Wednesday, January 14, 2009

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Four Down, Still More to Go

Good weekend for movie-watching. Bad weekend for Globe-watching. But you know, I'd rather I'd see the films than watch the Oscars cluelessly, you know. Who cares if I missed the Globes? Who cares if I missed Drew Barrymore's unparalleled beauty? Who cares if I missed Colin Farrell winning Best Actor?

Well, okay, I do. A little. But at least I'm almost caught up!

Boy, did I not know what to think going in. All of my friends loved it, and all of my favorite critics said it was fine, decent, okay, but not GREAT. And it was already sweeping awards, so I guess I came in a little wary. But Lord almighty does this thing win you over! Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a tea-server, a boy from the slums of Mumbai. He winds up on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and is suspected of cheating when he is one question away from winning. He recounts his life and the effect it had on his answers.

I really enjoyed it. Nay, loved it. A lot. Danny Boyle is one of those who can always hit it out of the park (I have always regretted that Sunshine did not make it to the Hollmann Awards last year, even just for score), and he does a great job here. His directing style suits the material just fine, and the cinematography is breathtaking, simultaneously gritty and beautiful.

And it's a very uplifting tale, too. There are scenes of such brutal violence, such decadence, such debauchery, that many claim that to say such a thing is missing the forest for the trees. I disagree, though. The movie has a happy ending, he overcomes everything despite the shit and piss and bullets and brothels. How is that not uplifting? This is a Dickensian tale, people; that happy ending has to be earned, and earned hard.

Patel is a very natural actor. His first scenes are a little awkward, but upon reflection, I think the fault lies more with his scene partner, Saurabh Shukla (as a violent interrogator). Then Irrfan Kahn steps in as the Police Inspector and things get going. The children are great, adorable and believable. Anil Kapoor is rather groovy as the Millionaire host. The only weak link here is Freida Pinto as the adult version of Jamal's one love, Latika. And not because she's bad; she's actually pretty damn good. Rather, she just looks absolutely NOTHING like the actresses playing her younger selves. Not in the eyes, not in the skin tone, not in the shape of face, nowhere. It's a continuity mishap that just bothered the hell out of me.

Then there's the final "Jai Ho" sequence, in which he learn that Patel may have a future in musicals. And it's joyous and cathartic and uplifting, and it's everything a movie should be. Slumdog does it all. It makes you cringe and wince and puke a little in your mouth, but it also makes you laugh and dance and leap with joy. That's what movies are, man.

An interesting companion piece to Slumdog was this treasure. Darren Aronofsky's unconventional sports film another underdog tale, but one with a bigger bite. The lead, Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), is kind of a shit. I mean, you feel bad for him and root for him and want him to succeed, but he's a shit. It's no wonder that his favorite stripper (Marisa Tomei) spurns his affections, and his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) refuses to see him.

In fact, he kind of reminds me of Terrence Howard in Hustle & Flow. God, how you love this man. But at the same time, he is so....helpless. He has dug himself a grave and he's in up to his chest. It's a sad film, a funny film, a sweet film. Rourke is amazing, presenting a human both charming and trashy. Tomei and Wood give able support, and both get killer final scenes, but this is Rourke's show. He owns.

And the song. No wonder he's the Boss.

God, you know, I still can't get my head around this movie. I read the book, I understand that the protagonists lie to themselves and each other, are continually "acting", so to speak. But I guess the difference is that Leonardo DiCaprio does it, I believe it. I can see a dim, theatrical, high-falutin' man with unpursued dreams that he just waxes on about. We all know that guy. We all have a family member who either dated or is about to get married to one.

But Kate, man. I just didn't buy it. Even if her performance is supposed to be one big false note, even she's supposed to sound as if she's spouting lines instead of speaking like a person, it just left me cold. I can understand people liking the film, I guess, but she just took me out of it. To see a great Winslet performance in a suburban melodrama, check out Little Children instead.

Interestingly, Kate is the only weak link of the film. Director Sam Mendes has some beautiful stuff to work with here. He lingers longer than you think he should, and it just adds to this whole uncomfortable atmosphere riddled throughout the narrative. Thomas Newman's score is simple but elegant, and Roger Deakins' cinematography is...well, it's Deakins, for God's sake! Did you think this wasn't going to be beautiful?

Justin Haythe does an admirable job adapting David Yates' original novel for the screen. I just don't know if all those lines work for a movie. It's like everyone is pretending they're in a movie that takes place in the 1950s, and while this may be true, I don't want to watch a film and know it. That was the problem with Doubt. Everytime I was content, the director or writer or something would decide to pull the rug out from under me and scream, "MOVIE!" Not my cup of tea.

And yet, when this film takes a six-minute break so that Jean-Claude Van Damme can address the camera directly in a meta-monologue, it works. The whole film hinges on the fact that Van Damme is a movie star. Everything done here is self-aware: the unrealistic lighting, the opening long take, the constant film references, the aforementioned monologue. But it works.

In JCVD, Jean-Claude Van Damme (Jean-Claude Van Damme) returns to Belgium in the midst of a custody battle with his ex-wife over their daughter. Next thing you know, police gather outside a local post office, and it appears JCVD has locked himself in there with hostages. The rest is like a funnier, Frenchier version of Dog Day Afternoon, right down to a John Cazale lookalike.

The difference between this and Revolutionary Road is that it's a great satire that happens to work on a dramatic level, whereas Road is an okay melodrama that seems to not know whether or not to be a satire. You know? And meanwhile, we learn that Van Damme is actually one of the greatest dramatic actors around. His monologue is penetrating. You kind of giggle at first, but then it's just depressing. Here is a movie star, famous for kicking ass and taking names, now involved in a real-life situation where he can do neither of those things. This ain't the movies, and he's just an actor.

JCVD is splendid, suspenseful and sad. I can't wait for this to get a wider release, because it's definitely a must-see.

1 comment:

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