Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I, Too, Sing America

In the tapestry that was the throng blanketing the public concourse stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the portico where President Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office, I was struck by a strange and incongruous sight: a sea of black people waving tiny American flags. What bizarro world was this? Black people waving American flags? Get the flux out of here! And yet, there they were, waving their red, white and blue flags proudly, enthusiastically and full in the vigor of having obtained their full statehood rights. First Lady Michelle Obama was vilified for voicing an opinion similar to what these people were so obviously demonstrating: for the first time in their adult lives, they were proud to be Americans.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I suffered a terrible lost

I suffered a terrible lost today. When I picked up my morning paper I discovered that, overnight, I had lost an old and dear friend. The headline was like a punch in the stomach: Weak sales spell end for 82-year old chain. I bought my first book at the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop. In my sane and sober youth I spent hours meandering through their original downtown location, a two story emporium that smelled of books, dust and mold. I saw Ernest Gaines read there. I saw Gloria Naylor read there. I saw Edward P. Jones read there. I didn’t meet my first wife there but I did gain an introduction to my first book club. As I sit here, in my basement office, surrounded by hundreds of the thousands of books I own, I realize the Schwarz Bookshops were the epicenter of my lifelong love with books. Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops to close. Wow.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire Soars

Slumdog Millionaire is an artful mash up of Oliver Twist, East of Eden, It's a Wonderful Life, The Shop Around the Corner, The Mahabharata and It Could Happen to You. A big, ebullient movie, Slumdog bubbles up out of the brutal slums of Mumbai where orphaned brothers Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) and Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed
Ismail) forge a lifelong bond as "the Two Musketeers" and soars to the national stage of the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Motherless street urchin Latika (Rubiana Ali) becomes the third Musketeer when big-hearted Jamal, who always gives his best, offers her shelter from the rain, against the stern rebuke of Salim, who always keeps the best for himself. Literally scooped out a trash heap by the Fagin-like Maman (Ankur Vikal), the trio at first think they have found sanctuary with a kind-hearted benefactor but it quickly becomes apparent that their savior is a brutal exploiter of children. Salim helps Jamal and Latika escape but once again he saves the best for himself and Latika is recaptured. Jamal pines for Latika for the rest of the movie even as he and the ever resourceful Salim ride the
rails and engage in all manner of petty larceny to survive. Jamal's life lessons, a marvelous tapestry shown in flashbacks, contribute to his unlikely run on

Director Danny Boyle (
Trainspotting) does several remarkable things in Slumdog. He manages to convey the depth and breadth of India both socially and geographically, from crushing poverty to lavish wealth and from the trash heaps of Mumbai to the reflecting pools of the Taj Mahal. He artfully juxtaposes the ugliness of exploitation and corruption against the unrivaled beauty of love, faith and perseverance. He shows us an ancient India co-existing simultaneously with an Indian economy built on outsourced services such as those provided by the telephone call center where the adult Jamal (Dev Patel) toils as a chai-wallah, literally a boy who serves spiced tea.

In short,
Slumdog Millionaire is
an energetic homage to classic
Twentieth Century filmmaking and a shining beacon pointing the way to how great movies can be in the new millennium.