Doodad Kind of Town

Random Thoughts on "Slumdog Millionaire," "Twilight" and Kay Thompson
December 15, 2008, 11:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A rave review should be an easy thing to write, shouldn’t it?

So why am I having such a hard time getting started with “Slumdog Millionaire”?

Maybe it’s because the movie is so many things, sometimes all at once, that it defies description. It’s suspenseful, gruesome, horrible, beautiful, exciting, heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating. It’s about the enduring bonds of both brotherhood and romantic love, the power of perseverance in the face of hardship, the division of rich and poor in contemporary Mumbai – and the communal, healing power of television game shows.

I could attempt to summarize the plot: Jamal Milik (Dev Patel) is the product of the Mumbai slums, a lowly tea server (‘chai wallah’) at a cell phone company, who inexplicably stands poised to win 20 million rupees on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” As the film opens, he’s being tortured and interrogated by police in an effort to determine if he is cheating. In flashbacks intercut with both Jamal’s game show performance and his interrogation, we see how, in the course of his bitterly hard young life, Jamal has come into knowing the answers that are about to make him rich.

But, believe me, that doesn’t begin to do it justice.

I was amazed to find that director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “28 Days”) had never visited India until making this film. “Slumdog Millionaire” has the feel of being made by an insider, someone intimately familiar with the seedier side of Mumbai. In fact, the city almost functions as an additional character in the story. And the film has a driving, pulsating energy that can probably be partly credited to Boyle and partly to his cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle. (According to Andrew O’Hehir’s interview with Boyle, Mantle got some of the film’s most urgent and heartstopping shots by running through Mumbai’s slums with a small, handheld camera.)

During the final scenes of “Slumdog Millionaire,” I could literally feel my spirits soaring. (Yes, I know that’s a cliche – but honestly, it was my spirits that were most affected, and they were flying high.) And I thought to myself – in precisely these words – “this is everything we go to the movies for.”

And I had planned to go back for more. But on Saturday night, my trek back to the multiplex for a repeat viewing of “Slumdog Millionaire” was scuttled due to freezing rain and icy roads. So my friend, Mary Anne, drug me to the little six-screen movie house in my neighborhood to see “Twilight.”

It wasn’t on my list of must-see movies, but I have to admit: as teenage vampire movies go, it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. Especially if you like your film experience enhanced by non-stop giggling and whispering from an entire row of twelve-year-old girls.

Kristen Stewart plays the heroine, Bella. I liked her the moment I saw her play volleyball – unenthusiastically and with an obvious fear that the ball might come towards her and then she’d have to do something about it, like hit it or, better yet, duck. That’s the way I’ve played volleyball in every game I’ve been forced to participate in since seventh grade Phys Ed. I also liked how Bella makes friends easily at her new school, even though she’s all broody and preoccupied and can’t be bothered to muster even a shred of fake enthusiasm over typical teen stuff like prom dresses. She’s a perfect match for the hunky vampire (Robert Patinson) who fortuitously shares her biology-class microscope; they eventually fall into a sort of chaste, non-blood-sucking love in swoony scenes where they do things like lie together on the forest floor and gaze at each other, or fly through the trees with Bella riding on Edward’s back. Conveniently, Edward does not turn into a bat.

Obviously, I’m not the person you want to talk to if you want a straight-faced review of a vampire flick; they’re not my thing. But an old MGM musical? Now that’s a flick I can get into.

Which is why on Sunday night, after a long day and our choir’s final performance of the Messiah, I snuggled under an afghan with a glass of wine and watched the film I had recorded off TCM weeks ago, “Funny Face.”

Visually, “Funny Face” is stunning. As plots go, it’s onion-paper-thin. And the romance between Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn is a tiny bit hard to swallow since Fred is, like, old enough to be Audrey’s grandfather! But Fred, of course, is dapper and elegant and dances like a dream. Audrey’ singing is just about adequate, but her gamine charm carries the day; no one ever looked cuter in a bouncy ponytail and beatnik black.

But – yowsa! – how fabulous is Kay Thompson?!! Why isn’t this woman in more movies? Where were they keeping her? She has every attribute a classic movie “broad” requires – a brassy, belt voice, great gams, deadly comic timing. I can see where a little of her outsize presence might go a long way, but tell me she isn’t great in this number. ( I really wanted to embed this clip, but You Tube isn’t letting me.)

Here’s what I know about Kay Thompson: she wrote a lot of material and vocal arrangements for Judy Garland, she was Liza Minnelli’s godmother and she wrote the “Eloise” series of children’s books. Per her Wikipedia entry, she was also a sometimes radio and nightclub performer, and she discovered Andy Williams. All great – but why didn’t someone write her a Broadway show or let her front of a camera more often? She’s fantastic!


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Pat, your thoughts on Slumdog Millionaire, though inchoate, are very well related to your readers, and I enjoyed the sense of sheer excitement your piece on it has.It was a fun film to write about for me, in no small measure because it was such a dense emotional powerhouse. Again, you’ve done a fine job in describing its potency.

Comment by Alexander Coleman

Thank you, Alexander! Coming from you, that’s a great compliment.I did love this movie,and I’m hoping to see it again very soon and be able to take my whole crowd of moviegoing buddies along because they will love it, too.

Comment by Pat

I agree – I love your random thoughts, about a film I absolutely loved and also had a hard time trying to forge my thoughts into a coherent review, I dont think I succeeded myself, but you did!As for Twilight….I still want to see it. I am a huge fan of the books.

Comment by nick plowman

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.

Comment by 22

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