Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The absolute worst!

Last Sunday, I posted my five-worst-films-of-2008 list in the On Movies column: Australia, The Love Guru, My Blueberry Nights, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Strangers.

Several readers jogged my memory, though. (It's easy, and perhaps necessary, to block these painful experiences out!) So, I'm amending the list with a couple more:

The Happening, M. Night Shyamalan's stupefying "thriller" about an eco-disaster that befalls Philadelphia couple Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel and a whole mess of the rest of the planet...

... And 88 Minutes, the serial killer dud with an over-the-top Al Pacino gassing on for way longer than the title promised.

Kate times two

Kate Winslet -- in theaters with Revolutionary Road and The Reader -- says that even with fifteen years or more of experience in front of the camera, the work doesn't get any easier. But she does feel like she's getting a little more sure of herself trying things out for her director -- well, sometimes.

"It’s about confidence, growing confidence," says Winslet, nominated for best actress (Rev Road) and supporting actress (Reader) Golden Globes. "I have found myself in moments where I think, I’ve got an idea here but what if it’s awful? Will people think I’m stupid if I say this? Are they going to think I have the wrong handle on the character?

"It takes a lot of courage to speak up sometimes. And also sometimes knowing that maybe what I feel is the right thing, and what somebody else’s opinion might be could throw me off."

Winslet says she felt that pressure on The Reader, directed by Stephen Daldry. And she felt that pressure on Revolutionary Road, never mind that it was being steered by her husband, Sam Mendes.

"Even though I would say I’d share 90 percent of the same view with Stephen on how to approach the character, there was the 10 percent that I absolutely kept for myself. And I realized that’s the way I am with all my films….

"Even though I was married to the director on Revolutionary Road, there were things that I absolutely kept to myself."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Slumdog evolutions

There's a rare co-director credit on Slumdog Millionaire that not only attests to filmmaker Danny Boyle's generosity, but to the invaluable assistance given to him on his exuberant rags-to-riches romantic epic by his Indian casting director, Loveleen Tandan.

"When we started, the script was originally in English, the whole script, and it wasn’t working," Boyle recalls. "We had these 7-year-olds, and they just couldn’t handle the English, and the only ones who could were middle-class kids who were very different, obviously, from all the slum kids.… And Loveleen said, `If you really want to make this work you’ve got to do it in Hindi,' and we all laughed, including her, because we’d raised the money and we had a deal and you’ve made agreements about how thick the accents will be and all this -- all the things that the distributors worry about.

"But we tried it anyway, and she was right.… So I rang up the studio and told them that the first third of the film was now going to be in Hindi, and a very difficult conversation was had. But again, it’s a good decision, and when you make good decisions, good things follow. Like the subtitles became exciting, because we thought lets try to make them interesting.... And because people get access to the realism of the kids, they just don’t care about the subtitles. Nobody comes out of the film saying well, `What about the subtitles?' They go, `Wow, those kids were good!'"

Boyle says that Tandan, who's now looking for a project of her own to helm, steered the young actors that play the hero Jamal, his brother, Salim, and the beautiful orphan girl Latika as children and teens. She would give them direction, explain plot points and serve as a liaison between Boyle and the novice Mumbai thespians. She also directed second unit and was integral to the production on many other levels, he says.

Structured as a series of seamless flashbacks -- with the 18-year-old Jamal (Dev Patel) being interrogated by the cops, suspected of cheating on the TV game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? -- the film turns around the children's often frightening, violent, poverty-marred experiences. It's a heady mix of humor and hardship, romance and roiling adventure -- and it's easily one of the best pictures of 2009, an underdog that looks likely to be facing off against four more-pedigreed titles when the Oscar nominations are announced in January.