3 Stars

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!)

Mondays at Racine (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Mondays at Racine (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Short (Cynthia Wade, Robin Honan).
Watched March 12, 2014.

Mondays at Racine is a well done documentary short that is so much more than just a story about women with cancer.  The two sisters who own a hair salon open their doors to women diagnosed with cancer once a month and give out much more than a free hair cut.


The story follows a couple women with breast cancer, while featuring a few others.  The owners’ roles in the film are very small.  They have painful, personal experience with cancer, but they also realize that in our society, and especially in Jersey, women have a very distinct idea of what beauty is.  They want women to feel beautiful, especially when going through cancer because they have enough to worry about already.  This is their way of giving back, and they make a good point that they get so much out of the experience that is is almost selfish.  It makes them forget or dismiss their own troubles while helping these women.


One of the main cancer fighters has been fighting for years, defying all odds and living over a decade beyond what the doctors told her she would live.  She mentors younger women with recent diagnoses in emotional aspects, but also when it comes to surgery and treatments.


It was a great forty minutes watching this film, but I cried a lot.  The story telling was okay, the editing was okay, but the people were phenomenal.  Our world emphasizes beauty, and these women are truly beautiful.

The Invisible War (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Invisible War (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature (Amy ZieringKirby Dick).
Watched March 10, 2014.


The Invisible War is a devastating documentary that discusses the victims of rape within the US military and how it has negatively affected the victims’ well beings, their careers, and their relationships.  More than ninety percent of the time, the attackers go unpunished and about 25% of the time it is because the attacker is their commanding officer.  Not all victims are women, either.  But because of the way that the military handles rape crimes, most victims never come forward.


This is a powerful story that needs to be told.  Already the documentary has brought attention to the people who can make changes.  When this documentary was filmed, the person who determined the course of action for the case and the attacker was the commander, but this has since changed.


One woman, Kori Cioca, who had joined the Coast Guard, was attacked multiple times by her CO.  She came forward several times, with multiple officers, to report the man and to be transferred, but she never was.  Her jaw was broken in the attack and, as the documentary shows, she has struggled for years to get the VA to cover her medical costs.  She has been eating soft food for about five years.


She and other women from the Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force, have all come together to tell their story and speak up.  Rape should never be accepted as an “occupational hazard.”  They want people to be aware and they want justice.


For the most part this was a good documentary.  The stories were heart breaking, the women were relatable, and their families were visibly suffering along side them.  They were living every day with their anger because there was no justice, no sense of closure, and every day other women, or men, were going through what they went through.  Sometimes the editing was not at par with the rest of the film.  They used jump cuts inappropriately during interviews–something that is regularly used in a YouTube format, for example, but rarely in mainstream media.  As an editor this was distracting and pulled me away from the tragedy being communicated on screen because it is “against the rules,” so to say.


I think the biggest reason for this film is for these women’s voices to be heard.  They tried for a lawsuit.  They spoke with people in D.C.  They cried with each other when they told their stories.  It is about what happened to them, but more so what did not happen to them.  They were told that they were asking for it, that their uniform was too provocative–anything that would release the attacker of guilt.  This is something that tends to happen in the American culture, and it is devastating that it happens so often within what is supposed to be our finest.


I feel strongly about this film.  Its execution was fine, its story telling ability was good, but the people within it are what makes it great.


Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of our military and its members.  I tried to keep this review objective but I don’t think I did entirely.  I am passionate about speaking up for the victims, not the people who committed the federal crime.


I will not tell you either way if you should see this film.  I leave that entirely up to you.  There are many women, and even a man, in this film who tell their stories and how it has changed their lives.

Lincoln (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Lincoln (2012)
85th Academy Awards
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 12 awards, of which it won 2.
Nominated for Best Picture (Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy), Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Best Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ronald Judkins), Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski), Best Costume Design (Joanna Johnston), and Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn).
Won Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Best Production Design (Rick Carter, Jim Erickosn).
Watched February 27, 2014.

I have heard a lot of good things about Lincoln, and perhaps these things, along with Daniel Day-Lewis’ win at the Oscars made me expect too much.  As much as I tend to enjoy the pristine nature of a good Spielberg film, the stage like dialogue, production design, and cinematography left something to be desired.


President Abraham Lincoln is perhaps one of the most well remembered Presidents.  This film focuses on a small period of time around his reelection, just months before his assassination.  He is gunning for the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery, much to the chagrin of his cabinet.  Even some within the Republican party were hesitant.  Everyone wanted peace from the Civil War.  They wanted their sons to stop dying in battle and for the South to come back to the nation.  The Democrats were vehemently opposed to the Amendment.


We all know what happens in the end, which takes away some of the mystery and suspense, although the filmmakers tried their best to keep the audience on the edges of their seats.  The representatives vote and threaten each other.  Lincoln is slow and yet eloquent.  He speaks strongly when needed but prefers a calm state and story telling.  In tense situations he commands the attention of a room by telling a story that might relate to the situation at hand.


The acting, particularly from Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, is top notch.  They deliver difficult lines and portray a wounded spirit very well.  My favorite scene involving Mary Todd Lincoln (Field) is when she defends her remodel of the white house to some extremists, showing a bit of the gumption that Lincoln must have fallen in love with in the beginning.  The loss of one of her sons has all but done her in, but in this moment there is fire in her eyes, much like in the President’s when he expresses how disgusting slavery is.


He and his political party dance the line between peace and the freedom of slaves.  They believe that if they declare peace with the south before the Amendment is brought to a vote, there will be no sense of urgency and it will not be passed.  They employ questionable and typical techniques to “buy” votes and stall envoys.


Some of the story is much too slow, or maybe unnecessary.  I understand why they included the story line of Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the son who wants to go to war, but it is so underused that it is more of a distraction from the main story than anything else.  It shows the fear of his parents and unearths more of their grief.  The emotions in these scenes are palpable, but the execution of the filmmaking is very staged.  There is a constant tug of war between filmmaker and actor in this film that I found very distracting.


Despite some negative attributes, the film is well done and deserving of its nominations as well as wins.  I would definitely watch it again, although I might not own it.  If you are a history buff you will probably really enjoy it.  I can recommend Lincoln as a good film, but you should expect it to be somewhat slow, dark, and quiet.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood) and Best Visual Effects (Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Michael Dawson, Neil Corbould, Philip Brennan).
Watched February 26, 2014.


Snow White and the Huntsman is an entertaining film worthy of its nominations–no more, and no less.  Recently we have been treated to new spins on old tales and for the most part, this rendition of Snow White is pretty good.


Snow White (Kristin Stewart) is supposed to be incredibly beautiful, not just in appearance.  Her mother the queen was well loved and poured that love out to her daughter.  When the queen dies, the king remarries (fairly quickly) to an incredibly beautiful woman who kills him immediately and takes the throne.  Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is perhaps the best part of this film.  She clings to her beauty and must take the youth of young virgins in order to maintain it.  Otherwise her skin sags, her hair thins and grays, and she loses all beauty.  Her magical mirror informs her always what she must do to remain the fairest in the land.

Snow White is kept prisoner in her own castle and when she comes of age, she must escape to save her own life.  The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is brought before the queen and ordered to track Snow White and bring her back.  This is the twist of the film–the Huntsman has a strong part to play, and he soon falls under the charm of Snow White, just as the dwarves and other rebels of the land.  In this rendition, there is still an apple and a prince charming, but there is also war and evil knights made of glass shards.


As much as I loved this movie, I would not give it five stars.  Charlize Theron was brilliant, although I think she was riding the edge of the knife between “perfect crazy” and “too much crazy” the whole movie.  A lot of the focus of the film was displaying just how crazy she was.  I did love, however, how discontent she was.  From fits of rage to silent tears, her range of emotions was amazing.

Another downer was, of course, Kristen Stewart.  To be honest, I do think she’s pretty–not necessarily fairest of the land pretty, but pretty.  Her method of acting came in handy when it came to her wandering through the dark forest.  She was confused, scared, disoriented–I think she played that part well.  I also thought she did a good job during her monologue at the end.  However, I did not have much faith in her character.  She not only represents life, but in actuality IS life.  Snow White was a challenging character in comparison with Bella from “Twilight,” but I do not think that Stewart pulled it off.  She was not believable as Snow White.  She was instead a girl running around in a big medieval dress, trying to be a great beauty.  Snow White is supposed to capture everyone’s heart, but Kristen Stewart did not capture mine.


My personal favourite was, of course, The Huntsman.  Chris Hemsworth–tall, muscular, brunette (yeah, I missed the blonde hair too), and with a Scottish accent.  Whether you are male or female, you should have a crush on this man.  I thought he did a good job with “Thor,” but when he did his monologue in “Snow White,” I could tell we are going to be seeing good things in his future filmography.  Hopefully he will not just be the brawny action star who plays the same role all the time.


I loved the special effects.  I expected more of the glass-demon knights we all saw fighting in the previews.  I was a little disappointed they had such a small role.  I didn’t notice the editing, which must mean it was good because trust me, I notice when it is bad.  The symbolism was blatantly obvious–death versus life, red apples being eaten, etc.  I liked the cinematography.  I think my favorite aspect was probably character development.  Before the end of the film, I knew who each of the characters were and understood their decisions.  We were given enough information about their pasts to understand their present.  While rooting for the good guys, I had a sick desire to see the queen succeed because Theron captured me with her crazy ways.


If you are not looking for a deep film, or even a frivolous film, I would definitely recommend Snow White and the Huntsman for a Friday night entertaining movie.  It is rated PG-13 so it is certainly not as kid friendly as the original Disney animation, but other than that it is a good family film.