Tuesday, February 26, 2008


"So hard-boiled it's practically cast in iron, Brazilian crime saga Elite Squad makes even the toughest recent US cop dramas look like Hilary Duff romcoms. Hyper-macho, with a steely ring of well-researched realism, the first fiction venture ... is pitched somewhere between the full-on flash of Brazilian hit City Of God and the narrative complexity of TV's The Wire." (Screen International review of Tropa De Elite)

Over the history of the KBT screening series (which is at #113 by the way) there have only been three 'blind' screenings of films. The first was Roman Polanski's vampire comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me But You're Teeth are in My Neck which admittedly was not that funny, and one of Polanski's worst films in his extensive filmography. The second was martial arts spectacular and the sequel to Thailand's fabulous action export Ong Bak, namely Tom Yum Goong which also starred wunderkind Tony Jaa, but it was plagued with narrative problems to the point where it was painful to watch if folks weren't getting pulverized by Jaa's elbows and knees. The third was Russian fantasy epic (the most expensive movie ever to come out of the Motherland) Wolfhound. It was watchable in an 1980s cheesy throwback sort of way, but I'd be very hesitant to call it a classic, or even put it in the category of quality with other Russian blockbusters The Nightwatch and The Daywatch.

The long preamble is because I'm blind screening Brazil's recent Berlinale (one of the most prestigious film festivals worldwide) winner, Tropa De Elite. I had been meaning to screen José Padilha's first feature, Bus 174, the gripping documentary on a bus hijacking in Rio De Janeiro which uses this as a jumping point to examine the entire systematic failure of the cities social structure. I just do not own the film, so it hasn't been at easy grasp. Well, I've got a fan-subbed DVD of his latest film and I'm thinking that this ought to break the blind-screening mediocrity evidenced in the above 3 films. The film is already notorious, a household name long before it was even released in theatres here and has been ridiculously profitable in Brazil. Not bad for another analysis of social complexities of Brazilian urban culture (although keep in mind that the audience there (and abroad) has been well primed by the success of Bus 174 and even moreso, City of God (which has a sequel of sorts coming out in North America later this year, and there is a Brazilian TV show on top of that). South America seems to be hotbed of great cinema that blends entertainment and message together so well (see also Nine Queens for a great metaphor on the Argentinian economic collapse cloaked as a con-artist genre flick).

I'm rambling a bit with this description of the film because, well I've not seen it beyond a preview of the disc. So below, I'll just put a few clips from English language reviews of the film (It has no release schedule in North America at the moment that I'm aware of, and has only really screened outside of Brazil in Berlin a two weeks ago):

Wikipedia: "The movie, set in 1997, depicts the story of Captain Nascimento, a BOPE captain, who with the imminent birth of his first child, is determined to leave the battalion and find a safer position for the sake of his family, but first he must find a suitable replacement for him. At the same time, the movie focuses on two childhood friends, Matias and Neto, who become cadets in the military police, but become dismayed at the corruption surrounding them. Eventually, both Nascimento and the cadets' paths intersect, when the captain hopes that one of the two may become the substitute he is eager to find, as both decide to join the BOPE."

Screen International: (see above)

Variety: “Elite Squad” is an honest picture of violence in the favelas, or slums, of Rio de Janeiro, and the rampant official corruption that sustains it.

Beyond Hollywood:
Overall, this is a thoughtful, insightful and frequently darkly funny film, but the impact of its social commentary is very real.

Come out TUESDAY, February 26th for this special international treat, an early look at the film if you are not from Brazil and do not speak Portugese. In the spirit of things, we'll crack a bottle of port alongside with some spicy meat and roughage. Wine and Animal at 8pm. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


John Turturro is one of those great actors known the to the casual film goer as "Hey! It's that crazy guy!" Whether he is a foulmouthed purple jumpsuit bowler named Jesus, a hillbilly goofball, a career gambler, a paranoid night-watchman, a racist pizzeria employee, an irate quiz-show contestant, Adam Sandler's butler, or being peed upon by a giant robot (!) in last years summer blockbuster, this strange mix of odd independent films and crass bottom-common-denominator studio stuff has to instill a strange outlook.

While Turturro's initial pair directing efforts have not greatly interested me, this film (which has a two year tortured history before being self-distributed out of the directors own funds before a dumping on DVD) certainly did. In particular, the casting call is about unusual as it comes: James "Tony Soprano" Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Elaine Stritch, British cross-dressing stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard and singer/starlet Mandy Moore. Taking a page out of the Dennis Potter style-guide and mixing domestic drama with bold and fantastical musical interludes, the resulting film, Romance & Cigarettes is a shaggy and lumbering beast with the number of genius moments equaling the number of embarrassing ones. It lies somewhere in the no-mans-land between Moulin Rouge and Dancer in the Dark; territory most definitely undeserving of the indifference it received.

The story follows bridge maintenance worker (Gandolfini) and adulterer as he is caught by his wife, asked of marriage by his mistress, shunned by his daughters and preached to by his friend and co-worker. Of course, the story itself it almost besides the point, as a number of actors are allowed indulge in the familiar (Walken is zanier than ever belting out Tom Jones' Delilah) and the unfamiliar (Winslet gets to trash it up Helena Bonham Carter-style with bouncing bosom and raunchy phone sex (in all fairness, those familiar with Kate Winslet's guest-starring part in Brit-Com Extras with find her just as delightful here; with the added bonus of post-coital consumption of greasy fried chicken (a self-deprecating scene of equal joy to Kurt Russell munching a plate of nachos in Death Proof) and an 'under-water musical number' of a Nick Cave tune).

While the opening of the film is undeniably off putting and uneven, things get smoother and sweeter as things progress. A little patience may be required early on, but the finale of the film is a rewarding one. There are many, many small pleasures along the way, not unlike the acting career of the director in charge.

Come Out Tuesday, February 19th for this off-the wall slice of singing cinema. The actors involved here let it all hang out, humiliating or no, and shoot for the moon. Drinks at 8pm. Showtime at 8:30.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


After three weeks of repair and refitting, we're back with a bang with this highly stylized cop's and killers flick from Belgium!

Director Erik Van Looy can only be described as the Belgian Michael Mann. This glossy, slick thriller seems to be cut from similar cloth as Heat or Collateral, albeit with a tidbit of manly humour and Tony Scott editing thrown in for good measure.

An ultra-professional assassin, Angelo Ledda, is hired to eliminate the political rivals of a rich and powerful Baron. Angelo is getting on in his years and struggling with Alzheimer's disease. This allows for some stylistic photography to simulate his mental state, which is often disoriented and confused. He finds out on his second mark that the target is a 12 year-old girl. He refuses, citing professional ethics. The Baron then puts out a hit on the very assassin he hired, leading to a complete reversal of sides. Meanwhile the police are investigating the case of one the first assassination and get confused when the bodies start to pile up on both sides.

The Alzheimer Case a gripping and tight motion picture. This is due in no small part to the performance of Jan Decleir (the hard working icon of Belgium Cinema, the man has been involved in 24 projects since this films production in 2005) which is superbly nuanced and avoids the trap of the Alzheimer conceit from ever feeling like a gimmick. Angelo is a hard and direct man who is now having trouble with reality and dealing with the loss of his professional competence; for him this is his entire life. The movie isn’t afraid to slow down develop Angelo either, it’s his show , often in spite of the plot. His gruff moral code will be familiar to North American audiences even as the movie exudes a welcome European flavour (particularly one sequence involving a prostitute and her treatment by both a potential client and later the Angelo himself). Personally, I'd love to put Angelo Ledda up against No Country for Old Men's Anton Chigurh, just to see what would happen.

There is the requisite police banter and interdepartmental politics amoungst the cops, their superiors and politicians (see also Infernal Affairs) which are not particularly noteworthy other than to explain the actions of some of the plot. The film shines however with the banter between the one highly competent police investigator (who is reminiscent of an number of secondary characters in Mr. Mann's films) and Angelo. There is a nice parallel between the pair. Both exude professionalism despite being on different sides of the law. For most the movie they are working on the same side, but the cop is using law enforcement procedure, and the Angelo using vigilante techniques. The film climaxes in a way that is both tense and well conceived (even if you can see a ‘surprise’ or two coming long before they are revealed).

The Alzheimer Case will not revolutionize or reinvent the genre, but does belong on the top shelf of slick, modern, testosterone seasoned thrillers.

I’m not a fan of the North American title ("Memory of a Killer") of the film which is just a bit gauche and possibly misleading as well. I was however, a big fan of the film when it played at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005. Come and check it out on the newly revamped KBT computer, Tuesday February 5th. Drinks at 8pm. Showtime at 8:30pm.