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Rapa Nui (1994)
I have visited Rapa Nui
... and I am very glad I did.
I had not seen the movie prior to going there 6 months ago, for two reasons: people told me it was boring, and when I started watching it, I was bothered by the orangey hue of the movie.
I'm glad that this time I persisted. By no means a classic, it certainly is entertaining, and the actions scenes are genuinely GOOD.
I went to Rapa Nui because I was mesmerized with the idea of an ultra-isolated island where an ecological tragedy happened because of huge stone heads. In fact, I read extensively about the island before visiting it. The reading I recommend the most is Jared Diamond's book "Collapse", which draws from reputable scientific sources and Mr. Diamond's encyclopedic knowledge of geography and biology.
I was hoping to find an island of archaeological interest. What I found was an open-air museum that exceeded all my expectations about archeology, and also a very pleasant and delightful place to visit.
There is no crime. There is no pollution. The only (tiny) beach has white sand and blue water in a perfect temperature. The natives are incredibly nice and even the tourists were interesting (because, really, who goes there?). Now I have a toddler-sized moai in my living room and many wonderful pictures with stones, moai, sunsets, stones, blue sea, volcanoes, moai, and lots of more stones.
And the trees? Around the only town, Hanga Roa, there are many of them! Traumatized with the haunting tale of environment destruction, people are starting to plant crops, and the hotels have beautiful gardens, and the whole town is shady and breezy because of all the trees. It's not all dryness and destruction.
I also believe this movie is underrated. Don't go by the negative interviews! The orangey colors of the movie, though lamentable, don't detract from the overall experience, but if you can find a better copy, by all means do so.
Location, location, location. It's Rio!
"Oh, how wish I was back in my cage, with my mirror, and my little bell"
Jesse Eisenberg should be forever grateful that the Oscar-nominated "The Social Network" was released before Rio. That's because his voice as Blu, the macaw, is so distinctive and perfect, that in my mind he will always be Blu. And if Rio had been released months ago, audiences worldwide would think that Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, missed his cage, mirror and little bell.
Now, for the movie itself
Location, location, location. Because what's Rio, the movie, without (pulsating, colorful, exuberant, romantic) Rio, the city? The story is delightful, though predictable. The characters are cardboard, even if 3D and feathery. But "predictable" and "cardboard" are the worst adjectives I could possibly link to Rio. The Rio deal, is that I laughed all the way through it, like everybody else in the theater.
Blu, the last male of his kind, is the happiest macaw, out there in a snowy town with Linda, his nerdy owner. Jewel, the last female of her kind, lives in Brazil, and is the saddest macaw, imprisoned in a cage and fighting for her freedom. She's a free-spirited soul, with the world at her feet. Blu has lived a sheltered life, can't fly, and loves every minute of it. What happens when they meet? Anyone above the age of 7 can guess how it ends (age 5 if he's seen the trailer). But there's so much delight from the first minute to the last, that you don't want it to end.
I was one of the lucky few to watch the premiere of Rio in Rio, and at this point I can hardly wait to see it again. A Brazilian, Carlos Saldanha, directed the movie, and it shows. The details of the city are all there, but so is the big picture (you know, everything that really matters, along with wide panoramas of Rio by night, of a crowded beach, of a sunset in the cable cars of Santa Teresa).
Lots of AMAZING aerial views in the action scenes. The main characters are birds, thus flying should be expected. Many of those places showed in the movie can be visited by tourists.
Rio doesn't have the depth of stories such as Toy Story or Up. It is a simpler plot. It is, however, pure fun from start to finish, and visually stunning. Location, location, location. As a native of Rio, I could recognize most places, and was stunned with how realistic were the slums, and how the geography of the city, especially the mountains, could be so painstakingly reproduced.
The movie is not a musical, but it comes close to it. There's funk, bossa nova, a few clichés of Brazilian music and even samba sang in English (still conflicted about it!).
There is also the portrayal of animal trafficking, a centuries-old problem in Brazil, and the subplot of a boy who lives on the streets and must resort to petty crime, which adds up to a much-needed social commentary.
By all means, don't miss this movie!
The Religious Connotations are Worrisome
Thinking about it more carefully, what I disliked the most were the religious representations of the movie, and how that appeals to the minds of those with insufficient critical skills.
There's a deity, Eywa, which is some sort of brain, whereas the trees are the connections like synapses. So everything is interconnected through some sort of energy. And the deity is real, it provides not only wisdom but it also joins the fight when the tide turns. And it heals people. Or it doesn't, but it's still all for the better. And because they're one with nature, they're horrified when the tree is felled, because there's a supernatural meaning to it. And there are even initiation rites.
And I'm here thinking that initiation rites have such potential for physical and emotional abuse; that healing people with energy is a deeply dangerous idea; that holding hands in prayer is utterly useless for all practical purposes; and that accepting that a woman has a "connection" with God, or Eywa, is so supportive of every other religious leader out there.
"It's a tribe, and it's a movie", someone will say. But it's in fact a kind of utopic tribalism, an idea that will be attractive to many people - it has been for most of the history of mankind - but that is seriously outdated for the societies we're hoping to build, one in which we accept each other's cultural traits and deal with our many flaws. There is no tribe out there that is perfect in every way and about to be victimized by evil foreigners. There isn't. The tribes of the world are nothing like that, they're definitely not noble like that. In fact, they're based on fraudulent religious power and authoritarian political power. Tribalism and its tenets have no place in our world, and it worries me to see it so glorified on the big screen.
(Another poor message: Everybody in the tribe holds hands in prayer, right after an attack. They're lost and frightened, and it takes a foreigner to instill them courage! The deity didn't do that, their own people didn't do that, in fact there was some in-fight, so it took the most recent member of the tribe, with a "human" mentality, to lead them into victory. Sure, the human asks for cooperation of the tribe members and specially of the alpha-male, but he's the leader. How boring, we've seen that so many times. If the tribe itself had decided to fight back, and if Jake had simply joined them... I would have liked that. It would be less of a blockbuster, but more mature).
Therefore, stunning visuals aside, the morals of the film are so flawed that I'll give it only 6 stars out of 10.
Caixa Dois (2007)
if not for the good acting...
I would have given it less than the 3 stars that I gave. The best acting, by far, was Daniel Dantas's. All other actors seemed slightly embarrassed - some too contrived, some too exaggerated.
I can't believe that in 2007 someone still believes that the same swear word repeated in every line happens to be funny. It is not. The plot, well, if that was a hole, you could find oil in it. Unfortunately, this movie did not work out not even as a lighthearted pastime. Bruno Barreto certainly could have done better as the subject, that of corruption, does hold some interest. I also thought he'd make more subtle or non-subtle comments on real cases of corruption, something that could pull chuckles because of its cleverness, but no. The very few references didn't work out well, either.
Happiness in the most unexpected places.
It's an obscure film, shot in 2004, only released in the movie theaters now.
It's the story of a 72-year-old schizophrenic woman who has been earning a living, in the last 20 years, in Rio's city dumpster. Like hundreds of others, she awaits the huge trucks with garbage and scavenges it in search of material to recycle, sell or keep to herself. She says that's the happiest she's ever been, because she had no luck in the world prior to that. She's seen giggling with her friends, flirting with another - most likely, just as unstable as she is -, and remarking about her role in the universe.
The cinematography - yes, the city dumpster - is amazing. The opening scene shows plastic blacks flying among vultures, and from then on, grainy shots of people, like ants, climbing the piles of garbage, the red sunset, telling a story of pollution, a black river of a putrid liquid with gas coming out of the bubbles, the dogs and the horse against the sunset, side-by-side with a burning garbage can.
The comedy relief of the movie, and also some of its most insightful moments, comes with her cussing loudly at God. When one of her grandchildren mentions we all come from God, she says "shove God up your! God rapist God thief God that never helped me or anyone else! Your mother came from my bosom, nowhere else! God rapist, incompetent, mean!!" It's so outrageous, the whole audience was laughing out loud. Her only son, very religious, fears she is possessed with a malignant spirit, so he won't visit her anymore. The other daughter, not religious, gives her all support.
The story of her life is so sad that it can weakened by placing labels. They are always avoided in the movie, and her whole life is unveiled slowly, so that we are led to believe her when she says that the city dumpster was the best thing in her life. She is proud of what she does, proud that she built her house with what she found at the dumpster, and says that everybody in the world needs Estamira.
She had a daughter while living in the dumpster. Her older son decided to give the 6yo kid for an informal adoption with a loving, middle-class family. The girl is now 21, beautiful, and she says: "I feel resentment because I was not raised by my mother. I have bad memories of the dumpster, everything is bad there, but my mother raised my two siblings, why not me? We would be hungry sometimes, but I would survive, I know I would, and we'd never be separated".
The movie started small, but word of mouth is working so much that, on a Thursday, the theater was crowded, and people applauded at the end. Despite the punches in the stomach you get while watching it, it's in fact an uplifting movie, in that you see the love inside her family, the blissful ignorance of her friends at the dumpster, the fact that she laughs at herself and wants to go on living to fulfill her "mission".
Watch it if you have the chance and realize there is happiness where you least expect it.
Zuzu Angel (2006)
Brazilians will go to this movie knowing how this will end. That does not necessarily diminishes its interest, as movies like Titanic can attest to (the ship sinks in the end).
This movie, unfortunately, sinks right at the beginning. A deeply moving story, with the twists and turns of a Hollywood script, but based on real events, became worthy of an early afternoon soap opera.
Everything is obvious and explained word by word to the audience - Nothing is left to imagination, because characters are as cliché as cliché goes. The director tried to be creative by making liberal use of flashbacks, but that does not change the general pace dictated by a conservative and uninspired script.
The best is Patricia Pillar's performance, because she acts well even when everything is against her, and her natural beauty is enhanced by the awesome clothes she wears - a necessity, considering Zuzu Angel was a clothes designer.
In short... don't bother. Watch it on video, while in bed with the flu, and just because you can't take comedies anymore.