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?

By Night’s End (2020)

By Night’s End (2020)

By n

Director (and co-writer): Walker Whited

Cast: Michelle Rose, Kurt Yue, Michael Aaron Milligan, Carlos Aviles, Matt LaBorde, Jeff Ridgway, Troy Faruk, Lucius Baston

A couple wake up in the night to a man searching for something in their home. After they are forced to kill him in self defense, they decide to take one hour before calling the police to search for what they hope is a hidden fortune. – IMDB

Home invasion films can be quite a thrill to watch. The most unexpected things come out of the independent films scene sometimes and By Night’s End does have a decent premise even if there are a few issues with it overall. However, if you are a fan of alternate Christmas movies, this might be one to take into consideration since its set on Christmas even if all it has is a Christmas tree, ornaments and some funky holiday hat before things really take a turn.

By Night's End

By Night’s End is a small film both in cast and its single setting and passing through a single night, except for the opening scene that sets a little earlier to set up the plot and mystery. The story focuses on a couple who is trying to move on after the loss of their daughter while struggling to make ends meet as they both have employment issues. While those issues do come into play as the couple is trapped from one bad decision to another struggle to avoid the home invasion from happening in their conversation to give their relationship a basis, the story’s strength is really in the interaction with their home invader and the action bits which is enforced as the female lead Heather is a stunt woman turned actress who makes those action scenes more engaging. The execution of the movie from one suspense moment to the next action and the power balance between especially Heather and the home invader is done rather well even if the dialogue between the characters do fall flat. While the dynamic between the home invader and the couple are decent, the home invader’s character does fall into very familiar territory for this sort of character.

With that said, for a fairly barebones home invasion story, the story does give a few twists. One that happens fairly early in the movie that changes it direction to something else which adds a little more complexity to the story, even if that the first scene shows an obvious clue that drove me a little crazy when the characters didn’t connect the dots until a lot later in the story. However, there is a good amount of depth and little surprises especially in the little escapes and action scenes as the couple fights for their survival and escape while trying to find out why their home has been targeted. There’s a good building of atmosphere and tension as it plays with lighting and darkness. By Night’s End may have a little issue with script and dialogue however, for the most part, it does hit a lot of the home invasion tension that makes it a rather fun watch overall.

DarkCoast will release By Night’s End on October 6th on various digital platforms (Amazon, iTunes, DirecTV, FlixFling, Google Play, Vudu and AT&T)

*Screener provided by DarkCoast*

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

The Walled City
By: Ryan Graudin

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible…

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister…

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She’s about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window…

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out. – Goodreads

Based on the historical location in Hong Kong called the Kowloon Walled City that used to exist as a place with no control from the government where a lot of bad people would live and have very little daylight due to how the buildings piled on top of each other, Ryan Graudin has created a world of her own with this basis changing Hong Kong to Seng Ngoi and using simple Chinese names to easily remember these characters but still have the essence of an Asian territory to make it not a historical fiction but still managing to capture a lot of the essence of this location to bring it to life. The Walled City is an outstanding young adult “dystopian” thriller. In fact, its surprising why The Walled City isn’t used in more stories (whether books or movies) as a background story. Ryan Graudin takes this world and is able to show the gritty and darkness that hangs in its shadows portraying the location really well while also delivering a story about three youths that get entangled in the mess.

The novel is executed with each of the chapters moving between these three characters. Its easy to see the connection of two of the characters but it doesn’t really matter if that was meant to be a minor reveal at some point to make it all piece together. What’s important is that each of these characters represent one part of this closed society. The boy Dai is the only one that knows the countdown element and has motives to deliver some information before he can be free as he works for the kingpin as a runner who pairs up with the second character on a spontaneous run-in, a young girl disguised as a boy Jin looking for her sister who was sold to a brothel by her father for money but also trying to stay out of sight for the street gangs that are after her because she stole a pair of boots from them. Finally, the third character is Mei Yee, one of the brothel girls who wish to find a way out but is approached by Dai to help him find a way to steal the information that he needs in exchange to help her escape. All three of these characters represent their own helpless situation that bond together to try to get out of their own situations.

The Walled City is great because of its writing style. Its vivid writing brings the story to life. Especially with the amount of action and suspense going on, as the story gets deeper and dangerous for the three characters, it builds very well. There’s something really fascinating about bringing a location to life and its characters while exploring somewhere that I’ve always been fascinated about and would love to see more stories based on while also using a novel structure that I’m personally a big fan of. The Walled City ticks a lot of the boxes of a novel that I enjoy reading.

Double Feature: The Kissing Booth 2 (2020) & Skyscraper (2018)

Welcome to the next double feature! I have to say that I may have given up on the alphabet format but I don’t think anyone else was really following that anyways…always get stuck at Q. Either way, next pairing are two movies I saw as breathers in between Fantasia screenings. The first is The Kissing Booth 2 (which I’m still wondering why I saw since I didn’t like the first one) and the second is Skyscraper which has Dwayne Johnson which is almost guaranteed a nice mindless entertainment movie night. Not exactly the typical sort of pairing but it is what it is.

Let’s check it out!

The Kissing Booth 2 (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Vince Marcello

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

In the sequel to 2018’s THE KISSING BOOTH, high school senior Elle juggles a long-distance relationship with her dreamy boyfriend Noah, college applications, and a new friendship with a handsome classmate that could change everything. – IMDB

Following the events of The Kissing Booth (review), The Kissing Booth 2 resumes after a summer of Elle and Noah being together and they have to part ways because of Noah having to go to Harvard. Between juggling her emotions for Noah not being there, keeping herself busy, spending time with her best friend (and his girlfriend) and then trying to find money to fund possibly college in Boston without burdening her family and keeping her own secrets, Elle has quite a lot on her plate. Not only from Elle’s angle, The Kissing Booth 2 also focuses a little on Noah and Lee’s side. The Kissing Booth 2 is probably exactly as I’d expected it would go seeing as I still am wondering why I started it in the first place since I didn’t really enjoy the first one and not a huge fan of Elle’s character setup.

The whole world of The Kissing Booth 2 just always seem to have this missing thing that they aren’t hitting. This one tries to cover a lot of ground with different supporting characters and more conflicts. Its about friends and relationships and planning for the future. I just sometimes have this hard time believing that these characters and how they talk are teenagers in high school in this current day and age. Its a predictable sort of story and to be honest, this film was more enjoyable than the first because of one element and that’s the Second Lead Syndrome where I thought the new character and Elle’s new friend and dance partner that has some sparks, Marco portrayed by Taylor Zakhar Perez was fun and one of the better characters of this whole story. There seemed to be some good chemistry between the two of them especially in the dance competition part which was a lot of fun to watch overall. But then I have this deep love for Dance Dance Revolution so the whole Dance Mania competition was a highlight.

The Kissing Booth 2 is really nothing to call home about. I’d love to see Taylor Zakhar Perez in something else although it was announced that The Kissing Booth 3 is happening and was filmed back to back or something and just to finish this thing up, I’ll probably still check it out and cross my fingers that maybe the 2nd lead will get the girl (which probably won’t happen) but then I’m getting ahead of myself at this point. If you liked The Kissing Booth then you might like the sequel, if you didn’t, then maybe you are like me and found some joy with the second male lead and the dance competition.

Skyscraper (2018)

Skyscraper

Director (and writer): Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Hannah Quinlivan

A security expert must infiltrate a burning skyscraper, 225 stories above ground, when his family is trapped inside by criminals. – IMDB

Dwayne Johnson is definitely one of those actors that makes some fun and entertaining sort of action movies packed with one liners and just altogether a straightforward good time. The stories sometimes don’t have a ton of depth and are fairly predictable but if you already know what to expect then its almost always a decent little action romp. With that said, Skyscraper fits the bill of exactly what to expect. Set in a rather fictional Hong Kong (to anyone who knows the city well enough) in a fictional tall skyscraper, it might break the reality just a tad on that front as well as how ridiculously over the top a few of the action sequences are. For frequenters of Fast and the Furious franchise who has just been packed with these over the top unrealistic moments that people like to make Youtube videos to debunk how accurate it can be, Skyscraper is a usual deal especially when Dwayne Johnson’s character goes to jump off a crane to another building, there’s some strange physics going on there.

Its really hard to talk about movies likes these. On one hand, for serious moviegoers, its very obvious that there are a ton of flaws whether in shallow plot or some computer effects or even how some events flow and how certain scenes are structured. Its not going to be some award-winning movie. On the other hand, if you go by the standpoint of having exactly what is expected and for the mindless entertainment and some fun Dwayne Johnson moments, this is fairly harmless especially when a lot of his skyscraper moments involve duct tape, a common every day man trick which does keep the movie grounded a little more than expected.

Not to mention, Dwayne Johnson is accompanied by a supporting role by Neve Campbell who plays his wife in the movie. She actually has quite a useful point to make and actually speaks some decent Cantonese line. I always praise actors/actresses who are given these foreign lines and get it right on point. Although, that is definitely more of a personal thing. With that said, there are some good characters here plus I do usually enjoy Chin Han’s roles. Overall, Skyscraper was plain and simple a fun time. I acknowledge all the issues with it but at the same time, it was exactly what I needed when I chose to watch it.


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

Double Feature: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) & Bloodshot (2020)

Next double feature something of a more random selection with a movie that left Netflix Canada paired with a rental with 13 Hours: The Soldiers of Benghazi and Bloodshot respectively. Let’s check it out!

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

13 Hours: The Secrets Soldiers of Benghazi

Director: Michael Bay

Cast: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini, Alexia Barlier, David Costabile, Payman Maadi

During an attack on a U.S. compound in Libya, a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos. – IMDB

Based on 2014’s historical book by Mitchell Zuckoff of the same name, Michael Bay helms this project that retells the account of a terrorist attack that took place at an American diplomatic compound in Libya from the point of view of the the security team. Its quite a jarring story even under the direction of Michael Bay that many people have issues with his direction style on literally explosive scenes, which in the context of this film definitely felt like his direction was a lot more grounded than a lot of other previous movies. Having never read the source material, there are some elements that feels a little odd but at the same time, the story of this security team and the men involved as they get caught up in this dangerous situation that they need to face focuses a lot more on them as individual people and the team and there’s this incredible subtle action and intensity that builds while also giving a few of these more key characters enough background to make them feel real, which is important seeing as this is based on something that actually did happen.

In reality, the strength of the film lies heavily on the characters themselves especially through the eyes of John Krasinski’s character Jack, who is the latest addition to the team upon his arrival and in a short amount of time is shown the place that Americans have in this place and the dangers of their presence as well as the role they play as a private military security team. The whole cast of characters whether its Pablo Schreiber’s Tanto and his odd decision to wear shorts the whole time or the role of the friendships between these characters as well as the connection between the office they are protecting as well as whether help is coming for them and who is one which side all comes into play of the big picture.

Sure, the movie itself has its flaws since it still has the Hollywood sense where some things do feel constructed to make it more entertaining for the audience but the premise and how its executed and even Michael Bay’s choice to keep things feeling fairly grounded but still deliver some intense action scenes that play especially with darkness and the mystery of what is and isn’t there and different ploys really does add a lot to the movie. Its a rather gripping viewing experience.

Bloodshot (2020)

Director: Dave Wilson

Cast: Vin Diesel, Eiza Gonzalez, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, Talulah Riley, Lamorne Morris, Guy Pearce, Johannes Haukur Joahnnesson, Alex Hernandez

Ray Garrison, a slain soldier, is re-animated with superpowers. – IMDB

Its fair to say that Vin Diesel is casted in a certain type of movies aside from his main role of The Fast and the Furious franchise and his grunting voice cast role as Groot. He has this cookie cutter sort of deal where its a lot of one liners and not a whole lot of dialogue and enough action to make it satisfying to watch, at least for myself, I like watching Vin Diesel movies even if the movie itself is flawed. With that said, Bloodshoot is pretty much exactly what I expected and wanted out of watching a Vin Diesel movie which had enough entertaining elements. The story itself does try to add in some twists, probably more for me since I haven’t read the comics and know nothing of this Bloodshot character so its a fresh discovery.

If you look at the cast, its really a pretty decent round-up. Aside from Vin Diesel, there’s Guy Pearce playing a rather similar role to Iron Man 3’s role (if I remember correctly), I’d say while also haven’t some familiar faces like Eiza Gonzalez which has delivered some fun roles in recent films as well as Lamorne Morris who is almost unrecognizable from his New Girl days but also does a decent job here with a fun supporting character. Plus, it takes on this element of having a crew of characters that are all flawed and using this new technology to make them have this “superhuman” in their own way. Of course, with Bloodshot being the character that has been literally revived from the dead and the twist is how he’s being manipulated.

As a feature film directorial debut for Dave Wilson who had only previously directed a short for Love, Death & Robots (review), which is pretty impressive and did mostly visual effects for a ton of video games, this is a step forward and in reality, the direction is pretty decent. What really does make this movie feel a little more disposable and flawed is really that superhero movies are oversaturated at this point and there’s this predictability to the whole situation. The elements are there in terms of action and some fun little Vin Diesel moments and even the humor additions and the littler twist is all decent but then its hard to not feel like, there’s a solid idea of what the general end result of a superhero movie will be that makes it hard to be truly excited by its end game.

That’s it for this double feature.
Have you seen these two films?

Fantasia Festival 2020: A Witness Out of the Blue (犯罪现场, 2019)

A Witness Out of the Blue (犯罪现场, 2019)

A Witness Out of the Blue

Director (and writer): Chi-Keung Fung

Cast: Louis Koo, Jessica Hsuan, Louis Cheung, Patrick Tam, Philip Keung, Sam Lee, Andy On, Fiona Sit, Cherry Ngan

A Witness Out of the Blue is 2019 crime thriller about a murder of a member of a bank robber group that may have gone array as they hunt down their leader with only one witness to the crime: a parrot. One of the best things about Fantasia Festival is hearing director’s talk about their film. A nice touch to A Witness Out of the Blue was the director having a little message about how the movie came to be and how it all started with a parrot. Director and writer Chi-Keung Fung definitely is more renowned for his writing credits with involvement in Stephen Chow movies like Shaolin Soccer and The Mermaid. A Witness Out of the Blue has the hook of using a parrot as a witness and how the cop will use it to his advantage to learn about how a parrot communicates or learns the language and can have the intellect of a 5 year old child and its a fun element for sure. The story itself does create a lot of twists and turns that manages to lead down a rather interesting chase. There’s a bit of tension and a bit of humor and the mystery definitely takes everyone for a chase with the characters. The ending isn’t exactly never been done before (but I say what its similar to, that would be a huge spoiler so I’m going to avoid that). Whether pacing or execution, A Witness Out of the Blue is an intriguing thriller.

A Witness Out of the Blue has a stellar cast. Its consisted primarily with the once righteous but now easygoing cop Detective Lam that everyone sees as useless who sees through the case in another angle played by Louis Cheung who is more known for his music career than his acting career even if he has a lot of Cantonese voice acting credits to his name however delivers quite the performance. Lam starts suspecting his upper level boss played by Philip Keung (a familiar face at this year’s Fantasia for sure with his appearance in Sheep Without a Shepherd HERE) who holds a grudge towards the bank robbers for killing another cop. At the same time, Lam needs to still try to catch the bank robber mastermind Wong by the character played by Louis Koo but always seems to be one step behind as the robber crew starts being hunted down as well making him look more and more suspicious. There is no doubt that Louis Koo’s career is full of crime thrillers at this point and he is the perfect candidate for this role especially since he becomes something of an antihero. At this point, Wong hides out at this senior care home managed by a visually disabled woman played by Jessica Hsuan where we see the more human side of Wong in their interaction.

There is no doubt that Chi-Keung Fung is a great writer since every character in this thriller has its purpose. The characters all play off each other as detective Lam goes looking back at the grudges linked to robbery as he questions supporting characters played by Fiona Sit, Andy On and Patrick Tam. Each of these characters have their own stories whether its a flawed detective or a mastermind who wants to find the truth of the death of his team but every step takes on a different turn. Put in the equation of the parrot being another character and its all quite the whirlwind ride.

A Witness Out of the Blue has a lot to offer. It tries to be a little different and how it starts with a parrot and uses its characters all fit well together. Its a crime thriller that has some action and comedy blended together to become a little more mix genre. With both a stellar cast and a fun little plot and some great comedy points, it all actually fits together in a well-paced, engaging and entertaining sort of crime thriller even if the ending isn’t as clever as the director might think it is but somehow this still felt a little like a breath of fresh air in the sea of crime thrillers that come out every year.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Legally Declared Dead (死因無可疑, 2019)

Legally Declared Dead (2019)

Director: Wai Yuen Kim

Cast: Carlos Chan, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, Karena Lam, Kathy Yuen

Based on Japanese novel Black House by Yusuke Kishi, Legally Declared Dead is 2019 Hong Kong psychological thriller that centers its story at an early point of understanding a quote: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” It takes the angle of an insurance broker Yip (Carlos Chan) who is assigned a client that asks him to discuss his policy at his home but ends up witnessing his son hanging from the ceiling and the case ends up being deemed a suicide and his parents get the insurance money. Struggling between hallucinations from PTSD and believing that the father Tak killed his own son with the scheme to get the insurance money for his own purposes, he goes onto his own investigation before Tak gets to his wife Ling who also has a huge insurance policy.

Legally Declared Dead is a good premise. While I’ve never read the source material, there is something about following a normal person that finds this newfound desire to seek out the truth relentlessly despite the apparent abnormal personality from Tak and Ling. The story is at its most gripping when its looking watching Yip pursue this family’s past from where the couple met and piecing together Tak and Ling’s story. There’s a great execution element done where the past blends into the present with each shot as it shares the location. Its a very cool maneuver to keep the scene flowing smoothly. However, the movie does have a secondary focus on Yip’s mental state falling apart as he starts seeing nightmare scenes like the pet praying mantis giant and attacking him and his girlfriend for example. The CGI is rather lacking for the most part and doesn’t quite flow as well. Its meant to be creepy and yet it seems to not quite hit the mark especially as its meant to build up on Yip’s character while bringing up a key point of the dangers of praying mantis female and male together.

Legally Declared Dead

There is no doubt that where this movie excels is the performance of Tak and Ling by Anthony Chau-Sang Wong and Karena Lam. Its fairly early that there is something wrong with Tak and the story gives cues of different probably reasons for his abnormal behavior. Anthony Wong embraces this role so well especially as its such a helpless character by the end that creates a lot of unsettling moments throughout the film using actions and how he interacts with other people and then with Ling being a key point. Karena Lam delivers a surprising role as Ling. She plays a woman who has a visual disability that appears like she has settled for Tak for whatever reason that soon becomes apparent as we follow their side of the story that she has a manipulative character. Tak and Ling are characters with depth and twists. Its unsettling and psychological. Its a little sad that they are paired up with Carlos Chan who does an alright job as Yip but in comparison, his character lacks a lot more substance and feels fairly one-dimensional. Luckily, they also have a great supporting cast with Stephen Au, Kai Chi Liu and Catherine Chau.

Packed with a good premise and some outstanding powerhouse performances from Wong and Lam, Legally Declared Dead is relatively successful as a horror/psychological thriller. Its execution and pacing does build tension very well. It gives both side of the story and as each characters mindset and grand scheme comes to light one step at a time, it becomes more and more unsettling. Not to mention, the cinematography plays a big part using parallels to show the past and the truth of a story being told while also playing with light and dark scenes and the whole concept of good and bad people being respectively weak and power. There are a few decent use of psychological elements especially as Yip’s girlfriend plays the role of a team that looks into criminal behavior. Its a bit of a convenient setup but for the most part, Legally Declared Dead does fit together all its elements well enough to be gripping and engaging.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Perdida (2019)

Perdida (2019)

Director: Jorge Michel Grau

Cast: José Maria de Tavira, Cristina Rodlo, Paulina Davila, Juan Carlos Colombo, Sonia Franco, Paulette Hernandez, Luis Fernando Pena

Shattered by the unexpected news of their irreversible break-up, an aspiring orchestra conductor is puzzled by his girlfriend’s mysterious and seemingly inexplicable case of disappearance. But, can he look beyond the facts? – IMDB

Perdida is the 2019 remake of the 2011 Columbian thriller called La Cara Oculta aka The Hidden Face (review). The source material itself is an outstanding piece of psychological horror thriller kind of deal with great execution and a stellar twist. It comes as a surprise after some research for this film that there was a remake before this one which was Bollywood film Murder 3. Its always been somewhat of a mystery in my mind whether knowing the twist of this plot would change its value in a second viewing and its probably one of the reasons that I haven’t revisited the original since I saw it years ago in the early days of the blog. Its also a movie that is very rarely talked about and it makes me wonder whether people actually have seen the original. Putting all that aside, Perdida was one that had a lot to live up to and one that is hard to not at least compare it to its original a little especially since movies that live in my brain years after its viewing is a rarity.

For the most part, Perdida stick fairly close to the source material especially in structure. Its atmosphere and the characters all come together quite well. Its interpretation of the suspense and the thriller also works well. What it does really well is the cinematography as it creates all the tension with ambiance as well as making some visually appealing scenes using the dim lighting and shadows. There are some passionate sex scenes and then the music score is probably what blends the best with the film which pulls together the orchestra conductor profession of Eric. The score builds up a lot of the scenes. At the same time, the contrast of subtlety in sound also crafts the suspenseful side of the story.

Where Perdida might not quite work so well is that the characters feel a little empty. The main leads between Eric, Fabiana and Carolina do a good job as their dynamic and the scenes sees the shift in those relationships. However, the need to cast suspicion on the husband being responsible isn’t as prominent and that has to do with a lack of the police officers presence in the story. There’s a bigger focus on the passionate love between Eric and Fabiana, a little bit of Eric’s obsession for this conducting career and a bit of his darker character perhaps, while Carolina is a someone who seems very resourceful but also having some extremes in her character.

Overall, Perdida on its own is a decent thriller. It follows the source material a lot and that originally had a very good story to begin with. The three main leads as Eric, Fabiana and Carolina all do a decent job while the other elements also come together fairly well. They also make the new home as a setting some kind of life as well with the little things that happen. In case anyone hasn’t seen The Hidden Face or Perdida, I’m going to avoid talking about the twist here which is executed fairly well. However, on a personal level, Perdida didn’t quite live up as a remake of La Cara Oculta since in my memory, the original still seemed to have a better control of a lot of these elements but that’s all comparison which if you haven’t seen it, Perdida is done pretty well overall.