What’s Up & Adventures – February 2022

Welcome to the February 2022 What’s Up and Adventures! To be honest, February 2022 wasn’t all that eventful. I spent A LOT of time doing overtime for work like every year and it had a few winter storms in Montreal so freezing rain and snow and all the fun winter stuff that we get. Aside from that, its just been the basic February month as I slowly get back into the groove of things. Next month might have some fun stuff in the planning and some of the those goals to cross of my list from the beginning of the year so I’ll have updates on those then.

With that said, two little things to talk about for February 2022 Adventures (feel free to add air quotes to Adventures) since it wasn’t exactly anything super crazy but still, its something…

Chinese New Year – Year of the Tiger

February 1st was Chinese New Year. This year is the Year of the Tiger which means its also my Chinese zodiac year (which isn’t exactly a good thing if you are superstitious). I had the usual decorations and got a lovely bouquet of flowers. However, Chinese New Year wasn’t exactly a great time as well since we got some bad news right before the New Year with news of my grandmother’s passing (non-pandemic related, just age).

Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2022

Ultimate Decades Blogathon is going on right now as it enters its second week. This year its featuring selections of films from myself and my fantastic co-host Drew from Drew’s Movie Reviews and a wonderful line-up of guest entries with their choices of releases in a year ending in 2. The entries are rather expansive with one of them over a century old.

If you missed the entries, you can check out the list updated daily HERE.

That wraps up the Adventures portion of this post. Let’s move on to the What’s Up February 2022!

What’s Up – February 2022

Books

Currently reading: The Handmaiden’s Tale, The Hate U Give

Finally started up my reading of 2022 as I started off with the first book on my TBR pile of physical books sitting on my bookshelf, in an effort to finish up all those books this year or at least make some good progress with it. I haven’t seen the TV series for The Handmaiden’s Tale but I did pick up this book when the show was pretty popular. Its just never filtered through any of the streaming services so I haven’t caught up with it. I’m still fairly early in the book but its pretty decent so far.

As for The Hate U Give, I honestly just started it up because it was what I had on Google Play Books while I was waiting for an appointment. Its pretty decent as well. I have watched the film but never got around to reviewing it although I did like it quite a bit.

Films

  • Wild Beasts (1984)
  • The Girl Next Door (2004, Review)
  • The Tinder Swindler (2022, Review)
  • The Hustle (2019, Review)
  • Falling For Figaro (2021, Review)
  • Arachnophobia (1990)
  • Letters to Juliet (2010, rewatch, Review)
  • Tall Girl 2 (2022)
  • Love and Leashes (2022, Review)
  • Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008)
  • Resident Evil: Damnation (2012)
  • Ali Wong: Don Wong (2022)
  • Resident Evil: Vendetta (2017)
  • Into The Beat (2020)
  • Step Sisters (2018)
  • Porco Rosso (1992, Review)
  • Deep Rising (1998)
  • Drug War (2012)

I’m actually quite impressed with how I’ve moved forward with movie watching this month. A good portion of it is for an upcoming of Movies and Tea which is very early in production right now. However, I did start back up my double features originally starting them off in alphabetical order with a focus on teen and comedies since last month (although I think I forgot to mention it) but this month, its fallen away from it as movie watching intentions have changed a little.

With that said, my biggest recommendations would be Korean rom-com Love and Leashes and the creature feature Deep Rising. Both films are two that I’ve immensely enjoyed this past month.

For March, I’m actually thinking of working through some of the Netflix Asian film selections so I’m compiling a list to catch up on some of the titles before they eventually disappear from Netflix.

TV

  • Shining For One Thing (2022)
  • All Of Us Are Dead (Season 1, 2022) Review
  • Rupaul’s Drag Race (Season 4, 2012)
  • Catching Killers (Season 2, 2022)
  • Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness (2021 rewatch, Review)
  • Rupaul’s Drag Race (Season 5, 2013)
  • Fishbowl Wives (Season 1, 2022)
  • Luke Cage (Season 1, 2016)
  • Rupaul’s Drag Race (Season 6, 2014)
  • Iron Fist (Season 1, 2017)
  • The Defenders (Season 1, 2017)

Currently binging: The Wolf

Oh boy, has TV been great! This month started off strong for a good half of the month with Chinese drama Shining For One Thing which was such a wonderful series that was not exactly what the trailer was but at the same time, added so many cool elements to it and some points to ponder. Much like Korean zombie series All of Us Are Dead which had some flaws but was a pretty fun one as well. Season 2 of Catching Killers is also a great one if you like the Netflix crime docuseries. The other part of the month went to sporadic watching of jumping back into Rupaul’s Drag Race for a few seasons and then with the Netflix Marvel series leaving Netflix in March, I tried to at least get “phase 1” (as I call it, not sure if that’s how its separated) ending with The Defenders watched in the final week of February. I’m leaving out Fishbowl Wives because that TV binge is coming up very soon so you can just read it then.

Games

  • Code Vein (unfinished)
  • The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope (Shared Story mode)

Currently playing: Bloodroots

In terms of games, I tried out Code Vein before it left Xbox Game Pass. I do admit that it is a lot easier to get into as a souls game however, still the learning curve is quite high since there’s a lot to ponder. Much deeper than the normal games that I play. I have been streaming co-op with my friend BrandelSavage on Twitch and trying out the Shared Story mode for The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope. We played through it once with a rather unsuccessful result of killing almost everyone so we are currently doing the second run of it. There’s probably one more stream of it left this coming Friday. You can see both our perspectives since I do stream my perspective over on my own channel. The Dark Pictures Anthology is pretty great if you like horror stories and it’ll be nice to see what other horror genres they plan to do in the planned 8 episode run that they have especially since Episode 4 is supposed to be released sometime this year.

That’s it for this February 2022 Adventures and What’s Up!
What have you been up to?
What are you reading/watching/playing/binging?

TV Binge: All of Us Are Dead (Season 1, 2022)

All Of Us Are Dead (Season 1, 2022)

Creators: Lee JQ, Chun Sung-il, Kim Nam-su

Cast: Park Ji-hu, Yoon Chan-young, Cho Yi-hyun, Lomon, Yoo In-soo, Lee You-mi, Kim Byong-chul, Lee Kyoo-hyung, Jeon Bae-soo

A high school becomes ground zero for a zombie virus outbreak. Trapped students must fight their way out or turn into one of the rabid infected. – IMDB

The latest Korean series to land on Netflix is a zombie high school horror drama called All of Us are Dead set for the most part in the suburban high school and follows the different groups of students trapped in as this zombie virus outbreak hits. All of Us Are Dead is rather unique. The angle it approaches to how this virus was produced and the motive behind it attacks a core issue which essentially didn’t do anything to fix the problem itself but the intentions being respectable for a science teacher with a desperate mission to help his son find the courage to fight off his bullies. This factor alone makes the virus outbreak being in the high school seem like a reasonable and suitable location.

Running longer than the average Korean series available on Netflix, All Of Us Are Dead has 12 episodes where each runs over an hour long. While the execution of the show itself is relatively decent, the pacing is where it tends to feel little stretched out in parts especially with some of the side plots and side characters, some of which feels almost unnecessary as it isn’t developed in enough length to make them meaningful other than being an additional factor that changes the main group of high school students trying to move from one location to the next to find safety and escape.

With that said, there are some great elements in terms of execution. The zombies and their transitions are done really well. The exploration of the virus is explained as it follows these video logs from the creator as he tries to track its change and hopefully find a treatment which sporadically pops up as the students experience those moments. There are decently executed and well-spaced out twists that give the story enough pivot to keep it engaging. The students themselves also have some creative ways in defense and finding ways to escape their current predicament. Adding in a touch of humanity in times of crisis and survival and mostly decent character development and some meaningful supporting characters regardless of their screen time and All of Us Are Dead is definitely an engaging viewing experience.

All of Us Are Dead is actually much more than a zombie teen drama. In fact, the whole teen element adds in their own coming of age angle for a few of the characters. Its main storyline revolving around two teens who are neighbors and childhood friends On-jo (Ji-hu Park) and Cheong-san (Chan-young Yoon) who have the most character development throughout the series, making their friendship and bond very meaningful to watch. However, that doesn’t discount the other characters in this group of classmates who add in their own comedic relief and different know-hows that contribute to various solutions. Of course, also having some students who have their own selfish personality, perhaps one of the most irritating characters played by Squid Game’s supporting actress Ji-Yeong who lands a role as a classist and snobby girl, Na-Yeon (Lee Yoo-mi).

Much like the main antagonist of the story right from the start, Gwi-nam (In-soo Yoo) who also ends up having an annoying and hated role which feels like it doesn’t quite reach the satisfying sort of ending that his character would probably deserve in the end. Or even dialing right back to some of the other classmates who feel like significant characters but lack a more in-depth character development to give them more context. Of course, this is a survival show so a lot of the emotions grows as the body count increases as the classmates also start being infected one by one and the longer time surviving together creates a bond between them. That element plays incredibly well and is honestly the strength of the show, even when it expands later on when the military gets involved.

In the heart of keeping this mostly spoiler-free, I don’t want to dive into too many details. All Of Us Are Dead is a pretty decent Korean zombie series. It has a lot of great elements in terms of execution of the horror and tension while balancing it with some comedic relief. A lot of that is contributed by a rather solid cast even if some characters do lack more development, the friendship and bond between each of the groups do prove to be what carries a lot of the story and makes the more dramatic moments more emotional. There are some arcs that definitely could have been spared or shortened and some supporting characters that probably didn’t get enough screen time. The length did affect a bit of the pacing making some parts feel longer than it needed to be but overall, the series does a great job at building up to a good ending that makes for a great direction to expand if they were to have a second season.

What’s Up & Adventures – January 2022

Welcome to 2022’s first adventures post and its all new and shiny. If you missed the 2022 Upcoming Plans post, this year I’m trying out combining the What’s Up and Adventures. With the current state this month of Montreal, Adventures are rather thin although I’m going on a completely new journey internally and physically so that’s something. With that said, Adventures to begin and then we’ll wrap up with the What’s Up at the end for a monthly round-up of the books, films, games and TV that I checked out.

Letterboxd Year in Review

Films Logged: 219
Hours Watched: 472
Most Watched Actor: Samuel L. Jackson
Most Watched Director: Quentin Tarantino

Letterboxd Year in Review always arrives later than the year-end recap so here’s a quick overview of some of the stats there.

Booster Shot

Booster shot is done! It went much smoother than the second dose to my surprise. I was pretty happy about it though since it meant that I could still do some stuff during the weekend as I recuperated. Not much to say there. I just had a little pain in my upper arm and that’s about it.

11th Blogiversary

Its been 11 years of blogging with this blog! There’s been lots of ups and down in life and also a lot of changes in content and more projects coming and going. I had some plans for the blogiversary that kind of fell apart. There’s just a whole lot to be thankful for and really happy with how I’ve built this space even if sometimes it feels like blogging is a lot less popular and the familiar bloggers are slowly less and less everyday. Either way, I’m excited for this new year. Lots of fun stuff coming up that I’m just having a hard time getting off the ground mostly because of work deadlines and lots of overtime but that’s slightly better now so hopefully you will be seeing more frequency on the posting front!

What’s Up- January 2022

Welcome to the new style for the What’s Up as it pairs with the Adventures post! This time around I will leave most of the actual opinions to the reviews themselves which will be released within a month of completion for the most part. Might be a slow start yet again due to work schedule for this month however everything’s partially written. I usually do highlights as well for this section to share what I think stood out to me. In this new one, the titles will be in bold for those that I particularly feel is worth your time.

Books: Nothing yet. Books in transition to a new shelf.

Films:

  • The Birds (1963)
  • 6 Years (2015, Review)
  • All The Bright Places (2020, Review)
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (rewatch, 2004)
  • Booksmart (2019, Review)
  • Carrie Pilby (2016, Review)
  • Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
  • Poupelle of Chimney Town (2021, Review)
  • Alligator (1980)
  • Dude (2018, Review)
  • Every Day (2018, Review)
  • The F*ck-It List (2020)
  • Aziz Ansari: Nightclub Comedian (2022)

TV:

  • Light The Night (華燈初上, Part 1&2)
  • Voir (Season 1, 2021)
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer (Season 1, 2021) Review
  • Love At Night (夜色暗涌時, 2021)
  • The Silent Sea (Season 1, 2021)
  • Deadly Class (Season 1, 2018)
  • Too Hot To Handle (Season 3, 2022)
  • The Wheel of Time (Season 1, 2021)
  • The World of Fantasy (靈域, 2021)
  • Hellbound (Season 1, 2021)

Currently binging: Shining For One Thing (一閃一閃亮星星, 2022)

Games: Currently playing: Genesis Noir

Cute Kitty Pic

That’s it for this Adventures and What’s Up recap!
Hope you enjoyed it!
What have you been up to?

TV Binge: I Know What You Did Last Summer (Season 1, 2021)

I Know What You Did Last Summer (Season 1, 2021)

Cast: Madison Iseman, Brianne Tju, Ezekiel Goodman, Bill Heck, Ashley Moore, Fiona Rene, Cassie Beck, Brooke Bloom, Sonya Balmores, Danielle Delaunay, Sebastian Amoruso

In a town full of secrets, a group of teenagers are stalked by a mysterious killer a year after a fatal accident on their graduation night. – IMDB

I Know What You Did Last Summer is a 2021 modernized TV series adaptation of the novel of the same name and the 1997 film with only retains the general premise. I have always felt that slashers do have a market in creating longer forms for these stories whether its the previous attempt with Scream TV series (review) or this one since it gives so much more room to flesh out the story and characters and create a bigger mystery to cast suspicions. However, as both Scream and this series has proven, somehow they aren’t quite the crowd pleaser. Perhaps its the comparison to its predecessors or that a bunch of fresh faced teens as the main teens aren’t quite as appealing to watch with their new lingo and modern technology making the target audience not exactly aimed correctly. Whatever it is, it seems like a fate they haven’t been able to escape albeit myself finding both the previously mentioned or this one are still decently enjoyable despite there being obvious plot holes.

Looking at the story of I Know What You Did Last Summer, the essence of the premise is there. Grad night and an accident happen that gets hidden, a year later, they start getting hunted down along with other members of their community. The elements are all there and this remake brings things to today’s world: the social media, the lingo, etc. The story does pace fairly well throughout the season. It sets up the plot and uses the pieces of grad night to craft these characters one by one to not only complete the past and in turn, building up their present intentions or actions. The execution on that level is well done. The killings for the main group of teens is also spaced out fairly well with some creative death scenes to say the least while also directing suspicions from one character to the next reasonably. The best element of this TV series is that its self- contained. One season, a resolution and most answers addressed: its rare thing to have these days.

Looking at the young cast, I Know What You Did Last Summer is still pretty decent. Leading the show is the central characters, twins Lennon and Alison as they appear in flashback and present day, played by Madison Iseman, a young actress that I discovered with an indie film that I love, Riot Girls (review). She does a fantastic job as her character spirals throughout the film and creates some mind-boggling character development moments. Playing alongside her is Brianna Tju as Margot, a girl that has a little thing for Lennon but keeps getting rejected and has her own set of issues whenever she seems to lose control of her life as well as Dylan played by Ezekiel Goodman, who is the center of a lot of grad night’s feud between the twins and has the most resistance towards the whole accident being covered up. Much like them, there’s another girl who is best friends with Dylan and also deals drugs as her side business to earn some money, Riley (Ashley Moore). Complimenting the younger cast are the parent characters, the two prominent ones being Lennon and Alison’s dad (Bill Heck) who seems very knowledgable about covering their tracks about their little secret while his not-so-secret special fling with the police sheriff (Fiona Rene) who no doubt is a focus considering she is investigating all these deaths hitting their small town.

Overall, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a remake. It literally only uses the skeleton of the premise and builds from there. The film is set in sunny Hawaii which makes for some nice scenery. The cast itself is fairly decent for this type of teen series fare. While the plot itself has its fair share of head-scratching developments aka plot holes, it still fairly enjoyable to watch. I’m not sure anyone heading into these teen series are expecting some revelation or revolutionary profound watch so there’s no point in trying to make it what it isn’t. However, the show does have its fair share of tackling different personal issues that a lot of these shows normally would have and does it in a decent way. Slasher genre in general aren’t really supposed to taken that seriously since its just a fun time. Putting aside the comparisons, the show itself is pretty fun with decent moments of mystery and suspicion, building tension and a nice little wrap-up for the season-long mystery.

As a final thought in general, these teen slasher TV genre really seems to be struggling. It definitely makes me wonder why that’s the case. Teen series aim for a younger crowd so the original shows should bank on this better, perhaps Scream Queens being a nice example since it did make it to 2 seasons where other adapted or remade series might have its bigger issues as older audience than teens might want to venture into it since those would be compared to their source materials or film adaptation predecessors. Not sure there’s any conclusion to this thought but its been something that I’ve thought about whenever thinking about these series.

2022 Upcoming Plans!

Its 2022! After spending an entire year in the pandemic last year, life has definitely changed from watching new releases to just real life in general. Routine and everything has definitely taken a shift. Its the new year and we can only hope that we will hopefully escape the pandemic in some form in the coming year.

With all that said, yesterday we wrapped up with a 2021 overview and today is to share what to expect in 2022. Not a whole lot of change in general but for those new to the blog, it will give a general guideline of what to expect. I will try my best to achieve the majority of it but some things may not actually pan out. Its just how life works in general. If 2021 has taught me anything, its to just let things flow.

Enough of that and let’s move on to the actual plans!

BOOKS

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2022: 15 books

Last year was a massive fail in terms of reading. So I’ve basically opted to half the goal from last year. This goal feels overall attainable. One book or so a month seems pretty doable in general. I recently did a clean-up of my books and the goal is to go through the physical TBR books sitting on my bookshelves.

MOVIES

Movies will be basically the same thing as this year. I truly don’t believe new theatrical releases are in the horizon in terms of actual theatre visits so I’m going to focus on Netflix, Shudder and Digital rentals for most new releases. At the same time, this year’s big change is to take a year off of festival coverage. I will talk briefly about some life changes below as we get into some personal plans.

  • Focus on Double Features format
  • New releases or screeners get single reviews
  • Marathons:
    • February- Valentine Romance
    • October – Horror
    • December – Holidays
  • Ultimate Decades Blogathon: annual blogathon that I co-host is back and announcement post will be coming in a few weeks
  • Movies and Tea Podcast: podcast that I co-host will simultaneously be shared here as we dive into more director filmography and themed seasons

TV

All TV binges this year will focus on Netflix content for the greater part.

Where will the Chinese-language dramas that I consume go? That’s in the next section below!

TRANQUIL DREAMS PODCAST

After a few months of hiatus, the podcast will be making a return. This time, I’m going back to the original concept of what I had initially wanted to do with the podcast: Chinese-Language Dramas!

The podcast still needs some structural elements to be finalized but I will be covering Chinese-Language Dramas. What does that mean? Mainland Chinese, Taiwan and Hong Kong TV dramas. The main focus will be those accessible on streaming services since they are becoming more and more available on Netflix alone and I feel like it doesn’t get talked about enough since there are a few gems in general.

I am debating to have a Chinese and English version but that’s a whole other discussion which I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to quite yet in terms of time and editing alone. I do also have another idea for moving the once Sunday lists here as a monthly podcast segment but its a little more work so still under consideration.

MONTHLY SEGMENTS

Mostly the same:

  • Music Obsessions: first weekend of every month
  • Adventures & What’s Up: combined together at month-end

PARTIAL REVIVAL: BAKING THROUGH DISNEY & STUDIO GHIBLI

Look, Baking Through Disney is behind us. There’s no point in dwelling on something that probably won’t happen at this point. I bake desserts pretty much once a year. I’m not saying that it won’t happen again since I have been having the thought lately (due to some upcoming changes) but it won’t be happening in a good part of this year. However, I’m going through a bit of a burnout on horror films which makes the movie portion for horror marathon a big maybe whether I will do it by October or not. Maybe I will be out of it but other factors come into play (also something mentioned later in this post).

With all that said, I’ve been missing animated films and think its a great time to jump back into it so I do want to review Disney films preferably in the order of the ones I have access to or can rent (unless Disney+ has another cheap subscription month), very much like how the original project was structured minus the baking and creativity part. With that, I do also want to go through the Studio Ghibli films seeing as they are mostly available on Netflix right now. Perfect timing and all.

PERSONAL LIFE GOALS (AND A LITTLE UPDATE)

Most of the blog stuff is pretty much updated above so we will do some quick personal life goals. Last year’s workout goal in general worked at its best during the summer. This year is a little bit more different.

Let’s start with the update and real life news/update that may create the biggest change for my life and blog. I’m pregnant and due in a few months so anything in the second half of 2022 will be a big unknown at this point. With that said, the life goals will be very much oriented towards this new change.

  • Eat healthier: For obvious reasons, this is already underway. I am in the process of boosting calcium since lactose intolerance doesn’t exactly help in that department. Along with that, also boosting fruit consumption since I was very bad at that last year.
  • Streaming Once A Week: After that one stream last year in March, I’ve been thinking of streaming regularly for a while but never really had the right timing. So, I thought I’d take baby steps and set in one stream every weekend. I will probably do an official announcement once I finally take the step to start it up.
  • Set Up the Nursery & New Office: The news above basically means I’m working on clearing out my current office to transform into the nursery. I mean, this is a gradual to-do list. There’s a general plan right now so this kind of links to the above goal since I do want to transition to the new office area in the house before streaming. Less hassle that way.

FINAL GENERAL NOTE FOR THE BLOG

I’ve been slowing down on writing this past year. A lot contributed to it. With the new changes in life, I don’t foresee writing frequency increasing and I don’t want to stress over it. The goal is to get a post up every 2 to 3 days. Plus, after a decade of blogging, I do want to jump into some new projects hence the solo podcast with this new structure and also streaming. Maybe when those things happen, I will also want to write more. It will take time for a new routine to build in so some of the newer things will be lesser frequency. Either way, I am going to maintain the quality instead of quantity.

2022 will hopefully be a great year despite the craziness in reality!
Happy New Year and Wishing Everyone All the Best!

Do you all have some new projects? Feel free to share it in the comments!

My December 2021 Adventures + Overview of the Year

After an entire year of pandemic (and ongoing from the previous year), we’ve finally reached the end of 2021. Its a tad wild and yet 2021 went by incredibly fast despite all the sitting at home, watching TV, playing games, and finding other ways from our own homes to connect with friends. Of course, the blog is not about that and while here took a little slowdown in the last few months mostly for personal IRL reasons, I still think it was very much needed. With that said, a little look at some simple activities in December. We will end with an overview of 2021: some simple numbers, and top 10 lists. You know, this is the normal deal on the last day of the year.

Christmas Decorations

Beyond Monet

Before things started getting worse in Montreal, we managed to make it to the Beyond Monet exhibit. Monet art is something that means a lot to me as art is something is what reminds me of my childhood with my father. With that said, this exhibit was quite the show as its a 360 wall of Monet art that flips through the details of each collection while pairing it with classical music (in majority, there was some opera as well).

OVERVIEW OF 2021

Its the end of 2021 and with that, its time for some quick numbers! First of all, we are dropping blogging statistics this year because its really not something that was top on my list this year. However, let’s focus back on the content that was consumed.

  • Total films watched: 215 movies
  • Total books read: 9 books
  • Total TV series binged: 69 seasons

Top 10 First Time Watches

  1. Hand Rolled Cigarette
  2. Vicious Fun
  3. Dreams On Fire
  4. The Final Girls
  5. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  6. Inglourious Basterds
  7. Better Days
  8. The Dressmaker
  9. Hello! Tapir
  10. Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes

Top 10 TV series

  1. Flourish in Time
  2. Baking Impossible
  3. Our Secret
  4. Squid Game
  5. Moonlight
  6. Lost In Space (Season 1-3)
  7. Love Crossed
  8. A Murderous Affair in Horizon Tower
  9. Use For Our Talent
  10. Sweet Home

Overall, 2021 was a decrease in content in general for film watching in general. The actually movie watching for 2021 releases was all focused on what was accessible on streaming services or online. Some of which is still waiting to be written up. Less posts written, less movies watched, a new podcast (which is currently in hiatus for rebuild), more TV watching (I believe since I didn’t track it last year), an unbelievable backlog of movies and TV series to write up reviews and a whole lot less books read is where I’m at as we approach this year-end. However, its been a crazy year in real life so I think all things aside, its amazing that things are still running the way it is.

Drop by tomorrow to see the 2022 upcoming plans post!
There’s some little changes and announcements!

TV Binge: Blown Away: Christmas (Season 1, 2021)

Blown Away: Christmas (Season 1, 2021)

Host: Bobby Berk & Katherine Gray

Five fan-favorite glass blowers return to the hot shop to compete in a series of Christmas-themed challenges; the winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize, plus an additional $10,000 will be donated to his or her charity of choice. – IMDB

Let’s just put it out there right now that I never watched any of the Blown Away seasons before this one (at the point where I’m writing this post, but probably will later). I also know nothing about glass blowing. The extent of my knowledge is the one time I went to Seattle and saw it being done at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. With that said, I am really happy with the variety of competition shows that Netflix produces since it shows off a lot of the different arts out there and giving it a platform for others to know more about the artists just quietly working on their craft in their corner.

Blown Away: Christmas is four episodes long and brings back five of the fan-favorites from the past 2 seasons as they compete in different Christmas-themed challenges. The variety is pretty good as well as the whole narrative. The episodes run fairly short as well at about 20-ish minutes. Its very swift to say the least as they run through some of their processes on what they are making and introducing some of the techniques that they are using as they dive into their different meanings towards Christmas whether its memorable presents to the big finale creating their own version of winter wonderland. The artists are all very diverse in their artistic style which always adds to these types of shows. Plus, all the artists are all really interesting people as they share their own traditions.

The show itself is hosted by Bobby Berk who admits right away that he knows nothing about glass blowing but from the Queer Eye show he is very familiar with home decor so his expertise comes into play for the artistic elements of the piece. Plus, he adds in the little pun-y jokes in his narration as well as a fun personality as he hosts with resident judge, Katherine Gray, who is there to offer her expertise in glass-blowing and knows these artists from the previous seasons. The dynamic between the two is pretty good.

Overall, Blown Away: Christmas is pretty fun. Its a great introduction to the show itself and has left me wanting to check out the normal seasons, like the previous 2 seasons. The pieces are truly beautiful and very creative. The whole show is pretty feel good to watch even if it is a competition.

TV Binge: Girls Und Panzer (Season 1, 2012)

Girls Und Panzer (Season 1, 2012)

Miho Nishizumi comes from a family famous for their skills in Senshado, the art of tank warfare. However, she dishonored her family name, so she attends the no-name high school called Oorai, which doesn’t have a Senshado club, wanting to stay away from it. But, the student council president has other plans, wanting to save their school from termination by winning the Senshado tournament. – IMDB

Its been a while since we’ve talked about any anime here. Its fine time to talk about the the latest one that I watched although it has already left Netflix. Girls Und Panzer is a interesting premise with schools on freighter ships away from the main land and the focus on tankery as an extracurricular activity. There’s so much to love about it mostly because war-like commands seem like its very focused on men and war but this one is an amicable strategy competition between different schools and bases around these girls at this school as they work together to make it happen with the main girl Miho being a girl that wanted to run away from her family and tankery but ending up with a school who rebuilt tankery in hopes of saving their school. I’m going to say right away that this is the rare occasion that I watched the English dub version, which was very adequate and entertaining. Minor things didn’t match up to the subtitles in comparison but it all translated to pretty much the same thing.

Girls Und Panzer is a little odd at times and a little quirky but overall, it has a really positive and fun vibe. Using the whole tank warfare as their focus is a unique angle for the story especially when it captures a girl who has refound her passion for something her family is renowned for but she has been shamed upon her ways as she isn’t doing it the conventional way but in a more caring way. It reflects in the team that she eventually is asked to direct as the commander for all the other tanks. Miho’s character eventually is crafted into a much stronger one by the end of season one. Much her team, especially the her core team which she runs the tank with as the flagship. They end up truly bonding as each of the characters also have their little background and something that they are fighting for as well or a certain value they find from joining into this.

While the characters themselves are pretty fun, the key element and the most fun of the series is the tank warfare sequences which they do spend a lot of time doing as the Oorai school pretty much has one friendly match as practice and then gets pushed into the competition against some of the top schools which also brings in some colorful opponents from different parts of the world and their own set of strategy versus theirs. All that stuff is pretty fun as the crew learns more about how to strategize and it smoothly flows from one thing to the next as they learn from their previous matches each time around. Not to mention, they actually bring up different actual tanks that did exist (a mega thanks to my husband who knows a lot about history who shared this knowledge with me while we were watching it) even if some of them (according to my husband again) was a little out of reality but it is an anime so a lot of these things can be ignored in my opinion.

Overall, Girls Und Panzer is a really fun series. Its a unique angle and the characters are all pretty good plus there’s a decent bit of comedy that lands pretty well even if some of it is a tad bizarre and quirky. Its a little sad to see that they didn’t get past the first season but there are a few films released after the TV series which is something that I am trying to hunt down.

TV Binge: Midnight Mass (2021)

Midnight Mass (2021)

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Igby Rigney, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Rahul Abburi, Hamish Linklater, Henry Thomas, Michael Trucco, Matt Biedel, Crystal Balint

An isolated island community experiences miraculous events – and frightening omens – after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest. – IMDB

The third Netflix limited series of Mike Flanagan takes a completely different direction. Midnight Mass is bigger than the haunted house set-up but instead tackles an isolated island community and the uprise in religious faith after their new priest is able to create a miracle. This review will be mostly spoiler-free so some things will be much more general. If you’ve watched it, you might what I am addressing.

Diving religion and belief is a pretty ambitious direction to take especially since it also is a rather touchy subject for the most part. It brings up a lot of different viewpoints of religion in community which in a small little island setting does show the diversity of how many people treat religion on a daily basis as well as the extremities of beliefs and perhaps the dependency on it when faith creates miracles. There’s quite a few themes here but in reality the most important element being how these characters are crafted from their experiences and the relationships that grow whether on a family, romantic and friendship. The setting itself gives it a closed off and isolated environment but also manages to create a lot of diversity. When you bring in a stranger, the unknown and mysterious parts of this stranger become a spotlight and brings on the curiosity especially when they are more charismatic than dangerous. Much like someone returning to the island with their own background also has a sense of a new character where they try to re-establish themselves.

Where Flanagan’s shows are most successful is how the story crafts its characters. It makes human nature be the biggest force in what creates the creepy elements sometimes even more than the horror and sinister elements themselves. That’s not saying that Flanagan doesn’t create some genuine startling moments which does bring on a lot of questions especially with their unknown “monster’ that is rumored from their deserted off island where the youths go to hang out in the beginning to its appearances showing up across town. It brings back memories of Absentia when Flanagan creates a character with so little revealed that it creates so much suspense and mystery that brings along the horror. Of course, that’s been while ago and Midnight Mass has much more budget where it can create something a little different in what is actually going on. Although, in terms of execution, it does feel like the big reveal was done a little too early which makes what happens after feel like it drags a little bit longer than it needs to therefore losing the effects. its not to say that its not a shocking ending or that the end result does leave space to contemplate about some of its messages.

That being said, its hard to not talk about the characters here which are pretty well-casted overall. Starting off from Zach Gilford as Riley who returns from his four year prison sentence after killing a woman in an recent accident that causes him to be haunted by the scene over and over again every night. He returns to having to readjust both to the small town and their judgments as well as getting back to good terms with his family so that they can accept him while also facing his ex-girlfriend, Erin (Kate Siegel) who he soon finds out has returned back to the island pregnant but has followed her mother’s footsteps as a schoolteacher. Their reunited friendship keeps both of them comfortable as Erin helps Riley find somewhere that he belongs and isn’t judged but also understands the hurdles of coming back while they respectively have changed in their faith in opposite directions as Riley has lost his religion and faith where Erin has found it upon her return. These two characters are no doubt the center of the entire plot. Much like the island’s new sheriff, Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) also have a pretty strong role as their difference in appearance and religion create their own hurdles of how certain members of the island creates barriers of how they don’t understand how the island operates, sticking to their own ways. This leads to the church portion which brings on a very well-portrayed in the most frustrating sort of character who sits at an extreme of the religious spectrum in her absolute faith and belief, Miss Keane who is one of those very strong type of characters that carries the sharpest words, narrow-minded and is overall a pretty extreme type of person who acts like she is doing good when she is actually a pretty mean person as she manipulates others using her influence. Which leads to the new member of the Church, the young priest Father Hill who temporarily replace their elderly priest who is both charismatic and wise with his views and plays the mystery stranger role which has quite a shocking reveal.

Midnight Mass is full of well-developed characters which each contribute so much to the plot itself. There’s a lot to love about this mini series. In some ways, it dances around the sensitive topic of religion and faith when it is taken to its extremities and how it turn into something that can be freely interpreted using the Bible with any situation to manipulate situation when its believed to be good but it isn’t. As the character dynamics change with the constantly changing situation, this island and community becomes so intriguing to watch. Even if the ending seems a little wild, it does manage to keep its audience contemplating about the deeper messages portrayed here whether its about loss, grief, belief, faith, religion, etc.

TV Binge: The Squid Game (Season 1, 2021)

*This is a mostly spoiler-free review however, some elements discussed may take away from the viewing experience so feel free to return after you’ve seen the series.*

The Squid Game (Season 1, 2021)

Creator: Dong-hyuk Hwang

Cast: Jung-jae Lee, Hae-soo Park, Ha-jun Wi, Young-soo Oh, Ho-yeon Jung, Sung-tae Heo, Joo-ryoung Kim, Tripathi Anupam, Seong-joo You, You-mi Lee

Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits with deadly high stakes. A survival game that has a whopping 40-million-dollar prize at stake. – IMDB

Survival games in TV series, movies or books aren’t really unseen or uncommon at this point. The Squid Game is a South Korean Netflix thriller series which sets up a survival game where an initial 456 players are invited from their hopelessness in life and desperation for money with no clue of what to expect until the first game starts and it becomes a do or die situation where it claims to provide a fair and equal world where as long as they follow the rule, they will be able to get out with the prize money.

This is the case for most of the characters here as they meet up during the first game: Gi-hun (Jung-jae Lee), Sang-woo (Hae-soo Park), Ali (Tripathi Anupam), Player 1 (Young-soo Oh), Sae-byeok (Ho-Yeong Jung) who end up teaming up while the players also have those who are much more ruthless lead by Deok-su (Sung-tae Heo) and the more uncertain factor with a woman called Mi-Nyeo (Joo-ryoung Kim). These players are core as each of them represent something different in the society and each have their own personality which sees them making it to certain phases as the teams start forming after the lesson of the first game with a very obvious turning point where they need to change. Its not hard to see who will be the changing factors however, these characters do truly grow on the audience throughout that some scenes that struggle between a selfish desire to survive creates these moral dilemmas between the characters that show the wear that it has on them.

The main character Gi-Hun being constantly in that spotlight as his character has some of the biggest changes from the beginning to the ending that feel subtle but can be seen in his decisions and struggles. Much like the cold Sae-Byeok who is judged by her North Korean background but also changes throughout as she starts to find trust in her alliances. Much like a very naive Ali who wants to win this for his family but ends up being constantly used to forward others plans unknowingly. Each game dives into a different moral element and strategy which takes an profound and poignant turn in the 4th game especially with the old neighborhood setup that isn’t as big as the other game settings but manages to create a significant contrast especially after the previous game’s focus on strategy and teamwork.

While it focuses on the players for the most part, the show also has the flip side with a cop Jun-ho (Ha-Jun Wi) that is investigating the disappearance of his brother which leads him to sneaking around the game headquarters undercover blending into different people from the game. Having recently been impressed by Ha-Jun Wi’s performance in Midnight (review), it was such a pleasant surprise to see him in this very different role and doing a fantastic job. Even if the dialogue isn’t quite a lot, his character is very well-executed. With that said, his side of the story shares the operational elements of The Squid Game of what the whole deal is. This element brings in a lot of twists and turns with a lot of unknown elements seeing as the guards and Front Man are all masked for the majority of the film. Having both the players and operations both being shown gives the audience more knowledge than the players to a certain extent and keeps the story balanced with not just death and survival but also mystery and suspense.

There is no doubt that the survival elements of the game is the most thrilling to watch especially with the use of Korean childhood games. Some of which are more familiar to the outside world and some which give it that Korean twist especially with the title game, The Squid Game which adds a cultural element. The sets are fantastically designed and every single one levels up from the previous both in how they creatively add in the danger element and incorporate the strategy while also revealing the characters for their true personality. The set-up is rather brutal to watch for the most part and is done incredibly well. As the games get worse and more unpredictable, the true purpose of The Squid Game is gradually revealed as the operations gets tracked down by the cop character which adds another layer to the story that leads right up to the ending that keeps it wide open for a second season with a lot of unanswered questions and many more possibilities. That ending though does leave a lot to think about whether about the whole plot, the clues that lead to the big reveal and ponder on trust and faith in humanity in general.