Double Feature: Shanghai Fortress (2019) & S Storm (2016)

Time for the next double feature! Its a pairing of a Netflix Chinese Sci-fi film Shanghai Fortress with the sequel of Hong Kong crime thriller Z Storm called S Storm. Let’s check it out!

Shanghai Fortress (2019)

Director: Hua-Tao Teng

Cast: Han Lu, Qi Shu, Godfrey Gao, Liang Shi, Sen Wang, Vincent Matile, Jialing Sun, Yu Cheng

In 2035, aliens have wiped out mega cities around the globe to get their main source of energy, Xianteng. Will Shanghai be able to defend itself and maybe even launch a counterattack? – IMDB

Looking solely at the premise, Shanghai Fortress has a great setting. Think a little like the Chinese version of Independence Day with elements of Ender’s Game and hints of Pacific Rim. The whole setting in the future and the world being destroyed where Shanghai wants to counterattack and the world coming together to try to eliminate the alien invasion is a good premise to say the very least. Where Shanghai Fortress has more issues is in its execution and some of the CGI effects especially when it comes to the aliens which looks like toy action figures in some scenes (a lot of it when its attacking from the sky).

Where the movie does its best story bits is with its sci-fi elements as it talks about the war and the reality that the world now dwells in. The source of energy that is being fought for and the reality that the world now dwells in while still a bit lacking in detail still works for the most part and even with the technology that the world now has and the team that they put together to try to fight them as well as their secret weapon. With that said, where the story falls apart is putting in the romantic arc of the main lead trying to win the heart of a superior. It almost felt unnecessary as it was put there to give them a dramatic element but then, they already had the whole team and friendship that was done in a more natural way.

Despite the story, the cast is fairly alright. With the material they had, the main cast does deliver well enough. Qi Shu brings in the role of the captain and is the crush of the main male lead played by Han Lu, who is the leader of the little “task force” (not sure if that’s how you call it) that got brought up after they come together to help an attack. Godfrey Gao also takes part in this film as one of the last few movies in his career before his unfortunate death in 2019. There are some more familiar faces that work out including the rest of the “task force” and friends that I’ve seen appear and are relatively well in their roles.

Overall, its quite disappointing that Shanghai Fortress had such a good premise but just couldn’t deliver a better script and execution, which made a little harder to get into it completely whether it was the war or the human relationships.

S Storm (2016)

Director: David Lam

Cast: Louis Koo, Julian Cheung, Ada Choi, Vic Chou, Bowie Lam, Dada Chan, Janelle Sing, Sau Sek, Hoi Pang Lo, Jacky Cai

No sooner is a team at ICAC set up to investigate irregularities in soccer official betting in Hong Kong before a suspect is assassinated. – IMDB

The sequel to 2014’s Z Storm (review) takes on another corruption story and this time its within the Jockey Club with the soccer betting system. The ICAC end up following the clues from one lead to the next to realize that each of the suspects are being killed before they get there. S Storm is a fairly decent thriller. The only issue is that it adds too much to the equation that it almost feels like there’s too many characters to go through. It does keep it fairly engaging since there’s always a next step and in the beginning, its a race between the ICAC and a disrespected homicide detective’s team for the trail.

S Storm excels because of its talented cast. The ICAC being lead by Louis Koo’s character who is a staple in many Hong Kong thrillers in the past decade (if not 2). The homicide team lead by Julian Cheung, a singer and actor that I personally like quite a bit as well. The assassin is played by Vic Chou and the former F4 member and had his debut in the original Taiwanese version of Meteor Garden as Hua Ze Lei, the 2nd male lead. Its been a while since I’ve seen him in anything so this role does feel small and very quiet but his character is missing some depth perhaps. Other roles like Ada Choi, Bowie Lam, Sau Sek are all familiar faces in TV mostly but have dabbled in film before and all give fairly decent supporting roles.

While there are some issues with S Storm, its a series that I do enjoy for the corruption case angle. Its more about the clever dealings and inner network of people and such. This one does have a decent amount of action as well considering its about gambling so the triad and such gets involved. The audience gets the story step by step in bits and sees the danger before the ICAC and homicide gets there even if it doesn’t always reveal the culprit, leaving that in the dark for a while. Some good elements and some not so good ones but its an alright thriller overall.

As a side note, it would be interesting to check out what other stories will come in the other movies in the series and how it links to the letters they use really does make me wonder sometimes.

Blog Tour: Shame Of It All by K.T. Grant (Review/Giveaway)

Shame Of It All
By: K.T. Grant

Publication Date: December 6th, 2020
Genre: Psychological Thriller

SYNOPSIS

*Trigger Warning : Violence/ Sexual Assault

Revenge is a dish best served cold. But for Mercy Pryce her revenge will scald one’s soul and leave behind a burnt-out husk if she has her way.

Mercy has returned to her hometown of Cartleigh, New York after twenty years. The lakeside community is the perfect location for Yakim Zeldovich, her Russian billionaire employer’s state of the art manufacturing facility. Acting as a consultant for Zeldovich, she’s on an undercover mission, not as an angel of mercy, but one of mischief, deceit and torture. Her ultimate goal is to ruin Cartleigh because of a horrible trauma she suffered in high school. The one responsible for her wrath is Colton Hahn, Cartleigh’s beloved mayor, and the object of her retaliation. The town’s golden boy, who she once adored as an impressionable teenager, brutally raped her and left her for dead at seventeen.

Consumed by years of grief and growing rage, she has targeted Colton, who may also be responsible for the death of her best friend, Marina, his fiancé. She will avenge Marina and finally take down the monster who tried to ruin her life.

Her success may come at a horrible price. But it will all be worth it if she can take away everything Colton holds dear, including him surrendering his heart and soul to her in the process.

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REVIEW

If thrillers are a hard genre to grasp, revenge based psychological thrillers are probably even harder to balance especially when it brings in an element of sexual and erotic manipulation elements into the overall story. Shame Of It All has its own pros and cons. For the most part, the story does flow relatively well with the pacing. There are some moments where it does feel very wordy near the end that lays out the “best laid plans” of the main character which makes the ending feel probably a little bit too clear cut. However, there are elements of executing the sexual manipulation and creating a story that works almost in parallel with the present and what happens in the past that drives the character to make these plans for revenge that makes it all the more intriguing. While the story itself doesn’t feel exactly unpredictable in the path it takes and the reveal seems a little lackluster, the writing style here does give the story a big boost.

The story is written in first person perspective from the main character Mercy’s point of view. Everything is voiced through her thoughts and actions and every character plays off of her and the things that the character lays out. This does create an angle to give the characters around her a chance to reveal as she learns more about them especially since she returns twenty years later to a place that she grew up in. Despite it being focused on Colton Hahn, the mayor of the town, this story revolves around a few other characters that actually might be crafted a little better since his character feels pretty well laid out and not exactly as surprising reveal in his secrets. In fact, what drives the story better is that Mercy’s character because of this revenge and how it ends actually veers away from a personal pet peeve, that this boosted up how I felt about the story itself. However, Mercy is a rather conflicting character to back. In some ways, she’s a character that might be pitied but doesn’t want to be pitied and yet her vengeful personality and the way the character talks doesn’t exactly make her likeable as well however if you ask whether what she’s doing is right or wrong, that’s another discussion point. Perhaps what crafts an even more interesting angle is the character of Yakim and the mysterious elements with his background which stayed a mystery because of his name more in quick conversations and in passing through conversations and small moments.

Overall, Shame Of It All is a decent revenge thriller. It has its little issues. The ending is executed a little lackluster in some parts. There are some characters that are well in development however some of them also lack some depth. However, the writing style and the way it treats each of the more sexual elements and the balance of power between the characters of Mercy and Colton is done really well. There’s a certain level of msytery due to the execution building itself up throughout.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

KT Grant is a self-proclaimed eccentric redhead who not only loves to read a wide variety of romances, but also loves writing it. As a former book blogger and entertainment columnist with a bad coffee and Twitter addiction, she still doesn’t shy away from voicing her opinion. A proud native of New Jersey, KT is multi-published and writes Gay, Lesbian and Straight romance. KT has also been a top ten best-selling author at Amazon. KT loves to hear from readers. You can drop KT an email at ktgrnt@gmail.com.

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Double Feature: Crazy Rich Asians (2018) & Line Walker (2016)

I’m having this sudden urge to get through these Asian films. Crazy Rich Asians kind of counts, I guess which happens to be one of the double feature picks and just for the comedy element, I paired it up with Line Walker which is something of a crime action thriller with comedy elements. Let’s check it out!

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii

This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family. – IMDB

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan (which I haven’t read), Crazy Rich Asians is romantic comedy with a really great cast. The movie itself should be looked at from two parts: Romance and Comedy. The romantic parts are exactly funny and actually to me, they are a bit weak whereas the comedy elements is what stands out. Of course, comedy is also very subjective so the best way may be to see whether the many comedians involved in this are ones that you normally enjoy or the cast itself. Not to mention, Crazy Rich Asians highlights the beauty of Singapore so much from the food to the scenery and captures the upper class society glamor as well as the Asian prejudices between each other whether its Asian-born or American-born which brings in the East versus West differences/culture clash.

Looking at the cast, its absolutely stunning. Its the first time watching Constance Wu for myself and while I have certain issues with her, she is rather decent in capturing that roles especially in the beginning and the ending parts where her character Rachel really gets a nice development. I can’t say her chemistry or the focus on the romance between her and Henry Golding’s character stands out a lot but her interaction with some of the other characters especially Peik Lin played by Awkwafina is absolutely awesome. Awkwafina carries a good part of the film every time she shows up especially when she first talks about the Youngs and how rich they are. Hands down my favorite part. Comedians involved have Ken Jeong, Ronny Chieng and I think Jimmy O.Yang also counts (even though I haven’t seen any stand-up shows of his). They each have very different types of character bringing in a different sort of comedy and they do a decent job. However, while not there for the comedy, Michelle Yeoh is fantastic and a stunning actress that I love to watch on screen. This role seems a little different from what I’ve seen of hers before however she still delivers.

I was a little hesitant to watch Crazy Rich Asians but I’m pretty happy that I did. There’s a lot to love about it. The way that its filmed and the little execution that they use even from the first scene that highlights how rich the Youngs are to the end where Rachel shows how she isn’t how the family sees her as despite where she grew up. Overall, its a fun time and earned quite a few good laughs even if the romantic elements were fairly flat.

Line Walker (2016)

Director: Jazz Boon

Cast: Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng, Charmaine Sheh, Shiu Hung Hui, Moses Chan

Several cops went undercover. Due to some issues, all undercover identities were wiped clean from the police database. – IMDB

Done as a spin-off from the Hong Kong TV series of the same name (that I haven’t had a chance to watch yet but recently found uploaded to Youtube so will catch up very soon), Line Walker is something of a comedy crime thriller. For what I see, it doesn’t require a whole lot of knowledge of the actual series to understand but its a little loopy as well as the network of undercover cops is quite extensive as the plot reveals itself throughout. In reality, the biggest issue is what the movie wants to be. At times, its comedic and over the top and then it will change in the next scene to a crime thriller serious sequence. It makes the film feel out of balance and maybe even disjointed. The moving parts of everything work as an individual sequence but together, it just doesn’t seem to work that well.

The highlight of Line Walker definitely has to be the stellar cast. With some names like Charmaine Sheh and Moses Chan, the latter in a cameo role rather popular names in Hong Kong series and bigger movie thriller actors like Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng and Shiu Hung Hui, its full of renowned actors who are well-known for their work in movies in similar genre. In reality, its quite a great thing to see Charmain Sheh being the only female lead here and paired up with Francis Ng as one side as the obvious undercover pairing and an undefined relationship between the two while having the much more intriguing pairing between Nick Cheung and Louis Koo’s characters as its a question about which one of them is actually an undercover cop that has lost his file and police status in the police system. Its the main focus for these two as they start questioning each other’s loyalty. At the same time, the movie is full of undercovers as one after the other gets revealed. The standout definitely has to go to Louis Koo and Nick Cheung’s characters as they do bring in the most balanced roles as well as their little bit of dark/sarcastic humor dialogue injected in the performance. It contrasts that of Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng which adds a more comedic element.

Line Walker is an odd one. The cast makes it worth a watch but the script and the execution of the whole undercover and double crossing and whatnot in the crime world of who is on which side and all the undercover cops that scatter over the crime world almost feels like it doesn’t make that much sense. There are some clever bits but overall, it feels like the movie does fall short. On the other hand, its given me the boost to go catch up with the TV series since its garnered quite a bit of popularity.

Blog Tour: Up The Creek by Alissa Grosso (Review/Giveaway)

Up The Creek (Culver Creek #1)
By: Alissa Grosso

Expected Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Genre: Supernatural Thriller

SYNOPSIS

An unsolved murder. Disturbing dreams. A missing child.

Caitlin Walker hasn’t had a dream in nine years. But now nightmares torture her son Adam and awaken in Caitlin buried memories and a dark secret. Her husband Lance has a secret of his own, one that his son’s nightmares threaten to reveal.

In Culver Creek newly hired detective Sage Dorian works to unravel the small town’s notorious cold case, the grisly murder of a young girl.

How are Caitlin and Lance connected to the horrific crime? And how far will they go to make sure their secrets stay hidden? Find out in this riveting thriller.

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REVIEW

Being the first book for an upcoming series, Up the Creek sets a good foundation. Up The Creek is well-paced and executes the story back and forth between its characters. In this case, it involves 3 main characters: Caitlin Walker, her husband Lance Walker and the new detective in Culver Creek Sage Dorian, who has been hired to take a look at the cold case. As a thriller, it also is executed quite well to slowly give the reveal of what is the secret with Caitlin and Lance that links them to the disappearance of their child and the cold case. It also sets up the story so that the finale delivers a question that makes you think whether all this could have been avoided if one person’s decision had been different and whether some secrets are best exposed.

One of the best elements of Up The Creek is the character design/development. The three characters each have their own connection to the past that brings up some flashbacks and through various conversations with the new situation that comes up reveals their secrets little by little. With that said, the characters are fairly complexed and suitably so for a thriller. Caitlin’s secret is probably the easiest to piece together: the reason that she takes medication for her dreams and the quick reveal of her tendency for nightmares pieces together easily to see her deal. However, this ends up connecting to her young son Adam that eventually goes missing and no one truly knows who took him and what happened. Lance Walker is probably the character with the most secrets from what seems like every day habits to slowly see that he has a much stronger connection to the case. His character is actually rather fascinating as he unveils and everything comes into place. That leaves Sage Dorian which probably starts to feel like the balance for his part is a little smaller however he is a key part as he pulls the cold case with the new missing child case together. At a certain point at the end, it is fairly clear how it all pieces together however, there isn’t an issue for this character to draw the conclusions clearly. As a side note, while this isn’t mentioned but there seems to be one connection that probably will come into play at the end in future books as it may connect to Sage Dorian that wasn’t addressed.

As a first book of a series, Up The Creek leaves a lot to look forward to for future books set in Culver Creek. Already by the end, there still is the issue of Sage Dorian’s own family mystery that hasn’t been addressed yet and only mentioned that gives his character some foundation. Writing good thrillers are very difficult and something that I mention quite a bit. Up The Creek does a great job to make it both gripping and thrilling to watch from beginning to end with decent pacing and execution. Up The Creek is a great thriller and well worth a read.

Score: 4.5/5

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alissa Grosso is the author of several books for adults and teens. Originally from New Jersey, she now resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. You can find out more about her and her books at AlissaGrosso.com.

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Still the Water (2020)

Still the Water (2020)

Director (and writer): Susan Rodgers

Cast: Ry Barrett, Colin Price, Spencer Graham, Christina McInulty

The men in a broken family reunite many years after a domestic tragedy drives them apart. – IMDB

Still The Water is a fairly straightforward family drama. It tells the story of three brothers that have grown apart because of their past. This past is the mystery that carries the story forward for the most part as no one truly addresses it in full. As the pieces fall into place, the division between the brothers, especially the older two Nicky (Colin Price ) and Jordie (Ry Barrett) come into the play. A part of the division that is further emphasized because of the neighbor Abby (Christina McInulty) when Jordie comes back to town.

Set in the beautiful and rarely filmed Prince Edward Island, the setting itself adds a lot to the small town feeling and yet the beauty of the land that they are in. The film was at its best when it was about the family drama as they try to get through the past and reconcile while the present has its own challenges that is breaking one of them apart as well. The other bits with Abby seems more of a necessary stressor that feels like the character is almost there with too much of a purpose and the romantic elements there but never fleshed out enough to connect. With that said, there is plenty of family drama as the movie does focus on the brothers and their father a lot as well as the dynamic of Jordie come back and how he affects each of them a different way as well as the changes in him.

With that said, Still the Water is powered by its cast, most notably the two lead actors, Ry Barrett and Colin Price. For both, its a change in pace as these two actors frequented my own watch list in various horror films which never had this much drama. This film is a fairly quiet one and really shows off their acting skills as they both carry their role incredibly well. The dynamic in their performances do connect very well especially for Colin Price’s Nicky that goes through the most development throughout the film as his character almost breaks apart by the end. Ry Barrett’s character is the main lead in this story as most of it revolves around him, his coming back and the impact that it has with everyone and yet his character is a contrast since it is a lot more quiet despite the character’s beginning parts that show his anger management issues. Its also great when they almost use hockey, boat repair business (I think that’s what it is) and the lobster fishing as means that not only connect to the setting but as a means of how the two brothers express themselves.

Still the Water has some issues of story flow. However, it also adds in a nice soundtrack that matches well with the area and the tone of the film. At the same time, there is a nice addition of this mystery cat that never shows its face living at the house the Jordie temporarily stays which becomes almost a little fun moment of questioning when or whether the cat will show up. These little bits of detail do add to the overall film plus the family drama does piece itself together in a nice way especially as it carries itself with the mystery of what happens and building up to what happened at the end. Its a well thought-out execution for the storyline.

Overall, Still the Water is a decent family drama. The setting, the soundtrack and especially the two main leads adds a lot to the movie as a whole. The family drama is also done well in execution and pacing. Where the movie has its issues is in some of the flow especially with the romantic tangent. Still the Water is well worth a watch as a family drama especially since, without any spoilers, has an ending that I personally like quite a bit.

You can also listen to Movies and Tea movie discussion of Still the Water below:

Double Feature: Halloween (2018) & Guns Akimbo (2019)

After taking 2 days off to regroup, we’re back with the first double feature of 2021. Its still the remaining movies not reviewed from last year’s viewing. This time, its a look at 2018’s sequel of Halloween paired with 2019’s Guns Akimbo. Let’s check it out!

Halloween (2018)

Director: David Gordon Green

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilginer, Will Patton, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall

Laurie Strode confronts her long-time foe Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago. – IMDB

The 11th movie of the Halloween franchise which has changed directors and had multiple versions of what its meant to be to finally get back to one that is set with Laurie Strode as a grandmother and mother who has grown estranged from her family because of her precautions towards Michael Myers and her past that has convinced her that as long as he is alive, it will never be safe however also having the means to fight back when needed.

Having a little drama and a story that catches up and brings the story back to the original 1978 storyline with Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween brings it all back with a Michael Myers and Laurie Strode 40 years after the incident and Myers still going to find her. As the story looks at Laurie Strode’s family situation and the current situation of Michael Myers, it also focuses on crime podcasters that end up triggering some part of Myers that causes him to go rogue.

At this point, Halloween seems to really be for the fans that have stuck around since the beginning, enduring its many sequels along with all the randomness and nonsensical story directions. Halloween 2018 is a great attempt at reviving the series especially as its a solid story as a whole. Sure, the story focuses on the family drama between Laurie Strode and her daughter, played by Judy Greer who faults her mother for giving her a traumatic childhood full of defense lessons and harsh upbringing perhaps of what she feels is paranoia and yet, that part did become a little nonsensical and frustrating in its own regards. What does make up for it is in the second half when the danger is undeniable and how the family will face it.

Michael Myers is a fantastic horror icon. One that truly shows the inhuman side of a monster that makes for a talk about whether he is human considering he seems to be indestructible. 2018’s Halloween brings all that back to perspective. No more reasons of why he does it or adding in unnecessary side story and just executing it as a slasher, one that gives once the victim a chance to fight back. Its not exactly scary or horrific as a movie but its still a thrilling and fun movie.

Guns Akimbo (2019)

Director (and writer): Jason Lei Howden

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Ned Dennehy, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, Milo Cawthorne

A guy relies on his newly-acquired gladiator skills to save his ex-girlfriend from kidnappers. – IMDB

Guns Akimbo feels very similar to other movies in its own realm like Nerve or even Ready Player One. Movies with worlds rooted in a live game with rather extreme results. Its over the top and ridiculous. And yet, Guns Akimbo has this satisfying feeling to the adrenaline rush and its one that puts this main character, Miles who is a nobody at work find some empowerment by being a troll online, you know, the current day keyboard warrior that anyone with any presence online dislikes. He messes with the wrong people and they make his life hell by attaching guns to his hands and sending him on a deadly mission. With that said, it is ridiculous as a whole and there are movies in the same realm that definitely does a better job in terms of creativity and pacing, making this one probably a fairly forgettable experience looking back at it right now.

However, Guns Akimbo has a few things going for it. It has this not so serious tone. The characters seem to all just enjoy doing their over the top thing. Daniel Radcliffe is pretty fun to watch and probably one of the much more entertaining roles that he’s been in post-Harry Potter, but I could be wrong since I haven’t been really keeping track (side note: if you do have other movies to recommend of his, let me know in the comments below). The biggest motivation has to be watching Samara Weaving taking on another one of these over the top adrenaline rush movies and making it her own by creating yet another similar character but still unique in her own way. Its always a joy to watch her take on these characters and embody the character so well.

Thing is, Guns Akimbo has a lot of action and yet somehow, there seems to be a lot of time without action as well. There is this imbalance in execution of the movie as a whole. Its a little confusing on whether its trying to be more than just a mindless high octane movie. In some ways, the humor at the beginning goes to this character Miles getting extreme consequences for being an internet troll and then ends up having to run away, which is a great premise with tons of potential and the bickering between Miles and Nix also becomes quite a highlight moment. The story does lose itself a little on what its trying to achieve. Sure, this isn’t a movie meant for analysis and yet, I can’t help but feel while I was watching it that it doesn’t quite hit that extremity or high octane that it should have.

Overall, Guns Akimbo is very much like watching a video game come to life. Its fairly action-packed and Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving are fantastic in this. The tone and execution is a little imbalanced with what it wants to deliver and what it actually delivers perhaps. However, as a mindless entertainment sort of deal, it feels fun enough. There are definitely other similar movies that do a better job but there are still some worthwhile elements.

Double Feature: The Crossing (2018) & Mank (2020)

The last double feature for 2020 is here! Today is a big day like previous years so this is the first post, a little different since I usually just have that one post for the annual wrap-up which will be the adventures post coming up a little later. This pairing was a little tough but I had to review Mank at some point (since the David Fincher season for Movies and Tea still has a way to go before we get to that episode) and I’ve paired it up with probably one of my favorite discoveries this year and that’s 2018’s The Crossing.

Let’s check it out!

The Crossing (过春天, 2018)

Director (and writer): Xue Bai

Cast: Yao Huang, Sunny Sun, Carmen Soup, Elena Kong, Hongjie Ni, Kai Chi Liu

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

The Crossing is a 2018 coming of age drama about a 16 year old student Peipei (Yao Huang) who makes plans with her best friend Jo (Carmen Coup) to go to Japan during Christmas break but struggling to raise funds due to her living situation, she ends up getting caught up with her best friend’s boyfriend Hao (Sunny Sun) who works for a lady Hua (Elena Kong) who is the business of smuggling iPhones across to Mainland China. Being someone who lives in Shenzhen but goes to school in Hong Kong, Peipei crosses the border everyday unsuspectingly making her a great asset to their operation while being able to make lots of money for her Japan trip so that she can finally see snow. However, when she realizes that the operation is more than just phones and Hao has other plans and she has a growing connection with Hao, things start to fall out of her control.

The Crossing is a solid directorial debut for Chinese female director Bai Xue. Its a slow-burn, quiet and subtle sort of film that explores youth from a fresh angle. It looks at the straightforward desires of being young and not caring about other things but being single-minded focused on certain goals while also looking at the relationship of youth and money. At the same time, it looks at the landscape and situation between the border of Shenzhen as a connection of Mainland China and Hong Kong and the smuggling situation. Whether its the characters and their relationships, a lot of it is between the lines and discovered through Peipei’s observation as the movie is shot from her point of view. There is a good shift and development from her character and Hao from the beginning to the final moment.

One of the standout point of the film is in its arthouse style of cinematography playing a lot with lighting and focusing on sounds and choosing a decent soundtrack and pairs well with the scene playing out. Not to mention there’s this great scene of tapping cell phones to their body that is much sexier than it should ever be. The dialogue also is well-written and matches to their young characters and the more young adult characters Hao. However, there is some great veterans here like Elena Kong and Hongjie Ni (playing Peipei’s mother) in supporting roles.

I probably should note that The Crossing isn’t an easy movie to find. I’ve only found it on the Tencent app/viewer after depleting all other possibilities (with English subtitles for those interested). Maybe its been distributed in other countries but at least for Canada, I haven’t found it anywhere else. However, if you do find it, this one is a hidden gem.

Mank (2020)

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton, Joseph Cross, Charles Dance, Tom Burke

1930’s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane (1941). – IMDB

My Mank review will be a little different from others. For someone like myself who hasn’t seen Citizen Kane or know of the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, Mank is less of a biopic and more of simply a film for exactly what it is. With that said, it saves all the comparisons that others might have. Mank is also a very different film in David Fincher’s filmography. Visually stylistic along with some beautiful outfits set in a black and white film, Mank does deliver on style alone as well as the quick dialogue between the characters also delivering a much wordier film than usual in Fincher’s films but perhaps it had a lot to do to keeping the essence of the screenplay written by his late father, Jack Fincher.

One of the standout elements of the films definitely does go to the cast that embodies these characters. Can you call them characters if it is based on real people? I don’t know but you get what I mean. They definitely do come to life as Gary Oldman delivers a stellar performance as Herman J. Mankiewicz surrounded by an array of people whirling in and out of his life running on the past and present, cleverly portrayed with timestamps whenever it hops from one place to the next. Other than Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried’s portrayal of Marion Davies is absolutely charming particularly the one scene where Marion and Mank has a walk in the garden. Marion is married to Hearst which becomes a rather big topic as Hearst does have an interesting character that creates some contrast and incredibly well done by Charles Dance even if the role is a little more in the backdrops. Of course, there are other roles by Lily Collins as the secretary typing up Mank’s screenplay and Joseph Cross playing Charles Lederer and the list goes on. Because of the heavey dialogue, the characters play a huge part in the movie’s enjoyability and for the most part the quick conversations do add quite a bit.

With that said, Mank is a tad on the long side. It almost feels like it could be cut down a little bit to give it a tighter execution. Very rare movies make me feel like its worth over 2 hours of watch time without it wearing on its pacing a little (but that is definitely my own issue). There is no doubt that Mank has great production value and the movie itself has a lot of charming elements and there’s something much deeper here. I do wonder whether watching Citizen Kane and having a greater knowledge of the source material and what the biopic revolves around would make it a more or less enjoyable experience. As of now, as a standalone piece without any comparisons, its definitely one that I would recommend seeing as its pros almost outweigh its cons.

Double Feature: Work It (2020) & The Prom (2020)

Today’s double feature is a rather musical pairing and both are Netflix films released in 2020. The first is a dance film called Work It and the second is the recently released musical The Prom. Let’s check it out!

Work It (2020)

Director: Laura Terruso

Cast: Sabrina Carpenter, Jordan Fisher, Kalliane Bremault, Briana Andrade-Gomes, Liza Koshy, Julliard Pembroke, Michelle Buteau, Drew Ray Tanner, Sabrina Snieckus

When Quinn Ackerman’s admission to the college of her dreams depends on her performance at a dance competition, she forms a ragtag group of dancers to take on the best squad in school…now she just needs to learn how to dance. – IMDB

Work It is mostly a dance film and yet its a comedy about a girl with perfect grades who realize that its not enough to get into college and as an extracurricular decides to go to her best friend’s dance troupe which doesn’t take her so she tries to put together her own group of misfits. The group itself has all different styles of dance and yet the biggest problem is that she can’t dance and needs to start from zero and its zero like finding her music flow and rhythm. That is the comedy part.

With any of these films, you need to throw in a little romantic flare and that’s when Quinn and Jake come into a picture: a girl who can’t dance and a renowned dancer that disappeared off the dance competition circuit after an injury. Its hard to talk about Work It without criticizing its issues but then that is usually the case for dance films, much like Step Up franchise, and yet, Step Up is one that I can see the flaws and still like it for exactly what it is. The same applies for Work It, except it suffers from coming later than a wave of better executed films. What is good is that it adds in those comedy moments and changes the vibe of the film a little. Simply put, its a lot of the same when it comes to these sorts of movies and it is fairly predictable especially when there doesn’t even feel like there’s a lot of dance sequences.

Other predictability, the execution is fairly unbalanced. The movie seems to want to do everything so its structured to go through the motions. Starting off with the characters and then what they need to achieve, the tear in the friendship and struggle to get their act together and then the big win at the end. Other than that, it adds in a little unpolished romantic flare here and then some bad dancing from Sabrina Carpenter’s character to her finally getting it. While the cast itself does what they need to do whether its Sabrina Carpenter or Jordan Fisher and even the sassy other team’s leader Julliard Pembroke, played by Keiynan Lonsdale or the best friend Jasmine, played by Liza Koshy, the script itself does have some lacking moments as well.

Work It is one of those films that is really for the soundtrack or some light entertainment. Its not meant to be reviewed in depth. Its a simple movie and a familiar sort of dance movie storyline. While I did have some cons more than pros, I do enjoy dance films so this one is just some harmless entertainment that you can leave for a rainy day keeping in mind that you do enjoy dance movies. If you don’t, then this one won’t do anything for you.

The Prom (2020)

Director: Ryan Murphy

Cast: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Jo Ellen Pellman, Ariana DeBose, Andrew Rannells

A troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. – IMDB

Looking at the cast, The Prom is absolutely star studded with some big names and most of them, I do quite enjoy so the movie popped onto Netflix and I didn’t know about it in advance but I saw those stars, that it was a musical and it was an immediate play. Adapted from a Broadway musical of the same name, The Prom does come at a good time when the world is talking about LGBT rights a lot. I haven’t heard of The Prom before but at first glance, The Prom’s story almost feels like Footloose where that one is about not being allowed to dance, The Prom is about the PTA trying to stop one of the students to take her girlfriend to prom and wanting to cancel prom altogether. In the face of this serious matter, a bunch of theater stars comes in to try to fight for a cause to help themselves get back some positive press. Its hard to determine whether the journey for the film is for the girl, Emma or the troupe as both of them do have their moments of growth.

Being a fan of musical films, The Prom is the type of movie that I’d like and it is quite enjoyable. Most of the stars here have been part of musicals before so the talent is there. Perhaps what stands out more is some of the awkward moments between characters. It definitely is scripted to be awkward and was delivered pretty well. The Prom has a decent storyline even if sometimes the events feel slightly disjointed like its being pushed along so its forced to progress faster. What makes this film shine is truly some of the stars here delivering some great performances. Other than Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, they are joined by Andrew Rannells as this performer that’s wants to hang with them and adds comedy. There’s a lot of characters so its hard to say whether anyone had enough time for their characters to develop enough but Kerry Washington’s parent character against the whole prom situation and Keegan-Michael Key’s principal character were also done really well. In all honestly, the younger characters also did fairly well and Emma’s character is a much quieter one despite the unfair situation that she’s part of.

The Prom is an alright musical. Everyone does a good job and the story is pretty nice as well as how the characters develop throughout. It is structured well and the scenes are executed pretty good as well. Where I have issues with it is that it feels like it lacks the uniqueness to make it more memorable. None of the songs stuck in my head even if they were rather fun to listen and watch the choreography/performances in the moment. I know that I had fun watching it the first time and yet, it doesn’t make me want to go back to watch it a second time and yet, I can’t quite pinpoint where its lacking as everything seems to done good, just put together, it seems to not quite get that excitement of a musical for myself.

Double Feature: Future World (2018) & Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Today’s double feature is a more action/adventure sort of deal. The pairing of 2018’s Future World set in a future dystopia wasteland and 2019’s sequel of Jumanji where they head back into Jumanji a second time in Jumanji: The Next Level with a little twist.

Let’s check it out!

Future World (2018)

Director: James Franco & Bruce Thierry Cheung

Cast: James Franco, Suki Waterhouse, Jeff Wahlberg, Margarita Levieva, Snoop Dogg, Lucy Liu, Milla Jovovich

A young boy searches a future world wasteland for a rumored cure for his dying mother. – IMDB

Science fiction, action, adventure, Western: all these are categories of what Future World is described. Most of people familiar with my tastes in movies know that I do enjoy mixed genre films and yet, not such a big fan of Westerns (mostly because I just haven’t found many that I liked before). Future World is kind of like the direct to video version of Mad Max: Fury Road. At least its comparable in color tones and atmosphere and even some of the design elements. With that said, the world itself is fairly cool especially as it goes into different places and meeting the different rulers in the various corners of this wasteland.

Where Future World feels a bit messy might actually be in its male lead as a younger boy Prince looking for this rumored medicine for her mother and to save his land. Call it trials for the boy or whatever you want because he falls into a lot of trouble and makes some bad decisions, maybe trying to highlight his naivety to the world around him. Prince becomes this fairly frustrating character to watch.

However, the movie does take things to quite the action level. There are some fun cinematography here as it directs the camera through some cool sequences and such. The best probably with the Drug Lord, played by Milla Jovovich who takes it to this wild level that I kind of like quite a bit. With that, there are some interesting characters in these different groups mentioned before with Love Lord by Snoop Dogg, which is a rather minor role and the persistent Warlord played by James Franco (that also takes on the co-director role in this film) who shows up throughout because of this Android girl Ash (Suki Waterhouse) who goes rogue and decides to save the Prince. And finally, the Queen that the Prince is trying to save is played by Lucy Liu.

Future World is not exactly a good movie. There are some issues with it and probably the Prince being this character that’s hard to get behind is one of the biggest things. And yet, there is a fun element to it probably because of these over the top characters like James Franco who does crazy really well (which reminded me a little of what I loved about this role in Springbreakers) and Milla Jovovich who also has extended a little outside of her Alice role in the Resident Evil series more and more. Sure, she’s not exactly a great actress but she takes on these roles and its a fun time for her sequences. Is the movie as a whole a fun time? Not really.

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Jake Kasdan

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Awkwafina, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover

In Jumanji: The Next Level, the gang is back but the game has changed. As they return to rescue one of their own, the players will have to brave parts unknown from arid deserts to snowy mountains, to escape the world’s most dangerous game. – IMDB

Jumanji: The Next Level is the sequel to 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (review), which of course continues on with the Jumanji franchise, something that I’m sure not a whole lot of people were banking that it would keep going and probably not even the success it should be. The Next Level is pretty fun and keeps to the tone of the first one. It takes away the Alex Wolff character, Spencer for a little while as his friends hunt him down and end up going back into the game that takes them onto a much more dangerous adventure except this time, they are tagged along with grandparents, played by Danny DeVito and Danny Glover who in the real world has their own issues to iron out after a decision to end their restaurant business. Because of these two’s bickering and the bodies that that they take over, it becomes a hilarious romp. Not to mention, the crew goes to track down Spencer’s whereabouts who ends up being embodied in a female character, Ming portrayed by Awkwafina (who is just showing up everywhere).

Jumanji: The Next Level is a decent sequel. It maintains a lot of the fun and humor from the first movie and carries forward with the characters adding a little switch in the in-game characters and who they end up embodying. At the same time, the Jumanji world has changed also into something of an another game with other objectives while also changing the characters from the previous movies strengths and weaknesses. Sure, it might flow much better for people who have seen the first movie and lacks that standalone quality to it but Jumanji, no matter which movie we’re talking about, isn’t exactly a hard movie to catch up on story-wise.

Overall, there isn’t a whole lot to say about Jumanji: The Next Level. If you like this type of action-adventure film and Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black’s humor is your cup of tea, this movie is a fun movie to watch. Sure, its better if you have seen the first movie before watching this one but both of them are good in their own very similar ways and this one does add changes that do fit well with the story they are telling. Plus, the cast is still pretty awesome especially with the addition of Danny Glover and Danny DeVito even if I kind of feel like the whole story between those two and the whole relationship of Spencer seems a little trivial to the whole story but it does create a link between the different pieces so overall, its still a fun time.

Double Feature: A Simple Favor (2018) & Dumplin’ (2018)

Next double feature is here and we’re doing a 2018 film double feature. Honestly, it was fairly unplanned since this one was more for the focused on the female cast on hand. The first is a dark comedy thriller A Simple Favor and the second is Netflix coming of age comedy Dumplin’.

Let’s check it out!

A Simple Favor (2018)

Director: Paul Feig

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Ian Ho, Joshua Satine, Henry Golding, Dustin Milligan

Stephanie is a single mother with a parenting vlog who befriends Emily, a secretive upper-class woman who has a child at the same elementary school. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie takes it upon herself to investigate. – IMDB

* Originally published on Movies and Tea – Friday Film Club*

Based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell, A Simple Favor is a dark comedy thriller about a mommy vlogger who befriends one of the other moms who ends up mysteriously disappearing after asking her to pick her son after school. Using the power of her followers and as a form of journal, she tries to track down her friend and eventually find out what happened to her. 

Starring in the main roles as the mommy vlogger Stephanie is Anna Kendrick while her elegant friend Emily is portrayed by Blake Lively. A lot of the charm of the movie is how it is executed as a fluctuation between the past interactions and the context of their friendship and how their conversations expose their characters, especially that of Stephanie, both having elements that break out of how they are perceived by the people around them while contrasting it with the present search after her disappearance and eventual death which leads to Stephanie trying to figure out what happened while being caught up in it herself. 

Anna Kendrick has always been quite a flexible character as she started off in Pitch Perfect and takes up comedic roles like Mr. Right and now, this one takes it one step further as she catches those dark comedy points really great especially in her dialogue which brings in a bit of embarrassment and unexpected elements that brings out some laugh but still keeps the movie fairly suspenseful. Blake Lively’s Emily is a blunt character, not the conventional polite mom but a powerhouse elegant girl who says what comes to mind and feels secretive but also manipulative which makes her disappearance feel not unexpected but rather more of a mystery of what secrets she is hiding. 

A Simple Favor has the same feeling and tells the kind of story like Gone Girl but perhaps a different angle as it takes a more dark comedy angle while the other is more of a pure thriller. The twist and the story/script all work pretty well as it watches a character feel like she is a naive small town girl just trying to do the best mom she can be even though in reality, both female characters are really  not as perfect as they seem to be whether in their perspectives or the people around them. Not to mention that it has a lovely soundtrack. Its not exactly very complex but it has a good balance between having a decent twist and mystery to fulfill the thriller element while also delivering some great dark comedy. A Simple Favor is simply entertaining and fun. 

Dumplin’ (2018)

Director: Anne Fletcher

Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Jennifer Aniston, Odeya Rush, Maddie Baillio, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Luke Benward, Harold Perrineau, Ginger Minj, Sam Pancake, Hilliary Begley

Willowdean (‘Dumplin’), the plus-size teenage daughter of a former beauty queen, signs up for her mom’s Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant as a protest that escalates when other contestants follow her footsteps, revolutionizing the pageant and their small Texas town. – IMDB

A true Netflix gem is what Dumplin’ is. I can’t say how many times that I’ve watched it and rewatched this film at this point. There’s so much to love from the coming of age story to hitting those comedy points really well and even giving me that extra push from the Hideaway location with Dolly Parton drag queens that made me go and watch Rupaul’s Drag Queen because I’ve never seen it before. Of course, that’s besides the point. On that note, I don’t listen to Dolly Parton a lot nor am I mega knowledgeable about her music except for the really popular ones but I love the Dolly Parton soundtrack that it uses. Even though I don’t know about her sayings either, the movie puts a lot of focus on all the positive message that she delivers which becomes an encouraging element for Willowdean’s character.

What makes coming of age films great are usually the different types of relationships including that with facing up to yourself. For Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), the story is from her point of view as she deals with a feeling that her mother (Jennifer Aniston) is ashamed of her body because she prides herself on being the 1991 Miss Teen Bluebonnet and her beauty pageant which makes her make fun of the pageant girls. At the same time, it brings in the element of friendship as she ends up having an argument with her best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush) that leads her to making friends with 2 other girls, Hannah (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and Millie (Maddie Baillio) that are not the typical pageant girls in the heart of breaking the norm. Its all about finding the courage and doing the impossible for them as they realize all the work that goes into participating in the pageant and the shining points of the pageant as they describe is a “team sport”. Then there’s the extension to finding courage and committing to being different much like Willowdean’s Aunt Lucy taught her and the friends she makes at the Hideaway help her remember. The whole Hideaway segments and the pageant segments are some of the best parts of the film.

If there was one thing that seemed to not fit so well was probably the love interest character that didn’t seem to be needed. It was there to emphasize her discomfort with herself and that she had to come to terms with herself. At the same time, while the character of Bo (Luke Benward) was okay overall, he didn’t exactly add a whole lot to the film itself. The movie was much more about the girls and ladies than anything else. Plus, its a different sort of movie that shows this pageant being filled with girls who don’t have it out for each other but are actually rather nice about the whole thing.