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.

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Vince Marcello

Cast: Joey King, Jacob Elordi, Joel Courtney, Molly Ringwald, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings

It’s the summer before Elle Evans is set to head off to college, and she has a big decision to make. – IMDB

The final film of The Kissing Booth trilogy takes place the summer before college which pretty much picks up almost after the last film. With college decisions, friendship and love to balance out, Elle is stuck trying to please everyone but not exactly being able to achieve it especially when she has to accept her father also moving on and finding himself a girlfriend who seems to want to replace her mom. If you have seen my review of the first (review) and second (review) films, you will probably know that I am not a big fan of the films, in fact The Kissing Booth getting 2 more films after the first one was a pretty surprising development overall. Still, there’s always hope that it can get better since the second one was a tad better than the first. Who knows, right? With the mentality to finish up the trilogy and to keep on track with Netflix releases (since I’m not going to the theatres yet), here we go!

The Kissing Booth 3 feels pretty much exactly how I felt about the previous two. The story itself is pretty basic. The characters are not really too likeable and the dialogue itself feels a little forced. The chemistry is mostly not too great between Noah and Elle. It really feels like I’m being a bit harsh with the film but I’m not trying to. Its not all bad to be fair. Every single film has one highlight event and that usually lands pretty well. Much like the second movie’s dance competition preparation, this film was all about Lee and Elle’s summer bucket list. That part was a ton of fun as it really focused on their friendship and the fun ideas that they had, no matter ridiculous or silly that it would be. Those moments packed in some fun surprises overall.

These films really are at its worst when it focuses on the deeper feelings as it just doesn’t carry well. In fact, they become really frustrating to watch in general. I’m usually pretty easy to please in this department (considering I watch Asian dramas which are probably the most formulaic). However, Elle and Lee has this solid friendship that seems to easily break apart when life throws them curveballs and Elle doesn’t choose Lee in some situations, which on some level is understandable. Elle and Noah is just an annoying relationship as their chemistry isn’t too great and the arguments increase with each film over the same issues essentially. Its this vicious cycle that whether its one person being careless about the other or they are fighting for each other, it just feels like something is missing between them while they seem to pair up much better with their other friends.

With that said, the character development here is visible. For Elle, she’s a much more likable character as she is working hard to balance everything even if some moments still sees her being a little insensible as she’s overwhelmed but there are shining points of her that truly get shown here. Its the same for Noah and Lee individually. Perhaps the most heartwarming moments are the family ones especially the conversations between them and the parents. Molly Ringwald’s character as Mrs. Flynn is one that truly shines when she acts as a parent figure for Elle much like Elle and her dad’s conversations also are pretty heartfelt as well. However, I do want to mention that the character of Marco, played Taylor Zakhar Perez is pretty good even if his role here is even lesser than his previous one. He is a pretty good second male interest which is a likeable character overall.

Overall, The Kissing Booth 3 is one that I felt pretty indifferent. It delivers about the same feelings as the previous two films. Its not a complete loss but its really not my type of film. While some bits are fun to watch, it never adds to the story as a whole. It might be a script problem or an acting problem or just the cast and chemistry issue. Its hard to really say at this point. As a little spoiler (highlight to see if you have seen the film or don’t mind reading it) and a general thought about the ending: the best part of the film was breaking up the characters at the end and if the film had kept them broken up as the big finale, years down the road, it would have landed so much better. But then, it wouldn’t fit the film genre and turn into some romantic drama, I suppose. If you’ve liked the previous 2 films, you will probably like this one, if you didn’t, then its really up to you whether finishing the trilogy is worth it or not.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Baby, Don’t Cry (2021)

Baby, Don’t Cry (2021)

Director: Jesse Dvorak

Cast: Zita Bai, Vas Provatakis, Boni Mata, Troy Musil, Helen Sun

Baby, A withdrawn and sensitive 17-year-old Chinese immigrant from a troubled home, is living in the outskirts of Seattle. One day, she meets a 20-year-old delinquent named Fox. Together they embark on a twisted journey to escape their hopeless fate. – IMDB

Baby, Don’t Cry is a 2021 coming of age romance and family drama that takes a look at both a cultural element for the main character but also a coming of age for Baby (Zita Bai), a simple and troubled seventeen year old with a filmmaker dream who ends up meeting a bad boy Fox (Vas Provatakis) and has a whirlwind relationship with him. As much as it is a visceral romance, it also embodies a lot of happy moments. The film uses not only the third person film angle to capture but also has a second camera which is that of footage filmed from Baby’s perspective to see what she sees. The family element is also presented here as Baby’s life is further emphasized by her troubled family situation mostly due to her mother’s unstable situation which creates a roller coaster of emotions having both good and bad days in their relationship.

Baby, Don’t Cry isn’t the normal film and has a rather unique voice. It takes a different angle on the Chinese immigrant as a teenager and the struggles to fit in and thrive while not exactly being from a wealthy or immensely, controlled family although it still grounds itself on a more closed parent who talks about bringing shame. However, Baby tries to fit into society despite some of the stereotypes that gets thrown her way. Plus, the film also lacks some groundedness as it floats between past memories, fantasy and the present reality. Much like how Zita Bai flips the characters around bringing in the sexual fox spirit in Chinese folklore which is usually a feminine character and reverses it into a male character and directly names the male lead Fox. Something that I have to admit escaped me until I saw the Q&A session after its screening.

The whole tone and pacing is a little odd at times and even the moments of adding in the fantasy and real elements sometimes even feel a little abrupt however its hard to not be wrapped up by the happy and sweet romance between the two struggling youths that seem absolutely improbable that would have crossed paths other than perhaps destiny and fate bringing them together but also seeing a little bit of power struggle between the two. They do have some fantastic chemistry that in parts of montage moments via Baby’s camera sees all the happiness between the two as they do all kinds of things together but also can switch incredibly quickly to this darker, tense and rather toxic feeling between the two that just can’t seem to find a balance whether its Fox wanting to walk away from the relationship or Baby reacting in her own way. Its this push and pull between Baby and Fox that makes their relationship intriguing to watch especially as it does open up the withdrawn Baby that we see at the beginning of the film.

Baby Don’t Cry is a rather odd film overall and it probably has to do with the main character Baby portrayed by the film’s writer Zita Bai in such a way who has a lot of rather quiet moments but manages to still be an interesting character to discover as she goes on this unique coming of age story. Its not the typical coming of age and yet it wraps up a lot of elements that might or might not be too abstract to be noticed by its audience. Whether if its a relationship between the mother and daughter highlighting some elements of the Chinese family structure albeit the more broken one presented here or the romance between Fox and Baby, it works for myself as I do love hearing other Chinese voices presented in film.

*Baby, Don’t Cry has its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 11th*

Good on Paper (2021)

Good on Paper (2021)

Director: Kimmy Gatewood

Cast: Iliza Shlesinger, Ryan Hansen, Margaret Cho, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Beth Dover, Kimia Behpoornia

After years of putting her career first, a stand-up comic meets a guy who seems perfect: smart, nice, successful and possibly too good to be true. – IMDB

When you go into a romantic comedy where its cast is full of comedians, its easy to assume that comedy will be probably prevail over its romance. Good On Paper is pretty much like that. Of course, comedy is subjective so its probably best to decide on the style based on how much you enjoy Iliza Shlesinger’s stand-up comedy. The story is a little ridiculous but considering that its inspired from something that actually happened to Iliza Shlesinger, the whole piece feels a lot like a comedy skit which also means that (in my limited understanding of comedy skits and stand-up comedy) that there’s bound to be bits that work and bits that don’t. Plus, its hard to not feel like there’s a little over the top element to the acting which definitely feels deliberate and also works for some parts and doesn’t really land for others. That being said, the overall feeling is a little average however, I do have to say that the approach and end-game is definitely different from the usual romantic comedy, which does make it refreshing to watch.

Being a film filled with some familiar faces, its hard to not look at the acting element. Iliza Shlesinger is a decent actress as she plays Andrea. A part of the execution is paralleled with a stand-up comedy performance that runs throughout the film which pretty much uses the situation on hand as her reflection of it and turning it into content for her show. The other part is the movie itself which still feels a lot like herself when she is in this role. Its very genuine and believable for her character itself even if some of the situations might not feel as believable but this is “mostly true love story” so I’m sure some bits are exaggerated to be the way that it is. Paired up with her is the male lead played by Ryan Hansen. A lot of the interaction is meant to be laid on really heavy so that its obvious that she’s falling into a trap (at least to me). I guess proving the point that when something is too good to be true, it most likely is. Perhaps even something of a cautionary tale about catfishes…maybe? That’s actually a tangent to talk about Ryan Hansen who was pretty convincing in this role since there were some pretty good shifts in the little details in his reactions and stuff that built his character up to be pretty sketchy.

Its hard to not talk about the female comedians and cast here that definitely steals the show and arguably, this film is its best when its their interaction. Iliza Shlesinger’s best friend is a bar owner called Margot played by Margaret Cho who is absolutely hilarious and absolutely is the highlight of this film. Plus, Margot and Andrea’s friendship is pretty fun especially when you add in the other ladies here whether its one of the guy’s roommates played by Beth Dover and the fake competition between a more successful actress Serrena played by Rebecca Rittenhouse. The three end up having a hilarious ride around town tracking down the lies of Andrea’s beau.

When its all said and done, Good on Paper is okay. It works much better as a comedy, if you like this sort of comedy style than as a romantic comedy. However, the fact that it is mostly based on a true story, it feels like a fun way to share a cautionary story and even with how they choose to end it is a lot different from how a normal romantic comedy would do it which makes this one that I can appreciate.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels by Catherine Hanrahan

Lost Girls and Love Hotels
By: Catherine Hanrahan

Margaret is doing everything in her power to forget home. And Tokyo’s exotic nightlife—teeming with drink, drugs, and three-hour love hotels—enables her to keep her demons at bay. Working as an English specialist at Air-Pro Stewardess Training Institute by day, and losing herself in a sex- and drug-addled oblivion by night, Margaret represses memories of her painful childhood in Canada and her older brother Frank’s descent into madness. But Margaret’s deliberate nihilism is thrown off balance as she becomes increasingly haunted by images of a Western girl missing in Tokyo. And when she becomes enamored of Kazu, a mysterious gangster, their affair sparks a chain of events that could spell tragedy for Margaret in a city where it’s all too easy to disappear. – Goodreads

Lost Girls and Love Hotels has a decent premise that explores Japan’s culture and nightlife. At the same time, the book is primarily about Margaret’s journey into this city. Moving between her present and her past, it pulls together the pieces of why she decided to go to Japan to be alone and the reason to escape her life. The novel is a fairly quick read (finished it in 2 days). It mostly has to do with the fact that everything is fairly concise and moves quickly from one event to the next. It moves through Margaret’s past quickly as well, jumping through her past in something like 2 year age progression and using one significant event between her and her brother Frank to portray their sibling and/or family relationship. Drawing a parallel with this is her present to be in Japan to be alone, a concept which outlines how “being alone isn’t about people” (I’m paraphrasing at best, I can’t remember the exact line). An interesting angle for sure as it does focus on Margaret’s trek through how she deals with her loneliness and how she fills up her own void through her nights with strangers at love hotels and her days at her uptight job that she doesn’t seem to take very seriously for the most part.

There are a few elements that is explored in the novel as a whole and everything does get touched on lightly. Which does progress the story quickly but at the same time, some of these elements feels like it could have benefited from having some more depth. Especially in terms of characters, it lacks in building up Margaret outside of the pieces of her past or constructing her decisions. Probably because it strays away from going too in-depth into any scene construction and simply leaving the space for the reader’s imagination. Its not a bad route at times but other times, it can feel a little empty. Much like Margaret, the people she meets and the emotional connection she has with them are also fairly shallow as well. Unlike the synopsis of the dangerous yakuza she meets Kazu, this relationship isn’t nearly as fleshed as it could be. Not in terms of the sexual elements but simply the connection that she has with him. At least not enough to support the extent that she goes and the “suffering” she ends up going through because of this.

Despite the shortcomings though, the setting itself and the pace of moving through the different scenes and the love hotel settings plus the nightlife all does feel very intriguing. The shortcoming from the character development is compensated by the overall structure of the novel which helps in being intrigued by how Margaret grew up and seeing what the deal with her brother is while moving in parallel with her life in Japan. The setting of Japan is portrayed fairly well while it intertwines the missing girl tangent that might not have been explored enough but still manages to bring in the thriller element as it becomes a question of whether she is missing and if so, whether the dangerous life she leads might take her down to some unfortunate endgame.

Goodreads score: 3/5 (its probably more of a 3.5)

In comparison to the film adaptation (you can check out the review HERE), Catherine Hanrahan also writes the screenplay however surprisingly, a lot of the events of the book right down to the characters and how certain elements are panned out are fairly jumbled together. There are pros and cons to either where some elements are done better in the book since it dives in Margaret’s past which the film doesn’t do and outlines her motives of being in Japan more while in terms of Kazu, the film does a better job of giving them a strong romantic connection but still not bringing in some of the elements of Kazu’s personal life that gets intertwined with Margaret which would endanger her. The film does also fall short when it comes to the missing girl plot point. Like I said, a lot of the film is the basic scenario and structure that stays the same but a lot of the events are executed differently which works in one way and doesn’t in some other way.

Double Feature: Little Big Women (2020) & Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020)

Next double feature is here! I went ahead to check out two 2020 movies. The first is Netflix Taiwanese family drama Little Big Women followed with a drama thriller adapted from a book, Lost Girls & Love Hotels.

Let’s check it out!

Little Big Women (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu

Cast: Shu-Fang Chen, Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, Vivian Hsu, Ke-Fang Sun, Buffy Chen, Ning Ding, Han Chang

Family members grapple with the passing of their estranged father and the remnants of the life he led during his absence. – IMDB

Based on the 2017 short film, Little Big Women tells the family picking up the pieces after the estranged father leaves as his life story gets brought back to life through their memories. Through the conversations of the family and the memories of his wife, what drove the man away slowly gets revealed by the end which causes family separation between other family members and why other members seem to have harsh judgement towards them. The father’s estrangement also causes a different change in each of his daughters as they also embrace their own life whether its married with a child or being single or hiding away secrets. Also, as the mother’s motives seem to be the most supported by her granddaughter. This Taiwanese family drama reminded me at the beginning a little of Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman. Its quiet and slow-paced as the characters slowly reveal who they are and the roots of their issues with both their father and their mother. Being a quiet film, its not about a lot of fancy things and dials it all back down to the narrative itself. Death even with the most estranged people will bring about about personal and social issues: reflection, letting go of the past and of course, how society views the traditions of the whole ordeal.

Little Big Women isn’t too different from other family dramas outside from the emphasis on perhaps showing some of the culture in Taiwan regarding death whether its choosing the religion and what ritual to use or how the family structure changes. Sometimes, its the smallest things and yet, the significance is big to how others perceive it or even on a personal level. In this film, there’s a lot of narrative the evolves around the three daughters but at the same time, the mother has a lot also as she is the one that one of the daughters is trying to convince to fulfill her father’s wish and let the father’s girlfriend attend. The whole process of accepting her and making peace between the two actually comes to a very well-executed segment near the end that has probably one of the best scenes especially since the process throughout the film as she tries to find this lady lets her learn quite a bit about her through other people’s interpretation which makes the final talk so well-deserved.

At the same time, the daughters also have a big emphasis here. Each of them having their own moments and struggles. Its been a while since I’ve seen Vivian Hsu, who undoubtedly is probably one of the bigger names here (and I could be wrong as I’ve broken off of Taiwanese movies for quite a while) as she started her career fairly young (and made me want to rewatch 1997’s We’re No Bad Guys). There’s some pretty touching sequences between them especially when the father being estranged has different effects on them as their knowledge of their family changes with the different siblings. Family events are truly where all the family secrets come out and that is shown really well here as well.

Overall, Little Big Women is a family drama. Its nothing groundbreaking or shocking about the whole film. The narrative does build up these characters as they face the death of their estranged father and the process of preparing his funeral. The family secrets, the struggles, self-reflection, letting go: all these themes pop up in this film and as quiet as this film is, it does manage to pack quite the emotional punch by the end.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020)

Director: William Olsson

Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Takehiro Hira, Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney, Misuzu Kanno, Kate Easton

Haunted by her past, an English teacher explores love and dust with a dashing yakuza gangster in Tokyo. – IMDB

Adapted from the book of the same name and having the author also be the screenplay writer for Lost Girls & Love Hotels, this story almost feels a little like Lost in Translation except a little edgier and hardcore. Being an adaptation and one that I haven’t read the original source material, it feels like there’s a few things that seem to make its appearance that may have been overlooked when putting together this story. However, seeing that the author of the novel also acts as the screenplay writer here, it perhaps holds a good part of the essence of what is key to her story or at least we can only assume that. With that said, while the story execution feels at times a little disjointed as it hops from one scene to the next and some of it feeling like it loses its purpose a little for certain side characters like her friends, the cinematography is done really well. Capturing Japan on one hand while mostly capturing the sensual shots really well especially when talking about the lighting used in every scene that adds to the overall visuals and ambiance to elevate the passion between the two characters.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels is focused primarily on the journey of Margaret, played by Alexandra Daddario as she seems live a rather messy life as she starts off being a girl that seems to not quite seem to fit in her role in her day job and then seems to be falling in a sexcapade life at night full of boozy times at bars with her friends and hooking with men at love hotels. While not too familiar with Daddario filmography, it definitely feels like one of the more dramatic roles as her character is trying to escape from something on her mind and settling with being alone hence her trip to Japan. This film is where she is “reborn” as she meets this Yakuza gangster where she embraces her feelings for him while having an element of forbidden love. In some ways, what feels lacking here is the portrayal of Margaret’s desire of BDSM being her turn-on which could be where the thriller element of the story would appear however, its not shown nearly enough to make it have that effect that would inevitably lead to a very obvious foreshadowing at the beginning. Due to the lack of the character building for her as well except for some hints of what she is running away from, her character feels less authentic in some ways. The closest that she feels is the scene above when she starts talking about being alone.

While not exactly groundbreaking character building for her or her love interest Kazu, played by Takehiro Hira, the scenes of them together does have okay chemistry, although it might be the cinematography and sex scene choreography that is done really well. Kazu’s body-long tattoo covering the backside of his body creates a really nice visual overall. Not to mention that Takehiro Hira does stand out in this film as he has a more quiet character that has a lot more mystery plus he has a rather charming sort of look. A lot of it is hidden between the lines through conversations or observation from Margaret. Its a little sad since these characters lack a little more depth in their portrayal in this adaptation. It makes me wonder whether the novel would have fleshed them out more than just their relationship and having a more hollow personality especially for Kazu whose dialogue seems to hold some depth which does eventually enlighten Margaret not before one decision pushes her into a downward slope of bad consequences.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels is a decent watch overall. It helps that its the type of movie that I generally enjoy where its a piece of someone’s life where there’s some type of self-discovery plus it adds in that whole passionate romance which always works for myself when done well. However, this film does lack character depth and perhaps some more thriller-esque moments as currently, it definitely feels more like a romance drama. Not exactly the same thing, right?

TV Binge: Use For My Talent (我亲爱的小洁癖, 2021)

Use For My Talent (我亲爱的小洁癖, 2021)

Director: Cong Cai

Cast: Yue Shen, Jasper Liu, Yunfan Dai, Charles Lin, Yanan, Mengdi Su, Sirui Huang, Quan Tan, Ran Xiao

Because of his incomplete family, Gu Ren Qi has a closed up personality and mysophobia. Shuang Jiao used to have a happy family, but later lost her mother in a car accident, and became a slovenly person. The two became acquainted when Shuang Jiao becomes an employee in Gu Ren Qi’s cleaning company. The two became closer as they get to know each other. Under each other’s influence, they began to heal from their wounds. – MyDramaList

Watch on: Mango TV (Youtube & App) & Netflix

Use For My Talent is a Chinese adpatation of 2018 Korean series Clean With Passion For Now. Let’s just get this out of the way right now that I’m not a big fan of Korean series so I usually don’t go and watch them so I haven’t seen the original of this series. However, Use For My Talent landing on Netflix was such a treat although it does have Shen Yue who is on another Netflix series, Meteor Garden (a Mainland China modernized remake of the 2001 Taiwanese series both directed by the same director Angie Chai) and Jasper Liu in Taiwanese Netflix series Triad Princess and Korean/Taiwanese collaborated variety/travel show Twogether (review). These two main cast members are no doubt talented in their own regards and great to see them together especially as Jasper Liu seems to have moved his focus into Mainland Chinese series now and making a more frequent appearance.

Running at 24 episodes (my favorite length for these types of romantic comedy-drama series), Use For My Talent is a fun one to watch. There’s a good balance of humor, drama and romance that blends together to create this one. It does get a little peculiar in parts but the characters are done pretty well. Not only the main couple, Ren Qi and Shuang Jiao is fun to watch but the two other supporting/secondary couples are also very fun to watch and each having their own dynamic which gives a good variety. Plus, it takes time to look at mysophobia that Ren Qi has and dives into that angle to give it its own drama moments but also using it as some parts of humor especially when encountered with his polar opposite Shuang Jiao who opens up his eyes to slowly accepting the world and treatment to be able to get closer to her. I’m sure some of this stuff is either exaggerated or simplified for the drama’s purpose but it does expose an element of this phobia which leads to using the cleaning company while having a focus on how technology can’t necessarily replace the human element of some services.

Having touched on it a little before, the characters here are absolutely a treat. The main leads played by Shen Yue and Jasper Liu are really great. Shen Yue is probably one of my top favorite young actresses in the last few years as most of her series and roles have been both fun and believeable especially as she gradually moves into TV series set outside of the school setting. I’ve seen most of her shows (even if I never got around to the review). She has this natural and down to earth essence to her that makes her really believable in her roles and carries the emotions really well. The same applies for Use For My Talent where she plays as Shuang Jiao and the character is pretty decent. Funny how things turn around as this show adapts from a Korean series and earlier this year, Korea adapted a Chinese series that was her debut role in A Love So Beautiful (review). On the other hand, as popular as Jasper Liu is, I haven’t seen him outside of two variety shows but there’s something about him that is very charming and he does have pretty good acting skills as well. The chemistry between the two worked really well and came off fairly natural even by the end when he would do the very sappy/cringy sweet talk. It was hard to not cringe but also secretly like it just a little especially as it was a nod to a conversation from a prior part of the series.

Of course the series isn’t just about them but also has some colorful characters. Another couple is RenQi’s assistant DongXian who is very slow and unromantic but ends up with a popular lifestyle streamer QianQian. They are a little fun to watch especially since DongXian’s character is rather hilarious overall but has a little bit of a sad backstory (like a lot of the main cast). Aside from them is ShuangJiao’s little brother JunJie who ends up chasing up her sister’s best friend Yan who has their own sweet moments. The process for both of these having a similar dynamic but pretty funny and entertaining. No series is complete without some sort of love triangle and that brings in Yunfan Dai’s character Lu Xian, a psychiatrist that recently returned to China for 2 purposes: one to repay a debt that ShuangJiao’s mom offered him at a young age (which leads him to falling for her) and the second to act as the consultant for RenQi’s phobia and hopefully control and cure him to a certain extent. His character is pretty decent as well. In most Chinese series, family is also a big part and here the two leads family can be considered opposites of each other and on one side very comedic in dynamic and on the other side, very strict and maybe a little intentionally frustrating.

If there was something to nitpick a little, it definitely would be regarding the choice of melodrama that they used to break the two apart which is an inevitable part of these series but how is always where it works or doesn’t. What they used is always a frustrating choice although props to the two leads for being able to create some genuine sad feelings for this break-up.

Overall, Use For My Talent is an absolute treat. In terms of pacing, comedy and romance, everything works really well. The ending is a little odd with the whole melodrama but thanks to well-connected characters, despite the situation set up, they still manage to carry through the heartwrenching breakup feeling between the two. Its a rather impressive one which highlights some of the talent in the Chinese market.

With all that said, next mission…catch up on Jasper Liu’s series. Anyone have suggestions from the Netflix available ones? Please let me know.