Saturday, August 21, 2021

Fantasia 2021 – Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette (2021)

Movie Name/Year: Fantasia 2021 – Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette (2021)
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Length: 119 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Language: Japanese
Director: Tsutomu Hanabusa
Actors: Minami Hamabe, Mahiro Takasugi, Ryusei Fujii
Blurb from IMDb: A school appears peaceful from a distance, but a fierce gambling battle takes place once again. Yumeko Jabami is involved in the battle.

Selina’s Point of View:
Once I saw the first Kakegurui (2019) I had to jump right into the sequel. Since both were available in the Fantasia Film Festival, I wasted no time.
It was even better than the first one.
I have to note there’s a drastic tone change between the first and second films. Although Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette does keep some of that over-the-top humor that anime brings to the table, it went much darker than the first. No time was wasted in letting us know that, either.
We get a quick idea of how the events of Kakegurui have affected the setting, and then we’re thrown into an insane plot that never slows down.

I’ll admit, the new antagonist didn’t give off a good first impression. I thought he was a little goofy. After a few scenes with him, however, all his idiosyncrasies started to make sense and he went from goofy to disturbing. Gone was the high school-level bickering of the president and the rising threat to her dominance. In its place we got a mad man capable of anything and complete chaos.
I found myself holding my breath at times. It wasn’t as unpredictable as the first, but it definitely kept me on my toes.
I only have one complaint. It’s not enough to sully my love for the movie, but it’s a consideration. There was a musical scene that just felt completely out of place. It’s the only musical piece in either film and was unnecessary. It pulled me out of the story for a minute. That part would have been better if it didn’t leap frog into an unconnected genre.
I had high hopes for Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette, and it blew past every one of them. It is an absolute must-see.

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 5/5
Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R
Movie Trailer: 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Sweet Girl (2021)


Streaming Services: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Sweet Girl (2021)
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Length: 109 minutes
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: ASAP Entertainment, On The Roam, Pride of Gypsies, Netflix
Director: Brian Andrew Mendoza
Writers:  Gregg Hurwitz, Philip Eisner
Actors: Jason Momoa, Isabela Merced, Adria Arjona, Amy Brenneman, Brian Howe, Justin Bartha, Katy M. O'Brian, Lex Scott Davis, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Michael Raymond-James, Nelson Franklin, Reggie Lee
Blurb from IMDb:  A devastated husband vows to bring justice to the people responsible for his wife's death while protecting the only family he has left, his daughter.

Cat’s Point of View:
Selina and I both listed Sweet Girl as our #5 pick for the Top 20 Movies to Look Out For in August 2021, and for similar reasons. Between the cast and the story the trailer alluded to, Sweet Girl seemed like a sure bet.
The US Healthcare system is woefully broken. The attempts to try and level the playing field to make healthcare more affordable have been nerfed and undermined at every turn, so that it’s not even a good temporary bandage for the hemorrhagic situation. It’s disgusting how these big companies are bleeding people dry, or simply only offering the well-to-do the options for treatment.

Now, there are some that do go out of their way to try and help the patients that rely on their medicines. I’ve been relatively lucky with the company that makes my MS medicine which has kept me stable for going on 7 years now. They offer copay assistance programs and help to secure grants for medicine costs. Even with Medicare coverage, if I had to pay my 20% of the medicine cost out-of-pocket, it would be $2,000.00 per month. I am thankful every day for the help that I’ve received – but there are too many that aren’t as lucky. There are too many deciding between food and shelter and lifesaving medicine.
It’s hard not to go on a bit of a rant tangent when subjects like this come up. It’s something I can’t ignore and hits close to home for me. Pardon my digression.

What I got out of the trailer for Sweet Girl was Jason Momoa’s (Bullet to the Head, Frontier, See) character going on an action-filled revenge-fueled quest to expose a Big Pharma executive for the actions that led to the death of his wife. The pressing question here is whether or not the movie delivered. The verdict? Sort of. Was it as good as I was expecting? I’m still processing through that.
Sweet Girl is proving to be a bit divisive with audiences. I’ve seen critics argue that the film tries to do too much, that it’s predictable, and that it was too long. I can give them a couple of those points. It was on the long side for an action movie, and there were predictable elements within the story.

At the same time, one shouldn’t expect that diving down the Big Pharma rabbit hole would be cut and dry. I appreciated the layers within the story, and there were some twists that I didn’t exactly see coming. Now that the credits have rolled and I reflect on Sweet Girl, though, I can see some of the breadcrumbs that were left along the way.
I do feel that I must put my foot down and disagree with those that were unhappy with Isabela Merced’s (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Instant Family, Spirit Untamed) performance. Were we watching the same movie? I thought she kicked ass and captured the nuances of her character well.
I’d have to say that while I wasn’t disappointed in Sweet Girl, it could have used a little more polish. That being said, I generally enjoyed the experience and can only recommend that anyone on the fence simply give it a shot and see for yourself. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 21%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 50%
Metascore – 43%
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 5.6/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 3/5
Movie Trailer:

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Fantasia 2021: Yakuza Princess (2021)

Movie Name/Year: Fantasia 2021: Yakuza Princess (2021)
Genre: Thriller, Action
Length: 111 minutes
Rating: R
Language: English
Production/Distribution: Filmland International, XYZ Films, Magnet Releasing, Magnolia Pictures, Vortex Media
Director: Vicente Amorim
Writer: Vicente Amorim, Danilo Beyrouth
Actors: MASUMI, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Tsuyoshi Ihara,
Blurb from IMDb: The heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate forges an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac stranger who believes an ancient sword binds their two fates. She must unleash war against the other half of the syndicate who wants her dead.

Selina’s Point of View:
I was super excited to see Yakuza Princess as part of the Fantasia Film Festival line up. Nothing offers up some pure escapism like an action thriller.
This movie is an adaptation of a graphic novel. Off the bat, I need to note that I’m unfamiliar with the original work. I can’t speak on what the quality of Yakuza Princess is as an adaptation. I can only judge it as a movie. How it matches up to the graphic novel, how it represents the characters fans know… those are aspects that can only be judged by readers of the original.
That said, I did enjoy this.  
There’s something about a film drenched in blues that really brings out the fantasy of the story for me. It feels darker and edgier. It also makes me feel more like the events are a memory than something I’m currently watching. For me, that works. It helps with the suspension of disbelief because I don’t need to consider things like what year it’s taking part in. If there are any inconsistencies to the timeline, it becomes inconsequential.
That blue can also add some serious contrast to the dark reds involved with the bloodshed in action scenes – and there was no lack of blood involved here.

The action was absolutely brutal. There were kills in Yakuza Princess that I have never seen on film as graphically anywhere else. The use of the sword, and its mythology, gave the creators a lot to work with and they didn’t let anything go to waste.
I did find the first part of the film, not including the prologue opening, to be a bit confusing. It helped to generate a great deal of intrigue for the most part, but there were also a few moments where things connected so strangely that I thought I might have missed something. I don’t think it was a huge issue, because it all came together in the end, but it was a touch annoying at the time.
The plot was decent. There were a few relatively expected tropes, but they avoided the worst ones. As a result, Yakuza Princess winds up feeling a bit like an origin story. Maybe we’ll be seeing some sequels in the future. I wouldn’t hate that.
MASUMI (Posse, Run Baby Run, CheckMate) is not an actor I’m familiar with, but she was definitely bad-ass in this flick. She felt like she fit the part well, and I can see her getting even better in the future as she’s allowed to evolve her take on the character. Johnathan Rhys Meyers (The 12th Man, Black Butterfly, London Town) sold that panicked confusion one might feel in a situation where they’ve lost their memory. Even in scenes where it wasn’t the focus, the expressions he wore made sure it was a fact that wasn’t forgotten.
Yakuza Princess was a great action thriller that was every bit of what I expected. If you have the ability to see it safely in theaters, you should. It will be unleashed to cinemas in the US, by Magnet Releasing, September 3.

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating4/5
P.S. Short mid-credit scene
Movie Trailer:

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Fantasia 2021: Glasshouse (2021)


Movie Name/Year: Fantasia 2021: Glasshouse (2021)
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Language: English
Production/DistributionLocal Motion Pictures, Crave Pictures, Showmax, Multichoice Studios
Director: Kelsey Egan
Writer: Emma Lungiswa De Wet, Kelsey Egan
Actors: Jessica Alexander, Hilton Pelser, Anja Taljaard, Adrienne Pearce, Brent Vermeulen, Kitty Harris
Blurb from IMDb: Confined to their glasshouse, a family survives The Shred, a toxin that erases memory. Until the sisters are seduced by a Stranger who shatters their peace and stirs a past best left buried.

Selina’s Point of View:
When I see a post-apocalyptic thriller on my Fantasia Film Festival watch list, I have certain expectations. I think that really worked against me this time, because Glasshouse definitely leaned more toward the drama genre.
Settings like the one attempted in this film are hard. It’s a very confined space with a limited number of characters. Whenever a movie like this is created, it’s exceptionally important that the story captures the audience’s attention – but it lives or dies on the actors’ ability to hold onto it.
Where Glasshouse is concerned, the actors fell into their parts and 100% became each character they portrayed.
Jessica Alexander (Get Even, Penny on M.A.R.S., A Banquet), Hilton Pelser (The Kissing Booth, Moffie, Home Affairs: A Christmas Tale), Anja Taljaard (Camp Getaway, Double Echo, Inspector Sunshine), Adrienne Pearce (Troy: Fall of a City, Bhai’s Café, The Red Sea Diving Resort), Brent Vermeulen (The Harvesters, Griekwastad, Spoorloos 3), and Kitty Harris were outstanding. From the chaotic drifter to the youngest of the cast, they were flawless. Every time someone opened their mouths, it was like a hook back into the events.
Which leads me to my one issue.

It was painfully slow.
From a hardcore, film student, part-of-the-business, perspective – that wouldn’t be an issue. From a mainstream and, in my case, neurodiverse perspective – the pace mattered. I had trouble concentrating through it.
For many movies, that would have been the death of my enjoyment. However, because the actors kept pulling me back in, I was able to stick with it until events ramped up and started getting intriguing. I’m glad I stuck with it, too. It’s a film I’ll remember fondly.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that a second watch-through of Glasshouse is almost necessary. There are many bits and pieces of scenes that hit harder, and make more sense, the second time around. If you opt to watch it once, you should watch it twice.
It was a brutally beautiful story and setting. A lot of people will absolutely love it, but it won’t be for everyone.

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating3.5/5
Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R
Movie Trailer:

Monday, August 16, 2021

Jakob's Wife (2021)

Streaming Services: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: Jakob’s Wife (2021)
Genre: Horror
Length: 98 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: AMP International, Eyevox, AMP International, Front Row Filmed Entertainment, Première TV Distribution, RLJE Films
Director: Travis Stevens
Writers:  Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, Travis Stevens
Actors: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Phil “C.M. Punk” Brooks, Jay DeVon Johnson, Mark Kelly, Nyisha Bell, Omar Salazar, Robert Rusler, Sarah Lind, Angelie Simone, Ned Yousef, Giovannie Cruz, Armani Desirae, Monica L. Henry, Skeeta Jenkins, Kathe Newcomb
Blurb from IMDb:  Anne, married to a small-town Minister, feels her life has been shrinking over the past 30 years. Encountering "The Master" brings her a new sense of power and an appetite to live bolder. However, the change comes with a heavy body count.

Cat’s Point of View:
Jakob’s Wife started out as a slow burn and then took a delightful turn into enjoyable territory.
My first thoughts were of confusion since the movie starts out with a focus that drifts away from the titular character. Soon enough the reason is clear, however. My next impression was, unfortunately, tedium. The first chunk of Jakob’s Wife nearly lost me. My eyes felt like they might glaze over.
I couldn’t bring myself to relate to the meek and soft-spoken pastor’s wife. I did appreciate that the potential for boldness was just beneath the surface, though, waiting to be set free. I grabbed onto those hints like lifelines, begging things to improve sooner rather than later. Thankfully, Jakob’s Wife delivered relief as the story began to pick up.

While the film is ostensibly a vampire tale, it’s not entirely a traditional one. I can’t say I’ve seen it done exactly in this way before. I don’t want to give any spoilers regarding this particular brand of bloodsucker. Sadly, that keeps me from mentioning too many details about the character of The Master, either. I quite enjoyed the surprise revelation at the end regarding their identity and the method to their madness. I’m hoping that same light bulb moment happens for other viewers as well.
Barbara Crampton (The Lords of Salem, We Are Still Here, Creepshow) really dug her teeth into this part. By the end, I was able to forgive the blandness of her character in the beginning. The difference became literally night and day. Larry Fessenden (Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, Southbound, The Dead Don't Die) brought subtle comedy into this genre flick while at the same time embodying the Minister role to a T.

I couldn’t say that Jakob’s Wife is a pure genre production, as IMDb would suggest. It’s largely a social commentary on marriage along the lines of a drama; and stays mostly in that lane until the horror elements creep in.
While some of the gore effects were a little on the hokey side with blood fountains galore, the effects for Jakob’s Wife were solid and predominantly practical. The big-bad character design was really interesting as well. I enjoyed that while somewhat following the traditional vampire recipe, they threw these new ingredients into the mix and had that reflected in the creature effects also.
When all was said and done, I found myself entertained by Jakob’s Wife and adoring the way things ended.
If you’d like to catch this new spin on a vampire tale, you can check out this Shudder Exclusive premiering on Thursday, August 19th.
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 85%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 63%
Metascore – 59%
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 5.3/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 3.5/5
Trust the Dice: Parental Advisory Rating – R
Movie Trailer: