Month: July 2014

The Hunt (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Hunt (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark).
Watched May 12, 2014

Sometimes kids lie, and if we operate under the notion that they are forever truthful, a lot of bad and evil can happen because of it.

What starts out as a simple character study of a decent man who has recently been divorced but sees things start to come around, suddenly becomes  a terrifying exploration of human nature and an interesting glimpse into a side of an issue we rarely take time to consider.

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is currently working at a daycare.  He is excellent with the kids and has a very sweet relationship with his best friend’s daughter Klara (Annika Wedderkopp).  He hangs out with the children’s parents at night and goes hunting on the weekends.  His friends all worry about him, being lonely in his house, but the custody battle for his son seems to be going positively.  Suddenly, however, a crush gone wrong leads Klara to tell a lie that could end Lucas’ life… pretty literally.

Klara tells the daycare owner that Lucas exposed himself to her, and you can imagine that the story and accusations gain momentum from there.  We as the audience are pretty sure from the beginning that Lucas is innocent and we know what damage this can do, but Klara is a young girl who doesn’t understand the power of this kind of lie.  We watch as slowly, the whole town seems to turn against him.  The people who are on his side are impressive displays of unconditional love but they also trust in the knowledge that Lucas is who they think he is.  Klara’s father grapples with a host of intense emotions–the protective nature of a father and the disbelief that his best friend is that kind of man.

Mikkelsen is, without a doubt, the driving force behind the success of this film.  He won best actor at Cannes Film Festival.  His character slinks through the next weeks and months, having not been charged because of a lack of evidence, but is refused business and common decency from the community around him.  The film at its core explores the nature of “false guilt.”  He is treated as more than a criminal.  He receives threats, is beaten, and even church members don’t want to see him in their services.  Mikkelsen’s acting is superb.  He uses “subtle control of his face and voice [to convey] the inner turmoil of a man who is being forced to feel guilty about a crime that never happened” (Roger Ebert).

The film is distinctly actor focused.  There appears to be little fuss about setting up shots and most everything is hand held.  This keeps the film on a smaller scale.  It pulls into the actors and really shows the emotions on their face.  In a sense, this a great choice because the film is so incredibly character driven.  On the other hand, it limits the narrative a bit and leaves much less symbolism and depth.  Sure, a close up can convey the feeling of being “trapped,” but if most of the film is in close ups, the camera work gets stale.  That is the only reason I gave this film four stars instead of five.  Otherwise it is a complete knock out.

I would recommend this film to almost anyone.  Rest assured, you will feel a lot of emotions while viewing this film but I would really consider it worth your time.

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The Sessions (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Sessions (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Helen Hunt).
Watched May 6, 2014.

“A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest” (IMDB).

Well if that concise synopsis isn’t enough to at least pique your interest, I don’t know what is!  This idea and plot line could have gotten very heavy very quickly, but instead the writers and director did an excellent job of keeping the story on point and moving.  I wasn’t expecting to like the subject matter… at all.  Instead I found it kind of beautiful, in a weird sort of way.

Mark (John Hawkes) is a writer and a devout catholic.  More than that, he was crippled in childhood from polio and has had to spend a significant amount of his life in an iron lung.  He has feeling all over his body but cannot control his muscles.  He can only move his neck a little bit.  He lives alone but has multiple caretakers, and while living to be 38 is something of an accomplishment, he feels very unfulfilled because he has never had sex.  He finds an unlikely and very accepting confidant in a priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), who is torn between his convictions and the reasonable arguments that Mark puts forward.

After seeing a therapist, Mark is referred to a sex “surrogate” named Cheryl (Helen Hunt).  Their sessions are a big focus of the film, and while it is certainly rated R and Hunt is nude for most of those sessions, her very straight forward and yet learned dialogue sort of distracts the audience.  She will only see Mark for six sessions, no more, and as they begin she is surprisingly clinical.  The brilliance of this film is its specificity.  Cheryl and Mark are both very vocal about everything that is happening.  Father Brendan is a somewhat comedic relief that represents the part of the audience that is thinking, “this is bizarre and yet I get it.”  Mark’s aids are extremely supportive and defensive of him, and as the story moves along, we begin to see the positive effect that he has had on the women in his life because they have learned to love unconditionally a man who, by all means has every excuse to roll over and hate his life, but instead he fights back for what he finds most important, and that is the love of a woman.

The story is definitely unique, and while I would not necessarily watch it all of the time, I found the experience strangely rewarding.  It isn’t about the nudity–it is about Mark and his approach to life.  The performances of both Hawkes and Hunt are magnificent and demanding.  They treat their characters seriously and with respect–so much so that they embody them fully.  I didn’t expect to find the story touching, but I really did.  While its cinematography, editing, production design, and other aspects were all right and somewhat average, I like that The Academy recognized the film (and Hunt) in this small way.

Hawkes’ role was incredibly demanding.  Physically, but especially emotionally, he rules the film with his performance.  He has a self deprecating humor that shadows his deeper and more conflicting emotions that Hunt’s character Cheryl pulls out of him (through dialogue, mostly).  He is very bare in his emotions, while Hunt is bare physically and much less emotionally.  She has an extremely professional manner, but we get to see a little of her vulnerability in her home life where she has a family.

I don’t recommend the film to everyone.  I think one needs to approach it with an open mind, although even with a closed mind one might still enjoy it.

Philomena (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Philomena (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 4 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward), Best Actress (Judi Dench), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Jeff Pope, Steve Coogan).
Watched May 11, 2014.

 

Philomena is based on the 2009 book by Martin Sixsmith about a woman who conceives out of wedlock and is forced by an Irish convent to not only serve years for punishment, but also to give her son up for adoption.  She has spent decades struggling with her guilt and emotions on her own, but in a reckless moment, she opens up to her young daughter.

 

Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) has recently been disgraced in the media, but when he tries to make a comeback as a journalist for the BBC, he finds Philomena’s story fascinating.  While she would love to find her son, he isn’t necessarily interested in reuniting mother with child, but with the story and the secrets about the 1960s nuns that will disgrace the Irish-Catholic community.  Despite the fact that BBC pays for everything, Philomena (Judi Dench) is incredibly reluctant to open up to the media and to have her private life on display.  After all, she has kept this secret for most of her life and now all of a sudden, she fears everyone knowing.

 

Their search, of course, takes them to the convent, where they are run around in circles and get no real answers because she signed forms stating that she will never receive further information about her son.  After walking through a graveyard full of the bodies of babies and mothers, Sixsmith and Philomena continue looking and end up finding out that her son was adopted by Americans.

 

The relationship between the two characters makes Philomena such a strong film.  The New York Observer describes it as “an overpowering novel you cannot put down, this gripping real-life story allows you to share the journey, step by step, as Philomena, who still clings to her faith, and Martin, a lapsed Catholic and devoted atheist, leave no rock unturned in their search for answers.”  It is the relationship between Philomena and Sixsmith and their battle of wits that earned the film four stars from yours truly.  Judi Dench does it again!  I forgot I was watching a film as I saw Philomena discover fact after fact about her son.  Some things will tear at your heart strings, others will exasperate you, and a lot of them will more than likely surprise you.

 

It is not a feel good story.  Based on real life events, it reveals a sad history in Ireland and most especially in this woman’s life.  Clearly, its strengths are Judi Dench and the writing.  While the film did not win, its nominations were deserved, albeit its Best Picture nod was probably a little low on the totem pole compared to the other nominees.  However, we all know how I love a good story driven film, and despite how sad this film left me, I loved it just the same.  Likewise, the score is properly haunting, full of nostalgia, sadness, and hope.

 

If you like a good story combined with an actress who can deliver, this would be a good film for you!  At only 98 minutes long it is the perfect length for a difficult subject matter that makes one think about family, morality, and Philomena’s ability to forgive.

 

War Witch (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

War Witch (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Canada, Kim Nguyen).
Watched April 21, 2014.

This year’s thought provoking war film comes from Canada, but they leave their polite compassion at the door in bringing War Witch to the screen.

 

Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is a young African girl whose small village is attacked by the rebel army.  She is forced to kill her parents and then follow the rest of the kids she has grown up with into a war of the jungle.  They are handed heavy assault rifles and drink “magic milk” (which is probably high in alcohol content, among other things) before going to fight.  When Komona sees what she calls ghosts who communicate the hidden location of those they are fighting against, her leaders take notice and she is promoted to the status of War Witch.  This is less of a privilege and more of a very precarious position–war witches don’t last long.  Their job is to keep their group safe so that they win.

 

Back at camp, the girls are sexualized objects among the men.  Knowing this, the Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), an albino who creates talismans, has fallen in love with the leader’s War Witch and after drinking the magic milk, he convinces her to run away with him and get married.  She tells him what her father always said–that if he wants to marry her he has to bring her a white rooster, which according the film is incredibly rare and hard to find.  They hide out at Magicien’s uncle’s house, and in perhaps an interesting twist, the uncle’s name is The Butcher (Ralph Prosper) and he is the kindest character in the film.

 

Not willing to lose his War Witch, the Grand Tigre Royal (Mizinga Mwinga) who leads the rebel army, comes after her.  It is not long after that Komona finds herself pregnant and still haunted by ghosts–specifically the ghosts of her dead parents.  In an attempt to finally put the ghosts to rest, Komona must do something drastic for both herself and her baby.

 

The film is not just about the reality behind child soldiers in Africa, but it is more deeply about family and loneliness.  In a very powerful scene, Komona gives birth alone, at the side of a river, and rises above it.  She shows strength beyond her fourteen years, but that is because the loss of her family and her circumstances have forced her to grow up too quickly.  She shoulders more burdens than even the men who would claim her, and yet she still comes out on top.  Her parents, as is evidenced very clearly, are always with her and she carries that guilt every day.  She knows she could die any day, but she is not willing to stop fighting for herself and for her family.

 

Despite the content, the filming style is very still for most of the film.  It shows Komona’s world in a very frank, matter of fact way.  It becomes chaotic when they consume the magic milk, but otherwise we become accustomed to small people caring big guns and fighting for their lives.  We get to see a glimpse into the horror of child soldiers kidnapped from their homes, but we also see the hope and the love that others are still willing to offer despite what human beings are capable of doing to one another.

 

War Witch was not my favorite film.  It is surprisingly slow, despite having a phenomenal story.  It is about Komona and her experiences and we see very little of what the other kids experience.  In that way, the story was very narrow, but that is perhaps because so much happens to her that other side stories would become too heavy for the narrative.  I got a little bored while watching it, but I found the ghosts property creepy, I bit my nails a lot, and was stunned when Komona gave birth to a healthy baby at the side of a river and then continued to paddle down stream like nothing had even happened.  I can’t really place my finger on what I disliked.  It was slow, and quiet, and perhaps too calm for what was happening.

 

It is an intense film, and for that reason I do not recommend it for everyone.  If my review, or the trailer piques your interest, then by all means you should see the film.

Helium (2014) Review | Jamie Daily

Helium (2014)
86th Academy Awards
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Live Action Short Subject (Anders Walter, Kim Magnusson).
Watched May 5, 2014.

  

I am not surprised that Helium won this year’s Oscar.  It was cute, touching, well written, and used all twenty three minutes of running time very well.  The short film explores the power of imagination (no wonder it won, right?).

 

Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbæk) is a young boy who is dying.  A new hire at the hospital, the janitor Enzo (Casper Crump) takes a liking to the boy and in seeing his loss of hope and pessimism towards his fate and what happens after death, he creates an imaginary world called Helium that captures more than one heart.  Despite his failing health, Alfred’s fear is eased and his mind opens up to find joy again.

 

The length of the film was perfect.  There was not a minute wasted, and yet if it had been longer it would have lost all of its power.  There is little back story (what is Alfred dying of?  Where did Enzo work before this and why does he have so much compassion for this particular boy?), but its mysteries strengthen its ending.

 

Everything came together to bring home the win for this short.  I definitely recommend it, although don’t expect much humor.