MOVIE REVIEWS: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is getting a head start in the Oscar race today (Wednesday), and judging from some of the reviews, its rivals may never catch up. As Michael Phillips observes in his review in the Chicago Tribune, the movie "has a good shot at winning this year's Academy Award for best picture, if the pundits, Allah, Shiva and Fox Searchlight Pictures have anything to say about it. Each life-or-death cliffhanger and meticulous splash of color, every arrow plucked from director Danny Boyle's sari-wrapped quiver takes aim at the same objective: to leave you exhausted but wowed." Roger Ebert concludes his four-star review of the movie in the Chicago Sun-Times by remarking, "It is one of those miraculous entertainments that achieves its immediate goals and keeps climbing toward a higher summit." And this is Claudia Puig's conclusion in her review in USA Today: "The beautifully rendered and energetic tale celebrates resilience, the power of knowledge and the vitality of the human experience. Horrifying, humorous and life-affirming, it is, above all, unforgettable." Lou Lumenick starts his review in the New York Post this way: "Four stars simply aren't enough for Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which just may be the most entertaining movie I've ever labeled a masterpiece in these pages. Great movies transport the audience, and this one left me floating on air." But in an odd review, Manohla Dargis in the New York Times rains much praise on the movie during two thirds of her review but suddenly expresses reservations: "In the end, what gives me reluctant pause about this bright, cheery, hard-to-resist movie is that its joyfulness feels more like a filmmaker's calculation than an honest cry from the heart about the human spirit (or, better yet, a moral tale)," she writes. Boyle, she concludes, "plucked my heartstrings in Slumdog Millionaire with well-practiced dexterity, coaxing laughter and sobs out of each sweet, sour and false note." And Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle discovers too many false notes: "The filmmakers' motives are sincere. The story is interesting enough," he observes. "Yet the whole construction is tied to a gimmicky narrative strategy that keeps Slumdog Millionaire from really hitting its stride until the last 30 minutes. By then, it's just a little too late."

INDIE FILMMAKERS HIT HARD BY ECONOMIC CRISIS

Although the major studios continue to maintain that they are likely to feel little impact from the current economic downturn, the outlook continues to grow bleaker for independent producers. Movie consultant Jeff Dowd, who found a buyer for the singularly successful, The Blair Witch Project, told Bloomberg News that independent filmmakers "are having a harder time getting money at the $500,000, $1 million level than they were a year ago." He said he expects to see a significant drop in the number of independent movies next year, following more than a decade of growth. Bloomberg cited the case of producer-writer-director Neil Schulman, who used the equity in a second home in Nevada to finance his film, Lady Magdalene's, starring Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame. He has been unable to find a distributor for the film and now, with the collapse of the real estate market, he says that his equity in the home has been wiped out -- leaving Schulman with a hefty monthly payment to cover the debt he incurred in making his film.

CHINESE OUTRAGED AT GONG LI'S DECISION TO RENOUNCE CITIZENSHIP

The career of Gong Li (Red Sorghum, Farewell My Concubine, Memoirs of a Geisha), one of China's leading actresses for more than two decades, appeared to be in jeopardy after she renounced her Chinese citizenship and became a Singapore citizen on November 7. As reported by Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, the actress was denounced as a traitor on Internet blogs after she switched citizenships, with some urging that she be shunned, or as one writer put it "nailed to history's mast of shame." Gong has been married to Singapore tobacco company executive Ooi Hoe Seong since 1996. Chen Kaige, who directed her in Farewell My Concubine, has since become a U.S. citizen.

ABOUT THAT ENDING FOR AUSTRALIA

Australian director Baz Luhrmann has brushed aside reports that 20th Century Fox was so concerned about unenthusiastic audience response during test screenings of his blockbuster movie Australia that it forced him to change the tragic ending to a more positive one. "You really think that on my films people tell me what to do?" he said to a Reuters reporter. "I don't think so -- on my films I decide." Luhrmann said that he had written six different endings for the movie and had shot three of them. The one that he had selected, he said, will be a "surprise."

QUANTUM OF SOLACE HITS PIRATE NETS

Despite MGM's employing an array of methods to prevent the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, from being loaded onto peer-to-peer websites, it has already become available there, days before its U.S. theatrical opening, according to the website TorrentFreak. The website said that notwithstanding such security efforts as bag searches and audience scans with night-vision goggles, Solace initially appeared in what it called "Telesync format," in which the video is recorded with a camcorder on a tripod and the audio is added later from a direct source -- such as the audio circuit for the hearing impaired. "It has been available for a few days in French and maybe even another couple of languages but it is now fully available in English, with what many will consider to be a half-decent picture quality," TorrentFreak reported.