#316- City of God

Quick recap: Two boys grow up in the slums of Brazil. One has hopes of becoming a photographer while the other wants to rule the drug trade.

I’ll probably say it again, but this movie is bleak as HELL

Fun (?) fact: Almost all of the actors were recruited from real slums around Rio de Janeiro, including the actor who played Rocket. He actually grew up in the City of God. There’s a lot of great trivia about this movie but most of it gives away major plot points visit IMDb at your own risk.

Loosely based on a real story

My thoughts: Did I mention that City of God is bleak as hell? Not that I expected a comedy, mind you, but I was prepared for light drug trade,maybe a murder or two. Just enough so that I know I’d never want to go through that, but if for some reason I had to, I could make some serious bank (Is that a thing? Do people still say bank?).  Instead, I get a ridiculously sad, mostly true story about people who have no choice but survival, whatever that means. And I learned I wouldn’t last a day in the slums.

The plot was captivating and the cinematography had this brisk pace, kind of like Trainspotting does at times. I also loved that the story wasn’t straightforward, choosing instead to weave characters in and out. I’d get attached to them and then their story would be revealed and it was always tragic. Always. I’m surprised anyone survived in the film, especially towards the end when it was just a huge gun battle.

It’s really hard to write about this movie without giving anything away. There are a set of characters that pop up throughout the movie and at first they are just an annoyance. But as City of God goes on, they become more and more central to everything. But revealing who they are would reduce the impact of the film. So, just go watch it. But be prepared to be crushed. It’s a beautiful film in a way, and there’s a vibrant life to the slums. But it in no way glorifies the drug trade or glosses over how horrible it all was. And still is, in some ways.

Final review: 5/5. An essential film

Up next: Horrorfest!

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#308- Pickup on South Street

Quick recap: A pickpocket unknowingly intercepts some microfilm that was about to be given to the Communists. Now he must decide whether he is going to stay a two-bit felon or move on up to full on traitor status.

it’s a film-noir so expect plenty of sass from this dame

Fun (?) fact: In the French and German versions of the film, the dialog is changed completely and turns into a story about drug dealing.

My thoughts:Apparently, pickpocketing was one of the worst crimes one could commit in New York City in the early 50s. Skip McCoy, the thief with the heart of gold (or something) had already been convicted of stealing 3 times before and one more time would send him to the chair. When my mom’s wallet was stolen in Chicago a few weeks ago, we dutifully reported it even though we knew that sucker was long gone.

Pickup on South Street was a wild ride but overall a weak addition to the film-noir genre. There were several thrilling scenes and violence galore but a spying ring just felt like a letdown. The Communists were bad news but by the end this felt more like a propaganda film for the Red scare than a true film-noir. Part of my issue is that I never really bought into Skip McCoy as a hero. Not only was he a pickpocket but he was violent towards the girl he stole from and then made out with her too, which was I guess a thing back then. Candy, the love interest, had her own issues and I found myself internally screaming on her behalf for continuing to choose such bad guys to fall in love with. In the end, Skip and Candy end up together and we are made to believe this is a good thing but realistically we know there is no good way this relationship will go.

My favorite part of the film and the reason I liked the movie so much was because of Moe, the stool pigeon. I really wish they had cut out all of the Commie BS and mystery and focused on this woman. Moe spent her life selling ties as a front and keeping tabs on all the crooks and criminals. When the police needed help, they called her in and she set a price to give info. I loved the symbiotic relationship she had with the crooks and especially Skip. Neither were happy with the other’s life choices but both understood the need to make a living. For all this, Moe was saving up for a nice burial plot when she died. When of the Commies offed her, Skip paid for a funeral so she wouldn’t be sent to Potter’s field.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Destry Rides Again

#293- The French Connection

Quick recap: A pair of cops go after a drug smuggling cartel with a connection. A French connection, if you will.

I like my coffee like I like my cops- flawed, with a bit of sass

I like my coffee like I like my cops- flawed, with a bit of sass

Fun (?) fact: Lee Marvin, current Night Vale Resident, was initially offered the role of Doyle but turned it down because he didn’t like cops. He went on to star in other roles and is just about to celebrate his 30th birthday.

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My thoughts: The French Connection reminds me of my non-existent days in the hood, where the drugs were rampant and everyone was just trying to get by in Brooklyn. I’ve never really gotten into cop films or tv shows (except The Rockford Files because of that sweet French Horn solo), but it gives me the same nostalgia as most Westerns do.

Plot-wise, the movie is pretty direct. The cops are trying to catch the drug cartel, but the audience knows who it is because we’ve been watching them from the beginning. It was just a matter of the two finally meeting each other. I was really curious what The French Connection meant until the opening scene, which is set in France. That’s when I realized that there is LITERALLY a French connection. I always like titles that just tell it like it is.

I enjoyed Gene Hackman especially, but everyone did a fine job in the film. The story is based off of real events, although I think only loosely. The duo reminded me of a podcast I’ve recently gotten into, called Stranglers, about the Boston Strangler of the 60s. Although the story itself fascinates me, I mostly love hearing from these old retired cops and the lengths they went to in trying to catch the killer. Much like those cops, this drug case consumed Doyle, to his detriment. I won’t give away the final scene but it didn’t really surprise me. Throughout the movie I kept wavering between whether I should root for Doyle or not, but I think it’s just the way things were done back then. He really wanted to solve the case and get the drugs off the streets and was willing to do anything to make that happen.

I’ve described your stereotypical cop film so far,yet there is something about it that just stands out for some reason. For me, I think it’s the combination of gritty landscape and ominous music. I love films from this decade and The French Connection fits in perfectly for that time period. It’s also a good reminder that despite what certain politicians think, things have gotten better and the War on Drugs is over.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Boogie Nights

 

#291- Lone Star

Quick recap: Everyone has daddy issues- a deputy, the owner of an historic bar, an officer in the Army. Practically the whole town could use some counseling.

daddy issues, both of them.

daddy issues, both of them.

Fun (?) fact: The movie playing when young Sam and Pilar are making out is Black Mama White Mama, a nod to Pilar’s secret heritage.

It's Bailey from Grey's Anatomy! She probably has daddy issues also, although it's never stated outright

It’s Bailey from Grey’s Anatomy! She probably has daddy issues also, although it’s never stated outright

My thoughts: SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. 

I watched this movie almost a week ago and, except for the DVD skipping at the end, had a pretty uneventful time. I started writing my review the next night, as I am wont to do and as I looked up trivia, I noticed people discussing the ending and debating what happened. It was very obvious to me that the two main characters ended up together and everything was nicely tied up so what’s the controversy? That’s when I realized that the DVD skipped the exact moment Sam revealed that he and his lover Pilar were Luke and Leia-ing it up as half brother and sister. And in the end decided ‘screw it!’ and stayed together. The lesson of this tale is that maybe it’s time for the DVD to die out. It makes me wonder how many critical scenes I have missed in the past due to a scratched disc.

So, weird French Film twist ending aside the movie was just ‘meh’ for me. The bulk of Lone Star is about Sam coming to terms with who his father, a police officer, really was. The town saw him as a saint but Sam only knew him as a person he clashed with in his teenage years and didn’t feel close to. There is one scene when young Sam and Pilar are at a drive-in and the police break into the car and separate the two of them. Grownup Sam uses this scene as a way to show how strict his father was, but knowing the ending that they are actually siblings, totally makes sense why he wouldn’t want them together. And then there’s this mystery about an evil, racist deputy that goes missing and Sam thinks his father may have killed him, which would prove he wasn’t such a good guy after all. But really, that proves nothing because the deputy in question murdered a lot of innocent people and needed to be stopped.

There were all these other characters in the town that had their own issues with family and everyone is of course connected somehow in the end. Most of the time I felt like I was watching a television season than a movie. Maybe that would’ve been a better format for this story because it just dragged on and on at times. There were a few revelations that I would label shocking, but I could see them rolled out as a season finale or something, not all thrown into one heap.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: The Graduate