Sunday, July 24, 2011
BADASS WORLD CUP GROUP STAGE: SOUTH AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN
The most important competition in the history of competition continues with our other problem continent: South America. Now, like with Africa, it should be made abundantly clear before we go any further that the problem with South American cinema is not with South American cinema. They make some beautiful films down there, but therein lies the conundrum for our purposes here at the Badass World Cup. They make “films” in South America. With very few exceptions, the aggregate ownage in any given “film” is infinitesimal.
Due to this unfortunate mathematical obstacle, the continent that gave us Black Orpheus, those great Luis Puenzo and Hector Babenco films in the 80s, The Motorcycle Diaries, and The House of Sand leaves us precious little in the way of epic swagger, big explosions, and feats of grandeur in absurdly fast cars. It does, of course, give us some beautiful cinema in exotic (to norteamericano eyes at least) locales, but this inconvenient lack of conventional (non-metaphorical/allegorical) ownage means that we have to merge South America with Central America and the Caribbean.
I know, I know, this could be construed as me taking a giant shit on a continent with hundreds of years of fascinating history and rich culture. But do not so construe, my friends. I absolve them of their lack of contributions to le cinema d' ownage for one simple reason: they have so many goddamn revolutions, coups d'etat, insurgencies, uprisings, heavily armed uncontrollable narcotrafficantes, and Estados Unidos hippies on vacation that one imagines the average South American going to the movies and saying “Yeah, I could go for some escapism . . . how's about a lyrical allegory where the protagonist dies of old age instead of lead poisoning?” Even if this is totally off-base, I'm still standing by it, and assert that the relative paucity of traditionally badass movie characters should not be held against the South Americans.
Oddly, the Caribbean, thought of as a place where people sit in the sun and smoke weed (or ponder Marxist dialectic if you're in Cuba), picks up the slack nicely with regards to grisly violence. Of course, thinking about Cuba brings up the obvious . . .
Tony Montana, Scarface, Cuba
He's Tony Focking Montana, mang. And he is widely regarded as the most badass movie character of all time. Even when threatened with chainsaws, he merely snarls “fuck you.” Even if for nothing else than when he wants to do some coke he cracks open a fucking kilo on his desk and just dunks his fucking head into it and inhales, he'd be a contender to take the whole Cup. But no man who pronounces “Florida” “Flarrida” reps Cuba, however perfect New York-ese that might be. Tony's not in this bracket. (Ed. Note: stay tuned.)
“But, listen goddammit,” you might reply, “you simply cannot have a Badass World Cup without Scarface being included! Think of the rappers, you unfeeling fool, think of the rappers!” I would never be so cruel. Scarface must be mentioned.
“Ah, so you've come to your senses,” I hear you say. “And you're going with the less obvious choice, and the better one . . .”
Sosa, Scarface, Bolivia
“I told you a long time ago, you fucking little monkey, NEVER TO FUCK ME!” Pure verbal ownage, and from an extremely sophisticated, cultured, rich, and brutally autocratic South American man. But . . . Sosa loses out as well. He was played by an American, and as we'll recall from the Africa group stage, you cannot get out of the group stage to the knockout rounds if you were played by an American in an American movie. Which is a shame, because Sosa's fucking awesome. But, the Caribbean gives us two (three?) rock solid contenders who actually are eligible to advance.
4—Ivanhoe Martin, The Harder They Come, Jamaica
The Harder They Come is more famous for its soundtrack, but the movie is fun. It's extremely low budget, the pace is a little rickety, and it seems a bit longer than it actually is, but Jimmy Cliff rules fucking balls as Ivan, a thoroughly antisocial motherfucker who'll just straight up kill you. And, to boot, he sings like Jimmy Cliff, making him a through-the-looking-glass version of the Troubadors of antiquity, who sang of their deeds, loved women, and fought for honor. Ivan sings of his own deeds very indirectly and proleptically, for no other reason than stardom. He likes the girl, but he's awkward around her. And he fights because people fuck with him. But if you fuck with him, you stop existing. Ivan does get owned by the cops at the end, but his legend lives on, and unlike Othello, whose demise was his demise, the fact that it takes practically every fucking cop in Jamaica to kill Ivan only contributes to his legend. And holy shit that soundtrack.
3a/3b—Biggs/Wayne, Shottas, also Jamaica
Now, I have to offer the disclaimer that I never saw this whole movie, only catching a few extended clips from it on one of my fellow jurors' laptop on my much-lamented jury duty stint earlier this year (one of the exasperating aspects of which was that we had so many bullshit delays that we had the time to watch almost this whole movie in the jury room waiting for people to get their shit together; this also led to them docking us a couple days' pay. Goddamnit jury duty sucked . .)
Anyway, the movie itself is an interesting, low-budget story of a life of crime, much like The Harder They Come. The intervening thirty years saw massive changes in cinema, naturally, and Shottas is as much a product of its time as The Harder They Come was of its own. It's faster paced, more violent, and best friends Biggs and Wayne lack the aura of the legend that Ivan possessed. But they kill the living shit out of everything in sight. Wayne, in particular, is quite a magnetic figure, and the fact that he gets killed (and the way in which it happens) adds to his stature as a badass; he isn't so much owned as he is martyred. And Biggs totally gets away with it and wins, which is fairly badass considering the amount of brutal violence he survives. Anyway, Shottas isn't the greatest movie in the world, but it's a fun bit of escapism, and the duo of Biggs and Wayne deserving dark horse entrants in the Cup. They may fall in the early stages, but they go down hard and memorably.
The relative paucity of conventional ownage means that what we do have is clustered a bit. So, we had two Jamaican movies, and now the last two also-rans are from the same movie:
2—Benny, City of God, Brazil
Benny's one of my favorite characters ever in cinema. He's this laid-back dude who's kind to people, and yet he's a very powerful and influential gangster. “Benny was the coolest hood in the City of God.” He's got the goofy poofy hair, the shades, he's just the nicest fucking guy in the world. This is one of the (extremely) rare instances where being a nice guy is itself badass, especially given that he manages to be that thing in the middle of Cidade de Deus. The only reason Benny's not number one is because he gets killed. It sucks when Benny gets killed. I cried.
1—Knockout Ned, also City of God, also Brazil
Your classic agent of vengeance. Gets points for the fact having a badass nickname both in his own language (it translates inexactly, but in broad strokes it venerates his cocksmanship in a culture where anyone venerating someone else's cocksmanship is a sign the one being venerated gets fucking laid) and in the English subtitles. As a primary Anglophone, I think of him as Knockout Ned, because I think that's the coolest motherfucking nickname ever.
You have to have seen City of God to understand, going to war with Lil 'Ze and surviving longer than about a second and a half is fucking awe-inspiring. Lil 'Ze makes Sonny Corleone look like Gandhi. Lil 'Ze is like Marlo Stanfield but emotional. (Ed. Note: when you have to drag both The Godfather and The Wire into a discussion to explain how scary a motherfucker is, the motherfucker under discussion is, ipso facto, a bad motherfucker.)
Ultimately, Knockout Ned fails to reach the knockout stage not just because there are only so many puns one man can make, but because when one's own badassness is primarily defined in opposition to one's antagonist, it raises the question: would one still be a badass of equivalent stature given a different antagonist? It's a beard-scratcher. Also, it took rather extreme circumstances for Knockout Ned to go from being a mild-mannered bus driver who got laid a lot to ruthless gangster. Representing one's people in the Badass World Cup requires a bit more proactive behavior.
And so, we reach the one character who gets to represent South America in the Badass World Cup (and who hopefully won't result in a shitload of hate mail like “No has visto suficientes películas de América del Sur para escribir un artículo como éste, maldito idiota!”) Befitting a continent whose cinema tends toward subtlety and “Wow, now that I think about it for a second, that seriously fucking owned,” South America's surprise representative in the knockout stages of the Badass World Cup:
Ricardo Morales, The Secret in Their Eyes, Argentina
Note, not the main character in The Secret in Their Eyes, Benjamin Esposito, played by Ricardo Darin. Ricardo Darin fucking rocks in that, and he's the main dude (and he was awesome in Nueve Reinas, of which Gregory Jacobs' excellent Criminal is a remake). But the thing that makes The Secret In Their Eyes such a good movie is that Ricardo Darin's Benjamin Esposito isn't your typical swaggering he-man type in it. He's flawed, he makes mistakes, he gets emotional, all that jazz. As an ex-cop turned writer trying to make sense of his most vexing case—an unsolved murder of a woman—he runs through several versions of the story, and while fairly certain of the culprit after a certain point, he can never prove it. And, to complicate things, the killer has political connections that make it impossible to nail his ass through official channels. And, to further complicate things, the killer just fucking disappears.
Enter Ricardo Morales, the dead woman's husband. Played by Pablo Rago, Morales seems like he's this poor nebbishy dude who's just devastated by the loss of the love of his life. For most of the movie, Esposito pities Morales, and totally gets suckered in by the whole nebbishy widower thing. Until it looks like all the clues point to Morales having found the killer, and killed him (and he had, earlier, told Morales “My wife's killer will never go free.”) Kind of badass, sure, but number one? Seems a little flimsy, no?
BUT WAIT! It turns out Morales found the killer and didn't kill him, but kept him imprisoned in his house for years. Take a second and think about that. Here's the guy who killed your one true love. You don't kill him, you keep him locked up in your remote country house where no one's ever gonna fucking come by and find you (no one except Esposito, and he isn't gonna do shit, he's not even going to put it in his book.) Think of the restraint that takes. The killer has to be thinking, every day, I could get killed today. THAT'S revenge. THAT'S fucking torture, fuck waterboarding and all that played-out Jack Bauer shit. If the true measure of ownage is a feat that makes you go, “Wow!” then Morales qualifies, no doubt.
And that's why he represents South America. Like the best South American movies, Morales' candidacy for the Cup is something you have to stop and think about for a second, but when you do, you see all kinds of levels to that shit. Also, for a true Badass World Cup, you need at least one guy no one else sees coming, because surprise badass is an essential type of badass. Ricardo Morales, take a bow. You are no one to fuck with, sir.