Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire: Jamal, a slum kid done good, is just trying to get back with his girl. The universe seems to have other plans for him, and it involves appearing on the Indian Who Wants to be a Millionaire? – where, despite his slum upbringing, he knows a streak of answers. This however makes the host suspicious, and he calls the cops to take him away for a shake-down.

A film adaptation of a novel, Q & A by Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire is up for serious Oscar contention. Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting), it’s little wonder a story like this is being considered a dark horse for Best Picture. Timelines are interspersed, but each subtly clear and distinct, though it does like to meander. Told mostly in English, the plot manages to keep its thread, though there are moments of credulity that the suspension of disbelief is required to overcome. Scenes of the slums can be confronting, and occasionally it appears to be exaggerated to make the point, but it’s all in there, and then some.

Much of the cast appear to be first-timers or near-unknowns, with the exception of the host (Anil Kapoor, former Bollywood heart-throb), and the police detective (Irfan Khan, last seen by me in The Namesake a week ago), who both fill their roles admirably. The newcomers and child actors do well, though not without the occasional moment of heavy-handed direction.

Stylistically told, well acted and with a brilliant soundtrack by A. R. Rahman (featuring M.I.A.), Slumdog Millionaire should definitely surprise. ★★★★

Movie Review: Quickie Edition IX

Tropic Thunder: The line between action movie and spoof action flick blurs wildly in this, though it pulls out just ahead in the spoof column. I suppose it’s only a commentary of our times when you wonder whether the product placement in this is intentional or whether it’s there to be parodied. While there aren’t any stand-out performances, the movie does chug along nicely enough, and it’s worth a few laughs. ★★★

Dhrona: Zero out of Five. Zip, zilch, nada. No redeeming features what. so. ever.

(I mean, if you can make Priyanka Chopra look frumpy, you’re most certainly doing it wrong.)

Australia: Australia, the country, deserves better than this, if only because there is such talent that it could have had better. Australia tells the story of Lady Sarah Ashley, newly arrived in the Territory to try to sell off a cattle ranch, Faraway Downs. A series of unfortunate events sees her staying, and a love story, a tale of hardship and a snippet of war are all told in the backdrop of early World War II Darwin.

You know it’s an “epic” because (a) the running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes (interval? what interval?) and there’s at least three or four points throughout that you think “Is this the end yet?” (at least before checking your watch).

Baz Luhrman certainly starts off with a hyper-realistic style that is intriguing, but this very quickly degrades into a by-the-numbers play, every twist to the plot well sign-posted. This belies the talent of the acting, barring Nicole, with unsung Aussie heroes such as Bryan Brown and David Wenham in particular standing out from the crowd.

In the end, if it wasn’t for the little kid Nullah, this would be a dull epic hardly worth slogging through. Despite all this, it is after all your patriotic duty as an Australian to go watch this. ★★☆

Dostana – Now, this is how you make Priyanka Chopra look smokin’. The story here is that two guys (John Abraham and Abhishek Bachan) living in Miami have to pretend to be a gay couple to get an apartment, and they end up being housemates with The Hot Girl (Priyanka). Who they inevitably fall for, but comedy gets in the way of telling her that they’re not, etc.

Genuinely funny and not-half-bad rom-com, though inevitably overdoes the songs. ★★★★

The Namesake – well constructed and largely on-the-money portrayal of an Indian migrant family. Meera Nair directs a story that’s almost a series of viginettes that move along the timeline in jumps. Each jump is appropriate, and the tale is told with a minimum of fuss or superfulous material.

Kal Penn demonstrates his ability to act is not limited to stoners a la Harold & Kumar, and Tabu & Irfan Khan prove most excellent in the roles of the parents. A brilliant movie, but perhaps limited in its target audience. ★★★☆

Madagascar – Escape 2 Africa: Brilliant! While the first Madagascar was a bit meh, a bit by-the-numbers, it looks like the producers went back to it and said “how can we make this better?”, and they actually found the right key elements. The penguins are in fine form, as is the lemur King Julian (Sacha Baren Cohen, a.k.a. Ali G, Borat) – you get the feeling that there’s an element of ad-libbing going on to make it all the more brilliant. The main plot moves along at a tight clip, with only a little sentimentality. Good laughs make it well worth it for young and old. ★★★☆

The Ballet

So a friend is forced to drop out of attending a ballet performance due to work commitments, and she offers the ticket to me. I think to myself, “who me?”, but then I reconsider: “Why the hell not?” And thus it is that I found myself at Manon, performed by The Australian Ballet at the Sydney Opera House, which also marks the first time I’m actually going inside the Opera House, after all these years in Sydney.

My impressions?

  • The Opera House is… shall we say distinctly Modernist, even on the inside? It seems a little no-nonsense, concrete and clean lines in wood. From inside, it doesn’t particularly strike as an architectural wonder, nor quite as opulent and grand as one might expect from an “Opera house”… but then chances are I’ve been spoilt rotten by the three places I’ve seen stage-shows in London, all of which were grander than my imagining and had an old world charm. SOH comes out alright in comparison, but it appears to definitely be a building to admire from afar.
  • Ballet is essentially musicals without the lyrics, and better dancing. Also better music – from this all-too-brief introduction to the genre, the orchestra plays a role front-and-centre in the exposition in a ballet. As opposed to a musical, this allows you to focus more clearly on the music and the dance than let the lyrics and speech distract your attention.
  • More is the pity that the orchestra doesn’t play much of a more prominent role. Buried as it was in the orchestra pit (inevitably), I got the feeling that their role was underplayed compared to the dancers, when really the orchestra almost entirely construct and conduct the evening at their pace. I suppose it’s a compromise that must be made given that it’s a ballet, after all.
  • That said, full credit must go to the dancers and choreographer for bringing the various whims of a composer into context with the dance – abstract as it may be at times, it provides a visual counterpoint to a purely audio experience that could have been interpreted in all manner of ways.
  • There’s so much going on on stage that it’s easy to miss something – little wonder then that people go time and time again to the same show. While for the most part there’s a clear draw of attention, the dancers in the background never seem to let up, maintaining their stage personas and frittering around the edges.
  • When they call them “tights”, they really aren’t kidding!
  • These people are fit. Clearly not just in a we’re-dancing-every-day-so-we’re-skinny-as – the ladies stay up on their tip-toes for extended periods, and move around at a fair clip without appearing to break a sweat – no heavy-breathing was visible to me, even after they’d ran around a fair bit. And the men – some of the lifts were practically holding the women up in the air or waist-at-shoulder-heght on a single hand. This is while prancing around themselves enough to raise a sweat in any ordinary man. Maximum respect.
  • That all said, were it not for the trusty program guide handed to me on my way in, I would’ve been all at sea – clearly, I am not one to fully comprehend interpretive dance. On the other hand, I can follow the line of reasoning behind this – a certain level of intellectual snobbery, if you will, meaning that if you know the story beforehand you’re educated and cultured enough to belong amongst the intellectual elite.
  • Finally, some of the moves are damn suggestive – were it to be a more modern movie, say, you would’ve had to exclude many of the kiddies from attending. Or maybe that’s just me and my ingrained analyse-this-for-subtext from years of English.

All up, I think it’s definitely a cultural experience to be had, and the performers, dancers and orchestra both, are brilliant. The Opera House in some ways is a disappointment, but any complaints are well qualified with the fact that the accoustics still did sound excellent, and the modernist style is a refreshing change in many ways.

But… I think you’d struggle to drag me to another ballet performance without a helluva reason for attending =)

Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreak

Kanye follows up Graduation with a brilliant album that you will almost certainly not get on the first listen, if you’re expecting anything like Graduation or Late Registration. Kanye is of course reknowned for his hip-hop, but he takes a turn towards left-field here, experimenting with synth-pop style beats, and heavy on the synth-drums – indeed, half the name of the album, 808s, is for the drum machine used to produce the all-pervasive thumping drum line.

Love Lockdown, the first single from the album, is adequate demonstration of the style – the drum line almost plays a heartbeat throughout the song, and Kanye’s voice is tempred by the blatant and intentional use of Auto-Tune to modify the sounds – the robotic texture gauranteed to alienate one way or the other.

Kanye apparently wrote this album following his breakup with his finace of 18 months, and also in the wake of his mother’s death, and the anger and anguish is apparent in some of the songs. While this doesn’t appear to have the chart toppers of previous releases, the album itself is far more cohesive and well constructed.  The question now is whether Kanye continues to set the pace with this, or whether he wanders into his own new genre. It’s identifiable as hip-hop, but only tangentially.