a pretty picture: Rodrigues in City of God.
the Streets Have No Name
By Shawn Stone
by Fernando Meirelles
Set in Rio de Janeiro’s most violent slum—the ironically named
City of God—Fernando Meirelles’ dynamic film is a cinematically
ecstatic chronicle of a neighborhood that goes from bad to
worse over a span of three decades. (By the end of the picture,
the City of God resembles one of Dante’s lower circles in
hell.) A volatile mix of real personalities, actual events,
folklore and mythic narrative flourishes, City of God
is by turns shocking, bloody, hilarious and tragic.
The story is told through the eyes of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues),
a would-be photographer whose brother died a gangster’s death.
The film opens with a virtuoso chase sequence that starts
with street kids and a chicken, and ends with the chicken
and Rocket pinned between ridiculously well-armed gangsters
and cops. The rest of the movie is told in flashback. The
joke is that when, at the end of the film, the story catches
up to the events leading to the opening sequence, the audience
is so inured to fate’s capriciousness in the City of God we
expect everyone will die—cops, gangsters, Rocket and
A classic outsider, the good-natured Rocket couldn’t turn
to crime in his worst moment; there’s a sweet sequence in
which he intends to commit a stick-up, but can’t because everyone
he meets (a friendly transit worker, a beautiful girl and
a guy with good pot) is too nice to rob. Most everyone else
in the film is some kind of thief or killer.
The social texture is richly evoked. One of the first gangs—“the
Tender Trio”—are teens with more bravado than brains, and
a sensibility more akin to Robin Hood than Tony Montana. To
them, it’s like the Wild West; Meirelles underlines this with
the then-dusty, open vistas of the neighborhood’s first incarnation.
Hardly more than boys, they hold up propane-gas trucks and
supermarkets, throwing cash to the crowds and dreaming of
bigger and better crimes. As the ghetto becomes more densely
developed, taking on a forbidding urban feel, innocents like
these are displaced by far more ruthless—and even younger—criminals
with a grasp of both organized terror and the economics of
the emerging drug trade.
From The Public Enemy to Menace II Society,
poverty and a society in disarray have made for trenchant
social commentary. In this tradition, City of God makes
its points beautifully. Poverty breeds crime; crime begets
a breakdown in civil order and opens up a variety of lucrative
career paths to vicious sociopaths. Only one aspect is missing—women’s
lives in this world. As in traditional Hollywood gangster
films, they’re strictly objects of love, lust or violence.
Early on, the presence of a tart-tongued gangster girl (the
vibrant Roberta Rodriguez Silvia) is refreshing, but she quickly
disappears from the picture, and no other woman takes her
If its believable social milieu were all the film accomplished,
City of God would be interesting. It is also delirious
entertainment: It moves like a high-speed freight train. Though
heavily loaded with characters, incidents, flashbacks and
flashforwards, City of God is lightning-paced and utterly
purposeful. The combination of assured storytelling and indelible,
kinetic images keeps the audience fully engaged over the entire
two hours. It’s just great filmmaking.
Time Is Killin’ Me
by William Friedkin
Don’t be taken in by the particulars—Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio
Del Toro go mano a mano under William Friedkin’s direction.
Yes, The Hunted is a fast-moving, graphically primitive
actioner boasting Friedkin’s French Connection-style
chase scenes, here occurring on foot through the scenic forests
and cities of Oregon, and with knives instead of guns. But
that’s all it is. Jones is the manhunter and Del Toro is the
killing machine who slips a gear. Their conflict is simple,
bloody and meaningless. The screenwriting team of David and
Peter Griffiths have come up with half a movie between them.
The opening sequence is set in the ethnic slaughterhouse of
Kosovo, 1999. Aaron Hallam (Del Toro), a U.S. assassin, infiltrates
the Serbian command post and stealthily butchers the head
executioner. He later suffers from “battle stress,” and back
in the States, he stalks and kills two elk hunters, apparently
confused by their high-tech scope rifles. As L.T. (Jones),
his former instructor, says, “The physical part of killing
is easy. The difficult part is turning it off.” An interesting
comment considering the recent build-up in CIA Special Forces
operating outside of military jurisdiction, and the idea of
covert operatives responding irrationally to fears of terrorism
at home is an intriguing one. But Aaron, it turns out, is
just a wacky, if lethal, animal-rights crusader. L.T., now
a wildlife conservationist in remote British Columbia, is
brought out of retirement by the CIA to track Aaron down before
the Feds nab him. Connie Nielson is the FBI agent who gets
the film’s best two minutes when she tracks the tracker with
a simple subterfuge.
Hunted is too mechanical to bear comparison to The
Fugitive, although Aaron does give the feds, the CIA and
L.T. the slip with skillful wiliness. Why Aaron’s letters
asking for help were never answered is never addressed. Instead
of motivation, the film relies on groaningly obvious symbolism,
such as the sight of Aaron hiding behind a concrete fountain
(the waterfalls of the urban jungle). Instead of a plot, the
film has a song, the biblical Johnny Cash version of Dylan’s
“Highway 61.” The song ties in with L.T.’s fatherly attitude
toward his “boys,” as he calls his trainees, and provides
a coda that substitutes for an ending. Before that final lyric,
however, the film’s bloody literalmindedness climaxes with
a prolonged knife fight. He who lives (covertly) by the fillet
blade, apparently, dies by the fillet blade—although you won’t
find that one in the CIA training manual.
by Harald Zwart
It’s easy to wax nostalgic about the James Bond films of the
’60s. Not only did they feature the oh-so-suave Sean Connery,
who, not incidentally, acted the part as if he got the joke,
but the crises and the gizmos used to quell them were decidedly
simple, straight out of any teenager’s seventh-period fantasies,
and not so much a love affair with hard, crystalline technology.
So it’s rather fitting that the latest, quasi-installment
of that series is Agent Cody Banks, in which teenager
Frankie Muniz, playing the title role, is an undercover CIA
agent trying to save the world from sinister types Brinkman
(Ian McShane) and François (Arnold Vosloo) with an old-fashioned
mix of suction-cup sneakers, magic watches and rocket-powered
skateboards and snowboards.
The glitch is, he’s got to get close to the girl, Natalie
(Hilary Duff), and while Cody may be fearless when it comes
to rescuing a tot trapped in a careening car, his attempts
at conversation with the opposite sex result in their asking
him whether he’s in special ed.
Directed by Harald Zwart, Agent Cody Banks is a smart,
well-paced and surprisingly funny homage to both spy films
like the ’60s Bonds and matinee fodder like The
Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. What works best about the
film is that its fantasy is precisely the type that most teens,
indeed, most youngsters, can and do envision. Much like the
more imaginative Spy Kids series, Cody Banks
features likeable, smart youths working with their wiser adult
associates, and yet having to deal with mundane things like
homework, chores and Drivers’ Ed.
Muniz is well-cast, as is Duff, who is no dimwitted damsel
in distress. The pair’s dialogue is quite funny, especially
when Cody makes his initial, tongue-tied forays into friendship.
The movie’s best surprise, however, is Angie Harmon as Cody’s
handler/mentor Ronica Wells. If the powers-that-be ever attempt
another Avengers movie, Harmon is perfectly poised
to play the indominatable, yet highly fashionable, Emma Peel.
Agent Cody Banks tiptoes into naughty territory when
Harmon, dressed in a knockout red pantsuit and stiletto heels,
comes to retrieve her protégé from the locker room. Temperatures
rise as Cody’s friends do their wise-ass best to simultaneously
impress and intimidate this imposing goddess, who finishes
them off in short order. Ronica’s developing friendship with
Cody is believable, so much so that this viewer and her would-be
secret agents actually hope for a follow-up adventure.
by Glen Morgan
a remake of the 1971 horror film of the same name, is an indefatigably
unpleasant little movie. Like its nearly worthless predecessor,
it tells the story of Willard Stiles, a young man who conscripts
an army of willing rats into avenging the thousand insults
and humiliations heaped on him by a hostile boss and domineering
mother, who seems to be the living incarnation of Psycho’s
Unlike the original, the remake builds no empathy for the
ghoulish Willard, who looks like he squeezed from between
the pages of Edward Gorey or Charles Addams. The cartoon image
is worsened by Crispin Glover’s over-the-top performance.
It is a far scream from the delicate, nuanced work of Bruce
Davidson’s Willard in 1971. Making a very limited cameo by
way of a photograph and a painting, Davidson “appears” as
Willard’s dead father (whose death must have been a liberation
from his twisted family). The only face in the film that looks
truly human or humane, the Davidson reference only highlights
the deficiencies of Glover’s work.
The new film does excel or exult in creating an atmosphere
of decay, which is lovingly sustained from the opening credits
to the dumb denouement. It would seem that the production
designer, director of photography and makeup artist must have
had perversely good times supplying details to make audiences
feel queasy, and it is difficult to name the most sickening
aspect of the film. Mrs. Stiles’ thick, dirty toenails are
probably more off-putting than R. Lee Ermey’s too-white teeth
and Glover’s snotty nose. But it is more likely the incessant,
almost fetishistic evidence of rat droppings that finally
makes one wish the entire excremental excess masquerading
as a thriller would end.
As for the rat pack, they are a largely cute lot when not
shown in apparent CGI hoards, and they are far more appealing
than the humans. And their penultimate attack is handled more
realistically here than in the original, where it appeared
that mice were being thrown onto Ernest Borgnine. If only
they had better toilet manners.
The sole tense scene involves a hapless cat, the only character
about whom one truly gives a rat’s ass. The rest of the show
is the filmic equivalent of d-CON rodent bait.