The Wandering Earth 2 (2023)

The Wandering Earth 2 (2023)

Director (and co-writer): Frant Gwo

Cast: Andy Lau, Jing Wu, Zhi Wang, Yanmanzi Zhu, Xuejian Li, Ning Li, Sha Yi, Zhang Yi

Humans built huge engines on the surface of the earth to find a new home. But the road to the universe is perilous. In order to save earth, young people once again have to step forward to start a race against time for life and death. – IMDB

Following 2019’s The Wandering Earth based on novel of the same name by Cixin Li who is also involved as co-writer on the screenplay, The Wandering Earth 2 is a sequel but a prequel story as the story dials back to how the Earth started wandering and all its hoops that it had to go through giving purpose to the father character in the original film and what happened to create the separation. Dedicated to Man-Tat Ng who has unfortunately left this world (but was added in two scenes with what I expect is some computer magic) but was a huge part of The Wandering Earth, this sequel involves many layers which builds a foundation of both the history but on the many angles of science, astronomy and engineering, the world and the politics. On many levels, the concept and premise is a good angle. It definitely feels like a trend to build a story and to create a sequel that acts as a prequel. While the detail and the depth of every element of The Wandering Earth 2 is very much appreciated, the 3 hour runtime does feel like it ends up losing its footing somewhere in the middle for a little bit before going into its big finale and could have benefited from a tighter edited film.

Looking at the story as a whole, there are many elements because of its phase by phase approach in its history and recount of events that make it very memorable especially since it follows Jing Wu’s character Liu Pei Qiang from both his work and how he meets his family and how the main character of its first film comes to be. The other side is Andy Lau’s character Tu Heng Yu who is a supporter of the other project Digital Life Project because of the loss of his daughter and the desire to be able to give her a complete life but is restrained to follow with the new orders. On the other side is the political showrunner as the representative of China who is an elderly gentlemen Zhou played by Xuejian Li and his assistant Xiao Xi played by Yanmanzi Zhu who backs strongly the Moving Mountains Project despite its strong disapproval from the public including some extreme efforts to destroy what is already built in one part which is one of the best scenes as it allows Jing Wu to show off some of his martial arts. The different characters reveal a different angle of the situation and they all come together in the end in probably one of the most touching scenes when the older crew takes on the dangerous mission to defend the younger generation. The idea of the premise is definitely commendable and honestly, it does stand well and I wouldn’t even know what to edit out but perhaps some of the little moments here and there could be more condensed.

Despite the pacing suffering because of the long runtime (which in my opinion happens a lot with lengthier films), there are still a lot of well-executed elements. Much like the icy landscape in the first one which builds up its world, this future of Earth is still a rather grim place but the big operations and leaps in engineering development is another level of creativity especially with its incredibly visually stunning scenes with the space elevators. The imagination and perspective of the world building is truly astounding and its what made its first film so good since the suspension of belief and using our minds to imagine this future is really amazing even if its also conflicting. It is also supported by an engaging score and the cast is pretty decent as well.

As listed above, the cast is a group of veteran actors from Hong Kong actor Andy Lau who has done an extensive list of films of all genres. This role actually feels very good for him and fits his older and more mature self and almost in some parts becomes a rather selfish person even if he redeems himself in the end in a rather bittersweet ending. Jing Wu is best known for his role in SPL and Wandering Earth 1 and 2 has truly shed a new light of a more emotional character. However because this is a prequel, his character loses the overall surprise element as we all know he makes it out in the end or else he wouldn’t be in the first film. This is also a key issue with making prequels after their original films. While I haven’t seen Xuejian Li in anything else as Mainland China cinema is still rather new to myself, the actor is incredible as the firm political leader who has full faith in his decisions. His assistant however is an underrated actress from her previous roles in the main female lead in Unrequited Love (currently available on Netflix Canada), and the much more conflicting role in River Flows To You and here even as the assistant, she shines as her character goes through character development where as her boss gets older, her confidence also builds by the end where she can handle the political scene on her own. The character designs are all really good including Sha Yi who previously I’ve only seen in Chinese variety shows but delivers a very nice side of his story both as the mentor of Jing Wu’s character but delivers that breath of fresh air needed between the increasingly tense and dangerous situation.

Overall, The Wandering Earth 2 is pretty decent. It keeps a lot of the strengths of its first one from world building, visuals and its imagination for the future of Earth. Its a grand idea to move Earth around in the solar system and to make the elements work, its pretty thought out (at least for myself whose forte is not in engineering). The characters are pretty well-strctured and has a lot of room for development which is a benefit of the long runtime. Its only fault is the almost 3 hour runtime which makes the whole affair feels dragged out in the middle especially when things slow down to the more melodramatic moments which could have been more condensed. If you enjoyed The Wandering Earth, this one should still be a fun time.

*The Wandering Earth 2 is exclusively in theatres and IMAX since January 22nd*

*Screener provided by Well Go USA*

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Director (and writer): Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Noah Segan

Famed Southern detective Benoit Blanc travels to Greece for his latest case. – IMDB

Glass Onion is something of a sequel to Knives Out and takes place in May 2020 in the midst of the pandemic when a tech billionaire Miles Bron issues puzzle box invitations to his best friends for a little weekend of murder mystery game on a Greek Island. Surprisingly, Southern detective Benoit Blanc who is spending excessive time in the bathtub trying to understand Among Us receives one as well. Like him, the former partner Andi also shows up at the party despite the fallout. As Blanc explores the island, he soon learns that he wasn’t invited by Miles and soon learns that this murder mystery game might not be a game after all when every single guest seems to have their own motive to kill Miles and this search is solidified when a death does happen.

Knives Out is hands-down the best first watch I had in this year so its sequel is one that’s been very high on the anticipated films list (as my main source of new releases are all on Netflix and they have some slim pickings). Knives Out and Glass Onion, while both captivating that Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery style, they are both different foundations of cleverness. Knives Out was all about the moment where the rug is pulled from under its audience and how to get away from it but Glass Onion places its cards all on the table and its about catching those details and then creating doubt in those pieces and bringing it all in to make sense. Its purposefully silly but its intended to be that way, which is what gives it that dark comedy element. Comedy, of course, is subjective however it worked for myself incredibly well especially in the final act.

The setting for Glass Onion is also twofold as physically they are heading to an island in Greece which holds the Glass Onion structure, which is also a central piece of its setting but the structural elements of this architecture plays greatly into the mystery and this group of friends on the island. Its setting is used effectively to add more depth to it scene to scene from its smokeless gardens to its actual interior. There is just one detail that feels incohesive and inexplicable in the endgame which involves the setting. The physical element is great but the actual time setting is 2020 during the first few months of the pandemic when everyone was on lockdown which makes some of these characters and moments feel like theres a deeper message behind the whole plot and its characters especially the owner of the Glass Onion who made the murder mystery game.

The cast this time is still pretty incredible as well. Not quite the collection of acting veterans like the first film but still holds quite a few. Rian Johnson also is currently directed four final appearances through his two Knives film with Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury playing as themselves in a cameo as Benoit Blanc’s good friends who are playing Among Us with each other. At one moment in the film, it actually feels like they are reenacting Among Us on the island and its actually pretty neat even though I’m not quite sure whether that was intentional or not. Packed with a rather clueless celebrity Kate Hudson has Birdie and her assistant Peg played by Jessica Henwick, Edward Norton as Miles Bron, Janelle Monae as Andi with some cameos of Hugh Grant, Ethan Hawke, Yo-yo Ma, Serena Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s voice and of course mentioned before, Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury. Edward Norton as the billionaire is truly such a suitable role and his small expressions to the whole feeling of this character really links closely to some billionaires in real life (almost feeling like there’s a hidden statement there). Janelle Monae is a personal favorite of mine as she might not always be in great films but she’s always great in those films and this one is no exception. As for Benoit Blanc, this more comedic version of him actually works really well for Daniel Craig and that Southern air with exclamations of “fiddlesticks” and “shitballs” truly is so much fun.

Overall, Glass Onion is a real treat. In terms of mystery complexity, Knives Out actually pulls ahead on that one with a plot twist that created more shock value. Glass Onion is a different beast but still manages to be incredibly entertaining. The final act is probably one of the best pay-offs that I’ve watched in a long time which teases its audience a little with a lot of “dumb” (as Benoit Blanc calls it). Great casting, beautiful use of the setting, approachable mystery: I’m always one to gripe about those over 2 hour films but Glass Onion just flew by. There is one scene that I feel hasn’t been explained yet and seems like a plot hole perhaps but the whole set-up and twist is so clever that this is one of those cases where a great pay-off can offset those little flaws.

Double Feature: Great White (2021) & The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Halloween month kicks off with an Australian shark film double feature. I couldn’t think of a better way than to pair up my fave horror subgenre to kick things off! Let’s check it out!

Great White (2021)

Director: Martin Wilson

Cast: Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Jason Wilder, Tatjana Marjanovic

A fun filled flight to a remote atoll turns into a nightmare for five passengers when their seaplane is destroyed in a freak accident and they are trapped on a raft, 100 miles from shore with man-eating sharks lurking beneath the surface. – IMDB

Great White is an Australian shark film which is mostly similar to The Reef (review), playing on the more serious shark film style where it builds up on tension and atmosphere. The story takes form with the group stranded in open waters and being circled by sharks in a lifesaver as they gradually paddle their way to the closest land. In theory, the film holds a lot of potential since this formula does work well. The emptiness and loneliness of the location plus the unknown elements at play all contribute to that formula. However, what puts Great White in disadvantage is that the story and writing itself is not well-executed and the characters mostly feel a little lacking.

Looking at the story and writing, there’s some big execution issues here. If you follow the time stamps on the film, there’s a decent set up for the situation where the bad stuff happens also relatively quickly. In usual circumstances, that’s a rather decent pacing. However, where things fall apart is that the events focus heavily on the group of stranded characters and the many hidden emotions they have with each other which leads to the story, despite the presence of the shark in the background being a threat, it also brings up on the human side a lot where some characters truly become a very grating experience and wondering when the next attack would be. Thing is, once they start off, things do happen but they do have a great deal of time together in this floatation device before the shark makes a move. The shark attack themselves are rather fun especially since a good part of the film is in the dark so the unknown becomes even more apparent.

The writing issue touched on the characters themselves and Great White has a cast of some good and some bad characters. On one side of the spectrum, there are the knowledgeable resourceful people and on the other hand, the whiny and annoying character (one truly stands out) who is filled with some jealousy in his mind that causes him to act out with some dire consequences. If there was any sort of redemption, its that the final face off with the shark, because there always is one, was really fun to watch. A little wild but still an exciting way to wrap up this whole thing while tying together some of the story pieces together.

Overall, Great White is a more serious shark film that leans on tension and atmosphere. In this case, this was counterbalanced by its human interaction which had its pros and cons. The shark bits themselves were done really well however there were some petty human relationships and conversations that ended causing a lot of nuisance to the story as a whole.

The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Director (and writer): Andrew Traucki

Cast: Teressa Liane, Ann Truong, Saskia Archer, Kate Lister, Bridget Burt

After her sister’s murder, Nic, her younger sister and two friends seek solace through a Pacific island kayaking adventure. Hours into the trip the women are stalked by a shark and must band together, face their fears and save each other. – IMDB

For those who have seen The Reef, this one has no connection to it other than featuring a shark who stalks its characters. The Reef: Stalked plays a little faster pace than The Reef which was a much more slow-burn experience. Looking at this one, the pacing and more frequent action bits adds to the shark film experience while the part which lowers it might be the obvious lower budget Go-Pro camera filming and the very odd cuts from one scene to the next at times including the snippets of the shark, however the shark does make a good few appearances. As much I am comparing the two, its truly to give a general picture for those who have seen The Reef, like myself. The Reef sequel wasn’t really necessary but it can be appreciated.

Taking the approach of films like 47 Meters Down which takes their sequel in a new story with a similar shark concept, The Reef: Stalked definitely finds itself in a different sort of film. This time, the characters are at sea coping with a loss with different members having different experiences and know-hows which contribute or hinder the group’s progress as they go out on kayak. Its mostly focuses on the flotation devices at this point from kayaks to boats to balances which can create their own dangers with the shark’s appearance. Its a neat element for sure as a lot of the more mainstream shark films haven’t played around with kayaking yet so it feels fresh in that sense. The shark also is more active in this one so the danger hits much quicker. Trading in relationship issues, this time the main character is torn between a tense sister relationship and something like post-traumatic stress disorder from a past event creating its hindrance as well.

The acting here is okay for a shark film. No one here feels like they are super awkward but its adequate to get the role across. The dialogue has some decent moments and some that truthfully feels a little hard to digest. It does have a moment which calls sharks “men in grey suits” which of course, that character gets offed first because we all know to not mock sharks in silly descriptions and strip them from their danger element in these films. There is also a moment of childhood endangerment that also creates a rather tense piece which has somewhat of a callback to various other shark films but fits well in this piece to kick off the final act to not only seek help. It is a rather awkward transition of events when the group decides the only way to escape is to kill it which feels like an oddly sudden deduction of events for their situation.

The Reef: Stalked is an average shark movie overall. Compared to its first film, this one is probably easier to get into because it has more action and shark attacks and things move along much quicker after the first scene is established to build up its main character. However, the film does have some moments which transition awkwardly from the weird shark footage cuts to some odd decisions from its characters, its not exactly unpredictable but there are a few good moments.

Double Feature: Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020) & Rogue (2007)

Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020)

Director: John Pogue

Cast: Tania Raymonde, Nathaniel Buzolic, Emerson Brooks, Bren Foster, Reina Aoi, Alex Bhat, Siya Mayola, Avumile Qongqo

Studying the effects of climate change off the coast of Mozambique, a marine biologist and her team confront three genetically enhanced bull sharks. Now, a new bloodbath is waiting to happen in the name of science. Will humans never learn? – IMDB

While Deep Blue Sea (review) is undoubtedly one of my favorite shark films ever, Deep Blue Sea 2 (review) was absolutely one of the most unsatisfying ones that I have watched. Its hard to fathom what this final film in this series is going to bring especially as it plays out as a direct sequel to the second film. Deep Blue Sea 3 might not really be any incredible shark film but it does deliver some decent entertainment. Of course, this depends what you look for in shark films. For myself, itself some creative shark kills (ridiculous as some of it might seem) and some fun characters and dialogue that might even add in a few laughs. As serious as Deep Blue Sea is, whether its the age or the bad effects, it had a decent balance of tension and fun to make it stand out. Deep Blue Sea 3 might not be in the same league as tension isn’t exactly high on the charts as the plot is a little too silly but there are some things that are done well enough to have a good time.

As mentioned before, Deep Blue Sea 3 picks up after the events of the second film as they try to track down the genetically enhanced bull sharks before they mate. Conveniently, they end up at an abandoned village on the water which has 2 inhabitants remaining and a small shark preservation crew has taken over with a underwater nursery to help monitor and preserve great white sharks. The crew itself consists of marine biologist Emma (Tania Raymonde) and Shaw (Emerson Brooks) who is something of a mentor and the muscle here, much like the tech-savvy Spin (Alex Bhat) and marine analyst Miya (Reina Aoi) are behind the scenes monitoring the situation when the boat carrying Emma’s college fling Richard (Nathaniel Buzolic) and his crew who are commissioned to find the bull sharks enter into the picture but decides to hide the grittier facts of the whole situation until they slowly get revealed and things get way out of control.

Let’s be honest here: Deep Blue Sea 3 is not exactly a great shark film, its not probably not even considered a good one. Looking at the plot and the dialogue, it walks on some thin ground. There’s some unnecessary romance side plot that doesn’t get anywhere; the usual untimely confession of feelings right before things go bad; some of the attacks are extremely predictable; dialogue feels a little ridiculous and cheesy at times. We’re not even looking at the big picture of the plot especially with the “bad guys” being not only the genetically modified bull sharks who not only swim backwards (which was a trait from the first film) but also recognizes bombs and reacts to mommy shark’s frequency, the bad guys are the crew from the big corporation who suddenly decides that they need to get down to business to get rid of the sharks and then decides to do stupid decisions like getting their minions to finish up a fight or just drop their weapons and go into hand to hand combat. Its actually quite funny to watch in all its ridiculousness. However, as much as there are things to criticize about the film, Deep Blue Sea 3 doesn’t really take itself that seriously and that really does help with the whole thing since it makes the second half when the whole island village goes down all the more fun with the sudden and unexpected shark kills to the big showdown finale.

There’s really not a whole lot to say about Deep Blue Sea 3 because its a rather middling experience. Its a fun time for sure if you enjoy shark films the way that I do in all its stupidity and ridiculousness but delivering some shark kills that take you by surprise. I mean, the effects here for the sharks at times reminds us that Deep Blue Sea from the start until now doesn’t seem like its changed much and that is a good or bad thing. Deal is, there are a ton of issues with Deep Blue Sea 3 that you can hate on it a lot. Honestly, I feel like they should have just left Deep Blue Sea in 1999 and never done any sequels but since the sequels are here, at least this one isn’t quite the wreck that the second film was. Maybe it simply had to do with the fact that its not another underground facility but much more minimalistic and embraces the “open waters”/open space a little bit more and keeps things above ground a little more as well.

Rogue (2007)

Director (and writer): Greg McLean

Cast: Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell, Sam Worthington, Caroline Brazier, Stephen Curry, Celia Ireland, John Jarratt, Heather Mitchell, Geoff Morrell, Damien Richardson, Robert Taylor, Mia Wasikowska, Barry Otto

An American journalist on assignment in the Australian outback encounters a man-eating crocodile while trapped on a rapidly flooding mud island. – IMDB

Allow me a moment to celebrate as Rogue finally gets added to the Netflix catalogue (Netflix Canada at least). Not the Megan Fox action thriller but the Australian crocodile creature feature. With the fun experiences of several crocodile/alligator creature features like Crawl (review), Alligator and Lake Placid (review), Rogue has been a film on my radar for a pretty long time and it lived up to my expectations. Directed by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean, Rogue steers away from the torture porn horror style and dives into the creature feature genre as a group of tourists get stuck on a tiny mud island as the tide comes in with a crocodile lurking nearby ready to attack.

Australia is such a prime location with all it deadly animals lurking about for creature feature content and yet, there’s not quite enough films to use that setting. Rogue actually takes the creature feature for a very different ride. The film captures the beauty where this tourist excursions are taking place, focusing on the nature around them and the lay of the land from up above and takes the time at the start to give this boatful of tourists as well as their tour guide a chance to show some of their characteristics and personalities before thrusting them into danger. It gives some context to who this group will be dealing with.

At the same time, the crocodile doesn’t really get as much camera time and is slowly revealed bit by bit. It gives it the mysterious element of how big this crocodile actually is while still using a crocodile’s hunting both to educate the viewers but creating some foreshadow of what to expect. There’s the unexpected window between kills which looms over the tourists and just how quickly they can be picked off while how much risk is too much risk to try to get off the island with both the night and the tide coming in all becoming pressuring factors. The way that the film uses these elements is what makes Rogue a tense creature feature.

Looking at the cast, there are some familiar faces here with Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan and Sam Worthington are the obvious recognizable ones. They also are the leading and bigger roles here with a little more focus on their characters throughout the film. Michael Vartan plays a travel journalist who finds himself becoming quite the hero in the process as the group starts falling apart and everyone’s true colors start showing. For Wolf Creek fans, John Jarratt appears here in a much more toned down type of role, much like there’s a young Mia Wasikowska playing the young daughter of a couple on the tour. With bigger groups of this, there are always a few characters which are outlined a little frustratingly and this was no exception.

Overall, Rogue is a pretty effective creature feature. It delivers a pretty tense crocodile creature feature. The beginning set up is a great contrast to the actual crocodile hunt portion. As much as its almost one location, the final act takes it into another area which gives it a nice change and adds to the danger element to push it a little further. Definitely an enjoyable one and one that I’d highly recommend to check out.

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2)
By Marissa Meyer

Genre: YA/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Fairy Tale Retelling

Cinder returns in the second thrilling installment of the New York Times-bestselling Lunar Chronicles.

She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother and the grave danger she has lived in her whole life.

When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she has no choice but to trust him, though he clearly has a few dark secrets of his own. As Scarlet and Wolf work to unravel one mystery, they find another when they cross paths with Cinder. Together, they must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen who will do anything to make Prince Kai her husband, her king, her prisoner.  – Goodreads

The sequel of Cinder (review) and the second book of The Lunar Chronicles picks up right the events of the first. As Cinder is imprisoned and she tries to make her escape, the story shifts simultaneously to Scarlet, a fairytelling retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in this world when her grandmother, an ex-military pilot, goes missing and she ends up meeting a fighter called Wolf who joins her in her search as they trace down the leads. Much like an escaped Cinder who finds companion with Thorne in search of Scarlet’s grandmother as well. More characters and an expanded storyline fills up Scarlet as these two join paths with some help.

Cinder built up a wonderful foundation and world building in the first book, setting up the politics of the story, the feud between Lunar and Eastern Commonwealth, Queen Levana’s plot against Emperor Kaito and Cinder’s basic character and backstory. The strong foundation sets up a great platform for Scarlet to jump off from as its main story is adding more depth to Cinder as she is the key focus of the entire plot that’s being constructed but still having room to discover more with Scarlet’s side especially since her story doesn’t unfold until they do find her grandmother and know what secrets she hides that links to Princess Selene. The whole progression of events is well-paced and pretty adventurous as the dangers pick up one after the next for both Cinder and Scarlet. Scarlet’s story is pretty good since it uses this world to give a decent twist to Wolf who plays into a genetically modified soldier giving them wolf instincts.

To be fair, these stories are fairly straight forward. On one hand, its good because the world takes precedence and its a very easy read to pick up and get into the story quickly. Even if this is the sequel, its not hard to follow where it picks up from the first book and catch up a little on the context fairly easily. If there was something to criticize, Scarlet’s story does have its moments which feels a little bit like the typical love dramas especially in dialogue when things start to take a more romantic take on her and Wolf. The whole thing gets a little soapy and cringe-y at times. However, the story never does forget that the end game is to set up Scarlet and Cinder’s meeting as they join forces to set up their next step to fight against Queen Levana.

Despite its slight shortcomings, Scarlet is overall a fun read. It sets up a decent platform for the next book as well. As an ending thought, I’m definitely enjoying the world the most as they take these fairy tale retellings and puts them into a sci-fi future. Hopefully, I will be taking a look at Book 3 sooner rather than later.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Director: David Blue Garcia

Cast: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Olwen Fouéré, Jessica Allain, Nell Hudson, Alice Krige, William Hope

After nearly 50 years of hiding, Leatherface returns to terrorize a group of idealistic young friends who accidentally disrupt his carefully shielded world in a remote Texas town. – IMDB

Before we get into the review, I figured I should put it out there that my knowledge of Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is far and few. I haven’t seen the original in the 70s which gets a mentioned in this film and I’ve seen very little of the 2003 mostly because it was one of the first horror films that I saw and I didn’t have quite the stomach or courage to watch it. The only films I’ve seen in the franchise is Texas Chainsaw 3D (review) and Leatherface (review). I keep thinking that I’ve seen the 2006 film as well but I can’t seem to find any evidence of it anywhere and the trailer doesn’t seem to remind me of anything so either I’ve seen and its wiped clean out of my mind or I just haven’t. Looking back at my whole Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise experience to date, it does feel like I’ve watched some rather lackluster films and it probably has to do with the ones I’ve watched in entirety being some pretty subpar films. I can only imagine that it starts off much stronger to have the following it has today.

And yet, with that experience and the convenience of it being a Netflix film, here we are again with 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre which picks up 50 years after the first film when a bunch of young adults head out to revitalize the ghost town of Harlow and making an inconsiderate decision that ends up causing their demise and waking up the chainsaw-wielding slasher that we all know, Leatherface. Suffice to say that I got into this film with fairly low expectations and probably because of that, the film turned out to be slightly better than my expectations. Of course, that’s not saying a whole lot since they do have some rather predictable characters and situations and the whole story with the survivor from the 70s story Sally coming back for her revenge was so very weak especially in terms of the dialogue. However, there are some decent jumpscare moments and slasher moments.

Other than some thin characters and some odd dialogue here and there, the story itself isn’t all that bad and the execution is pretty decent as well since it takes into account the modern day trends with the whole social media and cancel culture and giving the whole story a decent amount of body counts to make it all bloody. Not exactly very gory but still an expected amount of blood is spilled. While the idea of reviving a ghost town with a younger vibe despite its past seems like a rather stupid idea considering the history, they do go ahead with it in a quick manner. This applies to the film in general as the execution is incredibly fast: story moves fast, bodies drop fast and the whole situation shifts quickly.

The use of the link to the ’74 film’s character Sally Hardesty (Alice Krige) is one that lacks some finesse especially since she only shows up as more of a subplot and seems to want to try to bank on what Halloween has done with their last 2 films, giving the film the same type of plot line. However, it never quite works considering that the dialogue is quite laughable but does end up giving the main characters a guide and courage to face Leatherface in the final showdown. Talking about the two sisters as the main character, which is a pretty decent base, it follows older sister Melody (Sarah Yarkin) who is one half of the brains behind the revival of the town and takes her younger sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) who has experienced a near death experience in a school shooting prior to this experience, making her back story most interesting. However, their stories never quite get the depth (as expected with a lot of these slasher type films) and it doesn’t help that some of these events feel a tad disjointed. However, the sisterly connection does come into play here and it does make these two more worthy of wanting them to survive these whole situation.

Looking at Leatherface (and you can all judge my inexperience with this part as its more based on my own limited knowledge of the character), the slasher element is probably the stronger part here. Leatherface is revived in this character when he loses his adoptive mother which sends him on this vengeful path. The issue here really starts in this character feeling like he is going back to his origins regardless of his age. It also dials down to whether you think the face reveal of Leatherface is good as well (although I might be wrong but I feel like in one of the origin stories, can’t remember which film it was, it had the younger version of him unmasked). The mask gives his character fear as well as the iconic chainsaw as his weapon of choice so seeing him as the older man that he is loses a bit of the impact at the start, even if it never does have a complete face reveal but an eye here and a glimpse there. It all depends on how you feel about this angle. It does fade away as the film goes along as Leatherface does go into attack mode very quickly with some quick and shocking slasher moments.

Overall, Texas Chainsaw Massacre was alright. In the slasher department, it does what you’d expect however in the narrative and writing, it feels a weaker at times . The concept overall is decent since it does try to link to the original film and give it both a modern day feeling and bring it back to the nostalgia even if both of these motives seem a little silly. The younger cast has its good and bad moments and while the pacing is very quick and bodies all dropping incredibly quickly, boosting up the slasher blood and gore element, it also might be the reason why no one seems to matter too much since they never have enough time on screen to just be a little pawn meant to be an obstacle before they get taken out. On a personal level, this one is better than expected but then, I seem to have skipped out on all the better films of the franchise from the beginning so expectations are fairly low to start with.

Double Feature: A California Christmas (2020) & A California Christmas: City Lights (2021)

A California Christmas (2020)

Director: Shaun Paul Piccinino

Cast: Lauren Swickard, Josh Swickard, Ali Afshar, David Del Rio, Katelyn Epperly, Amanda Detmer, Natalia Mann, Gunnar Anderson, Julie Lancaster

With his carefree lifestyle on the line, a wealthy charmer poses as a ranch hand to get a hardworking farmer to sell her family’s land before Christmas. – IMDB

Being from a place where a white Christmas is usually how it goes, these snowless holiday films sometimes do feel a little strange as it focuses more on the actual romance than the holiday but I suppose that’s how it goes with these sort of Netflix-style “Hallmark” films. A California Christmas is really rather basic. In fact, everything is very simple and predictable whether its the characters to the whole plot itself. It doesn’t carry a whole lot of depth. In these cases, its saving grace will be the chemistry and its setting which the whole small-town farmland has its little fun moments while the chemistry does work seeing as the two leads are actually married in real life which definitely helps things and makes it feel rather natural.

What saves this movie a little bit is that the rich spoiled brat male lead comes to this town to try to pretend to be someone else and use that as a manipulative plot to get them to sell as per his company and his mother the CEO’s request, with that plot comes the blending together and a somewhat fish out of water story as he learns how to do all these farm tasks, posing as a farm hand called Manny who ends up trading up that life for a rather relaxing one with his assistant, Leo. Where the film did have its most fun was the ridiculous and rather comedic moments between Leo and Manny as their friendship grew throughout. Of course, the romance wasn’t all too bad either considering they pulled in a family angle that tugged a little on the heartstrings.

A California Christmas is really everything that you’d expect from this type of holiday romance. Its acceptable for those who enjoy these films but nothing too special for anyone looking for something more.

A California Christmas: City Lights (2021)

Director: Shaun Paul Piccinino

Cast: Lauren Swickard, Josh Swickard, Ali Afshar, David Del Rio, Natalia Mann, Raquel Dominguez, Laura James, Noah James, Julie Lancaster

Follows Callie and Joseph one year after they fell in love, now running a dairy farm and winery, but their romance is threatened when business and family obligations call Joseph back to the city. – IMDB

The sequel of last year’s A California Christmas moves the farmland setting to the city lights of San Francisco as Joseph is summoned back to the city to take care of the company as his mother runs off and passes the duties over to him. Faced with the upcoming nuptials and fitting into the city as well as the different person that Joseph seems to be in the city as well as a lot of revelations about his past life there, Callie starts to have her own doubts.

A California Christmas: City Lights is a step down from the first film. While the first was predictable, this sequel actually feels a lot more unnecessary. Some things in the script feel like a stretch and there is this very odd tone especially with some very cheesy and over the top moments, specifically one where its probably meant to be humorous but didn’t quite hit that way with Manny’s character as he tries to capture the attention of Callie’s best friend Brandy. Its a rather empty sort of pursuit as the connection goes from nothing to something in a very short amount of time. The family element also gets traded out as Callie and Joseph is away in another city but still trying to get those moments in.

The focus is still on Callie and Joseph, the main couple here who is caught up in this new location and new responsibilities respectively. Between the plots of the ex-girlfriend and this whole other side of Joseph comes to light for Callie, it creates these moments of tension as the city undoubtedly tears them apart literally, making it hard to find time to spend together. This plotline actually is one that I’m not a huge fan of in general. Call it a romance film issue that is used so frequently with just secrets and lack of communication which is usually the source all the problems. While its inevitable that it needs to be used to create conflict, it also feels like for the frequent viewer of such films, it such a simple solution whether its talking things through or just commuting to see each other to sort things out whether than each sulking in their own corners.

Sure, I didn’t have high expectations for A California Christmas: City Lights since the first movie was a rather average sort of viewing experience. This film however took some very odd and silly plot points that just felt like while the backdrop of San Francisco has some really nice cityscape, and the world they shift to is rather glamorous, the film in general is dull. It actually took quite a few sittings to get through it. Some of the issues once resolved were pretty decent but the script and the execution was just not too balanced.

Halloween Marathon 2021 Double Feature: The Boy (2016) & Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

The Boy (2016)

Director: William Brent Bell

Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, Ben Robson, James Russell

An American nanny is shocked that her new English family’s boy is actually a life-sized doll. After she violates a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe that the doll is really alive. – IMDB

At the first glance, The Boy feels like a generic horror film. Using dolls who come alive with evil outcomes isn’t exactly a novel idea at this point with Chucky and Annabelle taking its own stage. This also makes for some obvious horror tropes that show up in this film as well which feels a little predictable at times. However, the setting does itself a lot of favors as the mansion that its set in is the Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Nothing quite like a castle to capture the expansive space which is used incredibly well throughout the film as it navigates through the different areas of the house which all has its own purpose.

The foreigner going to a huge mansion for a nanny job is also a decent angle as the audience learns about the house and discovers its secrets along the way. The rules itself and her little observations along with the conversations she has and relationships she builds also brings a lot to the table as her story gets revealed. A girl running from her recent past to evade her own set of dangers and hoping that it doesn’t chase after her as well as facing her own losses which all become all too relatable in terms of the story of the family living in the house.

However, The Boy is its best when the big reveal is shown as it does has quite a shocking element. Of course, for those who are like myself who went into this knowing very little, I’m keeping that part spoiler-free. If there were any creeps, its definitely the big reveal that does pay off in the long run. In that element, it definitely exceeded expectations.

Sure, The Boy isn’t some top tier horror film with some sophisticated scares and for the most part, its more creepy than actually scary. However, it does have a clever twist reveal and the setting does have its haunting elements. There are some obvious issues with it but somehow, its always fun to find something that exceeds expectations and creates some surprises, right?

Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

Director: William Brent Bell

Cast: Katie Holmes, Christopher Convery, Owain Yeoman, Ralph Ineson, Daphne Hoskins, Keoni Rebeiro, Joely Collins

After a family moves into the Heelshire Mansion, their young son soon makes friends with a life-like doll called Brahms. – IMDB

Its a tad surprising to see that The Boy got a sequel mostly because the first movie does wrap up the situation enough and doesn’t really need to be further explored however, here we are! The sequel expands on the story in the future as years has passed between the first film’s events to the current events as a family moves into the guest house on the Heelshire Mansion property to heal from a burglary attack in their home that has caused psychological troubles to both the mother and the son. As they arrive and their son strays off into the woods and finds the life-like doll Brahms from the first film. Questions automatically pop up as to what has happened since and why its been buried outside. This makes the audience right away more aware than the characters themselves.

In reality, what made the first film shine was its use of the rather unique twist which gave it a lot of boost from its rather generic horror style. The sequel dials back to be a lot more predictable. It has to do a lot with already knowing what tricks the doll is capable of doing and knowing what it will do and rather just having that moment of building atmosphere to when it will do it. However, this film dives further into the lore of Brahms from the origins of the dolls to its dark past which changes the game a little for the film but still taking a more normal path. It ends up adding to the story which can be appreciated but it doesn’t feel too unpredictable that its much less enjoyable overall.

Brahms: The Boy II brings in Katie Holmes as the mother in the leading role. Its been a while since I’ve personally seen anything of hers and with what she had to work with, it was a pretty decent job. Whether its how the film tracks her character development from the traumatic start at the beginning to having to pull out the stops to protect her son from this doll before it would take him away. There is something rather sinister about the whole situation and the son played by Christopher Convery does a decent job as well. There are some well-executed horror moments in the film.

As a sequel, its pretty much exactly what would be expected. Even if it did build on the lore of the doll itself, the film overall is pretty bland. Its fairly predictable and expected. There’s not really anyone who says or does anything to unexpected and nothing too surprising that happens. It goes exactly as you’d expect a sequel from The Boy might go right down to the ending where it pretty much tries to set up the film for the unresolved issue under wraps, just in case it ever gets greenlit for another sequel.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Thomas Cocquerel, Holland Roden, Indya Moore, Carlito Olivero, Deborah Ann Woll

Six people unwillingly find themselves locked in another series of escape rooms, slowly uncovering what they have in common to survive. Joining forces with two of the original survivors, they soon discover they’ve all played the game before. – IMDB

Taking place soon after the ending of Escape Room (review), the sequel starts off the previous films survivors trying to track down Minos and reveal their evil plans. However, they yet again get caught up in another escape room game when their subway tram breaks away from the rest and takes another course where they realized that the other people are all past survivors of previous Escape Rooms each themed with their own experiences and traumas with one survivor quickly revealing the subtitle of the sequel “Tournament of Champions” near the very beginning.

While Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a sequel, it isn’t completely necessary to see the first film as the beginning of the film does a quick recap of what happens and fills in the audience of the key elements that needs to be remembered and if you happen to be one of those adventurous audience who likes to jump into sequels regardless of its prior film, then that should helps. Much like its first film, it manages to retain one of its strengths and that is the room designs themselves. The room designs here right down to the different dangerous elements and the time countdown really kind of ups itself from its predecessor. If anything, the progression of room designs all have their own story and even their own sort of flow. For viewers of the first film, it might start seeing this sort of similarity in the general progression of the rooms. This one starts on fairly high stakes as it plays with electricity and does slow itself down. There’s a lot to love here as each room gives pretty engaging obstacles to solve its puzzles, each having its own theme as well.

Looking at the characters itself, as mentioned before, they are all people that have won/survived previous Escape Rooms designed by Minos which gives an idea of who they are when they talk about their themed sessions of the group that was gathered. The main character is still the girl from the first film, Zoey (Taylor Russell) who gets involved after dragging along the other survivor from her game, Ben to follow the trail of clues to hopefully take down Minos, however getting caught back into its claws for the next game. These two are almost like the brains of the operations. Perhaps its the element that these all are survivors and know what’s at stake and want to flip it around, they work together much more quickly and figure out the puzzles with a lot of cooperation. The whole cast here is actually pretty decent. There is some bad dialogue and some overacting which happens fairly early in the film but slowly does fade away as other elements of the game starts to piece together.

Keeping to my spoiler-free style here, the pieces all come together to a fairly interesting twist to the film which brings it to its final act. The twist itself being pretty good overall and demonstrates the manipulation and power of this “evil” corporation on many different levels. Sure, I’m going to say it again like with the first film that I’m not a fan of films that seem to want to bait the unnecessary sequel set-up or leave it at this weird cliffhanger like there’s always more which doesn’t keep it as standalone and plus, its so normal for films to do that now that it makes it so predictable and yet, its hard to say that there isn’t a smidge of cleverness and curiosity on how far they can carry this concept.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is currently available to watch on demand and was released on Blu-Ray and DVD today (October 5th).

*Screener received from TARO PR*

Double Feature: Bigfoot Family (2020) & Flushed Away (2006)

Time for the next double feature! This time its an animated film double with a 2020 sequel Bigfoot Family and a 2006’s Flushed Away! Let’s check it out!

Bigfoot Family (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Jeremy Degruson & Ben Stassen

Voice Cast: Jules Wojciechowski, Roger Craig Smith, Grant George, David Lodge, Lindsey Alena, Sandy Fox, Joey Lotsko

Follow up to Son of Bigfoot: Father uses his new fame to fight against an Alaska oil company but when he disappears the son, the mother, a raccoon and a bear head North to rescue him. – IMDB

Having no idea that it was a sequel when started up Bigfoot Family, the good thing is that it didn’t really need the first movie to understand what was going on however, I also never heard of the first film so I guess that’s why I didn’t draw the connection. With that said, Bigfoot Family is rather straightforward and fun type of animated adventure film. It is a bit wild and imaginative especially since it starts off with Bigfoot being quite the man of fame and in the spotlight and decides in his busy schedule to use his popularity to do some good and decides to head to Alaska to protest against some oil company for doing harm to the environment leading him to get caught. His family finds it odd and heads up on a road trip with the two of the animals, a raccoon and a bear to go with them. Like I said, imaginative and fun.

The premise is pretty fun and definitely geared towards a younger audience however, the sense of adventure is there as it jumps between the different members of the family and what’s going on. The only issue with it probably would be that the beginning is more exciting to watching than the ending which felt a little predictable but then this is a family film and most of the time, it is pretty easy to figure out which is I’d expect is great for kids as its more straight-forward in plot. The ending is pretty fast-paced and action-packed but the plot feels a little empty even if it does highlight family and environment messages.

There’s not a whole lot to say about this one. Overall, the voice acting and premise is pretty good. It also delivers a decent message. I’m going to look out to see whether the first film, Son of Bigfoot gets added on Netflix at some point so that I can check it out.

Flushed Away (2006)

Directors: David Bowers & Sam Fell

Voice Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, Shane Richie

The story of an uptown rat that gets flushed down the toilet from his penthouse apartment, ending in the sewers of London, where he has to learn a whole new and different way of life. – IMDB

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

Following two stop-motion projects for Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit between Aardman Animations and Dreamworks Animations, their third and final project together was Flushed Away, an all-CGI animated film due to the story being focused around water which would affect the stop-motion elements.

Flushed Away tells the story of a pet rat, Roddy St-James (Hugh Jackman) living in a high-end Kensington home when he gets flushed down the toilet by a sewer rat Sid who decides to live his luxurious life especially with the World Cup Finals around the corner. Following the sewers and pipes, he ends up at Ratropolis which resembles a sewer version of the city of London where he meets Rita (Kate Winslet), a rat being chased down by Toad (Ian McKellan) for stealing a ruby and in the getaway runs off with an important cable which leads Toad and his French cousin Le Frog (Jean Reno) to go in a chase to retrieve it before the World Cup Finals in order to undergo a plan. Between going back to his luxurious life and protecting these new friends that he’s made, Roddy has to make a decision about whether being on the surface is better than the sewers while also trying to save Ratropolis for Toad’s plans.

Flushed Away is a charming film. Very much so when it was first released and still manages to keep its charm in this rewatch especially as it has a lot of pun jokes and movie puns added into the script which makes for quite an entertaining viewing. At the same time, there’s also a decent soundtrack which cues up in certain scenarios with the slugs that are all over the place singing which is both cute and very fitting. Plus, the art is really nice even if it does resemble the design of Wallace & Gromit character styling but the story keeps these characters in check especially with the actors involved doing the voices.

With that said, the cast is pretty good. Probably not as famous for some as they are now since they’ve moved on bigger projects since 2006 which gained them a lot more fame however, they are deliver pretty great voice acting. With Hugh Jackman as Roddy and Kate Winslet as Rita, two actor and actress that are really great in their own regard especially Kate Winslet which makes such a wonderful Rita (but then I do like Kate Winslet a lot). Toad and Le Frog, as the villains are voiced by Ian McKellan and Jean Reno respectively which are also veteran actors while Toad’s henchmen are voiced by Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy also two known names. Its a great cast of actors put together for this animated film that makes these characters so dynamic and fun to watch come to life even if some of the moments are both ridiculous but still very entertaining to watch.

In some ways, Flushed Away almost feels like a hidden gem. Not a lot of talk about it in general and yet there’s a lot of greatness to it both in cast and the animation as a whole. The story is pretty simple and straightforward and rather suitable for kids especially with the cute slugs and their singing however the dialogue is pretty clever overall. Lots of things done right in this one that makes it worth a watch!