If you've followed the career of British director Danny Boyle, then the success of recent Oscar best-picture winner "Slumdog Millionaire" is only half surprising.
Since his first feature … the 1994 thriller "Shallow Grave" … Boyle has positioned himself as a filmmaker who mostly kept to the outer edges … either with edgy, stylish material like "Trainspotting" (1995) or small, fanciful fable about a young boy, "Millions." His most successful film commercially was the kinetic 2002 "28 Days Later," perhaps the best zombie flick in years. In "Slumdog" Boyle's storytelling abilties, heart, and outside point of view come together in a wonderfully expressive and entertaining way.
Jamal (Dev Patel), "Slumdog's young hero, looks like a victim at first. He earns a living serving tea to workers at a call-center in Mumbai. Through cleverness and luck he lands on the television game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," where to the surprise of, well, everyone, he is on the verge of winning the big prize. This puts him under suspicion, and the "slumdog" … as he is refered to … is soon picked up by the police, who torture him to find out how he's cheating.
From a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, which was adapted from a novel by Vikas Swarup, Jamal's story flows between the past and the present. (Three actors, including Patel, play Jamal at various ages.) As he is being tortured, the story flashes back to the young contestant's childhood. Born into poverty, he and his brother were orphaned early, eventually through a series of Dickensian-like adventures, the pair learnhow to not only survive but pull themselves up … or at least not sink into the abyss … in different ways. Throughout this there is Jamal's love for Latika (Freida Pinto, as the adult), which makes the film an unexpect romance, too.
As Boyle's camera takes the viewer into the slums of Mumbai with its ramshackle houses and teeming humanity, it would seem odd to think this film at all uplifting, but it is. The director never condescends to the characters. Vibrantly shot by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, "Slumdog" has an upbeat spirit that is simply irresistible (to quote the late Robert Palmer).
The DVD includes a feature on the making of the film, deleted Scenes, commentary by Boyle and Patel and commentary by producer Christian Colson and writer Beaufoy.
"Tell No One"
The suspenseful French film "Tell No One" may have you wondering if you've missed a clue or two along the way, but it moves along at such a brisk, entertaining pace that you probably won't care.
Based on Harlan Coben's international best-selling novel (it sold more than 6 million copies in 27 languages), the film took home four Cesars (France's equivalent of the Oscars), including best director (Guillaume Canet), film and best actor for Francois Cluzet.
Cluzet sympathetically plays pediatrician Alex Beck, who eight years earlier awoke from a three-day coma to find that his wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze), had been murdered and her battered body cremated. The couple had been taking a late-night swim at a private lake when they were attacked, but the police never fully bought Alex's account, even though the murder was attributed to a serial killer with a similar M.O.
For eight years, Alex leads a quiet life until he gets a video e-mail showing a woman who appears to be his wife with a recent real-time stamp. Margot's case is then reopened, and Alex is now suspect No. 1
A la the "Fugitive," Alex runs, leading to more nifty plot twists and turns than you can count. But even when "Tell No One's" story gets a bit too convoluted for its own good, the cinematography, the acting and especially the action will keep you glued to the screen.
"Marley and Me"
I love dogs. I enjoy taking my mutt Mattie to the dog park. Sitting through a dog movie disguised as a family comedy like "Marley and Me" … not so much.
It's not that I didn't find the antics and destructive ways of the lovable big Labrador retriever named after the famed reggae star Bob Marley somewhat cute … it was … it's just that the story of the Grogan family who owns him is rather bland.
Based on John Grogan's best-selling memoir, the Grogans (played by Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) and their three children have their ups and downs … like we all do. But there is little inherent drama in the film directed by David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada"). Come to think of it, "Marley and Me" is kind of like going to the dog park, just with less fresh air.
Directed by Gabriele Muccino, "Seven Pounds," starring Will Smith, is about a man who … after being involved in a tragedy that killed seven people … sets out to change seven people's lives.
To be kind, the film is a puzzle, to be less so would to say it's a mess. Smith's Tim Thomas comes across as a crazy with a messianic complex who is hard to get behind even with the likability factor of the actor. More incredulous is the story, which is often bizarre.
"Ricky Gervais: Out of England - The Stand-Up Special," which was taped live before a sold-out audience in New York City, showcases the actor-comedian-writer-director wry sense of humor. Like he has his sitcoms "The Office and "Extras," Gervais creates a mildly insensitive, unaware character … only here it's himself. Playing the vacuous celebrity Ricky Gervais, his cruel-sounding remarks and observations may give you pause at first, but will soon have you laughing.
The second season of "In Plain Sight" begins on USA on April 19. The series' big selling point is Mary McCormack who plays Mary Shannon, a deputy united states marshal attached to the Albuquerque office of the federal witness protection program. Like similar cable programs ("The Closer," "Burn Notice"), the hero(ine) has tough professional road to travel while dealing with a problematic personal life. Luckily, McCormack is a fine actress, and while the show is formulaic, it's fairly watchable. "In Plain Sight" did pick up steam in the second half of the first season, which, hopefully, will carry over into season two.
DVDs out Tuesday, March 31, 2009
"Slumdog Millionaire" $29.98 /Blu-ray $39.99
"Marley and Me" $29.98/ two-disc set $34.98/Blu-ray $39.99
"Seven Pounds" $28.96 /Blu-ray $39.99
"Tell No One" $27.98/Blu-ray $34.98
"The Other End of the Line" $27.98
"In Plain Sight: Season One" $59.98
"Ricky Gervais: Out of England" $19.98
"Shakespeare's An Age of Kings" (Richard II / Henry IV / Henry V / Henry VI / Richard III) $49.98
"The Fugitive: Season Two, Vol. 2" $39.98
"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Season 4, Vol. 1" $39.98
"The IT Crowd: The Complete Season One" $24.98 $18.49
"Jim Gaffigan: King Baby" $16.99
"National Geographic: Journey to the Edge" $19.98/ Blu-ray $28.99
"National Geographic: Kingdom of the Blue Whale" $19.98
"Jerome Robbins: Something To Dance About" $29.99 $21.99
"The Bielski Brothers" $9.95
"Long Live The Queen … Lisa Lampanelli" $19.95
"The Great Depression" $12.95
"Danton - Criterion Collection" $39.95
"Il Generale Della Rovere"$29.95
"Hannah Montana: Keeping It Real" $19.99
"Schoolhouse Rock: Earth" $19.99
"Baby Einstein: World Music" $19.99
"Thomas & Friends: High Speed Adventures" $14.98
"The One" $28.95
"Ghosts of Mars" $28.95
"An American in Paris" $28.99
"South Pacific" $34.98
"The Matrix 10th Anniversary Edition" $34.99
"Ichi the Killer" $29.99
"Live In London … Leonard Cohen" $21.98
"Performing This Week: Live at Ronnie Scott's … Jeff Beck" $14.98/ Blu-ray $24.98
"Chris Botti in Boston" Blu-ray $29.98
"Live In Chicago … Stevie Nicks" $19.98