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Gonna try something new here.  There’s no way I can do a proper write up of all the Oscar and Spirit movies.  Besides, I have no business doing reviews or anything resembling them.  So let’s try out some compliment sandwiches.  First up, Life of Pi.  Mmm…a pie sandwich sounds delicious.  (All pictures from the film’s official photostream)

Look at the pretties – The movie is visually stunning, there’s no denying that.  Certainly worth the extra dollar to see it in 3D.
But were they just a distraction? – I firmly believe the visuals should support the story, quickly getting bored with a beautiful film if it doesn’t go anywhere.  A few times the movie seemed to veer off and be pretty for the sake of being pretty.
No, thanks to confident directing – Ang Lee generally did a great job utilizing the film’s overwhelming strength, the pretty visuals, having them cover for underdeveloped parts of the story.  A flashy movie like this may give its director a leg up for awards consideration, but I’d say it is deserved here.

We love Irrfan Khan  The Grouches have a running joke that whenever there’s a prestige film featuring Indians, Irrfan Khan has a role (e.g. Slumdog Millionaire and The Namesake).  But that’s OK, since he’s pretty great.
The rest of the cast, maybe less so – Rafe Spall wasn’t helped out by the bland writing, but milquetoast much?  (That said, I’m still definitely looking forward to next year’s I Give It a Year.)  Suraj Sharma was put in a thankless situation, having to carry most of the movie on his own, but he just barely acquitted himself.  The comparison, in my mind, is Naomi Watts in King Kong.  There, acting against a CGI monster, Watts was constantly riveting, giving a jolt to the film that Sharma couldn’t provide.
Except for Gerard Depardieu – Who else is dying to see the prequel about the cook’s origin story?

Surprisingly, stuff actually happened – Not having read the book, I was just expecting two hours of a dude on a boat with a tiger, which, frankly, sounded pretty terrible.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the film had an actual plot.
But not that much stuff – Probably wasn’t a good sign that partway through the middle section I kept wondering when we were going to jump back to the rather trite framing device of Irrfan Khan telling his story to Rafe Spall.  I also, frankly, found everything that happened prior to the shipwreck to be more interesting than the story of survival on the boat.  Which…isn’t ideal.
Still, I was never outright bored – Considering the bulk of the movie is just a dude on a boat with a tiger, the story moved along at a generally decent pace.

If the movie were a sandwich, it would be: Something from a recently remodeled Safeway or Giant.

I’d been eagerly anticipating Slumdog Millionaire for some time.  Normally I try to temper such expectations, but heck, last year Juno would have been my preseason favorite and it ended up one of my top films of the year.  If we catalogued such things, Slumdog Millionaire would have been my preseason pick this year.  Unfortunately, I would have picked incorrectly.

I did like the movie, and I’d feel comfortable recommending it to just about anyone.  Structuring the film around an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire framed things nicely.  Maybe not the most sophisticated of techniques, but one still inspired nonetheless.  Along with Quiz Show, Starter for Ten (like I’ll ever get off that horse), it forms a nice triumvirate of movies with a trivia game show as at least a subplot, and I think I speak for all bar trivia-goers in suggesting that Hollywood would do well to churn out a few more.

Mostly, though, I just don’t have anything to say about the film.  It didn’t affect me as much I thought (or hoped) it would.  The central romance was fine, but I don’t think Simon Beaufoy (the screenwriter) or Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan (the co-directors) did a great job establishing the connection between Jamal and Latika.  A few more shared scenes wouldn’t have hurt, perhaps.  To me, it seems that Jamal longs for Latika because she’s the only girl he’s ever met.  And Latika wants to be with Jamal because…he’s on the outside?  It isn’t entirely clear.

The film doesn’t really have a main character, not if you count current, younger, and youngest Jamal as separate characters.  Which makes for an interesting ensemble.  But, emblematic of the movie as a whole, most of these characters deserve to be better fleshed out.  Jamal’s brother Salim, for example, is barely sketched out in all his incarnations.  And really, Salim’s actions drive the plot at least as much as those of Jamal.  But the reasons for Salim’s pivotal shifts tended to be too subtle.  Latika herself is more of an object for Jamal than a filled-out character.  I did, however, really like the game show host, and thought his character was very well done.

In a nutshell, the movie just felt a little too distant, too hesitant to starkly dive into anything.  I found it too muted to really blow me away.  That’s not to suggest I found the movie anything less than enjoyable.  I just didn’t think it managed to break through and become something special or memorable.

A few side notes:  John and I were wondering if there’s some sort of law requiring Irrfan Khan to be in every movie with a U.S. wide release and is set in India.  Not that it would be a problem, because he’s pretty great.  Just curious.  Also, I think Slumdog Millionaire just adds further proof to the notion that every movie would be better if it added a song and dance number.  And Freida Pinto is really pretty.  Just throwing that out there.

And finally, I’m curious to see if Dev Patel ends up with a Supporting Actor nomination.  Going for him is the movie’s current status as a seeming near-lock to get nominated (and possible favorite status to win the whole shebang) and the lack of any other actor from the movie to nominate.  There’s also a relative dearth of name actors and juicy roles under consideration.  (The Golden Grouches underground campaign for Bill Irwin notwithstanding.)  The catch may be that his is a sort of nontraditional supporting character, in that the movie is really about him.   Additionally, Jamal’s character traits are more those of a main character (likable, gets the girl in the end, plucky, underdog).  Could voters not vote for him, thinking he belongs in the best actor category, and instead go with someone in a more standard supporting role, like James Franco or Eddie Marsan?

The heavy hitters of this year’s Oscars have just started passing through town, so I can’t really compare Slumdog Millionaire to other Oscar bait.  In a sense, I feel the same about the film as I did about The Departed.  Both are perfectly fine movies, but I don’t really understand how anyone could consider them the best of anything.

January 2020
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