Monday, November 24, 2008

SLIFF 2008 Coverage Part 3

Title: Slumdog Millionaire
Director: Danny Boyle
Country: UK/India
Score: 8.0
Review:
Boyle continues his successful string of high-energy entertainment with this slick Indian production based around “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Ironically, contestant Jamal Malik, a poor orphan raised on the tough streets of Mumbai, is more interested in reuniting with his lost love from childhood than winning the money, but he just might get both wishes. The inspired structure has Malik narrating his life story to the police, as a way of explaining how a “slumdog” with no formal education could know each answer without cheating.

As with all of Boyle’s films (“Shallow Grave,” “28 Day Later,” “Sunshine”) the style is unabashedly populist, characterized by rapid cutting, throbbing music and aesthetic hedonism. While it isn’t surprising that this formula worked well for his films about gangsters, zombies and astronauts, I was surprised how easily it integrated with the more serious setting of India’s megaslums. It helps that the writer took care to channel the excitement, humor and optimism of youth even as he bares the pain and viciousness of poverty and crime. Even the visuals manage to strike a unique beauty, finding splashes of joy in human faces and dyed cloth against backdrops that include sprawling dumps and open sewers.

The final third of the movie becomes more subdued and saccharine, turning into a more conventional love story complete with overtures about destiny, smirking villains and tragic sacrifice. It’s likely to rub the wrong way with many who enjoyed the freshness of the rest of the film, but I suspect that it’s an intentional nod by Boyle towards the traditions of Indian cinematic romances. The ending credits are done as a Bollywood music video, making a more explicit reference to Indian pop culture.

With his kinetic storytelling, emotional range and engaging story, Boyle’s likely to have another hit on his hands. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he walked away with the SLIFF audience award. At the same time, I suspect the critical elite will turn their noses up at the flashy style, cheesy ending and occasionally hokey acting and they’d probably have a good point… but I have to say it was one of the most entertaining releases I’ve seen this year.


Title: Alone
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
Country: Thailand
Score: 7.0
Review:
The Pisanthanakun/Wongpoom team (“Shutter”) continues to make a name for themselves in the international horror scene with this creepy tale about cojoined twins and the strange separation anxiety and survivor guilt that results when only one survives into adulthood. Pim seems to be doing well with her loving husband Wee, but when her mother becomes critically ill and they return from South Korea to Thailand, painful memories of her twin sister Ploy begin to drive her towards insanity.

Though “Alone” is unmistakably genre-bound, it is far less interested in the grotesque body-horror possibilities of its premise than the intensified intimacy of its relationships (twin sisters, husband/wife) and their psychological ramifications. This is more “A Tale of Two Sisters” or “Sisters” (1973) than “Basket Case” or “Dead Ringers” (1988) (interesting to note that this split seems to run down gender lines). The directors are quite skilled, if not particularly original, at developing atmosphere, tension and curiosity around their setup.

Horror fans will be particularly pleased by the sheer quantity of scares, which are thankfully not all hoarded for the finale. These are almost all of the loud-noise/sudden-image variety that I’m not usually impressed by, but I give “Alone” credit for actually scaring me time and again. I wish the directors would have tried to sustain the terror, however, since most of the fear-climaxes lasted only a single shot (sometimes with a reaction shot) and I was too often able to assure myself that “it will be over in just a second.” Though the film tarries a little long in the one-scene, one-scare purgatory of horror set pieces, the directors get the plot out of a rut and managed to admirably surprise me (and everyone with me) with a solid final act.

3 comments:

Mad Dog said...

Interesting to have another opinion on Slumdog Millionaire. It's been garnering some ridiculously high praise (Oscar buzz??) and was curious whether or not it could live up to it. What's with Boyle and his third acts, anyhow?

Walrus said...

Yup, I just got the announcement that Slumdog Millionaire took the SLIFF audience award. I'm 3 for 3 years running with seeing and predicting the winner.

However, this year the winner finished 6th in my lineup (both previous years I agreed with the 1st place seating). That's no dis to Slumdog though (it might ultimately settle higher when I rewatch it), as I saw a rush of great films right at the end of the festival.

theczech said...

I just saw Slumdog in NYC and I loved it. So good, loved the Bollywood dance at the end.

I posted over at The Czech about my mixed feelings regarding white control of a movie based on an Indian novel, with an Indian cast, set in India.


If you have any thoughts about these racial dynamics, please stop by and comment.