Oscar season kicks into high gear this week as two of the year’s most talked-about films finally open here: Gus Van Sant’s Milk and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire.
Fresh off its best-picture win at last week’s National Board of Review and yesterday’s Golden Globe nomination, Slumdog is gaining momentum as an unlikely Best Picture nominee at the Academy Awards in February, which is both a sign of Hollywood’s relatively weak crop to this point and of the Academy’s growing acknowledgment of less conventional, rapidly globalized fare.
While my own opinion of Boyle’s fantasia is slightly less enthusiastic than most (including Steven Rosen’s rave here), it’s certainly a better option than the “geriatric, coffee-table dogshit,” as Quentin Tarantino would say, of the Academy’s checkered past.
As for Milk, Van Sant’s lovingly rendered (though curiously straightforward) biopic of slain gay-rights activist/pioneering politician Harvey Milk, if Sean Penn doesn’t win Best Actor they might as well dismantle the proceedings. (See my cover story for more hyperbole.)
Elsewhere, we’ve got another holiday family comedy/drama, an oddly under-the-radar animated adventure featuring a host of familiar voices and a yet another sci-fi effort from Keanu Reeves.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL — The night before attending the press screening of this remake, I settled down to watch the original 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still with my 10-year-old daughter. We were spellbound by the mere idea that an alien might walk among us and that we would treat him as such a threat when we, in fact, were the aggressors. Of course, the kicker comes when that memorable line, “Klaatu Barada Nikto” is uttered to stop the impending attack that will surely end with the destruction of the human race. I didn’t take my daughter to the remake, but as I prepared for the special-effects-laden affair I knew was in the offing, I wondered if, in all the visual hoopla, there was another level that the film could reach. Would it introduce a phrase or image that would have the same lasting impression that my daughter could one day share with her own children, possibly on the eve of yet another iteration of the story? Sadly, the answer is no. The robot is bigger, the orb makes the original ship look like a toddler’s toy and the destructive effects are devastating. We’ve seen it all before in Independence Day and War of the Worlds. And to top things off, they don’t even use the signature line. No “Klaatu Barada Nikto” is akin to dropping “You talking to me?” from Taxi Driver. Why tamper with a classic? Next time, remake a crappy movie; at least then, there’s room for improvement that even kids might appreciate. — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: D
DELGO — A smorgasbord of fading actors lend their voices to this animated adventure tale about a nave teenager who tries to defend his people from scary foes: Freddie Prinze Jr., Chris Kattan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Michael Clarke Duncan, the late Anne Bancroft, Val Kilmer, Louis Gossett Jr. and Malcolm McDowell. Oh, and don’t forget Burt Reynolds, Eric Idle and Kelly Ripa. Uh, I guess everyone is desperate for a paycheck in these economically challenged times. -- JG (Rated PG.) Review coming soon.
MILK — It should come as no surprise that the tragic story of Harvey Milk (an inspired Sean Penn), San Francisco’s (and the nation’s) first openly gay public official, might stir a sense of kinship in Gus Van Sant, director of such fare as Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant. (Read full-length review here.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: A-
NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS — Think of Nothing Like The Holidays as the Puerto Rican version of The Family Stone. Parents Edy (Alfred Molina) and Anna (Elizabeth Pena) are barely on speaking terms, brother Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) comes home from Iraq with no real plan or purpose to his life, struggling actress Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) might have to find a new line of work and big brother Mauricio (John Leguizamo) and his Jewish wife Sarah (Debra Messing) can’t find the time between their two busy schedules to produce the offspring every good Puerto Rican family should have. Old loves, infidelity and crazy cousins intrude on the holiday affairs, but you know everything’s going to work itself out. The cast guarantees a degree of competence, and while its good to see another ethnic clan sharing the spirit, there’s a workmanlike quality that makes this movie feel like a re-gift from holidays past. — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C-
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE — Talented British filmmaker Danny Boyle's latest teems with the tensions and violence arising from Mumbai’s class and religious stratification. And yet, believe it or not, it’s a glorious high of a movie — full of adrenaline, color and music and as deftly alive to movement as a butterfly in the wind. (Read full-length review here.) — Steven Rosen (Rated R.) Grade: A-