Periscope Depth

as long as bridge joins stream and sky

Slumdog Millionaire: Scarred giants. Rivers of filth. Beautiful princesses. Smiling beggar kings. Opulent tombs. Fabulous prizes. Skyscrapers over slums. Murder. Betrayal. Ambition. Poverty. Hope. True love.

If this sounds like the first chapter of The Princess Bride (or Peter Falk’s description of it, for those who’ve only seen the movie), that’s no accident. Slumdog Millionaire tells an equally fantastic story of a poor boy who struggles against all odds to be reunited with the woman he loves. While The Princess Bride‘s setting is fantasy, however, Slumdog traverses the real-yet-alien world of Bombay over the last twenty years: the crowded slums, the stratified cities, the rural countryside and the burgeoning megalopolis. We see it all through Danny Boyle’s chaotic eyes at a breathtaking pace.

Possibly the best movie I’ll see in 2009. Recommended without qualification. See it soonest.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: I heard “Bridges, Squares” and “Me and Mia” on two separate mix CDs over the past few months and fell in love with the artist before I even knew his name. So now I need to find more. Thanks a lot, musically literate friends.

Sneakers: My fourth or seventh time seeing this; I watched it over a few meals at home this past weekend. Holy hell, what an incredibly smart film.

Though the technology used seems comically antiquated, Sneakers presents the concepts behind that technology – cryptography, and information theory as a whole – better than any movie I’ve seen since. I would rather watch Sneakers twice than a more modern techno-thriller (Sum of All Fears? Die Hard 4?) once.

Add on top of that the sharp dialogue delivered by a roster of top names (Redford, Poitier, Kingsley, McCormack, Strathairn, etc). Add to that slackless pacing, generating incredible tension in a movie that only has two onscreen deaths and zero (?!?) exploding buildings. Add to that a series of complex and mature themes – the shifting balance of international power, the nature of trust, the loss of youthful idealism.

Odalisque: I had just started to get a grasp on all the players that Neal Stephenson had introduced by this point when suddenly he swept them all off the board. Only then did I realize, weeping in frustration, that the first 900 pages of the Baroque Cycle were all prologue. The deaths of three British kings, the discoveries of Newton and Leibniz, the rising importance of Amsterdam? That’s all backstory.

Eliza lost touch with me in this novel, making more decisions because they advance the plot rather than because they’re what her character would sensibly do. I realize that there weren’t many ways a woman could advance in 17th century Europe, but she’d managed to avoid the most traditional and objectifying ones until now. Oh, well. At least she hasn’t run crying into someone’s arms yet.

Don’t know if I’ll plunge into Parts 2 or 3 yet.

Frost/Nixon: Very good. It’s a Ron Howard film inspired by true events, so we never go more than a few minutes without being reminded of the Historical Importance of each passing moment. That being said, the performances are all great – Sheen as a glib performer in over his head, Langella as an unrepentant emperor at the peak of his decline. They originated these roles on stage, so it’s no surprise they do well here.

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