SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE * * * *
Cert 15 120 mins
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is an uneducated orphan, who grew up in Mumbai’s slums and now works as a teaboy in a call centre.
So how has he managed to get one question away from winning the jackpot on India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
The police are convinced he’s cheating and, on the eve of his final appearance on the show, they drag him down to the station and try to beat a confession out of him.
To prove he really knows the answer to every question, he is forced to tell the story of his life and explain how he came by his extraordinary knowledge.
Through a series of flashbacks, we see Jamal growing up in poverty with his older brother and struggling to survive through any means necessary, including begging, stealing and pretending to be a tour guide at the Taj Mahal.
Jamal’s childhood sweetheart is Latika, who grows into the beautiful Freida Pinto. He is desperate to track her down and rescue her from her life, even though he has little to offer her – at least, not until he’s on the verge of winning 20 million rupees in a TV quiz.
Beautifully shot by director Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire is a fascinating depiction of Indian life.
It’s a bittersweet tale that manages to entertain and keep us engaged for two hours.
Full of suspense, wit and even a full-blown Bollywood song and dance number (set to a score from AR Rahman), this is uplifting fare for miserable January days.
Boyle, however, includes moments of shocking violence which don’t go with the movie’s fairytale theme. He tries to make it both an implausible, touching romance and a brutally accurate depiction of Indian life, and those themes don’t sit well together.
For these albeit fairly minor flaws, I can’t agree that Slumdog Millionaire is the amazing, Oscar-worthy masterpiece it is already being hailed as in some quarters.
However, you don’t need to phone a friend to know it’s worth seeing. RL
DEFIANCE * *
Cert 15 136 mins
If you want to see a decent modern version of a Second World War story, try Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, Roman Polanski’s The Pianist or even Days Of Glory, an Oscar-nominated Algerian movie about the contribution African volunteers made to the French cause.
Defiance falls well short of these standards, even though this true story was clearly an irresistible temptation for director Edward Zwick, the man behind hits like The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond.
Three brothers – Tuvia, Zus and Asael Belski – escape from the Nazis and lead a resistance movement in the forests of Belorussia, ready to apparently save more lives than Oskar Schindler.
Will the Germans catch up with them. And, if they do, how will it all turn out?
As with many wartime stories, our heroes’ ingenuity over three years is to be admired, but Defiance is too long, at 136 minutes, to generate much tension.
And to generally ignore such long-term problems as a need to eat.
An even deeper flaw is that the film’s stars Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell, never really gel as siblings.
Craig is a real fish out of water since, in another celluloid life, his wavering Eastern European accent could have serviced a Bond baddie.
Ultimately, Defiance is a victim of its own earnestness.
Some of the dialogue sounds too modern and even crass: “Anyone caught stealing will face consequences ... half rations for one week”, though it never drifts as ludicrously as Zwick’s Legends of the Fall.
After Schreiber previously starred in Love in the Time of Cholera and The Painted Veil, expect some sickness, too. GY
BRIDE WARS * *
Cert PG 89 mins
Hudson and Hathaway. The names roll off the tongue nicely, and you might expect two fine actresses like Kate and Anne to make a great screen pairing.
What a shame, then, that they’ve been lumbered with this lame script.
Single-minded corporate lawyer Liv (Kate Hudson) and people-pleasing teacher Emma (Anne Hathaway) have been best friends for 20 years.
Growing up, they both dreamed of having June weddings at New York’s Plaza Hotel.
So when their boyfriends propose in the same week (the first of several improbable occurrences), there’s a rush to see who can arrange their big day first. But a mistake on the part of wedding planner Candice Bergen means they’re both booked into the Plaza on the same June Saturday.
When neither is prepared to budge, it’s all-out war, involving sabotaging of fake tans, diets and hair dye with unfunny results.
By the end (which we saw coming from some way away), you may be feeling nauseous from the saccharine sentiment.
Hudson and Hathaway deserve better. RL
SEX DRIVE * * *
Cert 15 109 mins
This teen sex comedy is a cross between American Pie and Road Trip – or John Cusack’s overlooked 1980s gem The Sure Thing, only not as clever and with a lot more gross jokes.
Ian (Josh Zuckerman) is an 18-year-old virgin who flirts with a girl on the internet. Their romance hots up when she invites him to visit her in Knoxville, 500 miles away from his Chicago home, promising “if you come all the way to see me, I’ll go all the way with you”.
That’s all the enticement he needs to steal the prized 1969 Pontiac GTO of his older brother Rex (James Marsden) and start driving. Coming along for the incident-strewn ride are best friends, Lance (Clark Duke) and Felicia (Amanda Crew).
The jokes are more miss than hit, but the film boasts solid performances and mostly likable characters, plus a laugh-out-loud moment towards the end involving a giant doughnut. RL