Cities. Films reviewed: The Lost City of Z, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, Colossal

Posted in Addiction, Adventure, Brazil, documentary, Drama, Manhattan, Protest, UK by CulturalMining.com on April 21, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Cities. People around the globe are urbanizing at an alarming rate, with tens of millions leaving their farms, villages and small towns each year. So this week I’m looking at movies about cities. There’s a man who wants to find a city, a woman who wants to save a city, and another woman who is trying not to destroy a city.

The Lost City of Z

Dir: James Gray

It’s 1905. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is a major in His Majesty’s Army but an undecorated one – no medals, because he has never seen battle. He’s a modern thinker, not bogged down by religion and bigotry, and believes in equal rights for women, including for his wife Nina (Sienna Miller). His father — a drinker and gambler – had ruined the family name, so he jumps at the chance to restore it. The offer: to lead an expedition to “Amazonia” sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society. A skilled cartographer, Fawcett must map an uncharted river running between Bolivia and Brazil. He also wants to find a legendary, advanced civilization he calls the city of “Z”.

On the ship heading to South America he meets a dismissive man with a bushy beard, round glasses and a big hat. Turns out it’s his aide-de-camp, Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson). They make an odd couple, Costin kitted out for the jungle with Fawcett still in European mode. But soon they learn to get along. First they journey to a pop-up city in the jungle, complete with an opera house. It’s run by filthy- rich robber barons riding the Amazon rubber boom. Fawcett assembles a small team to travel down the river on a raft, further than any European has gone so far. A former slave serves as their guide. Along the way, they are attacked by locals with spears and arrows, encounter black jaguars and make it as far as a waterfall – the river’s source? There Fawcett finds artifacts he says are from the lost city he seeks. Back in London, he raises money for a second trip. His wife asks to go too, but he says it’s “no place for a woman”. Instead he takes a portly millionaire named Mr. Murray – an armchair explorer – as his sponsor. But this leads to more trouble. This time they encounter cannibals and travel even further than the first trip, but not as far as “Z”. Can Fawcett earn the respect of his family, the confidence of the Royal Geographers, and the backing of the press? Can he survive a third trip through the jungle? Or is his passion — finding the lost city of Z — just based on his own fantasies?

This is a fascinating adventure based on real historical figures. It’s also very similar to a fantastic black-and-white arthouse film from a few years back called Embrace of the Serpent, also about a European travelling down the Amazon during the rubber boom. This one is more traditional, told solely from a European point of view, with dashing explorers out to discover things lost to the locals. The indigenous people are “things” they encounter on their journey, and almost never speak. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but I enjoyed the movie anyway. Charlie Hunnam is great as Fawcett, and Robert Pattinson (the heartthrob vampire from the execrable Twilight series) is completely unrecognizable in this role. If you’re in the mood for an exciting colonial trek through the jungle, this long movie is made for you.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Wri/Dir: Matt Tyrnauer

It’s postwar America, where the car is king and freshly-built houses in the suburbs the ideal home. Jane Jacobs is a young writer in Manhattan who publishes pieces on manhole covers and city streets for magazines like Vogue and Architectural Forum. Robert Moses is the immensely powerful, urban planning and highway czar, building enormous parkways through cities to let people commute to their far off homes. He subscribes to the visions of Swiss architect le Corbusier: Cities are best viewed from an airplane — clean, pristine and devoid of pesky things like small shops, loitering people and peculiar neighbourhoods. Cities are old and ugly cesspools filled with cancerous slums that can only be saved by wiping them out.

Robert Moses views cities from above looking down; Jane Jacobs (in her book The Life and Death of Great American Cities) looks at cities from ground level. She loves the confusion and excitement of neighbourhoods and the people who live there. Moses wants to extend Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue down through Washington Square park, and turn it into a highway, destroying Canal St, Soho, and Little Italy on the way. And no one ever defies his grand plans… until Jane Jacobs. She’s the one responsible for a new look at urban landscapes and city planning. She saved Greenwich village from destruction and changed people’s views about what a city should look like and feel like.

This is a superb documentary chronicling her battle with Moses. It also shows how people like Jacobs can challenge the orthodoxy of so-called urban renewal (what James Baldwin called “negro removal”) and its destruction of neighbourhoods.

This documentary doesn’t deal with Jane Jacobs before she moved to New York City or afterwards when she moved to Toronto (where she helped save the city from the Spadina Expressway). It’s specifically about Jacobs’ battle with Moses. And it does so in a very informative and absorbing way.

Colossal

Wri/Dir: Nacho Vigalondo

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has it made: an English boyfriend with a beautiful apartment, and lots of cool hipster friends who show her the highlife. She’s loose with the bottle and free with the pills. But after an especially horrific incident he gives her the boot until she dries out. So she is forced to relocate to her childhood home in a small town. She is taken under the wing of Oscar (Jason Sudeikas) a local entrepreneur who offers her a job at his roadhouse bar. (Turns out he had a crush on her as a kid and wants to renew their friendship).

She takes the job but turns down his sexual advances. Though depressed and lonely, she gradually adjusts to the slow paced rhythm of life there: working late at the bar, sharing drinks with her new friends and waking up the next morning on a park bench feeling like hell warmed over. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a giant monster is trampling through Seoul Korea, toppling buildings and terrorizing the populous. And Gloria notices something very strange: the monster only appears in Seoul whenever she wakes up in the park, drunk to the gills. Stranger still, the colossal monster she sees on the news shares her nervous tics and habits. What is the connection?

Colossal is a unique film that doesn’t fall easily into any single genre. It starts out like a sophisticated chick flick or a recovery movie, but it’s also a disaster and monster movie, a comedy and a social drama. Hathaway is good as a young alcoholic forced to deal with her addiction, and Sudeikas is equally good as a conflicted (and sometimes vengeful) friend. The Korean aspect of the movie is superficial, with locals mainly there to get stepped on. Still, Colossal is weird and surprisingly entertaining — it’s different from any movie you’ve  seen before.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, The Lost City of Z and Colossal all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

One Response

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  1. Alyson said, on June 30, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Great reviews – I did think The Lost City of Z was just a tad too long for comfort but did enjoy it. Robert Pattison totally unrecognisable as you say.

    Just found this blog because it came up beside another Citizen Jane review – Thank goodness for people like her. It could all have been so different.


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