JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Palm Springs International Film Festival: Quick Takes (Directors: Micha Lewinsky, Barbara Willis Sweete, Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan) - January 23, 2009
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Palm Springs International Film Festival: Quick Takes

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Reviewed at the 2009 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Something for every taste

The Friend
Micha Lewinsky
Switzerland 2007, 87 min
Two and one-half stars

Director/screenwriter Micha Lewinsky’s leap from shorts to feature is well intentioned, has moments of promise but us unable to find enough originality or character development to lift it from the realm of OK to aha!

With music at its core (singer/songwriter Larissa—Emelie Welti—despite a large following of devoted fans can’t seem to make her off-stage life sing) there’s much to savour aurally (notably cellist Martin Birnstiel), but without a tad more back-story, the premise of the estranged musician suddenly coercing her near-stalker fan (Phillipe Graber plays Emil with a certain amount of flair) to accept a very brief role as boyfriend-of-record puzzles more than intrigues.

Then it’s up to the under-appreciated older sibling Nora (Johanna Bantzer) to return to the city from her rural workplace helping the deaf (curiously just 5 hours before, JWR attended a brilliant essay about the blind, cross-reference below) and end up falling bed-over-heels for the boyfriend who never was.

The set-piece moments of Father Knows Best (the unidentified actor sees through Emil’s charade but opts to “keep that between us” to save the women from realizing that Larissa’s “accident” may have been an overdose of loneliness), barfing after the post-post wake party, nearly ending up balling your sister’s BF in her own bed and the interminable gag of Emil’s doting mother leaving her key in the door (all the better not to sneak in after hours) because “I can’t sleep when you’re not here”) fail to congeal into a comprehensible role. An entertainment most assuredly, but despite a promising premise, nothing more. JWR


Yundi Li is mirrored at the piano

The Young Romantic: A Portrait of Yundi Li
Barbara Willis Sweete
Canada 2008, 88 min
Five stars

As China continues to develop and grow at a frenetic pace, it seeks acceptance by the global village on other fronts than trade and commerce. The summer Olympic Games went a long way to letting the world view what its leaders chose to show. When Yundi Li won the gold medal (dormant for 15 previous years as the judges felt the level wasn’t of a high enough standard) in 2000 at just 18, a new face of China, plumbing the depths of Prokofiev, Ravel and Schumann (but not yet Mozart, the bold, racing talent has yet to find the magic of “less is more” for the Classical era) in concert halls around the globe will do much more than official propaganda in humanizing the largest population on earth.

Key to the film is Li’s début with the Berlin Philharmonic, whose Trip to Asia(cross-reference below) revealed much. In this instance arts globalization saw a German orchestra (itself multi-national), a Chinese pianist, a Russian composer and a Japanese conductor combine theri talents. Indeed, many of the best moments come from Seiji Ozawa who employs his special musical and human gifts to try and harness his speeding charge (the fiendish “Scherzo” of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, as Ozawa well knew, was in constant danger of completely leaving the rails: fortunately, Deutsche Grammophon was on hand to record the proceedings—we will let you know how it all came out) and quite convincingly puts him through his paces. The veteran maestro remains exceedingly apprehensive about the orchestra’s re-entry after the cadenza, opting to go through it one more time with Li in his dressing room minutes before curtain. This telling sequence, for those who have ever wielded a baton or been a soloist, has extra special meaning. How fantastic to have it captured for all time!

Let’s hope the engaging young artist (and his management) doesn’t push himself over the abyss but rather let the music lead his promising career instead of the siren call of fame and fortune. JWR


Jamal fields another question

Slumdog Millionaire
Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
U.S. U.K. 2008, 120 min
Five stars

Co-directors Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan have brought Vkas Swarup’s original novel and Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay to the big screen in a vastly entertaining way that makes every minute a pleasure.

Using the conceit of poor boy (played with equal skill by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda and Dev Patel) winning a fortune on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire being arrested (and tortured, of course) for cheating because he couldn’t possibly have known the answers is just the beginning of a charge into the slums of Mumbai and all of their attendant social problems: poverty, prostitution, gangsters, corrupt police, Muslim haters …

Happily, the acting is so good, A.R. Rahman’s score (full of percussion-laden chase scenes and a compelling "Latika’s" hummed leitmotif) always at one with the action and the requisite Bollywood dance scene saved for the credits, this production could well be billed as the most entertaining film of 2008.

Even after the final question has long been answered (no one will be surprised at the result) the subliminal question remains intriguingly just below the surface: Who wants to be a millionaire? Well, before I give my final answer, may I know what’s involved in getting there? JWR

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Reader's Forum
February 13, 2009

We saw Slumdog Millionaire last nite best entertaining movie of the year….no ….good story… great acting but not entertaining, I am sorry I felt depressed the whole time watching it …bill from seattle


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