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