Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): This is a film where the synopsis is far less intriguing than the film itself: an orphan from the slums makes it to the final round on India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" When I first heard of the film, the only thing that piqued my interest was the involvement of director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). But upon watching the film this Saturday afternoon, any description simply won't do justice to the wonder of this film. As Roger Ebert aptly puts it, the film "hits the ground running," swiftly entering the world of Jamal, an orphan from the slums of Mumbai. Accused of cheating on the show--how could an uneducated "slumdog" know anything?--Jamal's biography is beaten out of him by Indian police in a series of flashbacks revealing how he came to know the answers. It is both a heartwarming and a heartbreaking story, one that sweeps a wide range of emotions. It is one of the only films where I've both laughed and cried openly in a theater (I laughed...I cried...I speak only in cliches).

The same story could have been told about a poor kid in Los Angeles or New York--it's been told before as Oliver Twist--but the captivating look at Indian culture is what makes this film unique. Boyle captures India in a breathtakingly authentic way. The camera scurries around the bustling streets of Mumbai, hanging off the side of trains cutting across the countryside, showing panoramic views of the Taj Mahal, revealing both poverty and beauty in a single shot. The universal story of an underdog (pun intended) struggling to rise above the circumstances life has handed him is simply enchanting. I am reminded of Gladwell's Outliers, that success is gained not so much by innate ability or hard work, but by the culture and occasion we find ourselves in. "Outliers are those who have been given opportunities--and who had the strength and presence of mind to seize them." Jamal is an outlier in all meanings of the word: he is a person detached from society because of poverty, but also chooses to detach himself from systemic poverty through ingenuity and drive. His drive is his love for Latika, which is one of the most authentic and moving love stories on film this year. Edward Cullen, eat your heart out.

Vivacious and spirited, with striking cinematography and an engaging story, Slumdog Millionaire might be the best film of the year--and is certainly one of my favorites. Do yourself a favor: find where this is playing in your town and go see it tonight.

Wanted (2008): Imagine The Matrix being written and directed by hyper-caffeinated frat boys with a bent for nihilism, and you have Wanted. It is an extravagant action film, scene after scene intended for groups of testosterone-laden guys to yell, "Whoa, that was siiiick!" The entire film is either in extreme slow motion or on fast-forward, creating a frenetic pace that flies as fast as the bullets.

When I compare the film to The Matrix, I mean that it's a blatant rip-off. Here's the plot: a nobody office worker (James McAvoy) who is tired of life is suddenly drawn into a secret violent world by a beautiful woman (Angelina Jolie), mentored by an older black man who gives him a mission that only he can accomplish, with some slow-motion bullet dodging thrown in for good measure. Sound familiar? The difference is, The Matrix was an original and unique sci-fi action film. Wanted is its raunchy doppelganger, with far more blood-and-guts violence and definitely more foul language. 

The basic premise revolves around a thousand-year-old league of assassins, guided by "Fate" to kill anyone and everyone who comes up on their bizarre "weaver's loom of destiny" (that will make sense if you watch the film...kind of). They curve bullets, flip cars, jump through high-rise windows, survive massive train wrecks, and strap plastic explosives to rats. It's all in good fun, and that's where Wanted succeeds as a film: it never takes itself too seriously. This is meant for entertainment and entertainment alone. While the film does try to express an existentialism akin to Fight Club, it never tries to dive too deep into philosophical or spiritual waters (a significant difference between it and The Matrix). It trades in its philosophy for gun battles and car chases. Yet there still is a slight element of deep thinking here, asking questions about destiny and whether we have any choice in where our lives are headed.

Overall, despite the slightly negative tone I've used thus far, I was thoroughly entertained. This film was intended to be a summer action-flick; on that level, it achieves its goal marvelously. If you want a mindless action film to keep you entertained for 110 minutes, then Wanted is your movie. (A note of caution: this film earns its R-rating for its violence, language, and sexuality. Definitely intended only for adults

Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008): This is an entertaining documentary is about the use of anabolic steroids in America. Director Chris Bell takes a hard look at American culture, steroid use, and morality as he also deals with the personal struggle of having two brothers using illegal steroids. Bell does an excellent job of looking at all sides of the issue, presenting as many different forms of facts and data as possible. There are interviews with friends, family, scientists, attorneys, celebrities, steroid-users, steroid-makers, politicians, musicians, air force pilots, and even a handshake with the Governator himself. I was honestly unaware of how incredibly complex this problem truly is. Bell asks some tough questions: if alcohol and tobacco have more scientific proof to cause health issues and death, why aren't they illegal but steroids are? If performance-enhancing drums are used for students, musicians, and even in the military (you can read an alarming story here), why can't they be used in baseball? How do guys like Arnold and Olympic athletes become heroes, while other steroid users end up as nobodies? And perhaps the biggest question this film asks is this: does our competition- and success-driven American culture foster this kind of performance-enhancement? Which do we value more: success or character? Overall, it's an insightful and entertaining documentary with a personal touch.

1 comment:

  1. "I think pro athletes should be forced to use steroids. I think we as fans deserve the greatest athletes science can create. Anything that will make you run faster or jump higher. I have high-definition TV. I want my athletes like my video games. Let's go! Who cares if you die at 40, you hate life after sports anyway. I'm doing you a favor." -Daniel Tosh

    I've been wanting to see Slumdog for awhile now. I need to go out and see it.