Netflix’s Sweet Tooth: Refreshing Hope Amidst Post-Pandemic Tragedy

Netflix’s Sweet Tooth surprised me, and I rarely feel that way when it comes to television shows I already plan to watch (although what drew me to it was its terrific first trailer and the DC Comics logo adorning that trailer’s credits). I’m glad my instincts propelled me into this particular comic book-inspired post-apocalyptic universe, because while certain end-of-the-world tropes define most of this show’s initial trappings, what lies at the heart of Sweet Tooth is a uniquely heartwarming drama-adventure that basks upon an aesthetically kaleidoscopic canvas which is far from the dour, murky entrails that fuel modern dystopian storytelling.

Witnessing a viral plague tearing the civilised world apart in Sweet Tooth felt suitably surreal, and this event duly served as a stimulating launch pad for our doe-eyed and antler-bearing child protagonist, Gus. While some might glance at Gus and dismiss the entire show as mere kid-friendly entertainment, the show daringly wrestles its fair share of darker, emotional moments. However, Sweet Tooth never dwells too heavily on these aspects and instead balances bleaker moments with levity and hope abound, which I find refreshingly poignant amidst the glut of gloomy familiarity that most post-apocalyptic shows lean on.

The series congruently intertwines the seemingly disparate stories of characters we’ve met.

I especially admire how Gus’ naiveté plays well into his endlessly flowing optimism that not only eventually spreads to his world-weary travelling comrades, but also becomes a wider thematic reciprocation in the show which inspires impetus amidst the internal strife that other secondary characters experience throughout the show.

Driving towards the show’s finale (in particular the final episode), the series congruently intertwines the seemingly disparate stories of characters we’ve met, teeing up a near-perfect narrative runaway that a second season could flawlessly kick it into high gear.

With grade-A cinematography that engenders quality cinematic lighting (occasionally let down by some jarring CGI-laden sequences) and great cast performances all round, Sweet Tooth ultimately seeks to edify us about holding fast to life’s sweetening bliss that often gets lost amongst our fears and dreams.

Tell us Why Toothpaste is the Most Important Thing to a Writer

P.S. Found one of my old writing assessments for job I was applying for years ago. Enjoy the cringe!

Why’s toothpaste the most important thing to a writer, you ask?

Well, why WOULDN’T it be!

While writers might excel at crafting a mean copy on the fly, proofreading a couple of hundred pages of an unpublished manuscript without breaking a sweat and curating a web article faster than you could say “enamel health is wealth”, the same care and focus unfortunately may not always apply to their physical appearances.

Being outwardly unkempt is part and parcel of the modern writers’ persona – choosing to let their fingers on the keyboard do the talking rather than through the rigours of formal dressing or fashion. Some writers even go so far as to forgo personal hygiene in lieu of letting their creative juices run their life instead of their common sense, putting most people off.

So in that sense, more than anyone else, writers are in need of the many hygiene products shelved in their nearest Watsons or Guardian to keep ourselves presentable – not necessarily for themselves, but for the convenience and relief of those around them.

And what’s the one thing people notice about each other the moment the meet face-to-face? Their smile of course! Admit it, a friendly smile revealing shiny rows of teeth glistening at your direction never fails to catch your attention. Conversely, a distorted set of teeth can form an unpleasant impression of the person holding that muddled smile.

Therefore, if writers want to easily resolve the conundrum that is their disheveled external appearance, all they need to do is improve their smiles – and what better, cost-effective way they can accomplish just that than with brushing their teeth using toothpaste! Brushing twice a day is all you need to witness a marked improvement in your smile and subsequently your overall physical self.

Ultimately, owning a smile filled with enamel delights rather enamel disasters could do wonders for your social interactions. Couple that with your skilled writing ability and you’ve just become the James Bond of penmanship!

‘Minari’ Review: Of Familial Failure And Fortitude

Minari is a mesmerizingly raw depiction of the trials, tribulations and ever-elusive triumphs that permeate the American dream as we accompany a Korean family, the Yi family, and their Herculean endeavour to assimilate into 1980s America.

Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung crafts a poignant and universal narrative weave of veiled hope, deceitful delight and somber tranquility into one of the most spellbindingly grounded films of I’ve seen since 2016’s Manchester By The Sea.

Immaculately vulnerable performances from the whole cast elevate Chung’s poetically heartstring-pulling script into the rarely-charted filmic territory of through and through relatability. Steven Yuen’s role is especially remarkable, given that his limited feature film experience doesn’t play any diminishing factor on his performance as he masterfully lays bare his character’s imperfections and emotional unrest that underpin a mulish virility.

It’s this unpretentious authenticity in dissecting the Yi family’s intimate toils which helps cement the film’s definitive truth of what a family truly entails.

I also loved to the charming minutiae of Eastern tradition subtly planted throughout the film. From lining parchment paper inside drawers to feeling terrified of the prospect of being caned, these little moments sparked a welcome reminiscence of my personal childhood yet at the same time candidly validates the ubiquity of these experiences.

It’s this unpretentious authenticity in dissecting the Yi family’s intimate toils which helps cement the film’s definitive truth of what a family truly entails.

Because while most commercially-made family drama films would usually preach a sort of obtuse compromise as the bandage to resolve family conflict, the Yi family’s ultimate solidarity is born from a literal and symbolic baptism by fire during the film’s climax – their past struggles and antagonism now ashes that serve as the foundation of a new-found faith in themselves as a family.

And just like the enduring Minari harvest by the end of the film – a vegetable that’s said to grow stronger in its second season after a period of near-death dormancy – the Yi family can finally begin learning to reap the blooming harvest of their second chance at becoming a family after undergoing the fiery exorcism of their individual sufferings.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” Review: The Ties That Bind The Hope Of Heroism

Some called it a modern allegory of straw-grasping fantasies, others saw it as a gleaming truth buried nigh into oblivion. Yet here we are. Arising from the frankenstiened trash heap known as 2017’s “Josstice League”, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (ZSJL) finally restores a besmirched superhero chronicle to its rightful originally-intended glory. It’s unprecedented for a film panned by critics and fervently disowned by its studio to strongly permeate vast cultural ethers of fan bases to the point of resurrection and global resonance.

And what a sight it is, to behold four stirring hours of beautiful character development and performances, layered sage-esque storytelling, astounding cinematography and choreography that capture tiny subtleties in tender periods as much as thunderous moments in roaring action, and a resounding soundtrack that skillfully varies between heart-pounding and melancholically subdued – all accomplished with masterful pacing.

From Man Of Steel to Batman V Superman and now to ZSJL, Snyder charted an untrodden course in superhero filmmaking – deconstructing deified heroes within the framework of our mortal rigours and bestowing them the chance to earn, or regain, the hope of heroism by striving beyond mortal moralistic conundrums and philosophical conflictions to become the enduring titans of righteousness we know and love.

ZSJL allows our heroes the chance to finally achieve this hope not through individual feats, but through finding solace through kinship.

A world-ending threat may have brought them together, but what truly binds the League are their sorrowful despondencies predicated on a loss that each of them has suffered. Batman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg have each endured losses of people dear to them, Aquaman’s loss is one identity deficiency caused by rejection of homes in land and sea, and Flash’s loss stems from an absent parental figure robbed by injustice.

The ties that bind, a Justice League enshrined. Thus their will to prevail isn’t just borne from confronting evil, but through faith in each other’s perseverance to rise above their respective sufferings and attain what they’re meant to be. You know what that’s called? Hope.

Some called it a modern allegory of straw-grasping fantasies, others saw it as a gleaming truth buried nigh into oblivion. Yet here we are. Arising from the frankenstiened trash heap known as 2017’s “Josstice League”, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (ZSJL) finally restores a besmirched superhero chronicle to its rightful originally-intended glory. It’s unprecedented for a film panned by critics and fervently disowned by its studio to strongly permeate vast cultural ethers of fan bases to the point of resurrection and global resonance.

And what a sight it is, to behold four stirring hours of beautiful character development and performances, layered sage-esque storytelling, astounding cinematography and choreography that capture tiny subtleties in tender periods as much as thunderous moments in roaring action, and a resounding soundtrack that skillfully varies between heart-pounding and melancholically subdued – all accomplished with masterful pacing.

From Man Of Steel to Batman V Superman and now to ZSJL, Snyder charted an untrodden course in superhero filmmaking – deconstructing deified heroes within the framework of our mortal rigours and bestowing them the chance to earn, or regain, the hope of heroism by striving beyond mortal moralistic conundrums and philosophical conflictions to become the enduring titans of righteousness we know and love.

ZSJL allows our heroes the chance to finally achieve this hope not through individual feats, but through finding solace through kinship.

A world-ending threat may have brought them together, but what truly binds the League are their sorrowful despondencies predicated on a loss that each of them has suffered. Batman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg have each endured losses of people dear to them, Aquaman’s loss is one identity deficiency caused by rejection of homes in land and sea, and Flash’s loss stems from an absent parental figure robbed by injustice.

The ties that bind, a Justice League enshrined. Thus their will to prevail isn’t just borne from confronting evil, but through faith in each other’s perseverance to rise above their respective sufferings and attain what they’re meant to be. You know what that’s called? Hope.

P.S. And of course, ZSJL isn’t and shouldn’t be the end, but the provenance of something more. So, next up, #restorethesnyderverse.

‘Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’ Review: Little Moments Defining A Rich Saga

After almost 2 months, my time with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla comes to an end. The vast historical fiction open world role-playing game recounts the Viking invasion into England at 873 AD led by fictional Vikingr warrior-cum-assassin extraordinaire Eivor Wolf-Kissed, whom you control in the game.

And while Valhalla weaves a captivatingly sprawling narrative of thunderous warfare between Danes and Saxons that’s underpinned once again by the gaming franchise’s long-standing clandestine conflict between the Assassins (good guys) and Templars (bad guys), it was the little details that truly elevated the overall experience far beyond what I had initially imagined.

An open world game might usually run into the common problem of gradually becoming an empty shell that only serves to create spatial distance between two main objectives, with players avoiding everything else in between as they believe it to be fodder or obstacles in the main quest.

This issue is an even bigger risk for Valhalla considering its absolutely massive size and scope. However, Valhalla smartly populates its open world with well-placed side quests, collectibles and welcome distractions that you happen upon every 400 to 500 in-game metres, ensuring the illusion of a robustly busy world that carries on with or without the player’s meddling – just like our real world.

Eivor treks across numerous English territories that each have their own episodic stories as you come face-to-face with allies and foes, kings and slaves, lovers and heartbreakers, warriors and cowards.

Enveloping Valhalla’s quests and activities as you travel across its lands is its lush nature-laden scenery that pleasantly stopped me in my tracks several times, as I longingly gazed at the autumnal flora-rich scenery of England’s countryside, foreboding fog-filled forests, snow-capped peaks so high they pierce the heavens and mysterious alcoves shrouding tantalising secrets.

Finding myself immersed in the world’s splendorous minutia only made my character interactions within the game even more poignant. Tasked to be a king maker and enduring warrior across England to safeguard the status and longevity of his newly-settled Raven clan, Eivor treks across numerous English territories that each have their own episodic stories as you come face-to-face with allies and foes, kings and slaves, lovers and heartbreakers, warriors and cowards.

These episodic tales string together heartrending or uplifting connections with an arrestingly diverse cast of characters that firmly etched their presence in my mind. The game also goes one step further in bringing these characters together under Eivor’s stead at the game’s pivotal moments, rewarding you with a sense of endearment to see old friends gather by your side after you played a part in their own separate fables earlier in the game.

All in all, it was truly bittersweet to bid farewell to Valhalla. However, I’m comforted by this notion:

When I strum my guitar and the game’s beautiful skaldic tunes start creeping in, I’ll once more enter my hall of memories and relive glorious Nordic adventures of fighting blood-soaked sieges and raids beside comrades, sailing through rivers and high seas, revelling in mead-rich merriment as well as grazing across nature’s jaw-dropping landscapes – and know that I once breathed life into a saga worthy of Odin’s godly favour.

‘The Little Things’ Review: Devil’s In The Details

‘True Detective: The Movie’ is probably the highest compliment I can pay John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things, a neo-noir crime thriller starring a triple threat of Oscar-winning talents in Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto who command their screen presence effectively.

The film’s pacing takes a slow-burn backseat in this regard to allow these characters to become fleshed out, which I’m personally fine with as True Detective also possessed marked similarities in pacing and tension-building. The 90s backdrop is also cleverly crafted with moody lighting and static camerawork reminiscent of hard-boiled detective dramas of the era.

While the synopsis may seem like another by-the-numbers detective tale at first (and the film does much to lure you into that false perception), the overall film is the most surprisingly subversive crime thriller I’ve witnessed since Seven. In that sense, The Little Things is a lauded dark horse of the detective film genre, injecting a refreshingly raw macabre of violence and victim portrayal intertwined with the deteriorating psyche of the detectives that will pursue the case to its inevitably heart-pounding ending.

Sinking into a web of twisted traps in a deepening abyss of savior culpability makes for a thought-provoking watch

Sinking into a web of twisted traps in a deepening abyss of savior culpability makes for a thought-provoking watch

As the film insinuates, detectives are perceived to be in the ‘angel’ business – agents of good watching over their innocent flock of citizens and protecting them from the criminals, or ‘demons’, that try to compel atrocities from the shadows. Law enforcement are your holier-than-thou champions of seeing justice materialise, and in reality, we often look at these men and women as such.

‘The Little Things’ deconstructs this noble notion by unsheathing crime’s cacophony through our detectives’ own sanity, as their partnership ripens to lay bare the buried trauma and emotional lesions of their own personal guilt of failure, missteps and hastiness in finding the truth.

Sinking into a web of twisted traps in a deepening abyss of savior culpability makes for a thought-provoking watch, and while some may be left unsatisfied by the film’s conclusion, it’ll no doubt worm its way into your mind as you furiously peel back all the small moments that led up to its defining moment. After all, the devil’s in the details, or in this case, the little things.

P.S. Interestingly, enough blink-and-you-miss-it clues are left in the film for eagle-eyed viewers to strongly hint at the killer’s possible identity before the credits roll, but at the same time some evidence may also suggest the opposite. Put on your detective coat and see if you can solve the case before the film does 🙂

‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Review: More Wander, Less Wonder

While I was watching Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84), I just couldn’t get over the nibbling notion that the Make-A-Wish Foundation would hate what this film ultimately propagates.

Jokes aside, DC Comics’ latest blockbuster (available to stream and in theatres) jolts the yuletide season with a rambunctious rollercoaster ride that – while held afloat with committed performances from its supporting cast (Pedro Pascal as Max Lord especially) and a welcome return for Hans Zimmer scoring DC films again – ultimately sinks into a menagerie of small but salient plot holes bursting at the seams of its sloppy script despite its earnest intentions.

The film’s far from a being a train wreck. Yet compared to the first film, WW84 falls short of real-world relevance in channeling a more meaningful message through the vessel of its iconic armour-clad heroine. I loved the message the first film had – it underscored the primal nature of mankind to war against each other, and there’s no god or deity behind that destruction as Diana initially thought when she hunted Ares to stop all warring. It’s just human nature and desire. Yet Diana saw and felt the love humanity’s capable of and decided to fight for it in the end.

It’s a mature lesson that manages to ground itself in stirring hopefulness (then again, it’s no surprise since Zack Snyder helped formulate the story of the first film, while Geoff Johns formed the narrative for second).

In this regard, WW84 never surprises us with any meaningful narrative themes. Instead, it parades out a clichéd cautionary tale on wish fulfillment that never defies expectations, only placate them. Again, that’s not to say it’s a bad film, but with many potentially interesting chess pieces set up in the film like the vibrant 80s setting where Diana continues her clandestine heroics, insight into Diana’s childhood and the introduction of her fiercest rival yet in Cheetah, WW84 chooses instead to cash in its chips with superficial sentimentality that’s never given a full explanation like Steve Trevor’s body switch, the invention of the Cheetah moniker, why Maxwell’s son never gets his wish granted and etc.

In essence, WW84 is less wonder and more wander.

Double Review: 2020 Animated Gems ‘Wolfwalkers’​ and ‘Lupin III: The First’​

Might as well review both films at one go as they released close to each other. Enjoy!

1. WOLFWALKERS (2020)

From the studio that brought you beloved Irish-English animated films like Song of the Sea comes a new beautifully evocative hand-drawn feature, this time revolving around two girls living what seems like worlds apart. Robyn stays in a traditional Irish town while Mebh is a “wolfwalker” who transforms into a wolf through an ethereal out-of-body experience.

Their blossoming friendship is captured marvelously through absolutely stunning artwork that weaves in a colourful palette of nuanced narrative insights on nature at its most fantastical and dangerous, while calming folklore music seamlessly drape the ambience.

This film’s signature Gaelic identity, however, never truly breaks out of its entombed similarities with the clichéd “humanity vs mother nature” plotline most notably seen in films like Avatar and Princess Mononoke. Yet for a tale like this one, sometimes a bold retelling is needed to keep fresh its revered lessons, and Wolfwalkers achieves that in spades.

2. LUPIN III: THE FIRST (2020)

Gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III concocts another grand escapade in Lupin III: The First, with all his suave aplomb and comedic ingenuity in tow. With a fun cast of companions riding shotgun on Lupin’s felonious voyage, old school Indiana Jones-esque adventurism returns in the franchise’s first 3DCG film.

Swashbuckling in spirit, grandiose in set-piece action, and faithful to its source material in honouring Lupin’s well-established characterisation, this is some of the best fun I’ve had watching a film this year. Lupin and his gang enthusiastically revel in the high stakes of their adventurous gallivanting as rampant jazzy tunes effortlessly match the action from soothing to sublime. This film also extols an emotional reverence that showcases Lupin at his most chivalrous akin to his portrayal in The Castle of Cagliostro.

There has always been an endearing sweetness and fortitude about the character beneath the mask of spunky ego and criminality he wears, and this film brings out the best of those traits for new and old fans to have a ball with.

‘Field Of Dreams’ Review: A Field Is Better Than One

This is more of a personal epiphany than an actual film review/analysis. I’ve heard of ‘Field of Dreams’ beforehand – mostly pegged as a reliable baseball-themed cinematic tearjerker to tug at your heartstrings.

No tears were shed during my viewing, but my heartstrings? Profoundly tugged with a soulful illumination that there’s more to my dream, your dream or anyone else’s dream for that matter.

You see, transfixing on that one singular dream, whatever it may be, leaves your heart and mind yearning for that dream to take flight and dovetail our current reality with what we’ve always envisioned it to be.

As you ponder the magnitude of your dream’s path, and the light at the end of that goal-setting tunnel, you may or may not have already brought out the best from those you cherish.

But, there’s more to a dream, to your dream. It can do more than just come true for you. It can inspire. It can turn tides for those around you. Look around you as you pursue your dream. See how your flames of passion and ocean of willpower invigorates those around you. Your zest lights their aspirations towards attaining their own peace, and you might never even know it.

It’s okay that your life’s priority is hell-bent on building a heaven for yourself – it’s almost instinctual to act as such. Yet as you ponder the magnitude of your dream’s path, and the light at the end of that goal-setting tunnel, you may or may not have already brought out the best from those you cherish, helping them along their own little journeys towards self-attainment of their own dream. They may even reach there before you, and that’s okay.

Because you had sparked into existence that one dream, it heartens others to create, rectify or earn their own. At first a solitary dream, now becomes a field of dreams galvanizing each other towards their respective fulfillment.

It’s no longer just a heaven you’re building for yourself, it’s better. It’s closer to a real heaven on earth.

Lupin III ‘The Woman Called Fujiko Mine’ Review: Psychological, Psychedelic, Psychosexual

Riveting classical music punctuates the R-rated titillating imagery of a voluptuous woman as her sensual narration evokes a damsel-in-distress dilemma echoing a darker cry of identity confusion and a haunted past. Yet at the same time, her narration is playfully juxtaposed with her cunningness as a cat burglar and her enthralling passion for promiscuity.

What you read above describes the captivating opening credits of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, a rare 2012 Lupin The Third animated series that – instead of focusing on the bombastic crime capers of famed snazzy gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III which most books, TV shows, and films have done – now shines a spotlight on the franchise’s most bewitching side character, Fujiko Mine.

You can’t help but feel astounded with the grandiose ambition of this show’s storytelling prowess in packing visceral thrills and introspective allure into Fujiko’s odyssey towards self-consciousness.

The opening credits alone beckoned me to watch this action-packed, noir-inspired psychological thriller that revels in the flirtatious intrigue and incandescent tragedy that encapsulates our flawed femme fatale Fujiko.

I was impressed by how meticulously planned out the show’s 13-episode arc is. From the first episode where Fujiko first encounters Lupin III himself, to the carefully-planted Lynchian bread crumbs that satisfyingly builds up to the grand mystery of it all, you can’t help but feel astounded with the grandiose ambition of this show’s storytelling prowess in packing visceral thrills and introspective allure into Fujiko’s odyssey towards self-consciousness.

And for me, all of this is manifested in the tenth episode, Ghost Town. It’s 22 minutes of tense, noir-heavy storytelling where Lupin III threads the lines of reality and illusion after ingesting a psychedelic drug. From owl-headed men to ethereal butterflies, surrealism plagues Lupin’s psyche as he tries to unravel Fujiko’s nightmarish youth.

It’s hands down one of the greatest television episodes I’ve ever watched, and I couldn’t help but immediately rewatch it the moment the credits rolled because despite Fujiko being absent for most of the episode, her presence strongly lingered over everyone who’s tumbling down the rabbit hole of her enigma – even me.

It’s like we’re all just puppets in a larger tale of a woman called Fujiko Mine, and I don’t mind it one bit.

P.S. I managed to catch a fantastic English dub of the show, which is now unavailable due to certain streaming sites being taken down. Like I mentioned in my review, it’s a very rare series to get a hold of, especially the English dub version, but I recently learnt the rights to the show was acquired by Discotek Media and it’s now planned to be released in 2021 if you’re keen on getting it the legit way.