4 Stars

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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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.

 

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.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 6 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Best Picture (Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter), Best Film Editing (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa), and Best Original Screenplay (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack).
Won Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto), and Best Makeup (Adruitha Lee, Robin Matthews).
Watched March 14, 2014.

I have heard a lot of rave reviews of Dallas Buyers Club, many stating that it is a story that needs to be told, but mostly that the acting is out of this world.  I was very young during the time period of this film (beginning around 1985 and going into the nineties) and don’t remember anything about the AIDS crisis.  I have little to no personal experience with it and therefore it hits me in a less personal way.  I am very glad that I watched the documentary How to Survive a Plague before I watched Dallas Buyers Club because this film is more about the characters and a small populace of affected people whereas the documentary had a lot of facts and really represented the numbers and scope of the epidemic well.

 

Dallas Buyers Club is a character driven film with very few side plots.  There are a lot of small rolls and a few big ones, but McConaughey and Leto are, in my opinion and beyond contention, well deserved of their wins at this years’ Oscars.  I was on the fence about McConaughey at first but he slowly won me over.

 

His character, Ron Woodroof, is a genuine cowboy in Texas.  An electrician by day and a rodeo cowboy by night, he spends the rest of his time drinking, doing drugs, and sleeping with hookers.  He is from the beginning shown as a homophobic southern man who perceives himself as quite the ladies man, but when he lands in the hospital from electrocution he is told that he has HIV and has thirty days to get his affairs in order.

 

After a disastrous experiment with AZT, the only drug for HIV and AIDS that was undergoing trials at the time, Woodroof runs down to a doctor in Mexico who tells him and his now full-blown AIDS infected self to switch to vitamins and non-toxic medicines.  He loses his job and is ostracized by his friends, so as a way to make ends meet he starts selling alternative medicine.  In walks Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender with AIDS who ultimately opens the homosexual market to Ron.

While fighting the FDA and selling medicine, Ron fights for his life, with a little bit of innocent romance on the side.  He becomes taken with the only doctor who seems to care about the patients and about AZT’s toxicity–Eve (Jennifer Garner).

In a lot of ways I can understand why this story needs to be told, but more than anything I marvel at the performances of McConaughey and Leto.  Both men lost an exorbitant amount of weight to portray the roles well, which in turn affects their performances.  The moment when Ron realizes the weight of his condition is truly poetic, which is actually a flaw throughout the whole film.  It is more poetic and artistic than raw, which makes the story lose some of its impact.  It is complicated to explain, but its editing and general flow of story, as well as its use of flashbacks give some of the plot an ethereal quality that pulled me out of the film.

 

Leto seems to have a moment every time he is on screen.  It is not just the type of character he is portraying, but the way in which he does it.  His makeup and costuming certainly lend to the character but Leto inhabits and commands it.  From a playful, unabashed personality, to addiction and pure despair, Rayon was generally a very strong character with a smaller role than I expected.  He is leaps and bounds above his competition from this years’ nominees and I would watch the film again just to see his performance.

 

The Dallas Buyers Club is rated R and has a heavy topic with some explicit scenes.  Enter into it knowledgeably.  If you don’t know anything about the AIDS epidemic you might want to do a little reading before you watch the film because it doesn’t represent the magnitude of the situation that well.  Otherwise, of just Leto’s performance alone I would recommend the film.