Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Films That I Saw: September 2014

The fall film season has begun as the excitement that has occurred at the Toronto Film Festival has feeling pretty good about the films that are coming as well the ones to avoid. I want to thank my fellow writers at Cinema Axis as well as the people at The Film Experience for their coverage as well as the Dissolve. It’s definitely kept me interested as I’ve been busy watching films but also taking the time to slow things down as film-watching can get a bit overwhelming. The one downside of this month was the fact that I didn’t see any new films in the theaters as my multiplex is going through some serious renovations and I didn’t have the money to go anywhere to see other films as many of them that were coming out didn’t interest me.

One thing that I’m now starting to withdraw myself at this point is World Wrestling Entertainment. Having been a fan for more than twenty years, I find myself becoming disillusioned and frustrated with its current product. To think after SummerSlam this year, there was going to be a bit of change with Brock Lesnar being the WWE World Heavyweight Champion as he’s this guy with a UFC background that didn’t need to show up every time. That gave me a bit of excitement as I enjoyed seeing Lesnar destroy John Cena. A week after Lesnar’s victory on Monday Night RAW, things became bad again where Cena not only returned but he decided to not sell the beatings he took from Lesnar where he interrupted a legend’s panel featuring Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, and Hulk Hogan about the upcoming rematch where it was essentially Hogan sucking Cena’s cock.

A week later, things got really bad as I had to endure another awful RAW which involved Cena trying to bullshit everyone about how he’s going to beat Lesnar’s ass and the Bella twins bickering at each other plus a guy in a bunny suit wrestling. The week before was a shame on you at the WWE but that week was shame on me for watching this. A week later, I decided not to watch knowing that I can read the results after the show and I realized I had made the right decision. During this new withdrawal period, it seems perfectly clear of how bad things are as I just stopped watching the show and learning that people are now leaving the arenas during the show just goes to show how bad things are in the WWE.

It also kind of scares me to think that with a roster full of very talented guys like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, and Dolph Ziggler will never get the chance to be the top guy all because of some fruity-pebble cunt whose ideology of hustle, loyalty, respect, and to never give up has become tired and pointless. There are those who want him to turn heel but to me, he’s already a heel for the fact that he always remains on top and whatever new star that emerges. He will come in and bury them to the point that they barely show up on TV or become a fucking laughing stock. At the same time, knowing the fact that Vince McMahon keeps changing his mind about what to do with the show and his special events is an indication that he is someone who has lost his fucking mind and needs to either fucking die or be forced out of the company he created. Triple H may know what to do but he can’t do it by himself as his wife isn’t really that smart when it comes to the business as the only real option he has is his brother-in-law Shane McMahon who hasn’t been involved in the WWE for a few years because he got tired of dealing with his old man.

OK, that is enough ranting for now as it might explain why I haven’t been writing in my wrestling blog as also the lack of interest has forced me to stop my WrestleMania marathon. Now let’s get back to the world of film. In the month of September, I saw a total of 37 films in 16 re-watches and 21 first-timers. Slightly down from last month but still a good amount of films as the highlight of that month was definitely my Blind Spot assignment in Playtime. Here are the top 10 first-timers that I saw in September 2014:

1. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

2. Contempt

3. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

4. Overlord

5. Russian Ark

6. Wadjda

7. Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

8. Pickup on South Street

9. The Man Who Loved Women

10. The Zero Theorem

Monthly Mini-Reviews

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story

I watched this on the night it aired because WWE RAW was sucking ass as I was just merely interested to see how bad it is. Since I knew this was based on Dustin Diamond’s own bullshit novel. It was a TV movie I knew was going to be bad as I had very low expectations and I wasn’t surprised by how it low it would be. I would say though that at least it was funny for all of the wrong reasons from the casting to all sorts of inaccuracies that occur.

OMG! Vol. 2 The Top 50 Incidents in WCW History

Considering how bad the WWE product is, I needed something from the world of wrestling to entertain me. This countdown was entertaining for the fact that it showcased some of things in WCW that put the company out of business. Let’s see, there’s the pinata on a pole match, Hacksaw Jim Duggan shaving his beard and cutting his hair to become a Canadian, the Judy Bagwell on a pole match, the 49ers match where the WCW belt fell out of a box, and all sorts of idiotic shit. Oh, and there’s THE YETI!!!!!

Ender’s Game

Well, this was pretty uninspiring with the exception of Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley. I just found the whole film to be very boring as it was just one of those bad YA film adaptations that never really went anywhere. I like Asa Butterfeld but he looks confused during the entire film as if he wonders “what the fuck am I doing here?” It’s pretty bad and just plain boring though it’s not bad enough to be any worst films of all-time list.

Never Tear Us Apart: The Untold Story of INXS

I love INXS as I know their story fairly well through Behind the Music and other documentaries about the band. This made-for-TV 2-part movie though was OK only because the music was good and it featured some topless women. It did have a nice narrative and some decent performances but the guy who played Michael Hutchence overacted his performance while the guy they hired to play Bono was terrible. I would only half-heartedly recommend it for INXS fans because of the music but that’s pretty much it.

Deep Purple: California Jam ‘74

Just out of boredom, I decided to watch Deep Purple’s legendary concert at California Jam in 1974 where it was one of the first performances to feature the Mach III line-up of vocalist David Coverdale, bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, keyboardist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice. It’s pretty much one of the band’s great performances which featured one of its defining moments where Blackmore decides to blow up the stage and cause all sorts of trouble which made the band very popular in America though Blackmore would leave the group later that year to form Rainbow.

Breaking the Huddle: The Intergration of College Football

I’m a sucker for HBO sports documentaries as this one is something that I think every fan of football should see. It is a documentary that explores the long struggle with African-Americans to play in the American South where college football was all white during the 1950s. It also showed that there were some in the white community like the legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant who was someone that wanted to integrate his team. The film featured great narration from Liev Schreiber as well as interviews with many players and individuals involved in the Civil Rights Movement as it’s a must-see for football fans.

The Food Guide to Love

This was a pretty decent film about an Irish food critic who falls for a Spanish cook as it explores the critic dealing with his commitment issues as well as why he became a food critic. I only watched it because Leonor Watling was in the film as she was pretty good as the Spanish cook who had bad luck in choosing the wrong guys. It’s a worth a shot for anyone that is into food porn.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Lost in Translation

2. Three Colors: Red

3. Dead Poets Society

4. The Motorcycle Diaries

5. Commando

6. Executive Decision

7. Licence to Kill

8. The Horse Whisperer

9. GoldenEye

10. Lethal Weapon 3

Well, that is it for September. Next month as I will do my Auteurs piece on Terry Gilliam where I’ll watch Tideland and a few of his shorts. I will spend most of the time watching a bunch of horror films, thrillers, and all sorts of weird stuff from Brian de Palma, John Carpenter, Alfred Hitchcock, and William Friedkin. Among the new films I will do will be White Bird in a Blizzard, The Equalizer, Gone Girl, Birdman, and Maps to the Stars. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…

© thevoid99 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Auteurs #37: Pedro Almodovar

Of the filmmakers to emerge from the post-Franco Fascist-era of Spain, Pedro Almodovar is definitely the most filmmaker, aside from Luis Bunuel, to emerge as he would redefine cinema not just for gays and women but also from a broader spectrum. Coming from this cultural renaissance that emerge from Francisco Franco’s death and then becoming one of the towering figures of international cinema. Almodovar brought in a sense of style and charisma that managed to be daring and dangerous but also managed to appeal to a wide audience that hadn’t encountered gay-and-lesbian cinema nor lavish stories of female empowerment. Even as the openly-gay Almodovar would teeter the line between the absurd craziness of melodrama to the more somber and touching tales of humanity which makes one of the revered figures in cinema.

Born in Calzada de Calatrava in Spain on September 25, 1949, Pedro Almodovar was the son of a rural family as well as one of four children living in a rural town surrounded largely by women. At the age of eight, Pedro was sent to a religious boarding school in Caceres as the experience had a profound effect on him as his family later joined him where his father ran a gas station and his mother ran a bodega. At that town, Almodovar discovered cinema as he saw many films in the local theater from the likes of people like Federico Fellini, George Cukor, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, and Luis Bunuel. After moving to Madrid in 1967 against the wishes of his parents, Almodovar in the hopes to become a filmmaker despite the closing of the National film school forcing Almodovar to take on many odd jobs and teach himself how to make films.

It was around the early 1970s where Almodovar discovered the films of Germany’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the American filmmaker John Waters as both were openly gay and were creating films that were very radical. It was also around that time that Almodovar met a young actress in Carmen Maura as the two were part of this underground movement that was emerging in the final years of Franco’s rule. Following Franco’s death in 1975, the Madrilenian Movement began to emerge as it brought a cultural renaissance back to Spain as it helped inspire a lot of artistry where Almodovar made a lot of short films during that period as he would hone his craft as a filmmaker. Along with Maura, Almodovar would get the help from his younger brother Augustin who would become Almodovar’s right-hand man as he would produce all of Almodovar’s projects. Another figure who would be a constant in Almodovar’s entire work would be editor Jose Salcedo as Almodovar would gain financing to make his first feature film.

The full version of the Auteurs piece can be read at Cinema Axis in 2 parts in part 1 and part 2.

© thevoid99 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 2/1/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions

Written and directed by Laurie Collyer, Sherrybaby tells the story of a young woman who returns from prison after an arrest for robbery as she tries to reconnect with the young daughter she left behind while dealing with new realities. The film is an exploration of a drug addict trying to find redemption as she also hopes to win back her daughter as the role of Sherry Swanson is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Also starring Sam Bottoms, Giancarlo Esposito, Danny Trejo, Brad William Henke, Kate Burton, Bridget Barkan, and Ryan Simpkins. Sherrybaby is a compelling yet harrowing film from Laurie Collyer.

After a three-year stint in prison, Sherry Swanson is released on parole while arriving onto Newark, New Jersey. Meeting her parole officer Hernandez (Giancarlo Esposito), Sherry is forced to live in an inpatient safe-house where she’s given curfew while living with other recovering addicts. Calling her brother Bobby (Brad William Henke), she wonders if she can visit his home where for the past few years, he's been taking care of her daughter Alexis (Ryan Simpkins) with wife Lynette (Bridget Barkan). After meeting a counselor named Andy (Rio Hackford), she continues to use her sex appeal to get a job working with children. When Bobby decides to let her sleep out for a night in their home, she finally meets her daughter Alexis though the meeting ends up being awkward. After attending a recovering addicts meeting, she meets a former addict/counselor named Dean (Danny Trejo) who knew her when she was just a stripper at the age of 16.

After a spat with a fellow housemate in the safe-house, Sherry leaves the house only to sleep on the patio of her brother’s home. Lynette finds Sherry to be uncomfortable as Alexis keeps calling her mother by her first name to infuriate Sherry. When Sherry and Bobby's father (Sam Bottoms) arrives for a dinner, Sherry's demand for attention from her daughter and father becomes troubling as the tension between Sherry and Lynette over Alexis is brewing. Bobby had no choice but to have Sherry live in a nearby motel. Wanting some company, she calls Dean where the two have a good time.

Sherry's parole officer Hernandez learns that she left the safe-house and wants to arrest but she finally got the job that she wanted. Working with kids, Sherry feels fulfilled even with her relationship with Dean. Hoping to win her daughter through presents for her upcoming birthday party, Sherry decides to attend her daughter's party by surprise. The presents Sherry brought seemed to go right but it doesn't. Sherry wonders what is she doing wrong as she is comforted by her father in which, Bobby learns the root of Sherry's troubles. The failure at the birthday party brings Sherry back to her demons as she begins to have a hard day as Dean learns of her newfound troubles while Hernandez gets the truth over what has happened. With Sherry now facing an uncertain future, she is forced to deal with new realities while wondering if she is capable of being a responsible mother.

While films about addiction and recovery isn't new and writer/director Laurie Collyer is aware of that. Collyer instead goes into the realm of character study in which the film is really character-driven about a young woman like Sherry who is trying to do right yet struggles. Despite the lack of originality, Collyer's observant direction and screenplay does create situations and moments in which audiences can understand. Especially when it comes to addiction and how hard it is to recover. A character like Sherry can't be someone with a heart of gold. She's selfish, abusive at times, and even out of control yet there's a side of her that is good but is having a hard time trying to balance it out.

When the film deals the awkward relationship between Sherry and her daughter Alexis, it's clear that Sherry wants to be a good mother yet is barely out of her own youth and at times, acts like a child whenever she's around her father and Alexis is not sure how to react to her mother. There's a part during the family dinner sequence that reveals Sherry's selfishness and wanting some attention where she sings a song. What doesn't work in that scene is that song. Still, Collyer brings a very strong film that feels real to its genre.

Cinematographer Russell Lee Fine does excellent work with the film's colorful, cinematic style with some wonderful shading and intimate shots in some of the film's night, exterior and interior sequences. Production designer Stephen Beatrice and set decorator Lisa Scoppa also brings grit and realism to the inpatient safe-house where it looks very dirty with the contrasting look that Bobby lives in as the whole film is shot on location in New Jersey. Costume designer Jill Newell does excellent work in the clothes she gives Maggie's character from the sexy, halter-tops and blouses along with tight jeans to the more stringy, thin dresses she wears. Editors Curtiss Clatyon and Joe Landauer do excellent work in bringing a rhythmic, leisurely-pace to the editing with wonderful perspective cuts in which nearly every frame features Gyllenhaal. Music composer Jack Livesey brings a moody, atmospheric, guitar-driven score to convey the emotions with additional music from Dana Fuchs bringing some folk-rock cuts to the film.

The cast is wonderfully assembled with notable small performances from Rio Hackford as a counselor, Kate Burton as Sherry's stepmother, Caroline Clay as Hernandez's officer, and Sam Bottoms as Sherry's brooding father. Kate Burton is good as Lynette who is aware of Sherry's troubling behavior while having to be the mother for Alexis. Ryan Simpkins gives a realistic, natural performance as the four-year old Alexis who is unsure of how to react to her mother as the confusion is wonderfully played as Simpkins is excellent. Giancarlo Esposito is wonderfully understated as a strict, honest parole officer who plays tough but plays fair as he tries to be one of the few allies that Sherry has despite his strictness.

Danny Trejo, known for playing tough guys, is wonderfully humble as the wise, sympathetic Dean who tires to help out Sherry while making aware of how hard recovery is. Brad William Henke is also great as the sympathetic brother who tries to be father to Alexis while is very low key in dealing with the guilt over his sister's behavior and how he wants to help her. Finally, there's Maggie Gyllenhaal in a phenomenal performance as Sherry as this young woman trying to do right as she deals with her setbacks and her inability to be a mother as it's Gyllenhaal in one of her finest performances.

Sherrybaby is an excellent film from Laurie Collyer that features an incredible performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal. While it's a film that doesn't say anything new about addiction, it is still a compelling story that explores a woman trying to redeem herself for her actions as well as her struggle to stay clean. In the end, Sherrybaby is a superb film from Laurie Collyer.

© thevoid99 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 11/22/04 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the animated TV show by Stephen Hillenburg, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is the story of a sponge who tries to retrieve the crown of King Neptune with the help of his dim-witted starfish friend Patrick in the hopes they can save their hometown of Bikini Bottom. Written and directed by Stephen Hillenburg and Derek Drymon, the film is a witty yet off-the-wall animated film that has an optimistic sponge trying to save his town and deal with who he is. Featuring the voices of show regulars Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Mr. Lawrence, Clancy Brown, Roger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence, Mary Jo Calett, and Jill Taley along with guest voices from Jeffrey Tambor, Scarlett Johansson, and Alec Baldwin plus a cameo appearance from David Hasselhoff. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is a very silly yet fantastic film from Stephen Hillenburg and Derek Drymon.

It’s a lovely day in Bikini Bottom as a young yellow sponge named SpongeBob (voice by Tom Kenny) who is in anticipation for the opening of the second Krusty Krab where he awaits the promotion of manager. Living with his pet snail Gary (Tom Kenny), SpongeBob meets up with his neighbor and fellow employee Squidward (Roger Bumpass) and SpongeBob’s best friend Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke). With everyone in anticipation for the opening of the second Krusty Krab that was founded by Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), Krabs’ arch nemesis Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) is angry over Krabs’ success and how he often failed into stealing the formula for the Krabby Patty. With his computer wife Karen (Jill Taley), Plankton goes through his files where he finds Plan Z, a plan that he has never used. Meanwhile at the opening of the second Krabby Patty, SpongeBob learns that Squidward is going to be promoted since Krabs felt that SpongeBob is too young to be a manager.

With SpongeBob depressed over the position, Patrick tries to cheer him up at an ice cream bar where the two get very drunk over ice cream. Meanwhile, Plankton goes to the home of King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor) where he steals the crown that upsets Neptune who is in denial over his bald spot. With a note that claims that Mr. Krabs has stolen the crown, SpongeBob comes into his defense where he and Patrick will try to retrieve it in six days where the crown is in a place called Shell City. With Krabs frozen on ice, it’s up to SpongeBob and Patrick to save the city where Plankton meanwhile, took the opportunity to steal the Krabby Patty formula as his Chum Bucket restaurant becomes successful.

With Plankton learning of SpongeBob’s adventure, he hires a bike-toting assassin named Dennis (Alec Baldwin) to take them out as Squidward learned what has happened after seeing the town of Bikini Bottom wearing buckets on their heads where it is revealed to be a controlling device as fellow citizens including Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) and Mrs. Puff (Mary Jo Calett) are under control. On their way to Shell City, SpongeBob and Patrick encounter tough creatures in a bar where bubble blowing isn’t allowed and after that, they encounter a monster where another monster eats it, as did their patty-car. Saddened, the two feel that as kids, they can’t really do anything. Coming to their aid is Neptune’s daughter Mindy (Scarlett Johansson) who gives them a boost of confidence as they continue their adventures. Unfortunately, the two meet up with Dennis and then get captured by an underwater seaman called a Cyclops. SpongeBob and Patrick feel they failed only to persevere with the help of David Hasselhoff (played by the real David Hasselhoff). Will SpongeBob and Patrick save Bikini Bottom? How does SpongeBob defeat Plankton? And will Patrick get a chance to score with Mindy? And why is Neptune insecure about his bald spot?

While most films are often predictable in its storylines, the works because of its traditional storylines and obstacles the characters have to endure. While some fans will be upset that major characters like Sandy, Gary, and Mrs. Puff aren’t used very much, the story and quirkiness of SpongeBob remains in tact thanks to some inspiring direction from Hillenburg and Drymon along with a wonderfully crafted script. The film’s real payoff is in the third act where everything begins to… rock! The film’s balance of offbeat comedy and heartfelt characters and storylines is really the core of SpongeBob since we root for the little sponge and his upbeat attitude. In some cases, the movie is kind of a character study film where the characters do evolve and go through all of these obstacles that they had to endure.

The film’s overall is mostly hand-drawn animated and it works really well here thanks to Hillenburg and Drymon’s directing along with a group of animation directors where the look of the film is really unique in its drawing. While 3-D computer animation may be the new thing, the film reminds viewers that even old-school hand-drawn animation can work, without that glossy Disney-sheen that many are used to. The film is really geared more towards eccentrics, especially in the live-action sequences where the effects look great along with the cinematography and production design. Another thing that makes the film have a great atmosphere is the music, thanks to great cutting edge tracks from Wilco, the Shins, the Flaming Lips, Motorhead, and a hilarious remake of Twisted Sister’s I Want To Rock with a bit of David Lee Roth’s cover of Just A Gigolo in the mix. Yeah, the theme song version by Avril Lavigne sucks but thankfully, it wasn’t heard in the film as pirates in the live action sequences did a hilarious version of it.

Credit should also go to the film’s cast for their voices and characters. Alec Baldwin really gives a nice tone to the performance of Dennis while Jeffrey Tambor is extremely funny in his role as King Neptune. Scarlett Johansson is wonderfully amazing and funny in her voice of Mindy (who sort of looks like Johansson’s Ghost World co-star Thora Birch’s Enid), who provides a voice of reason for Neptune while helping out SpongeBob in his quest to find the crown. Clancy Brown is also funny in the role of the money-grubbing Mr. Krabs while Roger Bumpass is very funny as well as the cynical Squidward. Mr. Lawrence is diabolical as Plankton while Bill Fagerbakke is always funny in the idiotic Patrick, who is the perfect sidekick to every epic film. Tom Kenny is the real star with his voice work as SpongeBob with his nasally-vocals and that awesome laugh. The film’s best performance overall goes to David Hasselhoff who makes fun of himself in his Baywatch persona where in the third act, he steals the show as Hasselhoff proves that he’s cool again despite those bad albums he’s made.

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is an excellent film from Stephen Hillenburg and Derek Drymon. The film isn't just a faithful feature-length version of the SpongeBob SquarePants story but also a film that manages to be weird enough that appeals to kids and adults. Especially as it toes the line of what is offbeat and what is crude. In the end, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is an awesome film from Stephen Hillenburg and Derek Drymon.

© thevoid99 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Directed by Vittorio De Sica, Leri, oggi, domani (Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow) is a trilogy of stories involving three couples in three different parts of Italy where a woman uses her sexuality to get her husband/beau to do whatever she wants. The three stories display different ideas of love in three different places of the country as it’s told in a humorous fashion as the three couples are played by Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. Leri, oggi, domani is an extraordinary film from Vittorio De Sica.

The film is about three different stories in three different locations that all revolve around a woman who would use her sexuality to get what she wants as it would often cause trouble for her husband/beau in these stories. The first of which is entitled Adelina de Naples which is written by Eduardo de Filippo and Isabella Quarantotti that has a woman who finds a loophole by getting pregnant so she can avoid going to jail for selling cigarettes in the black market which eventually takes its toll on her marriage. The second story entitled Anna of Milan from writers Cesare Zavattini and Billa Billa Zanuso plays into a day in Milan where a wealthy of wife of an industrialist drives around her Rolls Royce with her lover as they deal with what is important. The third and final story entitled Mara of Rome that is based on a story by Alberto Moravia and screenplay by Cesare Zavattini revolves around a prostitute’s relationship with one of her clients as she tries to help out an elderly neighbor’s grandson who is thinking about giving up his priesthood studies.

The scripts all play to themes of a woman trying to get her man to do what he wants where the first story has the husband Carmine trying to save his wife as he is unemployed yet having sex with Adelina eventually tires him. In the second story, it is a short but comical story that plays into a man trying to get this rich wife of an industrialist to have a relationship but she is a woman that is very vain and selfish. The third and final story plays around the life of a prostitute who has very high-priced clients including a son of an industrialist who is eager to marry this woman but she isn’t sure as she has other problems to deal with. All of which have similarities about the way women use their sexuality where it can be an advantage or a curse.

Vittorio De Sica’s direction is very intoxicating in the way he tells these three different stories where it does play into the different parts of Italy not just socially but also culturally. In Adelina, it is all set in Naples where it’s the longest section of the three stories as De Sica aims for some realism in its locations where it’s shot largely in these stair-like streets where it is quite cramped but also full of life. De Sica’s approach to the widescreen format to capture the location is among the highlights of the section while some of it is quite comical in the way Adelina deals with her plight and Carmine trying to help her as it would overwhelm him. The Anna segment is the shortest of the three where it begins with a long running shot of Anna driving her Rolls Royce from her perspective as she drives manically to reach her love Renzo.

It’s the funniest of the three shorts but also very compelling for the way it plays into Anna’s own vanity. The third and final segment in Mara has De Sica be more intimate in not just his compositions but also in the way he presents Rome by avoiding many of its landmarks. Instead, it’s a more somber piece where De Sica plays into a prostitute trying to help a family while dealing with a client who is in love with her as it culminates a striptease for the client. All of which plays into something is purely Italian in how men and women conduct their lives. Overall, De Sica crafts a very sensational yet captivating film about women who uses their sex appeal to get men to do whatever they want.

Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography to capture not just the beauty of the different locations but also bring in some unique lighting for the Adelina and Mara segments in some of its nighttime scenes. Editor Adriana Novelli does excellent work with the editing by bringing in a very straightforward approach to the editing with some jump-cuts and dissolves in a few scenes for all three segments. Art director Ezio Frigerio and set decorator Ezio Altieri do fantastic work with the set pieces from the home that Adelina and Carmine live in with their children to the apartment that Mara lives in on top of the building where her next door neighbor is an elderly couple and their grandson.

The costumes of Piero Tosi is terrific for its sense of style from the ragged dresses of Adelina as well as the stylish clothes of Mara plus the Christian Dior dress that Anna wears. The sound work of Ennio Sensi is superb for some of the chaotic yet layered sound for some of the scenes involving the crowd in the Adelina segment with more intimate sound work in the other two segments. The film’s music by Armando Trovajoli is brilliant where it features different themes that are quite playful and somber as it features some orchestral pieces and ballads that are featured in the Adelina segment while the Anna segment features mostly jazz and the Mara segment consists of more somber orchestral pieces.

The film’s cast features some notable small roles from composer Armando Trovajoli as a man Anna and Renzo meet on the road, Agostino Salvietti as an attorney for Adeline and Carmine, Tecla Scarano as the attorney’s sister, Tina Pica and Gennaro Di Gregorio as Mara’s elderly neighbors, Aldo Giuffre as a friend of Carmine who tries to sleep with Adeline out of desperation, and Gianni Ridolfi as the neighbors grandson who falls for Mara as he wants to renounce his vows to be with her. Finally, there’s the duo of Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in incredible performances as the three couples in the film. Loren brings a smoldering sexuality to her trio of roles while making them very different as Adelina is a woman trying to not to go to jail which shows Loren at her most dramatic. In the role of Anna, Loren brings a very intoxicating yet vain approach to her character while she brings a great complexity as Mara as a woman with a big heart despite her profession.

Mastroianni brings a lot of humor and humility in his trio of roles where he displays an earnestness in the role of Carmine. In the role of Renzo, he plays someone who is confused but also troubled by Anna’s decisions while he showcases a more comical and neurotic approach in the role of Augusto in his attempt to sleep with Mara. There is a chemistry between Loren and Mastroianni that is just insatiable to watch where they know how to play off each other and have fun doing it.

Leri, oggi, domani is a phenomenal film from Vittorio De Sica that features great performances from Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. The film isn’t just a humorous look into the world of women making men do whatever they want but also as a compelling portrait of Italy. In the end, Leri, oggi, domani is a spectacular film from Vittorio De Sica.

Vittorio De Sica Films: (Rose scarlatte) - (Maddalena, zero in condotta) - (Teresa Venerdi) - (Un garibaldino al convento) - (The Children Are Watching Us) - (La porta del cielo) - (Shoeshine) - (Heart and Soul (1948 film)) - Bicycle Thieves - Miracle in Milan - Umberto D. - (It Happened in the Park) - (Terminal Station) - (The Gold of Naples) - (The Roof) - (Anna of Brooklyn) - Two Women (1960 film) - (The Last Judgment) - (Boccaccio ‘70) - (The Condemned of Altona) - (Il Boom) - Marriage Italian-Style - (Un monde nouveau) - (After the Fox) - (Woman Times Seven) - The Witches (1967 film)- An Evening Like the Others - (A Place for Lovers) - (Sunflowers (1970 film)) - The Garden of the Finzi-Continis - (Lo chiameremo Andrea) - (A Brief Vacation) - (The Voyage)

© thevoid99 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

2014 Blind Spot Series: Playtime

Directed and starring Jacques Tati and written by Tati and Jacques Lagrange with additional English dialogue by Art Buchwald, Playtime is the story of Monsieur Hulot’s encounter with the modern world and how he and various people become baffled by this new version of Paris. The film is an ambitious story that explores Tati’s fascination with modernism and drawbacks where a famous city‘s identity nearly becomes extinct. Also starring Barbara Dennek as an American tourist. Playtime is an absolutely stunning and evocative film from Jacques Tati.

Set in a futuristic version of Paris where many of its landmarks have been replaced by buildings and places where everything sort of looks the same. The film is a look into a world where American tourists arrive into the city of Paris to see everything and be a part of a world that is ever-changing as there’s inventions and all sorts of things where the French tries to keep up with the modern world. It’s a film that explores the fallacy of modernism as the Monsieur Hulot character arrives in the city looking for work where he would stumble into being part of a tourist group as well as encounter old friends who have become accustomed to modern society. Another character in the film that becomes lost in this modern-day Paris is an American tourist who tries to find something that recalls the Paris of old such as the Eiffel Tower.

It’s a film that portrays this futuristic world as quite cold as well as baffling where old men try to keep up with the new machines as it would culminate with a restaurant opening that becomes disastrous. The restaurant sequence is one of six major sequences that Jacques Tati and co-writer Jacques Lagrange would create as the entire film takes place in the span of an entire day. Much of it would have the Monsieur Hulot character be portrayed as a supporting character where the emphasis of the story is about these encounters with new inventions, new buildings, and everything that is and feels new but also very alienating. Especially as Barbara wants to see landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral as they’re only seen in reflections from glass doors. There isn’t a lot of dialogue in the film as it’s spoken in English and French while there is also a very loose structure in the script so that Tati and Lagrange would focus on the visuals which is a key part to the story.

Tati’s direction is truly gigantic not just in its scope but also in the world that he presents as the film is shot in grand 70mm film. Much of it is presented in grand attention to detail where it is about a world that is new and futuristic. At times, it’s a world that is very enthralling and full of unique quirks but it’s also overwhelming as well as quite cold in the way it looks. There’s very little color to these buildings as Tati creates some elaborate moments such as Hulot trying to attend a meeting where he ends up being part of a tourist group for a trade show. It’s a moment in the film that requires not just these massive wide shots in its 70mm presentation but a moment that plays into how eerie it can be even though it’s told in a humorous fashion. Some of these humorous moments involve Hulot and some of his doppelgangers that he doesn’t know about often causing trouble without really knowing it. Especially as Hulot is baffled by his surroundings where the meeting he was supposed to have is often delayed due to the emergence of tourists and other things.

The direction is also unique in its approach to framing from the way the buildings are shot in certain angles as if to display how similar these buildings look whether it’s shot in parallel angles or in the background. The direction also has Tati doing a lot of things where there could be something happening in the background while something else is happening in the foreground. Even as it would involve scenes where there’s certain precision to the choreography in some parts of the film to play into this strange world that is considered a modern-day metropolis. The climatic restaurant sequence which takes place for much of the film’s second half is quite lavish where it plays into a world that is having a hard time keeping up with the new world. Still, there’s elements of the old world that looms in the film where it plays into the fallacy of modernism in ways that are quite humorous but also melancholic. Overall, Tati creates a very intoxicating yet mesmerizing film about a futuristic world that tries to wow tourists with new wonders as a few struggle with the new world.

Cinematographers Jean Badal and Andreas Winding do amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the way much of the scenes in the daytime look where there are small bits of actual color to the scenes at night for some of its lighting and shadows plus a notable scene inside a café. Editor Gerard Pollicand does excellent work with the editing as it‘s pretty straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s humor. Production designer Eugene Romand does incredible work with the set design as it is an absolute highlight of the film from the look of the building and its streets to the offices, tourist trades, and the restaurant in such grand detail.

Costume designer Jacques Cottin does nice work with the costumes as it plays to the film‘s look where there is little color with the exception of some of the Hulot doppelgangers as well as the green dress that the American tourist would wear at the restaurant party. The sound work of Jacques Maumont is fantastic for its unique approach to sound mixing where it has some unique sound effects in the way some of the machines work as well as that raucous mix of music and dialogue in the restaurant party. The film’s music by James Campbell and Francis Lemarque is superb for its mixture of low-key, jazz-based music with some traditional French-pieces along with some party music that is played in the film as it’s another of the film’s highlights.

The film’s wonderful cast includes some notable small roles from Georges Montant as Monsieur Giffard who was supposed to meet Hulot at the office building, France Rumilly as a woman selling stylish eyeglasses, Reinhart Kolldehoff as a German businessman, Billy Kearns as a boisterous American businessman at the restaurant party, Nicole Ray as a former singer at the party, Andre Fouche as the restaurant manager, and Yves Barsacq as a friend of Hulot who takes him to his lavish apartment. Barbara Dennek is terrific as an American tourist who arrives to Paris as she tries to capture its old authenticity while being overwhelmed by its new wonders. Finally, there’s Jacques Tati in a marvelous performance as Monsieur Hulot as it’s a sort of a small role where Hulot tries to have a meeting only to endure events and such which has him lost as it’s Tati in one of his funniest yet more somber performances.

Playtime is an outstanding film from Jacques Tati. It’s a film that is grand in not just its visuals and art direction but also captivating in its exploration of modernism and its disconnect with the old world. Especially as it’s a film that is told in such a way that manages to be funny as well as spectacular in its scope. In the end, Playtime is a phenomenal film from Jacques Tati.

Jacques Tati Films: Jour de Fete - Monsiuer Hulot's Holiday - Mon Oncle - Trafic - Parade - The Short Films of Jacques Tati - The Auteurs #49: Jacques Tati

© thevoid99 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Motorcycle Diaries

Based on the travelogue by Che Guevara and the book Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary by Alberto Granado, The Motorcycle Diaries is the story of Che Guevara’s 1952 expedition all across South America with his friend Alberto Granado as they would encounter many things that would shape Guevara’s outlook into the world. Directed by Walter Salles and screenplay by Jose Rivera, the film is an exploration about the journey of two men from Argentina to Venezuela through the entire South American continent as Gael Garcia Bernal plays Guevara and Rodrigo de la Serna as Alberto Granado. Also starring Mercedes Moran, Mia Maestro, and Jean Pierre Noher. The Motorcycle Diaries is an enriching and mesmerizing film from Walter Salles.

The film explores the trip that Guevara and Granado would take in early 1952 from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Venezuela on a motorcycle called the Mighty One where the two men would endure many things that would plant the seeds for Guevara’s desire to change the world. Yet, the film showcases a sense of innocence that emerges early on when Guevara was known as Ernesto Guevara de la Serna. A man who was just a 23-year old middle-class medical student who goes on a journey with Granado who was a chemist at the time as the two travel all over South America through Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and the Amazon where they would encounter a world that is filled with inequality and turmoil. Especially as Guevara would question everything that he had encounter as well as the need to make a difference for a world that is quite trouble.

Jose Rivera’s screenplay definitely takes its time to develop Guevara’s sensibility about the ways of the world as he goes from this middle-class med student with a girlfriend who wants him to travel to America. Yet, some of the things he sees such as a mining couple who lost their jobs due to their affiliation with the Communist party as well as death and all sorts of things. While the Granado character is portrayed as a man of humor who has a lust for life, he is also a man that can bullshit his way through anything and get things done as he would be the person that Guevara would need to travel through South America. Their encounters with some of these atrocities in South America which would culminate with them working at the Amazon at a leper colony. Rivera’s script doesn’t go for any kind of structure but rather something loose that pays true to what Guevara and Granado would encounter without the need to overemphasize many of the politic and social context of the story. Especially as the film features a lot of voice-over narration from Guevara’s perspective to play into his own development.

Walter Salles’ direction is entrancing not just for the way he captures the sense of unpredictability of the road film but also one that would be an experience that would change two men. Though half of the film is spent with the two men on a motorcycle that barely works, it has this liveliness where Salles shoots on location in different colonies based on the books along with some moments that play into the development of these two men. Some of which is presented in handheld camera shots or with a simple more controlling camera work where Salles plays into this unique world that is full of life but also one in turmoil considering that it is filled with indigenous people who are disconnected from the rest of the world. Salles would use some voiceover narration to express Guevara’s reflections on the world such as a key scene at Machu Picchu that played his own struggle with the ways of the world. Even as Salles would find some hope in this leper colony in the way Guevara would defy something that he thinks couldn’t be done to reveal that anything is possible. Overall, Salles crafts a very engaging yet intoxicating film about the road trip that would shape the life of a young Che Guevara.

Cinematographer Eric Gautier does great work with the film‘s very beautiful cinematography from some of the naturalistic look of the film‘s many exterior settings to some low-key lights for some of its interiors. Editor Daniel Rezende does excellent work in the editing in creating a few montages as well as jump-cuts and other stylistic flourishes to play into the looseness of the story. Production designer Carlos Conti, with art directors Graciela Oderigo, Laurent Ott, and Maria Eugenio Suerio, does nice work with the few set pieces such as the houses Guevara and Granado go to as well as the shelter of the leper colony.

Costume designers Beatriz De Benedetto and Marisa Urruti do terrific work with the period costumes with the dresses the women wear to the more rugged look of the men. Sound designer Frank Gaeta does fantastic work with the sound to capture some of the aspects of the locations along with some of the moments in the cities to capture some of the small parties and the sound of the motorcycle. The film’s music by Gustavo Santaolalla is phenomenal for its mixture of folk music with some electric guitar that is low-key yet very entrancing to play into the sense of the journey while music supervisor Adrian Nicolas Sosa creates a wonderful soundtrack filled with the music of the times from those countries plus some traditional pieces and a song by Jorge Drexler for the film’s final credits.

The casting by Walter Rippell is superb as it features some notable small performances from Jorge Chiarella as a Peruvian contact they stay at, Mercedes’ Moran as Guevara’s mother, Jean Pierre Noher as Guevara’s father, Antonella Costa as an ailing woman suffering from leprosy, and Mia Maestro as Guevara’s girlfriend Chichina. Rodrigo de la Serna is marvelous as Alberto Granado as this guy who can bullshit his way through anything while looking for a good time but also be someone who can be very helpful. Finally, there’s Gael Garcia Bernal in an incredible performance as the young Che Guevara as a young doctor with a lot of ideals as he comes of age into seeing what is happening in South America as Bernal brings a sensitivity and earnestness to the role in display Guevara as a young man who later create a revolution.

The Motorcycle Diaries is an outstanding film from Walter Salles that features great performances from Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna. The film is a truly beautiful yet captivating story about the journey that would shape the life of a young Che Guevara before he becomes a revolutionary. In the end, The Motorcycle Diaries is a magnificent film from Walter Salles.

Walter Salles Films: (A Grande Arte) - (Foreign Land) - (Central Station) - (Midnight (1998 film)) - (Behind the Sun) - (Dark Water (2005 film)) - (Linha de Passe) - (On the Road (2012 film))

Related: Che

© thevoid99 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Heart Huckabees

Directed by David O. Russell and written by Russell and Jeff Baena, I Heart Huckabees is the story of an environmental activist who finds himself dealing with coincidences and such as he hires two existential detectives to help him as others also seek the help of the detectives. The film is an exploration into the world of existentialism as it’s told in a humorous manner as it also features a corporate executive who is the antagonist to the activist. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, Lily Tomlin, and Dustin Hoffman. I Heart Huckabees is a truly hilarious and captivating film from David O. Russell.

The film explores the struggles of an environmental activist who is trying to save some marshes from being destroyed in favor of a new department store as he battles a corporate executive who lied to him. Yet, the activist Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) finds himself encountering a tall Sudanese bellboy which prompts him to get the help of two existential detectives in Bernard & Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman & Lily Tomlin, respectively) where things get complicated as he finds himself in a bigger battle with Huckabees executive Brad Stand (Jude Law) who also hires the Jaffes. With a disgruntled client of the Jaffes in fireman Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg) leaning towards the nihilistic views of the Jaffes’ former protégé Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) as Albert would join Tommy. Things get complicated when the Jaffes’ presence starts to ruin Brad’s life as his girlfriend/Huckabees’ spokeswoman Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts) starts to rebel against her own image. All of which plays into a group of people questioning themselves as well as their ambitions and roles in life in a very humorous fashion.

The film’s screenplay by David O. Russell and Jeff Baena has an offbeat structure where the first act is about Albert’s frustrations to save the marshes and deal with Brad who constantly bullshits everyone including the people he works for about a story involving country-pop singer Shania Twain and a tuna sandwich. While the Jaffes claim that both Albert and Brad are the same due to their ambitions and the need to make a difference. It’s something Albert refuses to believe as his encounter with Tommy would have him see a much darker view. Tommy is a fireman who despises petroleum as he sees Albert as a man who believes in something where a series of events would have Albert lose the trust of the people trying to save the marshes who go to Brad who is bullshitting them. The second act is about Albert and Tommy turning to Vauban for help as well as revelations for Albert about his own life where Tommy would often combat the Jaffes about their views on how everything is connected while Tommy refutes that.

Then comes this third act where it is about Brad and his own ambitions where his own life would unravel. Even as his relationship with Dawn comes into question as Dawn is often seen wearing skimpy clothes to promote Huckabees as she begins to ask questions about herself and her own relationship. Especially as she would threaten the future of Huckabees and Brad getting into some trouble which would then lead to a major epiphany for all of those involved. Especially the Jaffes and Vauban whose opposing views on the ways of the world would suddenly come together.

Russell’s direction is simple in the way he would shoot some scenes but there’s also something that is very offbeat in the way he plays into many of the film’s humorous moments. Notably the way it opens with Albert cursing at himself for all of the problems he is having where his encounters with this Sudanese bellboy are comical. It plays to the tone of the film where a lot of the humor is absurd as the scene where Albert and Tommy are in a room with the other clients of the Jaffes to showcase a world that is chaotic. The scenes with Vauban doing her own teaches are also absurd as it tries to play into this comical idea of nihilism. There’s also some very offbeat fantasy scenes that play into Albert’s own struggles and his hatred for Brad.

The opposing views of the Jaffes and Vauban would add to the offbeat tone of the direction where Russell would showcase their views through minimal visual effects. The Jaffes present their ideas in dots and such to say that everything is connected in a variation of transcendentalism while Vauban is more grounded in reality where there aren’t any visual effects but one that is still darkly comic. It would all culminate in a scene where it plays into these two diverge forces finally coming together in a moment of enlightenment. Overall, Russell crafts a very witty yet engaging comedy about a young man dealing with the ways of the world and his place in the world.

Cinematographer Peter Deming does excellent work with the film‘s colorful cinematography to capture the naturalistic of the locations in California as well as some of its interiors where a lot of the film is shot on daytime. Editor Robert K. Lambert does brilliant work with the editing with its unique approach to montages and jump-cuts as it plays to the film‘s offbeat style. Production designer K.K. Barrett, with set decorator Gene Serdena and art director Seth Reed, does amazing work with the look of the Huckabees corporate building as well as the home office of the Jaffes to display their eccentric approach of transcendental philosophy.

Costume designer Mark Bridges does nice work with the costumes from the skimpy clothes that Dawn wears in her job to the different array of clothes that Vivian Jaffe and Caterine Vauban would wear. Visual effects supervisor Robert Barrett does fantastic work with the visual effects that play into the ideas of the Jaffes about connection and such as it‘s very playful. Sound editor Kelly Oxford does terrific work with the sound work to play into some of the sounds in the fantasy scenes as well as some of the moments in the location. The film’s music by Jon Brion is an absolute delight with its playful approach to the Chamberlin instrument as well as some folk-based pieces that he brings in to the film.

The casting by Mary Vernieu is incredible as it features some notable appearances from Shania Twain as herself, Richard Jenkins and Jean Smart as a couple who let the Sudanese bellboy live with them, Jonah Hill in his film debut as that couple’s son, Talia Shire as Albert’s mother, Bob Gunton as Albert’s stepfather, Tippi Hedren as a coalition leader who tries to save the marshes where she aligns herself with Brad, Isla Fisher as Dawn’s replacement later in the film, Ger Duany as the tall Sudanese bellboy in Stephen, and Kevin Dunn as the Huckabees executive manager Marty. Naomi Watts is excellent as Dawn Campbell as the Huckabees’ spokeswoman who is often in their commercials and is Brad’s girlfriend as her encounter with existentialism showcases Watts at her funniest as she questions her own image and such.

Isabelle Huppert is amazing as Caterine Vauban as this absurd nihilist who tries to show Albert and Tommy a world where there is nothingness as she proves to be quite extreme and convincing in her views. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Bernard Jaffe as this oddball existential detective who is trying to get people on board with his own ideas while Lily Tomlin is fantastic as Bernard’s wife Vivian who also expresses the same views while being more analytical about the people she’s working with. Mark Wahlberg is phenomenal as Tommy Corn as this fireman who rides a bike as he becomes lost in his own despair as he tries to find meaning as it’s Wahlberg in one of his funniest and most vulnerable performances.

Jude Law is superb as Brad Stand as this corporate executive who likes to tell a story about Shania Twain to win over people and such as he’s a man that is quite vain in his ambitions only to realize how empty they can be. Finally, there’s Jason Schwartzman in a marvelous performance as Albert Markovski as this frustrated environmental activist who tries to make a difference as he deals with the different ideas of existentialism and his own issues with Brad as it’s Schwartzman in one of his funniest roles.

I Heart Huckabees is a smart and compelling film from David O. Russell. Armed with a great ensemble cast and very witty ideas about existentialism, the film is certainly a comedy that doesn’t play to any conventions. Especially as it showcases the idea of existentialism in its most absurd. In the end, I Heart Huckabees is a remarkable film from David O. Russell.

David O. Russell Films: Spanking the Monkey - Flirting with Disaster - Three Kings - The Fighter - Silver Linings Playbook - American Hustle - Accidental Love - Joy (2015 film) - The Auteurs #70: David O. Russell

© thevoid99 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Maria Full of Grace

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/22/05 w/ Additional Edits

Written and directed by Joshua Marston, Maria Full of Grace is the story of a 17-year old woman who reluctantly becomes a drug mule to help her family in Colombia as she realizes the consequences she is facing. The film is an exploration of a young woman trying to deal with her circumstances as well as the sense of the unknown and risks she is taking as the role of Maria Alvarez is played by Catalina Sandino Moreno. Also starring Yenny Paola Vega, Guiled Lopez, John Alex Toro, Patricia Rae, and Wilson Guerrero. Maria Full of Grace is an astonishing film from Joshua Marston.

For the 17-year-old Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno), her life isn't easy while working in a flowering plantation pruning rose thorns with her friend Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega). Working to support her mother, a grandmother, and older sister Diana (Johanna Andrea Mora) who has a baby, Maria feels like the only person who is doing anything. Her work life is very dismal compared to her social life as she learns she is pregnant with her boyfriend Juan (Wilson Guerrero) as the father. Juan doesn't want to do anything so she breaks up with him and her work life gets worse as she quits her job. Her family is upset that she quit because her meager paycheck is what keeps them working but Maria is still willing to look for another job.

After meeting a smooth-talking man named Franklin (John Alex Toro) at a party, they meet again as he takes her to Bogota where he can get her a job. They go to Bogota where she learns that the job is to be a drug mule. They meet with the boss of the drug trade named Javier (Jaime Osorio Gomez) who asks some questions to Maria. He warns her about what could go wrong and everything but she takes the job. She goes home on a bus where she meets a fellow mule in Lucy (Guilied Lopez) who trains her to swallow big grapes that are shaped like the pellets she's going to carry. Maria mustn't bite the grapes or have holes in them or else she dies. With Javier giving Maria some money to pay off some bills for her family, Maria tells them she's taking a secretarial job in Bogota where she packs her things and gets a ride from Franklin.

Upon arriving in Bogota, she learned that Blanca is going to become a mule herself working for an associate of Javier. Maria goes to a clinic where she swallows 62 pellets worth of heroin that she must carry into New York City and stay there for the week where she'll receive $5000 for her work. With a passport, addresses, and other documents that she needed to get into the U.S., she, Lucy, Blanca, and another mule go on the plane from Bogota to New York. Having to hold in the pellets, they must not go to the bathroom but Maria does where two pellets come out but she puts them back in her stomach carefully as she arrives. Upon checking into customs, she learns that Lucy is sick as she is hoping to contact Lucy's sister Carla (Patricia Rae) about Lucy's condition. After going through customs, Maria learns the trouble of the trade as she seeks help from Carla and a Colombian businessman named Don Fernando (Orlando Tobon). There, Lucy learns of the sacrifices and trouble that is involved in the smuggling business as she learns the hard truth of life in America and Colombia.

Developed at the Sundance Institute, the film has all the makings of an indie film aesthetic and budget but thanks to Joshua Marston's gripping vision, the film is loaded with realism and a brooding tone that makes it compelling. Marston succeeds in his direction with his approach where scenes involving the customs search, airplanes, and the scenes involving the drugs and swallow pellets are very uneasy to watch. It's that sense of discomfort that works, notably in its screenplay where the film’s structure is filled with this dark momentum coming around and a third act where the morals and questions come into play. It's truly one of the smartest and most human scripts from a newcomer like Marston.

Marston’s eye-wielding vision is complemented greatly by cinematographer Jim Denault who uses some wonderful and steady handheld camera into the film that plays to the point-of-view of its protagonist and the way it captures the look of Colombia and New York where they have certain similarities as well as its differences from the polished New York to the more downtrodden town that Maria lives. With the look helped by production designers Debbie De Villa and Monica Marulanda and art director Yann Blanc for capturing that contrasting look of its locations. Editors Anne McCabe and Lee Percy help create a very straightforward yet methodical approach to the ending to play into its drama and suspense. The film's music by composers Leonardo Heiblum and Jacobo Lieberman have a nice, atmospheric tone that also plays well to the vibrant, Latin feel of the film's music.

The film's superb cast is filled with great performances, notably smaller ones from Johanna Andrea Mora as Maria's selfish sister and Wilson Guerrero as Maria’s loser boyfriend Juan. Jaime Osorio Gomez is excellent in the role of the drug leader Javier who brings a fraternal tone to his character as opposed to the big-shot tones done previously in most drug films. Orlando Tobon is another fraternal figure in the film as a man who is like a leader in Colombian communities in Queens, New York who provides the film's morality and makes Maria face her own conscious. John Alex Toro is wonderfully charming as Franklin while Patricia Rae brings an emotional center as Lucy’s sister, notably in the film's final act where she brings an intensity that is powerful. Guilied Lopez is also wonderful as Lucy with an understated performance as she teaches Maria the trade. Yenny Paola Vega is really the film's best supporting performance as Maria's pesky best friend who truly wants the money and is the one who doesn't have morals but by the end, realize the trouble they’re in as Vega gives a realistic, troubling performance.

The film's breakthrough is Catalina Sandino Moreno who gives probably the best debut performance of 2004. Moreno brings an external quality with her face and beauty that is very natural and very realistic while possessing a determination and grit that are evocative to watch. She doesn't make her character sympathetic or into someone that is very generous or good but someone who is rebellious yet has a sense of morality. Moreno makes her character grow and we feel sorry for her yet what she is doing is really awful but her choices and motivation is always filled with good intentions. Moreno is truly the heart and soul of the movie and she is a great discovery to watch.

The film's DVD doesn't include much except English, Spanish, and French subtitles with 2.0 and 5.1 Spanish audio mixing. Done in the typical 16:9 widescreen format, the movie looks and sounds great on DVD. The special features only includes two different trailers for the movie along with three trailers for HBO produced films like Real Women Have Curves, Gus Van Sant's Elephant, and the 2003 Sundance Award-winning American Splendor. Writer/director Joshua Marston provides an insightful audio commentary to the film talking about the technical aspects along with some of the things that goes on with the drug smuggling as well as the performances of the cast notably Moreno whom he discovered through audition tapes.

Maria Full of Grace is a powerful yet gripping film from Joshua Marston with an entrancing performance from Catalina Sandino Moreno. It's a film that explores the world of drug trafficking as well as what people will do in order to help others and later deal with the troubling consequences. In the end, Maria Full of Grace is a remarkable film from Joshua Marston.

© thevoid99 2014