Saturday, February 28, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Brutal but brilliant.

That's how I described Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire as I exited the cinema. Though this was in a text, so I was going for concision rather than pith.

I'll stand by the statement, because Boyle's fable of a street urchin winning the big bucks certainly doesn't pull any punches. Literally. We're taken through Jamal's hand-to-mouth childhood as he's being brutally interrogated by the police for getting the correct the answers on India's Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. I can't really handle watching kids or animals get hurt in films, so in that way Slumdog Millionaire is very confronting.

However Boyle also infuses the film with a huge amount of love and joy. If you've seen the gorgeous Millions, you'll know how well he works with children and how effortlessly he can plunge himself into their wild and wonderful worlds. The opening chase sequence - classic Boyle and set to one of many cracking songs by A.R. Rahman and M.I.A - is a perfect example of the director's exuberance and empathy for his characters. In fact, Boyle has plans to set up a trust fund for Mumbai locals who featured in the film.

Now Slumdog Millionaire has racked up eight Oscars, I'm hesitant to add to the hype. The film is essentially a beautifully shot, wonderfully performed fairytale. It's a little film, with a big heart, and I worry about it drowning under the weight of expectation. If you're yet to see the film, I'd suggest you try to take it on it's own terms, not conflated by the accolades of the Academy.

I'd also be keen to hear if you were able to watch this film without reflecting on the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai. I couldn't help but think about these horrible events, particularly during the scenes at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Station. Yes, it took me out of the film a bit, but I'm always fascinated when history (albeit very recent history in this case) journeys into cinema, distinctly, if subtly, altering my viewing experience. Another example is the tragic death of Heath Ledger and how this can't help but impact your experience of his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. No doubt the same will be said for his final role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

But I digress...

To lock in my final answer: Although the realities of both Slumdog Millionaire's setting and it's trophy haul will no doubt affect your interpretation of the film, don't let that stop you enjoying this brilliantly structured fable about the brutal life of a slumdog.

Friday, February 27, 2009

It's a Slumdog night for us

Don't do it, Wolverine! - Image

Oh yeah, the Pom and I slummed it through the Academy Awards.

For a start, our foodie hosts had joined forces with a chef friend to cater our little soiree: turns out figs and films make the perfect combo, and when you add rocket, home-smoked meats and goats cheese with truffle oil, you can't help but feel a little Hollywood decadent.

Bubbles accompanied this stunning entree, and loosened tongues just in time for some red carpet heckling. As per set rules, there was a fair bit of drinking as the frocked and facelifted wafted across the screen, but all too soon it was time for the first award.

And it went to ME!

Eeeee! Finally my hours of film watching paid off as I took out the 'most films' award. I am now the proud owner of my own wooden Oscar, whom the Pom has already positioned in perfect golf stance. Remind me to post a pic.

Not that it really matters now I've scored my prize, but you know, we did eventually watch the Academy Awards. With a bit of technological gymnastics, we screened the last third first as we waited for Channel 9's coverage to begin. The second award up for grabs was for 'best score', based on the ballots we'd submitted the night before.

So as we tucked in to some scrumptious pasta, pens were in hand to mark up which of our Hollywood horses had made it across the line. Of course the writing was on the wall very soon: it was to be a Slumdog night for us.

One of 8 Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire, Jai-Ho took out best original song - Image

I should have played the politics; should have known that the Academy would always go for the grand spectacle of a Slumdog Millionaire landslide, rather than the subtlety of awarding a variety of equally worthy films. Which is not to say Slumdog Millionaire isn't a marvelous film, it's just that winning eight Oscars seemed almost a continuation of the film's fairytale plot. It's all about what makes good television I guess.

Don't get me wrong, with the delicious fruit tart followed up with to-die-for homemade rocky road, there were certainly no sour grapes to be had as our hostess scored the second wooden Oscar. Nicely done, Tori!

When we eventually switched over to Channel 9, it was with some trepidation that we prepared for Hugh Jackman to assume his duties as host. Though the New York Post condemned his performance as that of a "cheesy cruise-ship entertainer," I thought 'Our Hugh' did remarkably well. Sure, his singing and dancing routines would perhaps have been more at home at the Tony Awards, but I give him credit for sticking to his strengths. I thought he seemed professional, affable and in his element (particularly as he snuggled into Frank Langella's lap!). More hairy, hairy, man love for Hugh I say!

So 'twas a marvelous night for food, festivities and fun. Many many thanks to the generous hosts and our new friends for the gourmet menu and inspired heckling. May the Academy Awards always be such a ball!

A quick question: were a whole lot of categories edited out? I thought perhaps it was due to our back-to-front viewing of the show that we missed some awards, including the best screenplays, but if they simply weren't shown then I must protest!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Camp Oscar

The Pom* and I have been in lock down all week, cramming for Hollywood's night of nights.

The films have been watched (mostly), the ballots completed (well, mine anyway, the Pom drags his feet), because some delightful and very Oscar committed friends have invited us over tomorrow night to revel in the festivities, face-lifts and general fervour of the Academy Awards.

I'm slightly concerned about the rules set for the drinking game, which will see us punished for every time:

- Someone thanks their mother, or their God
- Someone dresses inappropriately for their age
- An acceptance speech gets drowned out by the music
- And when you picked the wrong Hollywood horse.

I imagined we'll be pickled before the ceremony gets underway!

Fingers crossed Hugh Jackman does a good job as MC; he can't be more of an embarrassment than Australia (ba-bum-chhh!). But seriously, it's a bit of a coup to have an Aussie hosting the Oscars - best of luck to him I say!**

Happy Oscars, everyone!

*Those of you who know the Pom, or perhaps just his penchant for Will Ferrell films, may wonder how on earth he's survived Camp Oscar with its deluge of depressing Kate Winslet movies. The answer is: by holding out for the final film of the evening, Bolt.

...You think I'm kidding!

**Oh god, Hugh's in a top hat and he's packing it!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In Effing Bruges


Bruges was next on the list to stave off my post-holiday blues. I'm going to go so far to say that Martin McDonagh's In Bruges is nigh-on perfect. The story of two hitmen, banished to Belgium after a bungled assassination transcends the genre with its incredibly loose sense of humour and pitch-perfect performances.

Indeed "loose" is how I've described the film to friends; warning them that they're in for an expletive filled, incredibly un-pc trip to 'effing Bruges'. This is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that the movie features a racist midget.* No doubt some people will find the humour offensive, but bagging out obese American tourists and bottling a woman in a restaurant - that's just how I roll!

The beauty of this film is its consistency. The above two scenes could easily have become isolated sketches, but McDonagh seamlessly weaves together the action, the humour and the emotional journeys of his two antiheroic assassins. He never allows the story to stall under the weight of exposition, yet he also manages to flesh out the main characters in a real and accessible way.

The actors certainly assist McDonagh in keeping up the pace. Colin Farrell, who seemed to struggle through his last hitman role in Cassandra's Dream, here revels in both the comedy and humanity of first-timer Ray. Brendan Gleeson compliments him perfectly as the mild-mannered, enthusiastic tourist, Ken. His arch also acts the ground the humour in reality, and sets up the third act appearance of the big boss Harry Walters. Ralph Fiennes is like a pig in mud in this role; his brash, ballsy mobster with morals is a wonderful addition to the film, driving it to its violent and fairly trippy conclusion.

See In Bruges for the fabulous characters, the entirely loose morals and perhaps even the sites. Although if you're anything like Ray:

"If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, then Bruges might impress me, but I didn't, and it doesn't."

In Bruges is now available on DVD.

*I should of course say dwarf, as the film reminds us. Jordan Prentice is hilarious in what is a very gutsy performance.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Phoenix Rising


The devastation caused by the Victorian bushfires is truly shocking. Black Friday and Ash Wednesday both pale in comparison with the horrific losses mounting from this past weekend. The death toll now stands at 173, but police anticipate it could rise as high as 300.

This shocking news is made all the more sickening due to the suspicion of arson. These burnt out areas are considered crime scenes, and the police have launched taskforce Phoenix to investigate.

While we remain glued to the grizzly news, here are a few things you can do to help:

1. Donate to the Australian Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal

2. Donate blood! Victorian hospitals are desperate for some of your red stuff.

3. Drop off some clothes or household goods to the Salvos, Vinnies or Red Cross.

4. Buy some Love You Big pretties! Kate is donating all sales of her etsy, crafty goodness on Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th February: love you big: Sale for Bushfire Fund

5. Go to the movies: Hoyts is donating $2 from every ticket sold on Sunday 15th February, so how's about you hit the cinemas with your Valentine on Sunday instead of Saturday?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bale goes Berko

So Christian Bale went rank on set of Terminator Salvation. The recording of his expletive fueled rant is quite shocking: the guy seriously goes ape. Refusing to be placated, it's amazing to hear Bale work himself into quite the tidy tantrum!

Perhaps he's just a little too method.

Dramatic reconstruction - Image

The vultures are already circling, with the rant now remixed into a dance song Bale Out by RevoLucian. Or, if you'd prefer to wear your condemnation, buy the t-shirt.

It's a craaazy world.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Vicky Christina Barcelona


Suffering a little from the post-holiday blues, it should come as no surprise that I entered the cinema for a trip straight back to Barcelona.

And what a trip! With Woody Allen behind the wheel and Vicky, Christina along with an affable narrator as my tour guides, there were romantic, quirky, neurotically fun times to be had.

Since wrenching himself away from Manhattan and off the center stage (mostly), Allen has enjoyed a certain amount of success in the UK; a success he looks keen to continue on the continent. However after disappointing with Cassandra's Dream, Allen has re-teamed with Scarlett Johansson, and, for good or ill, seems to have regained his mojo.

I must admit I find Allen's metamorphosis into Scarlett Johansson (or is that the other way around?) more than a little disturbing. There's one scene in particular - the plane ride back from Oviedo - when Johansson delivers a fast talking, neurotic, narcissistic diatribe in such classic Allen style that one feels he may just as well have CGI'd his head to deliver the lines himself. Whatever homage or caricature Johansson is attempting definitely grates at times.

Fortunately, the rest of the cast is simply superb. Rebecca Hall was a real find! I vaguely recognised her from The Prestige, but here she is unforgettable, pitch perfect as the straight talking masters student whose vulnerable romanticism is awakened through an encounter with the dreamy Juan Antonio. Javier Bardem just oozes charisma and more than a little sex in his role as essentially the femme fatale, driving all the women to distraction and destruction!

And speaking of destruction, it is undoubtedly Penélope Cruz who steals the show. Her Maria Elena is a carefully crafted frenzy of flowing dark locks and fiery eyes. Her passion, her madness are given real depth, with Cruz not limiting her character to a mere crazed cypher.

Unfortunately Barcelona didn't feature quite as much as the title would have us believe. Allen's coverage of the beautiful city was pretty mainstream touristy, though Gaudí's buildings still had my architect Mum sighing beside me. But perhaps Allen took more figurative cues from the unique styles of Barcelona natives Gaudí and Miró, infusing the film with the brilliant, the contrived and the downright bizarre.

My favourite parts of the film were the little scenes, those in between moments that encapsulate and crystallise characters so perfectly. The one that springs to mind occurs late in the film when Vicky sits disconsolately at a vanity, framed by the mirror, her new husband in the background talking on the phone. As she broods, Doug's inane conversation fills the room: he's trying to get the person on the other line to stand still so he can hear him. Vicky says nothing, and scene lasts less than 30 seconds, but it speaks volumes about her the weight of her future life and her potential chance to escape.

If 'life is the ultimate work of art' then Allen's sojourn in Barcelona resulted in a few fascinating portraits.
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