Sunday, November 29, 2009

THE MAID (LA NANA) (2009)

Written & Directed by Sebastian Silva


Where & When: Fairfax Cinemas, Los Angeles, CA November 29, 2009, 2:30PM


"The Maid" is an fascinating character study of a woman who devotes so much of her life that she ignores her own needs and health in the process. There's not much of a plot in this documentary styled film but there is plenty to enjoy in this wonderful and smart dramedy.

We begin in Santiago, Chile where we meet the maid, Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) who is sitting down to eat after serving the Valdez family their dinner. Today is her 41st birthday and she has worked for this family for over twenty years. While Raquel is in the kitchen, Mundo (Alejandro Goic), his wife, Pilar (Claudia Celedon) and their two children, Lucas (Agustin Silva) and Claudia (Andrea Garcia-Huidobro) prepares to surprise her with a cake and gifts. She reluctantly comes out and they wish her a happy birthday.

Pilar is concerned about Raquel because she has been suffering from headaches, she looks fatigued and is always in a foul mood so she decides to hire a second housekeeper to help her out. Raquel is against the idea but Pilar insists. Claudia tells her mother that Raquel hates her and only likes Lucas. Pilar tells her she is imagining that but in the morning, Raquel deliberately vacuums by Claudia's room after she is told by Pilar to wait until later and let her sleep in. Raquel gives sweet treats to Lucas but hides them from Claudia.

The new maid, Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva) starts with the family. She is young and pretty and the children warm to her immediately. This sets Raquel off and she begins to torture Mercedes by berating her and locking her out of the house hoping this will drive her away. Eventually it works and Raquel drives Mercedes out of the house.

Pilar's mother offers to lend her long time maid, Sonia to help out around her daughter's house. Raquel tries her previous little tricks on Sonia but she is not one to mess with. After being locked out, Sonia manages to get back into the house and starts to beat up Raquel and in the process, breaks Mundo's prize model ship he had been working on for years. Luckily for Raquel, Pilar only dismisses Sonia.

One morning, Raquel is serving the parents breakfast in bed when she collapses and is rushed to the hospital. After she is released, she is ordered to bed rest so that means that the family has to hire a new maid to help out. They bring in Lucy, (Mariana Loyola) a good natured but eccentric woman who fits in quite nicely in the house.

When Raquel's health improves and she is able to work again, she begins her attempts to drive Lucy out of the house. Lucy is unfazed by Raquel's bad behavior and she tries even harder to befriend her. Soon, Raquel learns to trust Lucy and a true friendship develops between the two women. They become so close that Lucy invites Raquel to come to her family's farm for Christmas. It is here where Raquel finally discovers what it is like to truly feel to be a part of a family and she discovers her femininity when she has an intimate encounter with Lucy's cousin.

Raquel returns to the Valdez household a much happier woman. She arranges a surprise birthday party for Lucy. At the party, Lucy informs the family that she is going to return to her family on the farm because she realized how much she missed them during the holidays. Raquel is devastated by the news. She is losing her only friend. How will Raquel cope with this?

"The Maid" is really held together by the brilliant performance of Ms Saavedra. She is able to communicate all of Raquel's moodiness and rage with just her expressive face and her internal turmoil through her sad eyes. Her performance should certainly be remembered during the award season.

This film by Mr. Silva is loosely based on his childhood experiences. He has only made a couple of other films which I don't think where widely distributed here, if at all and this is an impressive work. If you enjoy foreign language films, then I highly recommend checking out "The Maid".

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NEW YORK I LOVE YOU (2009)


Written by Hall Powell, Israel Horovitz, Shuji Iwai, Hu Hong & Yao Meng, Joshua Marston, Xan Cassavettes & Stephen Winter, Jeff Nathanson, Anthony Minghella, Natalie Portman, Faith Akin, Yvan Attal, Olivier Lecot and Suketu Mehta



Directed by Faith Akin, Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Brett Ratner, Shekhar Kapur and Natalie Portman


Where & When: Fairfax Cinemas, Los Angeles, CA. November 12, 2009, 7:25PM


I had said in a previous post that I was very interested in seeing this film, so Dean and I went to go to go see it today.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. This film is really bad. Shockingly bad, considering all of the apparent talent behind the cameras.

This film is a collection of ten short film by ten directors that are tied together to create what is supposed to be a loving tribute to the big apple. None of these films are really any good but some are certainly worse than others.

I don't know whether to list the films that were barely tolerable or the ones that are truly horrific.

So I'll mention a couple of both.

The one short which I thought was the most interesting was Shekhar Kapur's segment that stars the wonderful Julie Christie as an aging performer who returns to a hotel she used to stay at many years ago. Jacob, a crippled bellhop (Shia LaBeouf) helps her to her room and caters to every need but is he real or is he just part of her imagination. It doesn't sound like much and it really isn't but I could have just liked it simply because of Ms Christie's appearance in it.

Joshua Marston's film stars Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach as a bickering couple who are trying to get out of the city to go to Coney Island for what turns out to be for an important date. It's kinda sweet but insignificant.

The worst short in the film was by Yvan Attal that stars Ethan Hawke as a smug writer who tries to woo a woman (Maggie Q) he passes on the street. He is trying to convince her to go out with him by describing how he would make love to her. He thinks he's being clever but it just comes across as psychotic and creepy.

Another annoying film is Brett Ratner's short which features Anton Yelchin as Kane, a nice young man who is talked in to taking Mr. Riccoli's (James Caan) pretty daughter (Olivia Thrilby) to her prom. She is not at all what he expected and the evening doesn't go as planned but at least Kane does get lucky at the end of the night. The twist at the end was suppose to be surprising and funny but it just felt silly and pointless.

Scarlett Johansson was supposed to have made her directorial debut in this project but it was cut apparently for "time". I certainly question that reason for it's exclusion considering the films that were actually used in this mess.

Overall, this project just felt lazy and unimaginative and wasted the time of many talented actors. The only good thing I can say about this film is that it made me miss New York City. I need to pay a visit very soon so it will help make me forget the awful memory of this film .


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2012 (2009)


Written by Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser


Directed by Roland Emmerich



Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA, November 17, 2009 5:00PM



The end is near. At least, that what I kept hoping while watching "2012". This end-of-the-world disaster flick runs for an unnecessary 158 minutes and had at least three perfectly good endings long before the credits finally came. "2012" is loud, obnoxious, manipulative, implausible and completely ridiculous. But despite it's efforts to the contrary, there were a few, brief moments of some genuine fun and thrills.

The film begins in 2009 where Adrian Helmsley, (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a US geologist is summoned to India by a fellow geologist (Jimi Mistry). It has been discovered that the earth's core is heating up at an alarming rate which spells imminent disaster for the planet. Adrian rushes back to the US with a report to inform the government of this. He contacts the White House Chief of staff, Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) who in turn informs the President (Danny Glover) and a plan is set in to motion with other high ranking officials of the rest of world.

Three years later in California, we meet Jackson Curtis, a writer played by John Cusack (because I guess Nicolas Cage must have been busy) who is picking up his two kids from ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet) to take on a camping trip at Yellowstone. While there, the family stumble upon a restricted area which of course they jump a fence to investigate. They find a area where there used to be a large lake and is now virtually dried up. The army comes and sweeps them up to interrogate them. Adrian happens to be at the base and recognizes Jackson from his unsuccessful novel. He is a fan of the book and let's the family go. An unbalanced and paranoid radio host, Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson, very busy this year) has observed the whole incident and wants to know what the army told them. Jackson tells him nothing and Charlie proceeds to let him know exactly what is going on.

According to legend, the ancient Mayans predicted an apocalypse on 12 - 21 - 12 and it has begun. Charlie claims that the government is making a massive space ship to fly people off to a new planet and he has a map showing where the ship is. Jackson thinks he's nuts but back in Los Angeles, Kate and her live-in boyfriend, Gordon (Thomas McCarthy) just happen to be grocery shopping when the Earth cracks wide open, splits the store in half and swallows the surrounding land.

After seeing this on the news, Adrian realizes that the end has begun and it is earlier than predicted. He informs the President and he agonises over if they should begin the evacuation plan. Carl insist that must start the process and so they go forward. The President calls his daughter (Thandie Newton) to let her know it it time.

Kate wants Jackson to bring the kids back from their trip early. Later, a wealthy Russian businessman gets a mysterious phone call and he calls Jackson who just happens to be a part time limousine driver. He wants Jackson to rush him and his family to the airport. After he drops them off, one of the businessman's bratty twin sons tells him they are flying off to safety and he was going to die. Jackson realises that something is happening and rushes back to his family.

Just as soon as Jackson gets to the house, a massive earthquake starts. He shuttles every one into the limo and they take off for the airport. While driving, he manages to miss all manner of flying debris, fiery explosions and the earth disappearing beneath them. When they get to the airport, the pilot who was going to fly them to safety is dead. What are they going to do? Gordon just happens to kinda know how to fly a plane and off they go, barely escaping the complete destruction of Los Angeles in time.

They first stop back to Yellowstone to find Charlie Frost to get the map on where they should go. Charlie wants to stay behind to watch and broadcast the destruction. Jackson manages to get it and they once again barely make it off the ground before another earthquake destroys the area around them. They find out that the ship is supposed to be in China, so we follow Jackson and his family as they try to get to get there but there many obstacles that stand in their way. Will they make it in time before the earth as we know it is completely gone?

The best part (and possibly the only real reason to see this film) is for the amazing visual effects throughout the film. The destruction was very realistic and it made me jump a few times. You can see where all of the time and money was spent on this film and what little bit was left over was used to piece together a script. I have a feeling all they did for a script was take all the best elements from many of the classic "disaster" films like "The Poseidon Adventure", "Earthquake", "Airport" and "The Towering Inferno", string them together to try and create the ultimate disaster flick. The film is filled with a talented, all-star cast who didn't have to stretch themselves too much and got a nice paycheck at the end of the day. So as long as you go in to "2012" not expecting much more than great visual effects, you will have a good time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A SINGLE MAN


This is the trailer for "A Single Man", the forthcoming film by former Gucci designer and current film maker, Tom Ford and it is absolutely stunning. I can't wait to see this. No dialogue, just beautiful images in this first look, which really isn't surprising coming from Mr. Ford. The film features Colin Firth, Matthew Goode, Ginnifer Goodwin (best known from HBO's, "Big Love") and Julianne Moore (one of my favorite actresses) and the film is expected to be released in the US on December 11th.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

THE BOX (2009)


Written & Directed by Richard Kelly


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 8, 2009, 8:15PM



"The Box",  Richard Kelly's first film since his poorly received 2003 sci-fi, comedy action-thriller, "Southland Tales", proves to be a convoluted and incoherent disaster of a psychological thriller. This is too bad because I am a huge fan of the writer/director's offbeat debut, "Donnie Darko" from 2001. This film starts off fairly interesting but unfortunately deteriorates in to a confusing and muddled mess.

This story is set in 1976 near the Christmas holiday. We meet Norma, (Cameron Diaz) a school teacher and her husband, Arthur Lewis, (James Marsden) who works for NASA. They are a nice suburban couple who are awakened early one morning by a knock at their door. When they get to the door, no one is there but a package is left behind.

They open the package and find a wooden box with a button in the middle inside. There is also a note that informs them that a "Mr. Steward" will pay them a visit later this day.  They find the whole situation odd but continue on with their day and getting their son, Walter ready for school.

Norma is informed that she will be losing her job at the end of school year while Arthur learns that he has been passed over for the astronaut program despite doing well on tests and glowing recommendations. Money has been an on-going problem for the family and now they will really be struggling financially.

Later, Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) arrives at the home. Norma is there alone to greet him and shocked to see that part of his jaw is missing from his face. The disfigured man is there to present the couple with strange offer. He will give them one million dollars if they push the button on the box but in exchange someone that they do not know will have to die. He opens up a suitcase to show her the money and gives her a one hundred dollar bill in good faith. He suggests that she discuss the matter with her husband and he will return the next day for their answer.

Norma and Arthur discuss the proposition and they don't know what to make of it. They don't know if this is a joke and if it's real, they could certainly use the money. They go back and forth on this and in the morning, Norma just decides to push the button. Later that day as promised, the money is delivered to them and also as promised, a person is killed. I guess Norma and Arthur were not familiar with the expression, "If it sounds to be good to be true. . ."

At this point, things start to go downhill quickly for Norma and Arthur, as well as the film. We meet people who are apparent accomplices to Mr. Steward who try to warn the couple about their fate and develop unexplained nose bleeds for their trouble. Norma and Arthur arrive separately at the same time at a library to investigate Mr. Steward's activities and Arthur is followed by an army of strange people. There is also some nonsense involving communicating with aliens, life on Mars and putting the human race to the test. I'm not exactly sure what it all means or suppose to mean but by the end , I completely gave up trying to figure it all out.

I was impressed by Ms Diaz's performance in this film. She has grown as an actress over the years and I think in the right hands and the right part, we could possibly see her one day walking up to accept an Oscar. Mr. Marsden is not given much to do but he does the best he can and Mr. Langella does creepy very well.

I wish someone had been involved in having Mr. Kelly focus on creating an cohesive plot because they are a lot of good ideas floating throughout "The Box" but they just do not work as a whole. A very big disappointment.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

MICHAEL JACKSON'S THIS IS IT (2009)


Directed by Kenny Ortega


Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA. November 1, 2009, 7:00PM


I remember my father taking me and my sister, Cheryl to see the Jackson 5 in concert sometime in the early 70's. This was during the height of their fame as a group. Cheryl was a hardcore fan and I thought they were okay but I was willing to go because I love going to concerts.

All I remember from the show was that from the beginning to the very end were continuous high pitch screams. I could not hear a single song. To make matters worse, The concert was held in a large coliseum and we were sitting way back in the nose bleed section, so all I could see were fast moving flashes of light. This was long before the days of video screens at concerts. Cheryl said she really enjoyed it. I looked at my father and I could tell that he had as much fun as I did.

Years later, I have a much greater appreciation for the talents of the entire Jackson family, particularly Michael. I have to admit I found the idea of "This Is It", a documentary on the making of an upcoming series of concerts that would have been held at London's O2 Arena, a little morbid so soon after Mr. Jackson's death. But I also have to admit I was very interested in seeing this film.

This documentary uses a collection of edited footage of the rehearsals for the comeback concerts and were actually made for Mr. Jackson's personal use which I guess he could use to help evaluate how the show was developing. After seeing this footage, I can say the show looked great and I really would have wanted to see it. The concert, entitled "This Is It", was conceived by Mr. Jackson and Mr. Ortega, who directed this film as well as the concert.

The entire process of creating this concert is revealed from the design of the staging, the choreography and the auditions of the dancers and the final selections. Mr. Jackson, the ultimate perfectionist, would go over and over each number until it meets his high standards; We see how the elaborate video productions were created and how they would have looked during the concerts. Several of the singer's key band members offer nothing but glowing praise of Mr. Jackson and how he inspired them.

The film reveals how much work and man power is involved in creating such a massive stage show but we don't really find out much about who really is Michael Jackson? We see glimpses of a shy, passive-aggressive professional performer who seems like a sweet person but we don't get deep inside of the man.

I found "This Is It" to be sad for two different reasons: One is the most obvious in that we see what we lost in a extremely talented and unique entertainer and the other is more disturbing to me. I really saw how much he had mutilated his face and the extent of the lightening of his skin tone. This wasn't new information to me but I guess watching him on the big screen for almost two hours just emphasized this and this was most notable during a part of the concert rehearsals when he does a medley of his songs with the Jackson 5 . Behind him is a video of him performing as a child with his brothers looking -- well, more human.

I realize that Mr. Jackson had a few of demons and psychological issues that played a big part of his feeling the need to alter himself in such a dramatic way but it still bothered me more than I thought it would. It really was difficult to watch him at times and that really saddens me. You don't necessarily have to be any type of fan of Mr. Jackson's to enjoy "This Is It" but it will certainly have much more meaning to you if you are.