Thursday, February 28, 2008

Quick thoughts: Leap Day releases

Every four years brings a Feb. 29, which this year means a Friday of new pictures.

We have, from Brazil, City of Men (Miramax)--not a direct sequel to the Oscar-nominated City of God, but a followup to the TV show (2002-2005) it inspired. Clips from the program, which has aired on the Sundance Channel, are inserted as flashbacks to catch us up with the characters. But the storyline is a fairly simple one, as friends Acerola (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinah (Darlan Cunha) try to make it to age 18 in the gang- and poverty-ridden favelas of Rio de Janeiro, no easy task as family secrets are revealed and a drug war between rival factions erupts. Stylistically, God shot its wad continuously, showering us with dynamically edited spasms of vengeance and violence; Men, directed by Paulo Morelli, is a far more prosaic affair, and I found the change a relief. For all its filmmaking muscle, the predecessor (Black Orpheus on meth) was exhausting; the controlled, and a tinge sentimental, Men gives its characters, and audience, more breathing space. That is, till the final movement, a running gun battle along the hillside communities, with the breathtaking vistas of the city in mute counterpoint to the chaos.

Closer to home (Austin, TX, to be exact) is The Unforeseen (Cinema Guild), a documentary by Laura Dunn focusing on the chokehold overdevelopment has put on the city since the early 1970s. If you thought Austin was a cool place to hang out in, maybe grab a few beers with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez on a trip to chilldom and that intangible Southwestern vibe, guess again: It's a snakepit of land shark avarice, competing bureaucratic interests, and strained and failing natural resources, and if Acerola and Laranjinah somehow wound up there they'd probably be worse off than they were. Overstatement is the film's problem: graphics that spread over the screen like fluids sloshing through a maze show the acne of houses and strip malls springing up, which the likes of co-producer Robert Redford and Willie Nelson pontificate over in distracting talking head bites. Dunn had a vital subject in her grasp, and a compelling rise-and-fall story in developer Gary Bradley's machinations, but it somehow wriggled free--perhaps inspired by co-producer Terrence Malick, she gets lost in impressionistic clutter (mournful musical performances, etc.) that pulls focus from the topic. The Unforeseen is itself a victim of sprawl.

No comments: