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I love all things geek. Gaming, comics, anime, movies are things I consume on a regular basis. I enjoy writing reviews on the latest releases, and digging in on the latest and greatest. The masses deserve to know what’s good!

REVIEW: Tigertail

NETFLIX
Rated: PG
Run Time: 91 minutes
Director: Alan Yang

May is a special month for me as it is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Essentially, it’s a time to recognize the contributions and influence of Asian-Americans towards the United States. When deciding on what film I wanted to review in May I tried to keep this special month in mind, and luckily Netflix had the hookup with their release of the film Tigertail. Directed by Alan Yang, who worked on the fantastic Netflix show Master of None, Tigertail tells the story of Pin-Jui: starting with his childhood in Taiwan and leading to his adulthood as an American immigrant. 

As a young man Pin-Jui has big dreams. He works the rice fields making a meager wage and longs to live a life where he no longer has to worry about his financial situation, and so he can retire and take care of his mother. This desire leads him to accept his boss’s offer of an arranged marriage and also a chance at a new life in New York City. But this comes at a cost as he must leave all he knows behind—including his childhood love, Yuan.

Tigertail’s story structure bounces between Pin-Jui’s past life and his present. When the story takes place in the past the color palette of the film pertains rich, strong hues, while the present is desaturated and dull; the sets also have a very distinct look for each time period. However, the structure hamstrings the film—I ended up confused as to where the film was taking place, and it becomes further complicated as the present storyline is shared with Pin-Jui’s daughter Angela (played by Christine Ko), and shares her strained relationship with her father and fiancé.

Christine Ko and Tzi Ma in a scene of Tigertail |NETFLIX

Pin-Jui is a deeply flawed character (which I admired), and when he told his daughter that “crying is for the weak” it struck me to the core: he isn’t a cruel character but rather a tragic one. He sacrificed all he loved to chase the American Dream, something that he thought would solve his problems, but the cost of that dream is in the emotional consequences. Pin-Jui is played by the excellent Tzi Ma and I could really feel his struggles. He lets you see someone who’s been taught to keep his emotions bottled up and when he finally tries to let them out he fumbles so hard it’s difficult to watch—it reminded me a lot of my own father.

Despite my issues with the film’s editing and pacing, the story was something I very strongly resonated with; being the son of Asian immigrants, there was a lot I could reflect back on. When I was younger I always thought my parents were too hard on me, and they always pushed me so hard to succeed to the point where I would be incredibly frustrated. Looking back and reflecting after watching this film I understand why they pushed me so much: they simply didn’t want me to struggle and suffer like they did when they were younger. Tigertail is a wonderful story about the cost of starting a new life and the pain of leaving your life behind to start something new. It is an introspective film and a very personal act of love, showing how important it is to honor and respect those that sacrifice what they hold dear so that the next generation can succeed.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: The Platform

NETFLIX
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 94 minutes
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

I’ll have you all know that I had no plans to review this film. The plan was to review Mulan—a nice pleasant Disney film remake where I would sit down, relax, and enjoy a nice evening at the theater. However, because of the current circumstances in the world I ended up at home, watching The Platform—a movie I had never even heard of and yet made me so tense and wound up that I stayed up most of the night thinking about it. So buckle up your seatbelts friends: I’m going to explain to you why you absolutely need to carve time out of your day to watch The Platform.

Originally premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, The Platform is a Spanish film with a very simple premise; it takes place in a dystopian future in a single location—a prison.  The prison is rather peculiar as it is called a “Vertical Self-Management Center,” meaning that the prisoners are held in what is essentially a skyscraper with endless floors, each with a large hole in the center. The prisoners are each assigned a floor and a roommate, and at the end of the month they are randomly assigned a new floor. Why does the floor number matter? I’m glad you asked. At a random point in the day a platform (filled with more food than you could ever imagine) floats down from the top floor all the way to the bottom via the holes. Each pair of prisoners is given a small amount of time to “eat their fill” before the platform moves down into the next floor… But if only it were that simple.

The prison is not only home to criminals but prisoners by choice—such is the case of the main character, Goreng. He has opted to spend six months in this prison to obtain a college degree (wouldn’t that be nice) and to finally finish Don Quixote. His roommate, Trimagasi, however, is a cold-blooded killer, convicted of murdering an immigrant. While Goreng is optimistic seeing this as a good opportunity to further himself, Trimagasi is anything but. He explains to Goreng, “There are three types of people: those at the top, those at the bottom, and those who fall.” A real pleasant roommate, right? He lectures Goreng on the ways of how this prison operates: show no mercy to those beneath you, and hate those above you.

Prisoners shown easting in a scene of The Platform | NETFLIX

The message of The Platform is anything but subtle. Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia delivers the point of his movie so heavy-handed that it felt more like a slap in the face. In fact, one of the characters even gives it away as they say, “If everyone only took what they needed there would be enough for everyone,” and therein lies the true nature of this film. A message about human nature and the nature of capitalism. The prisoners at the top of the prison get their pick of the finest delicacies: Kobe beef, duck, cake, and champagne. But as the platform moves down those on the 40th floor can only eat picked-at meat covered in the saliva of others. While those on the 80th floor find nothing but bones and filth, leaving a chain of selfishness, frustration and hate.

Earlier today while I was at the grocery store I walked down the toilet paper aisle and saw nothing but barren shelves. We live in a strange time, and people are afraid. I kept thinking about that one line from this film—“If everyone only took what they needed there would be enough for everyone”— and it resonated with me how relevant this movie is in this day and age. The Platform begs the question, in the face of survival, are we selfish or compassionate? If we’re at the top, do we care about those beneath us?

Alexandra Masangkay looks up from her cell in a scene of The Platform | NETFLIX

To wrap things up I enjoyed the hell out of this film. However, it is not a film for the faint of heart—it is gory, it is violent, and it is gross. If you are squeamish do not even attempt to watch this film. The movie also struggles from a weak third act. For a movie that started out so strong I was disappointed at how the third act felt like it had a total lack of direction. Lastly, the ending is very open ended and ambiguous. A lot is left open for interpretation and that may frustrate viewers. However, if you can push things aside I think you will enjoy The Platform. It is one of the most unique horror films I have seen in a long time. It doesn’t scare you with ghosts, serial slashers, or demonic possessions; opting to horrify you in the worst way: showing you the ugliest side of human nature. It is a brutal allegory of class warfare and the inequalities of the world showing what greed and selfishness does to the human condition in a sickening way.

The Platform is available streaming on Netflix.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

“CONTINUE?” A Look at the History of Video Game Movies

John Leguizamo (left) and Bob Hoskins (right) in Super Mario Bros. (1993) | Buena Vista Pictures

The concept of turning video games into film adaptations is a great idea on paper. After all, a video game in essence is a playable movie—there are characters, a story, writing, direction, and in some cases even editing that all coalesce into a playable adventure. However, over the years video game film adaptations have historically ranged from mediocre to downright terrible. As a gamer myself who has put hundreds upon hundreds of hours into different games, this is something I would love to see succeed. With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog this month, I thought it would be worthwhile looking into how far we’ve come with video game films and where I hope they can go.

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Buena Vista Pictures (Disney)
Rated: PG
Run Time: 104 minutes
Director: Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel

Ahh yes. The one that started it all. When the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released alongside “Super Mario Bros.” it turned a goofy little plumber named Mario into a multimillion dollar franchise. With such a strong market behind it, Hollywood Pictures (a division of Walt Disney Studios at the time) obtained the rights to make a feature-length film based mostly on the Super Nintendo’s Super Mario World. The film is a strange one to say the least. While Mario games are often remembered for their bright settings, goofy creatures, and upbeat music, the Super Mario Bros. movie is a dark, dour, and abrasive take on a very bright franchise. The biggest problem with this movie is its ultra realistic and grounded take on the Mario franchise. It is an absolute train wreck of a film but there were some things I actually really enjoyed. The special effects are very unique and I even like Dennis Hopper hamming it up as King Koopa, who I guess is supposed to be Bowser? Given the ultra thin source material that the game provides, it’s hard to actually be mad at this movie. They did the best they could with what they had and the result is a total bob-omb.

Street Fighter (1994)

Universal Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 102 minutes
Director: Steven E. da Souza

Growing up I absolutely loved “Street Fighter 2.” I remember going to the arcade, putting a quarter in the machine, and getting absolutely pummeled by some kid twice my age. It was awesome. The concept of “Street Fighter” is simple: you pick one character from the multinational cast and you duke it out against another in a Best of 3 match where first character to lose all of their life is knocked out. Each character has their own individual moves such as Ryu’s iconic “Hadoken” fireball and Ken’s flaming “Shoryuken” uppercut. In fact this game was so popular it’s estimated that the revenue for it is roughly $10.61 billion—which brings us to the film. Made in 1994 and starring action movie super star John Claude Van Damme as Guile, the film was actually a commercial success grossing $99 million against a $35 million budget. Critically, however, the movie was not well-received. After re-watching the movie, it’s not hard to see why. It is another mess of a film: given its flimsy source material, the dialogue is hilariously bad, the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, and our lead actors are really never given much to work with. Van Damme is mostly fine but he isn’t ever given the chance to show off much of his martial arts skills. Also how can you be Guile without that crazy broom hair? Just go ahead and skip this movie, I would rather get pummeled in the arcade all over again than have to watch this crap.

Warcraft (2016)

Universal Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 123 minutes
Director: Duncan Jones

Let’s fast forward now to 2016 as I couldn’t bring myself to watch another 90’s video game movie, or early 2000’s video game movie for that matter. When I was in high school, I started playing “World of Warcraft” (“WoW”): an massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing game (RPG) that takes place within the setting of Blizzard’s Warcraft series. In its heyday, “WoW” boasted a player base of 10 million active players all over the world. It became a huge phenomenon that has greatly affected pop culture—from episodes of South Park to hit Internet memes such as LEEROOOOOY JENKINSSSSS (I had to). So with such a rabid fanbase, a movie had to be made for it. Well, after years and years of development issues, we finally got Warcraft in 2016. The movie is actually based on the first “Warcraft” game created in 1996 and tells the story of the first encounters between the humans and orcs as they go to war. Directed by the awesome Duncan Jones, this movie was panned critically and was actually considered a critical disappointment in the box office grossing only $47.4 million here in the United States and $439 million worldwide; regardless of that, I absolutely love this movie. It is absolutely flawed with some very questionable writing, bad character development, and some truly terrible editing but there is something about it that I just enjoy. Maybe it’s the little winks and nods to the fans, or seeing the size and scale of the Orcs in live action with some incredible computer graphic images (CGI). My fanboy bias is totally winning me over but whatever—I think it’s totally worth a watch and I really hope we get a sequel.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Paramount Pictures
Rated: PG
Run Time: 99 minutes
Director: Jeff Fowler

Growing up, I was always more of a Sonic fan. Back in the good ol’ days of the 90s, you were either a Nintendo kid or a Sega kid (I was spoiled and had both), so you were also either a Mario kid or a Sonic kid. Sonic was one of the coolest characters I had ever seen. He had so much personality packed into his little character that really spoke to me—he would tap his feet if he didn’t move; when he reached max speed, his character pose would change; and when he got smacked around, he had a hilarious dizzy expression. I kept playing Sonic games as I grew up, and he is one of my favorite video game characters of all time—a true pop culture icon! Last year when they revealed how he would look in the live action adaptation I was truly horrified, and many shared the same sentiment. His weird humanoid body and super creepy teeth made me want to burn this movie in the hottest fires imaginable and never see it again. However, in a rare turn of events, Paramount Studios actually listened to the fans and decided to delay the film so that they could redo all of the CGI for Sonic. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I saw this film a few weeks ago and I’m happy to say that it wasn’t the total dumpster fire that we were all expecting from the first trailer. Ben Schwartz is great as Sonic and Jim Carrey is absolutely hilarious as Dr. Robotnik. The story is pretty run-of-the mill and predictable, but I still laughed and smiled and didn’t leave the theater with the haunting image of Sonic’s ultra realistic teeth.

Super Mario Bros. (1993) | Buena Vista Pictures

Frankly, I see the future of video game movies as something that can continue to get better over time. The biggest key is for these film studios to respect the source material. Just like how Marvel has succeeded with their franchises, I believe that studios can propel video game movies to greater heights—as long as they trust in what the fans want and pay respect to the properties we love and adore.

REVIEW: Brahms: The Boy II

STX Entertainment
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 86 minutes
Director: William Brent Bell

Released in 2016, The Boy is actually a film that I enjoyed. It told the story of a young housekeeper, played by Lauren Cohen, who was tasked to take care of a large porcelain doll named Brahms. Throughout the film the viewer is strung along into thinking that the doll itself was haunted—with the grand reveal that Brahms was not a haunted doll: but rather a grown man living within the walls of the house (who was, quite frankly, psychotic). While it is no work of art, I thought it was a quirky one-off film with a unique narrative twist… Regardless of how pedestrian and mediocre the story was.

Fast forward to 2020 and we now have the sequel, Brahms: The Boy II. Unfortunately, instead of expanding on the unique twist the first movie told, this sequel has reversed course so poorly that it actually makes the first film look weaker. That’s right folks: this movie is so bad that it actually makes its predecessor look bad. 

But where does Brahms: The Boy II go wrong? Let’s start with the story… The movie begins with a young family whose lives have been shattered by a horrific home invasion. While the father, Sean (Owain Yeoman) is out of town his wife, Liza (Katie Holmes) and son Jude (Christopher Convery) are left to fend for themselves as robbers break into their home nearly killing them both. The event is so traumatic that young Jude is rendered mute and Liza suffers from intense PTSD (which is just passed off as an excuse to give us jump scares). The family decides to retreat into the countryside of London to heal and overcome their trauma. They end up in the guest house outside of the mansion, which was the location and setting of the entire first movie (the guest house was not a location that appeared in the first movie at all). It is from here where Jude finds Brahms buried in the soil with its hand hilariously sticking out from the ground, and finds himself a friend within the lifeless doll. His family, desperate for him to leave his state of silence, encourages their friendship with the inanimate object until Liza finds disturbing clues that hint at something being awry; pictures of murder, torn up toys, and angry animals.

Christopher Convery as “Jude” appears in a scene of Brahms: The Boy II | STX Entertainment

If that story sounds at all familiar to you, do not worry: Brahms: The Boy II is very much a run-of-the-mill sort of horror movie. Its biggest crime is that for such a strange concept and such a bizarre adversary it chooses to go down the most generic and obvious paths. Nothing in this film scared or disturbed me in the least bit. The movie seems to prefer to startle the audience with abrupt jump scares, the likes of which are unequivocally telegraphed. For a slim 86 minutes I felt incredibly bored. I found myself checking my watch frequently waiting for something to happen. The film is happy meandering about with Brahms playing small pranks on his poor victim not caring to move the plot forward at all—and boy, is it mind numbing.

My greatest frustration with this film is not the bad writing, the poor direction, or even the frequent jump scares. It’s that rather than building upon a unique story with a good twist, it totally throws the story right into the dumpster, and goes with a supernatural angle. It hamstrings the film into a total snooze fest, devoid of any suspense or cleverness. It’s so badly paced that even the scares feel out of place, and it is too shallow to offer anything insightful or disturbing to get under your skin. Brahms: The Boy II is plain and lifeless, much like the porcelain doll it is named after.

Recommendation: NO GO

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