Thursday, March 27, 2014


She's Lost Control (2014) - Marquardt
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Professional intimacy takes center stage in Anja Marquardt's She's Lost Control. 'She' in this case is Ronah (Brooke Bloom), a thirty something, confident, determined woman pursuing a masters degree who makes living as a sexual surrogate - arranged by her psychiatrist employer, she helps her clients who have physical and emotional intimacy problems by providing a safe mind space where they can explore physical intimacy. She's Lost Control is not some skin deep exploitation film about a sex worker, nor is it some romantic melodrama. Marquardt's brooding exploration has almost a look and feel of a clinical documentary.

Ronah is a complicated woman. She gives everything to help bring out these damaged men from their shells. Yet her private life is less than ideal- she leads a lonely life in a tiny, characterless New York apartment with bad plumbing. She willfully ignores her brother who desperately needs her help in looking after their senile mother in upstate NY. She frequently visits a fertility clinic to freeze her eggs, just in case she wants a child in the future. Then there is a phone stalker (presumably a former client) who is making her life miserable.

Things change when she takes on a new client, Johnny, a brooding, deeply withdrawn doctor. He is a hard nut to crack. One day it's a success and next it's terrible. It's a brutal tug of war - she uses different exercises and charms to bring him out with uneven successes. He can't trust Ronah's earnestness completely and certain small details turn him off to be intimate with
her. She finally makes him sustain eye contact. However tough Johnny is as a client, Ronah slowly begins to finds solace in their relationship while her private life falls apart.

Bloom gives a truly brave performance as Ronah. She is at once strong and vulnerable, wise and naive, plain and seductive. Marc Menchaca is also great as Johnny, a hulking, deeply wounded man. There is an amazing scene with Johnny and Ronah looking directly into the camera and addressing each other. It's one of the most powerful scenes I've experienced in cinema in quite a while.

She's Lost Control reflects on our society where true intimacy is becoming rarer, let alone general human contact.

After debuting at this year's Berlinale, She's Lost Control plays as part of ND/NF 2014, on 3/29, 9pm and again 3/30, 4:30pm. For tickets, please visit ND/NF website.

Mystery Well Worth Investigating

Finding Vivian Maier (2013) - Maloof, Siskel
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I became aware of Vivian Maier's beautiful photographs through my photographer friend about a year ago when he showed me a photo book he just purchased called Vivian Maier: Street Photographer.

Those Rolleiflex medium format shot black and white photographs of people immediately grabbed my attention. He told me a very improbable yet amusing story about how Maier's work was discovered. In 2007, a young man named John Maloof, while doing research on his Chicago neighborhood, happened to come across a box full of 35mm still photo negatives at an auction house. He then discovered that the box contained amazing works of art. They belonged to a reclusive woman who worked as a nanny and housekeeper all her life. Ever since then, Maloof has been doing everything in his power to get her work out into the world.

Curiosity really got to Maloof. Clearly not satisfied with getting out the book and the website dedicated to Maier's work, with a video camera, he, along with co-director Charlie Siskel (nephew of the late critic Gene Siskel), sets out to find just who this woman really was, interviewing an impressive amount of people who, one way or another, knew her. There is so much she left behind -- not only of thousands of undeveloped b&w and color film rolls, but also stacks of newspaper clippings she collected, receipts, letters, clothes -- that had been in storage, and would most likely have been thrown away if Maloof didn't intervene.

So who was she? Finding Vivian Maier works like a good detective story: a lanky woman with a French accent, who took thousands and thousands of photographs in her spare time, who appeared in many of her photographs herself, but never showed her pictures to anyone. Did she want her talent to be discovered or didn't she? The film traces her life as a nanny/caretaker in Chicago and the New York area by interviewing many of the families she worked for. It seems that Maier had a dark side as well, as some of the children (now adults), whom she took care of, testify about her condescension toward 'normal' people and their lives.

Maloof even travels to Maier's ancestral homeland in French Alps, a small town where her mother is from. There he finds a film lab where Maier corresponded with its technicians. Maier knew the importance of developing and editing her work. She wanted her work to be shown at some point.

Although this documentary doesn't go deep into her late years, it was some of the children, whom she took care of as a nanny, who came to her rescue to get her an apartment, and took care of her until the end of her life.

Finding Vivian Maier is a fascinating documentary about a person's life. And I give Maloof a huge credit for his dedication. Many interviewees snigger at his unbelievably good luck of stumbling upon Maier's work. One of the interviewees bluntly tells him in the beginning of the movie, "I just wish I discovered them (photographs) first, not you." The filmmaker demonstrates that the film's not about him, but all about his subject, by exiting the frame and letting the story unfold by itself early on. 

It is quite commendable to devote many years of your life cataloging and sorting through not only someone's life's work but also one's life story. It is Maloof's unwavering devotion to let Maier's work be known (with a great curatorial eye) to the world and the sincerity in his investigation into finding who she really was that I find extremely noble and moving.

Finding Vivian Maier opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, March 28, and in other cities in April. Please visit IFC website for more information.

To see more of Maier's photos and information, please visit

Cesar Chavez, Done Justice

Cesar Chavez (2014) - Luna
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I gotta admit that I was very skeptical going into this movie. There is something very dreadful about patronizing Hollywood biopics that makes me shudder. But with its largely Mexican-American cast and Mexican actor-turned-director Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Milk) directing, and for the fact it's the first biopic on Chavez, one of the most important labor activists in American history, I thought I'd give it a go. Surprisingly, Luna does an amazing job here, wisely concentrating on Chavez's biggest accomplishment in mid 60s through 70s -- as he goes back working in the field to organize, to the great California grapes strike, to hunger strikes to end violence on both sides. He doesn't whitewash his subject. Chavez's constant absence takes a toll on his family. Direct and uplifting without being patronizing, the film does justice to its subject. Chavez is a loving tribute to an uphill battle that is not won yet.

Cesar Chavez, a civil rights leader, labor activist, co-founder of United Farm Workers Union (UFW) and the shining example of non-violent protests, is beautifully embodied by Michael Peña (The End of Watch, American Hustle). His Chavez is a no-nonsense, effective organizer, who also struggled at being a good dad: Chavez's warmth, strength and all-too-humanness is made palpable by his performance. America Ferrera is great as Helen Chavez, mother of their 8 children but also a fearless organizer and the backbone of the family. Rosario Dawson plays Dolores Huerta, a labor leader who co-founded National Farmworker's Association (which later became UFW) with Chavez. She plays it straight in a supporting role, not overshadowing anyone from the great ensemble cast, including John Malkovich (also serves as executive producer) as the main adversary of the struggle, the rich farm owner Bogdanovitch.

The controversy surrounding Chavez about urging deportation of undocumented workers who were brought in across the border as scabs by rich American farmers is not really explored in the film. However, there are scenes where Chavez and his strikers encouraging Mexican children who were brought in as scabs to join the union. These are bits and pieces of American history we don't learn in school. One thing critics should understand is that Chavez wanted to organize all workers and didn't want to see those workers, either documented or undocumented, who weren't in the Union, get exploited. I mean, that's the whole point of the Union.

The film's timely release (also coincides with Chavez's birthday 3/31), as the country's immigration law still tied up in the Congress and the existence of Labor Union being assaulted by politicians and large companies every single day, will hopefully revitalize the public's consciousness on these important matters. The kicker is, the struggle is not won for the farm workers, they are still at it after 50 years since Chavez began his work.

Cesar Chavez illuminates the small victories of these workers and reminds us what was possible before to overcome injustice and gives us hope that it is possible again in the future.

Cesar Chavez made its debut at SXSW and is coming to theaters on 3/28. For more information, visit Participant Media website.