4 Stars

Death of a Shadow (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Death of a Shadow (Dood Van Een Schaduw) (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Live Action Short Film (Tom Van Avermaet, Ellen De Waele).

“Death of a Shadow” is an interesting little short that escapes both time and reality.  A deceased World War I soldier, Nathan Rijckx (Matthias Schoenaerts) works for a man, stuck in a limbo between life and death, and photographs the dying to be displayed in a gallery of shadows.  He works to have a second chance at life and is motivated by a woman he met the day he was killed.   Sarah Winters (Laura Verlinden) tried to save his life.

He hates his work, but he is so close to completing it he can hardly stand it.  He peruses his options and tries to find the least repulsive death to photograph, while still trying to satisfy his employer’s taste in art and composition.  His last picture, however, proves to be very difficult and he must make a decision between his own happiness and that of the woman he is smitten with.

The film is both a period piece and something outside of reality.  It is creative and well shot, although it is a lot of story to put into a short.  The production value of the short is really astounding.  It is very artistic and emotional, however they didn’t completely match the communication of that emotion with the production design.  That is a small complaint, however, for such a well made short.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Writing-Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola).

“Anderson’s movies often mark out their own weirdly regressive, faintly dysfunctional space, from which the modern world has been politely excluded, and where the occupants communicate in a kind of modified, private language” (The Guardian).

“Moonrise Kingdom” is both bizarrely weird and fabulous at the same time.  Wes Anderson is well known for his unique, artistic view of the world and way of telling a story through film.  This story of two young lovebirds in a tiny island community with interesting takes on reality is no different.

Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan who has been with the island’s scout group for some time.  An outsider with pyrotechnic tendencies, he meets Suzy (Kara Hayward) at a church play and is immediately smitten.  They become pen pals and after much planning decide to “run away” and take a camping trip together.  Sam, after all, is an experienced scout.  Suzy, on the other hand, seems to know nothing about camping but quite a lot about music composition and interesting library books.

The adults are not absent.  On the contrary, they are deeply concerned for the well being of their charges.  They take a break from their own disfunctions to be preoccupied by the young couple’s and spend a good portion of the movie searching for the two, and then trying to keep them apart.  Suzy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are pretty normal, including the untoward relationship between Mrs. Bishop and Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).  Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and his troop are the most unique characters and other-worldly story line of the entire film.  As they search for the twelve-year-old love birds and try to bring them back to reality, a storm brews off shore that will turn the small community upside down.

Each scene and shot is picturesque.  I really enjoyed the cinematography.  It was like watching a photograph come to life.  The presentation itself was a bit awkward and unique, but that is typical of Anderson’s films.  It is all about the emotion and desire.  He makes the ordinary seem magical.

This film isn’t for everyone.  It’s a bit artistic and out there.  Its timing is even unique and takes pauses in awkward places.  There is a constant reminder that you are watching a film and it won’t allow you to get sucked in.  The scenes including the Scout Master and his troop are so out there that the absurdity is comical–in a good way.

If you are in the mood for an artistic film in which you suspend a bit of your own reality to watch the absurdity of this 1965 community, then I would definitely recommend this film.  If it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, definitely watch something else.

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Broken Circle Breakdown
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Dirk Impens).
Watched August 19, 2014.

This film, with all of its positives and negatives, pulled at my heartstrings.  It is told in a non-linear style, which adds a bit to its mystery and builds up, rather than tears down the relationships within the film.  It is a foreign film based in the Flemish city of Ghent in Belgium.

Elise (Veerle Baetens), a realist religious tattoo artist, and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), a blue grass romantic atheist, fall in love pretty much at first sight.  Their intense, passionate love is communicated very well through mostly images versus dialogue.  When it turns out that Elise has quite the voice, she joins the band and the film is regularly populated by their folksy bluegrass renditions of old American classics.  This is probably my favorite part of the film–I downloaded the soundtrack immediately after the end credits.

Within months Elise falls pregnant.  Their love blossoms and grows.  The filmmakers show a little bit of their daughter Maybelle’s (Nell Cattrysse) youngest years, but at still a very young age they find out that she has cancer.  This puts their love to an extreme test and becomes a downward spiral that might be hard to get out of.

I really enjoyed the color grading and story telling in this film.  There are certain scenes that were perhaps a little too long and really pound their point into the audience.  It is also guilty of melodrama.  I liked the way the filmmakers chose to tell the story of their love–how it started and especially its highs.  They also tell Maybelle’s story very well.  Like the love story, they communicate her illness with a lot of imagery and song and not as much dialogue.  Perhaps I liked this because it is a foreign film so there were fewer captions to read, but really I think it is because of the artistry.

When things begin to spiral is when the film slows down and has a much more linear time quality.  While this portion of the film is powerful and climactic, its style changed and became darker and less etherial.  We are pulled with the couple into their moments of despair, whether in the quietness of their own home or while on stage performing for an audience.  Their glass bubble shattered the moment little Maybelle got sick and they both feel like they will never be whole again.

Like I said, the story is pretty melodramatic from start to finish.  The filmmaker’s didn’t seem to attempt a fiercely realistic story.  Perhaps that is a strength.  I think at some point I will watch the film again, but it will probably be more for the music than it will be for the story as a whole.  I liked the characters.  I rooted for them and could relate to them.  I liked their story in the beginning.  It was simple and romantic, although I wondered how on earth they could pay for everything.  I liked when the melodrama was punctuated by full performances.

If you like this type of music, I would definitely recommend the film to you.  If you don’t like the music, make sure you like dramatic stories before you add this film to your list.

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Live Action Short Film (Esteban Crespo).
Watched July 30, 2014.

Aquel No Era Yo is hard to watch from start to finish.  While its execution and possible story can come off as slightly melodramatic, it turned out to be pretty powerful for me personally.

Two doctors are visiting Africa (we aren’t sure where) and find themselves at a barricade manned by child soldiers with automatic weapons.  Paula (Alejandra Lorente) and Juanjo (Gustavo Salmerón), clearly a little naive and very optimistic, almost make it through until an adult with ulterior motives shows up and decides to teach the boys a lesson.  The General (Babau Cham) is less than gracious and watches as his man teaches young boys what to do with outsiders who “kidnap kids.”

There is one negative that I found in the film, and that is its use of non-linear story telling.  It gives something huge away, which takes away from the suspense and therefore the power of the story telling.  Occasionally throughout the short we see a glimpse into the future, into a classroom where first world students are learning about child soldiers and the war culture in this particular African country.  Immediately we know that people survive, and that impacts the plot in a very negative way.

Despite this, the rest of the filming is very well done, from cinematography to acting, color grading to sound and the development of character, Aquel No Era Yo was definitely a force to be reckoned with at these Oscars.  Despite their loss, the film was very deserving of its nomination.

If you can find the time to see the powerful and well made film, I would recommend it!  Just be aware that it is very intense and doesn’t pull any punches.

 

American Hustle (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

American Hustle (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 10 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Charles Roven, Jonathan Gordon, Megan Ellison, Richard Suckle), Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Costume Design (Michael Wilkinson), Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy, Alan Baumgarten, Crispin Struthers), Best Production Design (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler), and Best Original Screenplay (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell).
Watched June 5, 2014.

David O. Russell is becoming an unstoppable director in recent years.  From The Fighter to Silver Lining’s Playbook, and now onto American Hustle, he groups his favorite actors together in this film to punch out another excellently made, sharp piece with similar humor that we all loved in Playbook.  Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence are the revisiting dream teams, but their performances are complimented this time by Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K. and other big names in the industry.  The star studded cast combined with the fabulous director should be a recipe for greatness, and although the film took home zero Oscars on awards night, it was certainly a strong contender.

The story is a little unoriginal and one we have seen often.  It is the late 70s and early 80s.  Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) is a small time scammer married to a young woman named Rosalyn (Lawrence).  When he meets vivacious Sydney Prosser (Adams)–if that is her real name–he falls in love and ropes her into his business.  They’re eventually cracked by the feds and ambitious Richie DiMaso (Cooper) offers them a deal to get off the hook.  If they will help him to take town some big time scammers they’ll walk.

Irving is a piece of work, and an excellent character, which is probably what attracted Bale to the part.  The opening scene shows precisely how the man creates his masterpiece of a combover, complete with hair piece.  He knows what he wants and how to get it but he also knows when things aren’t right.  Sydney might turn out to be better than him, but I’ll let you decide on that front.

Despite the fact that Rosalyn knows about Sydney, she comes off as a few crayons short of a set and is constantly setting things on fire or talking about her manicures.  She is surprisingly dangerous and passive aggressive.  In true Lawrence-fan fashion, she was one of my favorite characters in the film.  She brings a different side to the comedy that the other characters don’t, although everyone seems a bit gaudy.  As Christy Lemire  from Roger Ebert says, “Her complexity and unpredictability make her fascinating to watch—she’s just unhinged enough to think she’s the voice of reason—and Lawrence is a radiant scene-stealer.”

The costuming is truly on point.  Sydney is obsessed with the plunging neckline.  Just as distracting is Richie’s head of incredibly curly hair (which he curls every night).  Each character is so delectably unique, and yet somehow the story line doesn’t get bogged down with their loud, semi-insane character arcs and holds things together surprisingly well.

Jeremy Renner plays the mayor, Carmine Polito, who is one of the many they are trying to scam.  He is a big time family man who passionately wants to make a difference in the city, but unfortunately his methods are against the law and Richie is chasing after him.  Irving and Sydney have no choice but to go along.  Rosalyn is the loose cannon that could ruin the entire operation, and everybody knows it.  Instead of keeping her at home, they continue to take her to all of the events and set her free.

The big personalities are a recipe for disaster within the film, but outside of that, everything came together fairly well.  Russell went at the con artist angle with more humor than we typically see.  This is perhaps an attempt to make the plot more unique, but really it’s just a rehash of everything we have all ready seen out of Hollywood.  Everything is executed well, as you can tell from the list of nominations, but what was missing was the twist of originality we typically see from the director and his star studded team.

The film is rated R, but is a great comedy with a lot of wit, laughs, and ridiculous situations.  I can appreciate this type of humor a lot more than something like “Ted.”  If American Hustle sounds like something you would enjoy, I would definitely recommend it.