Month: July 2014

Frozen (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Frozen (2013)
86th Academy Awards
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards, of which it won both.
Won Best Animated Feature Film (Chris BuckJennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho), and Best Music-Song (“Let it Go” by Kristen Anderson-LopezRobert Lopez).
Watched May 1, 2014.

Frozen is probably one of my favorite films that I have seen in a long time.  While still slightly more childish and more princess-y than the popular Pixar films, this new Disney princess installment makes a giant leap in its franchise.  It has a modern take on the typical formula and even pokes a little fun at common missteps in the original princess films.

 

The animated success is a story about sisters.  The girls are princesses, happy and carefree.  They love each other and Elsa’s (voiced by Idina Menzel) uncommon ability to create ice and snow out of nowhere keeps them entertained for hours.  After a freak accident where the youngest, Anna (Kristen Bell), almost dies because of Elsa’s powers, she and her parents are forced to keep her abilities a secret.  Even Anna has her memories removed and Elsa is confined to her room where she attempts to control her feelings and her powers.

 

When Elsa comes of age to take the throne, the girls are finally together again, but the coronation doesn’t go as planned and Elsa flees the kingdom, turning the carefree summer fjords into an untimely winter wonderland.  Anna teams up with an ice salesman named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) to track her sister down and bring an end to the winter.

  

The film has good humor from the beginning, but one of the best characters is definitely Olaf, a snowman come to life as the comic relief.  Olaf combined with Kristoff and his personable reindeer Sven make excellent companions as they try to solve first one problem, and then the next.

 

I saw Frozen for the first time with my sister, so anyone who has seen the film will understand why it made everything that much more special for me.  My sister lives on the other side of the country and I rarely get to see her, which is hard when we’re best friends.  Getting to see an animated princess movie with songs and cute animated boys and ridiculous humor was the best.  The end made it that much more sweet.

 

The most important message of the film, which is a bit of a spoiler so watch out(!), was that the love of family is just as important and powerful as romantic love.  In fact, when Anna is so preoccupied with finding The One, especially because she has been alone and dreaming for so long, she and Elsa both take each other for granted.  It isn’t until the dire end when all might be lost that they find each other again and rekindle a bond they once had in childhood.  Elsa has likewise been preoccupied, but more with hiding her true self.  She has a personal crisis that most people never experience and her sister is one of the only people who can help her come out all right.  While the story has some side plots, its main message is that true love heals everything, and the love of family is just as powerful, if not more so, than other types of love.  This is a really big step for Disney and I am exceedingly proud of this film and its message.

 

I could tear apart the film a lot farther (I tend to do that with movies that I really enjoy), but I will stop here except to say that the animation was stunning, the music was wonderful, the voices were perfect and a-typical Disney corny magic, and I want an Olaf… or a Sven of my very own.  If you have yet to see Frozen, do yourself a favor and add it to your Netflix list.  Now.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Documentary Feature (Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn).
Watched April 14, 2014.

  

Searching for Sugarman is half horror story and half fantasy for musicians.  Two South Africans are in search of what became of the 1970s rock and roll legend Rodriguez.  The catch is that he is only a legend in South Africa, despite his being an American.

 

The documentary interviews multiple people who say that Rodriguez was the real deal.  His soul and lyrics made him as big as the Beatles or Elvis Presley in South Africa, but no one in the States knew who he was.  He recorded two albums and then disappeared into obscurity.  In the days of no internet and only album covers, no one picked up something by a “Rodriguez” to listen to.

 

Somehow Rodriguez’s album made its way to South Africa, unbeknownst to him or his record label.  It spread like wildfire and genuinely helped spur on political revolution.  He was an inspiration to local bands and his lyrics built up a nation that felt oppressed by their leadership.

 

No one knew what happened to Rodriguez.  There were all sorts of rumors about his very public and gruesome suicide, but no one actually knew.  This film is the search for his story and what became of a legend.

 

For the most part, I saw Sugarman as a feel good film.  I won’t say too much (no spoilers here!), but the end of the film, story wise, was my favorite.  The story was good, the interviews were good, and the information presented was all good.  The execution of the film, particularly editing wise was not as successful.  I felt that once it reached its climax the pace was extremely slow.  Despite its few flaws, I think that this film will really resonate with anyone who has once pursued a career in music.

 

Aften having seen the film, I don’t know if I would ever watch it again.  Although it was interesting, there was almost too much information and not enough B-roll (non-interview footage).  If you can connect with the struggle of a musician, or you would like to listen to some great music, then this is definitely the documentary for you.

(Trailer contains spoilers!)

Dirty Wars (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Dirty Wars (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature (Jeremy ScahillRichard Rowley).
Watched April 18, 2014.

  

I am going to be honest–Dirty Wars is a hard movie to review.  I wasn’t the biggest fan.  This documentary following an investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill, as he looks into America’s covert war tactics, is dry and boring, despite its subject matter.

 

The narration is probably what I had the most trouble with.  The unemotional, read off a page with little to no vocal inflection diction was the biggest distraction that this film did not need.  Its subject matter is provocative.  It should be interesting, and either revealing or infuriating, depending on which side of the Us War On Terror fence you are on opinion wise.  Instead, I just found myself being angry with the narrator and so distracted that I could not be pulled into the story.

 

Objectively, there are some interesting investigations in supposedly some of the most dangerous areas in the middle east.  Before Seal Team 6 became famous for taking out Osama bin Laden, they were almost completely under the radar until Scahill found them.  He speaks about US cover ups, operations gone south, and civilians who should not have been killed.

 

I wonder, had the narration been up to scratch, would the film be convincing?  I didn’t jump the fence, so to say, but had the narration been less distracting, I may have felt up to researching further.  Paradise Lost: Purgatory 3, for example, was incredibly convincing without further investigation, albeit about a matter I knew nothing about before hand.  A documentary like Dirty Wars needs to be absolutely groundbreaking if it wants to convince the American public, who have probably already made up their minds about the war and the military, one way or the other.

 

The style of the film is reminiscent of Kony 2012.  It is perhaps geared at a younger audience, but I disliked the doctored images.  Everything together felt extremely amateur and weightless.  Something that should be emotionally charged at the same time as being informative was anything but.

 

I am pretty unimpressed with this nomination.  If it sounds interesting to you, go for it.  Otherwise I would recommend you find something else to watch tonight.

 

These are my opinions of the filmmaking itself.  I am not stating anything about the subject matter, but the story telling, filmmaking, and postproduction are what I am reviewing here.

 

12 Years a Slave (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

12 Years a Slave (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 9 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Costume Design (Patricia Norris), Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Film Editing (Joe Walker), and Best Production Design (Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker).
Won Best Picture (Brad Pitt, Anthony Katagas, Dede Gardener, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o), and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley).
Watched April 23, 2014.

12 Years a Slave is based off of the memoirs and book of Solomon Northup, a free black man who lived in the north in the 1800s and was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  This is no Quentin Tarantino’s Django.  This is raw, and somehow artistically balanced to give a small taste of what Solomon went through during 12 years in slavery in southern plantations.

 

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) fights for his freedom from the beginning, but the crippling terror and the ruthless inhumanity of the slavers beat him down into survival mode.  His fight becomes smaller and his caution greater.  His first owner is kind, as plantation owners go, but a run in with a power corrupt plantation hand lands him with the only owner who will take him.  Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) is matched in evilness only by his wife.  He has a lust for the slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), which has her physically and verbally abused repeatedly by the married couple.  Shortly after Solomon comes to the plantation, Patsey begs him to kill her.  After this they form a painful relationship that is more out of mutual understanding than of affection.  Solomon is a good man.

 

His ability to read and write must be hidden, but his intelligence and education helps get him out of many tight spots.  He still endures punishments we can barely fathom.  He spends a full day hanging from a noose with only his toes touching the ground.  He dares to hope and trust in few men, because those he takes a chance on are looking out for themselves and no one else.

 

((SPOILERS)) The one let down for me in casting was actually Brad Pitt who plays Bass, a Canadian who comes to work on the plantain to make some money.  He doesn’t agree with slavery, but Solomon calls him out to act on his beliefs.  For me, Pitt is so well known and so trustworthy that his appearance was a sure sign that Solomon’s salvation would come through him.  I wish they had chosen a lesser known actor to maintain suspense and realism.  ((End spoilers))

 

The film itself is artistic in nature.  Although most of the story line is linear, the director chooses a few painfully long sequences in order to communicate Solomon’s emotions.  He symbolically expresses an event or emotion when typical hollywood editing and story telling don’t seem to do an adequate job.  Solomon’s experience with the noose is long and drawn out.  Almost long enough for the viewer to go to the bathroom in the middle and not miss anything.  I cannot decide if I think this is a strong choice or a weak choice.  The style reminded me a lot of Beasts of the Southern Wild.  I almost wished for a little more story and less pause, but I can understand the choices of the director.

 

There are very few times that I can appreciate nudity in a film, but this is one of them.  The slaves are stripped of identity, dignity, respect, and humanity.  They bathe in the open, men and women together, watched by slavers.  They stand nude as plantation owners shop and decide who to purchase.  They are stripped naked and lashed to poles where they are whipped for things like wanting soap.  Although this symbolism is more obvious than others in the film, it showed a very raw side of the slavery culture.  Fed by their own justifications, the plantation owners were sick with the twisted logic of the south that believed that slaves were property and nothing more.

 

If you can take it, you should watch 12 Years a Slave.  In fact, even if you don’t think you can take it, you should watch it.  It has its flaws as a film, but its underlying message and its strong elements in acting and artistry are what won it the Oscar for best film this year.

 

The Impossible (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Impossible (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Actress (Naomi Watts).
Watched March 27, 2014.

  

I try to stay away from descriptions of the movies coming up on my list, but I vaguely knew that The Impossible was about a tidal wave.  In this film, a tourist family is vacationing in Thailand for Christmas and is caught in the 2004 tidal wave that devastated Thailand and other locations connected to the Indian Ocean.

 

Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons are given a short introduction that gives a small foundation of who they are as a family and a little of who they are as individuals.  There is a quietness in the beginning of the film that forebodes the events coming up.  The tsunami hits pretty quickly into the film and the scenes that follow don’t hold back.  The intensity of the raging waters is matched by the ferocious survival instincts of the family.

 

It is hard to give a synopsis of this film because I would really like to not spoil it.  I will simply say that people get split up very easily in the chaos of an emergency situation and finding each other again is almost as terrifying as the disaster itself.  The Thai people carry the wounded, clothe the naked, and rush strangers to overflowing hospitals in the backs of trucks.

 

The acting is phenomenal.  There are sequences that are a little drawn out and melodramatic, but the intensity of the film calls for that.  The brief moments of relief are a breather, but really I did not breathe properly or stop crying until the credits were over.

 

Is The Impossible the best made film?  No.  The acting is either excellent or acceptable.  The editing and therefore storytelling is good for the most part.  The melodrama gets a bit much and can be frustrating.  Despite all of that, it is a really good view into a disaster situation and how it affected this real family, whom the story is loosely based around.  I have been a huge fan of McGregor since he was in Star Wars and I was very happy when I found out he was in this film.

 

If you have the time and the emotional stamina, I would highly recommend this film.  Come prepared with tissues and a shoulder to cry on.