Bernie the Dolphin
When Holly (Lola Sultan) and brother, Kevin (Logan Allen), learn that a businessman, Winston Mills (Kevin Sorbo), is hatching an illegal real estate plan to destroy a Florida cove, they do everything they can to stop him including recording him on camera. Their father Bob (Patrick Muldoon) works as a real estate developer associated with Winston thereby putting job at stake. Bernie, a dolphin that rescues Holly after a boating accident, swims in that cove along with other dolphins, so if Holly and Kevin save the cove, they also save the dolphins.
The best thing that can be said about Bernie the Dolphin is that it's harmless, family-friendly and has beautiful scenery. Just because it's family-friendly doesn't mean that it's entertaining or heartfelt like a truly great family film. Unfortunately, the dull, witless screenplay by Terri Emerson and Marty Poole fails to develop the bond between the titular dolphin and the kids. The villain, Winston, is one-note and the same can be said about other cardboard characters. Too many scenes feel lethargic, and the performances are mediocre more often than not. Worst of all, there's very little to capture the attention or the hearts of adults who watch this with their kids. And why do the kids choose to name the dolphin Bernie out of all possible names? Imagination and intelligence aren't part of this film's strengths. That said, at least it's not cringe-inducing like the similarly G-rated Oogieloves, but even at a running time of 89 minutes, it still feels like 3 hours. Bernie the Dolphin makes Free Willy look like Citizen Kane.
The Santos family come together to celebrate Christmas in San Francisco at the home of Prisa (Josephine de Jesus). Prisa's son, Troy (Patrick Epino) and his wife, Shelly (Theresa Navarro), live with Prisa along with Troy's daughter, Mina (Amelie Anima). Troy's brothers, Declan (Jon Norman Schneider) and Moe (Brian Rivera), arrive all the way from the East Coast. Their cousin, Tiva (L.A. Renigen) also joins their festivities. They haven't seen their estranged, alcoholic father, Rogelio (Vint Carmona), in years.
Writer/director Mendoza does a great job of introducing the audience to each of the Santos family members and their personalities without resorting too heavily on exposition and flashbacks, although the family's tragic past does weigh heavily on the present. You gradually learn about the dynamics of their dysfunctional relationships. None of the characters are one-note caricatures, you might find some of them even relatable even if you don't agree with the choices that they make. Troy is an abusive, domineering husband who also abuses his own family members, but he's not a villain; just a very deeply troubled human being who needs a lot of therapy to deal with his childhood traumas. Not all of the scenes feel 100% true-to-life, i.e. a scene at a bar that's unrealistically quiet, another scene with a long speech that becomes a bit preachy with its aphorisms, and some of the third act scenes do require a suspension of disbelief, but those are minor, systematic flaws that don't make the film any less captivating to watch.
The less you know about Bitter Melon's plot before seeing it, the better because writer/director Mendoza has few surprising twists and turns that won't be spoiled here, although he does include some foreshadows for those who are willing to pay close attention. Mendoza should be commended for bringing all of the film's many subplots and themes together in a way that doesn't feel uneven, disjointed or undercooked. This isn't your standard, cookie-cutter holiday family movie even if it might begin that way. Bravo to Mendoza for taking narrative risks and for not being afraid to veer into dark places. He's also wise to balance the dark themes with just the right amount of comic relief. Word of advice: don't watch this film while you're hungry because there are some scenes of food that will make your mouth water. At a running time of 110 minutes, Bitter Melon is bold, heartfelt and refreshingly unpredictable.
The Tag Along: Devil Fish
Tongji (Jen Shuo Cheng), a spirit medium, exorcises a man possessed by a demon, but only manages to transfer the demon to a fish instead. Two children fishing by a river and happen catch the fish. Little do they or their mother (Vivian Hsu) know that it's possessed. It's now up to Tongji and the children to find a way to get rid of the demon.
The Tag Along: Devil Fish is the third film in The Tag Along franchise. The visual effects and cinematography look far more impressive than they did in the last two films, so the film isn't short on style and doesn't look like a cheap B-movie this time around. Its creepiness derives from its atmospheric visuals more than anything else. However, in terms of its plot, there's really not much that's inventive, surprising or clever. Tongji isn't as compelling as a spirit medium as Elise is in the Insidious franchise, and the kids aren't very memorable as characters, but they do give decent performances. Although there are no palable scares and you won't be remotely frightened every time you eat a fish afterward, at least there aren't any bad laughs or cringe-inducing moments nor does director David Chuang rely on excessive gore to keep you engaged. Also, the third act doesn't go over-the-top or leave you with a bad after-taste. At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, The Tag Along: Devil Fish is a mildly entertaining and visually stylish, but ultimately forgettable.