Film

The Grandmaster (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Grandmaster (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Cinematography (Philippe Le Sourd) and Best Costume Design (William Chang Suk Ping).
Watched May 24, 2014.

I wanted to like The Grandmaster so badly!  I was really unsure what I was getting into when I started watching it, but I roped my husband into it because I knew it was about martial arts.  It is certainly a unique shooting style with a lot of artistry and strong technique, however its plot was so slow moving that it lost my attention multiple times and I found myself caring little for what was going to happen in the end.

The film is the story and history of martial arts, but is specially focused around Ip Man (played by Tony Chiu Wai Leung), a martial arts master who would eventually train Bruce Lee.  Ip Man was a master during the republican era of China in which the dynasty falls.  He is surrounded by greatness and is inspired, patient, and a true believer in the art.  He becomes attracted to the daughter of a master from the north, despite already having a wife and children.  As the dynasty falls and Japan invades, he is forced to Hong Kong in search of work, but is stranded there when the borders close.  Everyone is claiming to be a martial arts master and fights break out everywhere.  There are very few true masters teaching the art and holding to the old ways.  Ip Man is hit on all sides by life, but is able to open a school that will one day attract the likes of Bruce Lee.

The film’s third main character is time.  Ip Man’s relationship with both kung fu and his love interest Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) are told through a manipulation of time.  Whether the story line is sped up or slowed down, the master is always a presence of calm in the storm.  A calm demeanor, however, does not always mean happiness.  Even the best can be overcome by emotion, especially if the emotion is revenge.  Gong Er’s legacy and family are practically stolen from her, and no matter what it means for herself, she seeks to restore her family honor above all else.  They are wise, but cannot escape time, just like the rest of us.

The cinematography is particularly dark.  When there are joyful times, there is light and color and tradition, but as the invasion happens, everything becomes shrouded in darkness pierced by sharp reds.  The film is truly a piece of art, but its style is a tad over exaggerated and over saturated for my taste.  It becomes so wrapped up in itself (most especially in its over-use of slow motion) that although the kung fu is truly magnificent, it gets lost in its presentation.  Perhaps it is good that it is not flashy and bright, or unrealistic like typical Hollywood.  It is much deeper and more meaningful this way–just very redundant.

If you enjoy films that are more pieces of art than entertainment, this could probably be one you would enjoy.  I don’t think that I will ever seek out The Grandmaster again, and nor do I think it impacted my life, but I don’t regret my time spent watching it either.

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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.

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.