Slumdog Millionaire tells the tale of an orphaned boy from the slums of Mumbai, describing his struggles with his brother, his life, and his love. There are some very endearing moments in this film, like when the young Jamal Malik (played by true Mumbai slumdog Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) gets to meet Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan under the most pungent of circumstances, but there are also some heartbreaking moments as well, like when we witness a young boy getting his eyes burnt out. This is partly a story of survival, but at its heart, Slumdog Millionaire is a story of love.
Dev Patel, who plays the teenage Jamal Malik, manages to find his way onto the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, not to gain unfathomable riches, but rather to get the attention of the love of his life. He’s been chasing this girl since he was a very young boy and this is one of his last attempts to win her over for good. The acting in Slumdog isn’t particularly breathtaking, but the art direction and cinematography are simply incredible. From the chase scene through the train station to the torture scenes with the Millionaire thugs, this is a visually stunning film worthy of the attention it has been receiving.
Doubt takes us to a Catholic school in 1964, shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Father Flynn, played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman, extends a compassionate hand to the first black student at the school, but how far does this relationship go? The suspicious Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) accuses the priest of an “inappropriate” relationship with the altar boy, trying to wrangle up any evidence that she can to confirm her suspicions. Yes, the tale is almost a typical one (how many times have we heard a story about a Catholic priest molesting an altar boy?), but Doubt is still quite gripping with its slow and methodical pace.
At its core, Doubt presents the struggle between a forward-thinking Father Flynn and a much more orthodox Sister Beauvier. He wants to include “Frosty the Snowman” in the Christmas pageant, but she feels the song is heretical in nature, promoting the belief in witchcraft and magic. She may be narrow-minded, but she’s also a very powerful and intimidating character. You can’t help but to fear her, as do all the students at the school. By contrast, Flynn aims to teach through kindness and understanding.
Throughout the movie, we are left questioning the position of Father Flynn. Did the charismatic priest take advantage of the impressionable young boy or was he simply showing him some priestly love, reminding the boy that there are good people in the world? The ending leaves something to be desired, which took away from my star rating for this film, but Doubt is still very worthwhile if only for the incredible performances found within.
The Wrestler is remarkably gritty in its approach, throwing you right into the trenches (or into the “squared circle,” if you prefer) of professional wrestling’s minor leagues. On a visceral level, you almost feel like you are watching a documentary and not a polished Hollywood vehicle. It’s not one of those boring documentaries that put you to sleep either; it’s one of those films that is both educational and entertaining. You can feel their pain. You can taste their blood, sweat, and tears. The Wrestler is unapologetic in its approach and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I grew up watching a lot of professional wrestling as a child, cheering on such characters as Papa Shango, Mr. Perfect, and the late Chris Benoit. Mickey Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a character who comes from that same era of 80s and 90s wrestling. During his heyday, professional wrestling still had its mystique. I was probably one of the very few fans that knew about things like breaking kayfabe (getting out of character), being a face (the “good guy”), and blading (purposely cutting your forehead to produce massive pools of blood) at the time, but all of these issues are discussed in The Wrestler. This is great for people unfamiliar with the business and it’s refreshing for more knowledgeable enthusiasts.
Randy “The Ram” is not the man that he once was. He lives out of his van, working at a supermarket to make ends meet, and only finding companionship with a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). The Wrestler may not present the strongest of stories, but it is an utterly fantastic character piece that I would peg as Picture of the Year. Mickey Rourke is back.