Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2 Movie Reviews: Slumdog Millionaire and Frost/Nixon

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Directors:Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan (co-director: India)

Writers:Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) and Vikas Swarup (novel)

Release Date: 5 December 2008 (Italy)


Dev Patel - Jamal Malik

Madhur Mittal - Salim Malik

Freida Pinto - Latika

Anil Kapoor – Prem Kumar

Jamal Malik sits back in his seat as the lights shine down upon him. The man across from him has asked a question, and now he is being watched by the man, by the studio audience, and by countless millions of people throughout India. If Jamal answers correctly he will be rich beyond fairy-tale lore, but if he is wrong he will be just another slumdog. Or will he?

Danny Boyle’s (Sunshine; Trainspotting) new film Slumdog Millionaire begins with suspense and never lets up. That the movie is a beautiful piece of art is unquestionable, and I will only venture to write that I found the scenery and rhythm of this film to be the best of the year, and so artistically breath-taking that words here cannot accurately describe what the eyes must see. The sweeping scenes of India and specifically the slums of Mumbai will leave a lasting impression on the viewer, especially if you have had little to no experience with such conditions.

With that said, this is a film that is a story within a story within a story, though all three are told fairly seamlessly and intertwined. The first story is that of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) and his opportunity to win millions on a game show. The second story is Jamal’s desperate attempts to reunite with his lost love, Latika (Freida Pinto). And the final story is that of Jamal and his brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal) as we watch them grow from small children to young adults, each taking a distinctly different path to get there.

The three stories unfold with the game show acting as the glue, and by which we come to learn (through multiple actors playing the Malik brothers and Latika as they grow older) how it is that Jamal could possibly go from being just another ‘slumdog’ to a multi-millionaire answering questions to which he should seemingly have no business knowing the answers.

Along this journey we are taken into the slums of India as children are forced and tortured into a Gypsy life-style. We also play witness to religious violence and the overtly stated caste system of India, in which children can live in the worst squalor next to men driving Mercedes and throwing cash away as if it is trash.

The screenplay, based on the book Q and A by Vikas Swarup, follows Jamal as he answers questions on a game show, and we are treated to flashback sequences of his life to see just how it is that a person from his background came to know answers to so many random questions. Throughout this process we are taken for a sibling roller coaster ride as Jamal and Salim take very different paths in their efforts to escape their birth conditions.

Though the love story is the driving force behind this film, and it is the central hinge for which all of Jamal’s experiences are hanging, I found the part of Latika to be the Weakest Link (pun intended) in an otherwise brilliant display of character development. Ultimately, I just didn’t believe or get or fully comprehend her love for Jamal in the way I understood his. There are also some very undeveloped roles of the goons and thugs of which I would have liked to see more, and just a few too many leaps of faith in the plot line. These are, however, to be taken as fairly minor points, and that still leaves me feeling that this film deserves a spot at or near the top of the best films of the year.


Frost/Nixon (2008)

Director: Ron Howard

Writers:Peter Morgan (screenplay)

Release Date: December 2008

Frank Langella – Richard Nixon

Michael Sheen – David Frost

Kevin Bacon - Jack Brennan

Even if you know close to nothing about political history it is safe to say you have probably heard of Watergate. It is also safe to say that you correlate Watergate with the 1970s and President Richard Nixon. In Ron Howard’s new masterpiece Frost/Nixon we are taken back to the Summer of 1977 to play witness to a series of interviews between TV personality David Frost and semi-exiled Ex-President Richard Nixon. What transpires over the course of the film is nothing short of brilliance in the way of character performance, equaled shot for shot by Michael Sheen as Frost, the successful foreign showman who is trying to climb back into the NY picture, and Frank Langella as Nixon, a proud, larger-than life figure battling his own demons while trying to clear his tarnished reputation.

I am not a political historian, but in doing some basic research on the film it is apparent that liberties were taken with some of the facts and sequences, but after all this is not billed a documentary and that should not deter you in any way from enjoying this as a fictionalized piece imbrued with mostly fact, or factual like scenarios.

The movie takes you through the tormented minds of two very different people over seemingly very different issues, but ultimately, what we find, is that these two are more alike than either could have ever imagined, and the culminating scenes of the film draw us in deeply to the minds of these two as they fight man to man in a verbal battle that will ultimately lead to a staggering conclusion.

The film itself sets up as a character piece early on, in which we come to learn of David Frost and how he went from the top of the world in terms of US stature to fighting his way through talk shows and entertainment venues in Australia. He badly wants to get back to the top in the capital of the world- New York City. After the resignation of Richard Nixon and subsequent Presidential pardon, there was no closure, no apology, no admission, and simply no acknowledgment by Ex-President Nixon. He simply moved to California and did not speak of such things.

Though Sheen gives an impressive performance and is as much the driving force of the film as anything, it is simply the work of Langella that reaches out and grabs you by the neck and says “Hey! This is what acting is all about!” His portrayal of the disgraced Ex-President, looking for redemption, seeking something he cannot quite grasp, is one of the greatest performances I have ever seen on the big screen. I was captivated by his movements and even more so his larger-than-life presence. With each cut to him exiting a vehicle, or psyching himself up with a quick jog to music, I found myself feeling both sympathy and pity for this man.

I will not give out more details though it is widely known how the interviews turned out. I am simply going to say that this is an absolute must see film and has quickly bolted to my top movie of 2008.


1 comment:

Joseph said...

I agree with you on the under-development of Latika. I guess we just have to assume there simply wasn't enough time to talk about her more- the movie was damn near 2 hours as it was. One other thing that was a little hard to follow was the time lines... I feel like at times Jamal was older than others and vice versa. Oh well.

How about the random dance scene at the end? Haha, that sorta threw me, but was good.