Not All Academic

I just have to say…Slumdog Millionaire is indeed a fantastic film. In case you were wondering if you should go…. just go. It is well written, acted, and beautifully photographed and directed. I’m pleasantly surprised that Danny Boyle could make a film that feels quite so authentic (while at the same time being essentially a fairy tale) as an Indian film. Quite splendid.

Speaking of excellent films of 2008, and turning to a more academic context, I’d like to urge you to take a second look at The Visitor, if you’ve not yet seen it. It’s nice, from time to time, to see films where the principal characters are academics, and this one does a very good job at having a good feel to it – in the sense that the lead (played wonderfully by Richard Jenkins) felt believable as a professor going through a strange time in his life, and then finding himself increasingly falling into an unfamiliar world. It is one of my favourite films of the year, and it seems that few people I know have even heard of it.

While on the subject of 2008 films featuring academics, I’d like to mention Smart People. I really did not like it at all. It is not that most of the principal characters are all utterly obnoxious people who are convinced that they are super-smart and witty (that would be just fine) but are in fact self-centred and petty (and not so smart), but rather that one suspects that the filmmakers are projecting those traits onto all academics. The whole thing is marketed along the lines of “they think they’re so smart but look they have problems with relationships too”. Not a bad thing to make drama about (and I think we need to have more work bringing academics into the mainstream of life drama), but I felt that this one went a bit far to make the academics unlikeably (and perhaps predictably?) arrogant in order to make the point. Maybe I was also put off my Ellen Page coming on and playing essentially the same character she seems to play all the time now (precocious, feisty, wise-cracking teenager with a heart of gold – yawn), and Thomas Hayden Church plays the same character he is known for too (irresponsible but lovable buddy/sibling – yawn). Perhaps you’ll like it (or liked it), but I think that they basically over-egged the pudding.

Oh! There was another 2008 film about an academic that I saw, Elegy. Gosh, have you noticed that all three I’ve mentioned were released within a week of each other (two on 18th April, one on 11th)? I found it engaging as a film, and tad disturbing, but not annoying (as I found Smart People). Ben Kingsley’s character is convincing (and repulsive) in a way that is worth watching. Penelope Cruz is very good too – I was delighted to see her displaying another aspect of her range (she was hiliarious and over the top in Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, another film I liked from last year) as an actress.

Well, that’s it from me on movie thoughts for now. I’m off to explore a bit the bone-chillingly cold landscape I’m seeing out of my window. (I’m not in LA for a few days.)

More later.

-cvj

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8 Responses to Not All Academic

  1. robert says:

    Ben Kingsley appears to have cornered the market in on-screen repulsiveness. Does his performance in ‘Elegy’ match that in ‘Sexy Beast’, which to my mind establishes some sort of gold standard in vileness and villainy?

  2. Clifford says:

    I loved his character in Sexy Beast. Quite enjoyably vile!

    -cvj

  3. Michelle says:

    I agree, the Visitor was wonderful…thanks for the warning on Smart People, and I will have to check out the other ones.

  4. Moshe says:

    Slumdog Millionaire was very well-made. I was especially impressed by the change of pace between different parts of the movie. The first third was grim semi-realistic movie about growing up in the slums, the middle third was a fast paced thriller, and the last third was a Hollywood flick, predictable happy ending (and all the implausible twists that entails) included. All three parts were enjoyable in their own way, but almost entirely different from each other.

  5. Ruthie says:

    The one person who did NOT love Slumdog is no less than Bollywood champion Salman Rushdie:

    “I’m not a very big fan of ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’” Mr. Rushdie said. “I think it’s visually brilliant. But I have problems with the story line. I find the storyline unconvincing. It just couldn’t happen. I’m not adverse to magic realism but there has to be a level of plausibility, and I felt there were three or four moments in the film where the storyline breached that rule.”

    After a pause, he added, “And I’m the only person who thinks this.”

    http://carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/salman-rushdie-oscar-prognosticator/?apage=1

  6. John Branch says:

    I felt that Smart People was unassuming and believable, with just enough of the charmingly offbeat to keep me amused. As I recall, only one of the four major characters is an academic, so to me it’s not trying to say anything in particular about academics, although the film was pretty true to my own experience of that milieu (English departments may be different from physics). Also, I’m pretty sure that Smart People was written and produced before Juno, so it’s the earlier of the two films to use Ellen Page in roughly the same kind of role. In fact, to go out on a limb (without trying to look this up), I think she was still a Canadian actress at the time she was cast in Smart People, whereas she had probably moved to America before she got that role in Juno.

  7. Clifford says:

    On Page:- You forgot Hard Candy, I think. Precocious teenager once again…. (but with a sharp knife).

    I’m not saying Smart People is a bad film. It just did not work for me, entirely. Many bits were good, but overall… I did not like it a great deal.

    -cvj

  8. Bilal says:

    I have seen all the movies that you mentioned Clifford except Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and I have enjoyed all of them. I have yet to see Reader, Revolutionary Road and Benjamin Button.
    The New Yorker gave Defiance very good reviews. That’s another good movie on my list of movies to see this year.