Friday, December 26, 2008

One Question, For All the Mumbai Marbles


by Brandon Colvin

Why is Slumdog Millionaire an overrated piece of middlebrow, pseudo-liberal, ultimately despicable crap?

A: It is politically irresponsible.
B: It is stylistically hollow.
C: It is dramatically tactless.
D: It is rife with mind-numbing clichés.

Before you answer, I would like to delve more thoroughly into each option. Sadly, I’ll have to do so without the use of serendipitously garnered information collected throughout my supposedly vibrant, allegedly life-affirming, and decidedly exotic adolescence amongst poverty, violence, and prostitution.

Ahem.

In lieu of such an uplifting circumstance, I’ll be using Roger Ebert’s review of Slumdog Millionaire (which slathers on praise in a manner indicative of much of the critical reception regarding the film) as a periodic springboard to rail against; though, if you’d like, you could read any of the myriad reviews by critics who seem to be consistently enamored with the type of multi-culti, artsy-posturing, issue-sidestepping drivel epitomized by Danny Boyle’s most recent misstep (see: Lou Lumenick, Joe Morgenstern, Ty Burr, Claudia Puig, etc.).

A: At one point in Slumdog Millionaire, protagonist Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel, amongst others during various stages of youth) comments to a duped American couple, which he and his brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal, et al), have just hoodwinked into having their Mercedes jacked, “You wanted to see the real India. This is it,” prompting the American man to self-righteously proclaim, “Well, here’s a taste of the real America, son,” while comically thrusting a wad of cash into Jamal’s hand with condescending glee. The scene casts the Americans as being out of touch with the political and social realities of Jamal’s Mumbai environs – laughably naïve and imbued with an overabundance of suburbanite white guilt. Ironically, this is the exact reaction Slumdog presents to the very same problems.

Repeatedly, Slumdog confronts its audience with images of brutality in an effort to effectively articulate the deplorable conditions of what Ebert calls “the real India,” something that the film’s “universal appeal will present . . . to millions of moviegoers for the first time.” For starters, Jamal’s mother is murdered in an attack on their Muslim slum by Hindu extremists, Jamal and Salim become poverty stricken children living in a garbage dump with the pre-pubescent version of Jamal’s love interest, Latika (Freida Pinto, et al), are then rescued by a corrupt man who basically pimps out children as beggars (blinding some with acid to get more cash) and then later actually pimps out Latika. Of course, there are also the flashily-edited beatings and electrical torture from the police that Jamal endures when he is accused of cheating on the Indian version of the game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” which lends the film its title and gimmicky premise (poor kid wins money because it’s his destiny, overcomes obstacles and gets girl through sheer willpower and cunning, as is related through a series of flashbacks to his rough-and-tumble childhood). Oh, and the gangs. Yeah, there are gangs too. Salim joins one and becomes a homicidal sonuvabitch before redeeming himself through self-sacrifice (duh). Okay, so we’ve got religious violence, poverty, orphans, homelessness, child abuse and mutilation, prostitution, gangs, and police corruption/brutality/they fucking electrocute him with no evidence whatsoever, and how does Slumdog Millionaire propose to solve, alleviate, confront, or even deal with any of these deep, deep social and political horrors? It doesn’t. At all. Jamal just gets 20,000 rupees and Latika’s hot ass, then they do a Bollywood-inspired dance that seems to wash away all of the harshness of the preceding two hours and cement the indestructibility of their romantic connection. The end. The film throws money and a girl at India’s problems, in the spirit of the ignorant American couple.

Is this the “real India” Ebert speaks of? One in which the apotheosis of heroism is Jamal, “who rises from rags to riches on the strength of his lively intelligence?” Sounds more like a Westernized fairy-tale of individualized capitalistic success. While Jamal gets rich, gets kissed, and boogies, the brutal India of the majority of the film is left behind – ignored, unresolved, and ultimately merely a manipulative tool of the filmmakers used to elicit the shock and horror that is the mark of the proverbial serious, Oscar-worthy film about foreign lands (think Last King of Scotland (2006), Babel (2006), Hotel Rwanda (2004), City of God (2002)). The only solution offered by Slumdog Millionaire is, “Hey, um, go on a game show” and be just like Jamal who “improvises his way up through the world and remembers everything he has learned” (Ebert), yadda yadda, good self-sufficient, crafty capitalists always win. And that’s it.


B: Aesthetically, Slumdog comes across as if Boyle, editor Chris Dickens, and usually brilliant cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle have done their damndest to design a film like a 17-year-old who just saw his/her first Wong Kar-Wai/Christopher Doyle movie. The major problem with this approach is that nobody but the tandem behind Chungking Express (1994) and Fallen Angels (1995) can make those films – everything else appears to be explicit imitation, visual trickery, and immature grasping for the semblance of a valuable style; Slumdog Millionaire is no exception.

Full of camera tricks, canted angles, extreme framings, slow-mo jitters, and slam-bang editing, Slumdog is nothing if not flashy. Ebert describes the film as having “dazzling cinematography, breathless editing, driving music and headlong momentum to explode with narrative force, stirring in a romance at the same time” and considering that I know he has seen Wong Kar-Wai films and understands what meaningful style is, I’m shocked by his lack of critical language. The film’s flamboyance seems to be an attempt to cover up the lack of any real formal inspiration behind Boyle’s choices. Rather than a visual interpretation of the bleary romanticism found at the core of Wong’s signature films, Boyle’s aesthetics exist for their own sake – whiz-banging just to demonstrate their own whiz-bangery. Slumdog’s visual construction is overt: the camera rests in unusual places just to highlight how unusual those places are for camera placement; the film’s extensive use of crosscutting is heavy-handed and a bit elementary, particularly the opening juxtaposition of Jamal’s torture and his appearance on the game show; at other times, the editing structure is more concerned with building to and accentuating a clever transition than actually establishing a narrative flow or tone. Boyle, Dickens, and Mantle miss the point in a major way throughout Slumdog, stringing together a series of would-be-novelties and attention-callers that seem to be chosen for their conspicuousness instead of their potential connection to the film’s thematic concerns or moral ambition (which are questionable in themselves). “But Brandon, isn’t it unrealistic to expect films to always achieve thematic-aesthetic synthesis?” Two things: if they are front-runners for almost every Best Picture award, no, it is not unrealistic, and there are many films released this year that actually do achieve it: Paranoid Park, Flight of the Red Balloon, Ballast, Synecdoche, New York, and Speed Racer, to name a few.


C: Ever felt the feeling of faux tension? It is powerfully underwhelming. Slumdog Millionaire exploits it to the max: the chase scenes all feel like foregone conclusions, the confrontations are all half-baked, sexuality is basically a non-factor, and the film’s various races against the clock are all protracted to the point of ludicrousness. Any sense of real drama or “headlong momentum” is completely sucked out of Slumdog by its unavoidable transparency. Everyone knows how every scene will conclude because everyone has watched every scene scores of times before. Ebert writes, “The film's surface is so dazzling that you hardly realize how traditional it is underneath.” Maybe it's just me, but I sure realized the fuck out of it. When Jamal encounters his various obstacles, it’s obvious that he will escape by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin. Repeatedly, the film toys with the fact that he might not, but it’s only a ruse, a method of stretching scenes beyond their limit, an attempt to spin a thriller out of a clunker. The apex of the film’s awkward striving for actual intensity comes during the final half hour when the stakes of Jamal’s game show appearance are upped (as if anyone in the theater actually thought he wouldn’t win the full 20,000 rupees or miss out on hooking-up with Latika).

During Slumdog’s supposed climax, Jamal uses his “Phone-A-Friend” lifeline on the last question, hoping to call Salim’s phone for the answer to a question about Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, an event that is hamfistedly foreshadowed in a scene taking place during the boys’ childhood. Frustratingly, Salim gives his phone (the only number Jamal knows) to Latika, knowing that Jamal will call her and get to speak with her – his reason for going on the show in the first place. Jamal does not know this. Latika does not know that she is Jamal’s lifeline. When she steps out of her vehicle to watch Jamal with a crowd of onlookers surrounding the television sets in an electronics store – having escaped with Salim’s help from Javed (Mahesh Manjrekar), her gangster boyfriend and Salim’s underworld boss – she leaves the phone in the car. Jamal calls. The phone rings, and rings, and rings, and rings, and rings, and rings, and rings, endlessly. Oh no, will Latika get to the phone in time? Of course, but only after the game show’s crooked host, Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), says something to the effect of, “Looks like nobody’s going to answer. You’re on your own” and commands the call to be disconnected. Knowing the rules of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” it’s obvious from the film’s inception that the final question must be resolved by a “Phone-A-Friend” to Latika. From the time early in the film that The Three Musketeers is mentioned, it’s obvious that the final question will be about it. At the moment Salim gives Latika his phone, it’s obvious it will result in a near-disaster of misunderstanding and last-minute rescue. And, as soon as the phone rings, it’s obvious how this rescue will take place. The whole thing ends up being one giant, simplistic fill-in-the-blank, a predestined procedural with no sense of how to proceed tactfully – a statement true of the entirety of Slumdog Millionaire.


D: Sappy. Cheesy. Doughy. Tasteless. The culinary adjectives pile up when considering how indigestible Danny Boyle’s film is. It’s all either bitter tragedies or saccharine platitudes, both being dull and flat to the palate. If Slumdog handles anything in a way that is genuinely fresh or crisp or breathtaking, I sure as hell missed it. Everything in the film feels trite or typically exploitative: the lovesick hero making his picaresque way back to his immaculate damsel, the overzealous police officers who come to sympathy once they let the poor street urchin explain himself, the wayward brother falling into the wrong crowd only to repent via a single sacrificial act, the shocking violence used more for visceral jabs than anything resembling complex storytelling, the persevering orphan who sees the sunshine through the shit and never dips his toe into anything that might make him truly blameworthy, the heartless gangster chauvinist with business ambitions and pockets full of power. Trust me, there are more.

Slumdog’s conclusion is the narrative equivalent of a whipped cream dollop with a cherry on top – weightless, fluffy, and strikingly sugar sweet. Jamal not only gets the girl, manages to save his brother’s dignity, wins a fortune, unites an entire country, transcends class systems, and shows that money comes to those who don’t really want it (he’s in it for the chick, man); he also shakes his ass amidst a sizeable sea of bright-eyed, super-smiley would-be Bollywood extras. The film’s aforementioned coda, feeling like the parodic finale of the much better The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), induced me to laugh out loud – not out of joy or celebratory exuberance as in Judd Apatow’s comedy, but because I thought it had to be a joke. Can anyone really make something that ridiculous and get away with it? Can anyone really think that deserves an Oscar or even a mention among the year’s best films? In Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle has either made a miserable mess of sentiment and unearned optimism or the most straight-faced satire I have ever seen. I highly doubt the latter.

Oh yeah. I forgot the last option. This might make the question a little easier.

E: All of the above.

And if you saw that coming from a mile away, Slumdog Millionaire will make you feel like a damned clairvoyant.

45 comments:

Tony said...

We've discussed this before. I. Completely. Agree.

Brandon Colvin said...

And I'm so glad. I was afraid I might be the only one . . .

Hopefully, though, we'll get some dissenting comments. I wanna hear some arguments.

j.white said...

Haven't seen it yet, unfortunately, but wow... I've seen negative reviews - this is downright scathing.

Jacob said...

Did anyone else hate the serendipitous premise? How convenient was it that fate had destinied every noteworthy part of Jamal's life to help him get laid (and by "get laid," I mean dance at a train station)?

No dissent here (except for liking the musical number in 40 Year-Old Virgin which is actually what nudged me into the category of disliking it). But as far as Slumdog's concerned, you're spot on.

Brandon Colvin said...

Yeah, I tried to mock the premise in my first little paragraph there. Haha. It was pretty dang absurd.

I'm kind of stunned that nobody I know likes this movie.

Tony Dayoub said...

When I saw this film I felt like I had just seen the Emperor's new clothes. Not only do I not think it was one of the best of the year. I think it's easily one of the worst.

And stylistically, the use of Who Wants to be a Millionaire as a framing device was played out for me about 2 questions in. I was discouraged of any hope this film would somehow surprise me when Boyle decided to see the use of that framing device all the way to the bitter end.

w. said...

this. movie. is. nothing. short. of. a. miracle.

Brandon Colvin said...

Whitney, I expect a rebuttal at The Look-See.

I hope you're being sarcastic. Haha.

Tony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony said...

Man, We're showing our colors here guys. This movie is a critical success, meaning there HAS to be people to defend it out there, and so far not a one has shown his face on this forum.

(I've spoken to Whitney personally, and though he might not have hated it as much as we all seemed to, I KNOW he was underwhelmed).

Brandon Colvin said...

That's because we're unpopular. Haha.

There were many defenders of Crash, too. But I think that movie is now roundly considered a piece of garbage. This film is, in many ways, this year's Crash as far as I'm concerned. One reason being that it will probably steal Best Picture from a more deserving film about homosexuals while being gimmicky, Serious, and multi-culti.

James Hansen said...

Are there any Slumdog lovers who visit the site who can give a smart defense? I'd really love to have more dissent and conversation, but I'm afraid it won't come from me, as I agree with 3 of your 4 points pretty solidly. But just to create some dissent...

I don't think your C point (the film's transparency) is anything new or specific to SLUMDOG. It's more of an observation on this kind of soap opera/melodrama/whatever. If Jamal is our super hero here, then what is the kryptonite? Of course, there isn't any and we do know that he'll win, just as we know Superman/Spiderman won't save Lois/Mary Jane, and just as we know Batman/Jason Bourne/James Bond won't die. These sequences are always drawn out and the melodrama pivots on the question of "the nick of time."

My question, for anybody, is what is the difference between this being a fault in SLUMDOG and it being a success in THE DARK KNIGHT (to name a film that some of you probably like...) The films invest in you being invested and going along with them. If you are, then you don't mind these moments and get wrapped up in them, no matter how artificial (which is what Ebert is kind of getting at, although his complete oversight of these problems is troubling.) I just think this point has a broader context that isn't limited to SLUMDOG, so I think its worth trying to figure out the differences, or to see if you contend it is specific to SLUMDOG.

Everyone feel free to chime in...especially any SLUMDOG lovers! There have to be some of you out there...right?

w. said...

yes, i must admit that i was trying to stir the pot. yes, the movie is whoa overrated. yes, yes, yes!

Brandon Colvin said...

James,

I agree. But there's a difference between someone telling you they have an apple and putting it behind a concrete wall and telling you they have an apple and putting it behind a glass plate. There is at least some mystery with the concrete. Some suspense. SLUMDOG is all glass.

The Batman/Bourne/Bond scenes don't dwell on their drawn out points. They have suspense elements built within suspense. Chases within chases. The phone would ring maybe 8 times instead of 13. And, on the way to the phone, something else would happen, not just a bunch of crosscutting to people sitting around. It's at least exciting that way, even if predictable. SLUMDOG is just lazy with its tension. There are ways to divert and fracture attention away from these obvious conventions, which most sophisticated films do. Not SLUMDOG.

Most assumed successes in movies like these have at least a strong sense of counterpoint, something so threatening that the hero might not come out on top. But those threats don't exist in SLUMDOG. There aren't any real, scary villains. They are all cardboard. There is no Joker here. There is nobody that can go toe-to-toe with Jamal's destiny.

James Hansen said...

@Brandon- I see what you're saying, but (to extend this apple analogy) I don't think it matters if you can see the apple or not. If you know the apple is going to be safe, it's hard to care much, even if you can't see said apple. I agree that more sophisticated films (Bourne Ultimatum, Casino Royale, Die Hard, and any great romance) establish more tension, but I don't think that changes the fact that you never actually think the heroes won't live/the guy and girl won't get together. Solid film craft makes the typicality more "smart" and entertaining. The weaker films (Slumdog, The Dark Knight (if you ask me), any movie ever made about Superman, and How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days) force the point so much and take themselves so seriously in the meantime that it's difficult to forgive the egregiously false premises and shoddy (sub)standard filmmaking.

The problem with Slumdog, as you mention, is that Jamal just sits there. They can lock doors, have a lot of traffic, and put in security, but the situation doesn't allow as much. It's when problems of craft and content collide that the weaknesses arise in major ways. Solid craft can make up for it, but the content has to sell it as well - something the weak films I mentioned before don't do.

j.white said...

Again, haven't seen SLUMDOG, but I feel I should jump to SUPERMAN's defense. What the SUPERMAN franchise always had going in its favor (even though it tumbled downhill after the first two) was having a sense of humor about itself. The stories are inherently goofy, but the cast and crew at least acknowledge it.

Brandon Colvin said...

I don't think we are disagreeing, James. Haha.

James Hansen said...

@Brandon- Yeah. I suppose we aren't. I'm just trying to make some kind of argument in here since nearly everyone is agreeing.

@Jacob- Sense of humor or not, I have found every Superman thing I have ever watched completely stale. They can be fun sometimes, but the action never works because Superman is so indestructible. Even when he runs into kryptonite...there's no question that he'll get out of it. Nothing I've seen has really sold me on any sort of suspense. Maybe I'm wrong (especially since I haven't seen that much, but I have seen 3 or 4 of the movies) but it seems like that is undoubtedly a large part of the series.

brarble said...

Just read the review. Some good points, but don't worry brandon, there's some major disagreeing on the way to spice this board up.

I don't have time to get out all my thoughts right now, but this aggression will not stand. A rebuttal is forthcoming...

Tony said...

I am excited for the rebuttal. Seriously. I want to hear legitimate descent. Brandon my money's on you but I'm ready to see a fight.

Ken Barish said...

you said: From the time early in the film that The Three Musketeers is mentioned, it’s obvious that the final question will be about it.
I say: really. Maybe I'm not that smart, so I don't know that is the last question until they show that question. If you are that OBVIUOS super smart, then what can I say: just go for Pineapple Express, which has everything that people can't expect like a guy who was killed many time but show up every single time someone need help! Awesome.
(English is not my first language so I won't defend for Slumdog Millionaire, but I think it's OBVIUOS that you are affected by other people's review. Because other people LOVE this movie, so you just HATE it, not because of the movie itself, but because the hype around it.

MovieMan0283 said...

Brandon,

On my corner of the blogosphere, I am laboring on a year-end post which will, in addition to a self-indulgent list of my own favorite posts, attempt to spread the wealth by highlighting the best/most interesting writing of my fellow bloggers. I was dropping by to pick up the link for your enthusiastic review of "Ballast," but I have to say this has now taken its place.

Few movies really offend me - King Kong was one, Mystic River another - and I can't say Slumdog Millionaire did. I enjoyed most of it, certainly did not think it was the masterpiece may did, and moved in (I'll probably tackle it, briefly, in a Quick One early next year). That said, intellectually I have many of the same criticisms you did.

I don't think you like City of God, but I found that film preferable because even if it is slick and in the habit of digesting slum violence as gangsta entertainment, it does force the viewer to confront the brutality of its subject and doesn't leave them with a feel-good ending. So in that sense at least, I suppose Slumdog is the poor man's City of God.

And while I was able to accept most of the movie as entertainment (though not art), I can only consider the ending an abject failure. Why does he so easily brush off the torture (and would police, however corrupt, really torture a newly beloved celebrity)? Why does the film switch tone from an entertainment movie with a faint basis in reality to outright fantasy? Why the ridiculous symbolic gesture of the brother in the climactic shootout?

I think Slumdog directly engaged a lot of people's senses, hence the intoxicated glee of its admirers (and I've read some very well-written, enthusiastic respones). I can respect that - but your analytical criticisms still stands.

Another analogy I'd make is with Pan's Labyrinth - a film which ostensibly fused crowd-pleasing entertainment with some sort of sociocultural "darkness" - but while I enjoyed the fantasy creations, I found its depictions of fascists and the Spanish Civil War (a period which endlessly fascinates me) disappointingly glib, and its Lord of the Rings-esque style unbecoming of a supposed "modern-day masterpiece."

Brandon Colvin said...

Ken,

It wasn't really that difficult to figure out. Knowing the rules of the game, it's obvious that there will be a "last question" that will be worth the most, and, in all likelihood, considering SLUMDOG's modus operandi, have the most sentimental relevance to Jamal's life. The way the "Three Musketeers" reference is introduced is forced, the school scene exists almost solely to deliver that little bit of information and the scene ends as soon as that information is given to the audience. The abrupt, awkward construction of the school scene and its focus upon the "Three Musketeers" quickly suggested that the scene was thrown in only to initiate the "Three Musketeers" motif, which would recur in the film. The scene's occurrence early in the narrative, when the two boys are still innocent (?) children, also immediately links it to their pre-mother murder happiness. Now, compiling all of this information, realizing that Boyle had created an entire scene JUST to toss out this information, my immediate assumption was "that's going to be the last question." I'm not a genius, I've just seen a lot of movies. I actually DO really like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and yes, admittedly, one reason why this film upsets me so much is because of the undue praise it has received. If I wrote without addressing the critical climate surrounding this film, I feel that I would be somewhat ignorant, since much of the film's marketing and content are based on fostering a critical reception that healthily positions it as an "awards" film. Being a lowly blogger living in Kentucky, I don't get to write early enough to create the critical response to the film and don't get to see films like SLUMDOG until after the critical response has been almost fully formed. Therefore, in order to take advantage of my position and introduce a unique quality to belated blogger criticism, I responded not only to the film, but the critical reception to it, which, if you read anything about the film, is impossible to escape. No moviegoer exists in a vacuum. We are all influenced and challenged by those around us. In order to address this, I responded to the most widely read film critic in the world: Roger Ebert, whose opinion is digested, swallowed, and regurgitated by many, many people.

MovieMan,

I certainly prefer CITY OF GOD to SLUMDOG, but it is a film that I find myself liking less as the years go by. I still value it, particularly for its unflinching brutality and refusal to take up the escapist romance of SLUMDOG. The scene in which the boy has to shoot the other children is still one of the most disturbing depictions of violence I have ever witnessed.

As for PAN'S LABYRINTH, I agree about the modern-day scenes. They were somewhat simplistic and a bit facile, but I think that is in keeping with the film's myth-based, fairy tale tone. The characters are more symbolic than realistic, ciphers instead of people. I don't think PAN'S LABYRINTH has many pretensions to realism, even in the modern day scenes, but SLUMDOG does and much of the positive criticism surrounding it thrives on its depiction of the "real" India - where everything conveniently happens for a strictly delineated reason and will become useful later in life.

Tony D'Ambra said...

There are weaknesses in Slumdog Millionaire, but in no way does it deserve the arrogant and boorish drubbing you give it here.

The ‘quiz show that stopped the nation’ trope is imposed and corny, the resolution clichéd, the genuine pathos of the older brother Samil’s sacrifice lost, the drama undermined by the love conquers all ending, and the dance number as a final coda misplaced and even repugnant.

But the movie is still a dazzling cinematic experience: the cinematography, the editing, and the sound production as integral as the inspired direction. The acting of the young people and the kids is as solid as you could wish. As Umberto Eco wrote of Casablanca:

"Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us... Just as the height of pain may encounter sensual pleasure, and the height of perversion border on mystical energy, so too the height of banality allows us to catch a glimpse of the sublime. Something has spoken in place of the director. If nothing else, it is a phenomenon worthy of awe."

A Hollywood movie is not going to save India, but it can bring an immediacy to the plight of people living marginal lives in dire poverty, and perhaps widen awareness and understanding.

Brandon Colvin said...

When a film is awful, it's hard not to seem arrogant in one's critique. Most critics who are genuinely offended and displeased by a film aren't too respectful - it's a little disingenuous to feign appreciation. I was being expressive and honest.

I was not dazzled. I can certainly be dazzled, but this did not dazzle me. I can't really argue much with you about being dazzled by the film other than to say we have different definitions of what is dazzling. I feel like I articulated as clearly as I can why I didn't find the film aesthetically dazzling in my review.

I didn't come to understand anything about India that I didn't already know, just saw it simplified and exploited. I don't expect the film to save India, but I do expect it to not trivialize and ultimately ignore the complexities of the problems it brings up.

As for the quote about Casablanca, I would say one hundred well-handled, effectively utilized cliches move us; one hundred flubbed ones merely make for terrible storytelling.

Tony D'Ambra said...

It is not hard to be honest and respectful, and remember it is your opinion you are arguing, not the law of gravity. In the case of this film, there are many high profile 'critics' other than Roger Ebert, who have a view contrary to yours, and a degree of humility on your part would not go astray. If appropriating the meaning of 'dazzling' is not a sign of hubris, then seeking to define 'aesthetically dazzling' certainly is.

I was moved by the film as were many others. Why don't you get down off your high horse and try and makes sense of that phenomenon?

James Hansen said...

I'll avoid a content argument between you two, but I'm puzzled by Tony's suggestion that this review (yes, a personal opinion) should "make sense" of a "phenomenon" of people being moved by a movie. Are you really suggesting that just because some people like a movie that critics should just understand why people like it rather than be critical of the content? Should we only talk appreciatively of films because some person might like them? This seems like an extremely reductive approach to me and would, as Brandon mentions, be a disingenuous approach to criticism.

The great thing about blogs is that we can have conversations such as this, which can deepen perspective and highlight differences in opinion that are essential to understanding films. You don't get that advantage if the only perspective you hear is one of praise or one of damnation.

The strength of this review is that it directly confronts and challenges the people who liked it (such as yourself), and asserts an different opinion based on many of the same factors. Arrogant critics refuse to acknowledge that anyone could think in any way other than their own. Brandon's approach is the direct opposite, and is one of the reasons it has provoked some strong debate on this page. Can you really say someone is sitting on a high horse when they respectfully and directly confront the people they disagree with? It'd be a boring place if everyone agreed all the time.

One more thing... no one is "appropriating the meaning of dazzling"...you just disagree on what is and isn't dazzling in the film (and/or films in general.) As they say, one persons trash is another persons treasure; one persons dazzle is another persons annoyance. Your response suggests that any opinion in opposition to your own is arrogant and self-indulgent. While I don't know how any personal opinion is not self-indulgent (since, you know, its completely your own opinion and has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks), I hope we never reach a point where a different opinion is immediately seen as arrogant, boorish, and disrespectful. We all wish that everyone would love the same things we do, but that's not how it works. But rather than ignore differing perspectives, it seems useful, at least to me, to engage both sides of these debates. That's what these comments, this review, and this site always tries to do.

Brandon Colvin said...

Tony,

I'm suggesting that other people help me make sense of the phenomenon, because I can't. I've read many reviews, watched the film attentively, and spent time writing a very long criticism of the film which obviously quite a few readers felt was spot-on at best and a little over-the-top at worst, as demonstrated by their comments.

I've read many disrespectful, yet insightful reviews of many films, which sometimes reveal insights through disrespect by knocking a prize film off its pedestal. I think my review is one of them. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't have taken the time to write it. A film does not deserve my respect because it simply exists or because people like it, even if those people are respected film critics. It has to EARN that respect. SLUMDOG did not earn my respect. It earned my enmity, so I wrote about it accordingly. When my honest opinion is disrespect, it actually IS hard to be honest and respectful, since the two are in direct conflict. But when it comes down to it, I'll always write honestly rather than respectfully.

I also noted many of the other critics who liked the film in my review and explained specifically why I singled out Ebert in an earlier comment.

Just because I disagree with you does not mean I'm on a high horse. I'm simply on a different one.

I would say hubris is instrumental to the formation of a critical voice. A critic writes to persuade people and to express him/herself. If I don't believe that I'm right, how can I convince anyone else that I am, and if I don't clearly delineate my frustrations, who will?


James,

Thank you for that well-articulated defense. You said everything I wanted to say and more.

Tony D'Ambra said...

James, what I am saying is that expressions such as 'despicable crap', 'drivel', and 'but I sure realized the fuck out of it', are arrogant and boorish. Brandon in his response to me is totally defensive. He is not interested in engaging in discussion, but in dismissing out of hand a contrary opinion.

My subsequent response refers to Brandon's response, not the review, so sadly, your otherwise laudable FAQ for Dummies is wasted.

Brandon's review sets-up a paper tiger. He says the movie is 'politically irresponsible' but his elaboration refers to only one scene with which he has apparently no argument: "The scene casts the Americans as being out of touch with the political and social realities of Jamal’s Mumbai environs – laughably naïve and imbued with an overabundance of suburbanite white guilt". He then takes Ebert's view on brutality and ascribes it to the makers of the film. He confuses his awareness of India with those of the audience. He says the movie is 'stylistically hollow', and asks the reader to accept this on face value. He disputes Ebert views, but offers zero analysis of any scene where 'trickery' is used for its own sake.

I could go on, but I have neither the time nor the inclination. In any event, Brandon is not really interested in why I admire the film or why in my bizarro universe I find it dazzling.

Tony D'Ambra said...

Brando, I submitted my last post before I saw your last response.

All I wish to add is that this background story on the writing of the screenplay by writer Simon Beaufoy may be of interest: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/dec/12/simon-beaufoy-slumdog-millionaire

Brandon Colvin said...

Tony,

If I could see the film again, I would more specifically analyze scenes to elaborate my points. I was already reaching a pretty massive word count and I've only seen the film once. This was not intended as an in-depth analysis, but rather a review, an impression.

As for those arrogant expressions, yes, they are quite controversial. And, they've obviously served their purpose beautifully. I don't think the harshness of my language does anything to detract from the content of my arguments, but it does inspire debate and dialogue, which is what I wanted to happen. You were not provoked by accident.

I think you only read the first part of my section on political responsibility. I don't particularly agree with the scene. The point of bringing it up was to illustrate how the film itself is guilty of the same sins - to illuminate the political hypocrisy behind its criticism of throwing money at social problems. I also criticized the film's ending as revealing political irresponsibility. Two solid, well-explained examples.

I wasn't confusing Ebert's awareness with the audience's. I was arguing against Ebert's judgment about audience awareness and the film's realistic qualities. He said that the film would show many people the "real" India for the first time. I said the film doesn't show the real India, but a fairy tale.

I didn't offer a more specific example of the trickery because I feel it is persistent in every scene. I did, however, highlight the opening sequence and the heavy-handed crosscutting.

And, I actually AM interested in why you liked the film. While I don't mind defending my review, I feel it would be much more constructive to hear you actually argue in favor of the movie and provide some positive reasons why it is valuable rather than just attack what I said.

Brandon Colvin said...

I'm really glad this discussion is happening though. I hope I haven't offended you, Tony.

That article is interesting, however. It provides valuable insights and some further explicated rationale, but I don't think it's enough to overturn my feelings about the actual product.

Tony D'Ambra said...

No Brandon, I am not offended, and my apologies if I have been too abrasive.

I believe in my first post, I did set out basically why, despite certain weaknesses, I liked Slumdog: "the movie is still a dazzling cinematic experience: the cinematography, the editing, and the sound production [are] as integral as the inspired direction. The acting of the young people and the kids is as solid as you could wish."

Just one example in support of my admiration should provide sufficient amplification. The scene that deals with the mother's death is deftly portrayed. The visual terror and the cacophony is loud and intense, and the adrenalin that fuels the kids' flight is palpable, with the fast editing, the angled and off-center shots, all amplifying the brutality of what is happening on the screen; then the abrupt stop as the kids' escape is blocked by a car with an annoyed and indifferent better-off passenger cocooned behind the closed windows; then the boys are off again until the final soaring aerial shots that move from the particular to the general - this is not a single story but one of many. The blinded kids don't escape their fate. Jamal and Latika escape only because Samal has a gun and uses it.

While the film mocks the naive response of the American tourists, the resolution is pat. But Jamal didn't enter the quiz for the money. Let me paraphrase what I have written elsewhere. I imagine this is how Slumdog Jamal feels: he is in a place but not of it - a stranger in the only home he has known. A Muslim in a hostile Hindu nation, first as an orphan eking out an existence on a refuse heap, living little better than a dog, later as a hustler on the edge of society, and then as a lowly chah-wallah in a Mumbai office tower. He has no home and belongs nowhere. Jamal wades through a cess-pit to get a glance of his Bollywood idol. Shit: the stuff that slum-dreams are made of. The conceited quiz show host tries to set Jamal up for failure, and when that stratagem fails, he accuses Jamal of cheating and delivers him to police brutality. Jamal overcomes by his essential decency and natural intelligence. He didn’t want the quiz show prize, he wanted to find his girl - and he does. Yes, Bollywood meets Hollywood, but while Jamal’s millions may buy him a measure of comfort and respect, he can't buy a place in the sun, and Salim's gun ultimately fails him.

MovieMan0283 said...

Great to see a (heated) discussion going - hopefully more on the way.

James,

in case you were unaware, I've linked to your rundom of the New York Film Festival in my year-end round-up (where I also linked to this article). You can read the entry here:

http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2008/12/dancing-image-in-2008.html

Allison said...

Oh no!!! :(

Anonymous said...

All this coming from the man who gave Rambo an A....

James Hansen said...

Anon- Not quite sure what a person liking one movie has anything to do with the other. Any who likes Rambo is dumb? Anyone who doesn't like Slumdog is unfair? I'm just sayin...it's not like Brandon's opinions aren't justified and for completely different reasons. Apples and oranges, yo.

Anonymous said...

When a camera is posed at an unusual angle, it's just different for the sake of being so.

When a camera is posed at a common or expected angle, it's elementary.

It's ridiculous that some film writers have grown so latched on to the teat of pretense that they can make up their mind about any given film before the film has been fully presented to them and then belittle the piss out of it just because they're the loathed breed of critic that loves to be so outside of the box that everyone else who watches or analyzes film wants to keep them there to prevent any common ground or association whatsoever.



And when did Slumdog Millionaire claim to aspire to solve the problems of planet Earth? This film isn't a documentary. It isn't important because it uplifts or fails to uplift an ideology or economic philosophy. The world exists, but sometimes it isn't about the world, but the people in it. Just because a character exists in an unjust world doesn't mean it's the film's responsibility to abandon the focus on said character in an effort to focus on the mess they're in.

This review is the latest instance of rampant overcriticism in film on the Internet; where some ninny has locked himself in a room for years doing nothing but watching obscure film so he can win a pissing contest against anyone else who enjoys the craft.

Watch again. Without the presumptuousness and the pretense.

Tony D'Ambra said...

Disturbing news for those, like me, who enjoyed the film.

From this link http://tinyurl.com/cw8swk:

"The film's British director, Danny Boyle, has spoken of how he set up trust funds for Rubina and Azharuddin and paid for their education. But it has emerged that the children, who played Latika and Salim in the early scenes of the film, were paid less than many Indian servants.

Rubina was paid $1060 for a year's work while Azharuddin received $3600.

Both were found places in a free "English medium" school, usually attended by relatively poor children, and receive $42 a month for books and food. However, they continue to live in grinding poverty and their families say they have received no details of the trust funds.

This week, their parents said that they had hoped the film would be their ticket out of the slums, and that its success had made them realise how little their children had been paid.

Their payments were considerably worse than those received by the Afghan child stars of The Kite Runner, who embarrassed their Hollywood producers when they disclosed that they had been paid $19,000.

Rubina and Azharuddin live a few hundreds metres from each other in a tangle of makeshift shacks alongside Mumbai's railway tracks at Bandra. Azharuddin is in fact worse off than he was during filming: his family's illegal hut was demolished by the local authorities and he now sleeps under a sheet of plastic tarpaulin with his father, who suffers from tuberculosis.

"There is none of the money left. It was all spent on medicines to help me fight TB," Azharuddin's father, Mohammed Ismail, said between fits of coughing."

James Hansen said...

Tony- Yikes. That's pretty disturbing stuff. I'm not a big fan of the film, but thats certainly not something us haters are gonna rub noses in. At the very least, it's just something that I think everyone agrees shouldn't be happening. At most, it continues to question the intentions and execution that Brandon brings up in this review in regard to the "real India." Scary stuff.

e.e.f. said...

To the jackass who wrote this shit critic. You're a jackass, and I'm sorry you weren't able to see the the beauty of this film.

Plus to the guy who was bothered by the serendipitous premise..please, don't use big words you don't understand. What do you think fate is...

Tony Dayoub said...

@e.e.f.

"What do you think fate is..."

It's a crock of shit, and an excuse for a couple of hacks to spew this drivel.

Nancy Green said...

I posted a review here
http://kmareka.com/?p=2778
about what was left out of the movie. without the children, there would be no heart to the story. the children are real, yet they are anonymous collateral damage in the story, and in reality they are dealing with a poverty so deep that a few thousand dollars is a cup of water in the Sahara.

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This film has really great plot. Such movie takes breath away. Everybody must see it. You can make use http://rapid4me.com/?q=Slumdog+Millionaire

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