A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 396 – Nemesis Game

Nemesis Game – March 31st, 2011

We bought this on a whim. A Highlander-inspired whim. At some point Andy saw it at one of the stores he was working at and it had Adrian Paul in it and he grabbed it. I don’t think we ever truly intended on watching it. I’d thought I’d offer it to my other Highlander fan friends and hand it off to someone else and that would be that. I ended up never handing it off and it stayed in our collection, still wrapped, until now. I considered taking it out of the project, since we didn’t really buy it for ourselves. Not really. But we did buy it. And we never got rid of it. I really am trying to be dedicated to watching everything we’ve brought into our collection. If that means watching this then so be it.

And you know what? It is not bad. I mean, it’s not great, but I can think of worse movies in our collection. Worse movies with bigger budgets and bigger names. Worse movies watched within the past week. Worse movies to come. It’s got flaws, but I had a lot more fun watching it than I had watching the Spider Man movies (any of them). Which was a nice surprise! So I’m going to treat this movie nicely. Yes, I’ll point out the plot holes and some issues I have with it, but in general? Not bad.

The basic plot revolves around a mysterious game involving riddles left for people to find and solve which will supposedly eventually allow the players to find out the meaning of life. And as a concept it’s fun enough. Anyone who’s spent any time with a riddle book will get most of them, but that’s not the point. The point is that the main character, Sara, along with a few people she knows, have gotten caught up in this game and they don’t really know who it is who’s planting the riddles or where they’ll eventually lead, but they’re so engrossed in it, they keep going. Even when one of Sara’s acquaintances turns up dead at the end of a chain of riddles, she keeps playing. Because she wants there to be some sort of ultimate answer and the game is all she’s got. Eventually it all leads back to a woman named Emily who tried to drown a boy six years back. She was playing the game too and claimed that the attempted murder wasn’t murder or some such thing. She talked in circles and was sent away for five years and has only just been released.

Our two main players are Sara and a guy who runs a comic book shop in a dingy part of town. His name is Vern and we never get to know much about him, but we do know that he likes riddles and he’s been playing the game. And here is one of the problems with the movie. The timeline is messy. We start out watching Vern and Sara play a game with a chain of riddles, but later on it seems like they’ve only just met. And before we meet Vern and Sara we see a man we don’t know interviewing a woman we don’t know. We later find out that the man is Sara’s father and the woman is Emily. And then it’s earlier, but then it’s later again, and then Sara explains how she got started playing the game six months back, but then the movie laps itself by coming back to the interview with Emily after she turns herself in for committing murder. Once you see it all, it’s possible to piece it together, and it’s obviously done with the intent of building tension and giving us a slow reveal. Instead it just makes it hard to figure out where and when it all started and with whom. I can see why, given the plot, the specifics might be shown after the fact, but well, it wasn’t done well enough to work.

My second issue with the movie is that it spends so much time following Sara around while she silently tracks clues and solves riddles and so on that we don’t really get much in the way of background for her. Or for anyone. Watching the making of documentary after, it was clear that the director/writer, Jesse Warn, had some concrete thoughts on the characters and Sara’s personality needing to be revealed without verbalization. And I get that. But I needed more background for her and earlier on in order to give a damn about her. Otherwise she just comes off as foolish for continuing to play the game even when it’s freaking her out. The same goes for Vern, played by Adrian Paul. I liked his character. I liked how Paul played him. He had a nice combo of world-weary and cocky going on. And yet we get one single line that tells us something about his background. One line and a shot of a large scar on his back and side. So. He’s mysterious? Except there’s never much of a reveal for him. He and Sara shout out their personal tragedies in one line each in one scene and that’s it. The movie tries! There’s a bit with Sara’s father and her step-mother where we see that there’s some animosity between Sara and the step-mother and the father wants to fix it. And I liked Sara’s father, played by Ian McShane (still not forgiving him for his attitude towards The Dark is Rising). I just wanted more. I wanted more out of all of these characters. Because there was potential.

The thing is, the movie is thoroughly wrapped up in its own philosophy. The concept of riddle as metaphor for life is played out in every scene. People toss riddles at each other instead of answering questions. People research riddles. Riddles are written on every surface. Riddles take the place of character development, backstory and in some cases plot. Which is frustrating, because as I said, there’s potential here. It’s a decent thriller under it all, it just got bogged down by too much concept. And let me be clear, I did like it. I just wish that it had been a little cleaner. A little more focused. A little less devoted to the concept. Maybe then the ending wouldn’t feel as rushed as it is, relying on postscripts (with a misplaced apostrophe that made me cringe) to give any sort of closure. But while I’ve been a little harsh, I will say that I had fun watching it. The performances were good and the visuals were nice. The concept was interesting and maybe given a little more time the movie could have played out more cohesively. Overall, I’m pretty glad I never got around to passing this to someone else and I’ll certainly be keeping it.

March 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Nemesis Game

March 31, 2011

Nemesis Game

I bought this movie as a kind of joke. Amanda is a huge fan of the Highlander television show and I saw this one day with the pre-viewed movies at one of the places where I worked. It featured Adrian Paul prominently on the box, and I knew nothing else about the movie besides that. Knowing what a ham Adrian can be I had zero expectations for this movie.

It’s actually not a bad movie. It’s convoluted and implausible, and feels at the end as though the writer kind of ran out of ideas, but it’s not quite the kind of cheese I was expecting when I put it in. Instead it’s a fun sort of thriller that plays with the notion of riddles and how they might reveal something about the chaos of our daily lives.

Riddles are the central theme of the movie. Adrian Paul is a mysterious shop owner named Vern who has a fondness for riddles. His shop looks like a kind of grungy comic book or video store. He has an acquaintance named Sarah, who is the actual lead character. She, too, is interested in riddles. Then there’s the central mystery regarding a woman named Emily Gray who used to be a normal intelligent person but who has inexplicably become involved in random murders. Sarah’s father, a police detective, is called in to interview Emily Gray but he is unaware that Emily’s latest victim was known to Sarah.

Sarah and Emily and Vern are all caught up in some kind of strange riddle-centric game. The high-concept premise behind everything here is that there’s a kind of secret cult obsessed with riddles. It sounds a little like Scientology. If you answer enough riddles you will be allowed into the inner circle who know the secrets of the universe. Specifically there is a Design to all things that allows somebody who has solved enough riddles to understand the reason behind the apparently random tragedies that plague us. Sarah is intrigued by the notion that there might be a reason that explains the death of her mother in a random traffic accident.

Where the movie falls down somewhat is in delivering on this high concept. Writer/director Jesse Warn has some good ideas here and there are a couple of fun twists to his plot, but the notion of the ultimate Design is poorly developed. Emily Gray is a chilling character and wonderfully played with her complete conviction that the murders she attempts are part of this design, but ultimately it is not explained why. Sure there are some odd coincidences and revelations (some of which feel particularly forced) but the ineffable design remains just that – ineffable. Unknowable.

As this is a movie about riddles there are constant riddles throughout the film, which is fun because it gives us as viewers a chance to figure out some things before they’re fully understood by the characters in the movie. But the ultimate riddle at the core of the whole plot is something that we’re pretty much told we cannot understand, so the last fifteen minutes of the movie or so when a whole bunch of stuff happens never makes any sense. Stuff happens and it feels unsatisfying to me because we’re never really told why. Then the movie is abruptly over.

Still – it is not a bad movie. It’s well made and has some fun writing to it. (I particularly loved the sort of riddle scavenger hunt that Vern and Sarah play near the start of the film: it looks like it would be a fun game to play in real life.) I like these sort of low budget independent films, and I’m glad that there are talented teams of people out there making them. It kind of makes me want to find a copy of my uncles’ movie Lies from the eighties. It’s been years since I saw that.

March 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment