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!

Double Feature: Over The Moon (2020) & Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is something of a musical double feature as we look at Netflix animated film Over The Moon and the Mamma Mia sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Let’s check it out!

Over The Moon (2020)

Directors: Glen Keane, John Kahrs

Voice Cast: Cathy Ang, John Cho, Edie Ichioka, Ruthie Ann Miles, Sandra Oh, Robert G. Chiu, Margaret Cho, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong

In this animated musical, a girl builds a rocket ship and blasts off, hoping to meet a mythical moon goddess. – IMDB

Over The Moon tells the story of a Chinese girl Fei Fei who is told the story of the Moon Goddess who takes a potion of immortality and is sent to live on the moon with her Jade Rabbit and waits for her lover there. A story that has its own different versions but has its own set of life lessons. Living with her parents who make moon cakes for a living, her life eventually falls apart when her mother is sick and eventually leaves her and her father as well a little pet bunny Bungee. Years later on Moon Festival, her father introduces her to Mrs. Zhong, a woman that will be her stepmother and Chin, a weird little boy who thinks he has the superpower to run through walls to be his stepbrother. Her father and family judge her for her belief in Chang’e and she goes to build a rocket to go to the moon which takes her a crazy journey when Chang’e and the moon isn’t all that she imagined, especially when she finds that Chin has tagged along for the ride. 

Using the legend of the Moon Goddess and a quick look at the Moon Festival as a jumping point for the story, Over The Moon’s delivers a message about moving on and family. With some colorful imaginative parts especially from the part of building the rocket and flying to the moon and the whole sequence on the moon with Chang’e and all of the moon’s occupants, it’s a fun little adventure and the studio’s take on what the Moon Goddess is doing after being sent to the moon. The animation and creativity in those sequences are pretty good but perhaps the parts of the animation with the Fei Fei’s mom at the beginning with some watercolor/Chinese painting coming to life stands out even more just based on how beautiful those scenes are executed. 

Over The Moon also has a great voice cast with John Cho, Margaret Cho, Sandra Oh and Ken Jeong even if some of the roles might be a little smaller. Fei Fei is voiced by Cathy Ang and does a pretty good job much like Chang’e is voiced by Phillipa Soo. This is a musical so the songs are pretty fun for the most part. It’s not quite as memorable as other musicals but some of the scenes are pretty nice as well. Talking about voice casts and languages, the film actually took some time for the Mandarin voice casts and script to have little changes that cater to their own audience especially with the comedic elements, which is a cool little detail seeing as this is American-Chinese but it is based on an animated film set in China. 

Overall, Over The Moon is a fun little animated film. It might not be particularly as deep and probably caters more to children with its cute little elements of Bungee and the dog on the moon Gobi and other little colorful creatures on the moon. It is rather heartwarming.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Ol Parker

Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Andy Garcia, Alex Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Hugh Skinner, Pierce Brosnan, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Cher, Meryl Streep

Five years after the events of Mamma Mia! (2008), Sophie prepares for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna as she learns more about her mother’s past. – IMDB

Being a fan of the first movie, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is released ten years after and its a rather good look as the characters have all gotten older as well just like Sophie and her return. In some ways, the movie does feel like a fun little jump back into the story especially for fans of the musical since they got back a lot (if not all) of the original cast of the first one and the sequel adds a little something as it fills in those pieces of the first movie, like how Donna met her three suitors and ended up with Sophie and staying on the island. For sure, its not exactly a needed story to tell but as much as I had my own doubts about it, it still has that feel-good vibe of the first film that left me really happy as I watched the musical and the musical numbers play out one by one.

With that said, one of the best things for sequels is having the original cast show up for this one. It shows the family essentially being separate but each on a different path in this future but the island and the family pulling them all back together. These characters are rather fun and charming. Fluctuating between the past and the present does add a lot of fun to it. The younger cast still manages to carry the film fairly well especially as Lily James plays the young Donna. It also comes with a cameo of Cher and Meryl Streep which is also pretty cool.

Overall, I honestly feel that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is for the fans of the original film. If you didn’t care of it, this sequel probably will do nothing for you. While its story is fairly straight forward that you don’t really need to know the first film to catch on to the story (maybe it will hinder the relationships of the characters in the present time), its still just a feel-good musical with those fun ABBA songs. Its just a fun time for those who enjoy musicals. Plus, I really liked the Waterloo performance in those outfits at the end of the first film and they did it again for this one in a slightly different way which was also entertaining.

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

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

Halloween (2018)

Director: David Gordon Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guns Akimbo (2019)

Director (and writer): Jason Lei Howden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s check it out!

Future World (2018)

Director: James Franco & Bruce Thierry Cheung

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Jake Kasdan

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

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

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

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

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

Double Feature: Angela’s Christmas Wish (2020) & The Grinch (2018)

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wrapping up this year’s Holidays marathon on Christmas day is how it usually works so the next double feature is the final 2 movies of the marathon, although I did have one more alternate Christmas movie but we’ll pair it up later after Christmas. This time, its a animated Christmas films double feature with a Netflix sequel, Angela’s Christmas Wish and 2018’s adaptation, The Grinch.

Let’s check it out!

Angela’s Christmas Wish (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Damien O’Connor

Voice cast: Lucy O’Connell, Ruth Negga, Moe Dunford, Brendan Mullins, Shona Hamill, Oscar Butler, Janet Moran

A sequel to the much loved Angela’s Christmas, Angela’s Christmas Wish is a heart-warming tale of a determined little girl who sets out to reunite her family in time for Christmas. – IMDB

There’s something so heartwarming about Angela’s Christmas Wish. It has that same type of charming little girl character for Angela that continues from Angela’s Christmas (review) where Angela’s imagination is one that makes it so beautiful to be a child because of the naivety to believe in the things that she knows probably isn’t true but also shows her big heart. Last year was keeping baby Jesus warm and stirring up a lot of commotion that the townspeople hasn’t quite forgotten as it still gets mentioned but this year, its running around trying to bring her father home. Being an adult watching this, its obvious that whatever she is thinking up is absolutely impossible to happen and the adults do bring it up, however its the persistence and the pure hope of bringing her father back home that makes this such a heartwarming tale, which takes her on an adventure and makes a new friend in the process.

Wrapping it up with a tale about a pauper and what he wished for that made him happy as a string between the conversation and a Christmas surprise to look forward to, Angela’s Christmas Wish is all about family, the meaning of happiness and the best intentions. The story is all about the kids and their shenanigans especially based on their simple minded ideas that kids have, liking digging to Australia. Its all the world that crafts up these cute funny moments that make up this story and makes Angela such a charming character who has this convincing enthusiasm that makes her brother and this other little girl to follow along her since her wish would make for her father getting involved and that would allow him to spend time with her. Its all these little desires from children to be close to their parents and yet, adults can see through those beyond the lines moment that make it so meaningful to watch.

Angela’s Christmas Wish is a fun and heartwarming story. One that has all the right values and such charming characters in a cute little town. The ending bit was so touching also that I got a little teary. Its one definitely worth a watch, especially since its less than 50 minutes in length.

The Grinch (2018)

Director: Yarrow Cheney & Scott Mosier

Voice cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Pharrell Williams, Tristan O’Hare, Kenan Thompson, Sam Lavagnino, Ramone Hamilton, Angela Lansbury, Scarlett Estevez

A grumpy Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) plots to ruin Christmas for the village of Whoville. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea Friday Film Club*

Based on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the third screen adaptation following the 1966 classic TV adaptation and the 2000 live action film, The Grinch is a computer animated film and the second Dr. Seuss by Illumination following The Lorax. Illumination is rather on point with these adaptation. For those who are unfamiliar of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, its about a green-furred Grinch who was born with two hearts too small who lives alone in the mountains with his dog Max above Whoville. The Whos are festive and love Christmas a lot which rubs The Grinch the wrong way that he decides to put a stop to it by disguising as Santa on Christmas Eve and stealing all their decorations, gifts and foods to stop them from celebrating Christmas however, he soon realizes that Christmas is more than the material things and that its all about the Christmas spirit which lives in them and ends up with this revelation making his heart grow two sizes and deciding to give back all that he stole to the Whos who in turn, take him in for their Christmas holiday.

While the first adaptation in 1966 is the one that most interprets the original story, these adaptations all add their own twists to fluff up the full length. In this adaptation, it gives the Grinch a backstory that makes him less of the disagreeable character but one where he grows up suffering from being alone that he doesn’t know how it feels to have companionship whether as friends or family. At the same time, giving a lot of life to certain characters in Whoville and not just focusing on Cindy Lou Who. She still plays a big element but giving her more of a backstory, a ploy to meet Santa with her friends and a connection with her mom. Sure, maybe it does stretch far from the original but all this does add a lot of fun characters. Cindy Lou Who and her friends are very adorable in design just like Max and the addition of a buffalo and then there’s the very fun neighbor Mr. Bricklebaum.

Plus, there’s a decent cast of voice actors from Grinch by Benedict Cumberbatch, Cindy Lou’s mom by Rashida Jones, Cindy Lou by Cameron Seely and Mr. Bricklebaum voiced by Kenan Thompson. Of course, a big part of Dr. Seuss story is the Narrator. In this case, its narrated by Pharrell Williams who actually has some narration that strays away from the original text but still keeps the rhyming and creative elements.

This adaptation of The Grinch still has a lot of heart. Its light and fun and fairly entertaining. There’s no doubt that The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is its best without all the extra bits but as its straightforward story like the 1966 TV movie, however this version does an exceptional job at making it very entertaining. Its still full of the Christmas spirit and its a great effort as an adaptation plus in my opinion, its much more redeeming than the 2000 live action adaptation. This one might have some slight pacing issues but it still delivers as a family holiday animated film.

The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020)

The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020)

Director: Mike Rohl

Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Sam Palladio, Mark Fleischmann, Nick Sagar, Mia Lloyd, Suanne Braun, Lachlan Nieboer, Ricky Norwood, Florence Hall

When Duchess Margaret unexpectedly inherits the throne to Montenaro and hits a rough patch with Kevin, it’s up to her double Stacy to save the day before a new lookalike, party girl Fiona foils their plans. – IMDB

The Princess Switch, while not exactly a fresh idea, was a fun one in its original release. Vanessa Hudgens is rather fun playing two different characters, playing around with accents and different background and identity swaps. Something like a version of It Takes Two for grown-ups. You can read my review of the first film HERE.

When Netflix announced that there was a sequel, it was hard to imagine what direction they would take. It didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of other stories to tell especially seeing as A Christmas Prince had already gone through 2 sequels by last year and each one feeling less and less entertaining. The Princess Switch: Switched Again hits much lower than the original. Its not exactly unexpected but having a third Vanessa Hudgens character, Fiona, a different sort of character of the prior two is still fun enough however, the plot as a whole is lacking. Because of so many Vanessa Hudgens, everyone becomes passing figures. The story falls really flat as this new scheme comes into play, there’s just more pieces that don’t fit together and its not exciting or entertaining to watch. Some of the new characters try to be funny but it all seems to miss a mark. Nothing seems to be out of the expected and just turns into a fairly disappointing sort of ordeal. Of course, like I said before, its not unexpected.

Much like the first film, Vanessa Hudgens holds up the movie and is definitely the highlight here. She plays these three characters with a different style and vibe. Margaret and Stacy both being different while Fiona is a much more outward character and brings a little more sass and silliness especially with her two minions. Adding into the equation a guy that wants to win over Margaret’s affections, it all boils down to a fairly predictable sort of movie and the characters all being rather one-dimensional. Not that anyone is expecting more (at least I hope not). Other than Vanessa Hudgens and some of the characters from the first film, the thing that gives this one a little more points is that it finally ties up the world that Netflix is building between A Christmas Prince and this one as the royal family from there makes a cameo appearance.

Overall, The Princess Switch: Switched Again is a fairly normal movie, nothing that’s unexpected and everything stays rather predictable. The whole three personalities for Vanessa Hudgens just feels like she works really hard. Everything else feels a little more normal like the relationship between Stacy and her prince while Margaret sorting out things with Kevin. In comparison, it seems to give more weight to Margaret’s character this time as its in her kingdom this time. The whole world that Netflix creates for their Christmas stories is pretty neat. As a finishing thought, seeing as I’ve had rather lackluster feelings to both A Christmas Prince 3 and this one, I really don’t know where Netflix plans to take these stories or this world.

Double Feature: Happy Death Day (2017) & Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

A sudden change in plans brings another double feature before we start the Blood in the Snow Festival coverage. A lot going on right now. Either way, 31 days of Horror is in the final few days and this pairing is Happy Death Day and its sequel Happy Death Day 2U. Let’s check it out!

Happy Death Day (2017)

Happy Death Day

Director: Christopher Landon

Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton, Rachel Matthews, Jason Bayle, Rob Mello

A college student must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity. – IMDB

Riding between science fiction, slasher and dark comedy, Happy Death Day is quite the entertaining romp that its meant to be. Playing with the concept of an unknown time loop that takes our main character Theresa, mostly known as Tree who is a sorority girl with her own issues and a whole lot of enemies that keeps dying and waking up on her birthday as she tries to figure out who is her killer. It becomes quite a fun ride as she makes friend with Carter, the guy that lives in the dorm that she keeps waking up in and then starts connecting with how bitchy of a person she is to the people around her as well as embracing how avoiding her past has made her into this miserable person.

While the time loop isn’t really explained in the movie, it never really feels like it needs to either. Happy Death Day is at its best because of the humor that it delivers and the many different ways that Theresa changes throughout. With that said, Jessica Rothe captures her role as Theresa incredibly well. She has this charm and charisma that really adds so much to how she portrays the character. It also is rather comedic how she is the only one with the memory of all this and wakes up being different every time.

In reality, Happy Death Day is a really straight forward sort of movie. It delivers a few twists in her time loop and leaving the suspense in the air of whether she will escape her time loop or not. Its not so much that its scary but more that its a lot of fun to watch. Sure, the slasher bits can get a few jumps at the beginning but the threat of her being able to loop really does take away the horror of it. Still, its a different a type of horror film riding the line of horror comedy but a nice palate cleanser and really why I do love films that mix genres/subgenres so much.

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Happy Death Day 2U

Director (and co-writer): Christopher Landon

Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine, Steve Zissis, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton

Tree Gelbman discovers that dying over and over was surprisingly easier than the dangers that lie ahead. – IMDB

While Happy Death Day should have been probably been a one movie deal and let it end at where it is, it was expected that with how well Happy Death Day did that it would get a sequel. Add it onto another unnecessary sequel. What the sequel aims to do now is give us the cause of Tree’s time loop in the first movie but this time, the equation has changed because that loop has caused a parallel dimension which brings in the help of the science students that caused in the first place who happen to be Carter’s roommate, Ryan and his friends. Tree needs to work with them to stop it and its a lot of the same as the first film with a lot of trial and error dying except this time mostly on her own terms instead of by the baby face killer.

The heart of Happy Death Day 2U is really on how charming Jessica Rothe’s character Tree is. The parallel dimension gives her another sort of revelation about her life. Personally, it brings in a little bit more seriousness to what should be more comedic but they do make it up with this montage of how she chooses to kill herself for each trial by the team to end the loop. Its a bigger cast to say the least and I do enjoy the dynamic of the science crew. They bring their own sort of humor.

The sequel is a lot of the same with some other stakes at hand but it feels pretty much the same and if anything, a little more silly than the first one but its just a fun little romp. Its definitely more sci-fi than horror in this more and more drama than comedy. Still, it was fairly entertaining. Not quite as good as the first one and not a necessary sequel by any means but its still pretty fun for my own standards. I just really hope they don’t do a third one because it really doesn’t need to dive even further.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen Happy Death Day and the sequel? Thoughts?