86th academy awards 2014

The Croods (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Croods (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film (Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco, Kristine Belson).
Watched August 28, 2014.

If I could suggest one thing when viewing “The Croods,” it would be to not read too much into the plot and characters and just enjoy the story for what it is.  A pre-historic cave family has their home destroyed and must set out across the unknown in search of safety and a new cave.  With the help of a slightly unwanted stranger, they discover what it is to embrace change and to face adversity together as a family, even if your family is stupid.

That synopsis might not sound too bad until you get into the grit of things.  Grug (Nicolas Cage) is the father, and he is fiercely opposed to any kind of change or outside thinking.  When his daughter Eep (Emma Stone) tests the limits and then meets an outsider named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who is also an inventor, he does what any typical dad would do and tries to lock her in the cave.  When their home gets destroyed, everything changes and Grug reluctantly follows Guy and Eep, along with his wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), crazy Gran (Cloris Leachman), son Thunk (Clark Duke), and little one Sandy (Randy Thorn) across the unknown.  They face perilous adventures with wacky creatures and explore lands full of vivid colors.  Grug is obstinate the entire way and refuses to accept a new way of thinking.

This is where things could get weird.  The parent is refusing to see another point of view and won’t listen to his teenager.  On the other hand, the teenager thinks she knows best and is drooling over a boy.  The boy seems like the most level headed character, even though he has a sloth for a belt and he invents things like fire.  He is all about progress and moving forward and sees little value in tradition.  The dad is stuck in his ways and resists change to a fault.  He apparently doesn’t use his brain, according to the film.  The black and white representations of opposing sides of society could be that, or just a typical plot point in a children’s film.  You make the judgement call.

The story telling is predictable, albeit entertaining and funny.  There are some basic plot points, although surprisingly both parents last at least the majority of the film, whereas most films for kids feature a dead parent.  The kids have to go through some great emotional turmoil to make them understand the value of family, even when they’re being stupid, and nature continues to beat the cave people into submission.

I feel like this review came off more negative than I intended.  Like I said, the colors are fabulous, the film is entertaining and funny, and I enjoyed the animation.  I don’t know how quickly I would watch the film again because, let’s face it, it’s no Shrek, but it wasn’t the worst film of 2013, that’s for sure.

If none of the things I mentioned above bother you, and especially if you have kids, then I would recommend that you see “The Croods!”

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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.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel) and Best Sound Mixing (Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland, Skip Lievsay).
Watched May 30, 2014.

Inside Llewyn Davis is cyclical.  It is the depressing period in one’s life after the death of a loved one and partner.  It is also a behind the scenes peak at the life and struggled of a folk artist in 1961.  More specifically, it is a week in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac).

At first we don’t know why, but Llewyn is extremely down on his luck.  He is hopping from couch to couch on the sometimes grudging shoulders of friends.  His sister is a hard love type of woman and his ex-secret lover is pregnant with his baby while her husband (Justin Timberlake) is helping him out with jobs and connections.  It is winter in New York and Llewyn can’t even afford a coat, that’s how unlucky his is.  We find out later why he is no longer a duo and his emotional scarring makes him refuse much musical help or the thought of joining a group.

He is a rough human being.  He heckles other singers and is angry and unforgiving, but somehow he is able to muster the responsibility of taking care of his friends’ cat who follows him out one day. His chase of the cat and his attempt to bring it home is a consistent theme in the film and adds a cute quirk to his character that was needed.  The snow, cold, and dark night clubs bring the depression level of the film down and Llewyn’s character arc doesn’t go very far in the span of a week.

It is clear that most of the characters in the film are sympathetic to Llewyn and what he has gone through.  He has a distinctive surliness that is tough to connect with, yet somehow I was rooting for him that somewhere in the film his life would turn around.  We know next to nothing about his history, which makes him a mystery.  That is definitely a weakness of the film, in my opinion.

It is very obviously a Coen brother film.  Having been away from art and filmmaking for a few years now, I find it a lot more difficult to appreciate dark and depressing films.  There are little to no redeeming qualities in Inside Llewyn Davis, and to be honest I was at a loss as to what the moral premise was.  I felt that the script needed to be more rounded out and complete.  However, the cinematography was certainly excellent and painted the mood of the film extremely loud.  The folk songs are particularly good and Isaac delivers a good performance.

I don’t think that I will ever watch the film again, but if you have love for the Coen brothers, Oscar Isaac, or especially a connection to music, this could be one that you would enjoy.

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.

 

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.