28 October 2008
I just got back from a special screening of Slumdog Millionaire.
It's 10:32 pm PST out here in Southern California.
What did I think?
Let's see, if there was a checklist to make a "third-world" movie a Hollywood-sized hit (City of God, Born Into Brothels, etc.), this is how Slumdog would do:
Abject poverty? Check.
Poor street kids? Check.
Poor, cute, street kids? Check.
Living in filth and squalor? Check.
Getting by with their wits and small-time mischief? Check.
Outrunning the law? Check.
Communal (or is that religious?) violence? Check.
Violence against kids? Check.
Kids with guns? Check.
Child near-prostitution? Check.
Poor children filled with the kind of saintly exuberance, naivete and hopefulness that the West objectifies to help it deflect the shattering reality of the situation? Check.
But yet, here I am, my synapses firing, my heart soaring, my legs twitching, my soul throbbing to the pulse of a truly visceral cinematic experience.
(Yeah, I know, cliched, but then again, it's not like I'm a professional critic or anything).
I heart Danny Boyle.
He is a master craftsman, and boy does he make this film run, dance, and sing. True, he has a lot to work with here, a huge canvas to paint on, we are talking about the mythical, exotic land known as India.
I have to admit that I was getting mad in the beginning. It was one thing after another after another after another after another after....well you get my drift. And when they added in some good old secular (or is it communal? religious?) violence into the mix, well I was ready to give up.
I'm so glad I didn't.
Because, you see, Danny boy has a way of keeping things going; this energy pulsating through a film, of a throbbing, propulsive, kinetic life-force (these are the cliches you'll see in the movie's marketing campaign) that eventually makes you drop your guard and give into the fairy tale.
Because that is ultimately what we have here, a fairy tale, an ultimately life-affirming fairy tale based in the sort of heightened reality that Bollywood has come to embody (as so expertly analyzed by The Better Half). Danny uses all the tricks in his sizable bag (including perhaps the greatest time lapse I have ever seen, when the boys are on the train and...well, you'll have to see), but really it's Simon Beaufoy's expert puzzle of a script that brings it all home in the end.
[The movie is based on Vikas Swarup's debut novel, Q&A. Yes, that's right, I said debut novel. Makes you crazy doesn't it? A British director goes to India, where he had never been before, never!, and adapts the debut novel of a part-time writer, (Swarup was a diplomat before the novel was published). Pretty crazy, huh? Makes you wish that you could, you know, do something like that...]
And yes, even though I could see it coming from a mile away, even though I knew what was about to happen in the end, my heart was in my throat and I got a wee...bit...choked...up...
What can I say? I tend to get sentimental in my old age.
Any "propulsive" movie "throbbing" with energy needs a pulsating soundtrack, a soundtrack with the "pulsing rhythm of life" (see how I did that...nice, no?) and everyone from A. R. Rahman to Shankar Ehsaan Loy, to even M.I.A. herself (wonder if she is going to become Irrfan Khan-like de rigeur for these Hollywood/Bollywood movies?) contribute mightily to this effort. I don't think there was ever a more appropriate place for "Paper Planes" (that great Pineapple Express trailer notwithstanding) than how it was used in this movie.
If the now-great (yes, I have dubbed him a "great" so I will use that little prefix every time I mention him in the future, and yes, great will be italicized) Anthony Dod Mantle is not nominated for Best Cinematography come Oscar time, then that will be a tragedy of Emmanuel Lubezki proportions!
The acting is good, with a stellar turn by the great Anil Kapoor (I hope this puts him in the Irrfan Khan category where, by law, every "Hollywood" movie made in India has to give him a part...). Thank god Shah Rukh Khan reportedly turned down the role.
Irrfan, as always, was good, with some nice work turned in by the likes of Raj Zutshi, Saurabh Shukla, and the very frightening Ankur Vikal.
Ironically, the hitherto unknown lead Dev Patel (discovered by Danny's daughter from the British show, and apparent cult hit, Skins) is somewhat of a weak link. It's not really his fault, the movie actually doesn't give him, as in the character at that age, much of a backstory, so ultimately it is a little hard to make the inevitable narrative leap with him.
Ditto the female lead, Freida Pinto, and male co-lead Madhur Mittal, who, to be fair, were both making their film debuts. Actually, come to think of it, this was the first film of all three of them so fine, I'll cut them some slack. So, okay they were all good, fine.
I hate to say, I really do, but the kids...man were they heart-breakingly good. They really were.
Why do I hate to say it? Because, it seems that they are all slum kids...for real.
Yeah, I know. Danny has promised that he has put them in good schools where he hopes they will stay. Once you give them a taste of this life, of the possibilities that are now open to them that they could not have previously dared to even dream about, it would be a tragedy, a real tragedy!, for them to go back to the way things were.
I sincerely hope that Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Rubina Ali, Farzana Ansari, and Chirag Parmar use this opportunity to make a better a life for themselves.
The other "kids" were great too, I haven't read through the production notes in more detail to know for sure if they were "slum" kids or just your average, run-of-the-mill Indian kids who just happen to be terrific young actors. They definitely rate a mention: Tanay Hemant Chheda, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, and Siddesh Patil.
I will concede that it is very easy to be clear-eyed and objective here. I will grant you that the film does, in fact, fall prey to the exact things I often rail against: it exoticizes India; it amplifies the very worst Western stereotypes of India; it perpetuates the one-sided depiction of India that persists in Western media; it uses easy stereotypes; it is lazy in its shorthanding of the many complexities that bedevil urban Indian living; it provides a sanctified halo around the "noble" suffering it shows; it leans on the children to provide the easy emotional connection; it resorts to the oldest narrative tricks in the book; it...
It sweeps you away.
...it is 11:57 pm PST out here in Southern California...
...and an old man is twitching with energy...
...pulsating with this so-called rhythm of life...
...basking in the afterglow of that rare cinematic experience...
...where it was all right, for once, to believe in fairy tales.
What can I say?
I am getting sentimental in my old age.
Rotten Tomatoes: Slumdog Millionaire (100%!)
Wikipedia: Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire Official Site
Wikipedia: Vikas Swarup
Wikipedia: Danny Boyle
IMDB: Danny Boyle
23 October 2008
John Hodgman (you know the PC to Justin Long's Mac, from those commercials) is one of my most favorite parts of The Daily Show (up there with the great Lewis Black and soon-to-depart Rob Riggle).
The Better Half pointed me to a very cool, in-depth interview with Hodgie (that's what I like to call him) at The Onion A.V. Club where he talks at length about his beginnings and his career now.
Love that guy.
The Onion: John Hodgman Interview
Wikipedia: John Hodgman
22 October 2008
India thrashes Australia, goes to the moon, and now we're on the verge of reclaiming the Chess World Championship.
Our very own Viswanathan Anand is in the process of, um, thrashing Vladimir Kramni. He has won three of the last four games, and has taken a 4.5 - 1.5 lead in the 12-game series (12?!). Apparently in the world of chess this is virtually unheard of as most games end in draws.
That's right world, you can't hope to stop us, you can only hope to contain us. Actually, you can't even contain us.
You go Vishy, you go boy!
NYT: Anand Has Commanding Lead at World Championship
That's right, India thrashed Australia, and now we're sending spaceships to the moon.
And I mean, the moon!
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, according to The New York Times, has not ruled out a space race with China.
Which means, that's right, Mars you're next.
Widespread poverty, crumbling infrastructure, communal violence, stifling pollution, systematic corruption...what's that you say?...sorry I can't hear you, we're going to the moon!
NYT: India Launches Orbiter to Moon
Not only did India beat Australia in the second Test, we thrashed them.
The shoe is on the other foot now, eh?
How's it feel, you arrogant Aussies? Not too good huh?
I mean, it's laughable that Matthew Hayden complained about Zaheer Khan sledging him after being dismissed by that "little obnoxious weed" Harbhajan Singh (Hayden's words, not mine, literally). The Aussies practically invented sledging, and now their feelings are hurt? It's not as easy when you are the ones at the bottom.
This one had everything go right for India. There were some sterling batting performance all around (Sachin Tendulkar even chipped in when it mattered), there was some tight bowling, good captaincy (MS Dhoni did well, but I hope they don't use this as an excuse to phase out Anil Kumble), and a fantastic century by the Prince of Calcutta himself, Sourav Ganguly (so memorably named by his biggest fan, Geoffrey Boycott), playing in his final Test series.
Let's not get too ahead of ourselves. If I know one thing about the Aussies, they never give up, never, and they're going to come roaring back in the next Test.
But until then...we thrashed Australia!
Cricinfo: Match Home
Cricinfo: Match Analysis
I know, I know, we all thought the real thing would come before that epic Guns N' Roses album (15 years in the making!).
And now, finally, it's here!
Okay, so not all of it, but the title track "Chinese Democracy" is out now, and I like it. I do! Too bad at this point GNR is Axl Rose and bunch of mopes because I have high hopes for this.
The actual album will be sold exclusively through Best Buy on 23 November 2008.
Mark your calendars, on 23 November 2008, democracy will be spread...
Here is the tracklisting:
1. Chinese Democracy
2. Shackler's Revenge
4. Street Of Dreams
5. If The World
6. There Was A Time
7. Catcher N' The Rye
9. Riad N' The Bedouins
13. This I Love
Click the player below to listen to "Chinese Democracy":
Billboard: Radio Reacts To Guns N' Roses Single
20 October 2008
Sad news that the great Terrence Howard is not going to be in Iron Man 2. He has been replaced by Don Cheadle.
I mean, I really like Cheadle, but it's not like he doesn't get work. He's in a lot of movies, he gets good reviews, he's pals with George Clooney and gets pats on the back for trying to help people in Darfur and whatnot. It's not like he needs this.
On the other hand, poor Howard hasn't really managed to string together any consistency after his initial breakthrough with Hustle & Flow. I was looking forward to seeing him kick some a** in IM2, and use that higher profile to hopefully propel himself to a better career.
Now comes the sad part, he wasn't even told he was being replaced.
Buried in a Variety story about a lawsuit involving Robin Williams, is this little bit:
Terrence Howard may wish that he had a pay-or-play deal. The actor discussed on NPR’s Weekend Edition the loss of the role of War Machine that he had originated in "Iron Man." He told Scott Simon that he learned that Don Cheadle would be taking over the role in "Iron Man 2" in the trades.
"It was the surprise of my life," he said, stating that Marvel reneged on their contract and their promises to him. He indicated that the issue wasn't money.
Man, it wasn't even about money. Can't a guy catch a break?
Jon Favreau, you have some 'splainin' to do...
Variety: Robin Williams Sues Frank and Beans
Sad news, my favorite correspondent from The Daily Show, Rob Riggle, is leaving.
Sigh, they all leave.
According to Variety, he has signed a development deal with CBS to create a sitcom.
What's sad is not that he's leaving, but that he's leaving to create yet another mediocre CBS sitcom with good actors (you know, like Charlie Sheen, Patrick Warburton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Neil Patrick Harris, etc.).
Oh well, at least they left Lewis Black and John Hodgman behind.
Variety: Daily Show's Riggle moves to CBS
Check it out, someone else I knew at USC has won an Emmy.
Robert Bahar was one of the legendary Starkies (part of the Peter Stark Producing Program) who deigned to come over to the Production side of the house. We always looked up to the Starkies, they were the movers and shakers who, unlike us, actually managed to find careers for themselves after school. On top of that, they were great producers and if you were lucky enough to have one of them work on your precious thesis film, then you could be sure that it would come out gangbusters.
So, we were all a bit surprised when Robert decided to produce a documentary thesis film, and we were even more surprised to find that the was a super-nice guy, and I mean, a super-nice guy!
And now he's won an Emmy for Made in LA, a documentary about garment workers in Los Angeles.
Who says nice guys finish last?
Well done Robert, well done!
USC: TV Trojans - Eight Alumni Win Emmys
Made in LA Official Website
16 October 2008
The Boston Red Sox came back from the dead, and a 0 - 7 deficit in the seventh inning to close the gap on the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays in the ALCS.
It's now 3 - 2.
And all day I had been hearing that this was all but over, that unlike 2004 and 2007, this Red Sox team had no chance of coming back.
And this happens!
And David "Big Papi" Ortiz (love that guy) breaks out of his slump to hit a three-run home run.
Oh no, oh no! This is my worst nightmare come true (especially after the Los Angeles Dodgers' dispiriting loss in the NLCS).
Now my old colleague Rich Chen and Red Sox Nation (gawd!) will be even more insufferable than usual.
Great, just bloody great!
NYT: Down by 7-0, Red Sox Force a Game 6
15 October 2008
So, Aravind Adiga became yet another desi to win the Man Booker Prize for his novel, The White Tiger.
It's his first novel.
On top of that he's a graduate of Columbia University, the University of Oxford and a former contributor to Time magazine.
Oh yeah, he's my age!
Hate that guy!
PS. My old USC colleague Andy Colville and his wife Laura gave me the book for my birthday, before the prize was announced. Very sweet of them, and I had actually been wanting to read the book since I had heard it was good...until I found out he was my age!
PPS. My old USC colleague Doney Joseph told me about Adiga winning, thanks a lot man, thanks a lot!
LAT: Man Booker Prize Goes to Aravind Adiga
Man Booker Prize Official Site
Yeah, I know, I was shocked by that Cricinfo headline as well.
Apparently, Sachin Tendulkar put up some pretty ordinary numbers, but this time these ordinary numbers are what saved India.
You could call it a Dravid-ian effort (as in Rahul Dravid)!
Great job by the boys to hang on for a hard-fought draw, especially when things got a bit dicey at 1-16, then at 2-24 (in only 8 overs!), and then again at 3-77.
I don't want to get my hopes up yet, but maybe this time India will put up a fight against Australia in the rest of the Test series...
Cricinfo: Match Analysis
12 October 2008
...tailenders Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh were top-scoring with 57 and 54 runs each, respectively.
Oh, by the way, they're bowlers!
Of course, once again it was Rahul Dravid from The Big Three (which also includes Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, and becomes The Big Four once you include Anil Kumble) who provided any semblance of resistance against the Australian attack.
And, of course, once again Ricky Ponting (under enormous pressure coming into this series given his own poor performance in India in the past and the many changes within the team from the last time they were here) came up big, scoring his first Test century on Indian soil (at what point do we start calling him an all-time great?).
If it weren't for Zaheer and Harbhajan (man, the Aussies must hate him!) this thing would be all over by now. As it stands, Australia are ahead by 263 runs heading into the final day. Expect them to declare early and then it will be up to the vaunted Indian batting attack to hold their nerve in the face of the withering Aussie pace attack and bat out the day for a draw.
This is it boys, buckle down and play it out.
Cricinfo: Match Home
Finally, there is photographic evidence, my old USC pal Andy Colville and Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock (i.e. Jack McBrayer) are not the same person.
This was taken when Andy and his wife Laura attended the Creative Emmy Awards (she's the casting director for Mad Men, the show that I really need to watch).
NBC: Jack McBrayer Bio
Mad Men Official Site
You have to hand it to my friend Shubho Ghosh.
He saw this whole meltdown thing coming from a mile away, so he accepted a package from the investment bank he was working at, got his Green Card, and is chilling, living off that very generous buyout, waiting on a couple of very lucrative offers from other places.
And, oh yeah, he also appeared on television, talking about the financial crisis.
And, oh yeah, he also appeared in print, talking about the financial crisis.
Only Shubho, only Shubho...
NDTV: Shubho Ghosh Interview
Outlook: Shubho Ghosh Article
Oh, by the way, at the Creative Emmy Awards my old TA Marc Clark actually won an Emmy for editing Top Chef (which The Better Half loves).
Like I had said in my earlier post, the man deserved to win based on the fact that he makes Padma Lakshmi somewhat palatable. I guess they were listening to me.
Well done Marc!
Found this on Hollywood Elsewhere, my favorite movie blog.
It's the new Nike commercial directed by the legendary David Fincher called Fate.
He had some help, the great DP Emmanuel Lubezki (the genius behind Children of Men) shot the commercial.
The two players are two of my favorites, the great Troy Polamalu and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Click below to play the video:
Boards: Nike Fate
10 October 2008
No, it's not a remake of Madonna's love-it-or-hate-it title song for Die Another Day (the worst of the Pierce Brosnan Bond films?).
It's the title track to Quantum of Solace, and it's called "Another Way to Die," and it's by Jack White & Alicia Keys (the first time in the film franchise's history that a duo has recorded the theme song).
Click below to play the video:
09 October 2008
02 October 2008
Sent to me by The Better Half.
Click below to see the ex-Mrs. Jimmy Kimmel (Sarah Silverman) talk about going to Florida to visit your Jewish grandparents and seeing if they will vote for Barack Obama.
Click below to play the video:
The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.
The Great Schlep Official Website