The Vow

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This 2012 movie stars Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum and is inspired by a true story.

Paige (McAdams) and her husband Leo Collins (Tatum) are on their way home when an accident plunges Paige into a deep coma. When she regains consciousness, she has lost all memory of the last five years of her life. She does not know Leo is her husband, not understanding how he would not have met her parents before; she can’t remember why she quite law school halfway; she does not remember that she is a sculptor; she does not remember her broken engagement to Jeremy (Scott Speedman); she does not remember why she has not been in touch with her parents and her friends.

Paige needs evidence that she is married to Leo, and decides to go back with him, hoping it would help her regain her memory. Instead she becomes more confused and stressed, so she calls her mother (Jessica Lange) and decides to stay with her parents as her sister (Jessica McNamee) is getting married soon. Under the influence of her father (Sam Neill), Paige goes back to law school and Leo signs the divorce papers.

This is when the past starts to come back to Paige. After a chance meeting with her former best friend (Sarah Carter), she confronts her mother who makes a rather shocking revelation. Paige leaves the family home and goes back to her own apartment. Six months later, Paige discovers her wedding vows stashed away in a box among her art supplies. She then goes and look for Leo…

I did not have any expectations (because I’ve always thought movies with Channing Tatum in them always don’t have a good plot, though I may be biased), so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the movie. This could be partly due to the fact that it is based on a true story (photographs of the couple and their children are shown just before the end credits). I like how the plot weaves in and out of different time periods seamlessly, how there are many layers to the story, and how charming (and sometimes funny) it is. There is nostalgia, and it touches the heartstrings (I especially love the scene in which Paige confronts her mother and the answer given – that is one of the most touching scenes and affirms Lange as a great actress). I also like that the ending is open, yet optimistic.

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Skyscraper

skyscraper

When I first saw the trailer for Skyscraper on TV, I thought that I would not pay to watch this movie because somehow I’d always associated Dwayne Johnson with a weak plot. Then I caught more than a glimpse of Singaporean actor Chin Han,whom I first became aware of in the 1994 TCS (Television Corporation of Singapore) serial Masters of the Sea. I’ve also seen him in Independence Day (2016), Restless (2011), Contagion (2011) and 2012 (2009). I was wondering how many scenes he would have this time, and how important his role is.

Yesterday, I read the review by my favourite Straits Times film correspondent; and decided I would pay to watch Chin Han, who is now a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the body that overseas the Academy Awards). Definitely not for the story or even Johnson.

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Chin Han is Zhao Longji, the urban software magnate and builder of The Pearl, the world’s tallest building, and appears about five minutes into the film. Johnson (one of this movie’s producers) is Will Sawyer, Zhao’s safety and security consultant who lives with his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and twin children (Georgia played by McKenna Roberts and Henry, played by Noah Cottrell) on the 96th level of the tower, the only occupants of the residential units there.

Sarah and the children are trapped in the towering inferno when they returned unexpectedly from an outing during a sabotage. Will has to find a way to rescue them. Zhao refused to evacuate. Of course all of them would eventually emerge unscathed. (So ridiculous and flimsy is the plot.)

The best thing about this movie is Chin Han. (And he has a rather meaty role here, in almost every scene from the first to the last.)  Chin Han’s performance is better than expected; his acting chops can hold against Johnson’s (or any other actor’s in this movie). The fight sequences (including with the Rock himself) are impressive, though I know they must have been choreographed, and he may even have had a stunt double. His one line of dialogue in Mandarin here is a bonus.  He has proven himself in a number of Hollywood outings, and someone should by now recognise his potential and give him the opportunity of playing the Male Lead.

An added bonus here is Hannah Quinlivan (wife of Taiwanese singer-songwriter Jay Chou), who plays an assassin called Xia. She has more speaking parts than Chou in his last few Hollywood movies. And she does not disappoint. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of her on the big screen. (Besides English, she also has a line in Cantonese here.)

As one character in the movie remarked: Every man has a weakness. (Zhao’s weakness is The Pearl and Will’s his family.) So does this movie. But “with proper motivation, everything can be done“. There is hope yet that Johnson will deviate from such silly plots as Skyscraper.

Southpaw

southpaw

I had deliberately given this 2015 movie a miss because I guessed I would have ended up averting my eyes from the big screen most of the time. However, I couldn’t resist borrowing it when I spotted it in the library. The main draw was Jake Gyllenhaal; next was Forest Whitaker.

The story: Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal), the reigning Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion, seemingly has an impressive career, a beautiful and loving wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), an adorable daughter Leila (Oona Jackson) and a lavish lifestyle. Billy’s style of fighting often leaves him beaten and bruised (and my eyes shut or hidden behind my hand). In the match defending his title, his injury is so severe that he coughs up blood for days; and is finally convinced by Maureen to retire. He is taunted by his opponent Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez); a brawl between the two led to Maureen being shot and killed. Billy crumples. He begins abusing alcohol and drugs while trying to seek vengeance. He has lost everything – his lucrative income, his job, his fame and his family. He is sued, lost his belongings, his house is repossessed, he attempts suicide and loses custody of Leila.

Leila is put under the care of child protective services officer Angela Rivera (Naomi Harris). Billy sobers up but Leila refuses to even see him, blaming him for their predicament. Billy gets a job as a cleaner at a gym owned by former boxer Tick Wills (Whitaker), and convinces Tick to train him. Tick and Billy are two damaged souls who need each other. They strike up a relationship that is a friendship. Billy’s former manager (Curtis “50Cent” Johnson) arranges a fight between Billy and Miguel. The judge removes Billy’s restricted visitation with Leila, who convinces him to let her attend the fight by staying in the locker room with Angela. Billy wins the fight and reunites with Leila. Love wins in the end.

This is a universal story about redemption, overcoming personal demons and putting others before self. “Everyone’s got a beat in him; everyone’s got a fighter inside him; everyone has something that he can fight for; there’s no reason to give up. There is every reason that when you believe in something you believe in your life to keep fighting. You can control your destiny.”

Other than the actual fights that are so violent and bloody (like blood dripping from the eyes swollen shut, among other horrible injuries caused by opponent’s hits and punches), I found myself enjoying this movie. It is an inspiring and heart-warming story about hope and redemption; there is a lot of intense, touching and emotional scenes; and the acting is brilliant. I’m especially impressed with Oona Jackson; it’s the first time I’ve seen her, and I hope to see more of her. My hats off to Gyllenhaal, who despite having the stunt double and stand-in at his disposal, must have gone through arduous preparation and training as all his fight scenes look absolutely authentic. The make-up artists, especially Gyllenhaal’s, have done a fantastic job. And I’ve never found rap music more appealing and used appropriately at the same time.

The Good Lie

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After about a month of not getting my regular fix from the library@esplanade, I was so pleased that the first movie I picked to watch after I visited the library on Monday is a very good one. I read somewhere that it received a five-minute standing ovation when it premiered at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). I doubt this 2014 movie was ever shown on the big screen here as there is quite a bit of political and religious undertone throughout the story.

In 1983, orphans of civil war in Sudan, known as The Lost Boys (there were few girls), traveled nearly a thousand miles on foot, enduring unspeakable circumstances in search of refuge. Over a decade later, a humanitarian effort would bring thousands of these survivors to America.

This movie is the uplifting, true-to-life tale of four friends’ journey from their devastated homeland to the foreign world that is modern America, and the people who help empower them to begin again. These four orphans (Mamere, Jeremiah, Paul and Abital – when as adults are played by Arnold Oceng, son of Sudanese refugee father; Ger Duany, Sudanese refugee and former child soldier; Emmanual Jal, Sudanese refugee and former child soldier; and Kuoth Wiel, Sudanese refugee – lend authenticity to the movie and are the real stars here) were forced to flee when rebel forces massacred their village and encountered hardship, death and sacrifice throughout their journey. They are among those selected for resettlement in America, only to have the one girl among them sent to Boston while the others must make a new life in Kansas City. They struggle to adjust to an alien culture and the challenges that come with it, like being exposed to drugs while having to make peace with the emotional baggage of the past.

The three guys are assisted by Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon), an employment agency counsellor who assists them with job placement, helps them search for their sister (eventually adopting her so that the four are reunited), and ends up being their closest friend and supporter. When their oldest brother Theo (Femi Oguns), who had sacrificed himself during the escape from rebel soldiers, is found at the refugee camp in Kenya, Mamere travels there to confirm his identity and attempts to get a visa for him to travel to America but is unsuccessful, so he (Mamere) gives Theo his identity and stays behind to work at the refugee camp as a doctor.

This is a really good movie. The true story is an inspiring one that offers real insight into the human spirit: dedication, loyalty, family and friendship. It is engaging and relevant; dramatic, captivating, moving and poetic. (Even the 22 songs are inspiring, especially the one at the End Credits called We Fall and Get Up.) The cinematography is great; especially the scenes shot in Africa, with the real trees, real animals (like the cheetah), real dirt and freezing rivers. The visual effects are magical.

The title is taken from a phrase in Huckleberry Finn, as in how Finn uses lies to survive in undesirable situations but later the lies change because Finn changes. His lie is credible and what is important is that it is an unselfish lie; it means freedom for Jim and that means much more than the money Finn would get for turning Jim in – so it is a good lie. (The two instances here are when Mamere recalls how Theo lied to the soldiers to save the siblings back in Sudan, and how Mamere gives his identity to Theo in the end.) This movie takes pain to explain that, though lying is bad, there are moments when a lie had positive consequences that outweigh the telling of it.

This is certainly a movie that shows a different side of life, and learning to value a different culture.

Animal Kingdom

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I did not know what to expect when I picked this up from the library@esplanade, wondering if it had anything allegorical, like George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I thought not, as it is a 2010 Australian crime drama film.

Seventeen-year-old Joshua Cody (James Frecheville) is taken in by his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) after his mother dies of an overdose. Together with Janine, the extended family, including Joshua’s uncles Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), Darren (Luke Ford) and Andrew (Ben Mendelsohn), are the most notorious criminal gang in the country. Andrew and his best friend Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton) are armed robbers, the hyperactive Craig is a mid level drug dealer and barely-of-age Darren is an apprentice with Andrew and Barry.  So when tensions rise between the Codys and a squad of renegade cops, Detective Senior Sergeant Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce) tries to get Joshua on his side. Joshua wants to figure out how to survive among them in a bad situation.

This is an animalistic family in world of deceit, corruption and paranoia. The story is about survival and adaptation. Joshua learns that trust means nothing when people are desperate. In Animal Kingdom, it is the survival of the fittest that prevails over family ties.

The cinematography is beautiful, with Melbourne’s cool blue nights, warm orange summers, grand sprawling hills, the rich tapestry of its suburbs and lingering tracking shots. I like the interesting use of music – a lot of electronic music such as Jimmy Cliff’s In Limbo (which I don’t particularly like but which adds to the uneasy and palpable atmosphere) and even Air Supply’s All Out Of Love (one of my favourite songs by the Australia duo) which has never sounded so ominous before.

The Music Man

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One of my favourite songs is Till there Was You written by Meredith Wilson, and I decided to watch the 1962 movie version of the musical, The Music Man. I had never heard of Shirley Jones (the librarian Marian Paroo who sang this song) or Robert Preston (the “Professor” Harold Hill to whom she sang), but they are both brilliant.

Harold is a con man who arrives at River City with the intention of cheating the community by offering to equip and train a boys’ marching band and then flee as soon as he gets the money. Librarian Marian is suspicious but keeps quiet about it since her brother is excited about the band. Harold falls for her and faces a difficult decision about skipping town, inadvertently enriching the town with a love of music.

Considering this movie was made when I was just a little girl, I must say it’s a good production. No wonder it is a cinema classic that has endured for generations. The music, vocal arrangements and choreography are a treat, and the teams behind the costume design, hair styling and make up did a marvelous job, with their attention to details. Of the supporting cast, I was most taken by the young Monique Vermont who played Amaryllis, especially in the scene where she has her piano lesson with Marian.

I wonder if there would be a vibrant remake of this warm, touching and nostalgic movie in my lifetime. (I can imagine Hugh Jackman in the charismatic lead role.)

Bridge of Spies

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I had enjoyed this 2015 movie so much that I decided to watch it again on Blu-ray. Besides Tom Hanks (whom I’ll never tire of watching), I gained a little more insight this time.

This is a historical drama film inspired by true events about the Cold War. James Donovan (Hanks) is a Brooklyn lawyer who finds himself thrust into the centre of the Cold War when the CIA sends him on a nearly impossible mission to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot.

During the Cold War, there was tremendous fear and distrust of America from Russia and a lot of paranoia and fear inside America toward the Soviet Union. It was a dangerous time, with gadgets as seen in the movie, like the hollow coins used to communicate with each other and the silver coin hiding a needle that they have to use to kill themselves if they were caught.

There are a few people, like Donovan, who reminds us that there are things we cannot discard in times of crisis. It is like the politics of today: how do we negotiate the line between security and our principles? Donovan was in a very difficult position yet he had such a dedication to the process of law that he gave the best defense that he could and more than what everybody expected or wanted him to. The cost to this are the firm and his family as the case consumed him. (This reminds me of what the late top Singaporean criminal lawyer Subhas Anandas said: Everyone deserves a defense. Every person matters. Donovan said exactly the same words.)

East Berlin is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Though it has been more than a decade since I visited it, I can still feel the same sense of oppression and uncertainty felt by the people who lived there when the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961. It was a time of terror and confusion. It divided the people of the East and West into two different worlds – those who were free and those who lived under the Communist Soviet regime. It was a very hard and uncertain time. The Wall was not so high that it was hard to scale, but no one dared. It was symbolic. Just as Checkpoint Charlie was.

Equally symbolic is the Bridge of Spies where the swap took place, in freezing cold. It is a visual metaphor of the story. A piece of history happened and it had repercussions all over the world. There is something divine about this moment. It has historical weight and beauty. This final scene is the culmination of an incredible journey and something special.

With some awesome cinematography and music (such as Jimmy Van Heusen and Phil Silver’s Nancy (with the Laughing Face), Lorenz Hart and Richard Rogers’ My Romance, Irving Gordon’s Unforgettable and Shostakovich’s Concerto No 2 for Piano and Orchestra Op 102), this movie will help future generations remember what the Cold War is. They’ll also be able to learn about the current war on terror(ism).