City of God (2002): A Tragedy of Politics, War and Corruption

City of God Poster

    I was asked recently how what I consider the perfect film by one of my closest friends and mentors. My reply was a movie without any cons at its core but that it’s also a bit contextual too. “City of God” is a film I’ve seen twice and when I first saw it in High School it was a little traumatizing, the second time watching it though, this is a film that does everything right. There is a diverse range of characters and everyone you get to know has fascinating motivations and the fact that this is a movie with consequences.

   “City of God” was directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Katia Lund and written by Bráulio Mantovani based off the book by Paulo Lins and produced by Andrea Barata Ribeiro, Mauricio Andrade Ramos, Elisa Tolomelli and Walter Salles.

    The story is around those in the life of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) as he recounts how he ended up in the middle of a standoff between Lil’Ze (Leandro Firmino) and his gang and the police, as a recounts as a journalist who has reentered the city from his childhood, the “City of God.” From here the past is recounted from “The Tender Trio” one of whom was his older brother, to the rise of Lil’Ze to becoming boss of the “City of God” and his eventual fall and all the connections between the major players in the “City of God.”

The Pros: Writing – The writing is sharp and I love how it is broken up into chapters. We get the story of Rockets path and his brothers story in the “Tender Trio,” “Knockout Ned’s Story” “Rise of Lil’Ze” and others. All aspects of the “City of God” are explored. There was a reason it won best screenplay.

Editing – The editing is sharp and so much is portrayed when so little is shown. Be it Rocket running and us seeing through the lens of the camera or a rape scene that is only shadow and screams…it’s horrifying and you get the horror in as little time as possible. The point is made and you see just how much of a monster Lil’Ze is and what Knockout Ned and his wife felt in those moments. It deserved the awards it won for editing.

Cinematography – César Charlone did an amazing job on the cinematography! Rio is shot in bright sun or darkness with layers of light. It feels like a city on the edge and you can see the desperation of the city. We see how lived in the city is and the desperation of the people. So much is potrayed in so little and this why Charlone won an award for what he did with the cinematography.

The Characters – Most of the characters are complex, and all of them have motivations. It is that that makes a character. No one stays the same and the events that happen change the characters and make them softer (Benny falling in love) or harder (Benny’s death and Lil’Ze cruelty growing) that you can’t help but be drawn in, even if some like Lil’Ze aren’t sympathetic.

“The Tender Trio” – Shaggy (leader who is killed by the cops after he falls in love and tries to escape), Goose (Rocket’s brother who tries to get out but is killed by Lil’Ze when he says he’ll tell and is done with crime after the snitch kills the wife that Goose was sleeping with) and Clipper who joins the church after an injury and the massacre that Lil’Ze commits in the Love Motel.

Carrot – Matheus Nachtergaele is wonderful as Carrot, one of the lower level drug lords who is friends with Benny and pretty calm. He never tries to kill Lil’Ze unless Blacky was trying to kill him under orders but due to him killing Blacky I think he was counting on negotiation until Knockout Ned becomes his partner against Lil’Ze and he finally has a chance against Lil’Ze and his control of the city. He is eventually caught by the cops in the final standoff.

Angélica – Angélica is Benny’s love interest and Rocket’s friend. She also has awareness too and sees how bad things are in the city even if things are stable under Lil’Ze’s tyranny. Alice Braga is wonderful in this role. It is her compassion that changes Angélica and she is the motivation for Rocket to become a photographer and how he gets involved in the gangs to get her drugs early on.

Benny – Phellipe Haagensen plays Benny who is Lil’Ze’s childhood friend and partner in crime who eventually becomes a hippy and is loved by all in the “City of God.” He is the one person Lil’Ze cares for and that is because Benny cares. Benny always uses diplomacy and after he falls in love with the woman that Rocket loved named Angélica. His final scene is fighting with Lil’Ze over the camera to give Rocket before he is shot by Blacky. He goes from the most selfish character to the most selfless character, his arc is opposite of Knockout Ned as he becomes the pacifist while Ned becomes the conqueror.

Knockout Ned – Knockout Ned is played by Seu Jorge and is one of my favorite characters. He is a peaceful man and doesn’t even want to do violence against Lil’Ze after Lil’Ze has him strip naked during Benny’s Farewell. It is only after Lil’Ze kills members of his family and rapes his wife that he becomes the paladin and seeks revenge against Lil’Ze. He starts out not wanting to kill innocents but eventually that becomes the exception as he gets fully invested in becoming a hood and feeding the war against Lil’Ze. This eventually leads to him getting shot as the kid whose father he kills in a holdup shoots him.

The Runts Gang – The Runts gang act as a unit and are loyal to each other. This leads to them turning on Lil’Ze for killing one of their own after Lil’Ze loses everything and the price Lil’Ze paid for shooting him in the foot and killing another of them. They are all sociopathic and live for chaos and anarchy and are the ultimate symbol and reality of the desperate, armed orphans.

Lil’Ze – Leandro Firmino plays adult Lil’Ze and a different actor plays the broken kid who is a bit of sociopath since the beginning as he shoots up a love motel and from there makes his start with Benny robbing from others. From here he gets into the drug trade and becomes the most successful drug lord in the “City of God.” Eventually his selfishness devours him as he rapes Ned’s wife leading Knockout Ned’s war to lead to his end and his killing by the Runts as he killed one of theirs. He dies with nothing and in the end couldn’t even support his friend Benny leaving, the only one he truly cared about.

Rocket – Alexandre Rodrigues plays adult Rocket who is a photographer working for the paper in the “City of God.” The story is told from his perspective and is based on the events in his life. He is a great character as we see he is too kind to be a hood. In the chapter “Flirting With Crime” he helps all the people he meant to hurt and eventually becomes a journalist. Part of him being put on the right path was his brother Goose warning him against a life of crime since he knew it was empty and usually short, even if it paid. Rocket’s arc as a whole is growing up he wants to get with Angélica which connects him with Blacky and later once again Lil’Ze and Benny and his becoming a photographer leads to Lil’Ze respecting him and his sweet nature is why Benny likes him. He is the character who is the observer and documenter of everything and his ending is documenting Lil’Ze’s murder and the corruption among the cops when they shakedown Lil’Ze for his money. His story shows everything he cares about how so much of his motivation isn’t just to live, but his love for the city he comes from, “The City of God.”

Consequences – Everything has consequences, Lil’Ze failure to pay the gun merchant leads the police to turning on him and shaking him down for all his money, Knockout Ned’s killing of a police offer leads to the boy’s son killing him and others we see before like Rocket’s first camera and the camera that Benny was going to give him eventually leading to Lil’Ze treating him with respect and having him take pictures of his gang for his publicity for the gang war. It’s wonderful and we see things carry over when the Runts kill Lil’Ze since he had killed one of their to try and scare them. Consequences are what make the film beautiful and matter since reality has consequences.

The Themes – The themes are those of consequences, the cycle of revenge is a never ending one, how desperation leads to crime and that there will be people who take advantage of that desperation to their own ends (Carrot and Lil’Ze, and the Police).

The Message – The message is that you do have a choice and that choices have consequences. Rocket stays out of crime and from it is eventually able to get out, but the choices made by corrupt cops fed the cycle of violence and random innocents are killed on multiple occasions by the gangs and police which breeds the ongoing cycle of violence.

   This film did so much right and even though it is long it never felt long. The action is constant and characters are always changing and relating to one another. We see the choice of not going into crime makes Rocket a good guy and how the attempt to kill Lil’Ze lead to Lil’Ze total downfall when he lost his conscience he had in Benny. No character stays the same and the message of how revenge always comes back in the end and how the cycle of corruption continues and may exist for a reason (lack of opportunities, stability when a single gang lord is in control). The fact that it is based off real events also lends power to the story and you can this is reflected in the cinematography and editing where you are in the world and feel for everyone, even the Monsters like Lil’Ze.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The perfect film from “Foreign Film Week.”

“Puella Magi Madoka Magica” Assessment – A Tale of Consequences and Empowerment

Group_pic_last_scene

“Puella Magi Madoka Magica” is one of my favorite animes. At some point in the future I will review the films tied to the series, even though the series feels done and it doesn’t really need anymore stories told. It is this complete arc that is one of the things I loved about this series, the others being the message of empowerment of girls, the subversion of shonin anime and that the characters and actions that have consequences.

The story is really strong. In it we see that this is a world that is fully fleshed off. Kyubey’s people make deals with girls to give them powers so that they can collect the energy to trade in the Galaxy and keep Entropy from destroying the Universe. They aren’t human so they don’t understand emotions and they don’t even have individuality so they don’t understand sacrificing for another, Kyubeys seem to be one being that is a species. Within that the Magical Girls are used by the Kyubeys until the cycle is finally broken by Homura and Madoka whose wishes literally change everything. Homura creates a “Groundhog Day” situation where she creates many timelines to try and save Madoka. This wish gives Madoka the the magical potential to wish away wishes and change the Universe completely in ways that Homura’s wish never could. It’s a fascinating story and a great sci. fi.

The other message is the empowerment of girls and women. All the main characters are girls. There is Kyoko who is the rebel who actually cares, Homura who is the shy girl who becomes the stoic action hero, Mami who is the mentor to all of them in the first timeline and Sayaka who is the tragic lover and paladin. All of them move on and grow though through sacrafice or Madoka’s changing of the world. Sayaka moves on and is happy for her friend and the boy she had a crush on and before that she had changed Sayaka who had only cared about herself until Sayaka’s self sacrifice taught her that people are worth fighting for, especially Sayaka. All of them are empowered with Madoka and Homura’s arc being the most complete with Madoka literally becoming God and becoming greater than the self and Homura becoming the guardian of humanity and caring about more than just Madoka because of Madoka’s sacrifice. Through these arcs all of them become more than who they were before.

There are men like Madoka’s father and Sayaka’s crush but they are side characters who are there to show us the perspectives of the women. It’s a nice subversion of what I usually find in Shonin anime where it is all about the men and their relationships. Women serve the role of helping them grow, in “Madoka Magica” it is the reverse and I hope we can see more stories grow out of this.

I loved the characters in this! Even Kyubey was enjoyable as It showed it wasn’t primarily selfish when it lived in Madoka’s world and found another way to collect Energy and didn’t even think that the prior universes existed (showing the limitedness of the species). Kyoko was my favorite though, she went from antagonist to the greatest ally of Homura and Madoka and truly loved Sayaka. The main characters are neither good nor bad, they are complex. Madoka is the idealist but she also loses sight of individuals just like she can see friends but lose sight of the bigger picture. All the characters are complicated and flawed and it is what makes it such a great anime.

The final part of the series that made it truly remarkable was that actions had consequences. A  Magical Girl will eventually become a wish because every wish and hope has despair as the reaction. This lead to Magical Girls throughout history become Witches and to Homura’s “Groundhog Day” to save her friends but most of all Madoka. She isn’t able to change things though, but her constant trying makes Madoka have the greatest Magic Potential of any Magical Girl which allows her to change the Universe and become more than she ever was before. The consequence of this is she is wiped from history. The consequence of Homura tryin to save Madoka is she becomes hardened and appears uncaring because she has lost Madoka and the other so many times and we see it on the smaller level with Sayaka losing any chance of a relationship when she realizes the nature of what she is and that her soul is no longer a part of her because she was turned into a Magical Girl. It’s sad and powerful. This is a story of consequences and it makes the story matter. There are no happy endings, there is always loss of some sort and every universe has humans despair…within Madoka’s new world, Wraiths now haunt the Earth as that symbol.

If you like anime you should check out this series. It isn’t large, which is what I was looking for when I was seeking requests for the anime series I’d be reviewing…and I’ll be reviewing another series soon as well. I’ll leave it a surprise for now but it also will not be too long either and hopefully it will become a favorite too. It is the powerful stories that have the chance to inspire people and to at the very least give people the chance to learn something about themselves and about the world. This is one of those types of animes and is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.

The 12th Doctor – Series 2, Episode 12 – “Death in Heaven” – Of Lies, Consequences and an Impressive Finale

Doctor Who Death in Heaven

This was a great episode. The episode had consequences which changed circumstances for everyone and an emotional depth to it, in any of the scenes that had named characters. Suffice, to say it has been a while I’ve been this impressed by a finale in the new series of Doctor Who.

“Death in Heaven,” like “Dark Water” was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay.

SPOILERS ahead

The episode picks up with the Cybermen in the middle of London before UNIT arrives on the scene causing them to each go to a different city. From here the story unfolds as the Doctor is made President of the Human Race and must work to figure out Missy’s plan with the Cybermen before it is too late.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: UNIT – It is great seeing UNIT back! Especially Osgood and Kate Stewart. It is here we learn that they had a plan put in place to make the Doctor the President of the Human Race since he was the best at facing alien threats. This was cool and showed how UNIT and Torchwood mistakes had been learned from of treating the Doctor like a prisoner or threat.

Kate Stewart – She is only in the first half of the episode but she’s there helping the Doctor figure things out before the Cybermen attack their plan where they are holding Missy. she falls but is saved by her father who was resurrected as a Cybermen along with the rest of the dead. Jemma Redgrave is fantastic.

Osgood – A small part which ends up being a sad part, as her brains draw the Doctor in and he promises her to be a companion for her bucket list. Missy, not liking this kills Osgood shortly after, having broken out of her restraints. RIP Osgood. This episode had consequences out the door. Ingrid Oliver really was a great character. In this episode she had a bow tie to replace the large scarf and tells the Doctor, “Bow ties are cool.”

The Cybermen – The Cybermen are tools of the Master and only function as tools, but they are horrifying. All the dead throughout time made slaves by her manipulations and used to force the Doctor to make a choice. Use them to conquer in order to save Earth or surrender. The Doctor in the end chooses neither when he realizes he isn’t a good man, he’s just an idiot passing through and throws the Cyber Control device to Danny who is a Cyberman with emotions who than uses it to have all the Cybermen explode, destroying the rain that would have turned the living into Cybermen. They were a great threat this episode and they only failed as a weapon because of the Master’s need to prove a point to the Doctor.

Danny Pink – Danny makes amends, he saves Clara as a Cyberman and after his sacrifice he sends in the child he accidentally killed during the war. His ending was perfect as he didn’t get happily ever after and used the Master Cyber Control device to help someone he’d killed and someone who had much longer to live. His good bye to Clara is touching as well as when he is asking her to turn off his emotion because the pain of being a Cyberman who is undead and being second to the Doctor is too much. He calls out the Doctor though on the Doctor refusing to make a choice…the Doctor is an officer still even though he denies it for being the man who runs and tries and helps.

Clara Oswald – We see her be super clever here and learn Missy is the one who kept them together because Clara’s the control freak and the Doctor resists it and Missy thought it’d be perfect for making the Doctor like her. Clara shows the depths of her rage after Danny’s sacrifice when she almost kills Missy before the Doctor takes the weapon. She says good bye to Danny and realizes that she wasn’t the best partner. It is sad and it ends with lying as the Doctor believes her and Danny are together and she allows him to live that illusion, just as he lies to her in turn.

Missy / The Master – Missy wants her friend back, conquering the world is boring and it takes a Good Man to conquer the world. She tells the Doctor about prisoners in Dalek Camps and other things and tells him the Cybermen army is his so they can save the Universe together. It is a brilliant mind game. We also learn she left Gallifrey during the 50th Anniversary since the Doctor’s had left a brief window open. She than teases Gallifrey still being around but Gallifrey is in fact gone or she was lying about it being back in it’s original location. This Master is the greatest threat, as she kills Osgood, Danny by putting him in the situation, a lot of UNIT and hurts the Doctor and Clara before Cyberman Brig kills her. I’m hoping she isn’t gone…this is probably my favorite version of the Master. She’s crazy, fun and dangerous and plays up the emotional connection to the Doctor better than many before. She wants to prove that he is like her and in the process have her childhood friend back. It is terrifying, beautiful and sad and really goes into the psychological makeup of what makes the Master the Master. Michelle Gomez truly owns this role.

The Doctor / The 12th Doctor – The Doctor is powerless for much of this episode and it is when he gives up power to Danny and the Brig (his companions) that he wins. I don’t think he realizes that part Missy’s point about him having an army was his companions, but I think he might have realized it too. After Missy’s death by the Brigadier he goes to the location that Missy mentions and finds nothing even as he is lying to Clara about finding it so visits will be less. It’s powerful and is illustrated when they are hugging and he explains why he doesn’t like hugs, “Hugs are a chance to hide your face.” Capaldi owns this role and I’m glad his run isn’t over. I just hope Missy can come back, as death has never stopped the Master before.

The Ending – Danny gets closure with the child he killed, Clara and the Doctor live a lie and pretend everything is alright but are finally about to hold and comfort each other, Missy is stopped and Gallifrey is gone or Missy lied, we learn that Missy was the mysterious woman who brought the Doctor and Clara together (and gave Clara the Doctor’s number), people died (named characters at that) and weren’t magicked back to life. I loved this finale. It had consequences and explored relationships deeply. This is the best Moffat final since Series 5, lets see if he can keep this up.

The Cons: 3W – 3W is kind of left on the wayside, we just learn the first Cybermen were probably rich who’d feared dying who had chosen to become Cybermen. How they’re used isn’t bad, but they’re gone because they aren’t really brought up again in any meaningful way.

Death of Missy – Not sure if it’s permanent or not (this is Doctor Who) but I want this Master back. I get the poetic justice in the Brig staying the Doctor’s hand from killing her and the Doctor being willing to kill her to save Clara’s soul…but his attachment to the Master? Why didn’t he go more into his own thoughts? That was what I’d have liked to see more. Missy spoke her thoughts far more than the Doctor in regards to their relationship. She is the Master, so she might be back though, death has never stopped the Master before.

Like I said before, this is my favorite finale of the Moffat years since Series 5 and I’d rate it on part or better than Davies’s Master Arc…I’ll have re-watch it though before I can say that for certain though. Regardless, it is worth watching for the companion drama, UNIT drama and of course Missy and the Master. It was these things that made this episode shine. I just hope the Christmas special doesn’t take away the consequences we experienced…Danny should stay dead as should Osgood, they are human and not Time Lords who have broken the laws of death before.

Final score for “Death in Heaven”: 9.8 – Solidly amazing.

Final Score for “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” and finale as a whole: 9.5, weaker but great start and an amazing and powerful finish.