3 Stars

No (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

No (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Pablo Larraín).
Watched February 6, 2014.

  

No is an interesting contribution to this year’s foreign language films.  In the beginning I was not a fan.  It is a Chilean film about the 1988 referendum and the ad executives who produce the campaigns to defeat Augusto Pinochet.  It is shot, produced, and directed as if it was all actually done in 1988, complete with 4:3 aspect ratio and obsessive lens flares that over expose the frame constantly.  Perhaps the thing that took the most getting used to was the jump cuts.

Jumps cuts are cuts used in editing.  There is no transition between clips, but one clip right up against the next, often different locations and potentially different characters in each scene.  Usually, in film editing, even if they use jump cuts they will insert clips to imply time has passed or that we have moved to a different place.  In the beginning of No, the campaign is trying to talk René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) into directing the TV spots, while his boss is trying to talk him out of it.  With little to no back story or understanding of the Chilean political climate, we are thrown into these scenes edited back to back to back, often only a few seconds long.

If the rest of the film was like the beginning, I might not have made it through.  As an editor and lover of story, I could not be grabbed by the dialogue that I could not understand and the conversation that I could not keep up with simply because of the editing.  Things turned around pretty quickly, however, and while they still employed the same type of editing throughout the film, it slowed down and eventually used some traditional timeline tactics and only occasionally used their chaotic use of jump cuts to better effect.

The No campaign is granted fifteen minutes of airtime a day, while the Yes campaign receives the rest of the time.  René spends much of his time convincing those around him that they need a jingle and a focus on happiness instead of the fear and hatred that they all feel in their hearts.  General Pinochet has allowed the election mostly because of international pressure, and after his long time in office, he has instilled a lot of fear in his people of disappearances, exiles, and deaths.  The No campaign is innovative, current, and employs a lot of commercial tactics from the west, including the Coca Cola versus Pepsi commercials that were airing at the time.  They use a lot of humor and symbols associated with happiness.  The Yes campaign eventually begins to adopt the same tactics.

While there is a lot of fear and some vandalism, René and his associates stay relatively safe from political backlash.  We follow the majority of the process, right up until the election.  René is stoic and unemotional the majority of the time.  He rides a skateboard which implies both that he is young but also that he is clinging to youth and innocence.  Despite his differing views from his employer, his boss protects him and advises him against becoming tangled in the wrong side of politics.  Once it is all said and done, they are both still on the same side–that of supporting each others’ artistry.

There is a lot to love about No and one of those things is that they took the risk of not shooting everything in HD.  It is old and gritty and dark.  Some characters are quiet observers while others are passionate orators.  There is family drama and love.  If you are okay with reading subtitles and can make it through the first half hour, this is actually a pretty good film.  It is straightforward and almost one-note, but perhaps that is the film’s strength.  It does not try to throw in any plot twists, but carries you along with René to discover what it means to be a political activist in Chile in 1988.

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Kon-Tiki (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Kon-Tiki (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg).
Watched January 25, 2014.

  

I have an affinity for films and shows that involve being stranded on an island, or finding ones self in a desperate situation in the middle of the sea after something like a ship sinking.  I don’t know why–perhaps it is to see someone survive without modern comforts and vicariously experience the adventure and danger therein, or perhaps it is because I was introduced to Robinson Crusoe at a very young age.  All things considered, a film about six men traveling months at a time on a simple raft should be right up my alley, and while the story itself was up to scratch, the film was not.

 

Kon-Tiki is based on a true story, from book, documentary, and personal accounts of Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen), a scientist of the 1940s who wanted to prove that Polynesia was populated not my Asians as the world believed, but by Africans.  No respectable publisher or scientist would give him the time of day and told him the only way for anyone to take his theory seriously would be for him to make the trip across the sea from Peru himself.  National Geographic would have none of it, and although he had no money, Thor got together a crew and congregated in Peru where he convinced the government it would be worthwhile to finance their mission.

 

They built a balsawood raft precisely as it would have been built, using no modern technology to construct it, and set out on a 4,300 mile crossing.  The crew is briefly introduced to us: Thor is the ever optimistic and never doubting scientist, Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) is an engineer turned refrigerator salesman who is controlled by fear, Knut Haugland (Tobias Santelmann) is a war hero obsessed with his parrot, Bengt Danielsson (Gustaf Skarsgård) is the photographer, Erik Hesselberg (Odd Magnus Williamson) is the only one who has been to sea before, and Torstein Raaby (Jakob Oftebro) is the young adventurous one who works the radio.  We never learn more about the characters than this, really, and that is one of the big faults in Kon-Tiki.

 

What could have been a three hour adventure in which we get to know each character as I am sure they got to know each other in their 101 day sailing across the sea, we only get a hour and a half, most of which documents their adventures with sharks, whales, and glowing sea creatures.  Most of the film they are trying to find the southern current that will take them toward Polynesia, and there is one dramatic moment in which they must go over or around a reef.  All things considered, the film was shot beautifully, the introduction was well done and exactly as it should be, but the raft ride itself was a bit lacking.  We saw a lot of Watzinger’s fear and Thor’s struggle to captain him.  Their raft was absorbing water, and while this would probably be a big concern in reality, as would their inability to catch the current, only Watzinger seems to take these things seriously (although perhaps too seriously).

 

I enjoyed the film, but it did not give me enough.  The run time wasn’t enough for the characters, so instead they chose three of the seven to focus on–one being the sea–and left it as good.  Although there is one terrific scene involving a nail biting encounter with sharks, the rest of their adventures that should have been exciting were somewhat dull.  In the sequences they chose to dwell on, their timing was exquisite.  The colors and contrasts were beautiful, both in Norway in the beginning, but especially in their raft trip, alone on the big blue sea.

 

As the film is only an hour and a half, and it depicts a bit of history that is brave and encouraging, I would recommend this film.  It certainly isn’t my favorite, but the good scenes were magnificent, while its short comings kept it from being well rounded.  If you have ever read the book or seen the documentary, this is probably one movie you should add to your Netflix list.

Inocente (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Inocente (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Documentary, Short Subject (Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine).
Watched January 21, 2014.

  

Inocente is definitely an Academy type documentary, and I can see by their standards how it stood out.  I haven’t watched any of the other shorts yet from this year so I’m not sure how they compare.  However, I’m not sure that Inocente would have won in my book, and here is why.

 

I thought it was fairly average.  The story had power and the colors and symbolism were there, but I felt that its stillness and quiet moments were a large weak point.  As a fan of photography and cinematography alike, I understand and can appreciate how just one frame or photograph can speak volumes.  In Inocente, those frames were so repetitive that the forty minute short felt like seventy.

 

Inocente Izucar is a 15 year old living in San Diego, California.  For all intents and purposes, she is homeless.  She has never lived one place more than three months at a time and knows most, if not all of the shelters in and around her county.  None of her friends from school know.  She has found healing in art, so much so that she can’t even keep it off her face.  She paints her face every morning, dons her bright red converse, and is off.  She enjoys being alone and does not spend a lot of time with her family, but instead at ARTS (A Reason To Survive) where she paints bright scenes from her dreams.

 

Inocente is chosen by the director of ARTS to be one of two chosen to host their own art show.  She creates thirty pieces in a couple months, and then sells them for twelve thousand dollars towards the program and her college fund.  The documentary follows her artistic journey and uses the art pieces as background as she narrates over the top, sharing stories of the past.  She and her family are living illegally in the United States, and Inocente feels like it is her fault that they are homeless and running scared.  Her abusive father was deported years ago, and Inocente feels directly responsible.  At only eleven years old, her mother pleaded with her that they should both jump off the Coronado bridge.  Inocente had to talk her down.

 

Despite the power in her words and story, I felt like the story telling was weak.  The people were all respectfully represented, but there was little shown of the difficulty of their life.  There was so much time spent in the art studio and so much less on just her life that although Inocente shared many stories and many things, very few things stood out as emotionally grabbing.  The colors and camera work were well done, as far as MTV goes, but I am surprised that the film gained an Oscar from the Academy.

 

Inocente’s story seems like it would be fascinating, and her way of telling it is raw and real.  She feels awkward at first, not knowing how to start.  Her art is a central focus, and perhaps that was the goal.  Perhaps she and the Fines wished her art to tell her story more than her words.  They wanted it to be brighter and more positive.  I can understand that, but I guess it just was not my cup of tea.

 

If the story I relayed for you sounds interesting, I would recommend the film to you.  Obviously a lot of other people really enjoyed it, I was just more indifferent to it than they were.  I will say this, though–the colors were absolutely beautiful, as was Inocente.  I wish her the very best.

Fresh Guacamole (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Fresh Guacamole (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Short Film-Animated (PES).
Watched January 10, 2014.

  

Fresh Guacamole, the shortest short ever nominated for an Oscar, is a technically sound stop motion film by PES.  A film that once went viral online, somehow, amazingly, garnered recognition from the Academy.

 

PES is well known on YouTube and other internet sites for producing some quality content, and this two minute feast is no different.  It doesn’t make any grand statements, although perhaps it was meant to, but instead practices film techniques and the art of stop motion to a T.

 

If you know how to make guacamole, or if you enjoy eating guacamole, or if art is in your DNA, you will probably enjoy this film.  It takes the simple process of making guacamole but replaces the food items with (mostly) every day objects.  The avocado is a grenade and the pit is a pool ball.  The chips are poker chips and the tomatoes are tomato pin cushions.  The human hands and avocado inards, as well as a few other items are as they should be, but the diced up tomato becomes red dice, the onion (a baseball) becomes dice as well, and so on.

 

The two minute short is slightly entertaining, mostly interesting, and pulls at a curious side of humanity that enjoys every day objects being used other than they should be.  For example, I have always loved The Borrowers (a book and also a movie about tiny little people who live in the walls of houses), partly because of how they use human items in such interesting ways–thimbles as large drinking glasses, and so on.

 

If you have two spare minutes, I would encourage you to watch the video below to see flawless technique and a cute spin on a simple Mexican treat.

Chasing Ice (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Chasing Ice (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Music-Original Song “Before My Time” (J. Ralph).
Watched December 2, 2013.

  

Most of the documentaries that make their way to the red carpet on Oscars night have big statements spilling out of their reels–agenda after agenda that typically pull at the heart strings of America and make radicals out of people who otherwise wouldn’t give a care.  Chasing Ice is certainly in the same category, although I respect the creators’ story telling more here than in other documentaries I have watched because of The Academy.

 

I have to tell you guys, as much as I love and adore documentaries, I am not a fan when they have an agenda.  Although it is clear that Chasing Ice is making a statement, it is one of the few that presents its argument in a much better way than just simply biased interviews and clever editing techniques.  No, the creators of Chasing Ice know what they are doing and how to persuade the everyman as well as the educated.  They may have an agenda, but they balance their techniques by not just playing off the emotions of their audience, but by presenting physical, visual facts that are hard to argue against.

 

The film follows the journey of one James Balog, a photographer for National Geographic, who went to school for science but found his passion in cameras.  He became passionate about ice and glaciers and began a three (plus) year journey of documenting the changes that these giant formations go through.  Through many trials, he and his team constructed boxes and computers that could withstand the elements in places like the Arctic, Alaska, and Montana.  They put cameras here that would take hundreds of thousands of photos during the years so that he could put them into time lapses and show the world what was really happening to our ice.

 

He, among many others, strongly believes in climate change and global warming.  He believes that it will greatly and very negatively affect our futures on this earth.  He knew, however, that words were not enough.  That skeptics would just listen to someone else.  So instead of just speaking his convictions, he took action and, through many trials as well as physical injuries, has spent years of his life photographing the changes in glacier formations.

 

The documentary also features interviews from Balog’s family, his assistants, and other experts who he may or may not have worked with.  The “agenda,” or emotional subplot are actually kept to a minimum in most of the interviews and I believe that the filmmakers did a very good job of translating their story through visuals instead of words.

 

That being said, the film was not nominated, the song from the final credits was.  It is a cool, haunting song accompanied by the smokey voice of Scarlett Johansson, and is much more radical than the film itself.  It speaks of the passion that the filmmakers and photographers must have felt, even though they pulled back and gave more educated arguments.  The song itself was emotional like most documentaries with an agenda, and although as a stand alone song it is weak, it is strong within the film.

 

While the film itself is not necessarily the most outstanding work out there (evidenced by the fact that it missed out on a nomination), I appreciated their ability at story telling.  I felt a connection to the people within the film, and the photography made me fall in love with ice in all of its beauty.  If you have the time to spare and want to see some incredible landscapes (and probably the most shades of blue you’ve ever seen in your life), I would recommend that you see this film.