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Thread: City Of God - better than Goodfellas

  1. #1
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    City Of God - better than Goodfellas

    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.
    Careful man! I gotta beverage here!!!
    :D

  2. #2
    SteveSW9 Guest

    I wish the best films did actually win Oscars...you said Goodfellas!!!

    Dances With Wolves was voted best film and Goodfellas lost out!
    Still think City of God will win?

  3. #3
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    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.....
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  4. #4
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    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.
    Perfume V - he tries, bless him.

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    Ciudade de Deus

    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.

  6. #6
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    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.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Right on.

  8. #8
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    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.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  9. #9
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    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.

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    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?!
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  11. #11
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    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.

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    PULP non FICTION

    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.

  13. #13
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    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.

  14. #14
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    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.

  15. #15
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    Where City of God excels

    [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

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