Two Dramas from Mongrel Media
Last Stop 174 (August 13/09)
Based on a true story, Last Stop 174 follows two boys (Michel Gomes' Sandro and Marcello Melo Junior's Alessandro) as they come of age on the mean streets of Rio de Janeiro - with their progressively tumultuous upbringing eventually landing the pair in prison (which inevitably paves the way for Sandro's descent into a criminal lifestyle). It's a familiar premise that's generally employed to better-than-expected effect by director Bruno Barreto, as the filmmaker does a nice job of establishing the gritty, downright violent environs within which the central characters reside. The low-rent atmosphere consequently never becomes quite as oppressive as one might've expected, with the relatively compelling storyline and well-defined nature of the two protagonists' plight essentially propelling the proceedings to its far-from-surprising conclusion. There's little doubt, however, that Barreto's slow-moving modus operandi becomes increasingly problematic as Last Stop 174 unfolds, as the emphasis on needless subplots, ie the exploits of a woman claiming to be Sandro's mother, ultimately wreaks havoc on the movie's momentum and ensures that the third act isn't quite as enthralling as most of what preceded it. Still, it's hard to deny the effectiveness of the performances and the authenticity of the narrative; though there may not be much within Last Stop 174 viewers haven't seen countless times before, the film's eye-opening look into the squalid conditions of its real-life subjects is just intriguing enough to warrant a mild recommendation.
Summer '04 (August 14/09)
Though competently assembled and acted, Summer '04 suffers from a pervasive atmosphere of pointlessness that ultimately renders its few positive attributes moot - with the end result a hopelessly inconsequential endeavor that grows increasingly interminable as it progresses. The oppressively thin storyline follows Miriam (Martina Gedeck) and Andre (Peter Davor) as they arrive at their summer home with their teenaged son (Lucas Kotaranin's Nils) and his girlfriend (Svea Lohde's Livia) intending to spend their vacation relaxing and having fun. Problems ensue as Livia strikes up a friendship with a thirty-something man (Robert Seeliger's Bill) whose intentions may or may not be entirely platonic in nature, with Miriam's concerns eventually tossed aside as she inexplicably embarks on an illicit affair with the handsome stranger. Director Stefan Krohmer - working from Daniel Nocke's uneventful script - has infused Summer '04 with precisely the sort of low-rent, jittery sense of style that one has come to expect from a film of this ilk, with the filmmaker's arm's-length modus operandi effectively ensuring that the movie remains curiously uninvolving virtually from start to finish. There's never a point at which the viewer is able to work up sympathy for the uniformly underdeveloped characters, and it's subsequently not surprising to note that one is often forced to scratch one's head at some of the decisions made by these people (ie why doesn't Nils have a problem with his girlfriend spending so much time with this older man?) The inclusion of a few surprises within the narrative can't quite alleviate the film's relentlessly dull sensibilities, with the final result a frustratingly vague endeavor that's sure to leave most viewers frantically checking their watch on an all-too-frequent basis.