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.

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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.

 

The Hollars

The moment I caught sight of Margo Martindale (whom I’ve been impressed with since I watched her in the 1987 Steel Magnolia) and Richard Jenkins on the cover of this DVD, I decided I would borrow it and watch it the moment I got home. I did not have to read the synopsis or be enticed by the “Fiercely Funny” quote or the logos of the Sundance and Los Angeles Film Festivals. It came as a pleasant surprise that one of my favourite singers, Josh Groban, also has a small role in the movie.

The story begins with graphic novelist John Hollar (John Krasinski, also the director and a producer) learning from his fiancee Rebecca (Anna Kendricks) that his mother, Sally (Martindale) is diagnosed with a brain tumour. He leaves New York City in a hurry to be with his father Don (Jenkins) and brother Ron (Sharlto Copley) in his rural hometown. There, John meets his high school classmate and mother’s nurse Jason (Charlie Day), who married his ex-girlfriend Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ron spies on his ex-wife and two daughters but is confronted by her new partner, Reverend Dan (Groban), who comes to understand that Ron really loves his kids. On the eve of her operation, John and Sally sneak out of the hospital to enjoy her “last meal”…

The movie is at times funny and sweet, at times touching and moving. The best performances are of course from Martindale and Jenkins. They make their characters so believable, and are such a joy to watch. I’m captivated each time they appear- Jenkins impresses as the father who cannot cope with his wife’s illness and  Martindale is pure magic: she is hilarious and made me laugh a lot, and in some scenes, her heartbreaking performances brought me tears. Some of the funny moments are also moments of truth.

The Shallows

I borrowed this 2016 DVD because I deliberately gave it a miss at the cinemas because I wasn’t such a fan of Blake Lively or the sea to want to buy a ticket to watch it. Even before the end of the movie (almost one-and-a-half hours, but I fast-forwarded some parts so it was only about an hour for me), I was so glad I had made that decision!

Nancy (Blake Lively) travels to a secluded beach for some surfing after the death of her mother. She encounters a great white shark which bites her, but eventually manages to swim to an isolated rock where she spends the night. The next day, she manages to swim to a nearby buoy and finds a flaregun which she uses to draw attention for help but instead is pursued by a shark. She is eventually found and rescued. The movie ends with her going surfing with her sister Chloe (Sedona Legge) in Galveston, Texas one year later.

The only thing thing I like about this movie is obviously the great cinematography of the ‘secret’ beach.  My hats off to the fantastic crew involved in the stunts, visual effects and special effects and photography, especially the engineers and technicians, divers and stunt doubles. The beach is made to look like such a magical and wonderful place – unique, mystical and spectacular. I think this place is the heart and soul of the film, not so much the stoic telling of a endurance and survival story. It looks like a paradise, a dream.

Edge of Winter

I became interested in viewing this 2016 DVD when I realised there are two child actors in it – Tom Holland (as 13or14-year-old Bradley) and Percy Hynes White (as 11or12-year-old Caleb). I was also keen to look at the snowy landscape as I’ve never experienced snow first-hand.

The story is about two brothers who are standed in a deserted cabin near a frozen lake with their father,  and how this bonding opportunity turns into a nightmarish adventure when their father, Elliot (Joel Kinnaman) realised he may lose custody of them and how this pushes him to the edge.

Somehow, I was disappointed by the movie. Peerhaps it has something to do with the rifle under the bed, shooting dead a rabbit and a deer as game, drinking, cursing (a lot involving the f-word), senseless fighting and killing of two innocent men. There are also loopholes, like: how did Elliot manage to drag a dead man and hide him under the floorboards of the room in the cabin where the boys slept? how did naive Caleb even know how to drive when Bradley purportedly got his first driving lesson from his father just a few hours before? The thrills (whatever that is) are manufactured, the suspense is non-existant, the two characters (Luc and Richard, played by Rossif Sutherland and Shiloh Fernandez respectively) introduced at the remote mountains serve no real purpose, and whatever action there is, is quite weak.

Despite the snowy landscape shot perhaps in Canada, the special effects and visual effects and the stunts did not leave me impressed and I was actually glad when the movie ended as the brothers made their escape in the car, though it was quite ludicrous too.