DVD Picks: Slumdog Millionaire & August Rush

I wrote these reviews before I decided on the Britastic blog series, but they work just fine because they’re both British-related. Slumdog Millionaire is directed by talented British director Danny Boyle, and Freddie Highmore who plays the title role in August Rush was born in London. They both also share a similar fairy-tale element in the storyline, but obviously these are two very different films.

Slumdog Millionaire

I finally got a chance to view the 2009 Best Picture Winner, and I’m glad to say that this one does live up to the hype. British director Danny Boyle paints a compelling and heart-wrenching rags-to-riches story that tugs at your heart right from the start.

The film centers on an unlikely teen, Jamal Malik, who grew up in the slums of Mumbai. He somehow defies all the odds to win the highest prize of the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and the story of how he got there and knew all the answers is told in flashbacks as he’s being interrogated on suspicion of cheating.

Though the one of the endorsements on the dvd cover says, ‘The feel-good film of the decade,” Slumdog Millionaire is actually tough to watch at times. Boyle doesn’t pull any punches in presenting the stark contrast between the haves and have-nots, and it’s fascinating to see how movie stars there are worshiped as if they’re immortal gods. The length Jamal took to get an autograph from one of them — who arrives on the slum via a chopper no less — is bizarre and devastating at the same time. There’s also scenes of unimaginable tragedy that these two boys have to endure that force that to survive on their own.

Dev Patel & Frieda Pinto

The heart of this fairy-tale is an unfaltering love story between Jamal and Latika, who also manages to escape the massacre in their village. Somewhere along the way they get separated, but Jamal refuses to give up on his long-lost love up no matter what the cost.

Played by three different actors, all of them portray Jamal with such heart and charm, though the older they get the lesser the resemblance between the two brothers (tricky casting I presume). Dev Patel as the older Jamal captures the essence of a young man who’s seen too much too soon, yet somehow retains that seemingly-uncrushable buoyant spirit. Gorgeous Frieda Pinto is enchanting as Latika, and the two share a believable chemistry even with so little words spoken to each other.

On top of all the great points I’ve mentioned above, this movie looks and sounds good as well. The cinematography is exuberant and colorful, and the music by A.R. Rahman compliments the urban realism nicely with its high energy and edgy beat. Kudos to Boyle for creating such an extraordinary film. His versatility is quite impressive, but whether he’s tackling a zombie thriller flick (28 Days Later) or sci-fi adventure (Sunshine), he rarely disappoints.

….

August Rush

“I believe in music like some people believe in fairy tales,” Evan Taylor tells us in the beginning of the movie.

From the time the movie opens in the lush wheat field, it sets the fairy-tale tone of the movie. This is the kind of movie cynics need not bother, as it insists that you simply surrender to its sweet energy and let it touch your heart. Really, once the music starts playing, whether it’s a refined symphony or the ‘music’ of the hustle and bustle of every day life, I was ready to be swept away. Predictable? Yes. But the journey is worthwhile to watch.

The story basically revolves around Evan Taylor, an outcast in an orphanage who never stops believing that somehow, somewhere, his parents miss him as much as he misses them. That dream and the music around him keeps the lonely boy company and helps him cope with the harsh reality. The movie is none too subtle in revealing that the young dreamer’s got an extraordinary musical gift, and he knew it’s the key to finding his parents.

Highmore and Robin Williams as 'Wizard'

The rest of the movie goes back and forth between Evan’s journey to New York — which also reveals the significance of the title August Rush — and the flashback story of how music is definitely in his genes. Throughout the movie, music plays an integral part, the blending of classical, hard rock and ‘street’-music was phenomenal. In fact, the music is a tremendous factor in what make the movie so enjoyable. So clearly the filmmaker is as passionate about the music as Evan does.

Freddie Highmore — one of the best young actors working today — first caught my eye in Finding Neverland. As the title role, the 18-year-old actor who was 15 at the time looks believable enough as an 11 year old, and he is affecting with his wide-eyed tenacity and sincere longings, even without much words spoken. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Kerri Russell as the estranged parents have a nice chemistry together, though is it just me or does Rhys-Meyers looks like he’s about to cry in every single scene? Robin Williams as ‘Wizard’ is not as over-the-top as he usually is, though his character isn’t fully developed and we never really know what his real motive is.

Beautiful parents: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers & Keri Russell

This movie is a real tearjerker so have a bunch of Kleenex handy as it was hard keeping my eyes dry throughout the movie. I find this movie far more touching than another musical-themed movie The Soloist, for sure this one is far less tedious. The cinematography of places like Central Park and close-up shots of instruments being played are beautiful, though in some of the close-up shots of the Evan playing the guitar, it’s clear that it’s a mature adult’s hands, ooops!

If you appreciate music of any kind and don’t mind a little schmaltzy-ness and grand happy endings, this is a movie for you.