F.I.L.M. of the Week (October 22, 2015)

22 10 2015

MAID_OneSheetfinalGenerally, when I read any piece of criticism that refers to a movie as some kind of “metaphor for capitalism,” I cringe inside. It usually feels like an easy fallback, a way to sound smart when they just purely enjoyed something. But in the case of Sebastián Silva’s “The Maid,” it actually applies.

My pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” is a worker’s dilemma in a nutshell.  Silva, with co-writer Pedro Peirano, examine the dynamics of economic competition from the perspective of well-ensconced maid Raquel (Catalina Saavedra).  Her experience is highly personal, yet it also an excellent metaphor for what people are forced to do when efficiency trumps humanity.

Raquel has served a well-to-do Chilean family for over two decades, caring for their children and tending to their house. They have a great fondness for her, yet she also knows her place in the pecking order. After all these years, Raquel assumes a certain amount of job security, though that all changes when family matriarch Pilar decides she needs an extra set of hands around the house.

Raquel had gotten somewhat complacent and lackadaisical about her work, but this new threat jolts her into action. Knowing she needs to fight tooth and nail to keep her relatively comfortable position means the claws come out. Pilar tries out two maids to work alongside Raquel, one more seasoned and another of more spry youth. Neither is any match for the malicious attacks Raquel has in store for them as she tries to scare them off.

Somehow, Silva finds that tiny area between black comedy and borderline pathetic drama. Raquel is slightly sympathetic in her desired ends yet absolutely repulsive in her chosen means to achieve that goal. She’s ultimately only as good as the system that spawned her, one that forces her to get nasty to stay afloat.

REVIEW: Nasty Baby

25 07 2015

QFest Houston

Sebastian Silva’s “Nasty Baby” departs from a fairly simple premise: a gay couple Freddy and Mo (Silva himself and Tunde Adebimpe) tries to conceive a child with their best friend Polly (Kristen Wiig) but faces difficulty with the sperm.  This well-trod territory might feel rather boring or rote were it not for Silva’s knack in capturing the banter between the tight-knit group.  The wit flows effortlessly and ceaselessly, establishing an amusing crew as entirely believable.

Alongside the trio’s baby-making struggles, which arise mostly from Adebimpe’s Mo as he somewhat inextricably bristles to take on the responsibility of providing the necessary fluids, runs a very different kind of story.  It starts off as a subplot with the residents of their gentrifying neighborhood finding themselves annoyed by a lingering loony from the old days, The Bishop (Reg E. Cathey, best known as Freddy from Netflix’s “House Of Cards”).  Bishop’s prevalence in the film grows and grows as the movie continues on its merry way, threatening to subsume the narrative altogether.

Nasty Baby

And then he does.

Oddly enough, Silva pulls off a fairly complete reversal within “Nasty Baby,” making us think the film is about one thing and then pulling out the rug from under us.  The conception storyline provides an enjoyable diversion while he sets up a vicious dramatic ending that knows how to draw blood.  Impressively, Silva finds a way to make the shift into an entirely different genre feel natural and earned, as if one should just flow naturally from the other.  If nothing else, “Nasty Baby” provides one hell of a full night out at the movies.  B+ / 3stars

REVIEW: Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus

24 01 2015

Crystal FairyMichael Cera and the titular plant might serve as the main selling points of the marketing materials for “Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus,” yet the movie hardly belongs to either of them.  The best compliment for Cera is that at least his performance does not recall his stock character too much.

Sebastián Silva lets comedienne Gaby Hoffmann run rampant to cause free-spirited mayhem in the piece.  And boy, does she capitalize on the chance.  She provides basically all the enjoyment the film has to offer.

Hoffmann’s hippy Crystal Fairy joins up with Cera’s Jaime, an American in Chile, to find a magic cactus and harness its hallucinogenic powers.  Their quest is not particularly funny, serious, or insightful.  It just kind of happens, and then the movie ends, leaving no real lasting impression nor making any strong case for its reason to exist.

The film feels rather ragtag and loose to the point of fault; Silva might have been better off saving thousands of dollars by just shooting the film on an iPhone.  Then “Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus” would truly have the verité feeling it longs for in prolonged sequences of awkward “naturalistic” dialogue.

Anyone looking for realness and authenticity will just have to find it in Hoffmann, whose Crystal Fairy fearlessly owns the screen.  She plays an entire elongated scene in the nude, comfortably and confidently carrying out a conversation while flashing her lady parts to a room full of men.  Cera, and everyone else in the film, should have followed her bold lead.  C2stars