Screened Out: This isn't gonna be pretty

Screened Out: This isn't gonna be pretty

(Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Paula Patton)
Precious signals that this year’s Oscar race has started in earnest.

Gay director Lee Daniels brilliantly balances tragedy with hope and sadness with joy in this honest little flick. Precious is grimly Precious_522146445.jpgup-front about the cruddy life of its protagonist. Yet, we still glory in the small acts that define our poor heroine’s epic bravery.

Precious (Sidibe) is impoverished, black, and twice-raped by her dad while her angry mother (the wrathful and captivating Mo’Nique) looks on. The teenager gives birth to two kids before she’s 16. She’s also overweight, unattractive, and illiterate, all while she’s constantly locked in a violent battle with her mom. Then Precious enrolls in an alternative school and starts the impossible struggle of overcoming her situation.

The movie lets us into Precious’ mind—the fantasies, the self-hate, and the silly joy. Daniels also culls overwhelming performances from all of his actresses (this is really a wonderfully female movie). Finally, Daniels never lies or pulls punches. The tiny gains that Precious can actually make seem like glorious, Olympian heroics.

The Road
(Starring Vigo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron)
The Road is an unyielding and depressing Armageddon flick about survival, parental love and fear. The film—based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cormac McCarthy book—is beautifully acted and the cinematography is starkly thrilling. The whole effect, however, is so unrelentingly bleak that you’ll likely call home afterwards and ask someone to hide all the sharp objects before you arrive.

Mortensen and son have survived an unnamed apocalypse, only to be tossed into an inexorable world of scavenging, anarchy and cannibalism. Mortensen believes getting to the ocean and then later south will save his family. If father and son don’t make it he’s got two bullets in his gun—one for him and one for the boy. In this ugly world, that’s what amounts to mercy.

The Road doesn’t provide a lot of answers. What happened to the world? What do father and son think they are walking toward? Would their situation be different if good ol’ Pop didn’t always act out of fear?

On the good side, the grimness of The Road makes the combined effects of 9/11, the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and our current recession seem like a jaunty little stroll in a sun-dappled park.

Twilight: New Moon
(Starring Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner)
The primary audience for this series is 11-year-old girls, so we can expect simplistic romance filled with wistful characters. However, for over half of the second film, posing and pouting is substituted for genuine conflict and effective storytelling.

Spoiler alert—but only if you’ve missed the six billion commercials already released for New Moon!

Stilted actress Stewart is a high school senior living in the Pacific Northwest. In the first film, she totally fell for brooding, sexy supermodel Pattinson and it took nearly an hour and a half of Hallmark crap for him to reveal he sucks…blood. In this installment, her undead prom date has fled. Stewart starts lusting after a hottie Native American (Lautner), who for over an hour hides the obvious fact he’s a werewolf.

That’s the plot.

Meaning, it’s mostly supernatural sludge. For over an hour, the handsome actors sit around sighing and moaning. They’re like an Abercrombie ad for the terminally gloomy. When some character-motivated action finally occurs, the film becomes almost passable. Too bad there’s so much posing on the way to an actual story.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
(Voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman)
Oddball filmmaker Wes Anderson has turned his attention from live-action flicks (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited) to stop-motion animation. What emerges is a mostly delightful adaptation of a book by children’s author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

Mr. Fox (Clooney) is a wily beast who gives up killing the local farm foul for a less dangerous life when he finds his wife (Streep) is pregnant. However, after a few years as a reporter, Fox decides to re-enter the thievery business to destroy the evil farmers who are ruining his neighborhood.

Like other Anderson films, Fox is filled with a host of characters and multiple subplots. Also evident is the director’s quirky cinematography and art direction, both gloriously reminiscent of early 1970s cinema. Visual texture really adds to the movie’s off-kilter humor.

If there are complaints, this simplistic story is obviously Anderson’s first foray into animation. In movement, the animals often appear to be little more than rudimentary marionettes. These are the only quibbles with a film that fills the frame with oodles of sly charm.


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