a lot on Movies and Tea Podcast. Its a great time to record and Elwood and I have a lot of fun as we move through more directors and have some pretty good ideas for upcoming seasons.

TV & Tranquil Dreams Podcast

If you were here last year (and amazingly have stayed after my hiatus and slow content), I already talked about this. Only difference is that I actually put a lot of set up work on this in the past 2 months so its almost ready to get going. I just need some small polish to get things ready to relaunch.

For those who weren’t here, TV binge will focus on everything other than Chinese Language Series. I’ve already started doing that in 2022 and even changed a little bit how I approached the TV binges in general. All the Chinese Language Series will be moved to the podcast when it launches. I’m actually working on some series from the past few years that I haven’t had a chance to write about but I really love. Chinese Language Series means anything from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China. Maybe the random Singapore ones if it catches my eye. The main focus will be on the bigger North American streaming platforms like what is acquired by Netflix but will also look at notable ones from Chinese International streaming apps.

Last year I did also talk about the Sunday Lists being moved to the podcast also. Its still in my plans but I’m going to get it relaunched first before going further with this. I love the segment a ton so I do hope that I get around to working it back into the blog one way or another.

Monthly Segments

Monthly Segments remain the same with Music Obsessions happening the first weekend of the month and Adventures & What’s Up as a month-end wrap-up.

Retiring Photography Segment, Housekeeping and Where It Goes

I mentioned on the Adventures post for December 2022 that I had retired all the photography posts on the blog. With that said, I do still want to get back to photography. I’m mostly using my phone lately but still, it should be fun. I’ve always wanted to do the 365 challenge so I’m going to attempt to do it this year over on Avenue of Daydreams which was constructed for all things creative so photography is moving over there and honestly just continuing since I did weekly photo posts before I took a hiatus.

PERSONAL GOALS

WORK OUT REGULARLY: I’ve given myself a good deal of time to recover from the operation and while taking care and amusing my 6 month old is a lot of exercise, I do want to start doing some actual working out. I’m looking at getting in some yoga, bodyweights and light weights just to see how it goes. It will be a slow progression but I’m rather heavy right now and I’m starting to worry that its not doing any favors for my knees. Plus, we plan to get back to hiking in the summer carrying the little one on our backs so I do want to start training a bit more endurance in preparation for it.

STREAMING: Last year I set this goal and did not do it at all. Its still on my mind to get this launched. I have a lot of games to play on back catalogue and why not try to build something in the process. This will probably happen after I get into a rhythm after the podcast launch.

FINAL NOTE

Last year I talked about slowing down and to be honest, its pretty clear that I’m not picking up blogging any time soon. My baby is taking a lot of my time during the day and in the evenings, between making sure the house isn’t a complete mess and trying to move up my sleeping schedule, its been really hard to focus on writing a lot. I basically write posts for the things that inspire me the most at the moment. Anything that lands in the average doesn’t get prioritized. You can always follow me on Letterboxd to see what I’ve watched and the ratings, if you like. I only use it for my diary to track the movies I’ve watched throughout the year.

To be fair, I’m shifting more towards my co-host projects so while I’ve mentioned Movies and Tea Podcast. I am going to also put more effort into Game Warp to try to get more reviews out and gaming done. It will go hand in hand with the streaming plans.

2023 has some ambitious plans but I’m hoping to get through it!
Wishing you all a fantastic 2023!

Adventures & What’s Up – December 2022 + 2022 Overview

Hello everyone! As we enter the last day of 2022, its time for the adventures post which is honestly more of a general update. We will get through that quickly, jump into the What’s Up which is a little more and wrap things up with the 2022 Wrap-Up! A quick rundown just in case you are here for only the Wrap-Up for 2022. If you are, just scroll all the way down and skip all of my other nonsense. Let’s go!

ADVENTURES & Wrap-Up (More Like Updates)

Retiring of Photo Challenge Posts

For those joining now, this blog started out as a photography blog. I started most of my blogging doing daily prompts and weekly photo challenges. However, the years have gone by and my blog is running very low on storage space and trying to not buy more space, I have decided to retire the photo challenge posts. If you want to follow my photography (and other creative outlet), its on Avenue of Daydreams.

If you go there now, I haven’t posted since October 2021 but it will be back in 2023. I will talk more about that in the 2023 Upcoming Plans post.

Baby Update

Triple V entered his 6 months in December. As he goes through some funky times with what we think might be the beginning stages of teething and some random babble, he’s definitely starting to recognize people more and realizing when he sees strangers aka family that we haven’t seen frequently and feeling either shy or scared. He’s starting to be stronger with more tummy time and baby gym activity time, a pretty routine sleep schedule even if he doesn’t sleep throughout the night very often. He even started with eating starter cereals and beginner purees.

Time sure flies by as we watch him grow up day by day and becoming curious with everything around him. It sure feels like those baby safety gates are going to be put up soon as well as getting on with babyproofing the house.

Christmas, Gifts & Boxing Day Haul

Christmas celebrations happened before the main event this year as we couldn’t go for the evening festivities due to the early bedtime for Triple V so only dropped by for the afternoon at my in-laws. We celebrated with my mom on Christmas day for lunch as well. Still, it was pretty neat to see family since we’ve been keeping to ourselves since the pandemic started then my pregnancy in pandemic times so this year, while we were cautious, we still wanted to keep in our family bubble since Triple V isn’t vaccinated yet.

There’s no surprise that Triple V was the main winner in this department with new clothes from the grandparents and a generous collective gift of a jumperoo. On our front, we got the reasonable gift of some French storybooks since we have an abundance of English ones handed down from me. He also got a new walker from his grand aunt. On my front, I truly felt like a mom as all my gifts are very grown-up from my mom gifting me noodles (it was a joke so that we could fluff up the Christmas tree to look like it had more gifts to have better pictures) and a Christmas tablecloth (which I actually don’t have one considering all the Christmas decorations we have) and a white wine (which is currently in storage because I’m not really drinking yet since I’m still breastfeeding).

Boxing Day this year, much like Black Friday, was a huge disappointment. There wasn’t any incredibly good deals. We basically only picked up things that we needed and had some type of discount. As for other things, we kept those expenses at a minimum. We didn’t actually do any day off shopping since we only went to the grocery store to restock.

  • Michael’s: Picture Collage Frames *3 (for the new family/baby photos)
  • Roots: Baby Clothes (for Triple V and gifts)
  • Yves Rocher: Skincare products
  • Steam: Cris Tales, Emily is Away <3, Far From Noise, Oure
  • Playstation: Just Shapes & Beats
  • Amazon (caught the tail end of the Boxing Day sale): Sippy Cup, Bodyweight Scale, Cat Water Fountain, Diapers
  • Google Play Pass (super sweet deal for first month free and 3 months after that at 69 cents/month)

WHAT’S UP

BOOKS

  • The Very Best Christmas Present
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: Merry Christmas Mr. Caroll!
  • Mr. Snow
  • Mr. Silly
  • A Grouch’s Christmas
  • Mr. Sneeze

Currently reading: City of Ember

Surprising that its all children’s books, right? Of course not! That’s all my reading time is nowadays. As you can see that I’m trying to get back into some normal reading as I did start City of Ember.

MOVIES

  • The Blob (1988)
  • Highwaymen (2004)
  • Dazed and Confused (1993)
  • Warriors of Future (2022 Review)
  • The Sparring Partner (2022 Review)
  • Big Brother (2018 rewatch, Review)
  • John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017 rewatch, Review)
  • Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)
  • It Takes Two (1995 rewatch)
  • Into the Deep: The Submarine Murder Case (2020)
  • Pulse (2006 rewatch)
  • I Believe In Santa (2022)
  • Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (2022)
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966 rewatch, Review)
  • Christmas With You (2022)
  • The Christmas Chronicles (2018 rewatch, Review)
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965 rewatch, Review)
  • The Small One (1978 rewatch, Review)
  • Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983 rewatch, Review)
  • The Polar Express (2004 rewatch, Review)
  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022, Review)

An absolutely fantastic movie viewing month. Not so much a great writing month as writing reviews seem to be getting harder and harder or its just I’m picking the wrong movies. A lot of rewatches this month as well. I’ve been trying to keep on top of the Netflix new releases so those reviews will go out even if its in 2023. However, I was so excited after watching Glass Onion that you can already check out my thoughts on that.

TV

  • Snack vs. Chef
  • Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields (Limited series)
  • Wednesday (Season 1, 2022 rewatch)
  • Too Hot To Handle (Season 4)
  • Cook At All Costs (Season 1)
  • Dance Monsters (Season 1)
  • Emily in Paris (Season 3)
  • Line Walker (使徒行者, 2014)

Currently watching: Meteor Garden (rewatch), The Circle S5

Trash TV, cooking and reality shows seems to be the highlight of December. However, Dance Monsters is a super fun show that just got its finale right at the end of December. Snack vs. Chef is pretty fun as cooks replicate popular snacks and candy bars while Cook At All Costs was pretty fun as well. On the contrary, Emily in Paris felt like a lot of the same which is still fun but its getting a little repetitive. If they get a Season 4, maybe the finale of the 3rd will change the dynamic. We continued with watching the latest Crime Scene which looked at The Texas Killing Fields were was a pretty good documentary. These limited series always uses a case to cast light on a bigger societal problem. Finally, as of today, I finished Line Walker which is Hong Kong series from 2014 which I of course missed since I haven’t watched HK series in many many years. This one is seriously really awesome ( you will see how awesome in the recap before).

I’m taking a little break from Chinese variety shows right now as I started too many and need to sort out which I want to continue watching.

GAMES

  • Tricky Towers (Single Player Trials) – in progress
  • Lake (2021, Review)
  • Doors: Awakening (2019)
  • Pinball FX

Currently playing: The Gunk, Doors: Origins

I’m slowly getting back to some gaming here and there. While my PC died, I was into playing Tricky Towers (Single Players Trials) and I’m still working on that but its fairly sporadic so there’s not really an end to that one, much like Pinball FX which doesn’t have an end either.

Putting the Google Play Pass to work, I finished playing Doors: Awakening and working through all the Doors games on mobile which I had played before but they were only partially free and charged money for the second half of the levels. I don’t like that mobile game business model so I never entertain it. So now, the situation is a little different with the Play Pass. Its a fun puzzle game

Finally, I played Lake which is something of a postal worker simulator with story and narrative choices. Its honestly a hidden gem since it blends in a lot of relaxing moments and dives into a pretty fun small town story. I did start The Gunk and is probably about halfway through (based on my playtime and the How Long To Beat average) but its a really good one. There’s some exploration and resources and crafting and adventure. I’ll talk more about it after I’ve finished, possibly in a review.

2022 WRAP-UP

Much like last year, we are foregoing the blog site statistics. Let’s face it, its not going to look pretty with things going back to normal, the numbers so a great drop before steadying again and I never really did it for the numbers. Plus, life changes with a newborn in mid-June did throw off the rhythm even more than when I was going through my pregnancy and choosing sleeping earlier over stressing out over blogging at unreasonable hours. The posting rhythm is coming back slowly but I’m pretty sure it will never be where it used to be a few years ago.

With that said, lets look at some other numbers:

  • TOTAL FILMS WATCHED: 213 films (2 less than last year only!)
    • 34 rewatches
    • 41 short films
  • TOTAL BOOKS READ: 17 books (majority of it are children’s books)
  • TOTAL TV SERIES BINGED: 92 seasons binged (3 rewatches)
    • Japan: 1
    • Hong Kong: 1
    • Taiwanese: 2
    • Korean: 3
    • Documentary: 12
    • Mainland China: 13
    • Chinese Variety Shows: 14
    • American Reality Shows: 20
    • American: 26
Top 10 First Time Watches
  1. Knives Out
  2. Deep Rising
  3. Turning Red
  4. Time
  5. Profile
  6. Underwater
  7. Tokyo Godfathers
  8. MexZombies
  9. Waitress
  10. Love and Leashes

Top 10 TV Seasons

  1. Light The Night
  2. The Silent Sea
  3. Wednesday (Season 1)
  4. Line Walker
  5. All of Us Are Dead
  6. Who Rules The World
  7. Shining For One Thing
  8. Mr. Bad
  9. Boo, Bitch (Limited Series)
  10. Mom, Don’t Do That

Overall, it was surprisingly steady in terms of numbers. Last year I didn’t do the specific breakdowns so not sure whether short film to full length ration was similar. Books increased a lot mostly because I read tiny short children’s books but then I did read a Dr. Seuss compilation books and that’s 13 stories as 1 book entry. I’m not here to get all picky with the numbers. I didn’t expect anything to be even close to these numbers so that’s already shocking enough for me.

A quick look at last year’s plans/goals:

  1. Goodreads Reading Challenge: 15 books surpassed at 17 (even if I did cheat a little with children’s books)
  2. Podcast launch: Did not happen (will address that soon)
  3. Partial Revival of Disney and Studio Ghibli project: Mostly did not happen, only one post for Porco Rosso went up
  4. Personal Goals: Eat healthier is slowly getting there, Did not stream at all, 98% done for nursery and 90% done for office (just some filing left to do)

In the foreseeable future, streaming services will be my best friend and I will be focusing on new releases on Netflix, Shudder and Amazon Prime with Netflix being the main priority. However, these are considered upcoming plans and I will talk about more of that tomorrow!

Remember to head back for the Upcoming Plans 2023 tomorrow!
Happy New Year’s Eve!!

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Director (and writer): Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Noah Segan

Famed Southern detective Benoit Blanc travels to Greece for his latest case. – IMDB

Glass Onion is something of a sequel to Knives Out and takes place in May 2020 in the midst of the pandemic when a tech billionaire Miles Bron issues puzzle box invitations to his best friends for a little weekend of murder mystery game on a Greek Island. Surprisingly, Southern detective Benoit Blanc who is spending excessive time in the bathtub trying to understand Among Us receives one as well. Like him, the former partner Andi also shows up at the party despite the fallout. As Blanc explores the island, he soon learns that he wasn’t invited by Miles and soon learns that this murder mystery game might not be a game after all when every single guest seems to have their own motive to kill Miles and this search is solidified when a death does happen.

Knives Out is hands-down the best first watch I had in this year so its sequel is one that’s been very high on the anticipated films list (as my main source of new releases are all on Netflix and they have some slim pickings). Knives Out and Glass Onion, while both captivating that Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery style, they are both different foundations of cleverness. Knives Out was all about the moment where the rug is pulled from under its audience and how to get away from it but Glass Onion places its cards all on the table and its about catching those details and then creating doubt in those pieces and bringing it all in to make sense. Its purposefully silly but its intended to be that way, which is what gives it that dark comedy element. Comedy, of course, is subjective however it worked for myself incredibly well especially in the final act.

The setting for Glass Onion is also twofold as physically they are heading to an island in Greece which holds the Glass Onion structure, which is also a central piece of its setting but the structural elements of this architecture plays greatly into the mystery and this group of friends on the island. Its setting is used effectively to add more depth to it scene to scene from its smokeless gardens to its actual interior. There is just one detail that feels incohesive and inexplicable in the endgame which involves the setting. The physical element is great but the actual time setting is 2020 during the first few months of the pandemic when everyone was on lockdown which makes some of these characters and moments feel like theres a deeper message behind the whole plot and its characters especially the owner of the Glass Onion who made the murder mystery game.

The cast this time is still pretty incredible as well. Not quite the collection of acting veterans like the first film but still holds quite a few. Rian Johnson also is currently directed four final appearances through his two Knives film with Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury playing as themselves in a cameo as Benoit Blanc’s good friends who are playing Among Us with each other. At one moment in the film, it actually feels like they are reenacting Among Us on the island and its actually pretty neat even though I’m not quite sure whether that was intentional or not. Packed with a rather clueless celebrity Kate Hudson has Birdie and her assistant Peg played by Jessica Henwick, Edward Norton as Miles Bron, Janelle Monae as Andi with some cameos of Hugh Grant, Ethan Hawke, Yo-yo Ma, Serena Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s voice and of course mentioned before, Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury. Edward Norton as the billionaire is truly such a suitable role and his small expressions to the whole feeling of this character really links closely to some billionaires in real life (almost feeling like there’s a hidden statement there). Janelle Monae is a personal favorite of mine as she might not always be in great films but she’s always great in those films and this one is no exception. As for Benoit Blanc, this more comedic version of him actually works really well for Daniel Craig and that Southern air with exclamations of “fiddlesticks” and “shitballs” truly is so much fun.

Overall, Glass Onion is a real treat. In terms of mystery complexity, Knives Out actually pulls ahead on that one with a plot twist that created more shock value. Glass Onion is a different beast but still manages to be incredibly entertaining. The final act is probably one of the best pay-offs that I’ve watched in a long time which teases its audience a little with a lot of “dumb” (as Benoit Blanc calls it). Great casting, beautiful use of the setting, approachable mystery: I’m always one to gripe about those over 2 hour films but Glass Onion just flew by. There is one scene that I feel hasn’t been explained yet and seems like a plot hole perhaps but the whole set-up and twist is so clever that this is one of those cases where a great pay-off can offset those little flaws.

Double Feature: Falling For Christmas (2022) & Last Christmas (2019)

Falling For Christmas (2022)

Director: Janeen Damian

Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Chord Overstreet, George Young, Jack Wagner, Olivia Perez, Alejandra Flores, Sean Dillingham

In the days leading up to Christmas, a young and newly engaged heiress experiences a skiing accident. After being diagnosed with amnesia, she finds herself in the care of the handsome lodge owner and his daughter. – IMDB

I’m guessing the selling point of Falling For Christmas is Lindsay Lohan and the script does have at least one little bit (maybe I missed others) that does pay homage to the Christmas segment of Mean Girls. However to say that this Hallmark film is different than others wouldm’t quite apply here. In fact, the plot itself other than the obvious amnesia bit was very reminiscent to previous Netflix Christmas films like Christmas Inheritance (review). All the plot points are about as generic as it can get for films such as this.

With films like this, the biggest thing is always the cast and the chemistry. There’s no doubt that the Christmas and winter element will be in full abundance and that does not disappoint here at any level. From family warmth to Christmas activities, this film offers it all up really well. Looking at the cast though, there are elements that work mostly in the family scene at the ski lodge with the daughter and mother and the whole fighting for the lodge’s survival.

The chemistry between the two leads played by Lindsay Lohan and Chord Overstreet doesn’t quite work that well. Chord Overstreet is actually pretty decent in his role but somehow, Lindsay Lohan feels a little wooden for the most part. The scenes at times have their silly charm but for the most part, its mostly as the amnesiac her is learning how to do all these chores and making a mess when its most comedic.

There’s honestly not a whole lot to say about Falling For Christmas. Its a very generic Hallmark-ish romantic comedy for the holidays. Sure, the holidays part fits the bill and there’s certain elements that are fun but its nothing too special or memorable. In fact, some of it does fall into cringe, predictable and boring category and I’m the person that actually doesn’t mind a lot of sappy rom-coms.

Last Christmas (2019)

Director: Paul Feig

Cast: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Madison Ingoldsby, Boris Isakovic, Lucy Miller, Maxim Baldry, Michelle Yeoh, Lydia Leonard

Kate is a young woman subscribed to bad decisions. Working as an elf in a year round Christmas store is not good for the wannabe singer. However, she meets Tom there. Her life takes a new turn. For Kate, it seems too good to be true. – IMDB

Last Christmas isn’t your normal Hallmark fluffy and sappy holiday film. In fact, it kind of takes on a bit of the literal interpretation of the lyrics of the song “Last Christmas”. It does have a feel-good but bittersweet sort of feeling to it by the end. The film is almost like a late coming of age much in the line of films like Young Adult.

Last Christmas has a rather stacked cast with Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh being in the same film following their mother-son relationship in Crazy Rich Asians (review) and Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones. Never was there a day that I’d expect to see Michelle Yeoh in a holiday film but here she is and truly embracing it playing as the owner of the year-round Christmas store and gave herself the name Santa. There’s one bit where she talks about her nicknames that is incredibly entertaining, most of them feeling very unfathomable for this elegant lady. The shining point of this film does lie in its cast which delivers up some pretty good performances from the self-centered Kate to the wise and handsome Tom to the guidance of Santa (the person in the movie, not Santa Claus). Right down to the cast at the homeless shelter that truly does bring a lot of shine to the film as a whole.

There are some predictable elements in the film and nothing here feels like it hasn’t been done before. The ending reveal while still has its surprising element still feels like its been used before, however the dynamic between Tom and Kate is what makes that reveal feel acceptable and even a little heartbreaking if anything. Christmas movies don’t have to be all happy and joyous and while this one still maintains a little bit of those elements and even adds some nice short musical elements to it, it still works well enough in terms of the chemistry between the characters and the flow of the events. Some of it does feel a little unnecessary like the whole comedic and bizarre romance for Michelle Yeoh’s character and the constant discussion of sauerkraut.

Overall, Last Christmas might not a completely unique film but as a Christmas movie, it still works relatively well. While the subject does get a little heavy and it isn’t all completely happy happy joy joy and the Christmas element does feel like its just set during the time of year more than being in the center driving force, it still is rather meaningful as it looks into homelessness, family and making amends for the rebellious choices and finding a balance. As I think more about it, there definitely is a certain charm to it.

Music Obsessions – December 2022

A little late for this month’s Music Obsessions! Hard to imagine we are at the last one of this year. While I already got my Spotify Wrapped, I decided to do that with my final year round-up at the end of this month and do a little runthrough for January. Either way, there are still some good music that I’ve discovered or re-discovered.

恐懼蠶食心靈 Fear Eats The Soul – 鄭欣宜 Joyce Cheng

Joyce Cheng has really improved in her singing. While I’m not exactly a fan of all her music, I’ve been following her music more and more. Not only are her music videos done really well but the music itself from her voice and the emotions are all there. It really helps carry the song. This song and the way she sings it is quite a good match. Its nice to see that she’s able to embrace a lot of different music styles since I’ve shared probably three of her songs in Music Obsessions and each one has been different from the other.

比莉卡厲害 Billie is Incredible – Billie

A rough idea of what the song probably would be in English. I’m not quite sure the exact translation. This song is the main theme from Netflix Taiwanese series Mom Don’t Do That that aired a few months ago. The series itself is fantastic and I will be talking more about in an upcoming project that I will launch at the beginning of 2023. I’m in preparation mode as of the beginning of November and working hard to get things ready for January launch. Either way, this song is simply a lot of fun. The series is a ton of fun as well. Its happy and upbeat and that’s why its here.

烏梅子醬 The Dark Plum Sauce – 李榮浩 Ronghao Li

I honestly don’t listen to enough of Ronghao Li’s music. He writes some pretty great songs and none of that I’ve ever discovered have been bad. Its all pretty great ballads. This one actually feels a little bit of early Jay Chou from the music video to the rhythm itself. Its something that I’m rather nostalgic about since that was part of my teen years when music was the main emotional support. This song’s lyrics are also super sweet much like its title.

好想約你 – Gigi 炎明熹

This year’s new addition to my list of new artists that I think are pretty good is Gigi who was Hong Kong TVB’s Star Academy Season 1 winner. Its pretty nice to see there’s still some talent since most of the time when I listen to any new artists from Hong Kong shows, its all very disappointing. This song is pretty fun and cute and matches her age. Her voice reminds me really good female singers in the 90s which seems like its lost nowadays. Either way, the youthfulness of the song makes it so feel good.

藍奕邦 Pong Nan – Happy Prince 快樂王子

I wish that there was a better video for this song but I don’t talk about Pong Nan enough since from the beginning when he was making music, I loved a lot of his work. Most of his song’s lyrics are meaningful and thoughtful. It has this nice touch of intricacy that I’m a big fan of since it feels like its a rarity. As I was researching for this post, I learned that this song was actually the main theme song for a play.

Bonus: 我比从前更寂寞 I’m Lonelier Than Before – 陈慧娴 Priscilla Chan & 杨坤 Yang Kun
(Singing With Legends S4 Performance)

I’ve shared this song in a previous Music Obsessions (probably a few years ago) which is a pretty popular song of Yang Kun’s which he wrote during his depression and talks about the feeling of depression. Its a song that paired up with his distinctive voice is amazing. Truly heartfelt and deep. This time for the Singing With Legends show, he pairs up with Priscilla Chan to sing it together and it speaks volumes in a different way. Thinking about it, it sure is time to do a post for Priscilla Chan’s music (if I remember to do it next year).

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

The Sparring Partner (正義迴廊, 2022)

The Sparring Partner (2022)

Director: Cheuk Tin Ho

Cast: Alan Yeung, Pui Tung Mak, Louisa So, Michael Chow, Jan Lamb, Gloria Yip

Based on a shocking case in real life, a young man partners with his friend to murder and dismember his parents. Pleading not guilty to the crime, defense attorneys face each other as nine jurors grapple with the truth. – IMDB

Based on the 2013 Tai Kok Tsui double homicide and subsequent trial, The Sparring Partner is the directorial debut for Cheuk Tin Ho who creates a film that looks at different angles and issues of the case and trial from the issues of the judicial system to the unfairness of laws to the simple expectations versus reality as the two defendants take two opposite sides of the spectrum based on their intelligence as the scheming genius Henry Cheung and the simple-minded and naive Angus Tong. As the case proceeds, the trial sets up three “sparring”: the two defendents, the lawyers and prosecution, the jury.

The director uses the film to portray how the court’s significance may not be in fairness as it may be a battle of appearances of the defendants; how well the lawyers can use their clever words to spin the situation or a detail; how serious the jury who mostly don’t want to be there is balancing the right and wrong of the situation between emotions and rationality. Those are the grounds that build up the story and after some research on the actual case, a rather truthful recount of what its based on but pushing it so that we do question the possibility that the results aren’t representative of the truth.

For that, the script delivers in spades as all these areas are balanced in its representation. The defendants fight for their own truths which we only see their version being played out at the same time, while the lawyers try to twist the details of the situation to their advantage and using the emotional parts to affect the jury’s choices. The jury’s side plays out from its small inserts to their discussion feels a bit like 12 Angry Men but only grabbing a segment of it from the the each of the jury’s background and hesitation to their initial discussion of their reluctance to be there and no taking it seriously to finally using their own views to dissect the situation and the evidence presented. On each level of the trial, there’s a strong sense that it can all dial down to an irrational decision and how much they respect the guilty is beyond reasonable doubt. The “sparring” at hand on all levels is the strength of this film. The script carries a lot of the intrigue and the foundation of what the director wants to present to the audience to contemplate.

While that’s the case, the film does have a decent cast. Louisa So as Angus Tong’s lawyer is probably one of the bigger names on the list and she delivers on her role very well as her role cements the case in favor to Angus, as the lawyer that uses his “disabilities” in her defense of what he is or isn’t capable of doing, spinning it into an emotional exposé. Whether its the truth or not, well, that’s for the further contemplation after that. With that said, both Alan Yeung and Pui Tung Mak playing Henry and Angus respectively deliver very convincing roles as the genius versus the simple-minded. Henry is a character that is easy to hate right from the start. On the surface, he is very self-centred and flaunts his knowledge and confidence despite his constant failures while soon realizing he has a personality disorder. On the other hand, Angus is one that we soon learn has a lot more depth to the character from his past experiences to the emotional denial of being involved. Jan Lamb’s special appearance as Henry’s lawyer is surprising as he is more known for his comedian side and still manages to deliver some sarcastic humor while still finding that darker side of the defense lawyer as he faces an impossible case to beat. Much like Michael Chow’s character as the prosecutor who is more fluent in English and uses it as comedic breaks as he constantly mixes up the different words which perhaps is more effective for Cantonese-speaking audience than those reading subtitles.

Overall, The Sparring Partner starts off a tad slow but soon finds its footing once the trial and the jury portions start unraveling. The film does run at over 2 hours so there are some dragging moments, mostly from the set up at the beginning. However, its nothing that truly deters the overall film as the message the director wants to show as well as the contemplative element with the ending still proves very effective. The performances and characters are intriguing and has depth especially for its two defendants. If there was something to criticize, it probably would be more along the lines of the cinematography and visuals. While some of it feels more arthouse and some which overlays the scene of the past being recounted and the present situation in the courtroom together which is rather effective. There are certain moments that feel a bit odd, specifically those with Henry’s character as it sometimes jumps to his being Hitler and speaking German for part of his dialogue and then skips back to the moments when he is auditioning (I think its an audition) for a porn movie and it cuts between a scene that feels much more serious than what is shown on screen. Perhaps its more of a artistic significance that I’m not quite understanding. Its a small part and probably points to a bigger element of the character but at times, it feels a little odd. The Sparring Partner is definitely a pleasant surprise.

*The Sparring Partner is currently showing in select theatres. You can find more info on Well Go USA HERE.*

*Screener received from Well Go USA*