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Capone's Art-House Round Up with ONE DAY, VIVA RIVA!, and SENNA!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

From Lone Scherfig, the director of AN EDUCATION, comes a less-than-great ONE DAY, based on what I hear is a fabulous novel by David Nicholls, who adapted it himself. Sometimes loving, liking, or hating a movie comes down to one thing from which all other things stem. In the case of ONE DAY, that one thing is Jim Sturgess' portrayal of Dexter. I'm not bashing Sturgess at all; he's an actor I've grown to like with this last couple of roles. No, I'm blaming Scherfig for allowing Dexter to be so completely and utterly unlikeable in this tale of a pair of friends—the other being Anne Hathaway's Emma—who we only see on the same day (July 15) every year from the day they graduate university to 20 years later.

Most of these years, they aren't a couple, so they get together to update each other on their respective lives. Dexter goes on to become the obnoxious host of some kind of television chat/game show, and actually convinces himself that his fame is a result of some form of talent and not because he's one of the most hated men in the UK. And that bimbo he's dating, yeah, he thinks she came into his life because of his undeniable charm and wit. Sorry, buddy. You have money, and she wants it. Emma takes a slightly more subtle approach to life, becoming a career waitress and dating a man who is little more than a human sponge. Eventually her belief in herself allows her to continue her real passion—writing—to some degree of success.

What ONE DAY is not is a sweeping love story or even a romantic comedy, and you shouldn't let the commercials for this film fool you into thinking it is. These two people are great friends who takes turns pulling each other out of the dumps, and on that level, there's some charm to the proceedings, but my god is Dexter an asshole, and my primary problem with the film is that I refuse to believe a woman—friend or otherwise—would have remained friends with a guy like this for 20-some years. I can't remember the last time I hated a character more. And it undermines the strength of these actors, who do a realistic job showing us the cumulative effect of their years knowing each other, which is saying a lot because most of the July 15s in this film, they aren't even together, so we get a fraction of a conversation on the phone.

There may be those among you who aren't as troubled and annoyed by Dexter in this movie, in which case, you'll probably flip for ONE DAY. But my hatred of him festered and grew smelly with each passing moment. Even some of the deeply sad closing sequences, I felt Dexter hadn't earned the right to feel sorry for his situation. You act like an asshole, and life deservedly dumps a heap of shit on your head. Simple as that. But if you find his banter witty, you're a more forgiving person than I am.

Front loaded with raw energy and an almost-celebratory take on corruption at every level of the socioeconomic strata of Kinshasa, Congo, where this film is set, VIVA RIVA! is the story of Riva (Patsha Bay Mukuna), a thug who comes home to the town where he grew up after a long absence. For reasons that are unimportant, Riva has a flatbed filled with precious barrels of gasoline and a whole lot of money that he wants to use to party until he can find the highest bidder for his rare product. But his payload catches the eye of a gangster in the area named Cesar (Hoji Fortuna), who hurts and kills whomever he has to to find Riva and relieve him of his cargo.

But Riva is just foolish enough not to be scared. He has a fearless streak that helps him get out of situations where most men would cower. Cesar is also particularly pissed at Riva because he's stolen his woman, Nora (Manie Malone), who has her own motives for getting close to Riva. And then comes the scariest guy of the bunch, an Angolan crime boss from whom Riva stole the gas in the first place and who rarely walks upright without a gun in hand. In one scene, he literally assesses the many prisoners he has and says, "What value do you have to me right now?" If he doesn't like the answer, he shoots them.

Writer-director Djo Tunda Wa Munga has won a lot of African film awards for VIVA RIVA! and rightfully so. The entire production feels authentic in its excesses and dangerous to its core. Torture and death have gone beyond shocking in this criminal culture, so what makes you gasp are the casual nature with which it's all perpetrated. And the way the movie captures the people, both innocent and guilty, is magnificent. This is not an ugly film, just a film about ugly people (most of whom are quite good looking). I love the way Riva laughs and parties and basically gives the middle finger to everyone who is pursuing him, when he should be hiding for his life. But that's just one of the many things that makes VIVA RIVA! so unpredictable and entertaining.

I have a vague recollection of the name Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian Formula One superstar driver. In many parts of the world, he was considered an inspiration and one the best drivers to ever set tire to track. Directed by Asif Kapadia for ESPN Films, this fascinating documentary about Senna's life begins with his winning a championship Go Kart race in Brazil, and then making the decision to turn pro and go into competitive racing. What strikes you almost immediately is how seemingly every second of Senna's life was captured on film or audio tape, so much so that Senna is able to narrate his own life story from beyond the grave (he died at age 34 during a race many believed should not have been run).

The second thing that one notices watching SENNA is that winning is at the emotional core of everything he did, and to watch him explode with anger (sometimes at himself) after losing a race is a thing of beauty. I knew nothing about F1 racing going in, but during the course of the film, the commentators dissect Senna's racing style, strategy, and occasional recklessness. The racing sequences are phenomenal stuff, but equally enjoyable are the scenes of Senna in Brazil being mobbed by fans. His very verbal rivalry with sometime-teammate Alain Prost of France is also a great source of amusement.

It's a rare thing to be able to see the moments in any sports figure's life when he enters the realm of greatness, but SENNA is filled with such moments, and you can't help but get caught up in this man's life and feel a huge sense of sadness at this violent death. I do find it strange that the movie essentially ignore Senna's childhood, but I've also heard that there's a much longer version of this film out there, so maybe that's where such footage lies. Still, this is an intriguing sports doc that fans of F1 racing will devour.

-- Capone
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Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 19, 2011, 1:32 a.m. CST


    by Longtime Lurker

    Never was that much into racing but this sounds interesting.

  • Aug. 19, 2011, 1:34 a.m. CST

    I should say...

    by Longtime Lurker

    "I" was never much into racing. Must avoid grammatically suspect phrasing and ambiguous reference. :)

  • Aug. 19, 2011, 2:22 a.m. CST


    by DonLogan

    People who have seen it have told me that even if you don't like F1 racing or similar, you'll still find it an exhilarating and intriguing film. Someone told me it was similar to the Pele/New York Cosmos doc 'Once in a Lifetime'.

  • Aug. 19, 2011, 2:59 a.m. CST


    by digital_soul

    Senna is one of those films that transcends its subject matter. I have zero interest in F1 or any sort of motor racing and continue to have zero interest after watching this film, but that didn't stop me finding it a thrilling, moving and quite extraordinary experience. I would reccomend it to anyone.

  • Aug. 19, 2011, 5:38 a.m. CST

    OK, I will definitely check out Senna

    by Longtime Lurker

    Always looking to expand my horizons :)

  • Aug. 19, 2011, 7:38 a.m. CST

    Senna is magnificent!

    by Istvan Kiss

    I have been aintitcool reader for years now, but never felt the need to comment. Now I break the silence for Senna.:) A truly amazing film, I highly recommend for everybody! Even for those who are not into motor racing or even documentaries. On imbd it says its 106 min long, I have seen a 162 min version but it was not dull for a moment. I watched it again for a second time on the same day with my girlfriend (who is not into racing at all) and we both liked it. The film is basically about the human spirit which is universal so everybody can relate to it.

  • Aug. 19, 2011, 8:18 a.m. CST

    Senna is even better than he suggests.....

    by dacanesta

    He likes it and recommends it. Personally, I loved it and would demand you see it. One of them films that affects to the point where after you question your own life and if you are doing enough with it! It is true, also, that you do NOT need to know anything about him or F1 going into this film so do not let that put you off. See it!

  • Aug. 19, 2011, 8:46 a.m. CST

    I've seen both versions

    by Truxton Spangler

    And it's probably a good thing they're releasing the edited version. The long version has a lot of talking head shots from the various contributors that add nothing to the film, and some extra footage is only of interest to Senna diehards; the story is ably told without it. Overall, it's a great film about an extraordinary individual that's worth watching whether you know of F1 racing or not. But I will say this--Senna in his prime was disliked as much as he was worshiped. It wasn't until after his death did his humanity really emerge, and his image change for a lot of people. The fact that he overcame whatever differences he had with his bitter rival, Prost, isn't given a lot of attention in the film, but it serves as the final illustration of his growth as an individual.

  • Aug. 19, 2011, 9:14 a.m. CST

    Senna is opening here in a month, I'll check it out

    by Spandau Belly

    racing is oddly fascinating to me

  • Aug. 19, 2011, 10:16 a.m. CST

    I'm such a geek, I was a Senna fan as a kid.

    by Jeffrey

    Prost too, haven't thought about those guys in 20 years.

  • Aug. 29, 2011, 7:43 p.m. CST

    by Noddy93

    i've cussed this site for months for not reviewing Senna. I tried to get tickets for Sundance but was unable so I saw it twice during SxSW. <p><p> i took four friends this past weekend to the Violet Crown in Austin to see it and all were quite pleased with it... and not a one is a F1 fan.