jamiedaily

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.

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.

 

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.

Asad (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Asad (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Live Action Short Film (Bryan Buckley, Mino Jarjoura).
Watched April 2, 2014.

  

I watched Asad right around the time that I watched Captain Phillips.  Both portray the current climate of Somalia and its violence both on the water in piracy and also on land between its own people.

 

Asad is a short film that takes a different approach than the afore mentioned feature.  Asad is a young boy nearing manhood and anxious to go out on the boats and pirate with the other boys in his community.  He knows the ocean and its currents better than anyone.  Instead, the local fisherman who believes in living a different life is convinced that Asad will one day catch the best catch they have ever seen.

 

Although the film is quite short, it conveys Asad’s conflict, home life, and over all environment extremely well.  I got the measure of his character almost immediately.  In fact, it is very skillful how quickly we understand each character.  Granted, the writers did put in several easy to catch stereotypes that might define the soul of a person, such as Asad’s friend with a limp is all talk but has little courage when it comes down to it.  My favorite moment of the film was between Asad and his mother, where she struggles against the pressures of a society she has known her whole life and tries to raise her son in a war torn environment.

 

The film tries to instill a hope, but it is bleak.  Asad will grow up to be a pirate, a thug with a gun, or a fisherman.  His future is already set.

 

The filmmaking is decent, the acting is sub-par, and the story is one note.  After watching Captain Phillips, I was looking forward to a more in depth look at Somali life, but Asad left a little to be desired.  Although it shows the harder side of life, the film becomes preoccupied with a mediocre plot that stalls the pace and progression of the film.

 

All in all, I wouldn’t consider the film a waste of my time, but I would not suggest it for the a-typical audience.