Searching

August 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La
Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty (debut)
Written by: Aneesh Chaganty (debut) and Sev Ohanian (debut)

The tech thriller “Searching” is a welcome surprise. Although the subgenre is new – a film told exclusively through modern-day technology (iPhones, laptops, hidden cameras, etc.) – “Searching” proves that with enough creativity, a project of this kind doesn’t have to play out like a gimmick.

A movie such as “Searching,” unfortunately, will be copied and re-copied for years to come until Hollywood studios have exhausted its originality – see the found-footage subgenre after “The Blair Witch Project” debuted almost 20 years ago. Other computer thrillers have hit theaters before “Searching” (2014‘s “Open Windows,” 2014’s “Unfriended” and the 2018 sequel “Unfriended: Dark Web”), but it’s safe to say that this film is much more inventive and strikes some important and sympathetic themes.

Directed and co-written by first-time feature filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, “Searching” begins with one of the most effective setups of 2018 – a quick montage of the happy life of a small family over the span of a few years through home videos, social media posts and other online platforms. When it’s revealed early on that mom (Sara Sohn) has died of cancer, Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian hook viewers emotionally as dad, David Kim (John Cho), and his daughter, Margot, continue their lives on their own.

By laying a strong foundation for a pair of characters we’re about to go through the wringer with for the next 90 minutes, Chaganty and Ohanian understand that without those opening scenes, “Searching” would only resonate on a visceral level. Instead, with these scenes, it’s much easier to sense the frustration and fear David conveys when 16-year-old Margot (Michelle La) goes missing after a late-night study session with friends.

Working with leading Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) to search for Margot, David starts doing his own investigating by logging onto his daughter’s laptop and poring through her online behavior to see if he can find any clues. However, with Det. Vick and David running into countless dead ends, they both worry their window for finding Margot alive is closing fast.

Like the best true-crime feature dramas and documentaries, “Searching” is a gripping mystery that features a handful of clever plot twists and an underlying feeling of dread that is unshakeable. Skeptical audiences might think a film like this would be limited by the method it chooses to tell its story, but with a smart script and a heartfelt father-daughter relationship at its core, “Searching” is an absorbing and unique achievement.

Nothing Like the Holidays

December 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Freddy Rodriguez, John Leguizamo, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Alfred De Villa (“ Washington Heights ”)
Written by: Alison Swan (debut) and Rick Najera (debut)

While the number of slapstick Christmas comedies usually go off the charts this time of year as much as Santa’s cholesterol, the Christmas family dramedy is the other holiday sub-genre that usually demands screen time in December.

Last year, “This Christmas” featured an African American family reuniting for the holidays after four years. In 2005, Sarah Jessica Parker met “The Family Stone” and experienced all their dysfunctional love. This year, Christmas gets a little Latin flare Puerto Rican-style with “Nothing Like the Holidays.” The film follows the Rodriguez family from the Humboldt Park area in Chicago as they come together in what might be the final Christmas they spend together as a family.

The reason: Anna Rodriguez (Elizabeth Pena) has announced over dinner that she has decided to divorce her children’s father Edy (Alfred Molina) after 36 years of marriage. She has reason to believe he has been having an affair. No one takes the news lightly including Mauricio (John Leguizamo), one of the Rodriguez boys, who has become a successful lawyer in New York, and his sister Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito), a struggling actress living in Los Angeles.

Freddy Rodriguez (“Grindhouse”) plays Jesse, another Rodriguez brother, back home from Iraq. He thinks his parents are adult enough to make their own decisions. His mind isn’t really focused on his mom and dad’s problems, especially since he has a handful of his own. He has returned home to find his ex-girlfriend Marissa (Melonie Diaz), whom he still loves, has moved on with her life. He is also still haunted by the death of one of his friends in the military.

It’s not only Jesse, however, who has issues. Everyone has something going on in his or her trying life and debut screenwriters Alison Swan and Rick Najera tangle it all together in a cinematic version of stale fruitcake. While storylines that focus on Jesse and his hardships give the film a more serious tone than your average family head-butting session, there’s not much time to build on his character since the script seems sculpted from the blueprint of a tiresome telenovela. Instead, secondary stories like Maruicio and his wife Sarah (Debra Messing) arguing about the best time to have a baby, and issues that revolve around Ozzy (Jay Hernandez), a family friend and ex-gang member who is bothered that the guy who killed his brother years ago has been released from prison and is now hanging out in the old neighborhood.

The scene-stealer of the film is Luis Guzman (“Waiting”), who plays the family’s kooky electronics-loving uncle, but he and Freddy Rodriguez (one of the most talented young Latino actors working today) can’t raise the film above the usual stereotypical family dramedy we get every year. It might be in different packaging this time around, but a pair of socks is a pair of socks no matter how colorful the gift-wrapping.