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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Oliver Twisted, Bollywood Style

Slumdog Millionaire, seen Thursday October 23 at the  Landmark Sunshine, Aud. #1,  Part of the Variety Screening Series, 3.5 slithy toads.

This was already a highly touted movie off of its screenings at the Toronto Film Festival and elsewhere even before I saw it, a few weeks before its opening.  And as you can see from the generous # of toads I am giving it, I think it's one of those movies that lives up to the acclaim.  My sister also liked it a lot, though a friend I was talking with on Monday night did not.  Well, the more people who read your book or see your movie the more people you can find who won't like it, but it's clear it is striking a chord.  The movie's been doing very well at the box office with signs of very good word of mouth, slowly broadening from being on very few screens to being on several hundred, and making the top 10 at the box office against films, up there with films that are playing at five times as many theatres.  Well, good!

If you're not yet familiar with the movie, it's set in Mumbai (nee Bombay) India.  It's like Oliver Twist meets Strictly Ballroom, game show meets Bollywood, East meets west.  A contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is doing surprisingly well and on the verge of winning a million dollars worth of rupees, and nobody can quite understand why or how, so the contestant ends up spending his overnight leading up to the final question in police custody, trying to explain how he knows the correct answers.  The answer to that question is revealed in a series of flashbacks beginning in earliest childhood, and it's that part of the movie that's extremely Dickensian.  Dickens himself might find the poor man's upbringing to be a little bit harsh.  The answer to one of the earliest question emerges from a great outhouse adventure, homelessness leads him first to the ultimate girl of his dreams but soon thereafter to a Fagin character whom Fagin himself would find cruel.  Alas not unbelievably so; I live in a city where deaf Mexicans were enslaved into begging on the subway line that runs thru Sunnyside.  His escape from that fate comes with a large price tag, as he's separated from the woman he loves and estranged from his brother. 

So you're saying this doesn't sound like the feel good uplifting movie of the season?  Well, it is.  As grim as the story can be at times, it's far from unrelenting.  The outhouse adventure is full of brio, enthusiasm, and joy.  The escapades include a delightful interlude at the Taj Majal.  We're never too far from flashing forward to the game show, where that million dollars creeps ever closer.  The love story is a classic, one which I was far more involved with (and almost in spite of myself) than the one between Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in Benjamin Button.

The filmmaking is full of life and energy and passion throughout.  I'd say director Danny Boyle has around a 75% success rate, and that's pretty darned good.  Shallow Grave was pretty much the progenitor of the British caper film that's ended up being way overdone in the ten years since, and I recall it having an integral zest and panache which a lot of the subsequent films in the genre have imitated without ever matching.  Trainspotting is the rare film about drug users that I quite cottoned to, and I even purchased the soundtrack album.  28 Days Later is one of the best zombie movies ever.  Millions is an underrated kind-hearted family movie which is well worth renting.  Sunshine, a sci-fi epic, falls apart in the final act and isn't as good as the other movies, but before it falls apart it's an interesting amalgam of a lot of other sf movies, kind of a more upscale seriously intentioned Stargate, with some stunning visual imagery.  There are a couple complete misses like A Life Less Ordinary which I've not seen, and which very few people have, and then there's The Beach, which I did see but don't remember much about either good or bad.  But by and large any film I've seen from Boyle has been crafted with verve and passion, and at least been interesting and often much much more than that.  I wouldn't rank him as high as Kubrick. I don't know if he's crafted a great movie for the ages like Scorcese's Goodfellas, but he's certainly been much more consistent in the overall quality of his movies than Scorcese or Altman.

He's come up with a real find in Dev Patel, a young British actor supposedly auditioned at his daughter's insistence, who displays even more It than David Kross in The Reader.  I was so thrilled Patel was present at the Q&A with Boyle and am very happy he has been nominated for Supporting Actor from his peers in the Screen Actors Guild.  He's very charismatic, has a nice combination of vulnerability and strength, and I expect to see him in more movies.  I hope he won't too quickly go the action star pay check route.

For all my enthusiasm for the movie, I've deducted a half toad because it did take me a while to warm up to the movie.  The characters were slow to gel.  I don't mind subtitles but found myself distracted by these.  I'm not sure I even got the whole romance thing, except that ultimately it was depicted with so much verve by the director and his team and acted with such fervency that I did eventually find myself falling entirely under the movie's spell.  The friend I was talking with earlier in the week was just the opposite.  He liked the movie at first but then felt it drowned in contrivance.   You all can let me know what you think if you see this movie, which I highly recommend doing.  When it came time for the big Bollywood dance number at the end, I wanted to dance in the aisles and I wanted to see the number go on for a long long long time, kind of like how I hated to see the last dance at Kellerman's eventually end in Dirty Dancing.  

I may see the movie again myself.  As sometimes happens at these Q&A screenings, when they're running  late or on a tight schedule they'll instruct the projectionist to cut out of the end credits so they can get an extra two or three minutes into the evening.  That happened here, and I feel as if I didn't get to properly enjoy the entire movie, beginning to end.

& in the interests of time, a quick post which I maybe should have included in Movies that Begin with the Letter W:

The Wrestler.  Seen Thursday December 4 at the Landmark Sunshine, Aud. #1.  Part of the Variety Screening Series.  1.5 slithy toads.

This is another movie that's been highly touted, especially for Mickey Rourke's performance.  It's just opened in limited release and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Slumdog Millionaire by slowly going wider.  It didn't work for me.  It's an archetypal story about a professional wrestler, once a star and now hanging out at the fringes of the sport 20 years later, playing in smaller arenas.  Can he reconcile with his daughter?  Find love with a stripper?  Find a life outside of the wrestling ring when health issues arise?  This kind of story has been done a million times before, though I have a hard time naming all the many movies I should be able to say this is exactly alike.  I think it's because there are so many of them that end up being at the Rocky III level that those I've seen drift into a kind of haze.  And would anyone want to say that Rourke's performance is up there with Paul Newman's in The Color of Money, which is a particularly good example of the faded-star movie?  I can actually hold a pool stick with the cue facing the right way, and though I'm no fan of pool and have no talent for it maybe the fact that I might at least consider playing a round to be fun to do every five years while going down for a 3-count on a wrestling mat is way too high-school-gym I never want to think of every ever again biases me against The Wrestler.  Still, I think I could put aside my dislike of the sport for a movie that were a little more interesting than this.  Personally, I think there were a lot of people who were ready to anoint Mickey Rourke as a great American actor 20 years ago even though he was never really close to it.  I saw Angel Heart.  I saw Barfly.  I saw The Pope of Greenwich Village.  I don't think these were good movies even then and yet somehow Rourke was perceived as being a great new actor.  And sometimes when the critical establishment decides something it never wants to admit its wrong.  So even though Rourke has been acting steadily in supporting roles in movies for the past 20 years without etching an indelible portrait in any of them (The Rainmaker, Point Break, Get Carter, there's a good long list), it's become the perceived wisdom that he's disappeared for 20 years and has suddenly emerged in this classic performance.  It's like Rourke is living for real the kind of existence that Fast Eddie Felson was living fictionally in The Color of Money, and just like Paul Newman doing the "I'm back" line as he hits his break at the end of that, Mickey Rourke can do it as he carts home his statues for The Wrestler.  Sometimes these stories feed on their own momentum, and maybe Rourke will end up taking in a Golden Globe and a Saggy and an Oscar and a this and a that.  We'll all find out soon enough.  But as far as the Brillig Blogger is concerned, The Wrestler ain't worth your time.  I'm tempted to say to see it nonetheless if you're a big wrestling fan, but if you are do you really want to look at the sordid underside of it?

1 comment:

Lisa Iriarte said...

As a frequent former player of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire (my family won the Disney version twice and took two free cruises as our prizes), Slumdog Millionaire has been recommended to me more than once. Sadly, I have not noticed it playing anywhere around me. I might just be out of touch, but I haven't seen it.