.

This week:
City of God

Filthy says:
"This is the shit I go to movies for
."



Adjectives are cheap. Critics have squandered the meaning of words like "powerful" like money at a strip club, spending it on the ugly, kind-of-chubby girls because they couldn't wait until that perfect, tall, tan girl with the natural tits showed up. So when the perfect use arises, they have nothing left. No matter how pointless or weak a movie is the studios will slap on "powerful." It's just too much work being precise.

I guarantee you that some dick called the latest Bruce Willis movie "powerful." I don't know whether he meant it has the power to emotionally move people, to change the world or maybe just to get you out of your seat and down to the manager's office to demand a refund. I'm sure he didn't mean any of them; he used it because he's a fucking lazy, unimaginative shithead who didn't want to spend the time thinking of the appropriate words.

It's a load of horseshit. It's like the assholes who call crappy movies "non-stop laughs." Really? You couldn't stop laughing, not even for one second? Not even during the awkwardly dramatic scene where the guy finally reveals his love to the girl? I'd pay to see some of these quote whores always "rolling in the aisles." Seriously, have you ever seen someone laugh so hard he fell out of his chair and convulsed? I saw a kid do it once, but that was during Pokemon, and it was just a seizure so it probably doesn't count.

People are lazy and they'd rather exaggerate to get what they want than tell the truth. They think nobody will pay attention to the truth because it just won't sound glamorous, alarming or incredible enough. Or maybe it won't be justification enough for the result they want. If a movie is moderately funny, some asshole tells you he was pissing his pants and busting his guts. If a neighbor sees you naked with a hammer out by the dumpster, she has to tell 9-1-1 that you've gone nuts, threatened her with a knife and are masturbating into an open Volkswagen just so they'll respond. When the cops arrive you have to calmly explain to them that you drank some rubbing alcohol filtered through stale bread and were having a bad reaction, so everything is cool, officer. I'll go inside in a minute.

Having said that, holy fuck is the Brazilian movie City of God powerful. This movie is so fucking good, so beautiful and violent and sad and moving that it reminded me how stories told well can transport me and make me feel. This is the beautiful, genuinely-nice girl at the strip club who really does like you and that you're glad you saved up for.

The City of God is a slum in Rio de Janeiro built by the government to house the poor and keep them out of sight of the tourists and world in general. These slums are cheap, tiny houses crammed together with no electricity or hot water, and the people who live there are either low-wage workers or hoods. The hoods rob and steal, deal drugs and kill. They have the money and the glamour. All the workers have is their dignity. In either case, there's a damn good chance of dying in the constant, amoral violence borne of desperation and necessity.

City of God is the story of the rise of the most cold-blooded of the hoods, told through the eyes of a kid struggling to stay on the right track. Rocket (Alexandre Rodriguez) thinks the only reason he's a good kid is because he's a coward. Little Z» (Leandro Firmino de Hora) is his age and grows up with no conscience and a lust for power. Before puberty, he's shot a motel full of people and laughed while doing it.

Firmino de Hora's only goal in life is to rule the City of God. Robbing and stealing is a means of survival, but as the 70s roll around and drugs become prevalent it's clear to him that he needs to deal to reach the top of the heap. In a single night, he kills every team of drug dealers in the City and takes control of distribution. He keeps control by killing anyone he doesn't like, and taking what he wants. Firmino de Hora's right hand man is Benny (Philippe Haagensen), a level-headed kid who is more interested in being cool than selling drugs. He keeps Firmino de Hora is check and spends his money on the latest Hang Ten T-shirts and James Brown records. Together they rule until Haagensen decides to take his unbelievably beautiful girlfriend (Alice Braga) away from all this shit. Christ, she's the kind of girl I want to cover in hickeys. I mean, every square inch until she as scratchy and lumpy as wool socks.

At the same time, in the same slum, Rodriguez tries his own hand at hoodlumism, only to find that his heart's not in it. He's too busy with the same teenage problems the rest of us have: he wants a girlfriend, to lose his virginity and not get shot. He takes a job delivering newspapers and dreams of working as a news photographer.

Firmino de Hora's power in the City of God grows; so does his ego and he becomes increasingly reckless and violent, even as he becomes more isolated and lonely. Finally, he is confronted by the last remaining independent drug dealer and the growing ranks of people whose family members he's killed. This unleashes an all-out war and the City of God is divided. The two sides recruit younger and younger kids into their armies until ten-year olds carry guns and sell coke. Rodriguez is the only person at the newspaper with access to the City, and he is assigned to photograph the war, despite his fear that he'll be killed.

City of God was shot in a Brazilian slum, along the filthy streets and between the crumbling tiny houses. There is an unfinished brick wall that remains from the 60s to the 70s as the city grows around it. The actors are mostly amateurs from the area. This could all be a stunt, and it's the kind of thing that gives a movie some cache it doesn't deserve. But, dammit, it works. It gives the movie realism that outweighs the occasional weak line reading or overacting. (Actually, the movie benefits from being subtitled, because it's harder to sense if there is bad acting when you're as slow a reader as I am.) I got the sense of the real slum's narrow streets and squalor, not a backlot recreation of it. The problems are similarly real. What's powerful is how the movie shows how good people get sucked into crime. It shows the insidious affect of the illegal drug trade. Most of all, though, it shows how kids growing up amongst killing and crime don't know better than to avoid it. They love to pose with their guns, they want to get their first taste of blood, and they never have a chance to learn to respect the value of life.

It's a long movie, and as gory as the biowaste bins in a maternity ward. I don't think I have ever seen a more unpleasantly violent film. Yet, it isn't gratuitous; this is the hell these people live through. There is a scene where Firmino de Hora gives two small kids who stole chicken the option of being shot in the hands or in the feet. Once they choose their hands, he shoots them in the feet. Hundreds are killed, and it isn't glamorous Hollywood bloodshed. This shit looks real.

Directors Fernando Mereilles and Kati∑ Lund use a few too many camera tricks, and they're probably juggling more stories than necessary. Those flaws are tiny, however compared to what the do right. That is, they don't preach. You can't ask for anything more. They tell the story through the eyes of a self-proclaimed coward who isn't proud that he isn't a hood. They don't demonize anyone but the government who built the environment. The slum is a shithole and they don't need the characters saying that for us to figure it out. The characters aren't looking for pity, and neither are the actors. The movie humanizes them all, but doesn't ask us to like them. I almost felt for Firmino de Hora when he finally got the nerve to ask a girl out and was rejected. But it only makes him want to kill someone.

It's powerful. Fuck it's good. I can't think of anything really funny to say, or even stupid. And usually I'm good at the latter without even trying. See it if you can and you've got the stomach for the violence because this is the kind of stuff that makes me forget the last ten pieces of shit I had to sit through. Five Fingers for City of God.

Want to tell Filthy Something?

 





Filthy's Reading
Lewis Carrol - Alice's Adventures Through the Looking Glass

Listening to
Polar Goldiecats - Polar Goldiecats

Watching

Brazil


Clay Smith of Access Hollywood

In Cradle 2 the Grave, "DMX and Jet Li take action movies to a whole new level! They are the dynamic duo of the year!"

The Recruit is a "Sexy, edge-of-your-seat thriller!"

 

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