Army of the Dead (2021)

Army of the Dead (2021)

Director (and writer): Zack Snyder

Cast: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Matthias Schweighofer, Nora Arnezeder, Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, Raul Castillo, Theo Rossi, Hiroyuki Sanada

Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted. – IMDB

After years of making DC Universe movies and a multitude of genres in film, both good and bad in my opinion, Zack Snyder’s latest offering held some high anticipation as he goes back to his roots as his directorial debut 2004’s Dawn of the Dead (review) was a highlight in his filmography. Running at 2 hours and 28 minutes, Army of the Dead is a long zombie movie. It has a few angles to the film as a heist film and zombie film. It packs in action instead of scares. In some ways, the best comparison at the beginning section would be comparing it to the Train to Busan sequel Peninsula (review) however, the films takes a rather different trajectory past gathering a team to pick up goods in a zombie infested land. What deserves a mention is that Snyder takes on not only the director’s seat but also wrote the story and also is the cinematographer. With that said, Army of the Dead’s biggest issue, among a few other issues, is mostly pacing-related, which is expected with the runtime. Some other issues are related to sequence of events that are fairly familiar and doesn’t offer enough uniqueness to make it stand out more.

Army of the Dead does have some good points. There are some individual elements that do work. The first is the introduction of the zombie tiger design which shows up a few times as a threat and also giving mention to a famous Las Vegas reference relating to Seigfried and Roy’s tigers. Both the design and the story of the tiger does add to the story especially as it mostly acts as an additional threat that paces through the outside areas whenever the team needs to go there. Along the lines of visuals, Snyder does offer some good cinematography. The best ones coming from the overhead shots of Las Vegas as the camera pans through the area from above. The wide shots create a good atmosphere of the wasteland that Las Vegas has become and the area that the team needs to trek and survive through. Aside from that, the most satisfying part of the film is the opening 20 minutes or so when the scenario is set by how the zombie is released and where its from and how the city gets infected and followed through right away with a montage of the key characters during the apocalypse and how they help create the blocked off city that they currently reside in before hitting things off to where the characters are and they job that they are being offered. With that said, a big part of the opening sequence is the soundtrack which carries throughout the film as a good cue on creating somewhat of a comedic break here and there.

With that said, Army of the Dead is the most engaging in its first 30 minutes as everything gets set into place with both the characters and the zombie apocalypse. However, once the heist mission starts, things start slowing down in pacing quite a bit. The story jumps between the heist and the smart zombie lore. These two portions have both its pros and cons. In terms of the heist, it does have some action and as with a wide array of characters making up this somewhat ragtag team, it creates both comedy and hidden agendas, most of which are fairly predictable and outlined fairly early on what’s to happen. However, the safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer), helicopter pilot Peters (Tig Notaro) and former mercenary Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) are probably the main highlights of the story as they add whether in humor or awkward moments. While these are exactly the main character as Dave Bautista is the main person, there are just so many characters that sometimes his character, adding into the drama with his daughter and the other members all seem to lose the charm or depth. On the other hand, the smart zombie lore isn’t exactly unseen as the Living Dead series also features smart zombies and the angle they take here with the alpha and queen is a decent angle and yet, it seems to lose its direction very quickly as it turns more into a revenge hunt down which loses the depth into expanding on that side of the lore, even the “twist” was fairly easy to figure out from one of the earlier scenes.

Overall, Army of the Dead is a fairly lackluster film. The pacing does it in a lot where the length doesn’t add to the story but does more harm. It becomes a tiring sort of watch that doesn’t seem to give enough to create the foundation of building up both the world or the zombies or even the characters. It seems harsh but the best part of the movie was the first 30 minutes which probably created disappointment when it becomes a realization that the tone shifts from that opening sequence drastically once the heist actually starts. With that said, I do have a love/hate relationship with Snyder’s films where a few of his early films work for me while his newer films have had the same issues of pacing and plot. Army of the Dead falls in line as Snyder’s director trademarks are very apparent here and done well and yet, the sum of those parts aren’t enough to make up for the rest of it.

Tranquil Dreams Podcast #12: What’s Up 2021 Week 19

Late as always! The next Tranquil Dreams Podcast is here as we jump into looking at the What’s Up 2021 for Week 19! A skip in reading, a short watching section and playing section and a lengthy binging section that includes discussion on comedy in movies, an emotionally narrative game and an array of TV series from guilty pleasure TV to a quick discussion on the cancellation of the Chinese idol survival competition Youth With You 3. Hope you enjoy!

Related Links

Julie and the Phantoms – TV Binge

Music in the Episode:
There It Is by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4519-there-it-is
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Listen to the Show:
Anchor
Spotify
Google Podcasts
Breaker
RadioPublic

Double Feature: My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014) & Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Welcome to the next documentary double feature! Documentaries are definitely a little more frequently showing up here as I’ve been interested in checking out more of these especially the ones related to crimes and such. The first is 2014’s The Beautiful Broken Brain is not crime-related but a personal journey and the second is this year’s Why Did You Kill Me about a family’s journey to hunt down the killer of their family member after her death in a drive-by shooting.

Let’s check it out!

My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)

Director: Sophie Robinson & Lotje Sodderland

MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN is 34 year old Lotje Sodderland’s personal voyage into the complexity, fragility and wonder of her own brain following a life changing hemorrhagic stroke. Regaining consciousness to an alien world – Lotje was thrown into a new existence of distorted reality where words held no meaning and where her sensory perception had changed beyond recognition. This a story of pioneering scientific research to see if her brain might recover – with outcomes that no one could have predicted. It is a film about hope, transformation and the limitless power of the human mind. – IMDB

Documentaries like My Beautiful Broken Brain is not usually my go to however, the premise of this documentary is quite fascinating to watch as it shows the sudden changes that can happen in terms of health to anyone and how her journey is different as she has to embrace a changed world and her path of recovery. For a documentary about a girl who loses quite a bit due to the hemorrhagic stroke, its actually executed in a fairly positive way and sends out a positive message about how we should view our own life whether its about hope or not taking things for granted.

The execution of the film is done a good portion with videos filmed by Lotje Sodderland which builds up on her personal journey through her own recovery from her own feelings and the different steps she takes in order to embrace this “distorted reality”. Its truly hard to imagine what she went through especially when the most basic abilities are striped away through on incident. The execution builds from the start of how Sodderland ends up the way she is described from herself and her family and the reality that she now faces, outlining the effects the stroke had on her brain. As she moves forward, she compares her world to David Lynch’s work and hence her will to document what has happened to her and the journey of her recovery to eventually meet him. In the world of medicine and science, there isn’t really a lot of guarantees especially facing anything with the brain and perhaps that’s the takeaway here as this is a never seen before (or at least rarely seen) especially hard to watch when it gets into the neurological experiment bit.

In some ways, My Beautiful Broken Brain reminded me in premise of 2005’s Japanese TV series 1 Litre of Tears that was based on the true story of Aya Kito who suffered a rare brain degenerative disease and had documented it in her own diary. Where that one brings forth a lot of sorrow, My Beautiful Broken Brain has a lot of heart-wrenching moments but it makes the supposedly successes truly shine through. Its a little scary to watch that the senses and abilities that we use everyday is diminished to being unrecognizable. Overall, The Beautiful Broken Brain is decently executed and offers up a lot of information and a very personal journey that shares both a positive message about hope but also reminds us how lucky we all are to be able to do everyday things like reading and writing.

Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Director: Fredrick Munk

The line between justice and revenge blurs when a devastated family uses social media to track down the people who killed 24-year-old Crystal Theobald. – IMDB

Social media and technology has been a huge basis on how crimes are solved on a lot of the recent Netflix crime documentaries. In some ways, perhaps Why Did You Kill Me feels a little lesser in terms of the depth of the case itself as it somehow loses the depth of the topics that it can go. This one focuses primarily on the case on hand and following the footsteps of finding who is involved and why it happened. It also is one of the few where for the most part, the ending is relatively resolved and not exactly some form of call for action.

Why Did You Kill Me takes the angle of a family that wants to find the killer and using the help of a young cousin on Myspace to reach out to different gang members of the suspected gang involved and finding the clues to narrow down who it is and what happened after showing signs of not trusting the police. As much as the documentary is about solving the crime, its more about the line between justice and revenge.

Between interviews and crime scene restructures with minimized scenes, the whole crime is shown in a good detail as it goes from its suspect to exploring the involvement of family members and their own backstory. The crime documentary starts off rather solid because it focuses on the whole early days of Myspace and how eventually it turned into a very extreme way of using the victim’s picture to build the online profile which does end up attracting the person involved. The whole investigation circles around a lot of the same motions and that’s where the pacing of the documentary does feel sometimes like it lacks the content as a full length feature. Its not saying that this case isn’t worth shining light on as the final note on justice and revenge is pretty decent.

TV Binge: Julie and the Phantoms (Season 1, 2020)

Julie and the Phantoms (Season 1, 2020)

Creators: Dan Cross & David Hoge

Cast: Madison Reyes, Charlie Gillespie, Owen Joyner, Jeremy Shada, Jadah Marie, Sacha Carlson, Savannah Lee May, Carlos Ponce, Booboo Stewart, Sonny Bustamante, Cheyenne Jackson

Julie is a teenage girl who finds her passion for music and life with the help of a high -concept band of teen boys (The Phantoms) who have been dead for 25 years. Julie, in turn, helps them become the band they were never able to be. – IMDB

Based on the Brazilian TV series Julie e os Fantasmas, Julie and the Phantoms is a musical comedy drama that tells the story of a girl who is able to make 3 teenage ghosts that died 25 years ago visible to everyone whenever they play music together and hence brought about the their band, Julie and the Phantoms. Running at 9 episodes, there’s a lot to love about Julie and the Phantoms whether from the teenage content or the ghost element and especially the musical and band elements. There’s a little bit of romance, family and friendship and talks about loss and dreams and finding the courage to face it all. All in all, Julie and the Phantoms might have some plot points that seem a tad far-fetched but overall, its feel-good element really lands on such positive notes making it quite a binge-worthy experience.

Looking at the young cast, they are all fairly new to acting. With a lot of musical sort of shows or movies, it has a little overacting element however, the band when with each other feels mostly like the characters do fit themselves. The main actress is Madison Reyes who plays Julie, a girl trying to embrace music again after her mother’s passing. Trying to balance being okay for her family and  having the courage to follow her dreams with the help of the band, Madison Reyes does a really good job capturing the role and also showing her musical talents of singing. Playing opposite her are the 3 ghost boys from the Sunset Curve: Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Joyner) and Reggie (Jeremy Shada),who have personalities that balance each other which makes each of them stand out and each having their own issues although this season was mostly focused on Luke and building up the chemistry he has with Julie. An overall success for the two as they have some great moments together which is not physical but just through looks and conversation.

The story and the narrative does a good layout for the first season. It gives a good foundation and lays out the scene for both the key characters of Julie and her high school scene along with her family and also, gives a look at the ghost side of things and how this world’s ghosts work (which takes a twist at the finale and gives a set up for the second season). In terms of the songs, every episode has at least one musical offering which aligns with the plot and mostly is fun and positive sort of songs especially with its lyrics. They each have their own fun and are pretty catchy overall.

Overall, Julie and the Phantoms for the first season is a fun show. As a teen show, its pretty good. There are some issues probably in terms of over the top acting in certain parts but its feel-good elements and the fun and catchy songs does cover over a lot of its flaws. It does help that I’m a big fan of these types of shows plus its well-paced and the episodes are relatively short so the first season is definitely a breeze to binge. Definitely one that comes highly recommended for myself (seeing as I’ve rewatched the season a few times at this point since its launch and enjoy it equally as much every time) especially for fans of teen shows and musicals. With that said, I can’t wait for the second season whenever it will be released.

Tranquil Dreams Podcast #11: What’s Up 2021 Week 18

Welcome to the next episode of Tranquil Dreams Podcast as we cover What’s Up 2021 Week 18. It’s a really quick one as this lands on the last week of April and coincidentally, the last week of work rush, meaning not a whole lot was done. Every section had a quick overview of the one or two things that that I managed to check out or currently doing. Nothing too special to discuss but some potential plans for some of the sections to talk about and an update on the binging situation. Hope you enjoy!

Related Links

Freaks – Film Review

Music in the Episode:
There It Is by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4519-there-it-is
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Listen to the Show:
Anchor
Spotify
Google Podcasts
Breaker
RadioPublic

Double Feature: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021) & Don’t F*ck With Cats (2019)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is a little different as I get the reviews for documentary mini-series out of the way. Being mini-series, it technically should be in its own segment as TV binges but Letterboxd categorized them as movies so here we are! The first is Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel which is rather new as its a 2021 Netflix documentary and the other is Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting Down an Internet Killer from 2019, also a Netflix documentary. Let’s check it out!

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel (Mini-series, 2021)

College student and tourist Elisa Lam vanishes, leaving behind all of her possessions in her hotel room. The Cecil Hotel grows in infamy. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club on Movies and Tea*

Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel is a 2021 American docu-series about the vanishing and death of Elisa Lam at the Cecil Hotel. Separated into 4 episodes, it takes a look at the beginning, progression and finale of Elisa Lam’s vanishing and what happens. At the same time, its not only about the mystery but also about the investigation process and the involvement of web sleuths after the elevator surveillance tape was released online as well as the history of the Cecil Hotel from its early days until the present.

The documentary itself definitely has some good and bad elements. On one hand, the history of the Cecil Hotel and the area that it resides it adds a lot of knowledge. As the case builds from the one event, it digs up the horrors of the hotel and the dangerous people that lived there and how the hotel ended up with these residents. Through the interviews of the past manager, the past residents and the investigators of the case, it adds in a lot of perspective that feels like tangents to the mystery the the documentary focuses around but actually gives it a lot of foundation.

The mystery itself is done well enough. In some ways, it actually feels like the historical information about the hotel actually sometimes outshines the case itself mostly because the case itself uses a narrator as a voice-over reading Elisa Lam’s online entries and thoughts and plays it out in a blurry image while also adding in some of the real footage from the news and the investigation. The case is rather mysterious especially with the elevator surveillance tape that gets released and web sleuths who try to decipher this footage and all the questions that it raises. Ever since Don’t F*ck With Cats docu-series was released, web sleuths seems to be a hot commodity to add into mysteries, perhaps more pushed forward by the fact that Unsolved Mysteries have been revived on Netflix as well.

For this docu-series, where it does falls short is that it never really pinpoints a solid direction in execution and sometimes feels like it wants to touch on too many different issues from online bullying, mental illness, Cecil Hotel, who is at fault, etc. All these issues are big things to talk about and yet, the big points of mental illness, which should have been the focus didn’t have as much time to dive into, since that should have been the big takeaway from this one. However, at the end of the day, for those unfamiliar with Elisa Lam’s case and the Cecil Hotel, it is a rather fascinating one in terms of the information that it offers.

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (Mini-series, 2019)

A group of online justice seekers track down a guy who posted a video of himself killing kittens. – IMDB

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer is a 4 episode mini docu-series on Netflix that highlights the trek of web sleuths tracing down a kitten killer after releasing a brutal video which leads to a bigger case which involved the killing of young man filmed and released to the public as well. Its hard to talk about Don’t F*ck With Cats being the main reason that it follows a case that is tracked down to a killer located in Montreal, a city that I personally grew up in. The places this killer frequented and lived are areas familiar to myself and for that, its one of the reasons that makes this documentary probably one that hits a lot harder especially the unsettling feeling that unspeakable things could be happening all around us and no one ever really knows. I’m not naive to believe that that isn’t that case, but watching something like this definitely brings that out.

With that said, Don’t F*ck With Cats on one hand is well-executed as a documentary. It starts off focusing heavily on web sleuths and the power of the Internet that pretty much using the right avenues, you can probably track down anything. Other than the very disturbing video of the kitten killings, the web sleuths part actually is an entertaining and intriguing as the community comes together but also leads up to a conclusive thought at the end that gives the viewers a final question to ponder on whether they were the push that caused the killer to elevate to bigger crimes. I’m getting ahead of myself but the idea of this hunt moving between the Internet killers and how it tracks from a single video to eventually being able to pinpoint a location by the end and eventually provide information to the police to hopefully help with their investigation is a fascinating sort of journey as it also parallels with the inevitable focus on the crimes of Luka Magnotta. There are also uses of videos from when the investigation was going on and such which always adds to documentaries.

To be honest, Don’t F*ck With Cats is a really good documentary. On one hand, its one to definitely watch as its focus on web sleuths and the power of Internet is quite intriguing and triumphant for the most part for what they were able to discover however, on the other hand, its also a disturbing case and one that should be highlighted but then as Luka Magnotta is still alive, it almost seems unfair to bring him that spotlight given the information even though the show does make a good point to give space for friends of his human victim to talk about this person whose life was ended so young. In some ways, while the case revolves around the killer and proves how the Internet is a powerful tool when used correctly. The biggest takeaway is that the Internet is great in some ways and also horrible in other ways. The openness of it brings on its own consequences and in the end, that message is shown clearly giving the documentary a good amount to ponder on.

Tranquil Dreams Podcast #10: What’s Up 2021 Week 17

Welcome to the next episode of Tranquil Dreams Podcast! This week’s What’s Up 2021 is covering Week 17. We are officially back to weekly format.

In this episode, I take a look at what I’ve been reading, watching, playing and binging on Week 17 of 2021. Reading is a little uneventful however among the many things talked about in the other sections, some of the highlights are talking about what makes Dumplin’ a worthy rewatch, a capsule review of Oscar-nominated Chinese film Better Days as well a dive into the wrap-up of Chinese idol survival competition Produce Camp 2021 and their new temporary boy group INTO1. I also share some upcoming plans on new discussion topics on my mind lately to add some variety.

Hope you enjoy!

Related Links

Room – Game Review
Dumplin’ – Film Review
Paradise Hills – Film Review
Paradise Hills – Movies and Tea Podcast
Better Days – Film Review

Music in the Episode:
There It Is by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4519-there-it-is
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Listen to the Show:
Anchor
Spotify
Google Podcasts
Breaker
RadioPublic

My April 2021 Adventures!

Welcome to the April 2021 Adventures! Its a tad later than usual. I have a pretty good reason is that: nothing really happened in April except work and a lot of work and then overtime and….a whole lot of nothing else. So I was debating whether to release the post. But you know what, I did get back on track with something and whatnot so I’m going to just do quick one and share some updates.

Workout

Apr.9: Run 4.35km
Apr.10: Walk 15mins.
Apr. 11: Abs Workout
Apr. 14: 34 mins/3.09km walk
Apr. 17: 30 mins/2.41km walk
Apr. 18: 53 mins/4.39 km walk
Apr. 24: 28 mins/2.58km walk
Apr. 25: 13 mins/1.22 km walk

The biggest change in April was that, despite the busy work schedule, I tried really hard to get more active. I only did one run and workout but overall, I tried to force myself to go out deliberately on walks outside of the normal routine. I put on a lot of weight in the last few months due to work and stress and the whole nine yards so its been making me feel a little unhappy about the whole thing so the best way to get active again. It was pretty good since it not only was getting me more active but also the walks helped me de-stress and refresh between work and overtime and actually made everything a little more efficient.

April is over so I’ll probably be doing more runs than walks in May as the weather steadies and I hopefully will have more time.

Tranquil Dreams Podcast

As of the last episode, Tranquil Dreams Podcast has gotten back to a weekly format covering one week of What’s Up. You can check out the last episode HERE.

In terms of schedule, I’m still posting a few days later than I would like but I’m hoping to slowly move it back to a fixed release day of the week. Plus, I have some ideas for other content lately so I’m going to see how to structure those in. Still, one step at a time and things will get back on track by the summer.

New Buys and Bubble Tea

I have some shopping therapy issue that I thought I had gotten rid of but apparently not. Although I’m not doing big buys but I was pretty interested in these Ooly stationary. I got these pastel liners and waiting for the pens to be delivered. I’m organizing stuff lately with a big notebook so its rather useful.

Other than that, we’ve been looking for a new controller for our PC since the husband and I have both gotten into streaming so its good to not have to move the controller between out two computers. Luckily, Costco sells these wireless Xbox controllers which are compatible with Steam. I’ve tested it out a few times on some games so far and really liking it. I haven’t had time to stream in April but planning to get back to it in May to play some of the games released on Xbox Game Pass in the past while. I have no set schedule yet but probably will have one set in the next month. If you watch Twitch, you can head over and give me a follow and get notifications to know when I go live HERE.

I feel like I haven’t talked about the new PresoTea opened over the last month or 2. I can’t remember but the Mango Green Tea with Mango Bubbles with less ice and lite sugar. The blend of that drink is awesome! Not sure if you all have PresoTea but if you do and like mango or iced tea, this one is so good. I don’t drink it a lot but I like to get one as a reward.

Streaming with Friend Update: Resident Evil Village on launch day

On the note of streaming and somewhat of an announcement!

For some of you who don’t know, I stream on Friday evenings with my friend playing horror games. The coming week is release of Resident Evil Village on May 7th (this coming Friday) and we’ll be playing that on release day! Its super rare that it happens and we’re going in completely blind (other than knowing that there’s the tall vampire lady) as we both haven’t played the demos or watched any videos of it or the trailer either.

If you want to come check it out, the stream starts at 8pm EST so you can head over to my friend Brandel Savage’s Twitch channel HERE.

Cute Kitty Pic

That’s it for the April Adventures!
I really stretched this one out and its not exactly exciting but pandemic protocols also doesn’t allow for a lot of variety.
At least, we can sign up for the first vaccine appointment soon so that’s progress, right?

Music Obsessions – May 2021

Welcome to the next Music Obsessions! May is already here! I honestly can’t believe me. This first 4 months of the year went by so fast mostly because I was so busy and just working a whole lot. Either way, music has been a lot in my life especially since I’m watching survival idol competitions and stuff so it gave me a chance to look up the original songs and there’s been some good ones. I’d say there’s some decent variety this time so hope you find something that you like as well!

Let’s go!

Stop Sugar – Gen Neo

I’m not sure if finding Gen Neo was more worth mentioning than finding Stop Sugar in general. I still think its a great song but Gen Neo has a fantastic voice and I had never even heard of him before watching Youth With You 3. His style and his voice is absolutely fitting to the music genre that he chooses to do. He has some other experimental ones of covers and collabs that are also pretty good especially worth mentioning is the one for Leehom Wang’s You’re Not There, a song that I love a lot and his version is different but really good and catchy as well.

A Kind World – 2Night夜里

I’m not sure how I ended up finding this song but 2Night was on the Chinese Rap Competition show last year and I really liked his rap style even though he didn’t make it very far. Finding this is pretty cool since its a rather fun song. I haven’t been able to find the lyrics since some of the faster rap bits are a little hard to catch but overall, I do like the writing and the rhythm of the whole thing. Its feels so lighthearted and feel good to listen to.

超能力 Superpower – G.E.M.鄧紫棋

A lot of people who listen to Chinese pop music knows G.E.M. at this point. She’s known to have a powerful voice and so young with so much success. I have to say that the last few years has really made me see a lot more of her music as her success allowed her to expand into other music genres and make more unique and/or meaningful music. Superpower definitely is unique especially when you look at the dance. Its super catchy overall and its been revolving in my head non-stop.

As a side note, her performance on Youth With You 3 for the Collab Stage was pretty fun as well. You can look it up if you want or ask me to share the link in the comments if you want to check it out

念想 Better Us – Jackson Yee易烊千玺 (‘Better Days’ OST)

I haven’t been watching a ton of movies this past month but I think the most memorable has to be Better Days, a movie that I had bought before it was nominated as Best International Feature at the Oscar’s but it did encourage me to watch it sooner. You can find my review HERE. The soundtrack is pretty good. I was deciding whether to share the main theme of the movie by JJ Lin or this one for this post. This one won out mostly because I think this song’s lyrics is pretty well-written and fits the movie so well. At the same time, I think Jackson Yee doing such a good acting job in this movie and then performing this type of song was a bit surprising. To be honest though, I only know Jackson Yee from 3 places before this: his early boy group TF Boys, a few episode of Season 2 of Street Dance of China and the variety show Welcome Back to Sound which kind of all shows his diversity. Either way, this is very quiet but I think its pretty good.

閉嘴跳舞 Shut Up and Dance – Chris Lee 李宇春

I don’t usually share performances from Youth With You 3 BUT this one is unique because its a fresh new music video for a new song from Chris Lee which had its first reveal or public performance or something on the show. Its also a very catchy song and the whole performance and dancing. They wanted to make it with an brainwashing effect for its dance routine. I think its pretty fun overall plus these are all top trainees in the show so the quality is definitely there. Plus, Chris Lee did put together a well done music video with a lot of style not to mention, I love this type of funky music style.

That’s it for this music obsessions!
Hope you enjoyed it!

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Director: Derek Tsang

Cast: Dongyu Zhou, Jackson Yee, Fang Yin, Ye Zhou, Yue Wu, Jue Huang, Yifan Zhang, Xinyi Zhang, Xuanming Gao, Xintong Xie

A bullied teenage girl forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of her final examinations. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea for Friday Film Club*

Perhaps one of the more surprising titles to be nominated in the best International feature category at the upcoming Oscars is 2019’s Chinese romantic crime film, Better Days. Better Days is based on a Chinese YA novel called In His Youth, In Her Beauty. Faced with difficulty to release due to censorship in China, Better Days focuses on school bullying while looking at the stressful and demanding environment of preparing for the National Exam which determines the future of a student and where they end up in university while also looking at the reality of family situations in China. It takes a snapshot of Chinese society, call it a social commentary if you will but the movie does end with a discussion of the progress that’s been made with the different ministry departments of creating laws to protect against school bullying. With that said, the movie rather lengthy running at 2 hours 15 minutes, which is structured fairly well as it starts off right away highlighting the school issue and building up those tensions while moving to a second act which is focused on the relationship between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei as he protects her in the shadows. A lot of their relationship is built through actions more than words which thanks to a good direction of director Derek Tsang makes it work. Making the third act one that tugs at heartstrings despite all that’s happening and question the morals of who is right and wrong as well as bringing up how much teens believe in the adults surrounding them and how much they can help.

Talking about the director, Derek Tsang brings in some interesting direction choices whether its how he uses the lighting or moving through a montage of how time passes or just how he chooses to use the cinematography and camera pans to structure the scene to create a great effect and capture what he wants and leaving some mystery, its done pretty well. Of course, the other surprise for most familiar with Chinese pop culture is seeing Jackson Yee do rather well in his role as Xiao Bei especially since he started out at a young age in a youth boy band TF Boys. Taking up this powerful role and delivering on a decent level and especially being able to act at the pace of Dongyu Zhou who is a much more seasoned actress with a lot of great and diverse roles under her belt, a few of them previously Friday Film Club picks, Us and Them and This Is Not What I Expected. Being the central role here, Chen Nian under Dongyu Zhou is done incredibly well. She is able to bring it to a good level of tension and connection especially with a character that doesn’t say a lot and the ability to play a high school senior while being in her mid-20s and making it believable to follow her devastating experience but still in all the bad still wanting to “protect the world” and points out how no one’s taught them about how to be an adult. The most touching line in the movie between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei when he says: “It’s a deal. You protect the world. I’ll protect you.”

Sure, Better Days has its issues especially for those not too familiar with Chinese films, it might bring in the elements of losing traction and shifting focus of the film and having some melodramatic moments as it loves to bring romance in any type of film. However, what Better Days does remind me a lot of is a 2004 Taiwanese series called The Outsiders (currently on Netflix if you want to check it out) which has a similar romantic arc. While it might not be for everyone, Better Days has its heart at the right place, shares an important topic of teen bullying in China and what has been done so far while also having a decent crime story to wrap up the whole thing. Definitely one to check out if you get a chance!