Monday, April 6, 2009

Wasted Postage: More reports from the Netflix theater

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) - In a country where the MPAA didn't collectively lose their shit every nominating process, Slumdog could have remained a intense feel-good indie flick, fan favorite, and unassuming success. But when a film wins best picture, a certain sense of self-importance is injected post-facto, mutating the tone into something a bit harder to reconcile with the film itself. It also invites increased scrutiny — if a film is championed, it requires close analysis. I wish I would have seen this before the movie was adopted as their own by everyone from People magazine subscribers to self-serious film critics, because, frankly, it didn't (and there's no way it could have) live up to the hype. It plays like City of God's timid and romantic little sister, capturing the hyper-dense and fast-moving slums of a third-world hell hole, while slowly building back story, character history and plot. It is director Danny Boyle's airy, love-letter treatment of the characters' nightmarish and atrocity-packed formidable years that have received the most criticism, some of it deservedly. Boyle created a fairy-tale, but that doesn't mean he should white wash some serious ugly business.

The plot involves an orphan teenage slumdweller who's suspected of cheating on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, because officials dont believe an uneducated "slumdog" could know all the answers. In a series of flashbacks he reveals his upbringing, and how during key moments of his life he leanred the answers to the eventual questions. The central riff in the flashbacks is a developeing love story, and his relatinship with his cruel brother.

The film does best developing some aspects of the characters, does the worst when relying too heavily on its game show crutch. It spends too much time on set of India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and not enough time showing the initial bond that the main character, and his love interest, shared. What made the early bond worth fighting a lifetime for? We don't know, but we do know that Boyle put a lot of energy into making the WhoWantsTBM host the biggest douche in India. Grade: B

Dead Alive (1992) - Peter Jackson is one sick twisted bastard. Dead Alive is a Zombie/comedy/horror flick in the vein of Shaun of the Dead for the first half, gory gross-out freak fest in the second. You will never look at lawnmowers, dinner parties, monkeys, priests or New Zealand the same ever again. This is probably the goriest movie I've ever seen. After seeing Dead Alive, I realized quite a few a scenes/jokes in Hot Fuzz (made by Shaun of the Dead people) were direct references to this flick. B

Body of Lies (2008) — Fairly run-of-the-mill action/suspense spy game starring Russel Crowe and Leo DiCaprio, directed by Ridley Scott. The plot is fun and interesting, if not wholly believable, and the action is top notch. The whole thing ends kind of suddenly and doesn't leave much to linger around. Eventually you realize, "I think I've seen all this before." B-

Appaloosa (2008) - This Ed Harris directed western is serviceable, if not entirely forgettable. It features a fairly run-of-the-mill oater plot — tough law men (Ed Harris, Vigo Mortenson) are hired to clean up a rough town. Jeremy Iron's rancher villain is terrific, but Renee Zellweger's love interest role derails the whole thing. C-

Once (2006) - A musical for people who hate musicals (me) — a love story without sex, musical numbers without choreographed dancing and prancing. The music is earnest and sometimes devastating, and the plotting is realistic and honest. If you like earnest folk-pop, you'll want to download the soundtrack, and the albums by lead actor Glen Hansard's Irish band The Frames. A

Body Heat (1981) - Lawrence Kasdan wrote and directed this '80s throwback to film noir. Femme fatale Kathleen Turner convinces womanizing attorney William Hurt to murder her rich and distant husband. Lots of steamy sex, stylized film noir dialogue and a 100-degree Florida summer setting create a distinct mood. A

Pineapple Express (2008) - I wanted to see this in theaters and never had a chance, and then Netflix wouldn't ship me the damn movie until this week, even though it has been #1 on my que since January. It was funny, but, I'm gonna sound old here - loud. Seth Rogen is increasingly revealing himself as a one-note funnyman, same comedic rhythms, same inflections, similar jokes, but for the most part he is still goofy and funny. Franco nailed all the pot-head aloofisms, disorientation and spaciness, and was probably the film's saving grace, along with Danny McBride, whose passive-aggressive tough guy with a violent streak was wholly original. The slapstick gore and violence was funny, but again, it felt like Rogen was yelling through the half the move. Relax a bit maaaaan, I thought this was supposed to be a stoner action/comedy. The plot was a bit thin, even for a buddy flick, but I do give Rogen bonus points for putting new spins on stoner flicks, action/comedy movies and the buddy comedy, so much so that it's hard to define exactly what category the movie fits into without slinging all of those words one-after-the-other. B


The Juice Box said...

I think I had the same original thoughts as you for Slumdog, but I personally would give it a higher rating. I try to avoid all the hype of awards season; that's purposely why I don't ever listen to other movie reviewers and just trust my gut/laziness if I want to see a movie in theatre or not. I think I kind of liked having this at home better ... If I were at the movies with Slumdog, for some reason I probably wouldn't like it as much or pay attention. Not that you really need to, but I agree on the Millionaire set being heavily involved. I really liked the host's jackass character though (he was recently on The Soup, did you see it?)

I agree that they really didn't get into WHY he loved Latika so much ... how did they really establish their connection? But I guess it can be assumed through their childhood bond when they were all orphaned together, and then that time at that crazy guys' child operation. When they were dancing during the credits, it took me a minute to figure out why they put that in there aside from just for fun -- as kids, they talked about dancing together later on in life when they made it big. Otherwise, I just thought that was a ploy to get more people to be like, "WOO! Slumdog Millionaire! Best Picture, yeahhhh!" I don't know if I've seen many of the other Best Picture nominees (don't remember them), but I think it was deserved.

And, with Pineapple Express, I think that's what's been bugging me about Rogen lately. He's slowly turning into Adam Sandler. Cool when he first came to the scene, then just kept playing the same stereotypical idiot character and started rubbing you the wrong way. I think that's why I have no interest in seeing Observe and Report. Aside from that fact they may have well just called it The Other Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. Speaking of, I need to write that review still ... damn.

Warped Coasters said...

Observe and Report actually looks like the first time he is playing a modification of his usual character. He's usually an apathetic slacker/stoner, but in Observe and Report he seams to be playing a conservative, insecure, uptight bonehead, which should be a nice change of pace.

What I was trying to say during the beginning of my Slumdog review, is that I try to separate the movie from the hype, but at a certain point, the hype is important. Slumdog is not a heavyweight picture, and definitely not the best film of the year, but neither were most of the other nominees.) I don't watch the Oscars, and in general don't give a fuck, considering it's mostly a circle jerk for every bloated, self-important, edgeless, say-nothing picture.

Slumdog was a nice little movie, but it didn't deal honestly with the horrors of the slums, instead it made them entertaining for you and I.

The Juice Box said...


I had dreams about money in a bathtub later that night, though. Wouldn't that be nice?

Professor Film said...

Interesting that "Slumdog" and "Pineapple" were reviewed in the same post, considering both are loosely connected through their use of M.I.A's "Paper Planes" ("Pineapple" in its great trailer, at least).
Am I the only one who noticed that the first hour of "Slumdog" is nothing but a gloss on Dickens' "Oliver Twist"? And how often are the successful contestants on India's WWTBAM kidnapped and tortured? Is this standard practice? "Slumdog" isn't a bad film, it's just nothing special, a well-shot story we've seen a million times before, given an "exotic" facelift. And not for nothing, but a peppy song-and-dance does not make me forget that minutes before we saw our hero's brother brutally murdered. Yeah, way to gloss that over.
As for "Pineapple," it's biggest problem is not Seth Rogen, but a running time that is about 30 minutes too long. The longer it goes, the more conventional it gets, finally ending in a violent shoot-out that is wholly unnecessary. Props to director David Gordon Green for actually making one of these Apatow-produced flicks look like an honest-to-God movie, with real cinematography and everything, but aside from James Fraco's inspired performance, the whole thing just kind of flounders.
I gotta give Rogen props, though, for "Observe and Report," which I thought was hilarious even as it can't make up its mind as to whether it wants to be "Paul Blart" or "Taxi Driver." Yeah, Rogen doesn't really stretch even when he stretches, but the film itself swung for the fences, and rarely does an American comedy attempt such a thing. I'd rather watch it over something like "Wild Hogs" any day.