Cinepub


Last Year In Film: Slumdog Millionaire by Jamie

As always, spoilers follow.

So this is it then. The big one. The winner of the best picture last year, Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a movie which has a hell of a lot packed into it over the course of two hours. There’s torture, romance, murder, poverty, gangsters, dancing and the quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? So did it deserve the awards, the hype, the praise? Let’s find out, won’t we?

The movie’s set in India, specifically Mumbai for the most part and tell the tale of Jamal Malik, his brother Salim and the girl of Jamal’s dreams, Latika, children born in the slums of the city who are all orphaned by a Hindu attack on their Muslim slums. The film follows their journeys over the years, joined at times, separated at others and all told by an older Jamal during an interview with the police. Why is he being interviewed by the police? Well, he’s currently on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? And he’s doing so well that he’s arrested after his first night on the programme after getting the penultimate question correct, accused of fraud because, honestly, how could someone who grew up on the streets and is currently working as a tea boy possibly know the answers to so many questions? He’s tortured by the police at first and when that doesn’t shed any light on the subject they decided to interview him and he relays that he knows the answers to the questions due to various events throughout his life.

And that’s a bit of a problem I have with this film. It’s a bit damn convenient that the questions are asked in a sequence that would allow his flashbacks to have a coherent narrative. Still, it’s a bit of a minor point especially if you buy into the underlying point of the film that everything that happened was destined to turn out that way.

Now, one of the phrases that got thrown about after this film blew up massively was that it was a feel good hit, a really uplifting experience and I have to call bullshit on that. Every time something good happens, something terrible happens either at the same time or a short time afterwards, Even the moment where Jamal is about to answer the final question is counterbalanced by his brother Salim, who has finally redeemed himself to some extent, being shot the shit out of. As for Salim there are times when he is so unrelentingly cuntish that he’s almost unbelievable as a character but again, it’s kind of a minor point and it’s kinda necessary to push the plot forward.

Still, that’s not to say it’s a depressing film, though many, many depressing things happen during it, such as a young boy being blinded by acid in order to make him a more effective beggar. I just feel as though the uplifting nature of the film has been a little overplayed.

There’s also a general sense throughout the film that India is a horrible, horrible place filled with slums, children living in dumps and being blinded by bastard orphanage owners and I guess I can’t say that it isn’t and it is genuinely rewarding when you see Jamal doing everything he can to get himself out of that world whilst trying to take Latika with him.

Damn, there’s so much going on in this film that I’m finding it hard to write a coherent review so fuck it, I’ll finish here. So, did Slumdog Millionaire deserve the Oscar? Well, it’s a very, very good film. It’s shot beautifully, excellently paced and the actors are all pretty damn good, except for some tourists who seem to have some very dubious accents. Still, personally I’d have given the award to Frost/Nixon which was definitely the film I enjoyed out of the crop of the Best Picture nominees. I‘d probably give Milk an award over this as well. Still, if I had to rate Slumdog Millionaire I’d give it four out of five pints and I still highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t.

So, that’s the Academy Awards Best Pictures nominees covered. Next I’ll be taking a look at the Worst Picture nominees from the Razzies so look forward to reviews of classics such as Disaster Movie and The Love Guru. If blog pages could be stained with tears then these would be…



Last Year In Film: The Reader by Jamie

A quick warning, spoilers ahead.

The Reader is the charming tale of Hanna Schmitz, who meets a fifteen year old boy, Michael Berg, fucks him over the duration of a summer and getting him to read to her before leaving him. Years later he becomes a law student and, whilst sitting in on a trial, learns that his former lover is a Nazi war criminal who is sentenced to life in prison for not letting three hundred Jews out of a burning church. Michael grows up to become a lawyer and Ralph Fiennes who is conflicted due to his love for a Nazi war criminal and a decision he made during the trial which potentially caused her to have a harsher sentence. In his guilt he records tapes of the books he used to read to her when he was fifteen. Using these tapes Hanna learns to read and write and begins to send Michael letters which he refuses to reply to. After twenty years Hanna is about to be released from prison and Michael is contacted and informed that he is the only person Hanna has been in contact with and that he has to take care of her. So he goes to see Hanna and is very cold with her. Hanna seems to take umbrage with this and kills herself. So there you go a basic quick summary and what a cheery summary it was too.

So, The Reader then. It’s the one film out the best picture nominations that I was probably the most dubious about. From what I’d heard the story sounded as though it could be a little slow and really not up my alley. In fact, I went into this film expecting to hate it. Well, I’m ready to admit right now that I was wrong. The Reader was a truly fucking fantastic film. The story was well paced and always managed to keep my interest. The acting was amazing and I was quite pleased to see that they didn’t go overboard with the German accents though this did seem to occasionally result in the accents slipping slightly, especially in particularly emotional scenes. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the appearance of my favourite Swiss actor Bruno Ganz as Professor Rohl, Michael’s law professor at Heidelberg University. If you don’t know who Bruno Ganz is then I suggest you stop reading this review, go and watch The Downfall in which Ganz plays Hitler during the final days of Nazi Germany and then come back.

The film’s fairly unique in that it’s the only film about the Holocaust that I can think of that deals with the horrific events without ever being set at any time during World War II itself. This provides a unique opportunity in that it really deals with German guilt after the fact and the feeling of the first generation born after the atrocities and the massive burden that they have inherited as a nation from their parents. This is particularly poignant from Michael’s point of view as he is so disgusted by the acts that Hanna has committed that he cannot bring himself to present evidence that may make her sentence more lenient, a decision that will leave him conflicted for the remainder of his life.

Perhaps the strangest part of this film is that Hanna seems to be far more ashamed of her illiteracy than the crimes she committed during her time as an SS officer. In fact she only ever hints that she feels even the slightest bit of remorse for her role in the Holocaust, leaving the viewer completely unsure of whether she’s remorseful or not. This makes her a character that it’s very hard to feel sympathy for and, perhaps to some degree, that’s the point. Maybe you’re not supposed to feel sorry for her. After all she was complicit in one of the most horrific events in recent history. On the other hand, you’ve also known her as a person for the first part of the film, before you find out about her past, and as such you’ve seen that she’s capable of love, kindness and understanding and you also know that there is no way she could have possibly written the report which leads to her harsher sentence. It pretty much leaves you as conflicted as Michael is himself.

So I guess all that’s left to say is was Kate Winslet deserving of her Best Actress award at the Oscars for this role? Well, I can’t really say yet as I haven’t seen the performances of the rest of those nominated yet, so it’ll have to wait until I’ve watched all of those but I will say that she is excellent in this film and it’s surely mostly down to her performance that you feel anything for what should be an unsympathetic character at all. It’s also worth mentioning the episode of Extras that Kate Winslet was in where she mentions that if you really want an Oscar than doing a Holocaust movie makes it pretty much guaranteed. Interesting stuff.

Anyway that’s about it. Over all I give The Reader four pints out of five.

Laterz.



Last Year In Film: Milk by Jamie

As a straight, white male I don’t think I can claim that I have ever been oppressed. In fact in the entire history of my people you might have to go all the way back to the Roman invasion of Britain to even attempt to make a claim of oppression and a fairly flimsy claim it would be too. What hardships our people faced when the Romans brought us roads, sanitation and mosaics. To be fair though, they did call us wild savages and laughed when we painted our faces blue. That had to sting. Bastards.

So it’s with some trepidation that I come to Milk, the story of 70s gay rights activist and politician. It’s the same problem with films about black civil rights. I can empathise with the people in these films, be disgusted by the actions of the oppressors and I certainly believe that every one is entitled to the same rights as everyone else, regardless of race or sexual orientation but as a member of the group who’s never really had to deal with fighting for our rights, I find it kind of hard to relate to these films sometimes. Not the fault of the films of course, just a circumstance of birth.

With Milk it was even more challenging because, in general, the history of the gay civil rights movement isn’t as extensively covered as that of the black civil rights movement. I could probably name you quite an extensive list of films covering that topic but for films about the gay fight for equality, I could name two and they are both about the same person, this film and the documentary that preceded it, The Times of Harvey Milk, and I’ve only seen one of them.

Anyway, on with the film. It opens with archive footage showing the police raiding several gay bars during the 50s and 60s before going onto the story of Harvey Milk, a gay man living in New York during the early 70s on the day before his 40th birthday. A chance encounter with Scott (James Franco), a younger gay man, leads them both to move to San Francisco for a change of scene. It’s here that Harvey first develops an interest in politics and a hope for the improvement of the lives of gay people in America.

After several unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the position of city supervisor for his district, Harvey finally achieves his goal and becomes the first openly gay man elected to public office. It’s at this point that he meets Dan White (Josh Brolin) a man who he seems to get on fairly well with at first and the men come to an agreement to back each other during votes, in particular White asks Milk to support him on preventing a mental health institute from being built in his district. Harvey changes his mind after finding out more details about the proposition and White becomes determined to oppose him at every turn, leading to his own political downfall. Meanwhile Harvey goes on to greater and greater things, successfully leading the opposition to Prop 6 which would have banned gay people and those who support them from becoming teachers which further deepens Dan White’s feelings of failure. I won’t spoil the ending but if you know the true story at all, and chances are you probably do, then you know what’s coming anyway.

So what is there to say about this film? Well, the performances for one were all brilliant. From Sean Penn to Josh Brolin (who I think I’ve liked in everything I’ve seen him in since The Goonies) to every supporting character. Each actor brings something great to their role, no matter how small it is. The big question is, of course, should Sean Penn have won the Oscar for best actor? Well, I’m still not to sure about that. I’m kinda torn between him and Frank Langella as Nixon at the minute. Penn definitely deserved to be recognised for his portrayal of Harvey Milk but there’s just something that Langella brings to the former President that I feel would have been equally justified had he won the award.

Perhaps the most important thing about the film is the impact it had on me. Well, it certainly made me appreciate the struggle of the American gay community during those tumultuous times and provided me with enough history to help me understand just why the world is the way it is today and the part Harvey Milk played in that. And the ending is incredibly touching, particularly when mixed in with the archive footage. Which brings me to another good point. Throughout the film the action is interspersed with archive footage from the time and it’s far, far less jarring than the faux documentary interviews in Frost/Nixon. That being said I still think Frost/Nixon just beats Milk by a tiny margin as a slightly more enjoyable film. All in all, I certainly recommend Milk and I’ll give it four pints out of five.



Last Year In Film: Frost/Nixon by Jamie

I am an all round geek. A jack of all geek trades and a master of none and one of the facets that makes up that geek whole is political geekery. I first started to become interested in politics around the time that George W. Bush came to power as the president of the United States and so my interest has always been with American politics, which is far, far more interesting than our rather underwhelming British system, and in particular the dark, shadier side of the political scene.

It should be no surprise then that Richard M. Nixon is a particularly fascinating figure to me. His name has become synonymous with political corruption, scandal and abuse of power. There are many who blame him for thousands, even millions, losing faith in the democratic establishment and the political process. The Watergate scandal shook the American system to it’s very core and even today it’s ramifications are felt, so much so that the suffix -gate is attached to almost every political scandal.

Three years after Nixon resigned from the presidency, Nixon agreed to be interviewed by British talk show host David Frost, for the sum of $60,000 and 20% of the profit. The film Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard and starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, tells the story of those interviews. Now, I’ll admit it doesn’t sound like the most exciting subject matter for a film but bear with me.

This film is fucking awesome. I cannot impress upon you just how good it is. I remember seeing the trailer at the cinema, possibly before Oliver Stone’s W and I was instantly interested but the trailer did give me the impression that it was heavily, heavily overly dramatised and I’ll admit that having seen the film it most certainly is but to be fair what do you want? It’s a movie, it has to have heightened drama.

The performances are incredible. Michael Sheen is perfect as portraying the young David Frost, a cocky playboy type filled with confidence who you should probably find annoying but he remains insanely likeable. Sheen also has Frost’s voice down perfectly and, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve grown up knowing Frost as the older gentleman he is today, I’d probably forget I was watching someone else portray him.

Frank Langella delivers a powerhouse performance as Richard Nixon. Ugh, I feel disgusted with myself having read that sentence. Let me try again. Frank Langella fucking rules as Richard Nixon. There much better. He manages to convey a strange mixture of devious intelligence, ignorance and genuine sadness to create a Nixon who is so more compelling than the one-dimensional prick who people are generally thinking of when they talk about the former president.

Rounding out the cast are Matthew Macfadyen as Frost’s producer John Brit, Oliver Platt as journalist Bob Zelnick, Sam Rockwell as journalist James Reston Jr, Rebecca Hall as Frost’s love interest Caroline Cushing and Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s Chief of Staff Jack Brennan. The cast is all pretty good but Rockwell and Bacon really stand out. Rockwell plays Reston as a man who clearly feels as though Nixon has twisted the very concept of Democracy and must be made to confess and Bacon is great playing a man who’s dedicated to Nixon until the end and seems to genuinely believe that the former president is a great, great man that the American people never appreciated as he deserved.

The film runs to about two hours but it never loses it’s pace, even during some of the long pauses during the interviews themselves. In fact these pauses are integral to the interviews, particularly during the last one and manage to rack up the tension as if you were watching a kind of Mexican stand-off and in a way you are. Several times throughout the characters refer to the interviews as battles and that’s the way they seem especially, once more, that final interview about the Watergate scandal. The only difference is that instead of guns they are using words.

Now, if there’s one complaint I have about the film it’s the occasional intrusion of the main storyline by short little, pseudo-documentary interviews. It features the actors portraying the characters discussing the events that have just happened in the film and at times it can really take you out of the film. It’s certainly an interesting idea and at times, it can work by giving a sense of the story going on around the main storyline without intruding on it with unnecessary sub-plots but at times it can come off as superfluous and some of these scenes feel almost like they were just used as padding to build up the running time.

Ooh, now I think of it, there is one complaint I’ve heard and that’s the historical accuracy of the film, in particular the Watergate interview. I can’t really speak to that, I’m afraid as although I have the interviews on DVD I haven’t watched them in a good few months and I have the recall of a goldfish who has repressed most of it’s memories. Probably should have watched them again before I watched this. Nevermind. I’ll probably watch them again later and if it turns out that the Watergate interview is radically different from the way it’s portrayed in the film then those intrusive interviews will probably take me out of the film even more than they did before.

All that having been said though, I really do recommend this film particularly if you have even a passing interest in politics. It really does manage to give you a sense of how people felt about Nixon at the time and just why distrust towards the system, particularly in America, is so rampant today. I can’t wait for the sequel Frost/Skeletor in which Frank Langella reprises his role as the The Evil Lord Of Destruction and answers tough questions on whether or not he let down the people of Eternia during his ill-fated invasion of Castle Greyskull. Until then I give Frost/Nixon four and a half pints out of five.

Laterz.



Last Year In Film: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. by Jamie

Today sees the beginning of a new recurring segment on Cinepub, Last Year In Film. The concept is fairly simple, watching and reviewing all the Oscar and Razzie nominated films of 2008. And I do mean all of them. It’s going to be a massive undertaking and I hope that I can manage to pull it off before the end of the year. With that in mind let’s begin with the backwards-aging, Gumpesque saga known as The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, Benjamin Button tells the strange tell of the titular character who is born with what appear to be the signs of old age. His father, horrified by the baby’s appearance and the fact that it caused him to lose his wife during childbirth, abandons the baby on the steps of a New Orleans old folks home.

It soon becomes clear that Benjamin isn’t just one of those children with that extreme aging illness. Rather it seems as though he is actually aging backwards. Throughout his backwards life he has encounters with many interesting character’s and experiences the odd important historical event. He also experiences loss from a slightly different perspective and seems to gain a unique outlook on death, told as he was how he would die when he was a very young child.

The first thing you notice about this film is just how much it’s like Forrest Gump because that’s pretty much what it is but instead of being a little slow, the protagonist ages backwards. The similarities are striking. There’s a love interest who’s a free spirit who just wants to enjoy youth and not be tied down by their stodgier male counterpart until the good times have to come to an end (In Jenny’s case a son and terminal illness, in Daisy’s a severe leg breakage that ends her dancing career.), There’s the kindly mother figure who will try and do anything for their son and there’s the gruff alcoholic who he goes to war with whilst also being a boat captain and who seems to truly treasure his friendship. Fuck, there’s even a scene where Benjamin declares how he managed to get paid doing something he’d gladly do for free.

Despite all that, however, I really, really enjoyed this film and I think most of it is down to Brad Pitt and the character of Benjamin himself. In Forrest Gump, the character seems to stay exactly the same, almost oblivious to the changing world around him. Benjamin, on the other hand, seems to change quite a bit over the course of the film and, probably due to his odd condition, seems to adapt better to the changing world around him than anyone else. As Benjamin gets younger, he retains the knowledge that he has accumulated over the years and so, when he finally ends up looking like he’s in his twenties, there’s a wisdom in him that his appearance belies. Just like Benjamin himself says when he replies to Daisy’s comment about how young he is: “Only on the outside,”

There is, however, one major problem with this film that I cannot let go of. If you knew a dude who aged backwards is that the kind of thing you’d keep to yourself until you were on your deathbed? Hell no! You’d tell everyone you goddamn knew or at least I would. It’s like surviving the Titanic and never telling anyone about it until some treasure hunters decided to look for some precious stone that nobody knew you owned. Seriously.

Anyway, the special effects are great, the story’s pretty good if somewhat recycled and the acting is pretty much awesome all round and you’ve always gotta love a film that lets you hear the Louisiana accent for prolonged periods of time. I had a little trouble following it at first, unaccustomed as my ears are to it and the fact that my laptop speakers are shit, over the course of the film I got to grips with it. So there you have it. I’m sure some people will find the film a bit slow, maybe even tedious but it kept me pretty much hooked all the way through and the ending where Benjamin is finally going through childhood is truly, truly bittersweet. I’ll give it four pints out of five.

Laterz.




%d bloggers like this: