Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Slumdog Millionaire": one of the years best films

Tonight I convinced my daughter, Kid Curmudgeon, to go see "Slumdog Millionaire," a film I had already seen at "Talk Cinema" at the AFI and had loved.

The film, filmed entirely on location in Mumbai, was co-directed by British filmmaker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting , Millions, Sunshine, 28 Days Later...) and Indian female director Loveleen Tandan (casting director on Mira Nair's "Vanity Fair" and "Monsoon Wedding," as well as 2nd assistant director on "Monsoon Wedding").

"Slumdog Millionaire" tells the story of Jamal Malik, a kid from the Mumbai slums who improbably becomes a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." The story is told through flashbacks explaining just how Jamal came to know all the answers to the questions he is asked on the show, which he knows as it turns out, by virtue of his life experiences surviving in the slums with his brother Salim and the little girl he rescued and came to love, Latika.

The film covers the lives of the 3 principals at ages 7, 14, and 21, played of course by three sets of actors, the youngest being actual non-actor Mumbai street kids.

The adults are played by Dev Patel (Jamal Malik) a British Actor of Indian parentage known in the US primarily for starring in the BBC series "Skins," Madhur Mittal (Salim Malik) a novice Indian actor, and Freida Pinto (Latika) a beautiful Mumbai model and TV host acting in her first movie.

The film is mostly told in English (which should help its US box office) with English subtitles for the Hindi parts.

Filmed in a frenetic, semi-documentary style by Anthony Dod Mantle ("The Last King of Scotland"), I would describe Slumdog Millionaire as "City of God" meets "Oliver Twist" meets "Monsoon Wedding" and "The Darjeeling Limited ," but that would be selling it short. The film is a wonderfully inventive evocation of a milieu foreign to most of us, told in a completely novel way (based on the novel "Q&A" by Vikas Swarup and screenwritten by Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty")).

Ultimately, Kid Curmudgeon puts "Slumdog Millionaire" in the top 5 movies of her life (she's a teenager) and I put it as one of my top two movies of 2008 (along with Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married"). Highly recommended in any case.

No Doubt about "Doubt"

Christmas time is my time to catch up on the serious movies released around this time for Oscar consideration. Today I went to see "Doubt," the new Philip Seymour Hoffman-Meryl Streep vehicle written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his award-winning play of the same name. The play won the 2005 Tony award for Best Play. The film should enjoy similar success come award season.

The movie is about a parish priest in NYC (Hoffman) who is persecuted by the principal of the Catholic school associated with the parish by the school's principal who was also a nun and mother superior (Streep) based purely on her suspicion that the priest might be getting a little too 'familiar' with the lone Black kid in the school, a loner ostracized by the other students. Still, despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the writing is witty rather than dour, at times even laugh-out-loud funny (God I love good writing)!

The story takes place in the year after the Kennedy assasination (IC was in high school in Texas that year) although the students seem to be about middle school age (what we would have called 'junior high' back then--why the change?!).

Fans of good acting and good writing will find a lot to love in this movie. Still as good as Hoffman and Streep are, and they indeed give the proverbial Oscar-worthy performances, the actor who steals the show is Viola Davis as the mother of the putative victim. She's only on the screen for 15 minutes but, if there is any justice, she will be nominated and win for "Best Supporting Actress" at the 2009 Oscars. She will be familiar to most for her roles on "Law and Order" and "Grey's Anatomy," but I certainly look for her star to rise after this. Worth the price of admission.

"Doubt" was further graced by the wonderful cinematography of the Great Roger Deakins ("No Country for Old Men" and most of the other films by the Coen Brothers).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Why hasTGI Fridays become anti-vegetarian?

For Christmas 2008, I went out to dinner with my meatatarian brother again. Last year we went to my favorite Chinese restaurant, Hunan Manor, which features a whole section of meatless entrees for a vegetarian like me (personal favorite: vegetarian honey sesame chicken).

This year we found out that the local TGI Fridays was open so we went there. The good news is that they were open for Christmas. The bad news was that they had eliminated the last remaining vegetarian option on the menu, some kind of lame cold pasta salad concoction so spiked with sulfiting agents as to be virtually inedible, yet still it was marginally better than nothing.

This is perplexing in that when I became a vegetarian 30 years ago, TGI Fridays was the first chain restaurant to offer a veggie burger (at least in the DC area). They had an excellent Garden Burger on the menu, served with a black-eyed peas salad on the side. Inexplicably, this disappeared from the menu about 3 years ago, along with the veggie wrap (served cold, but delicious) and assorted other veggie alternatives, as they began touting their red meat and Jack Daniels entrees (who oversaw this change, Karl Rove? Rush Limbaugh?). Apparently management has made a decision to stop catering to the white collar yuppie vaguely health-conscious demographic of years past to reach out to the red meat craving blue collar NASCAR demographic (much like Monday Night Football did when they brought in Hank Williams Jr. to annoy us with his "Ready for some football" braying).

I mean, its not just that Fridays has made it impossible for vegetarians like me to enjoy meals there with their non-veggie friends. It is that TGI Fridays has decided to become militantly anti-vegetarian, and that is indeed a troubling trend. It may be TGI Fridays but its not the Fridays I used to love to patronize.

For the record, my brother went with the ribs and I had to go with either the house salad or the Tuscan spinach dip with tortilla chips. I went with the dip since vegetarians need and deserve our veggies hot, not raw (we ain't frickin' rabbits, for God's sake!), even though in retrospect it was probably made with chicken soup since thats the way most restaurants insist on making it.

Therefore, unless and until Fridays gets its act together, I'm sticking with Ruby Tuesdays (great veggie burger, very good salad bar, and lots of veggie alternatives on the menu. Plus they are not afraid to cater to the more health conscious diners).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sorry About That!

When I first started this blog, I resolved to post new stuff at least once a week, once a month at worst.

Now, bogged down in moving my home and my office and getting a dog and myriad other distractions, I find myself seven weeks past my last post.

This is unacceptable and I promise to do better (for both of you out there actually reading this thing).

In the meantime, be sure to check out the links to my friends' blogs at right, like David Mills who writes "Undercover Black Man." The most prolific blogger I know, he routinely posts several times daily about music, media, politics, about anything on his mind. He augments his posts with terrific audio and video clips, which I would like to do some day too. He used to write for the Washington Post before heading west to the left coast to write for TV. He has written episodes for "The Wire" on HBO and "Homicide: Life on the Streets" for NBC, two of my all-time favorite shows.

Also check out my former student's blog "This Better Not Be Lame." She is a wonderful writer, witty, urbane, sarcastic, profane, with a delightfully snarky tone. She blogs anonymously under the name 'Sexy HU Journalist.'

Another former student, Danielle Scruggs, blogs under her own name at "Danielle Scruggs/Photography." A recent MFA Photography grad from MICA in Baltimore, she blogs about all things photography, championing photographers and their work and occasionally displaying examples of her own work. She too is a terrific writer (part of that Howard U. tradition of writers going back through Toni Morrison to Zora Neale Hurston).

Keeping it in the Howard U. family, check out my friend and former fellow Howard art dept. alum Joyce Owens, whose blog is "Joyce Owens: Artist on Art". Joyce is a celebrated artist and professor of art living and teaching in Chicago whose blog poses intriguing questions about art, about the profession of art, and about the viability of art with particular emphasis on African American art and artists.

Posting more soon, I remain the incorrigible Curmudgeon.