View Full Version : City Of God - better than Goodfellas

01-27-2003, 06:48 PM
City Of God was the first film I saw this year and it would be nice to believe that I would see a better film in the next 12 months, but I fear I will not.

Putting it bluntly, City Of God is as good if not better than Scorsese's Goodfellas. It's similar in structure as it shows how organised crime has developed over 30 years in the slums of Rio, stopping for wonderful segments of life in the 60's, 70's and 80's.

The direction is wonderful and seems to capture the real spirit of Brazil. The tension at times is unbearable. The scene where a kid has to decide if he wants to be shot in the hand or the foot is simply nail biting.

I don't know if this film was released in the US in time for the Oscars, but if it was you can bet your house that this will win Best Foreign Picture.

I can't recommend this film highly enough, see it at any cost, I guarantee you will not regret it. I thought Amores Perros from a couple of years ago was a wonderful piece of work, but City Of God is far, far better.

01-30-2003, 09:50 AM
Dances With Wolves was voted best film and Goodfellas lost out!
Still think City of God will win?

01-30-2003, 03:31 PM
I saw the trailer for City of God and I must say it looks FINE.

I'll have more to say when I see it.....

Perfume V
02-13-2003, 09:55 AM
City of God is the single greatest film I have seen since Mulholland Drive, and I've been waging an aggressive campaign to force everyone I know to see it. And yes, it most certainly is better than Goodfellas.

Chris Knipp
02-17-2003, 02:16 PM
This movie is so intense and complex I'm waiting to see it again before I comment on it in print, but I am recommending it to people and telling them it's remarkable.

02-21-2003, 05:53 PM
Just saw City of God. Blew my head off.

These characters are some of the most interesting I've ever seen. I'm almost at a loss for words to describe my thoughts on this flick. Amazing acting- "method" at it's most raw. The soundtrack certainly helped me become a temporary citizen of the city.
This filmmaker I feel is breaking new ground.
With a vengeance.

Chris Knipp
02-22-2003, 02:29 AM
Right on.

03-19-2003, 07:49 PM
I saw City of God for the second time yesterday. Still powerful, still riveting.

The governing of drug rings back then was a more than risky business in Brazil. So many wasted lives, so much fear..

I don't have a favorite character from the film, but I have a favorite scene: In the dancehall (with "Kung-Fu Fighting" blaring) the tension escalates until someone dies-someone very important-and the dancefloor clears. Nothing but his buddy cradling him in a bath of strobe light. Awesome. I was reminded of Reservoir Dogs.

When you watch this flick you feel like you shouldn't watch for fear of endorsing it. But you cannot look away. And the ending was PERFECT. It brings the viewer full-circle as though you had a complete slice of life served to you. Absolutely brilliant movie.

03-20-2003, 05:11 PM
I really liked Cidade de Deus, amazing visuals and a compelling story, but... yes BUT, it missed something.
Because of the huge amount of characters introduced in this story and an almost equal amount of story's, I couldnt really relate to the main character.
The only character that I felt i got to know throughout the movie was "Ze", while I was supposed to relate to "Buscape" ( I hope i get the names right).

All together a great movie, but not as compelling as it could have been.

03-22-2003, 12:51 PM
I couldn't relate to the main character either-because there was none! Unless you count the city itself, which is debatable.

What do you feel the film was missing? How the hell could it have been MORE compelling?!

Chris Knipp
03-22-2003, 01:01 PM
This movie isn't missing anything: it contains too much. It's an amazing movie. Some people, including the witty but passionless Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, feel that the virtuoso filmmaking undermines the sadness of the deaths. No doubt it is meant to be not an elegy or sermon but a vivid recreation of the book it comes from. For some, it may be harder than for others to get on that wavelength. Everyone can agree on one thing: that something dazzing and rich is going on here. I am going to have to see Ciudade de Deus again so I can write more about it, a review, an appreciation, an account of the experience.

oscar jubis
04-05-2003, 08:29 PM
City of God is virtuoso genre filmmaking. A gangster picture that displays the full arsenal of cinematic tools to thrill and exhilarate for a zippy 135 minutes. Fernando Mereilles' talent was already in evidence in 2001's "Domesticas"(a nicely edited dramedy about 5 maids) but CoG is technically awesome. There's that "Matrix shot" of Rocket frozen between cops and thugs while the camera rotates around him. An indoor massacre shot from overhead, ceiling removed as in Minority Report (the spider robots searching for Tom Cruise). There are bullet-p.o.v. shots, dissolves, freeze-frames, brief sped-ups, and strobe lights. The narrative that keeps circling back to pivotal moments a la Pulp Fiction. City of God uses the color palette of Amores Perros and the thematic concerns of Goodfellas and New Jack City. City of God is one of the best gangster movies ever... but does not transcend genre. Please hear me out.

City of God is actually a period film. It makes no precise reference to contemporary Brasil. It makes it easy, for those responsible, to dismiss the conditions seen here as being part of history. The film never attempts social commentary beyond the obvious police corruption. You'd never know the country has the highest wealth disparity in the continent and extremely low taxation, resulting in atrocious public schools,transportation, hospitals,etc. The Brazilian elite is famous for their ability to isolate themselves from the grime via neighborhood enclaves defended by private paramilitary units. They can be seen by the thousands every summer (winter in the southern hemisphere) shopping in Miami and visiting Mickey in Orlando. No indictments are presented in City of God so poverty becomes a fetish.

The film is not really about a neighborhood. The whole favela is depicted solely as a stage for drug deals and shoot-em-ups. These gangsters have mums and sisters, but we don't get a glimpse. The film is calculated to thrill not to illuminate or to present a balanced view. It is a great film, but also one easy to overestimate.

Chris Knipp
04-05-2003, 11:20 PM
Wonderful comment, Oscar , and I gather you know whereof you speak living where you do. No doubt you know that the movie is a re-creation of an autobiographical book (and therefore not entirely a "gangster genre" piece, though it may read that way as a movie) and that the photographer character in the book is an emerging writer and I guess journalist and that he was changed into a photographer to make it more visual. In either case he's an "eye," an observer, whose own coming of age is taking place while he's wonderfully describing all that is transpiring around him. I thought that was very clear in the movie and very well done. It's the accomplishment of "Ciudade de Deus" to keep a whole lot of balls juggling in the air at once and the feats of photography and editing that you allude to are one of the ways the director keeps us awed at the whole process, a sort of style that fits with the complexity and the sheer joyous energy of the favela world and the virtuosity of the narrator's descriptive skills. I still haven't seen the movie again so can't yet comment further, but how can you say it's a "great" film and then that it's "easy to overestimate"? What higher estimate is there than "great"? Well, Ebert and Roeper I believe (and that was where I first heard of it) both said it was a "masterpiece," which would be better than "great" perhaps, and an overestimation.

In spite of your remarks about the upper class in guarded enclaves and the total lack of public services, I read somewhere that the whole situation that existed, or developed, during the period covered by the book and film, has been cleaned up and it isn't dangerous in the Ciudade de Deus any more the way it was increasingly during the three decades 60's - 70's - 80's. There is, as you note, a fairly substantial gap between when the movie ends and today, a period of time in which much has changed that we are not told about because this is'nt a documentary but a rich personal narrative that encompasses a whole society. When I see a recent American film like "Spun," which is so narrow in scope (though fun, mind you) I am all the more impressed by the richness and life -- and the humanity and wholeness -- of the City of God drug and drug dealer world.

oscar jubis
04-06-2003, 03:19 AM
You seem to understand me, Chris. My attitude is to talk about my being thrilled and awed by the film until my friend returns from the theatre and utters "masterpiece". Then, I prefer to appear fastidious rather than conformist. I ponder: does it do or say anything new? Did the film provide a fresh perspective? Does it confound genre expectations? Does it conform too much to its conventions? You mention that City of God "encompasses a whole society". My take is that the focus is more narrow, specific to young male thugs, and that there is a richer tapestry of human experience in the favela than depicted here. For too much of its duration the tone of Cidade is stuck on cynical, drunk on gangsta-chic.

I am glad to learn conditions are less dangerous there nowadays. But the poor still suffer from overwhelming disregard and neglect in Rio. The system is rigged so that those at the bottom have no opportunity to improve their lot. I think that a movie that luxuriates in such carnage should have a finger pointing somewhere.

Chris Knipp
05-05-2003, 03:16 AM
[Having finally seen City of God again early this afternoon and made notes in the theater, I've written a review of it this evening. It's dashed off and has to be, otherwise I could spend days writing about it and write thousands of words. People walked out in the middle both times. I wouldn't have dreamed of missing the last credit, either time. I don't mean by saying that the movie is a technical marvel that it's cold and empty. On the contrary the clarity of construction amd the brilliance of technique both affirm the honesty and sincerity of the filmmakers and their deep commitment to their material. Moreover, this is a far cry from the often hangdog quality and solemnity of Italian neorealism. it's full of intense life and soul, not just young testosterone.]

Here goes:

A whilrwind of virtuoso filmmaking

"Cidade de Deus" (City of God) begins with a chase after an escaped chicken and it's a mad rush from then on in this mind-boggling autobiography of a favela dweller who works his way out of the slums into mainstream Rio de Janeiro by becoming a photographer (in the original book he's a writer but this change toward the visual is a smart one). Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund have forged a truly amazing movie: people are absolutely dazzled by the vibrancy of the action and the sheer brilliance of the filmmaking. Indeed, "Cidade de Deus" is a technical wonder, bursting with virtuoso effects that never distract from the action. True, there is a degree of violence that sometimes makes people walk out of the auditorium midway. Some viewers and some critics complain there's so much killing that you're numbed. But whether we like this movie or not, we have to acknowledge its stunning craftsmanship. And observers say that though the slums of Rio have cleaned up and quieted down in the last decade, what the movie shows is true to life.

And here is what's most remarkable: that the movie tells an extraordinarily well-organized and coherent story; that with a large cast and a dizzying onrush of scenes and despite the underlying madness of this Brazilian slum life of poverty, drugs, and violence these scenes show us, everything in "Cidade de Deus" is lucid and logical. The technical flash isn't a matter of confusing us, but of conveying the hopped up, bloody action precisely and succinctly: this is what the dissolves and jump cuts, fast cutting, freeze-frames, and speeded up film are all for: to condense events without loss of vividness; to tell the complex story without losing our sense of its vivid texture.

"City of God" is a masterpiece of editing.

Essentially it's a series of short stories (indicated by small onscreen titles) focused on a group of interrelated favela figures of the narrator's generation. At the end of the chicken sequence, the camera revolves around "Rocket," the narrator ("Busca-pé," Alexandre Rodrigues), and as it revolves the background fades to sandy color and we're taken to his early youth and the "Tender Trio" hijacking a truck and throwing cash to kids, which introduces us to several of the most important characters, "Bennie" (Bené, Phellipe Haagensen as the older boy) and "Little Dice" (later to become "Little Zee," "Zé Pequeno," played by Leandro Firmino da Hora), a team whose last moment together in a strobe-lit Seventies disco teeming with dancers is the emotional climax of the movie. This powerful scene is the triumph of the homicidal, mad drug lord, Zee, over the "hippy" "playboy" Bennie, who is about to take his girlfriend Angélica (Alice Braga) to the country and live in peace, and it's also a moment of extraordinary sexual tension and sadness. Of all the senseless killings, this is the most senseless -- and yet the most meaningful.

But before the disco climax, there's the "Miami Motel Robbery," when a brothel holdup by the fledgling gangsters turns into a grizzly, sensual bloodbath. It's only later that we learn why and how. Characteristically, the movie always goes back to dot its i's and cross its t's, with an assertion of narrative control rather like the style of Tony Richardson's 1963 film version of Fielding's "Tom Jones." The motel robbery fixes the seal of violence on the generation. The next major story is "The Death of Shaggy." Shaggy too tries to escape the favela with a girlfriend to live the hippy country life of "paz y amor" that Bennie later envisions. Shaggy is a handsome, charming, lazy young gangster who's clearly much too young and too pretty to die, but down he goes, and seeing a photographer at the death of Shaggy is what first leads Rocket to get a camera for himself.

The underlying personal thread is the story of how Rocket becomes a news photographer and escapes from the slum; a minor one is how he loses his virginity. He loves Angélica and the first freeze frames we see are his shots of her on the beach, where he cunningly casts her current beau, Thiago (Daniel Zettel), in shadow. Even in this first appearance Thiago characteristically expresses his taste for coke: this will later lead the relatively suburban, well off (and redheaded, Jewish) boy to become a close associate of Lil' Zee in his final days. The constant killings as the favela scene becomes wilder and more violent turn the streets and houses into a grim, dark slaughterhouse, but there's still a stunning sense of the resilience of youth in, for instance, the way Thiago manages to survive both his addiction and his closeness to the most murderous people in the slum. When Thiago leaves the beach in this early scene is when "The Runts" first appear, delaying Rocket's initiation into sex just when it might have begun.

One of the virtuoso devices is to slide visually through time while Rocket narrates and this is notably illustrated by "The Story of the Apartment" sequence where we instantly see the locale become more rundown and empty as it devolves from somebody's home into an increasingly active drug dealing headquarters and ultimately Zee's center of evil power. It's the Story of Lil' Zee that goes back to the Miami Motel Robbery to show the first shocking evidence of his love of killing even as a child. "Cidade de Deus" isn't just full of young men but of children with guns. The final gang that takes over is Las Cocotas, The Runts, a band of lawless sub-teen and early-teen boys. Lil' Zee maintains rigid order, but The Runts mess up security because they rob at will. To discipline The Runts, in one of the most pathetic and gruesome scenes, Zee forces one of them to choose whether he wants to be shot in the hand or foot, and one of Zee's own youngest recruits must kill one of The Runts then and there.

With the increasing focus on Lil' Zee's story the camera movement speeds up and rapid handheld pans become the rule in every scene of violence. The passage of time and the progression toward greater violence is cunningly indicated in the gradual changes in visual style that the movie goes through before our eyes. There are speeded up sequences shot from far overhead to show Zee's evolution from random killer to ruling druglord, as if we are looking at a map, which in fact here we are, a map of the city to show an expanding sphere of control.

And (again the logic is crystal clear, not to say relentless) since Zee's power comes through dealing drugs, the next sub-section is a small treatise on the nature of "Drug Dealing," again illustrated with a rapid succession of narrated scenes and shots.

Rocket's personal story becomes interwoven with Zee's again (as it was when they were young) after a revenge feud involving the handsome "Knockout Ned" becomes such a war that it gets the favela violence into the papers and Rocket, who works as a delivery boy and befriends a photographer, does portraits of Zee and his gang that wind up on page one. True to the neatness of the whole movie's construction is the finale, which returns to the opening chase of the escaped chicken and spins out from there to a last shootout, bribes, and a takeover of power from Zee by The Runts, all of which Rocket gets on film, securing his hiring by the newspaper as a photographer.

"Cidade de Deus" comes out of a great tradition of Brazilian movies about favelas and street boys whose most notable example is Hector Babenco's 1981 "Pixote," but it is more a virtuoso piece of filmmaking than anything heretofore. It's not only a triumph of editing (and storytelling) but of casting: the youthful actors drawn from the actual milieu of the film are essential to its extraordinary energy and life.

May 4, 2003

oscar jubis
05-06-2003, 12:04 AM
I will read your review again whenever I want to incite my memory of this technical and narrative marvel. CITY OF GOD will likely sneak into my Top 10 by year's end on formal merits alone. My joy is tempered though by ethical concerns. The problem is not the depiction of violence per se but the glorification of it and the lack of a socio-political dimension. The characters in say..."Goodfellas" or "Pulp Fiction" are adults who made lifestyle choices. The hopeless favela youths are trapped in a cage, forced to fight for our amusement like the dogs in "Amores Perros".The film has no time to explore how and who put them there. The film has no time to show the crying mamas and the gravediggers. It's rushing to the next masterly shot massacre. Tell me CoG is not exploitative. Tell me the little kid's tears were fake, when Zee insists one of "the runts"gets shot.

Nowadays movies everywhere seem to be following the American mainstream, often using the exoticism of a location in place of star power. City of God is well scripted, fast, exploitative and cynical-like most gangster movies. The violence is overwhelming but the carnage is glamorized. With no precise reference to contemporary Brazil, the film invites us to contemplate from a safe distance, the terrible life of the slums, where poor people apparently kill each other with natural grace and wit The Chicago Reader

What City of God is missing that these great pictures(Bunuel's LOS OLVIDADOS and Babenco's PIXOTE) have is the sort of moral clarity and political focus that make for lasting emotional impact. City is shocking but not moving, at least not in proportion to its subject. The narrator speaks in a glib tone that adds unwelcome irony to a story that should move us to tears. There is a dangerous mythologizing of these young gangsters, a romanticizing of their camaraderie, and above all, a lack of any outsider's p.o.v., if only to add definition to the horrors on screen The San Francisco Chronicle

Chris Knipp
05-06-2003, 02:21 AM
These passages are interesting but mistaken. The boys glorify violence, but the movie doesn't. The narrator is someone who never participates directly in the violence, and whose aim is to get out of the favela and become a professional photographer, which he succeeds in doing. He is an insider, but he has detachment too. I see no evidence of a "glib tone": there's simply the enthusiasm and affection of anyone describing the colorful surroundings of his youth, and the economy and rapidity necessary to a narrator who has a lot to tell. That doesn't equal "glib." The "carnage" is perhaps briefly glamorous for the participants, for a while anyway, but that doesn't mean that the movie itself "glamorizes" that "carnage." It's obvious that the person who produces the most carnage, Lil' Dice AKA Lil' Zee, is a very sick guy from an early age.

The Chicago Reader passage contradicts itself: first it accuses City of God of "using the exoticism of a location in place of star power," then it says the movie has "no precise reference to contemporary Brazil." How can it be making a great use of location, and ignoring location? City of God is obviously profoundly steeped in its location, and that location is contemporary Brazil: it is madness or blindness not to see that. City of God "invites us to contemplate from a safe distance," the Chicago Reader says? Nonsense! We're in the thick of the action from start to finish. What kind of "safe distance" is this? This writer is seeing another movie in his head. "Mythologizing" and "romanticizing"? How so? Again, perhaps briefly for the participants there is this quality, but not from the viewers' point of view.

This idea that City of God lacks moral clarity seems to be belied by the fact that the new president of Brazil has pointed to it as showing a reality that people need to know about and deal with. I think what you and these writers really mean is that there is no heavy moralizing in the movie. It leaves you to make your moral judgments for yourself. And what are they? That it's wrong to kill people? That boys of twelve oughtn't to have guns? Is that really something we need to be told? Heavy moralizing is unnecessary. The events speak for themselves just as in any good documentary they do. City of God is really quite realistic, and the picture it paints is anything but pretty.

A film that is a particularly rich social document can always be read in a variety of ways. What does The Battle of Algiers mean?

oscar jubis
05-07-2003, 11:14 PM
Originally posted by Chris Knipp
These passages are interesting but mistaken. The boys glorify violence, but the movie doesn't.
The narrator is one of the boys, an insider. The film would have to provide an alternative p.o.v. to counter the prevailing tone. As it is, the boys' attitude towards violence permeates the film.

Much of the treachery and violence unfold in what could be described only as a party atmosphere (New York Times)

City of God is not an artistic heir to Pixote. It's essentially a tarted-up exploitation picture whose business is to make ghastly things fun (L.A. Weekly)

The work comes with its own built-in shield against feeling any character's difficulties too deeply, or for too long(Entertainment Weekly)

Originally posted by Chris Knipp The Chicago Reader passage contradicts itself. City of God is obviously profoundly steeped in its location, and that location is contemporary Brazil: it is madness or blindness not to see that. City of God "invites us to contemplate from a safe distance," the Chicago Reader says? Nonsense!
The key word is contemporary. The distance here is temporal as the events depicted end roughly 20 years ago. Makes it easy for folks to claim: "Oh, it's not that bad anymore" or some variation of "the conditions that created that horror have changed". Anyway, the film is calculated to awe not to move you. It could have done both.

I am made queasy by films that take impoverished young non-actors, then package the squalor and violence of their lives for the consumption of viewers safely removed from such realities (L.A. Times)

I would feel less "queasy" if the film were less eager to provide visceral thrills galore at any cost.

Chris Knipp
05-08-2003, 01:04 AM
OSCAR: It's always possible to pull out quotes from negative reviews to support a negative opinion (or vice versa), but in our effort to carry out a debate we're losing track of the fact that we were essentially in harmony about the movie a month ago and still are. You are firm in your opinions about the movie's limitations and I respect that. But please remember that my review is all about the technical accomplishment of the movie. It is this that we agreed on from the start: that Cidade de Deus excels and is brilliant technically, is a dazzling piece of filmmaking. I'm not trying to say it's a moral treatise. I just don't agree that it glorifies crime and violence when everybody but the narrator ends up in a pool of blood. As I said in my review, I don't think we need to be told that the state of affairs the movie depicts is undesirable. I don't agree with you that it's pure gangster genre, when it is so specific and unique in the world it depicts. You are right that the boys' view of violence, or their view of the gang life, permeates the movie, but you are twisting things when you say that Rocket is "one of the boys," because he only briefly dabbles in crime, and his aim from the beginning is to be a photographer. What other boy has any other aim besides dealing drugs? Only Rocket, and he is the narrator. His "p.o.v." is not the universal gangster one as you imply. His is the "p.o.v." of someone who sought to get out, who did get out, and who is narrating the story from a position outside the world he grew up in. This is exactly what you say he isn't doing. You can think the movie amoral if you like. You're not alone. What I think is more important in a film is whether we can care about the people when so many get killed and it all happens so fast. Some critics, such as Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, doubt that we can. I think we can; but we have to tune in, and I think we need to see the movie multiple times to do so. I asked about The Battle of Algiers. I would ask about Goodfellas. It has a scene in it that to me is more repugnant than anything in Cidade de Deus. Goodfellas to me is a repugnant movie. I find Cidade de Deus warm and full of life, Goodfellas cold, cynical, and ugly. Scorsese is a brilliant auteur but his work is cold and ugly. Strange though it may seem, Cidade de Deus is an affirmation of life. What about Pulp Fiction? Is that repugnant and amoral? No, it's fun. But of course, Cidade de Deus is based on fact, and Pulp Fiction is all a game. It is perhaps because of Cidade de Deus' claim to factuality that people are disturbed by it. But that is also another reason, in my view, why it is not ultimately a glorification of violence: because it's about real people, and therefore their violent ends are sad.

It's not my opinion but simply what I've read that in the last decade violence in the favela of Cidade de Deus has been quelled, but I've also read, in Roger Ebert's review, about the new president of Brazil hailing the movie as a valuable warning. So I don't think these are just things that it's nice to say if you want to claim something for the movie. Your theory that its being historical and not contemporaneous, because it ends well before the present, is a way of opting out of moral judgment, seems to me far-fetched.

You agree that this is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, but you balk when anyone says it's a masterpiece. Fine. I am not saying it's a masterpiece. That's a word I'm very stingy with. I really don't think we're so much in disagreement. These are quibbles. The Thread format is leading us astray: I say something, and you're asked to reply: "What do you say to this!?" You reply, and I'm asked to volley something back. I know we have much in common in our cinematic tastes, but of course we aren't going to agree 100%. I don't want to try to convince you of the total validity of my point of view, and you're not going to convince me that the movie is morally repugnant--not when the president of Brazil thinks all Brazilians should see it. Let's just respect each other's views and agree to disagree, while agreeing that our evaluations of the movie's worth are pretty similar. When you first commented on Cidade de Deus, I hailed your remarks with great respect.

oscar jubis
05-08-2003, 02:11 AM
As usual we agree more than should be expected about a film. When we disagreed, your posts helped me understand your perspective and that of others sharing your opinion (like Mr. Ebert and other notables). I don't think we have reached a dead end but maybe you do, and maybe we have. As far as quotes, I sometimes include them to stimulate discussion since after watching a film I often sample critical opinion.

I find it interesting you mention Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction because after watching CoG, I pondered why my enjoyment of those two films was not compromised by ethical pangs. My answer is that those films involve adults who could have opted out not caged kids. Similar ethical issues would be raised if kids this young were engaged in sexuality, not violence.

Chris Knipp
05-08-2003, 02:48 PM
We're never at a dead end. I just didn't want this to become a contentious debate. I take your point about the youth of the gangsters making the violence more worrying, the material more sensational. I too had been wondering why your ethical pangs were so selective: the age factor may be an explanation and a justification. Anyway I suggested Pulp Fiction is really fantasy and obviously very tongue in cheek, therefore meant to be wicked fun. I'm not sure what Goodfellas is. Cidade de Deus is, for all its flash, more documentary in tone, due to the subject matter and the neorealismo technique of using people from the poor milieu. It is undoubtedly both titillating and chilling that it's The Runts who take over at the end of the narrative of Cidade de Deus. As for film criticism, I'm totally into it, reading it and writing it, and I'm all in favor of consulting reviews, getting the range of opinion, and also picking up incidental information that the reviewers may have access to and we may not. I'd like to have more discussion of movie reviewing and movie reviewers on this site. But to me the impression you gave by quoting those passages was mainly that you were using them to support your own view, which you don't need to support: it's valid in its own right. It's not at all certain that people in Mafioso situations as in Goodfellas have the possibility of opting out, any more than the kids in City of God; and Rocket does manage to opt out.

It seems a shame to me that sentimentality and moralizing are no bar to universal recognition of a movie's merits, but the lack of them can be. And it is also a bit odd that this movie is considered "too violent" when its violence is true to life, whereas ultraviolent special effects movies are fine for kids to watch. I'd rather the violence we see be real and tragic, not a show for adult children.

What do you think of Black Hawk Down? I found it very demoralizing and completely without human content, though in its way extremely accurate. Maybe for it my reaction was more like yours with City of God: I wanted more commentary, more of a message, an anti-war message. We are always selective and arbitrary in our judgments but we have to trust our gut feelings or we're lost.

oscar jubis
05-10-2003, 02:19 AM
Originally posted by Chris Knipp
We're never at a dead end. I'm not sure what Goodfellas is. As for film criticism, I'm totally into it, reading it and writing it, and I'm all in favor of consulting reviews, getting the range of opinion, and also picking up incidental information that the reviewers may have access to and we may not. I'd like to have more discussion of movie reviewing and movie reviewers on this site. But to me the impression you gave by quoting those passages was mainly that you were using them to support your own view, which you don't need to support: it's valid in its own right.
Your impression is accurate.One of the reasons I survey(and quote) critical opinion is to find congruence with my views from at least a small minority. If I'm the only one who feels a certain way, then I want to know why. If I'm the only one who has ethical and moral concerns about a given film, perhaps I am more strait-laced and fastidious than I want to be, y'know. Besides, let's face it, I could never write as well as J. Hoberman or know as much about cinema and art criticism as J. Rosenbaum. They sometimes come up with ways to say exactly what I struggle to express clearly and I don't want to steal(See below).

Goodfellas and City of God's shared attribute is masterful narrative fluidity. Also, notice how they both use the surviving principal to provide voice-over narration in a similar tone. I'm thinking about the character played by Ray Liotta ,as a youth, telling us how the coolest dudes and sharpest dressers in Brooklyn were the mafiosi. What is Goodfellas? Jonathan Rosenbaum put it best:"a brilliant dark comedy about the casual acceptance of violence and betrayal whose sociological insights never go very far". In my opinion, Marty's love affair with rock'n'roll serves him well in this film.

Posted by Chris Knipp What do you think of Black Hawk Down? I wanted more commentary, more of a message, an anti-war message.
Black Hawk Down is indeed primarily a recreation of a military action, that refuses to pass judgement on anything or anybody. The film is clinical and dispassionate, but also exhibits remarkable spatial intelligence as the viewer is able to place all the players within downtown Mogadishu and follow the maneuvers. Mr. Scott is perhaps my favorite "mainstream" director: Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, The Duellists, Alien. But it's not quite the film those of us critical of military intervention wanted.

Chris Knipp
05-10-2003, 02:40 PM
But it's not quite the film those of us critical of military intervention wanted.

You got that right. But then I checked the book and it had little of merit critical of the operation either. "Downtown Mogadishu" is of course Rabat; but so be it. The movie may be a tour de force in a way but watching it is a totally demoralizing experience because there is nothing but reportage there, and the very few comments that are left hanging out are jingoistic. The US saw it as a disaster because 14 Americans died. A thousand Somalis did too; no matter. No comment.

I'm wondering why Rosenbaum, whom I consulted once due to your recommendation, never comes up on RottenTomaties or www.mrqe.com or IMDb "External Reviews." I ought not to say this, but I found him somewhat stolid. True, he is thorough--to a fault. Brevity is the soul of wit.

J. Hoberman is very clever not so say brilliant sometimes, but he can also be shortsighted and narrowminded and downright wrong too. I have come to admire Roger Ebert more than I used to as I've written more reviews and learned that summing up a film in a few words is a real art. Ebert isn't as clever as Hoberman but he is humane. He is too kind sometimes--he tends to like everything--but that means he is large spirited and that's cool. However, he leaves a string of factual errors in his wake, wrong dates, wrong facts. Latest I've seen he wrote that "Lawless Heart" takes place on the Isle of Man, whereas everybody else knew it was a small seaport town in Essex. How did he make this glaring error? He's so visible. He needs fact checkers.

"Masterful narrative fluidity" is a pretty slippery concept. I guess I know what you mean. But how do you prove it? What do you point to? Does it have something to do, incidentally, with good editing and a well-written voiceover narration?

In reading movie reviews I too look for validation of my reaction sometimes, particularly when I seem to be in the minority, but very often I am looking more for keen observations of points I've missed, and points other reviewers have missed. Example: reviews have praised the new X-Men movie, but it looks like only Jaret Keene of Las Vegas CityLife (May 2, 2003, posted on AlterNet.org) has pointed out that it is a "hardcore" and "balls on" depiction of political repression. Most just describe lively action and charm and control of special effects. Hmmm.... I wonder why?

oscar jubis
05-12-2003, 01:30 AM
Originally posted by Chris Knipp
"Masterful narrative fluidity" is a pretty slippery concept. What do you point to? Does it have something to do, incidentally, with good editing and a well-written voiceover narration?
It has to do with the pace at which information is provided in a film in order to engage the viewer and create an internal logic for the action on screen, while maintaining tension and anticipation. In cinema, narrative fluidity also refers to the search for dynamic images to communicate what is needed to move the plot along. I point to CoG keeping "a whole lot of balls juggling in the air at once"(cknipp) while maintaining "clarity of construction" as sign of narrative fluidity. This would also apply to Sayles' Lone Star.

In reading movie reviews, very often I am looking more for keen observations of points I've missed, and points other reviewers have missed.
Yes. Rosenbaum is the critic that most often has provided me with original insights and observations that stand the test of time. Godard has said he wishes France had a critic like him. Most reviews read like consumer reports. Cinema is art and Rosenbaum is an art critic. But he never forgot the fun he had watching movies at his family's theatre in Alabama. Of all his books, "Placing Movies:The Practice of Film Criticism" and "Movie Wars" are especially recommended.