Won

Curfew (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Curfew (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Live Action Short Subject (Shawn Christensen).
Watched July 22, 2014.

I adored this short film.  In my opinion, it is everything that a short film should be.  There is symbolism, experimental and artistic cinematography, strong story telling, solid acting, and a cohesive whole that definitely deserved to win the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Subject in 2013.

This film does not need to be longer.  It is complete in and of itself.  Sometimes full length features are left too open to sequels, as is all the rage in Hollywood.  Once you find a formula that sells, you just keep selling it.  Curfew stays out of that trap and is phenomenal on its own.  Just the opening shots scream “this is a winner.”

Richie (Shawn Christensen) is in his bathtub, clearly in the middle of committing suicide by razor blade, when his phone rings.  It is Maggie (Kim Allen), and apparently Richie is the last person she would ever call but she needs his help.  Richie gives in, cleans himself up a little, and heads out to meet his niece whom he hasn’t seen in years.  Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) is a force to be reckoned with, just like her mother.  Strong, and independent, she knows how to stick up for herself, which may be because she grew up in New York, or maybe it’s because of her mother’s example.  She thinks very little of her Uncle Richie who supposedly messed up really badly when she was little and has been cut out of their lives since.

He is a mess.  He has huge circles under his eyes, his wrists are bandaged, and a cigarette hangs from his mouth.  He takes Sophia to the only approved place (the bowling alley), where things get a little weird and people start dancing, but it actually works incredibly well with the story line and character arc.  It is night time in new york, therefore the lighting stays pretty dark, but the filmmakers use a strong contrast that works well for the film.  He forms a tentative relationship with Sophia who is slow to let down her guard, but she seems to get the measure of him pretty quickly (which is good since this is a short film).

The short uses the landscape of New York City nightlife very well.  It follows the growth of their one-night relationship and makes you root for everyone, even the mom.  Christensen wrote, directed, and acted in the piece, which surprisingly works out pretty well for him.  Honestly, Curfew is the type of piece I would have adored in my intellectual, artistic filmmaker university days, but at a level that the more consumeristic side of myself can enjoy just as much.  It is a great film.

If you have twenty minutes, or even if you don’t, this is a short I would definitely recommend that you watch.  If you have never really sat down just to watch a short film, I would suggest that you start here.  It is that good.

Helium (2014) Review | Jamie Daily

Helium (2014)
86th Academy Awards
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Live Action Short Subject (Anders Walter, Kim Magnusson).
Watched May 5, 2014.

  

I am not surprised that Helium won this year’s Oscar.  It was cute, touching, well written, and used all twenty three minutes of running time very well.  The short film explores the power of imagination (no wonder it won, right?).

 

Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbæk) is a young boy who is dying.  A new hire at the hospital, the janitor Enzo (Casper Crump) takes a liking to the boy and in seeing his loss of hope and pessimism towards his fate and what happens after death, he creates an imaginary world called Helium that captures more than one heart.  Despite his failing health, Alfred’s fear is eased and his mind opens up to find joy again.

 

The length of the film was perfect.  There was not a minute wasted, and yet if it had been longer it would have lost all of its power.  There is little back story (what is Alfred dying of?  Where did Enzo work before this and why does he have so much compassion for this particular boy?), but its mysteries strengthen its ending.

 

Everything came together to bring home the win for this short.  I definitely recommend it, although don’t expect much humor.

Frozen (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Frozen (2013)
86th Academy Awards
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards, of which it won both.
Won Best Animated Feature Film (Chris BuckJennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho), and Best Music-Song (“Let it Go” by Kristen Anderson-LopezRobert Lopez).
Watched May 1, 2014.

Frozen is probably one of my favorite films that I have seen in a long time.  While still slightly more childish and more princess-y than the popular Pixar films, this new Disney princess installment makes a giant leap in its franchise.  It has a modern take on the typical formula and even pokes a little fun at common missteps in the original princess films.

 

The animated success is a story about sisters.  The girls are princesses, happy and carefree.  They love each other and Elsa’s (voiced by Idina Menzel) uncommon ability to create ice and snow out of nowhere keeps them entertained for hours.  After a freak accident where the youngest, Anna (Kristen Bell), almost dies because of Elsa’s powers, she and her parents are forced to keep her abilities a secret.  Even Anna has her memories removed and Elsa is confined to her room where she attempts to control her feelings and her powers.

 

When Elsa comes of age to take the throne, the girls are finally together again, but the coronation doesn’t go as planned and Elsa flees the kingdom, turning the carefree summer fjords into an untimely winter wonderland.  Anna teams up with an ice salesman named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) to track her sister down and bring an end to the winter.

  

The film has good humor from the beginning, but one of the best characters is definitely Olaf, a snowman come to life as the comic relief.  Olaf combined with Kristoff and his personable reindeer Sven make excellent companions as they try to solve first one problem, and then the next.

 

I saw Frozen for the first time with my sister, so anyone who has seen the film will understand why it made everything that much more special for me.  My sister lives on the other side of the country and I rarely get to see her, which is hard when we’re best friends.  Getting to see an animated princess movie with songs and cute animated boys and ridiculous humor was the best.  The end made it that much more sweet.

 

The most important message of the film, which is a bit of a spoiler so watch out(!), was that the love of family is just as important and powerful as romantic love.  In fact, when Anna is so preoccupied with finding The One, especially because she has been alone and dreaming for so long, she and Elsa both take each other for granted.  It isn’t until the dire end when all might be lost that they find each other again and rekindle a bond they once had in childhood.  Elsa has likewise been preoccupied, but more with hiding her true self.  She has a personal crisis that most people never experience and her sister is one of the only people who can help her come out all right.  While the story has some side plots, its main message is that true love heals everything, and the love of family is just as powerful, if not more so, than other types of love.  This is a really big step for Disney and I am exceedingly proud of this film and its message.

 

I could tear apart the film a lot farther (I tend to do that with movies that I really enjoy), but I will stop here except to say that the animation was stunning, the music was wonderful, the voices were perfect and a-typical Disney corny magic, and I want an Olaf… or a Sven of my very own.  If you have yet to see Frozen, do yourself a favor and add it to your Netflix list.  Now.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Documentary Feature (Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn).
Watched April 14, 2014.

  

Searching for Sugarman is half horror story and half fantasy for musicians.  Two South Africans are in search of what became of the 1970s rock and roll legend Rodriguez.  The catch is that he is only a legend in South Africa, despite his being an American.

 

The documentary interviews multiple people who say that Rodriguez was the real deal.  His soul and lyrics made him as big as the Beatles or Elvis Presley in South Africa, but no one in the States knew who he was.  He recorded two albums and then disappeared into obscurity.  In the days of no internet and only album covers, no one picked up something by a “Rodriguez” to listen to.

 

Somehow Rodriguez’s album made its way to South Africa, unbeknownst to him or his record label.  It spread like wildfire and genuinely helped spur on political revolution.  He was an inspiration to local bands and his lyrics built up a nation that felt oppressed by their leadership.

 

No one knew what happened to Rodriguez.  There were all sorts of rumors about his very public and gruesome suicide, but no one actually knew.  This film is the search for his story and what became of a legend.

 

For the most part, I saw Sugarman as a feel good film.  I won’t say too much (no spoilers here!), but the end of the film, story wise, was my favorite.  The story was good, the interviews were good, and the information presented was all good.  The execution of the film, particularly editing wise was not as successful.  I felt that once it reached its climax the pace was extremely slow.  Despite its few flaws, I think that this film will really resonate with anyone who has once pursued a career in music.

 

Aften having seen the film, I don’t know if I would ever watch it again.  Although it was interesting, there was almost too much information and not enough B-roll (non-interview footage).  If you can connect with the struggle of a musician, or you would like to listen to some great music, then this is definitely the documentary for you.

(Trailer contains spoilers!)

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.