TV Binge: Sugar Rush (Season 2, 2019)

Check out the 1st Season of Sugar Rush review HERE.

Sugar Rush (Season 2, 2019)

sugar rush

Host: Hunter March
Judges: Candace Nelson & Adriano Zumbo

A baking competition with 4 teams, 3 rounds, 2 cakes and 1 winner of $10,000. – IMDB

Season 2 of Sugar Rush is here. With a quick 50 mins episode length and 6 episodes for the whole season, Sugar Rush is the perfect type of TV binge. It can be done in a day if you don’t have any other things planned or to do . Just like the previous season and the very on point synopsis on IMDB for the show, this is a professional baking competition which starts with 4 teams who compete in elimination format in 3 rounds to become the final winner of $10,000. Who makes the decision is between the two judges and the guest judge who may or may not be baking saavy but they are eating saavy (meaning they know how to eat and that’s really what is important here since baked goods isn’t only for expert tasting but for normal people too). Some examples of guests this season are Nick and Vanessa Lachey as well as Jacques Torres.

For those who haven’t seen Season 1, here’s a quick little rundown of how the competition is structured. There are 3 rounds to the competition. The first 2 rounds is cupcakes and confections respectively to be completed within 3 hours. Whatever time you save from those three hours adds on to the final cake round which also has 3 hours. The topics for each round is announced as you complete the previous round after the judges taste. The only trick here is that elimination of one team happens after each round as well. What changes in season 2 is two elements. The first is more relevant to the competition structure and that is all round 3 keep going. When Round 2 finishes, the final round topic is given as well as 3 additional hours. In that sense, the clock never stops making it embrace that time element much better and gives less down time where the other team doesn’t stand around waiting for their time to start like in Season 1. The second element is that the judges now all stay in the room while the competition is going on and does commentating which is great compared to the first season where they would leave and come back at the tail end. These little things keeps the process of the competition more engaging.

Other than one or two odd guest choices, Sugar Rush really does a good job in keeping up with the hype of the first season and polishing the structure and concept behind it which works better this time around. It had 2 less episodes from the previous season so its a quick one to binge through. The themes here also are pretty fun from starting with current popular baking trends to more thematic ones like science and love, they choose guests that match their theme while also having focus on both technique and visual appeal. Hopefully, Sugar Rush gets a Season 3 because I’d be down for it.

 

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Book Review: Lifel1k3 (Lifelike #1) by Jay Kristoff

Lifel1k3 (Lifelike #1)
by: Jay Kristoff

Lifelike

On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap. Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it. But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past. Even if those secrets were better off staying buried. – Goodreads

Post-apocalypse, YA, Androids: it seems like a rising theme in the next phase of science-fiction fantasy novels. Its not a bad thing to say the least. After the success of The Illuminae Trilogy, its hard to not give some regard to what comes up next for the two authors. While I have yet to look into Amie Kaufman’s solo novels, I’ve been stocking up on Jay Kristoff’s (coming soon is reading Nevernight). Since I’ve been on this sci-fi roll, I decided to give Lifelike a go, the first novel in a currently ongoing series where the second book has been released recently.

While the end game of the story, the twist and such wasn’t exactly hard to figure out, what works a lot here is the execution of the story. Lifelike introduces its characters very well. It also keeps a decent limit to how many characters are in focus while being able to make sure that all the characters serve their purpose in their existence in the story itself. The world itself gives it a lot more to think about because the main girls are Eve and her best friend Lemon Fresh who end up with their robot dog of sorts Cricket while finding a lifelike android which is referred as the almost-boy Ezekiel who starts waking up the memory of Eve throughout their journey to save Eve’s grandfather from the evil androids. There are relationships and conflicts and dilemmas as more secrets get dug up and remembered. Lemon and Eve’s friendship/sisterhood doesn’t get enough depth, but builds a general foundation, while Eve and Ezekiel end up having a lot of the drama involved.

While there isn’t anything particularly issues with the story, its a pity that the world doesn’t have more focus (although I’m sure as the story moves along in the sequels that it will). The future and the technology and the android lifelikes and such in this mass world feels very intriguing to discover and yet, its more focused on the people in the story than using it to build up. While I can’t say that I liked Lifelike quite as much as say the entirety of the Illuminae Files, even at its lowest point (which was very rare because that trilogy ranks very high on my favorites), Lifel1k3 as the first book does a good build for the foundation and has a decent reveal in establishing its characters. While there is some drag at a little part, it does do itself justice in the big finale and reveal.

Goodreads Score: 4/5

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019)

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019)

Hobbs and Shaw

Director: David Leitch

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Helen Mirren, Eiza Gonzalez, Eddie Marsan, Eliana Sua, Cliff Curtis, Lori Pelenise Tuisano

Lawman Luke Hobbs and outcast Deckard Shaw form an unlikely alliance when a cyber-genetically enhanced villain threatens the future of humanity. – IMDB

The ninth film in the Fast and Furious franchises heads into a change in gear as it turns around to focus on what used to be two side characters that rose over the last few films: Luke Hobbs, appearing first in Fast Five and played by Dwayne Johnson and Deckard Shaw, who made his appearance as a cameo in the 6th part and was the baddie in the 7th. Hobbs and Shaw are definitely fan favorites despite not being in the leading roles in the previous films. Breaking free (mostly) from racing and heists, this one puts them on the other side of the table as they are recruited to retrieve a stolen virus suspected to be taken from Shaw’s MI-6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) when she only did it to prevent it from getting into the hands of Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) but causing her to have a limited amount of time to take it out of her body before it kills her and the world. A true everyday hero story, right?

Its important to go into Fast and Furious films with rather simple expectations of being fulfilled by mindless entertainment. With Hobbs and Shaw, its expected also that it rides heavily on the love of these two characters specifically. The story takes the time to make this a little bit more of a personal adventure for the two as each of their families and backgrounds get revealed a little deeper from their family relationships, sibling rivalries and such. There are some absurd scenes and illogical moments but it all comes with the Fast and Furious title and is also expected. Hobbs and Shaw did everything that was expected of it, which is pretty good.

Except…Hobbs and Shaw also has a ton of flaws. Nothing about those expectations that were met but rather, in its polish of it all. For one, it runs quite long and in some parts does overstay its welcome. One of the main deals is that the Hobbs and Shaw insult sequences start off to be quite funny but as it happens over and over and over again, it does tend to be less so. At the same time, it also underuses a great villain role like Idris Elba which is like Terminator with a Transformer bike as Brixton Lore and yet, he never reaches the level of dangerous villain that would have been expected probably because of not so much screen time and most of it being caught in enhancements, chase scenes or fight scenes making his character fairly shallow (not sure if thats the right word to use here).

Talking about those fight scenes. On one hand, its great that everyone here has the ability to do the scenes and there is an attempt of keeping it a lot of close combat melee and such with props and whatnot. It has a nice angle with the finale which was a big one to say the least that had its great bits. When not in the chase scene or anything else, the big fight which was especially apparent compared to the previous scenes was the amount of cutting shots as the camera moves around too much, making the scenes less immersive to watch because there was no flow. It was honestly a bit too much with the size of the scene and amount of action going on.

Overall, Hobbs and Shaw is fairly on par with my expectations and also has elements that was slightly disappointing. Disappointment is a hard thing to get over with, possibly worse than a bad movie in general. Fact is, Hobbs and Shaw is still fun entertainment and it still has a lot of decent moments and funny one liners and comedic comebacks. The acting is alright and falls in character with these two characters especially and its hard to not love Hobbs and Shaw’s family like Shaw’s mother is played by Helen Mirren or especially Hobbs mother who commands her family by waving a flip flop around. Thing is, Hobbs and Shaw, if you look at it, is like a reboot of The Fast and the Furious but without the focus on cars and heists and yet for these two characters, its about family and two rivals finding friendship together right down to the romantic angle. It stays true to the values of the franchise, which is okay. At the same time, it does need some credit for bringing in some fun cameo roles like Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart for example.

Be sure to check out The Lambcast episode where I was guest on for a discussion/review of Hobbs and Shaw HERE.

Fantasia Festival 2019: Shorts

Fantasia Festival 2019 is over but as per usual, there were a lot of shorts showcased whether before feature film screenings (which is where all of these two segments of shorts were seen) or as a compilation (which I missed all of due to schedule conflicts). Regardless, there’s a lot of interesting selections to say the least.

Below are six shorts that I saw as opening during screenings.

Bar Fight (World Premiere, 2019)

Bar Fight

Director (and writer): Benjamin R. Moody

Cast: Aaron D. Alexander, Donald Brooks, Hector Gonzales, Nelson Nathaniel

When a machete-wielding cult walks into a bar, one bartender is in for the longest night of his life. – IMDB

Paired with The Prey (review) as a the opening short film, Bar Fight is 5 minutes of non-stop action. The premise of the story makes it feel like the world has fallen apart due to this cult as the constant pounding on the door above ends up with three thugs come into the bar. While the bar owner seems meek at first, he quickly fights his way brutally out of the situation. From the series of moves to how the short is done, its an impressive 5 minutes that is very entertaining to watch especially because its in a closed off space resulting in close hand to hand battles with some limited choices in weapons as defense and combat.

Bedtime Story (El Cuento, 2019)

El Cuento

Director (and writer): Lucas Paulino & Angel Torres

Cast: Nerea Barros, Miguel Galbin, Ismael Palacios, Alberto Sanchez

Opening for The Wretched (review) is this Spanish horror short about a family of three being observed by a witch living in an apartment across the street. As the kids settle into to bed, their mother comes in to tell them a bedtime story except it seems very similar to their current situation and bigger brother Lucas who is sleeping on the top bunk doesn’t know whether to look or not at who is telling the story.

No doubt that Spanish horror does really well. In the case of Bedtime Story, its satisfying horror experience. How its filmed and gloomy and darkness of the nighttime setup along with the mom’s unsettling behavior gives it a nice tinge of horror that blends well together. The whole element of being watched also is done very well with a decent twist at the end. Its a fairly complete horror experience for a short film.

Le Blizzard (2019)

le blizzard

Director (and writer): Alvaro Rodriguez Areny

Cast: Aida Folch

Le Blizzard is a 2018 horror short that paired with The Father’s Shadow (review) which tells the story of a woman waking up in the middle of World War II in a blizzard and goes looking for her daughter that has separated from her in the forest. Le Blizzard is not a bad concept to start with. It just feels a bit dragged out because it turns around in a circle. Somehow, it does have a fairly bizarre turn in events and has something of a loop element to it. There is an attempt of adding in a twist in there which does give it some intrigue but its an odd one.

Right Place, Wrong Tim (2018)

Right Place Wrong Tim

Director: Eros Vlahos

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Adam Buxton, Ella Purnell

A 90’s British sitcom is taken over by clones of the lead actor and descends into chaos. – IMDB

Perfectly paired with Daniel Isn’t Real (review), Right Place Wrong Tim is a horror comedy where a on-screen . Its bloody and funny and so over the top that it just fits together in the oddest way and still works. It also lingers on the part of how much of it is reality and how much of it is part of the effects of the show so the audience is still laughing as the scene gets more and more bloody and absurd and yet that just adds to the humor. Of course, this type of humor might be very unique to its audience and might not land for everyone but perhaps its the charm and talent of Asa Butterfield that I’d always enjoyed his acting and roles that this one worked for myself.

Lone Wolf (2019)

Lone Wolf

Director (and writer): January Jones

Cast: Joanne Booth, Charlotte Cook, Karla Hillam, Mackenzie Mazur, Izabella Measham-Park, Freya Van Dyke-Goodman

Opening for Riot Girls screening (review), Lone Wolf is a 2019 Australian horror short about a 15 year old social misfit called Sam who gets invited to a classmate Willow’s party and tries to blend in with her new classmates who happen to be a bunch of mean girls who are Willow’s best friends. However, she starts to go through some kind of inexplicable change and it just starts going out of control. Without ruining anything, that’s the best that I have for this short. Its tries to make fun a little of the situation because its really odd what happens. Sam’s transformation from a little decision of being accepted changes her as well. There’s not a ton to say about this. Its fairly on rails as to how the story progresses with what she gets made fun of as well as who comes to her defense and then we get a twist which explains her transformation. Lone Wolf tackles one of the horror subgenres that I feel is still fairly underused with a lot of potential to explore further so that was a great angle.

Cliché (2018)

Cliche

Director (and writer): Miguel De Plante

Cast: Anne-Justine Guestier, Lilie-Rachel Morin, Josian Neveu

Three young friends, a dark cabin, a wandering killer… You think you’ve already seen this movie ? You’re probably right… – Fantasia Festival

Cliché was the opening short for Aquaslash (review). I’m a huge fan of any concept that can make fun of itself. There’s a lot of really absurd moments here and it feels like the goal is to be over the top in presenting all the cliché moments in horror films and diving into those horror tropes that usually serious horror films would be criticized. Its not meant to be taken seriously and because of that, it dives into a lot of fun territory. It has some ridiculous ideas but then also embraces the idea of the final girl and challenging breaking away from the cliché moment. Its pretty silly and the comedy might not work for everyone but its not a bad guilty pleasure idea and really suitable for a short film.

That’s it for these 6 Fantasia Shorts!
A bit heavy and probably should have broken into two posts, but its what it is.

Thoughts? Which appeals to you more?

Fantasia Festival 2019: Riot Girls (2019)

Riot Girls (2019)

Riot Girls

Director: Jovanka Vuckovic

Cast: Madison Iseman, Paloma Kwiatkowski, Alexandre Bourgeois, Munro Chambers, Ajay Friese, Evan Marsh, Jenny Raven

Riot Girls is a 2019 Canadian action coming of age story where adults have been wiped out by a mysterious disease leaving two groups of kids in one area to fight against each other over territory, resources and survival.

Set in an alternate 1995, it zeros in on a town now divided by West and East side, named exactly as that, Westsiders and Eastsiders respectively, these two groups are run very different. The Eastsiders are run by big brother Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois) along with his girlfriend and younger sister Nat (Madison Iseman) and her girlfriend Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski). When Jack goes for a resource run and ends up saving Westsiders escapee Sony (Ajay Friese) and consequently, taken by the Westsiders, Nat, Scratch and Sony set out to rescue him from the Westsiders turf in the center of operations at a high school from the hands of jock leader Jeremy (Munro Chambers).

Right off the bat, there is a lot of style in the execution. Riot Girls uses a comic strip set up to present its story. Using this, it also helps with scene transitions and location swaps as well as switching the narratives from one side to the other in a fluid way. There’s a lot of charm in using this form of execution but also helps keep the tone in check of having something a little wild and fun but also comedic and cool. The cool punk elements are elevated because of the hard rock soundtrack that plays in its scenes especially the chase scenes or fighting scenes. As a fun little trivia, the school used as the base for Westsiders is also where Degrassi: The Next Generation was filmed, so a little throwback of familiarity as well for Munro Chambers who is the baddie in here.

Talking about the story itself, there is a gnawing feeling that a film called Riot Girls lacks a little of the girls element at first. It spends a lot of time in the first act following Jack and his kidnapping to the Westsiders area then it dives a lot on the Jeremy and how he runs his side of town with only snippets of Nat and Scratch as they make it there and little establishment bits for them. However, the story does converge itself as the girls reach their main objective, they show up much more frequently and the dynamic slowly switches over to their heroism and cooperation as they work together to successfully rescue Jack while surviving the more brutal Westsiders. Its a change in a pace because usually we have boys saving girls but in this situation, the girls are saving the boy especially as they go into a very male-dominant area with Jeremy and his jock buddies in the lead.

Despite the fact that there is a big storyline focused on the Westsiders, its not a huge problem because the entire cast delivers on their performances well. No doubt that Westsiders is strong because of Munro Chambers as Jeremy who also delivers on his bad guy roles. In this case, he shines quite a bit especially with the fact that Jeremy also delivers on showing that there is never a forever leadership in this world because kids will grow up to be adults and the inevitable will happen. Nat and Scratch is rightfully the stars of the show with  Madison Iseman and Paloma Kwiatkowski as the actresses behind it respectively. The friendship and relationship behind Nat and Scratch is a fairly positive one that doesn’t need to be explained. Its just there and its accepted for exactly what it is. They have each other’s backs and they love each other through these hard times and they are both empowering roles as they fight with their girl power against a band of boys. What is viewed as the less competent are actually the most competent and that goes not only for the Riot Girls Nat and Scratch but also their help Sony who is somewhat of the awkward yet comic relief. Not to mention Scratch and Nat have incredible style especially Scratch sporting a fantastic mohawk.

Its not like the movie is very heavy to begin with. Its both fast paced and a lot of action with some nice sarcastic humor to pair with it all. Riot Girls is a fun movie. Perhaps it betrays its title a little with having more boy times and a lot more male roles than females but Nat and Scratch are the most memorable characters in this no matter how little they may be, its all big moments which give their characters their own natural spotlight. Sure, its a flaw perhaps in the script but in terms of everything else from execution to soundtrack to pacing to the Riot Girls and the baddie, everything falls into place and works really well together.

Riot Girls hits theatres on September 13, 2019.

Fantasia Festival 2019: Depraved (2019)

Depraved (2019)

Depraved

Director (and writer): Larry Fessenden

Cast: Alex Breaux, David Call, Joshua Leonard, Ana Kayne, Maria Dizzia, Chloe Levine

Depraved is a 2019 American horror film about a field surgeon suffering PTSD that successfully puts together and brings a human to life.

After a sour conversation with his girlfriend, Alex leaves her apartment to go home and suddenly is attacked. When he wakes up, his brain has now been transplanted into another body with only fragments of his memory left. Now named by his maker Henry (David Call) as Adam (Alex Breaux), he needs to learn how to be human from a clean slate. His curiosity leads him to meet Henry’s partner Polidori (Joshua Leonard) who has less responsible expectations of this successful experiment.

Playing out as a modern retelling of Frankenstein , Depraved stays a lot in familiar territory. Its hard to redo a classic especially with a lot of similar elements being played out with modern day distractions. There are obvious challenges to overcome and yet, its hard to say that Depraved truly overcomes the familiar territory with enough of a twist to make it memorable. Sure, the modern take of it gives it a lot more attractions to open up the eyes of Adam, the name of Monster. A night out in town quickly takes him to experience drugs and strip clubs as starters, opening his eyes to the world outside from his contained world controlled by Henry. And no, naming him Adam doesn’t have to do with Adam and Eve. There’s something more to it.

There are two things to appreciate in Depraved. The first is Adam’s design as a character. He isn’t this bulking huge scary beast but still has his stitches and cuts to make him feel pieced together. At the same time, Adam has a past that flashes in his mind and it helps that the movie starts off with the perspective of this fellow before he is transformed into this new person. From the first moments of Adam, there is undoubtedly the character with a lot to discover because he is essentially a newborn discovering the world around him. Here is where the movie truly excels in making Adam feel more forgivable than the Creature because he is made to be more normal and the world around him in general accepts him to be that as well. Alex Breaux delivers on the roles and fits the character very well.

The second element is that the director navigates the film through different point of views. The focal character changes with the flow of the story, revealing the motives for each of them fairly seamlessly. Alex’s point of view flows into Adam and Henry and then pivots into Polidori and so on so forth. Because of this change, the story moves forward and reveals each of its elements with a smooth flow. Its a unique way to navigate this story even if its still much of the standard fare in terms of a modern retelling. At the same time, its important to probably mention that the movie is best when it is showing the Adam and Henry aka Creature and Maker interactions because these two characters have the most depth and friction in the balance of the story, making Alex Breaux and David Call the standout roles here as well.

Depraved is an okay movie. It executes a lot of elements that do make it unique in its way of telling this Frankenstein story and has a lot of merit to be discussed simply in making Adam into a different type of Creature. However, Frankenstein is a Classic and the story is very familiar and at times, while the story gives it some twists and turns to help reveal the ultimate goal of this experiment, it lacks a memorable climax. The tone is good and the execution is decent but the retelling doesn’t push itself to an exciting moment and feels rather flat. Not to mention, some of the acting leaves a little to be desired as well. Overall, Depraved has its pros and cons but it is a decent effort and if Frankenstein is a story that you enjoy, this could be one to check out for sure.

Fantasia Festival 2019: Aquaslash (World Premiere, 2019)

Aquaslash (2019)

Aquaslash

Director (and writer): Renaud Gauthier

Cast: Brittany Drisdelle, Nicolas Fontaine, Lanisa Dawnsen, Paul Zinno,

Aquaslash is a 2019 horror film about a high school graduating class who goes to a water park to celebrate when someone puts razors in the slide.

Before we start, its important to make a few things clear. One, the Aquaslash version seen at Fantasia is most probably not the final edit. Its a work in progress where the visual editing had not been completed yet resulting in some scenes to be dark and some to be in the day. There were also some sound issues that weren’t polished like ear piercing whistle sounds. Two, the director Renaud Gauthier referred to this version as The Director’s Cut. Its put together in the way that he would want it to be presented. Also, pretty much confirming that it won’t be this way upon its release. With those two points clear, there won’t be so much about the visuals but more the story, the characters and its 80s vibe and of course, the slasher elements.

Aquaslash is a fun movie. It has its flaws. Despite its short run time, it actually spends a lot of time in the characters’ drama. Its not all teenage drama but a lot of it is girls and crushes and love triangles and the likes. It uses this time to create the characters as well as some shenanigans and make some comedic moments. Aquaslash is meant to be reminiscent of the 80s with the park, the style and satisfyingly the background music and soundtrack.

The best thing about Aquaslash is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. Because of that, a lot of it is much easier to accept. There are a lot of moments that sometimes might feel disjointed or completely random. Yet the tone the movie sets never shifts into taking itself too seriously. While that might sound like a bad thing, its a compliment to be able to do that and stay consistent. Looking at the effects and the slasher kills, they are not quite so abundant however, there is a reminiscent feeling of the 80s slasher here that works. The most memorable one is for the razor blades slide set up and how it is done. Because it all happens around the fun idea of a race down three entangled slides, there is a suspense who will inevitably meet their end at the razors. Things get out of hand and there is a great amount of entertainment in how it all unfolds.

Aquaslash, in this version, has its flaws and in the visuals and effects polish has obvious further work to do, but putting that aside, the idea is a pretty good one especially since it seems like such a clever idea of instilling fear in a family destination like a water park and yet, doesn’t feel like its been done before. Its something of a guilty pleasure movie filled with some 80s reminiscent entertainment. It will be interesting to see what the final cut after all the post production is done will be like.