City of God Review

Whenever it comes to cinema entertainment, the American public has an obsession with drug related crime dramas.   Movies like “Goodfellas,” “Traffic,” and “Scarface” all owe at least some of their commercial success to the appeal that is the drug industry in movies. Many people rarely feel the effects of crime and gangs in their every day lives, so being able to see it on a movie screen makes it all the more interesting to the viewer. “City of God” is another movie that has its entertainment factor increased by this allure brought about by the topic of drugs and gang violence. Instead of taking place in America, however, this film takes place in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The other main difference between this film and other films that pertain to the drug trade is that this film doesn’t glorify that particular industry as much. Yes, the film is entertaining in its brutality, but none of the characters are driving fancy cars and living in large mansions such as in “Scarface.” It is a means of survival and a way to obtain a sense of respect, rather than to rise to the upper echelons of society’s elite.

While drugs are the center theme upon which this film revolves, there are many other underlying themes of power, respect, maturity, and friendship scattered throughout an extremely layered plot, which, while complicated, is never overwritten. While the entertainment comes from the violence and unique setting of the film, what truly makes this film great are all the individuals stories of the various characters and being able to watch as each character grows and evolves with his surroundings. How each character interacts with power with which they have been given and the rise or decline in morality that comes with an increase in power makes for an extremely riveting character study.

The acting may not be superb, but it has a realistic amateurism to it that makes the film more relatable and that much more human in a sense. Having non-professional actors can sometimes put more heart and soul into a film, and “City of God” is a prime example of that effect working to full force. The film is also shot in a very unique way, with every shot seemingly filtered with a variety of orange or blue that adds to the almost surrealist feeling surrounding the characters and the city in which they reside. This lifestyle is foreign to us, and the production enhances that feeling even more. The production also makes it more fun and puts a slightly lighthearted atmosphere on a rather serious and emotionally brutal film that leaves little room for hope and a true sense of happiness.

The film aligns rather well with the themes of classic Italian neorealism in the sense that the events portrayed on screen are not sugar coated in anyway. The film is harsh, realistic, and extremely violent because it portrays what life in a drug-trapped world of Brazilian slums would feel like. This isn’t a movie that was made purely for entertainment purposes, but rather, it was to show the world what the conditions of some of the people, especially children, living in Brazil have to deal with each and every day. It is a vicious cycle of poverty and violence that is even more difficult to escape with the false promise that drug lords and gang members can provide to a young adolescent that has yet to fully experience being a mature adult. Being able to kill another person doesn’t make you mature, yet some of the characters in this film falsely prophesize that notion.

For criticisms sake, the movie does feel like it runs just a tiny bit longer than it should, although none of the events in the script ever feel forced. It is filled with so much horror and disturbing content that it can be tough to take much away from the film other than the brutality of it all since most of the other emotions tend to be completely overrun by the feeling of shock that is experienced. Despite this though, the film is incredibly realistic and makes it a movie that, while painful to watch, is always engaging and feels much more relatable than other drug crime dramas that have been released in recent years.

City of God photo

City of God (2001): 4/4 stars

Reflection on Amelie

When watching most films that are produced in Hollywood today, they all follow a similar formula: introduce the characters, follow a linear plot line, climax, and ending. Some films can stray away from this linear trend; “Memento,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “Atonement” all had disjointed methods of telling their story in terms of events happening chronologically, but in the end they all make sense and come together when the credits roll. We don’t see as much abstract filmmaking anymore. It’s hard to find events happening for no reason with any explanation, simply because the director wants something to happen. There are hints of this lost surrealist and impressionist magic that used to be so prevalent in French cinema while watching “Amelie.” While it does still follow a relatively understandable story, there are certain events and moments in the film that feel as if what we are watching what could be a dream, something that doesn’t quite make sense but still connects to the context of the film enough for it to make sense and be accepted by a somewhat general audience.

I rather enjoy this method of filmmaking because for me, watching movies serves as an escape from the real world. Just as falling asleep into a dream can be an escape for some, becoming consumed by a particular world created on a screen is a relaxing escape for me. When watching surrealist influenced cinema, this feeling is enhanced further, and a sort of magic that only comes about from movies begins to take shape. Most modern movies have lost that sense of magic in my mind, which is a shame because I can’t see it ever making a comeback with the mindset that the current public has towards films and the economic forces driving the American film industry. These various creative techniques aren’t fully utilized by modern directors for fear that general audiences will reject the concepts and images as not mainstream enough to be successful in a film industry that is controlled so much by economic success.

As much as I love this abstract and unique way of making films, there is a pitfall in the removal of a more relatable human element because all art, including cinema, should be created to tell a story or portray a human emotion that puts the human experience into a personified form. By creating these events that have no relation to or distract from the center story piece of the film, it can create this sense of a false reality that ultimately takes away a human element from the heart of the film. It becomes harder to relate to the characters on an emotional level when they are viewed as a figment of a dream rather than a real person that can form a connection with a general audience. This film brings about some conflict for me because it reminds me how I enjoy both of these somewhat different elements of cinema and how hard it is to combine the two. While this film does a relatively good job of combining these two ideals, repeating this is no easy feat and is one of the reasons why this movie is so brilliant in my mind. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing a slight return to prominence for surrealist film techniques in modern cinema.

Netflix Binge For March

Just Because It’s March: House of Cards

If you don’t know what House of Cards is by now, you probably live under a rock. Or don’t leave your house. Or don’t have friends that bug you to no end about “this great new show” they started watching last night that “you totally just have to watch.” Or maybe you just don’t have friends, period. Who knows? Led by stellar performances from Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in the leading roles as Frank and Claire Underwood, a power couple leading a political charge in America. House of Cards is filled with intense drama, great direction and incredible acting across the board. Since its introduction, this show has become a don’t-miss, binge-worthy hit from Netflix. Season 4 is now available to watch.

Stephen’s Rating: 3/4 stars

Because the Weather is Getting Nicer: Lilo and Stitch

After recently re-watching this film for the first time since I was in grade school, I realized I never had a full appreciation for this movie. I always enjoyed it as a child, but this film is actually very good and can be enjoyed by the entire family. The charming and colorful story is set against the tropical backdrop of Hawaii, and what more could you need to get you into the Spring spirit than a fun adventure set in a topical setting? Plus you get to relive your childhood at the same time. And it’s only an hour and 25 minutes long.

Stephen’s Review: 3/4 stars

Because DiCaprio Just Won an Oscar: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

In case you missed it, Leonardo DiCaprio just won his first ever Oscar this year after being nominated for the sixth time in his career, so what better film to watch than the first film that he was nominated for. DiCaprio received a best supporting actor nomination for this early 90s drama about a young boy trying to juggling issues in his own life as well as having to care for his mentally challenged brother and obese mother. A film that shows that the true heroes are those who get by everyday while caring unconditionally for those around them no matter how hard times become, this film gives a good message that counteracts that from the big action adventure blockbusters. One of DiCaprio’s best performances, this film is a must see for any Leo fan.

Stephen’s Review: 3.5/4 star