Posts Tagged ‘Freida Pinto’

The Oscars draw ever closer, but one film-maker of note who’s not in the running for anything this year is Danny Boyle, presumably because recently he’s been too busy doing Frankenstein on stage and preparing his contribution to the Olympics – an opening show entitled I Love Wonder (or something like that). To be perfectly honest I am supremely indifferent to the Olympics and would much rather Boyle cracked on with 28 Months Later, but there you go.

That said, the very fact I am looking forward to a Boyle movie at all is somewhat notable as I was fairly late coming to the party as far as this man is concerned. I remember the first time I saw Shallow Grave on video, lying on a mattress at 2am next to a demented wannabe director whose film I was nebulously attached to as co-scripter (we were both somewhat, ahem, medicated). I thought it was a solid movie but nothing special, and neither Trainspotting nor The Beach came close to the quality of their source novels.

That said, I did think 28 Days Later was a hugely impressive movie (possibly because it’s an uncredited adaptation of one of my favourite books), Sunshine was interestingly different and 127 Hours genuinely moving. My issue with a lot of Boyle’s work is with his habit of relentlessly overloading the screen with all kinds of conceits and narrative devices that the story neither needs nor can really support, to the ultimate detriment of the film. 127 Hours needed exactly this kind of treatment to work at all, which is why it felt like such a good match for Boyle.

Of course, the film which really brought Boyle international acclaim came out a couple of years earlier. I missed the initial release of Slumdog Millionaire due to being in Kyrgyzstan at the time, but I’ve caught up with it since and can fully understand just why this film did so well.

Dev Patel plays Jamal, a young chai-wallah (basically the tea boy) in a Mumbai call centre. But Jamal has a date with destiny when he goes on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (a TV game show made by the same company that produced this film – hmmm). Sixteen questions stand between Jamal and unimaginable wealth, but no-one expects an uneducated nobody like him to stand a chance. However, Jamal’s extraordinary life has left him uniquely well-prepared for this experience…

This being a Danny Boyle film, of course, just one framing device isn’t enough, and so wrapping around the gameshow idea are scenes in which Jamal is questioned (tortured, really) by the police, who suspect he was cheating on the show. From here we see the show and from the show we flash back through Jamal’s life, which is the meat of the movie. Growing up a rather unworldly child, alongside his more savvy brother Salim, he is orphaned in a sectarian riot, in the aftermath of which the brothers meet Latika, another child without a family.

As they grow to adulthood the trio are separated and reunited various times and in various combinations, but some things remain constant – Salim’s ruthlessness, and the emotional bond between Jamal and Latika. Can any of them hope to find a happy ending?

Well, I’m routinely very scathing about the Academy’s priorities when it comes to handing out the Oscars but fair play to them in this case – this is a very cleverly constructed and utterly engrossing film, full of life and colour and energy. The game show conceit is never quite as intrusive as you might expect it to be and the film isn’t afraid to turn on a sixpence in terms of its tone – a shocking and tense sequence about gangsters mutilating orphans to make them more productive beggars is followed quite closely by a genuinely funny set of scenes where the boys are working as tour guides around the Taj Mahal.

It really does sweep you up and carry you along, which is an even more impressive achievement given that it’s not afraid to address the darker side of life in the Mumbai slums. One of the themes of the film is the corruption that goes hand-in-hand with worldly success, something reflected in the way Mumbai itself is transformed over the years in which the film takes place. Only Jamal seems to be immune to this, and this of course is due to his love for Latika. Is it a bit sentimental? Well, yes, and for me there are a couple of mis-steps near the end, but by this point the film had generated more than enough goodwill for this not to be a problem.

Then again, with a film like this (or indeed City of God, which it sometimes resembles), there’s always the issue of rich foreigners turning up to a developing country and using genuine human poverty as the basis for them to make money for themselves – cinema as poverty tourism, in other words. On the other hand, some Indian commenters have criticised it on the grounds that it presents their country in too negative a light.

I don’t know; this is such a complex issue. Watching the film, it never quite seemed to be indulging itself in the kind of dubious exoticism that one might expect. Having been lucky enough to live and work in several different Asian countries myself, I don’t have much time for people who treat these places as giant-sized theme parks – and I never got the sense that this was the film-makers’ intention, even if it may have been some of the audience’s. And if we’re really going to be serious about the superficial exploitation of poverty and other cultures, doesn’t that limit us to either watching films about people exactly like us, or unsatisfying confections of total fantasy?

I am quite happy to give Slumdog Millionaire the benefit of the doubt, simply on the grounds of its style and wit and heart. There aren’t many films of recent years that I’ve seen on DVD and really regretted not seeing on the big screen: this, however, is definitely one of them.

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Direct from the (not especially) mean streets of Oxford City centre. Or not far from them, anyway – from the foyer of the nicer Odeon:

Awix: ‘One for Immortals, please.’

Ticketeer: ‘What time, please?’

Awix: ‘The one in about twenty minutes.’

Ticketeer: ‘That’s in 2D, sir.’

Awix: (grinning) ‘Yes, I know.’

Ticketeer: (clearly bemused) ‘…oh.’

(Protracted conversation concerning which of the numerous available seating and loyalty card options I wish to avail myself of ensues. Eventually…)

Ticketeer: ‘So there’s your ticket, sir. Do you prefer 2D or 3D?’

Awix: ‘2D.’

Ticketeer: (clearly straining to hide incredulity) ‘May I ask why?’

Awix: ‘Well… I just find it really distracting. The 3D shrinks everything… I don’t think it’s worth the money… and with the glasses you lose so much light, if the film’s dark to begin with you can’t see what’s happening…’

(The Ticketeer is staring at me with an expression as stony as the Greek economy. I had no idea these people were trained so thoroughly. )

Awix: ‘Anyway I’ll just go now…’

Ticketeer: (clearly doubtful that such a thing is even possible, but contractually obliged) ‘Enjoy your film, sir.’

Hmmm, well. Given that the film in question was Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s Immortals, I was pretty dubious myself – I had a pretty shrewd suspicion going in that even had I availed myself of the stereoscopic option, adding an extra D to this movie would only bump the plotting and characterisation up to the level of 2D anyway.

There’s probably a pretty good Immortals drinking game to be had – every time a terrible old fantasy cliche or plot device lurches into view, everyone has a shot of something bracing. This way you will all be unconscious well before the end, which is possibly the best way to partake of this movie.

Oh well – expository opening voiceover explaining backstory of ancient evil and lurking plot devices? Check! Rampaging dark warlord on the march, intent on vengeance for poorly-explained reasons? Check! Strapping young hero with a Big Destiny? Check! Besieged monastery and fleeing beautiful young woman? Check! Faux-period violin-y sounds all over the score? Check!

If you really must know: bad guy Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) has but one aim – to breach the walls of Tartarus, the ancient prison of the Titans, losers of a war in heaven. (Well, I say ‘one aim’ – he also seems quite keen on eating and putting it about a bit. Clearly the man has serious issues of all kinds.) To this end he and his army are sweeping across what’s obviously ancient Greece (though not named as such). Releasing the Titans will mean trouble for everyone, but especially for the Gods, who are nevertheless unable to intervene (although it’s never explained why).

In Hyperion’s path is the village of buff young atheist Theseus (Henry Cavill, to be seen next year in Zach Snyder’s increasingly ominous-looking Man of Steel), who is strong and determined and – judging for his ability to put up with a homily-spouting old coot who follows him about (John Hurt, really slumming it) – extremely tolerant. Theseus is only concerned with looking after his dear old mum, to the point of indulging in fisticuffs with the Greek army when they object to helping her flee from the looming war. ‘This is no time for violence!’ cries a Greek officer, an attitude which may explain why Hyperion is doing so well.

Anyway, Hyperion captures Theseus and slings him in the salt mines, where he meets Phaedra (Freida Pinto), not the Nancy Sinatra character but a seeress, and Stavros (Stephen Dorff), not the Harry Enfield character but a wisecracking thief and thus someone with ‘sidekick’ written all over him. Phaedra quickly twigs that Theseus has the potential to stop Hyperion and they all bust out, with what seemed to me to be excessive ease.

The rest of the movie is to do with the Epirus Bow, a plot-device magic weapon. To be fair to it, Immortals does break new ground in this area at least – normally you would expect a lengthy quest taking up most of the second act to take place, with great deeds required, etc etc. But Theseus basically just trips over the damn thing without even knowing what it is, let alone looking for it, which must have made the film shorter, so – hurrah! Well played, guys!

Yes, this is another clanging mess of a fantasy film, very much influenced by 300 on this occasion. Lord knows 300 isn’t a great movie (though I always find it rather enjoyable to watch), but compared to this one it’s a blazing classic of our time. Immortals is a brave movie in a number of ways – for one thing it goes down the full Jason and the Argonauts route of having the Gods of Olympus appear as characters – good-looking, woodenly-acted characters, admittedly (one of them, Luke Evans, was in The Three Musketeers, and another used to be in Home and Away, so this should not be a great surprise).

The film also has the most impressive collection of silly hats I can recall – Phaedra turns up at one point apparently with a lampshade on her head, while Hyperion has a large selection, of which my favourite is one which makes him look like he’s peering out of an earwig’s bottom. All in all, Immortals is so absurd and incoherent and garish and emotionally banal that it rather resembles a particularly lavish mounting of the Eurovision Song Contest with all the songs cut out and lashings of violence put in their place.

I have to say, folks, this is a seriously violent movie – it’s only a 15 in the UK (and I understand some key scenes have been snipped to secure this) but what’s there is still seriously at odds with the tone of the rest of it. It’s a silly CGI-heavy 3D piece of fantasy nonsense! Kids on the cusp of teenagerhood are probably the only ones who will be able to enjoy it unironically! So why bother to include all the graphic stabbings, eye-gougings, people being burned or roasted alive, and men hacking out their own tongues or being castrated with a sledgehammer? (The last two occur in the same, charming, scene.) It all comes across as simply nasty, which when added to the silliness of the rest of it results in a film which is just baffling: if you’ve ever wanted to see an extravagantly choreographed and CGI’d sequence of about six extras having their heads graphically smashed apart in slow motion by a man apparently dressed as a giant cockatoo, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.

There are lots of looong slooow zooms to showcase the 3D, intrusively flashy dissolves between scenes, and technically immaculate but utterly soulless effects sequences. For at least the third time this year Freida Pinto is treated solely as a decorative item. Mickey Rourke spends the entire film doing a hhhrrrhhhrhrhrhhrh voice which renders some of his dialogue actually unintelligible. Only Stephen Dorff – someone once described by the commentator and critic Mark Cousins as ‘a rotten actor’ – manages to show the slightest personality beyond the demands of the script.

Immortals only ever shows the barest signs of anything beyond simple technical efficiency. The rest of it is pretty much unmitigated nonsense, utterly cliched and frequently genuinely unpleasant. One to be avoided – stay at home with a DVD of 300 and marvel that that film turned out as well as it did.

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