Since another round of stormy weather hit New England last night and this morning, I decided to scrap a planned trip to Boston for a Bach Christmas concert staged by the Handel & Haydn Society (I am not making good use of my subscription, having backed out of two events this month!), hunted under the snowfall for my Sunday Times, grabbed a bite to eat, and drove slowly down I-91 to the art cinema in New Haven to settle in for a day at the movies.
First up was Slumdog Millionaire, which has earned some stellar reviews, including a favorable mention in Frank Rich's column this morning. This film was well worth the praise it has garnered. Having spent time in Mumbai and Agra--the two principal settings for the story--I appreciated the movie's presentation of India in all its splendor, misery, and diversity. An uneducated 18-year-old finds success on the Indian version of the television game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" and is subsequently grilled by Bombay policeman who are convinced he has been cheating his way through the show. The television program and the interrogation sessions frame flashbacks to various points of the boy's life. Knowing much more than that might spoil enjoyment of the film, which is one I recommend strongly.
Next up was Milk, Gus Van Sant's biopic of the slain 1970s gay activist and San Francisco politician. While Sean Penn was outstanding in the title role and the rest of the cast was similarly strong, I found the film itself a bit tedious and too long. While the filmmakers clearly worked hard to present to lead character as a fleshed out human being, there was a sniff of heavy-handed political correctness informing the whole piece. Of course, the country has become from more tolerant in the last thirty years in many ways. One of the central elements of the storyline, however, was the fight over California Proposition 6, which was nearly reminiscent of this year's Prop 8 battle in the state. Some reviewers have commented that an earlier release of this film might have made an important impact on reversing the outcome of that recent referendum. I'm not sure if that's true, but even with its flaws, this film is an important document of a significant figure and his time in the struggle for human rights.