Brazilians Bring It On

The sixth Brazilian Film Festival is a high-definition affair

Once in town Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson soon employ their powers of deductive reasoning to discover that whomever stole the fine fiddle may indeed be the serial killer. As is to be expected, the detective work is elementary, my dear Watson, elementary. The murderer, identified as the world's first serial killer, leaves telltale clues. Bloody violin strings are placed atop his victims' unmentionables, and the slasher disappears into the shadows playing a mournful tune on a -- you guessed it -- violin.

The film begins in the style and tone of a serious period drama, but as the story unfolds, Xangô morphs into a lighthearted farce peppered with one-liners and slapstick routines not far removed from the 1980s Airplanemovies.

Such a turn would fall flat with any other cast of players, but the well-paced and subtle performances of Joaquim de Almeida as Sherlock Holmes and Anthony O'Donnell as Doc Watson, set against a colorful cast of Brazilian intellectuals and a slumming Sarah Bernhardt (Maria de Medeiros), make this comedic telling of an otherwise dreary tale as welcome as a beachy samba party.

Bellini and the Sphynx and a damn sexy dick who's gotta find the perp and some love
Bellini and the Sphynx and a damn sexy dick who's gotta find the perp and some love

Details

Rated R.

June 3 to 9 at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; $6 general admission; call for more details and times, 305-674-1026 or 877-877-7677.

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Xangô's strength lies in its textured characters. We get a multifaceted rendering of our favorite Scotland Yard inspector, whose sex appeal is played out in a storyline with a beautiful mulatto showgirl. The sexual spin pays off comedically when Holmes reveals his experience (or lack thereof) with the ladies. We see Holmes stuff his emblematic pipe with hooch, referred to as "Indian tobacco." When asked by his sidekick what he is smoking, the bleary-eyed inspector posits blissfully, "It's wonderful weed, Watson, won't you have some?"

The humorous script is effective enough to suspend one's disbelief, although some of the slapstick, such as the tossing of a freshly extricated liver of one of the victims, hot-potato style, may seem far-fetched. Still as a comedic tool, it works.

Though the comedic elements may hit their marks, the underlying slayer mystery falls by the wayside. When the murderer is finally exposed and the methodical manner in which he carried out his crimes is revealed, the audience must stretch to recall the murder plot.

The truth of the story is a bit tough to swallow, but compared with the hack job that Hollywood did with the Johnny Depp film From Hell, in which Queen Victoria is essentially revealed as Jack the Ripper's protector, the Brazilian interpretation goes down nicely if even a wee bit challenging, like a spicy feijoada. -- Juan Carlos Rodriguez

Of Jack and the Strippers

Like most celluloid private eyes worth their weathered boots, Remo Bellini has all the right stuff. He's tough, he's daring, he's got a great pad with a view, and he struts deliciously in a tight pair of jeans. It goes without saying his calling card works wonders with the droves of women he encounters on a given day, though it also allows for well-placed lumps by unknown bad guys on his sexy little head.

It's just part of the daily grind for Bellini as he works his way through the intricate maze laid before him in Bellini and the Sphynx(Bellini e a Esfinge), a promising thriller set in São Paolo's sleazy world of prostitutes, druggies, and hired guns.

Bellini (Fábio Assunção) is called to action when a prominent physician hires his firm to search for an exotic dancer who's vanished, and with whom the doctor is fitfully in love. When the man of medicine is found beaten to death in his office a short time later, Bellini and his new partner, Beatriz, are thrust into a confusing world of dual identities and bad intentions.

And as with any detective tale worth its telling, the circumstances of the plot are secondary to deeper and more intriguing human questions. The mystery cast before the hunky protagonist inadvertently forces Bellini to face his own vulnerabilities. The vehicle for this inner turmoil is women, of course. As voiced by a laughing pimp-owner of a strip joint, "All women are an illusion, heh heh heh."

The statement becomes a tormenting mantra for the young detective's unconscious as he delves deeper into the case, and Beatriz digs deeper into his pants. The plot twists become an unfathomable web that leave the protagonist confused and dejected. But still, like all the great street-level, sexy private dicks before him (think Dirty Harry, Dan Tanna, and Tony Baretta), Bellini must hit rock bottom to tap into his true heroic self.

While the film employs the right techniques, such as seemingly endless plot convulsions, action scenes, a stable of sleazy characters, and sex sex sex, Bellini and the Sphynx lacks perhaps the most important ingredient to captivate moviegoers -- suspense. It seems at times as if director Roberto Santucci Filho is torn between creating a realistic, deep-thinking drama and a sensational tits-and-ass thriller. This directorial crossroads hinders the pace of Bellini and the Sphynx to where it feels more like a television action series than a well-produced feature film. -- Juan Carlos Rodriguez

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