Tag: joshua marston

New York, I Love You


New York, I Love You (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I’ve been waiting for this movie to be released in theaters for more than a year so I was really excited to see it when it finally was. Unfortunately, out of the ten segments (presented in order of appearances on screen–directed by Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Fatih Akin and Joshua Marston) only about five worked for me–the second (starring Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan), the third (Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci), the fourth (Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q), the fifth (Anton Yelchin, Olivia Thirlby, James Caan and Blake Lively), and the tenth (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman).

I really wanted to love this movie as much as “Paris, je t’aime.” What made the first one so great is the fact that even though we encounter so many different genres and tones throughout the picture, it felt cohesive because we truly get a sense of who the characters were in under five to seven minutes. In “New York, I Love You,” it all feels a little bit too commercial. I felt as though it wanted to impress all kinds of people so much to the point where it held back emotionally and avoided taking risks. I’m also astounded by the fact that there were no homosexual storylines, barely any segments consisting of African-American or Latino characters, and most of clips consisted of a person falling in love or lust with another person. There are many dimensions of love (love for the city, love for a pet, love for oneself…) but it didn’t quite think outside the box. Those missing qualities are crucial to me because New York is supposed to be a melting pot of ethnicities, sexualities and mindsets yet we got to see the same kinds of people time and again. With “Paris, je t’aime,” we get diversity and in more than half of them, there was not a happy ending, which I thought was closer to real life than the stories presented in this film.

The five segments that I thought were standouts had a certain passion in every single one of them, whether it’s about a woman who doesn’t quite feel comfortable about getting married; an artist struggling to read one of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s books and whose curiosity of a woman he’s only met through the phone bothered him to the core; a man who thinks one way about a woman turning out to be someone completely different than we all expected; a teenager who goes to prom with a blind date unknowing of the fact that his date is unlike anyone he expected; and a couple celebrating their marriage that lasted for more than sixty years. Those are the kinds of stories I want to tune into and dissect because hidden layers are embedded in them. What I don’t want to see is someone supposedly falling in love unless he or she has something truly significant or different to contribute. The other five segments that I didn’t quite like should have been taken out and replaced by stories from other genres such as horror or science fiction, or they could have had a different mood or perception such as in a black-and-white reality or featuring a person so wasted in drugs–a way in which we could see the world through their eyes. That would have made more sense to me because we are essentially a drug culture. Or it could have featured at least one fashion model or a fashionista because New York is one of the biggest fashion capitals in the world. Instead of really embracing to tackle issues mentioned previously, the movie was way too safe with those other segments.

Having said all of that, I have to admit that I’m particularly hard on this picture. Since I don’t do half-star ratings, it must be said that I consider this a solid two-and-a-half star movie. When I came out of the theater, I was certain that I was going to give it three stars out of four but after thinking about it a little bit, it made me realize how much potential it didn’t use to create a truly magnificent project. For such a fascinating place like New York City, you just can’t play everything safe and get away with it. At least not with me because I’m big on seeing diversity and reality in certain kinds of films, especially in slice-of-life cinema. I’m not saying at all to not see this in theaters. By all means, please do to support a film released only on limited release. But what I want you to take away from this review is the awareness that what’s being presented on this film is not the gritty and dirty New York but the clean, nice New York we see on a prime time television shows.

Hopefully, the next project from this film series would not be as afraid to branch out.

Maria Full of Grace


Maria Full of Grace (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Joshua Marston, “Maria Full of Grace” tells the story of a drug mule (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who ventures into the United States because she wants to provide a better life for herself, the baby she’s carrying and her family in Colombia. I love that this film did not glamorize the drug underworld: it’s presented as scary, dangerous and extremely unpredictable. The director was astute enough to establish Moreno’s plight back in Colombia. She’s a genuinely good person who works hard to earn money so that she can help her family out. When she realizes that she’s pregnant, she has to quickly figure out a way to provide for her future child but at the same time support her family because no one else will. We get to understand the disparate factors that ultimately drive her to lend her body to deliver drugs in America. There were a lot of scenes that were really hard for me to watch. When the filmmakers decided to show the lead character trying to swallow those drug pellets, I flinched multiple times not just because of the image on the screen but also the realization that such images really do happen in real life. The plane scene is also a stand-out when one the girls is trying to convince herself that she’s okay despite the drugs being in her system. This film expertly shows people being in difficult situations and what they’re willing to do they get out of it. But this movie isn’t just about drug mules. There’s a brilliant scene with a fellow immigrant who talks to Moreno about the pride that comes after receiving her first paycheck in America. Even though I’ve never gone through that, I still could relate because my father went through the same thing: he went to America to support me, my mom and brother back when we were still in the Philippines. Although this film had a small budget, I thought it worked to its advantage; this vehicle was driven by powerful ideas that doesn’t stray from reality. That alone is enough to see this picture because most American mainstream films about drugs are sugarcoated.