The Bizarre Appeal of Slumdog Millionaire

The increasing commercial success and critical accolades for Slumdog Millionaire continue to perplex and baffle me. When I originally saw the film in early December, I gave it a mixed review to be kind. In truth I loathed the film and found it morally repugnant, but with all the awards being showered on it, it made me question whether or not I missed something or totally misinterpreted the message.

For me the film was a simplistic love story wrapped around a contrived “rags-to-riches” plot device with character development done with a hacksaw, headache inducing visuals and editing, and an exploitative view of an exotic third-world locale. Yes, it had some interesting moments, and I certainly can see how on a surface level the colorful slums of Mumbai might appeal to Westerners thinking they were receiving some sort of lesson in Indian culture. The film’s cockeyed (and misguided) optimism certainly has struck a cord in these troubling times. But I can’t fathom all the undying love people have been proclaiming for Danny Boyle’s silly opus. Continue reading

Barack Obama in Greeneland

This tale of a whiskey-priest running from fascists in 1930s Mexico is among mine and Obamas favorite novels.

This tale of a whiskey-priest running from fascists in 1930's Mexico is among my and Obama's favorite novels.

 

So Mr. Obama was sworn in as our 44th President earlier today.

At first, I wasn’t blown away by his speech, but that was until I came home and found an email from my mother stating she read somewhere that among Obama’s favorite books was The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.  This is what makes the speech so brilliant.  It wasn’t designed for instant applause but for deep thought and as an invitation to learn more.  It wasn’t just a stump-speech, but a grand design for the policies which will follow and a call to arms for Americans to be that change they want to see in the world.

It seems Barack lives in Greeneland, which should make pragmatists rejoice.  Listening back to the endless loops and sound-bites from the speech, I was astounded by how Greene-esque his worldview might be.  Just the fact that he acknowledges or is aware of such a worldview is a refreshing change of pace from the crypto-fascism of the previous White House regime.  What a wonderful thing it is to have a President who has such a great command of language and who knows how to invoke literature and history and create themes and motifs.  Obama is like the frickin’ Graham Greene of politicians.  And how awesome is it that he has read and loves Greene, especially since Greene was so political in his writing.  This points to Obama being even more practical and pragmatic than we thought, which will be great since Bush was stupidly obsessed with fairytales and jihads which crippled our nation and prevented us from succeeding in the real world. 

Graham Greene was always writing about the real world.  His books always spoke to the times and always had characters who crashed and burned when they got too wrapped up in their own heads and internal moral battles and fantasies.  The real world always kept moving in Greeneland and always survived while those foolish characters more often than not perished.  We need a President now more than ever firmly planted in the real world.   Obama’s over-riding theme of, and I am grotesquely paraphrasing here, “the world sucks right now, but slowly and surely we’re gonna overcome it as long as we keep our heads about us and everyone steps up their A-game” really was Greene-esque.  Bush would’ve left it all to God’s hands and prayed about it–he would’ve died in Greeneland by the end of the novel.  Let’s hope Obama inspires us to continue marching on.  Mankind’s innate will to survive can overcome anything and accomplish everything. 

And it seemed like he was speaking not only to those out in the real world wishing to do us harm, those terrorists, those fascists, but also to those who have had their heads stuck in the sand, those Bushes, those mortgage companies, those regulators, those uninvolved…when he said so simply and so firmly…

YOU CAN NOT OUTLAST US.  WE WILL DEFEAT YOU.

Let’s not forget, Graham Greene was fiercely religious, but he often found it difficult to reconcile that with the real world.  This manifested itself in his protagonists who often were blinded by a crisis of faith and rendered impotent against the rising tides of war and change in the real world.  Many felt the British and worldly Greene was staunchly anti-American in his views, so it’s difficult to know how he would’ve thought about our current state of affairs.  Always the skeptic, Greene might’ve been wary of Obama…but as one of Greene’s Catholic nuns might’ve said in some third-world hell on earth in one of his stories, “God answers the prayers of those who move their feet.”

With Obama stepping into the White House, it’s time to move our feet, America.

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Click here to visit Greeneland .

 

Throngs of people today visited Greeneland with Barack Obama lighting the way.
Throngs of people today visited Greeneland with Barack Obama lighting the way.

Written by David H. Schleicher

Rest in Peace Andrew Wyeth

It strikes me as sweetly poetic that he should pass at the age of 91 quietly in his sleep, an eternal hibernation born during one of the coldest spells of winter his homeland of Chadds Ford, PA has seen in years.

Andrew Wyeth's Soaring

Andrew Wyeth’s Soaring

This Andrew Wyeth, I picture his soul gently soaring into the heavens, his works of art remaining for all to see down below on earth.

Famed realist painter, son, husband, father, uncle, grandfather, friend, beloved by all he encountered, my favorite American artist…shall never paint again…his talent now gone with the wind from the sea.

Andrew Wyeth's Wind from the Sea

Andrew Wyeth’s Wind from the Sea

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Click here to read Andrew Wyeth’s Obit from CNN.com.

Click here to read an earlier post detailing my visit to the Brandywine River Museum and Andrew Wyeth’s boyhood home in Chadds Ford.

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Written by David H. Schleicher

Leopold Bloom’s Coffee Table

The dead of winter haunt not only the cold grounds outdoors but the cineplexes as well. That’s why in the cruel grey months of January and February this writer all but abandons the cinema (well, not completely, of course, I can always be drawn into the darkness of the theater) and finds the greatest warmth in the comfort of books.

Here’s the current snapshot of what sits on my coffee table:

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On the non-fiction front, I am about half-way through Jon Meacham’s intimate and entertaining take on one of the most misunderstood and trailblazing presidencies, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.  I’m enjoying how Meacham carefully draws modern parallels but makes it clear Jackson should be examined in the context of his own times and his legacy.  And Jackson was one hell of a duel-challenging, lead-popping, horse-riding, Native American-exiling, Union-solidifying, bill-vetoing sum’bitch.

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I always keep a short story collection on hand for those Kurt Vonnegut prescribed “Buddhist catnaps”, and The Collected Stories of Richard Yates have been just what the doctor ordered.  Yates is a great author to read for scribes trying to hone their dialogue writing skills.  He uses dialogue to define his characters and places and has an amazing ear for everyday conversation, dialect and accents that add shades of complexity to his effortless and deeply felt prose.  His stories often deal with the ordinary tragedies of common folk, so he’s sometimes dismissed as a downer, but his dark humor and sharp but poetic style make him easy to digest while providing much literary nourishment.  Be forewarned of a sometimes bitter aftertaste.  At this point my favorites from the collection have been “Doctor Jack-o’-Lantern”, “A Glutton for Punishment”, and “A Really Good Jazz Piano”.

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On the “Big Thick Novel” front, I’ve finally decided to begin my odyssey into James Joyce’s Ulysses.  Allegedly the greatest novel ever written in the English language but declared unreadable by countless college students, Joyce’s prodigious 1904 tome has been the subject of great controversy and the victim of numerous revisions, edits, restorations and editions over the decades.   It’s been gestating on my bookshelf for over nine months, and even if it takes me that long to get through this edition’s over 1,000 pages, I will persevere.  Any writer or reader worth their salt should be proud to say they spent a day in Dublin with Leopold Bloom, even if it that single day lasted for years.  Hopefully soon when people ask me, “Have you read Ulysses?” I will be able to say that even though my heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

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Written by David H. Schleicher

A Review of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler”

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke walk along the lonely Jersey Shore on a cold winter's day in THE WRESTLER.

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke walk along the lonely Jersey Shore on a cold winter's day in THE WRESTLER.

 Down and Out in New Jersey, 9 January 2009
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A fading wrestling star (Mickey Rourke, perfectly cast) suffers a heart attack and must battle with being down and out in Sh*thole, New Jersey in Darren Aronofsky’s gritty character piece, The Wrestler.  Message to Hollywood: there actually are nice places in Jersey…really…I’m not joking…trust me…but that’s another story.

Aronofsky utilizes a self-consciously shaky camera and grainy cinematography to emphasize his depiction of a life literally on the ropes. For much of the film we are walking with the camera behind Rourke seeing everything from his point of view–another stylistic choice that may wear on some viewer’s nerves while seem like a stroke of genius to others.

Admittedly I’ve never understood the appeal of pro wrestling, but I imagined it could be a decent vehicle for a character drama. Aronofsky delivers a mixed bag in this respect. Despite the expertly edited piece detailing the humorously brutal and tragic bout that leads to the aforementioned heart attack and the match that closes the film, the remainder of the wrestling bits are unnecessary and really add nothing to the story. The scenes in a shady gentleman’s club (featuring a fabulously adept Marisa Tomei playing the over-the-hill but still hot stripper friend with a heart of gold) and the clips detailing Rourke’s character’s everyday struggles (including some great bits where he works a deli counter) are slightly more appealing and deliver some genuine moments. However, the scenes where he attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter (an over-acting Evan Rachel Wood) seem staged and under-developed, which undermines the documentary style feel of the rest of the film. I won’t deny I felt something for these characters, but haven’t we seen this all before?

As finely tailored as Mickey Rourke is to his part, his is essentially a one-note character where we see him in varying stages of failure that lead him to believe the only place he can find acceptance is in the phony but dangerous world inside the ring. As good as Rourke and Tomei are, the script plays their story safe and succumbs to clichés. That being said, The Wrestler is still more engaging than your average Hollywood character study, and it’s worth viewing for the occasionally authentic moment and the fine performances from Rourke and Tomei. But as Bruce Springsteen’s theme song played over a black screen before the credits rolled, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Rourke and his character–and maybe that was the point. They try their hardest, but the film in which they appear isn’t worth the hype.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

The 3rd Annual Davies Awards in Film

A Look Back at 2008:

Looking back on the year in film that was 2008, I’m left with but one question for Hollywood: “Why So Serious?”

I wish I could say it was the best of times, but mostly it was the worst of times.  Still even in the worst of times, there are plenty of alcoves to hide treasures.  As the world financial markets crumbled, a great depression engulfed the multiplexes from the darkest of comedies (all those alcoves In Bruges) to the darkest of popcorn flicks (The Dark Knight) to the saddest, coldest of Decembers.  2008 produced not only some of the worst films I have ever seen (Be Kind Rewind, The Day the Earth Stood Still), but also some of the most depressing (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Revolutionary Road).

Chopin’s Nocturne seemed ever so fitting a theme for this past year.

Overall 2008 was a stifling and mediocre year for films. Continue reading

A Review of Sam Mendes’ Adaptation of Richard Yates’ “Revolutionary Road”

Leo tells Kate, No, Honey, you cant see Europe from the shores of Long Island.

Leo tells Kate, "No, Honey, you can't see Europe from the shores of Connecticut."

They’ll Never Have Paris, 3 January 2009
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

In one of the classiest pieces of stunt casting in recent years, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes reunites his wife, Kate Winslet, with her Titanic shipmate Leonardo DiCaprio to play the Wheelers in his screen adaptation of Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road.  It adds an appealing accessibility to an otherwise depressing tale.

The film opens boldly enough, spending just a few fleeting moments showing us how the Wheelers met before throwing us head first into their disaster of a marriage. April (Winslet) always had dreams of being an actress and Frank (DiCaprio), well, Frank always had some vague idea of living in Paris. The film chronicles their sad story. The Wheelers are meant to represent the post WWII generation who during the prosperous 1950’s created suffocating lives due to dreams deferred in exchange for chasing the so-called “American Dream” that they never really believed in. Everyone else in the film is in some sort of love with the Wheelers and their picture perfect lives, but the Wheelers hate themselves, each other, their neighbors, and what they have become. It’s a damning little portrait that has been painted before in literature and film, but never quite so acutely.

I haven’t read Richard Yates’ novel, but I am currently reading his collection of short stories which address many of the same themes and bear his hallmarks present here: cutting dialog, keen insights into the psyche of his sometimes despicable or just plain sad characters, and obsessive attention to details of time and place. In terms of the tone of Yates’ writing, Mendes is successful in his translation. However, that tone that worked so well on the page doesn’t always work on screen. We’re never sure if we’re meant to sympathize with the Wheelers or if Mendes wants us to view it as a dark comedy where we watch in sick delight as the popular kids who always thought they were more interesting than everyone else grow up to be horribly dysfunctional and cripplingly normal. Much of the audience I saw the film with laughed to break the tension during some of Mendes’ trademarked “uncomfortable dinner table scenes”, but we all watched in horror as the film spun out of control into its downer of a climax.

Ultimately one sits through a film like this for the acting, and it doesn’t disappoint on that level. Taking a line from the film, DiCaprio is a “cracker jack” playing for the first time a husband, a father, and a hopelessly average Joe. Winslet is on more familiar ground, but never has she been given so much range to roam, and her director husband lets her run wild and free. It’s a neurotic, brave, and sometimes questionable performance that is a rare sight to behold. At times it seems as if Mendes is directing a stage-play rather than a film, and he lets the whole cast scream and holler against his finely detailed period backdrops, but it’s still entertaining for those who enjoy watching polished professionals (including Michael Shannon portraying a man on leave from an insane asylum in a perfect pitch) stretch their acting muscles.

One watches the grim dissolution of this marriage wondering if there isn’t some subtext to explore with regards to Winslet and Mendes’ own seemingly perfect Hollywood marriage. And as unlikable as they are at times, and no matter how much we would rather laugh at then relate to another human being, one can’t escape the sickening feeling that there might be a little bit of Frank and April Wheeler in all of us.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

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Check out my reviews of Sam Mendes’ previous films:

American Beauty (1999)

Road to Perdition (2002)

Jarhead (2005)