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.

24 thoughts on “DVD Picks: Slumdog Millionaire & August Rush

  1. PrairieGirl

    Seems like I might finally give Slumdog a chance. Best Pictures are sometimes so over-hyped (such as not interested in The Hurt Locker in any way, shape or form.) And August Rush sounds like a keeper too.

    1. Yeah, thanks to Marty for lending those to me. I can ask him if he’ll let you borrow them. I really enjoyed ’em and both have great soundtrack, too.

  2. I really enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire, but it’s gotten a fair of share of cynics recently as well (films that get that much praise that quickly are bound to).

    August Rush was definitely enjoyable, even with a fair amount of cheese factor. I really enjoy the talent involved in it which definitely helped.

    1. Hi Univarn, yeah I noticed the really dismal reviews, though I try not to let those sway how I felt about the movie. I guess you can’t please everyone, and I don’t always agree with the Academy’s choice either (especially this year’s winner), but I happen to connect with this one.

      Yes, plenty of cheese on August Rush, but at least it’s ‘tasty’ cheese 🙂

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  4. I love august rush!! I love it so much and share it with my students…and the respond was amazing, both boys and girls loved the movie as much as I am.

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  6. Slumdog really took me by surprise and turned into a movie that I never saw coming. For once I believe the right movie got the Oscar.

    However, I know I’m in the minority but I really couldn’t stand August Rush. It was over-sentimental, too over the top, and just too much in general.

    1. I can see one might feel that way about August Rush, Heather, so I don’t blame you. At times it does go overboard on the sappiness, though the music affected me so much that I didn’t loathe it.

  7. I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire. It definitely was a good film that deserved most of its praise. I’m not sure why it got so much backlash. As for August Rush, haven’t seen it!

    1. Yeah, the backlash on SM was mostly about the ‘inaccuracy’ of how India was portrayed, but it’s a movie, of course some degrees of make-believe is to be expected. I thought Boyle did an amazing job telling the compelling story and it was entertaining all the way through. Watch August Rush for the music, Castor, that’s really the best thing about it.

  8. I’m glad both Dev and Freida are moving on with their careers in a big way, so we’ll see him in THE LAST AIRBENDER and her in IMMORTALS.

    Jonathan Rhys Meyers is also amazing, I wish they would start giving him big movie roles.

    1. Yeah, I think they both deserve it, Dez. I’m not into Airbender much though the trailer looks impressive, but Immortals, well you know how excited I am about it (as you are, too). Can’t wait to see Henry Cavill FINALLY getting his leading role, it’s about time!! He and Rhys-Meyers should headline a movie together as they have great rapport on The Tudors, wouldn’t that be great?

        1. I thought that’s what they’re doing on The Tudors? It should’ve been called ‘Royal boys behaving badly’ 🙂

  9. mcarteratthemovies

    “Slumdog” is one of the rare movies that I’d say has it all: violence, coming-of-age, star-crossed lovers, gangs, you name it, it’s in there. More than one reviewer called it a “feel-good film,” and while I understand why they did that the description isn’t entirely accurate. You have to go through A LOT of murder and violence and blood and tears to get to that point.

    It also has one of the best movie soundtracks I’ve ever owned.

    1. I think the more accurate word is ‘optimistic’ instead of ‘feel good’ as there are scenes that are definitely tough to watch. But yeah, watching Jamal goes through the darkest part of his life makes the ending all the more rewarding. I’ve got to check out the soundtrack, my friend told me the same thing about how good it is.

  10. Not really a fan of either of the movies.

    Wasn’t quite entranced by the fairytale that is Slumdog Millionaire.

    And I guess I’m with Heather on August Rush. I just found it a blah. Trying way to hard to be this heart warming drama…with characters I could hardly care for. ..Robin Williams was weird in this one too. And for a movie about the power of music…None of the music was a stand out…at least for me.

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