It's a bit weird to think that here we are in the fourth quarter of 2007 and I have been to the movies, like, once this year--whereas in days of auld it was not unusual for me to venture to the picture shows two, three, sometimes four times a week! Now, I've come to casually detest the movie theater with the skyrocketing ticket prices, the unruly crowds, the uncomfortable seats, the ear-assaulting volume, the commercials that hold you hostage during the previews... Give me the relative comfort and control of the home-viewing experience any day.
Thing is, I really haven't been doing much of that lately, either: A knee-high stack unwatched DVDs has accumulated on my floor over the course of the year, including two Netflix movies that I've had at home for the past two months. Two months! It used to be a religious point of duty for me to turn those things around in 24 hours or less! (That's just me and my innate Igbo obsession with maximizing value, I guess; I feel like I'm not making the most of the subscription if I'm receiving less than eight movies a week.)
I hate to admit it to myself, but it seems that the interminable, soul-fraying process of producing a movie (and yes, we are still doing that even though I haven't talked about it in ages) might be dampening my passion for watching the darn things recreationally.
This trend must be reversed. Thus have I resolved to watch a whole gang of flicks before the end of the year. Two in particular that I'm raring to see right now both come from Brazil.
Tata Amaral's Antônia: O Filme, lists among its co-producers Fernando Meirelles, who is best known to international viewers as the director of the modern classic City of God. Like that film, Antônia is a gritty drama following the lives of youths in Brazil's favelas, but where Meirelles' examined the pathology of violence afflicting the manchildren in a particularly notorious Rio de Janeiro slum, Amaral turns an eye toward the world of lowerclass young women from the outskirts of grey, industrial São Paulo struggling to make it in the music world. Real-life Brazilian R&B and hip-hop performers Negra Li, Cindy Mendes, Leilah Moreno and Quelynah bring the film's eponymous singing quartet to life onscreen and music veterans like rap pioneer Thaíde and funk queen Sandra de Sá show up in supporting roles.
(I couldn't embed the subtitled trailer, but you can watch it here on the US website. You might want to take a look at the Brazilian site, too.
Antônia has has been a smashing success in Brazil and has (again like City of God) inspired a popular TV series reuniting the same cast.
At first, I kinda second-guessed myself about wanting to see this movie; is this, after all, really the kind of thing I'm into? If you were to strip away the "exotic" setting, you'd pretty much be left with Honey, Save The Last Dance, Glitter, or some other music 'n' tears chick melodrama about the redemptive power of following your dreams. But on the real though, what would you want to do that for?
In the past, I've occasionally had to fend off accusations of being a pretentious, latte-sipping hipster who watches foreign films "just because they're foreign." If I had a nickel for every time I heard "You wouldn't watch that movie if it had the exact same story but was made in America"... Well, I would have a big ol' bag of nickels.
There's probably some truth to the allegation... But ultimately, it's a rather simpleminded criterion (no pun), isn't it? After all, there is so more to a movie than just "the story." Hell, working in the field, I have realized that a lot of times it is one of the least concerns, because most of the time, people watch movies for all sorts of reasons that don't have a good goshdarn to do with "the story": The special effects are bananas. Tom Hanks is likeable. It's supposed to have a really cool car chase in it. That famous director directed it. That popular comedian is in it. Clive Owen exposes his buttocks. Yuen Woo-Ping coordinated the fight scenes. It features beautiful location shots of Bora Bora. It's based on that video game I like. Jessica Alba's body double exposes her buttocks.
I do often find myself attracted to movies that are set in foreign locales, and preferably offering something of a street-level POV rather than the exoticizing gaze of the tourist. And what's wrong with that? Since the introduction of synchronized sound, cinema has become seen as some sort of adjunct to the theatre, but it's still really a completely different kind of animal. At the heart of it, cinema is not so much about "the story" as it is about the spectacle: People go to the movies because they like to look at cool shit. And for one such as myself, "cool shit" includes Brazilian urban settings and nubile negras. So sue me.
Speaking of cool shit to look at, why don't you feast your peepers on this trailer right chea:
I first caught wind of Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) a few weeks ago when Afflicted Yard referenced it, but I didn't even realize it was a real, actual movie until Undercover Black Man bigged it up. A five-year labor of love by the young American filmmaker Jason Kohn, Manda Bala is a multilevel documentary about corruption in Brazil, including a disturbing glimpse into the booming kidnapping industry. Kohn is a protege of Errol Morris and clearly adheres to the old master's ethos of infusing the documentary with as much pure cinematic punch as any fictional feature, so if nothing else, we can expect it to be cool to look at (and to listen to--the soundtrack is blazing). Manda Bala (Send A Bullet) is currently in limited release.* I guess you can find showtimes at the movie's website.
Oh yes... One more Brazilian movie just caught my notice, though I have no idea when it's opening round these parts: Tropa de Elite, the sophomore feature from José Padilha, who directed the acclaimed documentary, Bus 174:
Even without subtitles, it looks riveting!
*I just realized that the fact that Manda Bala opened here about two weeks ago somehow escaped my notice and it looks like it's already gone! Oh well... Guess I'll have to wait for the DVD (which is just fine by me, of course).