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Reviews: City of God, The Kite Runner, Notes on a Scandal

I've taken a long holiday from here. Many apologies for that. Have a couple recipes I found too...I recently made tortilla soup, which was probably not the best thing for a possible sore throat coming on. But it was delicious. Just the sort of thing one should eat with a big hunk of bread on a rainy day.

Anyway. On to the topic of my post. I've caught a lot of movies recently and these three really stuck out to me. So read on!

Cidade de Deus (City of God)

I have a love of foreign films, especially ones that are highly touted by the media. I'd noticed City of God on the IMDB top 250 list a while back and have put it on my "must-watch" list for some time. Thanks to Netflix (blatant advertising), I rented a copy (too lazy to go to Blockbuster's...and who wants to anyway?) and instead of studying, watched 2.5 or so hours of this Brazilian film.

Totally. Worth it. As usual, it was far from what I expected.  I knew it involved a lot of gang violence but what I got was a different way of showing it. The story basically follows that of Busca-pe (Rocket) and Zé Pequeno (Li'l Ze). It starts with Rocket caught in the line of fire between the gang leader Zé and the police. While Rocket is stuck in the middle, contemplating what to do, the film flashes to the past to show where the story all began. Rocket is quite obviously the good guy while Zé has always thirsted for violence and uses it to become the City of God's gang leader. While Rocket can't even get himself to try and use a gun, Zé seizes power from competing drug lords to create his empire.

What got to me in this movie was how the kids, probably seven or eight years old, joined the gangs, did drugs, and even did not hesitate to kill their fellow friends to get in with the top gang. Nothing is sugar-coated: What you see is what really happens in the City of God. Most of the kids don't want to get away from this lifestyle (unlike Rocket) and willingly embrace the drugs, violence and constant warring.

I think this film was nominated for an Oscar in 2002 and didn't win or didn't even earn a nomination. My faith in the Academy drops every year and I can't imagine why this movie wasn't selected (actually, I might have read about the reason...). Definitely deserved to win the Oscar, in my opinion.

On a related note, the director of this film, Fernando Meirelles, is coming out with a new film, Blindness. I've read good reviews and bad reviews, but I'll watch it. Don't think any of his movies can compare to City of God, though. It was crazy good.

The Kite Runner

I read the book and loved it. When I heard it was being made into a movie, I was of two minds. On one hand, I really wanted to watch it, see how they translate the novel into film; on the other, I knew it was a bad idea.

I can't really think of much to say. A lot of parts from the book were removed in the film. The best part of the film was the flashback with young Amir and Hassan. I felt like the drama wasn't as heightened as it was in the book.

If you're going to watch it, I definitely suggest reading the book first. It's pretty universal that usually book-based films don't do the book justice and sadly, this is one of them.

Notes on a Scandal

Holy crap, Judi Dench looked a sight in this one. She looked super old (and then you see her as M in Quantum of Solace this November and it looks like the wrinkles just magically disappeared. Well, most of them anyway) and super creepy. Her character, Barbara, is the history teacher from hell at a London school for what you could say inner-city kids. She hates everyone. EVERYONE. Except for the new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett). One day, Barbara happens to break up a fight in Sheba's classroom and Sheba's ever so grateful for it. She invites Barbara for lunch at her house and that's where the trouble begins.

You know how sometimes you meet someone and you're nice to them because, well, you want to be? You hang out with them because you either a) feel sorry for them or b) feel obligated to because they did you a favour or something or c) you're just genuinely that nice even though they are hated by everyone else. That's Sheba. She's genuinely nice. She invites creepy Barbara over for lunch with her family--which consists of husband Richard (played by Bill Nighy), her daughter (Juno Temple in a non-bitchy role IMO), and her son Ben, who has Down Syndrome. Barbara gets all made up and looks less creepy but you read her thoughts and see that she thinks eff-all of Sheba's family.

Basically what happens is Barbara finds out that Sheba's having an affair with one of her students (one of the kids involved in the fight she broke up) and is pissed. Pissed because Sheba didn't tell her about it. So she uses this as a way to hold Sheba in the palm of her hand and manipulate her to get what she (Barbara) wants.

I love the two actresses dearly. They're two of my favourite actresses and they both do SUCH an amazing job and you really, REALLY hate Judi Dench. I mean, this is M! It's Jean from "As Time Goes By"! It's Queen Elizabeth! Holy shit, she's a total bitch and not only that, but she's super creepy. She looks terribly old in it, which I guess is meant to scare us even more, and her Barbara is someone you never want to meet. And if you do, you want to have limited contact with her.

Blanchett transforms from an easy-going, free-spirited happy wife and mother into a frightened, jumpy and lecherous woman. It's a different role from any of hers that I've seen before. Definitely not an ethereal Galadriel or a commanding Queen Elizabeth. Here, she's not playing a character. She's playing someone realistic, someone who has a normal family and does something totally wrong despite knowing not to. You get to see a variety of emotions from Blanchett in this movie. Most of the time you see her as a whimpering, worried woman but in the end, you get the sort of explosion you saw in Elizabeth. Minus the swear words, of course.

This one definitely joins my top favourites list (don't ask how long the list is).  I see that Dench lost the Best Actress Oscar to Helen Mirren that year (in The Queen). I'll be watching that one sometime in the next few weeks, so we'll see if the award was deserved :)

So that's two plusses (for City of God and Notes on a Scandal) and one minus (The Kite Runner). Hope you enjoyed my movie rants/reviews. Let me know what you think of any of these films. Happy viewing!


I really liked Notes on a Scandal, and most especially for how good Judi Dench is in it. She's so deliciously creepy throughout the movie, and although the plot isn't really that suspenseful, her performance kept me on pins and needles. I just kept waiting for everything to come crashing down.

Also, I applaud small British cinema for writing such great roles for women of a certain age. Helen Mirren is perfect in The Queen, fwiw.

Oh, and if you haven't seen it yet, The Last King of Scotland is absolutely the best movie of that year.
Last King just arrived in my postbox today from Netflix! can't wait to watch it! the queen's next, i think. i'm all about the british movies for this month!

and as creepy as judi dench was, i just love her all the more. she's such a fantastic actress.

June 2010

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