Max

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I wasn’t very keen on watching this movie at first because I have no special affinity for dogs, but when I read on the back cover of this 2015 DVD that it is about how Max and Justin form an unlikely relationship that I decided to find out more.

Max (played by a Belgian Malinois named Carlos) is a highly trained military canine, handled by Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell). When Kyle is killed in the Afghanistan war, Max is traumatised and faces the possibility of being put down because he would not listen to anyone else. He is sent home to America with Kyle’s body and attends his funeral. The scene in which Max approaches Kyle’s casket in church and refusing to budge shows what a strong bond they had and how attached Max is to Kyle is so touching that I teared up. Max is adopted by Kyle’s family because Justin (Josh Wiggins), Kyle’s brother, is the only person Max could connect with. Justin is reluctant at first, but they learn to trust each other and unravel what really happened to Kyle. They become the best of friends, with the help of Justin’s friend Chuy’s (Dejon LaQuake) cousin Carmen (Mia Xitali)

More than just a movie about a heroic dog, it is also about responsibility, relationships and ethics. Dogs are not only good judges of character but are actually also very smart and loving creatures; they are often dear and faithful, and gives unconditional affection and absolute commitment to their owners. The plot is also action packed and intense. There is suspense with bad guys, as well as tears. It also has youthful romance, family values, friendship, father-son issues (the father is played by Thomas Haden Church) and bonding.

Credit must go to the director of photography as the cinematography is great. The stunt coordinator and performers, as well as the animal handlers/coordinator/trainers, have done an awesome job. Both the visual and sound effects are effective. The music used evokes emotions – whether it is about the characters or Max or the twist that happens. I especially like Forever Young, the Bob Dylan song during the end credits performed by Blake Shelton. The ending is satisfying too – “A hero always tells the truth no matter what the consequences”.

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Boardwalk Summer

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I’ve not heard of the author Meredith Jaeger, and thought I would try her debut novel The Dressmaker’s Dowry (because I always feel that debut novels are good, that’s why the author can go on to write another). However, it was not available, so I decided to try Boardwalk Summer as it is a fairly new book (published only about three months ago) and of a decent font size. According to the back cover, it is a “riveting novel” about an aspiring Hollywood actress who made a shocking choice in 1940 and a young mother who set out to discover what exactly happened seventy years later. Well, that sounds intriguing and promising.

It is usually interesting to read a book with two different timelines and written with two POVs, but it did not work for me in this case. It started off fine but quickly went downhill; the plot had potential but quickly became pathetic, with too many absurd coincidences.

Well, at least it was light and fairly easy to read (I read it in one sitting). I doubt I would read another book by the same author; it’s time to explore other authors.

Rainbirds

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Browsing through the Singapore Collection, I found this fairly new-looking book by an Indonesian-born Singapore writer. Clarissa Goenawan’s Rainbirds is published in USA earlier this year. This fact alone is intriguing enough for me to want to read the book.

I’m surprised that the protagonist is a Japanese male. The book is written in his voice. His name is Ren Ishida, brother of the recently murdered Keiko, the sister who went missing after leaving their Tokyo home to live in a small town on her own. He tries to find out the reason. A Seven Seas cigarette butt is found near the murder site; the same brand of cigarettes that his third grade teacher Mr Tsudo smokes.

Keiko’s landlord, Kosugi Katon is a politician (“the loudest people on the planet”); Ren arranges to stay in the same room as Keiko did, and is asked to help get Kosugi’s wife’s lunch and read to her. It is an odd arrangement that he has followed his sister into, but perhaps it would somehow lead him to her.

The house is full of dark secrets. Ren finds photocopies of medical charts from the Kobayashi Women’s Clinic belonging to Keiko. This should have been a clue but the clinic has since vanished. There are lots of money and complicated relationships involved.  (Eg.,  an extra marital affair, and friends vs acquaintances: “Acquaintances are people you know, but friends are people you can count on. It’s totally different”).

The mystery is appealing, especially at the beginning. But, somehow, it veers course; and ends up unsatisfying. I did not get a sense of closure.

And I’m still puzzled why this is classified under Singapore Collection. (Shouldn’t it be just shelved with other books in General Fiction?)

Etched in Sand

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Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra, a successful lawyer, New York State official and activist, is one of the most moving memoirs I’ve read. I really salute her and her four siblings for surviving an abusive and painful childhood, the abandonment, the challenges of the foster-care system and homelessness and rising to becoming the persons they are today.

In the Prologue, the author introduces this story as one that tells how “it took a community to raise a child” and “how that child used her future to give hope back with hands and empty clam shells as tools”. They’d each etch out the five names (Cherie, Camille, Regina, Norman, Rosie) and enclose each with a heart in sand; the water would wash away their words and they’d create it all anew – this persistence would become the metaphor to predict how they’d choose to live their lives.

This memoir is riveting from here till the end.

It is not unbelievable, but it is heart-wrenching to read that Regina’s mother calls her older daughters ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ and beats them senseless while expecting them to raise the two youngest. (The five children are from five different fathers, some whose identities are never known.) In a traditional home, the children depend on the parent for the means to live; but in this case, the mother (an alcoholic named “Cookie”) depends on the children instead.

Books are the only escape for Regina’s struggles, hurt, anger, rejection from emotional abuse and the searing physical pain (from harsh punishments like being flipped over on her back onto the floor, on top of broken shards of glass and stomped on the small of her back, then on the ribs and pelvis and elbows, into the sides of her waist, then grabbed by the hair and had her face slammed on the floor while being gripped by the neck and thrown backwards). Such horrendous treatment! (And all these happened before Regina turned 14.) (One poem Regina wrote in 4th grade: People look but don’t see, why?/ People hear but don’t listen, why?/ People touch but don’t feel, why?)

When she turned 14, Regina spills the truth to a social worker. Cookie lost her meal ticket. But this is the beginning of another nightmare. The siblings are separated into three foster homes, and subject to more abuse, even of the sexual kind. Regina feels stained, torn, wrinkled and mismatched. She starts locking herself up and cuts her arms with scissors, watching the skin give way, then the blood coming to a swell and for a second there’s some release to the pain deep inside.

By the time she’s 17, Regina has started freshman year at high school, Camille at 20 is married and expecting a baby, Cherie at 18 is divorced and lost her son, and Norman and Rosie are left with Cookie. Regina has cultivated a strong work ethic and faith in her capacity to take care of herself. She has learned not to trust anyone who says ‘You can trust me’.

By the time Regina graduates with a BA in Political Science, the relationship between Rosie and the three sisters is wrought with an undercurrent of resentment and frustration. Regina immerses herself in the world of politics. One of her strengths is burying rejection.

In the Epilogue, Regina eludes that Rosie would be telling her story too. (I googled, and found out that this book is “Girl Unbroken”, which is only available in e-book form at the National Library.)

This is a compelling book and I applaud Regina for her courage and bravery in telling the story.

 

 

22 Jump Street

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Having recently watched a movie starring Jonah Hill (War Dogs), I thought I would give this 2014 action comedy a chance, though it’s a sequel and I’ve not watched the previous installment. Neither have I watched the television series of the same name. Also, I wanted to find out if Channing Tatum can convince me that he can act.

I shouldn’t have bothered.

The story: Two officers, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) go undercover at a local college to find out who is selling drugs. Not only do they have to crack a case, they have to figure out if they can have a mature relationship.

There are just too many illogical and absurd events here. The jokes are lame, and there’s a lot of swearing. The characters are one-dimensional stereotypes.

I will definitely not watch the sequels to this (during the end credits, there are hints that there would be a 23 Jump Street, 24 Jump Street … all the way to 33 Jump Street … and maybe more…).

Little Pioneers

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I was very surprised to find this book in the library; the book looks well-thumbed (it was published in 2005) but I’ve never seen it before though I do go to the Singapore Collection regularly. After reading it, I wonder if it should been shelved in the Young Adults (or even Children’s) section instead.

The story is fine: it’s about family life in the late 19th century Singapore’s Chinatown. The protagonist is a young girl named Chun. She lives a blissful life with her family in a shophouse in Telok Ayer Street; her grandma is upset by the new ideas of a man who “looks Chinese but doesn’t look like one” (Dr Lim Boon Keng, who tells Chun’s father that Chun and her sisters should go to school) …

What makes the book authentic are the many local foods (char kway teow, o jian, chooi kueh) and phrases in local Chinese dialects, such as Hainanese and Hokkien (eg ‘how ke ma’ meaning ‘old mistress’ and ‘thi-te-jit-gue’ meaning ‘heaven-earth-sun-moon’) and Tamil (‘onru, irandu, moonru’ – the numbers 1,2,3).

 

Total Recall

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Both the poster and the title looked familiar, but I could not recall if I had watched this movie before. Since it stars Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, and the story has something to do with memories, I thought I would just borrow it to watch when I’m free.

Even though I found out that it is a science fiction (a genre I’m impartial to), the opening sequences are interesting enough: Douglas Quaid (Farrell) is a factory worker who is in need of a vacation and he visits Rekall, a revolutionary company that can turn dreams into real memories. He chooses a fantasy as a secret agent. The procedure goes horribly wrong…

I lost interest soon after, despite the stunts for the action sequences, and the visual and special effects which get irritating after a while.

I found out in the end credits that this is based on the original motion picture of the same name. (And have since found out from the Internet that the original stars Arnold Schwarsenegger, which is supposedly much better.)