85th Academy Awards (2013)

Mirror Mirror (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Mirror Mirror (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Costume Design (Eiko Ishioka).
Watched June 23, 2014.

Lately a lot of fairytale remakes have been surfacing.  The summer of 2012 saw two different takes on Snow White.  Snow White and the Huntsman took a darker approach with impressive special effects and love triangles.  Mirror Mirror is a comedy first, excellent display of costuming second, and pretty okay movie all around.  It was a corny, good kid friendly movie and my inner child really enjoyed it.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of Snow White, know that the film follows the basic plot line with some stabs at originality.  The Queen (Julia Roberts) married the King (Sean Bean), who promptly disappears, leaving behind his beautiful daughter named Snow White (Lily Collins) who is abused by the jealous, youth obsessed Queen.  She meets a Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) but is chased from the kingdom by the Queen who wants her dead.  She comes upon seven dwarves, who are not named things like Grumpy, Dopey, and Doc in this version, and joins them after some resistance on their part.

There are other unique aspects of the film, but the biggest is the comedy.  There is a cute, although fairly childish bit in which the Queen accidentally switches a love potion with a puppy love potion and the Prince’s affections for her become something other than what she wished for.  The dwarves are also outcasts who enjoy robbing people instead of mining and Snow White learns some moves while she stays with them.

The costumes are clearly a highlight of the film.  Both original and mostly colorful, I really enjoyed their unique flavor.  The whole film seeks to add new spins on a classic story.  The dark forrest, the village of the kingdom, the court life, everything in-between has an unrealistic quality that adds to the charm of the storyline.  To be quite honest, the film isn’t a knock-out artistically, or even technically, but it was certainly entertaining and fun.

Roberts is definitely a standout as the Queen.  Her brand of crazy is more comical and magical.  She undergoes ridiculous beauty treatments and her “mirror on the wall” is certainly depicted differently than one might expect.  The romance is sappy, the plot is predictable, and the roles seem less than challenging, but as a whole the fun and colors won me over and Mirror Mirror is probably going to become one of my guilty pleasures.

I would definitely recommend this film if you have kids or if you are a Julia Roberts fan.  I had no desire to see the film from the marketing, but upon seeing it I truly enjoyed it.  If you have the time, it might be worth a watch if you can stomach the cutesy execution.

Redemption (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Redemption (2013)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject (Jon Alpert, Matthew O’Neill).
Watched June 30, 2014.

Redemption is a unique view of life in New York.  On the very doorstep of nice homes and large buildings, condominiums and the Empire State Building itself, the impoverished of the city spend endless hours, day in and day out, collecting bottles and cans from trashcans in order to redeem them for five cents a piece.

This documentary short follows a basic premise to tell a sad story.  It follows different people, from veterans and the elderly, to immigrants and single mothers.  Some of them live on the streets and band together from a mutual need of safety.  Others live in a one room apartment with at least six other people.  Some New Yorkers help the collectors, while others turn a blind eye.

The one bedroom apartment is like a scene from hoarders.  It makes the situation more real and brings the message of the film home.  It doesn’t matter where you come from.  There is a woman who worked for Microsoft for years, but now her Social Security benefits don’t cover everything and she has to can all day, fighting with an angry and overly competitive Chinese woman who will steal your cans right from under you.  Each person has a story.

The film is very transparent.  It doesn’t seek to hide its message or motives under artistic camera work or in-studio interview footage.  It is all on the streets.  There is little to no symbolism.  It is simple.  This probably makes it more powerful, and yet from an artistic standpoint it is very blah and unimpressive.  It transitions from character to character well, and it tells their stories even better, but there is nothing else to it.  Perhaps its length limited it, but its rawness was a negative for me.

The documentary is less than half an hour long.  If the story sounds interesting to you, then I would definitely recommend it.  I am a lover of documentaries and don’t consider my time wasted by viewing it.  It did open my eyes a bit more to the poverty around us, which is probably the biggest goal of the film, and therefore it did its job.  However, in my opinion, a film should exceed the bounds of just “doing its job” in order to deserve an Oscar nomination.

Buzkashi Boys (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Buzkashi Boys (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Live Action Short Film (Sam French, Ariel Nasr).
Watched May 13, 2014.

Perhaps it was because of cultural differences, but I was pretty bored by Buzkashi Boys.  It was trying to make a statement about cultural differences, too.  Those of my generation are obsessed with the hashtag craze “#firstworldproblems,” in which one states something that is only deemed a problem in first world countries.  This film depicts the opposite of first world problems.  In fact, it is a story about a blacksmith’s son and a boy who lives on the street and how they both dream of a better life.

It is present day in Afghanistan and Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi) doesn’t want to be a blacksmith.  He wants to hang out with his friend Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz), an orphan who lives on the streets.  The blacksmith (Wali Talash) doesn’t want either of these things for his son.  He wants to teach him a trade and how to support himself when he is no longer around.  Rafi and Ahmad run off and witness a game of Buzkashi–a local sport somewhat like horse polo but involving a dead goat.  Ahmad dreams of leaving the streets and becoming a famous and successful Buzkashi player.

The short takes us around Afghanistan, giving a humanity to what us in outside countries likely only see on the news.  The boys explore what was once a palace but is now rubble.  We see a crowded street full of cars, shops, and people, where Ahmad sells whatever he can in order to get by.  Rafi’s home is small and dirty, but he has a lot more than his friend.

What is special about this film is that a team of international filmmakers have come to Afghanistan to teach the locals how to make films.  They want to educate them and encourage them.  I would say getting a project nominated for an Oscar is pretty good encouragement.

If we view this film as a project in filmmaking, it is certainly a step in the right direction.  If we view this film as an insight into the Afghani lifestyle, it can be powerful.  However, the story was lacking and listless.  Even though it was only a short, I felt that the story telling needed a lot more meat and direction to really be a success.  The character development was okay.  The filming itself was pretty good, and especially from a trainee director who has never been to school for the subject, it is very impressive.  I hope that he continues to pursue filmmaking and will bring his skills back to Afghanistan.

The Sessions (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Sessions (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Helen Hunt).
Watched May 6, 2014.

“A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest” (IMDB).

Well if that concise synopsis isn’t enough to at least pique your interest, I don’t know what is!  This idea and plot line could have gotten very heavy very quickly, but instead the writers and director did an excellent job of keeping the story on point and moving.  I wasn’t expecting to like the subject matter… at all.  Instead I found it kind of beautiful, in a weird sort of way.

Mark (John Hawkes) is a writer and a devout catholic.  More than that, he was crippled in childhood from polio and has had to spend a significant amount of his life in an iron lung.  He has feeling all over his body but cannot control his muscles.  He can only move his neck a little bit.  He lives alone but has multiple caretakers, and while living to be 38 is something of an accomplishment, he feels very unfulfilled because he has never had sex.  He finds an unlikely and very accepting confidant in a priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), who is torn between his convictions and the reasonable arguments that Mark puts forward.

After seeing a therapist, Mark is referred to a sex “surrogate” named Cheryl (Helen Hunt).  Their sessions are a big focus of the film, and while it is certainly rated R and Hunt is nude for most of those sessions, her very straight forward and yet learned dialogue sort of distracts the audience.  She will only see Mark for six sessions, no more, and as they begin she is surprisingly clinical.  The brilliance of this film is its specificity.  Cheryl and Mark are both very vocal about everything that is happening.  Father Brendan is a somewhat comedic relief that represents the part of the audience that is thinking, “this is bizarre and yet I get it.”  Mark’s aids are extremely supportive and defensive of him, and as the story moves along, we begin to see the positive effect that he has had on the women in his life because they have learned to love unconditionally a man who, by all means has every excuse to roll over and hate his life, but instead he fights back for what he finds most important, and that is the love of a woman.

The story is definitely unique, and while I would not necessarily watch it all of the time, I found the experience strangely rewarding.  It isn’t about the nudity–it is about Mark and his approach to life.  The performances of both Hawkes and Hunt are magnificent and demanding.  They treat their characters seriously and with respect–so much so that they embody them fully.  I didn’t expect to find the story touching, but I really did.  While its cinematography, editing, production design, and other aspects were all right and somewhat average, I like that The Academy recognized the film (and Hunt) in this small way.

Hawkes’ role was incredibly demanding.  Physically, but especially emotionally, he rules the film with his performance.  He has a self deprecating humor that shadows his deeper and more conflicting emotions that Hunt’s character Cheryl pulls out of him (through dialogue, mostly).  He is very bare in his emotions, while Hunt is bare physically and much less emotionally.  She has an extremely professional manner, but we get to see a little of her vulnerability in her home life where she has a family.

I don’t recommend the film to everyone.  I think one needs to approach it with an open mind, although even with a closed mind one might still enjoy it.

War Witch (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

War Witch (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Canada, Kim Nguyen).
Watched April 21, 2014.

This year’s thought provoking war film comes from Canada, but they leave their polite compassion at the door in bringing War Witch to the screen.

 

Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is a young African girl whose small village is attacked by the rebel army.  She is forced to kill her parents and then follow the rest of the kids she has grown up with into a war of the jungle.  They are handed heavy assault rifles and drink “magic milk” (which is probably high in alcohol content, among other things) before going to fight.  When Komona sees what she calls ghosts who communicate the hidden location of those they are fighting against, her leaders take notice and she is promoted to the status of War Witch.  This is less of a privilege and more of a very precarious position–war witches don’t last long.  Their job is to keep their group safe so that they win.

 

Back at camp, the girls are sexualized objects among the men.  Knowing this, the Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), an albino who creates talismans, has fallen in love with the leader’s War Witch and after drinking the magic milk, he convinces her to run away with him and get married.  She tells him what her father always said–that if he wants to marry her he has to bring her a white rooster, which according the film is incredibly rare and hard to find.  They hide out at Magicien’s uncle’s house, and in perhaps an interesting twist, the uncle’s name is The Butcher (Ralph Prosper) and he is the kindest character in the film.

 

Not willing to lose his War Witch, the Grand Tigre Royal (Mizinga Mwinga) who leads the rebel army, comes after her.  It is not long after that Komona finds herself pregnant and still haunted by ghosts–specifically the ghosts of her dead parents.  In an attempt to finally put the ghosts to rest, Komona must do something drastic for both herself and her baby.

 

The film is not just about the reality behind child soldiers in Africa, but it is more deeply about family and loneliness.  In a very powerful scene, Komona gives birth alone, at the side of a river, and rises above it.  She shows strength beyond her fourteen years, but that is because the loss of her family and her circumstances have forced her to grow up too quickly.  She shoulders more burdens than even the men who would claim her, and yet she still comes out on top.  Her parents, as is evidenced very clearly, are always with her and she carries that guilt every day.  She knows she could die any day, but she is not willing to stop fighting for herself and for her family.

 

Despite the content, the filming style is very still for most of the film.  It shows Komona’s world in a very frank, matter of fact way.  It becomes chaotic when they consume the magic milk, but otherwise we become accustomed to small people caring big guns and fighting for their lives.  We get to see a glimpse into the horror of child soldiers kidnapped from their homes, but we also see the hope and the love that others are still willing to offer despite what human beings are capable of doing to one another.

 

War Witch was not my favorite film.  It is surprisingly slow, despite having a phenomenal story.  It is about Komona and her experiences and we see very little of what the other kids experience.  In that way, the story was very narrow, but that is perhaps because so much happens to her that other side stories would become too heavy for the narrative.  I got a little bored while watching it, but I found the ghosts property creepy, I bit my nails a lot, and was stunned when Komona gave birth to a healthy baby at the side of a river and then continued to paddle down stream like nothing had even happened.  I can’t really place my finger on what I disliked.  It was slow, and quiet, and perhaps too calm for what was happening.

 

It is an intense film, and for that reason I do not recommend it for everyone.  If my review, or the trailer piques your interest, then by all means you should see the film.