Slumdog Millionaire – Dir. Danny Boyle (Dev Patel, Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan)

slumdog.jpgIt might help to think of “Slumdog Millionaire” as a bit like “City of God” set in India, but spiced up with a bit more Dickens. This a very good thing. “Slumdog” is an epic saga that follows the life of Jamal, a young  Indian boy in Mumbai, who suddenly finds himself orphaned, and shivering to stay dry in an old boxcar with his older brother and a shy girl who has also just lost her parents. From there the children begin a journey that includes losing each other countless times and then having accept that every separation pushes them further into the realities of adulthood. The film is slick, fast, triumphant, devastating, and authentic. It is shot with an often dizzying cinematic energy, but patient enough to reveal the colorful textures of modern India.

In the hands of almost any other director the story of Jamal’s journey from inescapable poverty to game show millionaire could have felt either to unlikely or at times too hard to watch, as the barbarian treatment of children that still exists today in places like India and China, inspires a sense of guilt not usually sought after in a movie. But Danny Boyle, as he did in “Trainspotting,” “Shallow Grave,” and “28 Days Later,” is both a technical genius as well as a soulful filmmaker. Sure the film which cuts back and forth in time feels a bit inevitable, but this is softened by the underlying Bollywood flavor that oozes from it’s outside edges. In the end, “Slumdog” will make you wince, cry, laugh, madden and feel that exhileration that comes with rooting for the underdog … this is a modern classic.

The Wackness – Dir. Jonathan Levine (Josh Peck, Sir Ben Kingsley, Method Man, Mary Kate Olsen, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen)

wackness.jpgI vividly remember the Summer of 1994 in NYC because I was there. It was hot, and I was poor, and Kurt Cobain had just died. This is the backdrop for the hugely underrated indie “The Wackness.” The film is mostly a coming of age tale following 18 year-old Luke Shapiro a lonely, weed dealing, recent high school graduate, around for the Summer before he starts college. Shapiro and his parents are on the verge of eviction of their rented Upper East Side apartment while his peers live in penthouses and have largely either left for travels in Europe or a summer house in the Hamptons. But the film doesn’t dwell too much on issues of class but more on a few relationships that don’t really fit any traditional mold.

Enter Ben Kingsley as Luke’s psychiatrist, who trades mostly lame hippie wisdom for bags of grass equivalent in size to the length of the session. As Luke reluctantly confesses the causes of his depression (he wants a girlfriend) he is specifically imagining Kingsley’s beautiful stepdaughter Stephanie. As Stephanie begins to fall a little for the awkward but not totally un-cool Shapiro, the real friendship in the film combatively ignites between Kingsley and Luke. The summer rolls on while Stephanie and Luke spend time together, Kingsley begins to lose his sense of purpose and Luke races to sell enough grass to bail his parents out of debt. This film won’t change anything really, but is a kind of perfect rumination on the nature of love both as a teenager and as an adult. So smoke a joint and enjoy.

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