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Millions Movie Review

Two young boys have lost their mother and their bereaved father moves them to a new house, newly built, and to the hope of a new life in which they can blossom, away from the torrential rain clouds of grief. The youngest boy is religious, like his mother, and has a predilection for memorizing the stories of saints’ lives, few of which are cheerful. The elder boy is more pragmatic and was born to become a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of a major corporation or bank somewhere. He is a whiz with financial calculations and all ready has a corporate-style dynamism to him. Enter the twist.

England is converting to the Euro, therefore at a certain hour on a certain day every English pound will become worthless, leading to three or four very interesting developments. One development is the lovely lady who tours the schools explaining the conversion to children and collecting their spare pennies to give to charities that dig wells in African villages. The plot gets complicated—more complicated—when Damian puts a few hundred dollars (or thousands) in the penny-collecting robot in place of a few pennies.

Damian (Axel Etel, The Waterhorse(2007)) misses his Mum terribly and to give himself a little house of his own to retreat to, actually a rocket ship of his own, he builds an interesting structure made out of emptied cardboard boxes, which were accumulated from the family’s move, positioning it right next to the railroad track. One day as a train crashes past, sending Damian and his rocket ship into outer space, an athletic bag goes hurtling out of the train crashing into Damian’s rocket. And what do you suppose is in the athletic bag? “Millions.” Or hundreds of thousands. All the same when you’re a small boy.

Now the adventures begin. How to escape the bad guy who comes looking for his athletic bag? How to manage the possession of so much money, which of course Damian tells his brother Anthony (Lewis Gibbon)--the financial whiz kid—about? What to tell Dad (James Nesbit) and how to adjust to Dad taking a liking to the penny collecting lady?

Besides having top-notch acting and directing (Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire (2008)) and cinematography (Anthony Dod Mantle), Millions also has some linguistic interest as it accentuates some of the pronunciation differences (otherwise known as phonetic realizations) between English English and American English. The scene in which Damian tells his brother Anthony that “God doesn't rob banks, all right? God does not rob banks.” illustrates several of these differences, and since the speaker is young, he inadvertently does a great job of demonstrating the distinctiveness of the pronunciations. First is the /g/ in “God.” Americans tend to pronounce /g/ with the back of the tongue up against the palette so that it is really a mid-mouth sound, whereas Damian demonstrates that English English places it at the back of the throat so the tongue never touches the palette at all.

The same sort of thing is apparent when Damian pronounces the /nks/ of “banks,” where the /n/ is placed as far back as the /g/ and then converts—from the same back-position—to a /k/, after which the jaw partially closes for the rush of air over the tongue--which is not touching the palette or teeth--for the aspirated /s/ sound. When Damian says “banks,” you can hear each of these steps distinctly. American speakers generally place the /nks/ much further forward as is the case with /g/. In fact, /g/ and /k/ are always articulated in the same position; the difference is that /g/ is “voiced” and /k/ is plosive. Then, for American English speakers, because the /nk/ is so far forward, the opening for the /s/ is smaller, which makes the sound sharper, and many American speakers actually have their tongue touching somewhere on their teeth or palette when they pronounce the /s/.

You might also notice that Damian says /do-zn’t/ instead of /duh-zn’t/, but this seems to be more of a regional variation than a English English standard. Finally, Damian’s clear pronunciation makes the forward /t/ and /d/ of English English nicely discernible (Nicole Kidman demonstrates a crisp /d/ and /t/ in The Interpreter, but hers is lacking the small aspiration usually associated with English English, which has some differences from Australian English). The crisp /t/ and /d/ is made with the tip of the tongue lightly at the back of the teeth. American English speakers generally use placement behind the teeth, not on the teeth, with a smaller opening, so we usually swallow our /t/ and /d/ when in mid-word or word-final positions.

I recommend buying or renting Millions for the original twists on the story, the superior acting, the directing and cinematography, the entertainment—and, for those interested in linguistics—the linguistic interest. It’s PG for some thematic material and a really scary bad guy (Christopher Fulford) but should be a good treat for the whole family except for sensitive little ones; let them grow up some first.


Millions (2004)

Danny Boyle – Director
Frank Cottrell Boyce – Screenplay Writer
Axel Etel – Damian
Lewis Gibbon – Anthony
James Nesbit – Ronny
Daisy Donovan – Dorothy
Christopher Fulford – The Man
Anthony Dod Mantle - Cinematography

[The DVD was reviewed from reviewer's own collection.]


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