The critical buzz on the Golden Globe nominations and Charlotte's Web.

The critical buzz on the Golden Globe nominations and Charlotte's Web.

The critical buzz on the Golden Globe nominations and Charlotte's Web.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Dec. 15 2006 1:44 PM

Golden Age

The critical buzz on the Golden Globe nominations and Charlotte's Web.

Golden Globe Nominations

Golden Globe Nominations. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) announced its nominations for this year's Golden Globes, and, as ever, there were a few surprises. No one, it seems, expected Babel to get seven nominations. On his New York Times blog, David Carr concludes that the HFPA "was obviously taken by its global themes and sharp performances." (Carr also says that Bobby, which was critically panned, "came out of nowhere to be nominated" for Best Drama.) The Associated Press thinks the HFPA nominated Borat for Best Picture because its members "probably got a good chuckle out of watching one of their own (albeit a broad fabrication) satirically skewering the United States," and the Guardian looks at the nominations of Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, and Judi Dench and concludes, "Hollywood, it seems, loves nothing more than a British dame." (See the official list of nominees.)  

Charlotte's Web
Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web (Paramount). Critics agree that this star-studded remake (Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, etc.) of the E.B. White children's book is an improvement on the mediocre 1973 movie version. "It's Animal Farm with better jokes," reflects Entertainment Weekly. A.O. Scott muses that director Gary Winick's effort "may not be perfect, but it honors its source and captures the key elements—the humor and good sense, as well as the sheer narrative exuberance—that have made White's book a classic."Slate's Dana Stevens is unmoved by Winick's updates, however: "[T]he brand of childhood wonder the movie traffics in is just a little sweeter, a little louder, a little busier than White's, and that shade of coarsening makes all the difference." (Buy tickets to Charlotte's Web.)

Candide.
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Candide (Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris). This new production of Leonard Bernstein's 1956 musical based on Voltaire's novel has Parisian audiences swooning—and American critics musing over the revival's not-so-subtle jabs at the United States: "The castle in 'West Failure'looks like the White House, get-rich-quick Eldorado becomes oil-rich Texas, the gaming paradise is transferred from Venice to Las Vegas and Cunegonde sells her charms in Hollywood instead of Paris,"Bloomberg observes. In one scene, President Bush, Vladimir Putin, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, and Silvio Berlusconi sunbathe in an oil slick, and the New York Times notes, "Surprisingly, lyrics written for the kings decades ago still work for today's politicians."

Jay Bakker
Jay Bakker

One Punk Under God (Sundance Channel). Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (now Messner), has his own hipster-punk church, and he's made a six-part reality show about his new form of evangelism—leading Virginia Heffernan to dub Jay Bakker "the world's first-ever realitevangelist." But a reality show does not a charismatic preacher make, as the Washington Post yawns: "[T]he mopey minister is angst-ridden as he tries to balance family and faith, so One Punk plods where it should provoke." The new online culture digest Very Short List disagrees, arguing, "[W]hat makes this show unexpectedly compelling is that Jay is a deeply thoughtful rebel," and the Chicago Tribune concurs, calling Jay "earnest without being humorless. … The tattooed preacher is more a good shepherd than a prodigal son."

Roberto Alagna
Roberto Alagna

Roberto Alagna. The French tenor stormed off the stage of Sunday night's performance of Aida at La Scala in Milan after being booed from the upper balcony. Alagna has been banned for the rest of the season, and "accusations of conspiracy, deception, violation of the theater's traditions and insulting the audience are flying," notes the New York Times' Daniel Wakin. One of those conspiracy accusations has to do with Alagna's replacement Sunday, Antonello Palombi, who came on stage in jeans. Milan-based opera blog Opera Chic alleges, "It was from behind the wings that [Palombi] out-ran the official replacement for the night, who was already in full costume, tenor Walter Fraccaro." And Guardian columnist Marcel Berlins writes that he doesn't approve of booing, but has a bit of sympathy for the La Scala audience: "By almost all accounts, Alagna's performance in Verdi's Aida the previous night had been the one big disappointment in an otherwise spectacularly successful production."

Thomas Harris, Hannibal Rising

Thomas Harris, Hannibal Rising (Delacorte). The reclusive author of Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon has fleshed out (no pun intended) the background of his famous serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, in this prequel to his other Lecter books. Janet Maslin rues Harris' once-promising career as a writer of thrillers, sighing, "The reader who begins with this new book will have no idea why any of the older ones are well regarded." But the Independent (U.K.) disagrees, calling Hannibal Rising"spot on. It's a superb work of blood and violence," and the Boston Globe notes, "Harris has explained, in gripping detail, Hannibal Lecter's mysterious origins." (Buy Hannibal Rising.)

The Lost Room
The Lost Room

The Lost Room (Sci Fi Channel). A miniseries about the mysterious powers of seemingly innocuous talismans—a deck of cards, a plastic comb—and the disappearance of a Pittsburgh detective's daughter has critics enthralled. "The tale's beyond complicated, to be sure. But it also may be the most watchable six hours of strangeness you'll see this season," opines the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In the New York Times, Virginia Heffernan raves about actor Peter Krause's performance: "There's something distinctly literary and timeless in his own intrinsic religiosity and muted melancholy." And the New York Post calls The Lost Room, which also stars Julianna Margulies, Margaret Cho, and Elle Fanning as Krause's daughter, "one of the most perfectly cast miniseries in recent history." The Los Angeles Times quibbles that the miniseries sometimes wanders and takes liberties with the laws of physics, but concludes, "[T]aken simply as a thing to watch, it's pretty enjoyable."

Victoria Glendinning, Leonard Woolf: A Biography

Victoria Glendinning, Leonard Woolf: A Biography (Free Press). The first full-length biography of Virginia Woolf's husband—longtime The Nation literary editor, co-editor of the Political Quarterly, author, critic, and Bloomsbury member—has critics revisiting Leonard's contributions to literary and intellectual life, though the San Francisco Chronicle cautions, "It quickly becomes evident that Glendinning's primary interest here is not to 'resurrect' his reputation, as if he has been unfairly eclipsed by his brilliant spouse."The New Yorker reflects that in Glendinning's book "one sees the flickering aspirations of Leonard Woolf the writer, which, though often invisible to others, remained, to him, a central fact of his existence." In the New York Times Book Review, Claire Messud calls the biography of Woolf "comprehensive and eminently readable," noting that it "draws out quiet complexity of his character, which was at once passionate, reserved and, above all, stoical." (Buy Leonard Woolf: A Biography.)