Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision

Having enjoyed Chico and Rita (reviewed here yesterday), I had high expectation of this 1994 documentary because it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. I was greatly disappointed.

Maya Lin was only 20 years old, and an unknown, when she designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C. in 1981, her first creation. This documentary combines interviews and archival footage to chronicle Lin’s story. She continues to create other monuments like the Civil Rights Fountain Memorial in Alabama and the Museum of African Art in New York City.

Like Lin’s single-minded devotion to what she believes in, the one message that comes across is that one could and should stand up to personal and artistic attacks with clarity and grace.

Chico and Rita

I had enjoyed the adult animated movie Wrinkles (posted here on 21 Oct 17) so much a week ago that I decided to borrow this DVD that I’ve seen on the library shelves a few times before. Ater watching, I wonder why it didn’t win in whatever category it was nominated for in the 2012 Academy Awards.

I really like this Spanish production, so I didn’t mind that it is dubbed: a story of star-crossed love, passion and heartbreak, with the backdrop of the music and culture of Cuba. Everything from the plot, to the music, to the animation is like a magical experience!

The story begins in Cuba in 1948. Chico is a young jazz piano player who first set eyes on a singer called Rita at a club, singing Besame Mucho. Chico has dreams of making it big; Rita has an extraordinary voice and will make something out of it. Chico writes a song and dedicates it to Rita, but which later gets renamed Lily, after a poodle in Paris.

Chico and Rita join hands to take part in a competition as a couple and wins the grand prize with Yesterday’s Melodies which remains their hit after decades. Rita, because of her marvellous voice, gets talent scouted and goes to New York where she headlines a long-running production called Deer In My Heart. Chico, after sporadic gigs (such as replacing an indisposed pianist in Igor Stavinsky’s Ebony Concerto), gets a contract to be a piano player in Dizzy Gillespie’s touring band. When in Paris, he gets to know a lady friend with a poodle named Lily, and decides to change the title of the song he had earlier written for Rita as he feels betrayed.

By a quirk of fate, Rita and Charlie patch up and decide to tie the knot on New Year eve in Las Vegas. However, Chico is deported when someone framed him and slipped three packets of drugs in his jacket pocket. Rita waits in Las Vegas in vain and cancels her show.

People don’t appreciate jazz anymore, and a disappointed Chico ends up shining shoes on the roadside when he is old. He chances on a piano one day and realises that after so many years, he still has the magic touch over the ivory keys. He is invited to perform all over the world with young singers (eg Sydney and the Grammy Awards) but he never stopped searching for Rita, and eventually finds her in a motel room where she’s waited for 47 years in exchange for doing the house-keeping there.

There is plenty of lovely music (I counted 32 in the end credits) here, including Allegro Moderato from Ebony Concerto by Igor Stravinsky, Love For Sale by Cole Porter, Mambo Herd by Tito Puente, Celia by Bud Powell, Fascinating Rhythm by Geroge and Ira Gershwin, As Time Goes By by Herman Hupfeld, Star Dust by Hoagy Carmichael, Blue Monk by Thelonius Monk and Ecuacion (and many more) by Bebo Vades. The all gel into the story very well.

The animation must have involved an incredible amount of people to do the drawings of Havana, of New York, Las Vegas, Sydney, Paris etc, and the detailed interiors and architecture. The graphic art and visuals created are colourful, interesting and fascinating. Even things like the weather – the different types of climate in the different cities – are clearly distinguished. All the details lend the characters and atmosphere greater credibility and beauty.

The movie doesn’t just tell a love story. It also touches on more serious subjects like capitalism, racial segregation and discrimination. Musically speaking, it is a tribute to the jazz greats like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Tito Puente, Chano Pozo, Nat King Cole, Bebo Vades and many more.

 

Fats Domino (A Udaiyaathathu)

New Orleans entertainer Fats

Domino helped launch the new

rock ‘n’ roll. His signature Domino

piano triplets, a requirement for rock’n’roll

ballads, catapulted him to the piano

world. All his other ballads

too flourish throughout the world;

Fats has influenced other instruments and voice too.

A United Kingdom

I saw the trailer for this movies a couple of times earlier this year and told myself I had to watch it. Unfortunately, I had to miss it due to unforseeable reasons. Was I excited to find this on the library shelves yesterday!

Based on the book Colour Bar by Susan Williams, this is  a a sweeping love story with politics in the background. It’s better than any history lesson on the apartheid in South Africa.

The movie opens in 1947 in London. Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) meets Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) at a Jazz joint. Amidst all the dancing and upbeat Lindy Hop and slow jazz music, we learn that Seretse’s uncle Tshekedi Khama (Vusi Kunene) was regent for 20 years, preparing Seretse to rule. When Seretse and Ruth decide to marry, Ruth is told she will live a life of insults and shame and Seretse is told the marriage must not take place as a matter of diplomatic necessity.

They are adamant they will not let the ugliness of this world spoil their love and marry before returning to Bechuanaland.  They believe that one day things will change, as they should be fighting for equality and not segregation and that Africa cannot be free until everyone recognises that race should not divide people. Spectacular views of the vast expanse of gorgeous landscape  juxtapose with archival newpaper cuttings here.

However, conflicts arise, beginning with Tshekedi. Seretse is exiled by the higher authorities, and leaves the country feeling vulnerable. To serve Bechuanaland, Seretse must return. He now has a new vision and a mission; it is time for democracy and independance, to be master of his own fate, to have a new Africa.

This is a compelling and touching love story of two people facing unbelievable pressure from the government, the tribes and the families. Love wins; love conquers all.

The Games Maker

I was drawn by curiosity to this 2014 DVD as it was not shown in the cinemas here and it is about the world of game invention, something I felt I ought to know so as not to lag behind times.

The movie opens with a narrator saying that “Everyone who loves board games know that they are as numerous and diverse as life itself. They are games of chance, ingenuity, strategy.” A-ha, I thought: This should be interesting as I love board games, though it is not about the kind of games people of the younger generation are familiar with.

Based on the book by Pablo De Santio, the story is about 10-year-old Ivan Drago (David Mazouz) who loves board games; he enters a competition for board game inventors and emerges the winner after what seems like endless rounds, involving 10,000 entrants. And his prize is a company insignia, like a temporary tattoo, except that it cannot be removed once it’s stuck on his arm. He is to discover that it brings with it an untold number of mysteries.

A tragic accident involving hot air ballons make him an orphan. He is then sent to the Possum Boarding School for Boys by the Court, where he is bullied by Principal Possum (Robert Verelaque), his appointed guardian Frau Blum (Malamar Abrodos))and a group of boys who call themselves The Lofties.

Ivan longs to escape the school and succeeds with the help of a helpful, fearless girl – who lives in the walls – called Anunciacion (Megan Charpenter) by completely sinking the school. He takes a train to Zyl to look for the paternal grandfather Nicholas (Ed Asner) he has never met. He then visits Morodian (Joseph Fiennes) at the Profound Games Company. [Morodian is Nicholas’ apprentice as Ivan’s father/Nicholas’ son was not interested in games.]

From here, the movie went downhill, notwithstanding the special and visual effects. The crew working on the sets, decorations, art, props, sculptures, models, graphic design, paintings, buildings, costumes and make-up did a really magnificent job. Even the music and its orchestration contributes more than the plot of a wild adventure.

Despite some witty lines, (for eg. “The first key to victory is never give up hope“, “The second key to success is concentration“, “Life’s great decisions cannot be left to a machine; to understand the past, we must know the past“, “What use is a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece?“,  “Life is indeed a game“, “Traditional games give children such an unrealistic idea of life: equal opportunity, level playing ground, all those ridiculous myths. The truth is that those with greater means at their disposal have a greater chance of success”, “The true game of life is a bleak page“), I feel the nearly-two-hour movie could easily have shaved off 30 minutes, especially from the time Ivan arrives at Zyl.

The Family Way

This is one of Jayne Ann Krentz’s earlier books that I’ve not read. I found a large print copy of it in the library, which makes for easier reading. And as I was to find out, this is more like a better version of a Mills-and-Boons (M&B) romance than the riveting suspense/mystery novel that I’ve come to associate with Krentz.

There is a double entendre to the title – the more common usage to mean ‘pregnancy’ and how a family functions.

The one pregnant is Prudence Kenyon, and the black sheep of the family is Case McCord. Neither makes false threats, and Case is both intimidating and arrogantly forceful. They have cohabited for three months when Prudence discovers she is in ‘the family way’, but decides to leave as Case has made it clear from the start that he does not want marriage.

Like a typical M&B romance (I imagine, as – believe it or not – I’ve never read one before), Case would realise his mistake and marries her and brings her home to meet his family. Then we learn about how he is the black sheep in the family and the secret he has been keeping and the secret the family has been keeping and why he has been in the way of his family all these years, and how everyone in the family is dancing on eggs and juggling dynamite.

And, as in a M&B romance (I imagine, again), there’s a happy ending for all.

 

The Charmers

Elizabeth Adler has published more than thirty books, most of which I’ve read. The Charmers is the latest.

The premise of the novel is interesting – Mirabella Matthews inherits her Aunt Jolly’s villa in the South of France when her aunt dies unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances. I had expected this to be another of Adler’s fast-paced novels with intriguing suspects; however, despite an element of mystery and danger, it is quite a let-down compared to the others that I’ve read though I could not put the book down until the last page.

I hope the next Adler novel I read would live up to my expectations.

Cloud Atlas

Even Tom Hanks, my all-time favourite actor, couldn’t entice me to watch this 2012 movie at the cinema as I had read that it was very very difficult to understand. Now that I’ve spent a long and confusing three hours in front of the DVD, I think the only way I can comprehend and make sense of how the six stories (each in a different genre – including  thriller, dystopian future, science fiction, comedy) set in six different time periods, between 1849 and 2346, from the Pacific Islands to Cambridge to San Francisco to London to Neo-Seoul to the Big Isle 106 Winters after the Fall, are connected is to read the book.

The same actors (including Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Bent Whishaw, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Donna Bae and Zhou Xun) play different characters of different races, genders and ages. The only thing I could understand was that the acting and make up are so effective that I didn’t know which actor I was looking at most of the time.

It seems the connecting motif is an unique birthmark that each of them has, and they all thirst for freedom. The performances and disguises are so cunningly effective that I was lost most of the time. I gave up trying to figure out the connections between the characters and the stories;  like clouds, they do not have a fixed shape or behaviour but are dreamlike and maybe magical/imaginative processes.

So much for the confusion arising from the flashbacks and flashforwards that I wasn’t paying enough attention to the music. Music is an inherent part of the structure of a movie; they are an inspiration – like pieces to be fit together like lego or a jigsaw puzzle. However, the jigsaw puzzle here remains unassembled.

A Walk Among The Tombstones

This 2014 movie , based on a bestselling novel in a series of mysteries by Lawrence Block is touted to be “intense”, but I didn’t feel it is such an action-thriller; in fact I become more and more detached as the movie goes on. I wonder if reading it would prove different, as the work is not bad and the reader can imagine how it is played out instead of following the set way the characters are being depicted.

Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is an ex-NYPD-cop turned unlicensed private detective who reluctantly agrees to take on a drug trafficker Kenny Cristo (Dan Stevens) as a client, to help him hunt down the men who kidnapped and brutally murdered his wife. During his investigation, he discovers that this is not the first time (nor will it be the last time) that these men have committed such a twisted crime, and he races through New York to track them down before they can strike again.

The only reasons to watch this movie are Liam Neeson and Brian “Astro” Bradley (as a streetwise homeless teen who forms an unlikely but affecting friendship with Neeson’s character). [I remember Bradley from the American X Factor.] Maybe the book would tell more about their personal lives and thus make the characters even more interesting, so I shall bear in mind to look for a Lawrence Block novel when I next visit the lifrary.

Wrinkles

I don’t recall having ever watched an animated film for adults, and this one has a title that interests me; though it is originally in Spanish, a language I don’t understand, I didn’t mind the dubbed-and-subtitled version in English.

Based on a graphic novel by Spanish artist Paco Raco, this animated drama film captured my attention throughout the 90 minutes. Emilio (voiced by Martin Sheen) is a former bank manager in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. His son and daughter-in-law cannot cope with his increasing forgetfulness and place him in a nursing home. There, he meets his roommate Miguel (voiced by George Coe), who still has his wits about him and is wily and cons small amounts of money from some of the befuddled residents but is also full of useful tips that are crucial to survival.

Emilio’s daily life, like the other residents, begin to slide into daily routines of pill taking, electric gates (like in a prison), illusion (colourful dementia-induced fantasies) and senility.

There are moments of tears and laughter as the film pokes fun at society’s attitude toward the elderly; eg the ditty that goes “Our muscles ache and eyes will wrinkle. Our hands have spots and face have wrinkles. Our joints are sore , our backs can’t bend, and sometimes we fear this is the end. Despite the love to you we’ve shown, you’ve left us here all on our own. And though we seem incompetent, just don’t think us incompetent! It touches the heart and inspires the soul.

The subject is rather desolate but the way it confronts the realities of ageing is tender and lovable.(Eg, “Alzheimer’s is a train that still runs but there’s no one behind the wheel.”, “We may be old, but we’re not dead yet.”) There is an unhurried and lyrical sense of time’s slippery passage; such as those relating to Emilio’s wavering mental faculties and flashbacks to his younger days and brief, unnerving moments of disorientation.

This film is dedicated to all the old people today and tomorrow. Kudos to the voice cast, the animators and the technical team. The dozen or so songs are all in the original Spanish; though I didn’t understand a word, I felt the music contributed to the make the film more interesting by telegraphing the mood of what’s happening in a scene with changing musical cues and tempo shifts.