Double Feature: An Affair To Die For (2019) & Tears of Steel (2012)

Next double feature is here with two movies that were relatively spontaneous choices. The first being a thriller called An Affair to Die For and the second is a short film called Tears of Steel. Let’s check it out!

An Affair To Die For (2019)

Director: Victor Garcia

Cast: Claire Forlani, Jake Abel, Titus Welliver, Nathan Cooper, Melina Matthews

A secret rendezvous. A man cheats on his wife. A woman cheats on her husband. And then everything goes bad, quickly. – IMDB

It seems like January is the peak time when I successfully hunt down some really lackluster movies in the Netflix list. Honestly, I don’t even rememeber putting this movie on the list as this genre of film generally hasn’t bode well. With that said, An Affair to Die For was a fairly below average experience.

The deal with An Affair to Die For isn’t so much the plot. In fact, after some thought, it does land on that twist element to a certain extent but the execution and timing left the pacing feeling a little unbalanced to the ending. At a certain point, the body count really dies narrow down who else is left for the big “mastermind” at the end who pulls a Saw-like ending. The other part is the dialogue and the characters themselves. In this case, I do have to say that while I do think there’s some overacting, its how the main female actress Claire Forlani delivers her dialogue that bothers me. It feels almost like the combination of a flawed script and oddly constructed characters pulls this film down as well.

An Affair To Die For is really quite a lackluster experience overall. The movie starts off feeling like an erotic thriller and takes a turn into a much more focused thriller element is not a bad idea, its just that anything like that also takes some careful pacing and this one lacked in that department.

Tears of Steel (short 2012)

Director (and writer): Ian Hubert

Cast: Derek de Lint, Sergio Hasselbaink, Rogier Schippers, Vanja Rukavina, Denise Rebergen

He just wanted to be awesome in space. – IMDB

Running as a swift 12 minutes short, Tears of Steel is rather interesting in concept. It plays a little with time travel or time manipulation. The world is a future where its being dominated by robots because of what leads back to one interaction in the past between a boy and girl. The whole concept is done rather well especially with the world building. Even in the little bit of the time, the destruction and the state of the world is shown really well. The effects in particular definitely look polished.

For a short film, this one does stand out a lot and really has a great concept and world building and it would be interesting to see perhaps a full story on this world. Whether its the technology or the ability to change the past that is used or even how the world came to be seems like such a good angle to dive further into the content.

What does make me wonder a little more is that this short film on Netflix is set as a season where there’s the original movie and then a 2 hour loop and an 8 hour loop of the movie. I’m just thinking about who is sitting around looping this short film and where this desire to do this came from. Its just something I wouldn’t do so I find it rather curious.

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

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

Shanghai Fortress (2019)

Director: Hua-Tao Teng

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

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

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

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

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

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

S Storm (2016)

Director: David Lam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shame Of It All
By: K.T. Grant

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

SYNOPSIS

*Trigger Warning : Violence/ Sexual Assault

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

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

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

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

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REVIEW

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

SYNOPSIS

An unsolved murder. Disturbing dreams. A missing child.

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

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

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

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REVIEW

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

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

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

Score: 4.5/5

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

Let’s check it out!

A Simple Favor (2018)

Director: Paul Feig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dumplin’ (2018)

Director: Anne Fletcher

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

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

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

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

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

BITS 2020: Bleed With Me (2020)

Bleed With Me (2020)

Director (and writer): Amelia Moses

Cast: Lee Marshall, Lauren Beatty, Aris Tyros

During a winter getaway at an isolated cabin, a self-destructive young woman becomes convinced that her best friend is stealing her blood. – IMDB

Cabin in the woods, cold winter and bunked up for a getaway with a couple and a best friend is the set up for Bleed With Me. The isolation, the single setting and the obligation for the characters to interact with each other builds up through a well-executed atmosphere and tension, wanting or not, its inevitable. As best friends Rowan (Lee Marshall) and Emily (Lauren Beatty)are using this trip to bond, Emily and her boyfriend Branden (Aris Tyros) are there to take some time together where Branden voices his reluctance to bringing Rowan along.

Bleed With Me is shot from Rowan’s angle right from the beginning as she drowsily lies down in the backseat of the car for the road trip. The audience sees what she sees. Its a clever way as her observations and feelings as well as the effects of her blurry sight when she wakes up in the middle of the night keeps the unknown feeling going. As she tells her stories and experiences to Emily and Branden, her character starts to form especially of self-harm issues. Especially since Rowan is set up to be socially awkward especially in this weird third wheel situation as she flails between keeping her distance to give Emily and Branden space but also drinking to try to ease herself and fit into the conversation.

As she starts suspecting that Emily is taking her blood at night and growing increasingly suspicious of her as more cut marks appear on her arm, its a big mystery where the uneasy starts to take effect as it plays on whether she is really experiencing it and Emily has ulterior motives or whether its all in her mind, playing on the psychological horror/thriller element very well. The small cast delivers some good performances, notably Lee Marshall. Although, deliberate or not, Lauren Beatty’s character sometimes feels like its laying the creepy vibes a little heavy, especially when Lee Marshall’s portrayal of Rowan is much more subtle.

Bleed With Me uses its dim setting, the environment and the isolation as well as the character development to give it an unsettling feeling and to keep suspecting between Rowan and Emily. As Rowan explores the cabin on her own and how Emily reacts to certain things, the mystery starts to have a few hints towards what this all is about. While the ending is a tad odd but the sum of its parts and the entire movie before then worked really well together. Using dark settings and low lightings along with her blurry/distorted vision and the horror of the unknown, Bleed With Me is an effectively unsettling horror film.

BITS 2020: For The Sake Of Vicious (2020)

For The Sake Of Vicious (2020)

Directors (and writers): Gabriel Carrer & Reese Eveneshene

Cast: Lora Burke, Nick Smyth, Colin Paradine, T. J. Kennedy, James Fler

An innocent nurse, a tortured maniac and a suspicious hostage face off against a wave of violent intruders as they descend upon their place of refuge on Halloween night. – IMDB

Running at a swift (rare) 80 minutes, For The Sake of Vicious is a revenge action thriller more than a horror movie. Its more of the former than the latter. It starts off quickly with the three character, a nurse playing out like a mediator controlling the situation between two men: a father seeking revenge for his daughter on the man who raped her and the man who he suspects is responsible but evaded his sentence. The tension in the conversation reveals the personality of these characters. Before its resolved, a swarm of masked men come in under command by the man that was seemingly asked by the hostage to come to help. Its unclear how all of this comes into play together. Packed in its single setting and a turn to survival sort of action film, it turns into a non-stop heart-pounding fight scene moving throughout the house as more masked men come in one batch after another. The revenge plot gets a little lost in the action as it loses sight of that angle but turns more towards why these men are asked to attack them.

The single setting of the nurse’s house is a little house with some tight rooms and narrow hallways which gives it a bigger sense of dangerous as the fight scenes moving from one room to the next. The use of the space is explored really well as it uses the items broken to their full purpose and there are some nifty attacks with the tools/weapons that they use. It also helps that the cast did all the stunt themselves which makes it so much more engaging.

The characters also create their own sort of dynamic. As they fight for survival with the infiltration of masked killers and the helmeted assassin (or what I think he is meant to be), Romina (Lora Burke), Chris (Nick Smyth) and Alan (Colin Paradine) end up having to set their differences aside to work together in order to survive and possibly have some resolution to the previous conversation. Lora Burke delivers a stellar performance as usual. Its a different role from her prior roles in Poor Agnes and Lifechanger but one that drives the plot. She finds her strength but still has a side of her that is shocked by the events as any normal person innocently thrusted into this situation would be. Nick Smyth’s role feels a little overacted although it does deliver how his character is very unhinged and troubled and very desperate to get a confession but still has a fight to survive. Colin Paradine’s character is done fine as Alan gets left hanging on whether he is just a shady man or he also is a shady man that raped a child. The verdict hangs in the air since the discussion never finished before the killers arrived giving it that extra thriller element.

Revenge thrillers are always a tough storyline to tackle. In some ways, venturing off from it and focusing on the action, like a dialed down The Raid gives it a lot of style. It makes the revenge plot change direction into something else unexpectedly, making it more suspenseful than if they pushed further with the rape-revenge that could be more emotionally manipulated. This is definitely a decent way to approach this will giving it a little twist. The story gets a little thin because of the heavy focus on the action but somehow, it really does work out to be a satisfying action-packed effectively executed watch.

FNC 2020: My Salinger Year (2020)

My Salinger Year (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Philippe Falardeau

Cast: Margaret Qualley, Sigourney Weaver, Douglas Booth, Seana Kerslake, Brian F. O’Byrne, Colm Feore, Yanic Truesdale, Theodore Pellerin

A college grad takes a clerical job working for the literary agent of the renowned, reclusive writer J.D. Salinger. – IMDB

Based on the memoir of the same name by Joanna Rakoff, a My Salinger Year plays along the lines of The Devil Wears Prada, a movie that I’m very fond of, but replacing the world of fashion to the world of publishing and literary agents. At the same time, its a bit of an inspirational tale of an aspiring writer’s journey as she gets a reality check of this one year in this agency that is something of a sidetrack from her original career goals, especially for someone who is dealing with an author, J.D. Salinger, that she doesn’t quite know the reason for their praise as she’s never read his work before but hears about his personality through her boss and co-workers but also the way his work connects with his readers from being tasked with reading and replying generic letters to his fans who write to share their thoughts. In a struggle with whether to follow specific instructions or to follow her instinct, she makes some decisions that might not always have a great outcome. Between being more trusted at work and busier and a move-in with her boyfriend that doesn’t quite go as plan, she comes to realization about her goals in life. 

My Salinger Year is quite a fun and endearing sort of film. Mostly because of the roles at hand and the cast chosen to portray them. Margaret Qualley is wonderful as Joanna and her dynamic character plays incredibly well with Sigourney Weaver’s role as literary agent, Margaret. Both of these roles do take on quite a turn of events between the two of them and its this progression of their relationship that makes it work. At the same time, there are other supporting roles from Colm Feore as Daniel, a man that seems to just sit around offering his opinion here and there but never offered an explanation about who he is until the end while one of the co-workers Max is played by Yanic Truesdale, probably most known as Michel in Gilmore Girls and having a similar kind of style to his character here.

My Salinger Years reminds a lot of a mesh of The Devil Wears Prada and Julie and Julia and yet, how the literary world is portrayed through the eyes of Joanna Rakhoff is rather fascinating. It throughs out mentions of other authors and an entertaining little exchange of letters with a young Salinger fan who relates his life/world to the book and has this wonderful scene where she dreams up seeing her ex-boyfriend and has this beautifully shot dancing scene in an elegant hallway. Having not read the source material, My Salinger Year is a wonderful memoir as a film showing effectively the literary publishing world and Joanna’s one year working there shows that no matter how minor the job, there’s always something to reap from the experience.

FNC 2020: Violation (2020)

Violation (2020)

Violation

Director (and writers): Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer

Cast: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili

A troubled woman on the edge of divorce returns home to her younger sister after years apart. But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge. – IMDB

Violation is a revenge thriller. One of the more direct and straight forward stories to be shown at this year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema. Or at least it would seem that way. Violation executes its story on a double track. On one hand, its set in the present as the main character, Miriam reunites with her sister and her family to help prepare for a family gathering but there is a tension in the sisterhood and an uneasiness that sets between them that quickly comes to light when it also becomes apparent that she has other motives to be there that takes a rather brutal turn of events as her meticulous revenge plan. That’s where the other side comes into play as it flips between the present, the past answers the questions brought forward to what has caused her to go on this revenge streak. Violation is subtle and intense but yet, also brings forth this look at a touchy subject where it brings into question how the situation was interpreted and how she views it and the psyche behind her taking the matters into her own hands.

I still remember watching a short film last year on Shudder (which isn’t there anymore) called The Substitute which I liked a lot starring Madeleine Sims-Fewer who stars and writes the script and it was one that really showed how much potential she had as a writer. Helming both co-director/co-writer and the main actress, Madeleine Sims-Fewer plays Miriam, a woman with a revenge plan both wronged by her sister and her brother-in-law as it navigates between the past relationships with her husband and their failing marriage, the sisterhood and their trust and somewhat shaky foundation as well as the friendship/family connection between the brother-in-law which takes a turn after a night of trusting chat takes a betraying turn. Its a complex role and yet, Madeleine Sims-Fewer gives so much to the character of Miriam that gives her a lot of different sides to the character with the writing and subtle dialogue also building up her character right from the beginning.

Violation is a great film. In fact, there’s a lot of discussion to be had about the character Miriam as well as the situation that she deals with especially stemming from what happens with her brother-in-law who she trusted due to their prior friendship before the relationship with her sister as well as her own relationship with her sister and the fragility that it seems to have. There’s a lot to explore here and yet, its not exactly a character study but the character and the course of events takes on a rather unexpectedly brutal and intense scene at one point that brings this whole movie to a different notch. Its the delicate touch on the execution and pacing that makes this film quite the hidden gem.

Double Feature: Insidious: The Last Key (2018) & Fantasy Island (2020)

Moving on track with the next double feature on Halloween Movie Marathon month! We’re wrapping up the Insidious franchise with the 4th film, Insidious: The Last Key and I didn’t know what to pair it with so I went to this year’s release, Fantasy Island! I sure seem to be going on a Blumhouse trip with my movie choices so far in the movie marathon.

Let’s check it out!

Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

In

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer

Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet, as she is drawn back to her ghostly childhood home, where the terror began. – IMDB

The Last Key is pretty much the direct prequel of the Insidious movies. It takes place right before the events of the Lambert family call from the first movie. In this one, Elise Rainier explores her past as she investigates with Specs and Tucker to her childhood home and the memories of what she believes that she unleashed from a hidden door that she unlocked. As she confronts her brother and his family as well as the spirit that may be haunting the current owner of the house.

The Last Key honestly just banks on the love for the character of Elise Rainier played by Lin Shaye as well as Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) and rightfully so because they are truly the best part of the movie. While the story does have a few twists and turns, The Last Key has dropped another level from its previous 2 sequels and reduced itself to almost going through the same type of story. The Further might still have a few lores to offer but all we’re getting from the scares are jumpscares. They are effective a few of the moments but the horror is nothing that lingers.

As much as it doesn’t sound like The Last Key is a lot of fun (and it was okay since I’ve been rather jumpy in general so it got me on a few jumpscares), the issue I have with all these Insidious sequels is how necessary it all is. Sure, its great to give the starting point of how Elise Rainier discovers her powers and then links up her past with her present and then brings on this lovely ending and rounds back to the beginning, its all some clever writing on that point but its wandered a little far from what made Insidious good at the beginning. The monsters and spirits and whatever is hiding in The Further is alright for this one but something seems missing and I can’t quite pinpoint what it is whether its the lack of lingering fear or the atmosphere and tension not being balanced well enough or the “twist” happening a little early.

Fantasy Island (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Jeff Wadlow

Cast: Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Jimmy O. Yang, Portia Doubleday, Ryan Hansen, Michael Rooker, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Mike Vogel, Kim Coates

When the owner and operator of a luxurious island invites a collection of guests to live out their most elaborate fantasies in relative seclusion, chaos quickly descends. – IMDB

Fantasy Island plays on the concept that rides between supernatural and a virtual reality escape room sort of deal. Each character that arrives on this island comes with their own story and baggage which gives them their own story arc and what happens to them on the Fantasy Island. Its main lesson is about how fantasies when you play them out to their end might not be as perfect as in the imagination, emphasizing the point that nothing is perfect in life. While the concept and premise is alright, perhaps one of the issues is in its execution and how it all plays out. Sure, there’s some cleverness to how the story meshes from one character to the next as things become clear quicker than for others, but it all comes together in this rather bland experience and when the dots connect, its not too hard to guess what the twist is.

Push aside how this movie was rather disappointing and not very exciting to watch with some scenes that seemed to be pulled out of Pretty Little Liars blended with Saw especially for Lucy Hale’s character, Melanie. While the casting is pretty alright with Maggie Q, Lucy Hale and Michael Pena and the setting of Fantasy Island is beautiful and there are a few surprising bits, the movies suffers the most at being at its supposed to be. If we talk supernatural, the lore and whatnot isn’t really covered too much and if you talk horror, its not scary or creepy and if you look at its thriller aspect, the twist wasn’t exactly hard to guess. As a one time viewing, its alright. The beginning with the introduction of the characters and how they all fall into their own fantasies and the mystery of it is more fun to watch than the second half when things start to come together. I seem to be hating on this a lot. In reality, its more that I’m indifferent towards it. Some of the fantasies were pretty fun and some just didn’t really do anything for the character. It just feels like Fantasy Island could have been more than what was delivered here.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two movies?