TV Binge: Bridgerton (Season 2, 2022)

Bridgerton (Season 2, 2022)

Creator: Chris Van Dusen

Cast: Jonathan Bailey, Claudia Jessie, Julie Andrews (voice), Simone Ashley, Charithra Chandran, Luke Thompson, Luke Newton, Nicola Coughlan, Ruth Gemmell, Polly Walker, Golda Rosheuvel, Adjoa Andoh, Kathryn Drysdale, Phoebe Dynevor, Calam Lynch

Wealth, lust, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Regency-era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family. – IMDB

Following the steamfest that is the first season of Bridgerton as it followed eldest sister of the Bridgerton family as she becomes Duchess and learns from Duke Hastings how to get in touch with her sexuality and sensuality and also helps him embrace his past so that they can move on better in the future, Season 1 comes to a pretty decent close and doesn’t have the appearance of the Duke as many already know since the real life actor has other projects so basically has been phased out with just the Duchess, played by Phoebe Dynevor making a few appearances to guide her older brother Anthony as he looks for his wife. You can check out my review of Season 1 HERE.

Season 2 dials things down on the steamy department quite a bit and Anthony’s story is one very similar to that of Pride and Prejudice and the familiar despise to love sort of story between Anthony and the previously disgraced Lady Mary’s family as they return to debut the younger sister, Edwina into society and find her a husband. Trained perfectly by her older sister Kate, Edwina is basically what Anthony is looking for in criteria as he searches for a wife to fulfill his duties as the eldest son and the Lord of the household and not for love. Right off the bat, Kate forms a strong prejudice against him based on a conversation he overhears at one of the balls and strongly goes against his pursuing Edwina however at the same time, their hatred and constant brush-up with each other creates strong feelings between them that soon turn into love. Season 2 is basically their journey for this season to their marriage at the end. Its much more familiar and tame than the first one but it has a lot more substance especially for Austen fans as Kate is a headstrong woman and she manages to bond well with Eloise, who reluctantly has entered society as well. It gets a little wishy-washy in parts but they do create a nice contrast between Kate and Edwina building on their sisterhood and their family background but also have that nice chemistry between Kate and Anthony that develops pretty nicely.

Bridgerton isn’t just about the love triangle between Kate, Edwina and Anthony. In fact, the story extends further into that Lady Whistledown plot where now, as the audience for the big finale of Season 1 was revealed to us and its just a trek for this character (not saying the name in case you haven’t seen the first season) to hide her tracks as Eloise is once again enraptured by trying to track down this character which leads her to another side of town, meeting people who are opinionated the way she would like to be. Talking about that, I do still love that Lady Whistledown is voiced by Julie Andrews. Lady Whistledown’s facade has a lot more at stake especially since this character isn’t only a part of scandal that the ton love to read but also has stepped on the wrong toes like the Queen who is also adamant on tracking the identity behind this character who constantly challenges her decisions. The final piece of the plot is the story with the Featheringtons as the household of women and girls wait for the new man of the house to show up which creates an interesting sort of side story and if anything builds up on Lady Featherington’s character the most.

Season 2 Bridgerton is much better than the first one. It takes on a different tone and while the material itself feels familiar, it fits so well into this society and how we come know and love this sort of Austen-like scenario. Not to mention that the acting is more refined with all the characters also having more substance to them as they tie up loose ends from the first and the Bridgertons, Lady Danbury and the Sharmas all have some really human moments where their somewhat of a demise separates them from the ton but also makes them embrace each other in some fun. If you’ve watched it, you know which scene I’m talking about. As a final note, I’m hoping that Lady Danbury hangs out for more of these seasons because she is a fantastic character, one of the best of the series as she’s filled with personality and guidance. Overall, a much welcomed step up in season 2.

TV Binge: Fishbowl Wives (Season 1, 2022)

Fishbowl Wives (Season 1, 2022)

Director: Matsuyama Hiroaki & Namiki Michiko

Cast: Ryoko Shinohara, Takanori Iwata, Masanobu Ando, Kyoko Hasegawa, Wakana Matsumoto, Shizuka Nakamura, Saori Seto, Anna Ishii, Hadekazu Mashima, Shingo Fujimori, Atsuhiro Inukai, Yuki Kubota

In a luxury apartment tower, six different women in unhappy marriages end up crossing the line into infidelity. – IMDB

Fishbowl Wives dives into the married lives of various women in a pricey high rise where the higher the condo, the more expensive and wealthy the family is considered. Each of these couples struggle with their own issues which eventually lead them on the path of infidelity or in one case, pondering it. Based on the manga Kingyo Tsuma, the series is formed like an anthology where there is one central plot with the more successful and popular couple in the high rise penthouse who runs away from her abusive husband, giving up a life of luxury for a calmer and respected life at a goldfish store. The other stories of the other women are framed within their own individual episode. The structure itself creates an imbalance, leaving out a lot of actual substance for building these characters for the various women and leaving it with their decision to choose infidelity. With these stories also comes a lot of steamy sex scenes. Giving up their depth on the other characters, it does create space to elaborate on the main storyline revolving around Sakura (Ryoko Shinohara), her abusive husband Takuya (Ando Masanobu) and the goldfish shop owner Haruto (Takanori Iwata).

While the storyline is fairly thin overall, it does look at many different types of marriage especially highlighting the characteristics and values embedded in the Japanese (or maybe even some more traditional Asian) society. It looks at the different dynamics that exist within these marriages which essentially create the issues. While it seems in some cases a fairly ridiculous point for infidelity, it all dials down to the main point that some marriages might fade or change in their priorities or perhaps, all in all the lack of communication between these couples. Some of these affairs focused are truly hilarious to watch and a bit self-inflicted when the final episode shares all the end game of each of these couples. In some other cases, it also is a twist in the whole infidelity plot. It also brings in the whole concept of whether the one you marry is your “twin flame” as the eccentric Feng Shui lady in the high rise tells them seemingly leading them to these different affairs. There’s no doubt that the stand-out one that borders ridiculous and self-inflicted but a tad hilarious is the episode The Lunchbox Lady.

The central plot is where the main story does lie leaving many points to ponder in the whole situation. What makes it very respectable is the story itself especially revolving the growing bond between Haruto and Sakura is very comfortable to watch with a lot of very warm and romantic scenes without involving a lot of sex scenes. It gives their relationship a certain foundation that eventually comes to light a deeper story to the whole scenario. It shares a much more equal and balanced relationship compared to the marriage that Sakura escapes which is controlling and physically and mentally abusive. The whole fishbowl and fish brings in a lot of the analogy to her own life. The key here being that Ryoko Shinohara and Takanori Iwata are relatively good in their roles. I don’t watch any Japanese TV series so this is probably my first one so I’m not exactly sure whether this is below or above normal standard for this sort of show however, while their chemistry wasn’t always great and sometimes felt a tad awkward, it did manage to build up as it went along and the dialogue and their connection also managed to be pretty decent. Ando Masanobu playing Takuya does a good job as well since his character is pretty despicable right from the start and feels a bit more conflicted as it starts spiraling to the finale.

Overall, Fishbowl Wives is not exactly a great series. It lacks depth and character growth for the most part. It plays around with the concept of infidelity in marriage and does cover some interesting stories about marriage itself that may contribute or justify these choices (whether or not you accept it will probably also add or minus to the enjoyment of the series). These stories do reflect in its own way the societal values towards marriage and divorce in the Japanese society. However, if there’s anything to give it praise for selling itself in the steamy market, the show is pretty heavy on the steamy sex scenes and for the most part, they are filmed pretty well. In fact, not only those scenes are done well, there is a pretty decent use of cinematography overall. Not exactly the best first venture into Japanese TV series but it was pretty average, some good and some bad elements.

Love and Leashes (2022)

Love and Leashes (2022)

Director (and writer): Hyeon-jin Park

Cast: Seohyun, Jun-young Lee, EL, Hyun-woo Seo, Han-na Kim, Seoung-kyun An, Suk-hyeong Lee, Bo-ra Kim

Love never hurt so good for two co-workers who enter a contractual relationship as partners in consensual play, pleasure and pain. – IMDB

Based on the webtoon Moral Sense by Gyeoul, Love and Leashes is a new Netflix South Korean romantic comedy that takes its on a journey where an office girl Ji-woo (Seohyun) is approached by her newly transferred colleague, Ji-hoo (Jun-young Lee) when he misunderstands her for being interested in his own tendencies towards dominant-subdominant relationships and BDSM. BDSM has no doubt been a rather hot topic the last few years, probably thanks to the Twilight fanfiction, Fifty Shades of Grey which is some erotic literature (if you haven’t read about it). Its been appearing more in TV series as its central plots and even documentaries talking about Japanese bondage in 2020’s Bound (review).

Love and Leashes takes on a fun approach to the whole subject while building up the relationship between Ji-hoo and Ji-woo as they connect through their 3 month contract for these different plays. For those looking for something steamy, this movie will probably disappoint in that department as their relationship builds up as the film itself almost is like an introduction to the BDSM and DS. It takes that element and contrasts it to the romance itself towards the power dynamics between men and women in the society to this DS relationship versus an actual romantic relationship.

There’s so much to love about Love and Leashes and it has to do with the angle that it takes being so fun. The narrator that talks about all the steps and process of learning as Ji-woo learns about these different elements and intensifies the experience more and more every play has its own sexy moments even if there isn’t actual sex happening. The film strikes a balance of using it to also build up on the two main leads’ connection from their experiences, especially in terms of Ji-hoo and his past relationship and feelings towards how he had to keep his preferences hidden. There’s a deeper exploration of his character in the actual dialogue where Ji-woo’s character development is more in her actions as she gradually becomes more and more comfortable in the dominant role and giving orders where her normal work situation doesn’t allow.

As the story builds, it doesn’t just revolve around them but also adds in supporting characters who either are willing to learn more about this type of relationship but also others who don’t seem to understand it and it delivers both sides of society for their opinions towards it. Basically, the film’s narrative dials it all down to the basics of relationships in terms of “finding someone accepting the person behind the mask”. It all adds a little more substance to the film with their many angles instead of making it into a sexy/steamy angle, which some of their plays because of the music and the cinematography actual does achieve that.

The foundation of the film for this being a first time experience for both is what makes it rather fun to watch both from the level of surprise and comfort that they both achieve in the process which creates a nice chemistry between them, even through the little accidents and the build-up to accepting this whole contract. The two main leads Ji-woo and Ji-hoo played respectively by Seohyun and Jun-young Lee also fit the roles pretty nicely and adds a good chemistry between them, making the most of the romantic connection that gradually builds between them but also having some fun comedic moments, mostly in the first act when the story sets up for this special contractual relationship. Feel-good and fun: Love and Leashes is really quite entertaining as a romantic comedy.

Double Feature: The Hustle (2019) & Falling For Figaro (2020)

The Hustle (2019)

Director: Chris Addison

Cast: Anna Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Olivier, Nicholas Woodeson

Two con women – one low rent and the other high class – team up to take down the men who have wronged them. – IMDB

Taking a little break from teem comedies, its time to take a look at an actual comedy about con artists which is a female-centered remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which is a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story. I haven’t seen either of the films that The Hustle is based on. The Hustle is a tad odd and probably will be divisive on how you feel about these two actresses as they team up and face off as con artists. The film primarily circles around them and they play off each other to create the comedy. The contrast of the character’s personality and style being the main driving force of the comedy itself as they fight for the Beaumont-sur-mer turf in a wager for conning a tech guy’s $500K.

Anne Hathway and Rebel Wilson are a little hard to peg down their style. While Anne Hathaway has a lot of different films under her belt, she always seems to fall into comedy quite a bit. And in more recent films of hers that I have seen, she plays a lot with accents (The Witches (review) being the most recent example). They aren’t particularly bad accents and actually it is rather fun since it works well with these cons that her character is doing especially while Rebel Wilson’s Penny is convinced that she is the renowned international con artist, Medusa. Rebel Wilson plays into her style of comedy right from her days from Pitch Perfect (or even earlier in the smaller role in Bridesmaids) and she has come into her own but her comedy style is not exactly for everyone as it does go a little over the top and exaggerated. There is no doubt that Rebel Wilson has her own silly charm. In the contrast of things in this film, it works alright.

Call it a form of buddy film if you will because this does have that sort of feeling to it as these two work together and eventually adapt each other’s con strategies to play against the other. They do have a decent dynamic here even if some of the comedy might not always land right. The Hustle all comes to a twist sort of ending and the setting is absolutely beautiful. Its not a phenomenal comedy but it is pretty fun overall.

Falling For Figaro (2020)

Director: Ben Lewin

Cast: Danielle MacDonald, Shazad Latif, Joanna Lumley, Gary Lewis, Hugh Skinner, Rebecca Benson, Christina Bennington

A brilliant young fund manager leaves her unfulfilling job and long-term boyfriend to chase her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club*

As Valentine’s approaches, Netflix is bringing on a lot of different romantic comedies for their release schedule. There’s no doubt that when you look at Danielle MacDonald, her filmography has been rather diverse. Looking at some of her leading roles, she’s been truly wrapped up in trying to be something to break out of what others view her as from wanting to be a rap star in Patti Cake$, to breaking the norm of a pageant queen in Dumplin’ and her latest film right here as Millie who is striving to be an opera singer despite starting later than most would and giving up her own money-making successful career and being apart from her boyfriend for a year to pursue this dream with a harsh opera teacher Meghan (Joanna Lumley) and her only student Max (Hugh Skinner) who is reluctant about her presence as they both try to enter and win the upcoming opera singing competition. However, her presence brings on a journey that doesn’t only discover her talent for opera but also sparks the necessary change for Max to get in touch with his emotions.

Romantic comedies nowadays are really a challenge to truly enjoy especially as a lot of them are formulaic. Falling For Figaro still has a lot of those romantic comedy tropes but also has that comedy element that does deliver rather well as it features a cast of supporting characters and main characters that are colorful to watch in both dialogue and interactions. Not to mention that Danielle MacDonald does tend to connect herself to feel-good films. This one has a few awkward moments especially with her boyfriend character (Shazad Latif) that seems to be an odd presence but the film also focuses on the natural progression of the feelings for Max as they start to train together and despite his reluctance still tries to help her with some of the skills and understanding. The training bits with Meghan also have some comedy and adds to the whole film pulling away from the romance part to not focus too much on it. Its how the film overall strikes a decent balance between the training and the romance that makes it feel pretty fun to watch overall.

Perhaps calling Falling for Figaro a romantic comedy is stretching it a little since the romance is rather subtle and minimal overall. Its spaced out rather well and focuses more on the musical training element. Danielle MacDonald, Joanne Lumley and Hugh Skinner do make the film very fun to watch their entire dynamic both as mentors, friends and potential romance. Of course, the snarky inn owner (Gary Lewis) also adds to the comedy adding to the whole small-town charm much like the setting itself.

Double Feature: The F**k-It List (2020) & The Girl Next Door (2004)

The F**ck-It List (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Michael Duggan

Cast: Eli Brown, Madison Iseman, Marcus Scribner, Karan Brar, Tristan Lake Leabu, Jerry O’Connell, Satya Bhabha, Andrew Bachelor

After a prank blows up on a high school senior’s life, he shares a list of certain things he wishes he’d done differently. – IMDB

As we go through an array of teen films in the past month, I’ve come to the realization that a lot of the plot is pretty similar, mostly surrounding really academic-focused teens realizing that they should have done more upon reaching graduation. The F**k-It List takes it on the other side of the gender scope as we dive into a teenage boy and his friends endeavors when a prank literally does blow up his life which sends him into a spiral which blows him up on a social media level when he talks about his F**k-It List, which is pretty much a list of things he would’ve done but never did. This strong message inspires many to share their own lists and do some of the things, some good and some bad, of course. In many ways, the plot of the film is a good direction since it gives others courage to achieve those things they weren’t able to before but at the same time, the film takes the approach of making this specific teen’s journey a tad whiny and shallow at times. His journey does end on a rather positive note but the process of it feels really irresponsible, which probably was intentional as it was somewhat his way of “acting out” and adding in that coming of age element. The key of the whole plot being finding the balance in life between work and play.

The F**k-It List in all its glory is a bit meh. There are some decent feel-good moments. The soundtrack itself for a teen film is rather decent. The journey itself is a little been there done that but still makes for a good angle. The execution is where it feels a little boring at times. There’s a decent amount of time floating on a pool and pondering and some of the conversation feels a little tip-toeing around some issues that probably are usually talked about more openly. The world of teen films does revolve a lot around young female characters and their coming of age journey in a quick retrospective (or maybe its just me since those seem to hit higher popularity or on my radar more frequently) so this was a decent angle to approach especially watching what would happen to someone who has his life planned out optimally suddenly be hit with something that shatters everything.

The issue with The F**k-It List is essentially the main character himself. Its not really the actor Eli Brown’s issue since he seems to fit the role well enough but perhaps how his character is scripted. It felt like he transitioned into this when his plans went down rather quickly. There’s still conflict but it lacks something to the whole character development. He does play opposite Madison Iseman who seems to be popping up on my watchlist quite a bit the past month. Her character has a lot more conflict and offers another perspective to this whole “f**k-it list* concept.

The Girl Next Door (2004)

Director: Luke Greenfield

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Christopher Rodriguez Marquette, Paul Dano, Timothy Olymphant, James Remar

A teenager’s dreams come true when a former porn star moves in next door and they fall in love. – IMDB

Its kind of surprising how long its taken for me to get around to watching The Girl Next Door mostly because upon the release of this film back in 2004, it was the talk among my high school crew as Elisha Cuthbert was also an alumni. Of course, she’s a few years older than myself so not really certain of who she is or what she did (or maybe I just don’t remember a conversation from almost 2 decades ago). But here we are! I finally got around to watching it! The Girl Next Door is pretty fun overall since the whole story has it fun parts of dating an ex-porn star and learning about reality and expectations. Nothing like a high school student having to rethink everything for love, right?

Looking at the overall cast, Elisha Cuthbert plays well into her role as Danielle, an ex-porn star that is house-sitting while trying to run away from her past and trying to start anew before it comes chasing her down. The running away does make for an encounter with her neighbor’s son Matthew (Emile Hirsch) who takes a peek at her changing from his bedroom window and eventually having a friendship and eventual romance. She breaks him out of his studious shell and pushes him to try more daring things in his high school life which he wasn’t able to do being scared of the consequences of his actions. Talking about that, the film does a really great job by creating those made-up moments play through in his head of the worst case scenario much like having best buddies who also are very much like him, one of them played by a young Paul Dano, who is extremely awkward. The film does shift its tone when the danger of Danielle’s past comes finding her in the form of a porn director played by Timothy Olymphant, taking the group to Las Vegas for an adventure. The

The execution of the film works really well also. The building of the relationship between Danielle and Matthew is played out well. The whole shift in tone to add danger to the situation also propels the film in another direction. There is a certain amount of absurdity to some of the scenes but it does add a decent humor to the whole film. Whether its creating the scene where Matthew imagines a lot of things or the crazy adventure that these boys probably would never do if they had it their own way, the film manages to be pretty fun in general. It all culminates to the final scene where they are trying create what seems like a porn video in school on prom night and trying to avoid the eyes of the principal and staff when things definitely take a fun twist for the big final reveal that actually is quite clever as it gives a nod back to something mentioned at the beginning.

Double Feature: Dude (2018) & Every Day (2018)

Dude (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Olivia Milch

Cast: Lucy Hale, Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Brooke Smith, Jerry MacKinnon, Satya Bhabha

A group of teenage girlfriends deal with their impending graduation from high school. – IMDB

Dealing with high school seems like a central focus of coming of age stories as the next step in life triggers change and insecurities. Dude focuses strongly on its group of four girl friends as they face loss right before their final year. As they each have their own worries, they all individually make their own decisions even if it isn’t always in agreement with their group. Between getting ready for graduation, getting high together and planning out their next step for college, their last 2 weeks before graduation is one filled with both comedic and dramatic moments.

Girl friends stories are always quite endearing to watch. These four friends each have their own unique personality. Two of the girls are specifically focused with Lucy Hale’s Lily and Kathryn Prescott’s Chloe who share the same loss at the beginning which makes each of them cope in their different ways. The film does a good job at building their friendship where they go to events/parties/school together but gradually all have their own experiences which change each of them, giving them their individuality as well. Lily has her encounters which takes her aback while Chloe chooses to pivot her plans to be closer to home. All these things highlighting the process of moving on to the stage and accepting change and separation. In comparison, Alexandra Shipp’s Amelia and Awkwafina’s Rebecca both have rather one goal oriented, giving them a much simpler role but still they add some fun scenes.

Overall, Dude is a fairly basic coming of age teen comedy/drama. The issues they face are fairly relevant and believable and the characters are decent. If anything, the characters do make the film rather enjoyable. Plus, you even get to enjoy a verse or two from Awkwafina rapping. The writers remember that the film is about teenagers so there is a good balance between drama and fun.

Every Day (2018)

Director: Michael Sucsy

Cast: Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Debby Ryan, Jeni Ross, Owen Teague, Lucas Jade Zumann, Katie Douglas, Jacob Batalon, Sean Jones, Nicole Law, Maria Bello

A shy teenager falls for a spirit who wakes up in the body of a different person every morning. – IMDB

Adapted from the young adult novel of the same name by David Levithan, Every Day stands out from its unique premise where a person “A” migrates through different bodies everyday of the same age. Despite this, they still find a girl Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) who is willing to love them for who they are, putting aside gender and appearances. The story itself feels relevant to today more than anything and tells a story about acceptance and love.

Every Day builds on this premise. The film’s focus in love and acceptance is due to this person’s personality or soul and their connection. Another side of this premise highlights all the different person exist within one community from homeschoolers to extremely religious student. While the story itself seems a little ahead of times for teenagers especially talking about romance in connections and such, the message here is pretty good. The whole body migrating mostly remain a mystery as they never quite figure out what it is however, there seems to be some control as they soon discover which also brings up the question of how unfair it is to take over someone’s life and make them lose out. The whole mystery of the situation also does lead to some unclear moments where A embodies the person but still manages to have their skills. Something that isn’t explored quite enough perhaps but then this is a teen romance drama and not some sci-fi or fantasy film.

The film itself works pretty well as the young cast delivers some good performances. The main constant being the female lead played by Angourie Rice as she faces this person and starts to accept him. Angourie Rice does a great job with the role at hand especially when faced with this odd person who morphs everyday. The conflict, the acceptance, the heartache is all well developed and portrayed by her. The cast which A migrates includes a handful of characters which have more screen time with Justice Smith, Owen Teague, and Lucas Jade Zumann. To be fair, the film itself does a decent job but while I haven’t read the source material, the premise itself has a lot to do with the intrigue. The execution is fairly well where credit is due but there are still parts that feel a tad disjointed.

Double Feature: 6 Years (2015) & All The Bright Places (2020)

6 Years (2015)

Director (and writer): Hannah Fidell

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler- Nicholson, Molly McMichael, Alysia Lucas

A young couple, bound by a seemingly ideal love, begin to unravel as unexpected opportunities spin them down a volatile and violent path and threaten the future they had always imagined. – IMDB

6 Years is a familiar story about young romance. One that talks about about a lengthy young romance that’s been around for years with plans of their future that suddenly get shifted when their future plans take on the unexpected changes because of new opportunities. Do they continue or do they end it? That is the main question these movies take its audience on.

Front and center for this film is Mel and Dan who start the film off in a hot and heavy sex scene. Its a unique way to start it as it does show off their intimacy together. However, the film actually sets them apart a lot of the times to interact with their new circle of friends or their work environment as they start stepping into the young adult path into their new career paths. Mel’s friends are still about getting drunk and immature about their decisions, giving a glimpse of the younger age and the people she hangs out with that also makes for some bad decision-making. However, Dan is different. He feels more settled and grounded and just waiting for his turn to grow in his career and making the connections he needs by associating with work friends. As the film puts them in their own social environment and not so much involved in each other’s social environment, the insecurity also sets in, especially for Mel who starts to react both emotionally and aggressively. The film doesn’t take it too far but the hints of the changes in the essence of their relationship is there.

With that said, the film is mostly about these two characters played by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. Each doing a rather decent job at handling their roles respectively as they spiral away. Perhaps, some of the issues is mostly with the script as some of the dialogue feels rather annoying, no matter the scenario of Mel with her friends or Dan with his friends in the social environment. No one in this film other than them seems to believe that a 6 year relationship at their age would work and with all that negative force, its hard to not have some doubt planted in it. But then, when you think deeper, this also does bring up the issues that have been hidden from the comfort of having each other in their lives.

6 Years is a pretty basic film and whether you connect to the story itself and the content will probably determine how much you enjoy it in the end. These characters have their certain level of depths. The film does lack a little progress in general and makes some strong scenes to instigate those changes. However, the dialogue sometimes does get a little grating and annoying in parts. It does feel rather real and raw in some cases where the doubt does feel reasonable because their plans were made with stability and belief that there won’t be any change to their current situation, which also shows their naivety to real life. That is what brings these character to life and what makes this film an interesting one in terms of the material but lacks a little in the execution of the material to make it completely engaging with the whole situation.

All The Bright Places (2020)

Director: Brett Haley

Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Kelli O’Hara, Lamar Johnson, Virginia Gardner, Felix Mallard, Sofia Hasmik, Keegan-Michael Key, Luke Wilson, Chris Grace

The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something. – IMDB

*Published in Friday Film Club HERE*

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven (review) who also co-writes the adapted screenplay, All The Bright Places tells the story of two teenagers, Violet and Finch who are both living unhappily for their own reasons. Violet is living with survivor guilt after her sister’s death which gives her a fear of cars and limits her to things that she finds are safe. Finch is a little more obscure as he is having consulting sessions at school with the counselor after an incident and is considered a freak by other students. When they work together on a project to wander the town, Finch takes Violet to a lot of adventures that slowly pulls her out of her sadness but slowly he retreats into his own darkness and struggles to get out from it. 

While its been a few years since I’ve read the novel itself, the adaptation does have some differences from the novel but does keep it in the important parts to make it the story effective. One of the key elements of the story is between the two main characters Violet and Finch and in turn their portrayal by the two main leads, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. These two young actor and actress do capture their roles really well especially since they each have their own struggles. Justice Smith having the more obscure and complex one which never truly gets addressed as to what he has but his struggles from past to present is constantly shown in little details on screen. However, the film is only about these moments but rather it spends much of the time with Finch helping Violet find her happiness and smile again to break free of her own guilt and in turn, their adventures while rather insignificant at the beginning, each has their own meaning.

All The Bright Places has a very strong source material to begin with and a rather surprising ending when Finch gets a much more dramatic turn of events in its set up in comparison to the film. However, the film does capture the essence of the story in general which focuses on the neglect, ignorance, unknowns as well as struggles with mental illness in general and how Finch’s character is trapped in something he doesn’t quite understand but no one seems to notice that he needs the help either.

All The Bright Places might look like a teen romance that can just be brushed over but while there is some romance between Finch and Violet, the story is much more meaningful and has a lot of depth for what its trying to portray. Plus, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith does deliver some solid performances to capture these two teens very well from start to finish to truly feel their mental transition in both Violet and Finch right down to a very touching speech with Violet recapping the lessons she learned from the whole experience with Finch.

Holiday Marathon: A Castle For Christmas (2021)

A Castle For Christmas (2021)

Director: Mary Lambert

Cast: Brooke Shields, Cary Elwes, Lee Ross, Andi Osho, Tiny Gray, Eilidh Loan, Stephen Oswald, Vanessa Grasse, Desiree Burch

To escape a scandal, a bestselling author journeys to Scotland, where she falls in love with a castle – and faces off with the grumpy duke who owns it. – IMDB

Looking at A Castle For Christmas, I couldn’t help but ask two questions. The first is when was the last time I saw Brooke Shields and the second, when was the last time Cary Elwes was in a romantic comedy? Was it The Princess Bride? On top of that, this film is directed by Mary Lambert who has directed plenty of horror films but not so much romance (as I take a quick look over her filmography and yet, she is at the helm of this film.

Set in the small town Scotland setting and mostly in a castle, A Castle For Christmas is really not all that bad. The cast helps a lot and the whole tone is pretty nice. The plot points do have some odd moments that feel like it edited out a scene or two that was supposed to link it all together. The romance at times is a little bit on the cringey side of things but the setting is really nice for Christmas as it brings these two characters together. The holiday element is also done pretty well also as they transform the castle into a more festive setting and giving it a little more life.

The cast is really the highlight here. Whether we look at the main leads or the supporting cast, they all add a lot of charm to this small town and breathe more life into the film as a whole. The little discussions as they knit or decorate together. It makes the famous author on the run feel accepted when this group understands her point more than the others in the big city. There is a very positive feel-good vibe from those moments alone. It somehow puts the romance element in the background. However, thats not saying that Cary Elwes and Brooke Shields in their respective leading roles should be ignored. Brooke Shields fits into this role nicely whereas Cary Elwes feels at times a little awkward. However, his character is set as a bit of a loner so where he shines is before the whole romantic bits start with their little feud as he tries to get her to leave and she works hard to fit in and stay.

Overall, A Castle For Christmas is an alright holiday romantic comedy. Its cast does it the most favors and makes it a fun feel good film. The romance gets lost a little in the whole setting and the holiday and the supporting cast from the small town and yet, that does do the film a lot of favors as the romance element isn’t its strongest but Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes does fit relativelt well in their individual roles.

Holidays Marathon: The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star (2021)

The Princess Switch 3: Romancing The Star (2021)

Director: Mike Rohl

Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Remy Hii, Sam Palladio, Nick Sagar, Amanda Donohue, Florence Hall, Ricky Norwood, Suanne Braun, Mark Fleischmann, Will Kemp

When a priceless relic is stolen, Queen Margaret and Princess Stacy enlist the help of Margaret’s cousin Fiona teams with a man from her past to retrieve it, with romance and resulting in a very unexpected switch. – IMDB

After two The Princess Switch movies, its really hard to think about what other roles they could switch at this point. Of course, last time’s introduction of the royal cousin comes into play as she amends her bad ways by helping them leading the story to focus on her this time around and her little story about why she is the way she is. To be fair, you have to love Vanessa Hudgens a lot to watch these films since she takes up 3 entire roles on her own. The only thing missing is if they cross worlds again and bring in her role from The Knight Before Christmas as another role for her. Now that film is majorly lacking a sequel although as a form of sequel for this film series might not be exactly what I am waiting for.

The Princess Switch 3 : Romancing The Star is actually not too bad. If anything, its along the same enjoyment level as the second film. Some things feel ridiculous especially in plot when the switch is now a last resort situation so seeing the imitation of imitation for Vanessa Hudgens actually is rather comedic especially when the other versions mock each other. Fiona is a huge change since that character wears over the top outfits and has a big personality, making both Margaret and Stacy pretending to be her also full of craziness. The films as they progressed do somehow out of their own craziness has their own logic and it seems logical that it starts off from a basic switch between two people and now its more about the other schemes and giving each of these Vanessa Hudgens’ their own sort of story as well. The romance and whatnot is not anything unique in all honesty but there is a feel good element even if this one hits some cringe-y moments.

With that said, the star of the show is Vanessa Hudgens and she does take each of these roles and runs with it. It sure is fun to see her really showing a lot of different sides of the people that she plays. It gets a little odd sometimes but at this point of the third movie, its not hard to accept a lot of it no matter as Stacy, Margaret or Fiona. Of course, this time’s focus is a lot more on Fiona and Margaret as they do the big switch and its great to see Margaret pretending to be Fiona even when we all know that its just the same person acting everything, normally or pretending. Its really hard to explain but somehow those moments still are the best in the film. The love arc is also a focus here as they usually are and this time its for Fiona as she embraces a childhood friend and a quick fling which of course meant more than she is ready to admit with Peter, played by Remy Hii (also in Crazy Rich Asians). Their moments are a little bit cringe-y as they have this very in-your-face type of chemistry with the long stares and paused moments close to each other. It tries really hard but I’m not exactly sure the chemistry is there although Remy Hii is a pretty charming guy and fairly suitable to be in the role.

Overall, The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star is alright. Its nothing to call home about in terms of a sequel but there are some fun bits. Since I do enjoy Vanessa Hudgens, seeing her everywhere in this film doing all these different personalities and pretending to be another version of someone adds a lot of humor and fun. There are some awkward moments and the romance is not exactly my fave of the three films but it has that whole heist and reverse heist stealthy element that does give it a different sort of angle which somehow works to a certain extent.

Holidays Marathon: Love Hard (2021)

Love Hard (2021)

Director: Hernan Jimenez

Cast: Nina Dobrev, Jimmy O. Yang, Darren Barnet, James Saito, Rebecca Staab, Harry Shum Jr., Althea Kaye, Mikaela Hoover, Matty Finochio, Heather McMahan

An LA girl, unlucky in love, falls for an East Coast guy on a dating app and decides to surprise him for the holidays, only to discover that she’s been catfished. This lighthearted romantic comedy chronicles her attempt to reel in love. – IMDB

As Netflix steps up its game a little, its kind of a mixed bag when it comes to holiday films. Love Hard was one that caught my eye immediately for 2 reasons. The first being Nina Dobrev that I’ve been following since The Vampire Diaries which is a show that I did love (not so sure about how much I love it now but maybe it’ll be a fun experiment to see how I feel about it now that I’m in my 30s). The second reason being Jimmy O. Yang who seems to be popping up on my radar a lot and I do like his humor quite a bit. While I didn’t expect him to be casted in a romantic comedy, it is nice to see him in it especially when Love Hard is pretty cute when it brings the whole modernized dating scene up front for people looking for love online and the many dangers that could happen as well as the concept of what perfect love is while also making a play on two movies I do like a lot: Love Actually and Die Hard.

Love Hard is a pretty fun romantic comedy. Its not exactly unpredictable as most rom-coms nowadays tend to be lacking on that front. However, with the small town vibe and bringing in the family element in terms of expectations and love on all fronts, Love Hard is pretty well-crafted. It has its heartwarming moments and also some silly ones as well but the chemistry between Nina Dobrev’s Natalie and Jimmy O. Yang’s Josh is pretty decent. They have some really meaningful conversations about romance and encouragement towards being themselves but also uses its comedic comebacks especially for Jimmy O. Yang’s character pretty well also. The whole cast is pretty cool with Harry Shum Jr. playing the attention seeking brother but also getting to flex those singing skills, that I personally haven’t heard since his Glee days. Much like the whole family dynamic of the Lin household, plus all these family holiday films needs a wild grandma and they had one here as well.

Is Love Hard something really out of the ordinary? The plot itself definitely isn’t. It has some of the “How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days” plot where in this case is a blogger with her column on failed online dating but also adds that different ethnic backgrounds angle as they play with some of the Asian backgrounds even if the family feels pretty much assimilated to the small-town US lifestyle. A lot of the Asian household values whether its family business or following dreams or family expectations all come into play here which does feel rather realistic. If there was one thing that I’d nitpick on this was that the film spent a lot of time on Natalie’s angle, probably for most of the film and then suddenly near the end, it switches over to Josh’s angle in the final act which felt a little odd to do since Natalie felt like the character to connect with throughout and then suddenly, the switch with that one scene with Josh near the end felt a little misplaced. Its still a good scene and adds to his character.

Overall, its a harmless holiday romantic comedy. It has a lot of Christmas elements. There’s a good balance between comedy and romance. It also has some fun Christmas moments from putting up the Christmas tree to family moments to Christmas caroling, etc. It does tick a good few of those boxes for what this film sells itself as which all works together in a fun way. Of course, for people who don’t really enjoy romantic comedies, probably not for you but if you like Jimmy O. Yang’s comedy style and romantic comedies are acceptable to you, its a worth a watch.