Monday, 30 April 2012

Unlisted: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2


I'm a strange breed of muggle. I've seen all the Harry Potter films, most in the cinema. I've read all the books. Hell, I own them. Double hell, I was first in line queueing up outside Morrison's on the morning book 7 was released. But I wouldn't call myself a Harry Potter fan. So why have I kept with it? I read the first book in school, and found the wizarding world to be quite wonderful, a dream of a place to escape to. Granted, by the time the much darker later books came along I became much happier that this world of dictatorial terrorists with almighty magical powers didn't actually exist (or so I'm led to believe) but back then it was nothing short of fun, and the fact that I was of a similar age to the protagonist when the books were released made it all the more so.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Far From Heaven

Hertford, Connecticut; 1957. Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is at the heart of her picket-fenced community, her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is a successful businessman and her two young children are little bundles of perfection, with her daughter wishing to one day grow up to be just like her mother, though her son is a little foul-mouthed ("Ah jeez" is not the kind of language Cathy tolerates).  But beneath the surface of floating dresses and pristine curls, all is not well. It's clear from Cathy's expression that, though her friends must all put up with their husbands' occasional demands for intercourse, Cathy has no such problems, for Frank hides a secret; whenever he is 'working late' he tends to be frequenting a bar aimed only at male patrons that want to get to know each other a little better. 

Edward Scissorhands

First off, apologies for the lack of posts recently, I've been in hospital for an operation on my nose (inspiring this Top 5). Also, apologies if the posts over the next few days are a little off, I'm on a veritable Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster of meds, but I'll try and keep everything as on topic as possible.

Johnny Depp successfully accomplished the transition from TV heart throb to serious movie actor with this, Tim Burton's fourth directorial outing, leading to at present a further seven collaborations between the two bizarelly-haired gentlemen. Depp stars as Edward, the creation of a reclusive inventor (the legendary Vincent Price, in an all too brief cameo in his final film role) who remains incomplete after the inventor passes away. Edward looks human enough, but where five-fingered appendages should be on the ends of his arms, there are instead a multitude of blades, knives and scissors. After being discovered living alone by Dianne Wiest's kindly Avon lady Peg, Edward is brought into the 'normal' world of 1950s suburban American.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Top 5... Movies About Noses

All being well, yesterday I'll have had my nose broken. Fear not, it's intentional, I've had a deviated septum corrected, so hopefully I can breathe properly (I'll let you know), so what better way to celebrate my own nose being fixed (or at least made less faulty), than to look at some of the best films that heavily feature someone's schnozz.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Unlisted: The Cabin in the Woods


Five college kids head for a vacation in a deserted shack (or cabin) in a remote forest (or woods), with no-one around for miles and a very creepy basement. So far, so Evil Dead. Or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or... well, you get the point, but the fact this is written and produced by Joss Whedon, and co-written and directed by Drew Goddard, one of the men behind Lost, should tell you that this is no ordinary textbook horror.

The recent years have seen the horror genre be evaluated, analysed and turned on its head, with the likes of Wes Craven’s Scream franchise and Tucker and Dale Vs Evil, and also imbued with a greater sense of comedy, for example Shaun of the Dead and Severance, to name two prime British examples. Cabin in the Woods takes these films and goes much further, leaving you rethinking every slasher movie you’ve ever seen.

I’m going to do my best to not reveal spoilers here, but if you’re trying to avoid them then chances are you probably aren’t reading this. The trailers have been criticised for perhaps showing more plot than is strictly necessary, revealing that there is more to this cabin than meets the eye, but I personally feel this is essential for the trailer (though it could have been hinted at more subtly) else the only trade the film would have made would be from the slasher fans willing to pay to see them at the cinema, of which I most certainly am not. My only trailer annoyance was the use of a scene or two from the third act that, though I’d only seen the trailers once, still stuck with me and left me waiting for them, over-thinking the plot as I went.

The performances are all wonderful, particularly practically unknown Tim De Zarn as the token redneck doomsayer the kids encounter on their way, and there’s some casting coups for fellow Whedon-ites in Dollhouse’s Amy Acker and Fran Kranz (whose Topher Brink is, occasional Firefly cameo aside, the best thing about Dollhouse) as well as Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins.

I have very few faults with the movie. One came because I’m a film nerd, and caught the signposted closing cameo from a recognisable voice, and the third act feels a little off the rails at times, but in an exhilarating, thoroughly entertaining way, although I did question why exactly that big red button was there. I look forward to pouring through the features when it’s released on DVD, and it’s the first film in a while that I’m actually considering going to the cinema and watching again. Go see this film, it’s truly wonderful, especially if you’ve ever seen a film with a cabin and some woods, and chances are you have.

Choose film 9/10

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Satantango


Aisha’s away for the weekend and I’ve got no other plans, the hotbed of social activity that I am, so I’ve made the most of a fairly sunny weekend by staying in and watching the longest film left on the list, Satantango. At 7 ½ hours long, it rounds out the top 5 longest films (though technically two are TV series and one is an eleven-part serial) on the List, which between them have taken up over 48 hours of my life that I’m never getting back. I doubt it’ll come as a surprise to many, but of the 14 films over four hours in length of the List, all of them are from Europe, and only one is in English (Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet). More than half of them are French. America doesn’t start to get a look in until Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America (227 minutes), but it’s got a lot around the 3-hour mark instead. Also, of the 4-hour-plus films, three of them are Holocaust-related documentaries. Yay.

So, Satantango. I’m going to try and make this review be not entirely about the length of the film, but it is bloody long. And needlessly so. Many of the sequences involve nothing happening – the first 9 minutes follows cows wandering around in the mud, later a child walks purposefully towards the camera for what seems an eternity – so that whenever a conversation occurs – other than some sporadic narration, dialogue doesn’t kick in for about 15 minutes – it comes as a shock.

The film sees the inhabitants of a run-down Hungarian village. The villagers have a large sum of money they wish to share out, but some want to leave with more than their fair share, whilst others wish to wait for a man believed dead to arrive, with the possibility of making even more money with his help. This is only the central structure of the plot, for there are several detractions, but no real motives or details are ever expanded upon. We see the same events through different viewpoints, at one point witnessing a drunken dancing session (at least 10 minutes long) from the perspective of a young child outside the window, and then later we’re shown it again, longer this time, but from inside the room. This new vantage point offers nothing new, and just serves to make me wish to never hear an accordion ever again, for the same short tune segment is repeated over and over and over again for the entirety of the dance.

This is, however, a great achievement in terms of direction and cinematography. Much of the film takes place in long, unbroken shots, the aforementioned dancing, for example, which at times are truly breathtaking, and others thoroughly unimpressive due to the lack of anything happening onscreen (it’s a completely unbroken shot! Of someone sat down!).

Though I was never bored, and I was also far from entertained or engaged. The large gaps of nothingness allowed my mind to wander and expand upon what I was watching, and also gave me time to jot down the improvements I’m intending to make to the site over the next few weeks. It did, however, feel like an arduous watch, something I had to work at to pay attention, and after seven hours I’d hoped for a satisfying conclusion to make it all worthwhile, a reward for the patience and sacrifice of time, but alas I was left wanting.

Choose life 5/10

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Dark Knight


What can I say about the Dark Knight that a thousand others before me haven’t? Of all modern films, this seems to be the one pored over most closely and often, heralded as the saviour of the summer blockbuster, superhero movie and crime thriller, all rolled up in the tightest of scripts. So, to take a fresh perspective, I sought out some people who didn’t like the film (thank the lord for the Internet, it makes people who don’t like something so easy to find) and found myself furious after reading just one and a half 1/10 reviews on IMDb. The sheer level of nitpicking and miniscule plot-hole unravelling proves just how far people are willing to go to disagree with the masses and stand out from the crowd, even when the crowd is so undeniably correct.

Not that this is a perfect film. There are flaws, including the Joker’s plan being at times a tad too pre-emptive, some ominous camera angles and music cues hinting unsubtly a character’s true motives earlier than should have been done, and the bit with the cellphones, which is a bit silly, but is that really enough to warrant a 1-star rating? The fact that these reviewers (I won’t give them the satisfaction of names or links, only seek them out to feel the rage bubble inside you) fail to note even one positive point in a movie overflowing with brilliance negates any opinion they deem worthy of sharing. I personally find it impossible to find nothing good in a movie – The Adventures of Pluto Nash is an abomination unto film, yet Randy Quaid is a delight as Nash’s robotic assistant; Big Trouble in Little China is easily one of the worst films I’ve reviewed from the list so far, but it has imaginative (if insane) monsters and mythology, some dialogue that surpasses cheesy to being inspired, and features Kim Cattrall back when she was attractive. Therefore, with such damning reviews as these ‘people’ have offered, they are in fact unwittingly proving how good a film it is.

Leaping from the tantalising springboard ending of BatmanBegins – Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon showing Batman a playing card left as the mark of a new criminal, calling himself The Joker, we dive headlong into a wonderfully executed bank heist, as six masked goons effortlessly separate mob money from the vaults it was stored in. Director Chris Nolan has made no secret that Heat, Michael Mann’s superb DeNiro/Pacino cat and mouse crime epic, was a huge influence on the Dark Knight, and it shows, from a William Fichtner cameo to a central meeting of the hero and villain, even mentioning a cup of coffee.

Nolan wisely improved upon some mild mis-steps made in Batman Begins here, replacing Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhall as love interest Rachel Dawes, giving Batman’s mask a cowl so he can turn his head, and giving Batman himself (Christian Bale, good but no Adam West) a little less screen time, allowing alter ego Bruce Wayne and his various accomplices and nemeses some breathing room. Aaron Eckhart is spot-on as Harvey Dent, Gotham’s shining hope against the mob, and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine remain on hand to add a touch of old school class and grandeur as Wayne’s dependable CEO nad curmudgeonly butler/moral compass, but justifiably most of the praise has been directed at the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. A creation for the ages, his layered performance of a truly maniacal genius reveals more with each viewing, and it is unfortunate that the role showcased the true acting abilities of a man previously thought of merely as a rom-com heartthrob only after he had passed. Plus, it gave us all another Hallowe'en costume to use.

Unusually for Nolan, the film is actually quite funny. It’s not exactly laugh-a-minute (there’s certainly less than 152 jokes here), the script is still a lot more humorous than you might remember. There’s also absolutely no filler, with every strand being integral to the plot; a true achievement when you consider just how engaging the story is, even when new elements are being added right up until the last few scenes.

As always with Nolan’s films, there’s a couple of cinematography moments that I’d have tried differently (see Inception), most notably the scene where the Joker leaves a hospital, which could have looked truly tremendous had it been one unbroken shot, without needlessly cutting away to some pedestrians nearby, but this is a small matter that is more of a personal niggle than a criticism.

Anyway, for those wondering if they should watch the film again before the upcoming trilogy closer The Dark Knight Rises this summer, the answer is a resounding yes. Even if you don’t intend to see part 3 (I assume you’re planning on gouging out your own eyeballs, just in case it isn’t any good, there’s no other reason not to see it) you should watch The Dark Knight again, just because it’s probably the best film to have been released in the last 5 years, if not more.

Choose film 9/10

Friday, 20 April 2012

Top 5... Drug-Induced Hallucinations

This was going to be Top 5... Drug Trips, but some of the moments I wanted to use weren't full-on immersive excursions, but simply something drugs caused the inbiber to see, so hallucinations technically covers both groups. Plus, having never taken such a trip myself, I felt I could identify more with seeing things than being wacked out of one's gourd.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A.I.: Artifical Intelligence

Kubrick's visionary ideas, social commentaries and moral dilemmas don't quite gel with Spielberg's family oriented sentimentality in this disjointed and overlong offering, conceived and planned by the former but implemented by the latter after his death in 1999.

Now, I love me some robots. Whether they're compacting waste into trash skyscrapers, travelling through time to save Sarah Connor or trying to kill Will Smith, you show me a film with robots in and I'll watch the Hell out of it (though I've never actually seen the 20th Century Fox film Robots starring Ewan McGregor and Robin Williams, just never came around). There's a robot clock watching me from atop a bookcase in the lounge, robot cushions on the sofa and a robot cookie jar whose head seems to rotate around and look at me wherever I am. But the key characteristic that joins these all together, is that they all look like robots, which is where A.I. looses my interest, for here they look like people. Yes, I know that's the point. Haley Joel Osment's mini-mecha David has been created to fill the hole left when his new parent's son goes into a coma, and Jude Law's robo-gigolo Joe (that's fun to say) would be downright weird if he didn't look a lot like a human, but that's not what I want to see in a film about mechanical men. It isn't until over half way through the film that we see some older models and exposed innards, and even then it's far too briefly.

Osment is good, too good, as the automated child, and occasionally he passes for human, but for the most part he's in full-tilt terrifyingly creepy mode, following his 'mother' Monica (Frances O'Connor) around the house all day, standing and watching her until she justifiably locks him in a cupboard. The first 45 minutes could quite easily be the start of a horror film, so disturbing is David: "I can never go to sleep, but I can lay quietly and not make a peep." Nothing he does is endearing or even likable, but then I've always felt this way about children, but still the brief amount of time it takes for Monica to bond with this mechanised horror is jarring, especially given there seems to be no real scenario that draws them together. Also, David is only programmed to 'love' one parent, and his new 'father' Henry (Sam Robards) seems devoid of emotions, either for his comatose son or the new replacement, so that fits together nicely.

The movie is comprised of a series of episodes that, once passed, are all but forgotten. The story could have been interesting, and the world has potential for a more enthralling film within it, especially in the city scenes, and the brutal Flesh Fairs, where rogue 'bots are hunted and tortured to a baying crowd's delight, but over an hour of watching David desperately wanting to be a real boy becomes terminally dull. The future technology and gadgetry is generally good, subtle yet insightful, although the cars look a bit silly. And the ending is polarising, I found it terrible and unsatisfying, whilst Aisha thought that, whilst it seemed tacked on and unnecessary, it was still very moving.


Choose life 5/10

Monday, 16 April 2012

Unlisted: Iron Man 2


Yesterday I discussed the near flawlessness that is Iron Man, and whilst all these praises remain for the sequel, it suffered from having far greater levels of hype, anticipation and expectation. It seemed that all who had loved the first couldn’t wait for the second, everyone wanted more, and more was most certainly what they got, especially when it comes to an overabundance of supporting characters, superfluous plot strands and men in metal suits hitting each other. Where the original finale, with Stark and his business partner, Jeff Bridges Obediah Stane, knocking seven bells out of each other in their rocket-propelled armour, seemed fresh, new and exciting, in the sequel we get something similar not once, but three times, as well as two metal men fighting an army of remote-controlled drones and an early confrontation between Stark and new villain Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) at the Monaco Grand Prix. Some of the action set pieces, like the aforementioned meeting, seem a little shoehorned in to put an action beat in place, but are still impressive, and the suiting-up sequences have also been greatly improved upon, especially the Suit-case.

All the supporting characters are back, but Don Cheadle has replaced Terrence Howard (Howard apparently wanted more money than Marvel thought he deserved, and seeing how little he brought to the table in the first film I’m inclined to agree with them) as Rhodes, and all the characters get an expanded upon arc, even director Jon Favreau’s background cameo as driver Hogan gets himself something to do. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is the new Stark Industries CEO, Rhodes wants a suit to take back to the military, Scarlett Johansson is Tony’s new assistant/undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (a welcome addition to the cast, if only for aesthetic reasons), Tony is in talks with Samuel L. Jackson’s one-eyed Nick Fury about his role in the Avengers, weapons rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is desperate to better Stark and bird-obsessed Vanko aims to settle the score regarding his father working with Stark’s dear old Dad (Mad Men’s John Slattery). See, that’s a really long sentence. Far too much to take in. The first film was streamlined, with not much chaff around the wheat, but here there’s just too many strands. I didn’t even mention that the arc reactor keeping Stark alive is also killing him, a completely unnecessary plot point that adds nothing and is resolved by the end, so doesn’t affect the series, but takes up about 20 minutes of screen time. Even with so much going on, the film is 5 minutes shorter than the first, but feels half an hour longer, as boredom sets in from watching metal men punch each other repeatedly.

Even more so than in Iron Man, this feels like a prequel to the Avengers, especially with Johansson’s Black Widow, bigger roles for Nick Fury and Agent Coulson and references to Captain America and Thor. That, and the film’s finale feeling disappointing after a protracted build up leaves this film with all the entertaining pats of the first, but an unfulfilling sequel that doesn’t take them anywhere. Favreau has since dropped out of part three, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black has stepped up instead. He’s worked with Downey Jr. on one of his best roles to date, so here’s hoping.

Choose life 6/10

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Iron Man


Iron Man was the superhero movie we were all waiting for, we just didn’t know it; discovering the missing ingredient from all those that came before it – comedy. Though many that came before it weren’t overly serious, dark or gritty, they still took themselves too seriously, but Iron Man ensures a thick vein of comedy runs right the way through it. Released over 2 months before the masked behemoth and current comic book movie touchstone The Dark Knight, Iron Man came out of nowhere with an untested star and middling director in Robert Downy Jr, and Jon Favreau. RDJ was still making his comeback after years of exile from Hollywood due to substance abuse, and Favreau’s most mainstream work was Christmas classic Elf, but he wasn’t exactly known for blockbusters, but after the movie’s release both found themselves sitting pretty on the A list.

Stark is such a great creation. By his own admission a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist,” yet Downey Jr. somehow makes such a character not only likable, but one you’d willingly like to go for a drink with, and not just because he’d not only pick up the tab, but probably already owns the bar. He ably assisted by Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard as his dependable assistant and best friend, and Jeff Bridges is on fine menacing-brow villain mode as Obediah Stane, the business partner of Stark’s deceased father.

Iron Man has an advantage over other superhero stories in that Stark’s story is actually interesting. A twist of fate doesn’t have him bitten by a spider, he isn’t an alien from a distant planet and he isn’t avenging his parent’s death. No, Stark had all of his superpowers before the film even starts. Wealth, intelligence, a sharp with and an immaculate goatee are goals he’s worked towards and achieved; he just needed the push to fit them all together in the form of a titanium-gold alloy flying suit with a rocket launcher and flamethrower, and what greater motivation than a terrorist attack against him, using the very weapons his company created? This means that the villains are also people every can be against – terrorists and the evil corporation heads who supply them.

The best scenes involve the subtle yet inspired gadgetry around Stark’s house, from the Paul Bettany-voiced quasi-butler Jarvis, to the robotic arms that are a little over zealous with the fire extinguisher. The flawless suiting up sequences and Downey Jr. interacting with nothing but a mechanical three clawed appendage aren’t too showy, yet set the film above its rivals.

The only possibly problems are that Howard’s Officer Rhodes is bland, but then who wouldn’t be compared to Stark, and the Stane-is-a-villain story arc is clearly signposted from the get-go, having been given the perfect set-up as the man who took on Stark Industries when it’s CEO passed away, only to be muscled out by some upstart genius, that and his full head with a thick, lustrous beard mean at some point in the near future he’ll be laughing with maniacal glee and threatening the hero’s love interest. Now that the Avengers (sorry, Avengers Assemble) is in place, this film does seem like a bit of a precursor to it, especially the scenes involving Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, which don’t really add anything here other than some fanboy cheers every time someone says Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, but the scenes don’t detract too much, and can be forgiven as they tie everything up nicely.

Otherwise, the film is pretty much perfect, and remains enjoyable after many viewings.

Choose film 8/10

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Chicago


Last Monday I was not having a good day. I don’t remember having a particularly good day at work, and when I came home the LoveFilm disc of The Class (review coming soon) infected my PlayStation 3, my primary film-watching paraphernalia, with an incurable bout of Yellow Light of Death. Fortunately, after a quick 20-minutes of mucking around with SCART leads and speakers, the back-up DVD player was up and running, but alas The Class had no intentions of playing, and to be honest I was in no mood to read subtitles after that debacle, so instead we settled down for a much more easy to watch and far more enjoyable evening of Chicago.

I’ve seen the story twice before, once on film and once on stage, and I think I preferred the small screen to the grand spectacle, though I think on second viewing it isn’t as good as I remembered. Renee Zellweger is as annoying as ever as the naive, waif-like Roxie Hart, incarcerated after killing the man she was sleeping around with (The Wire’s Dominic West). Whilst inside, she meets Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performer Velma Kelly, herself accused of murdering her sister and husband. The two compete for the favours of Matron Mama (Queen Latifah) and super smooth, silver-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).

Gere and Latifah seem to be the only ones enjoying themselves, and why Latifah was nominated for Best Supporting Actress I’ll never know, as her performance doesn’t compare to the award winning Zeta-Jones. There’s far too much of Zellweger simpering around the stage, and she seems to have forgotten to tell her face that she’s acting for much of her performance. Her singing is fine, but she is a thoroughly over-rated actress, who in this film is also far too skinny (but then so are all the girls in this film, Latifah aside). More of Gere’s incredibly entertaining Flynn would have gone a long way, as would more screen time for John C. Reilly as Roxie’s cuckolded husband Amos, who’s solo performance of Mr. Cellophane is my personal favourite, along with the wonderfully choreographed Cell Block Tango and Flynn’s marionette manipulation of a gaggle of reporters.

So, whilst it’s not perfect and a recasting of the lead would have been greatly appreciated (though to be honest, I’m not sure who I’d cast in her place) many of the musical numbers are still great fun. Six Oscars and thirteen nominations though? Seems a little excessive.

Choose film 7/10

Good Morning, Vietnam


Barry Levinson can’t work out whether he’s Oliver Stone or Jerry Zucker in this Vietnam-based Robin Williams vehicle. Heavy handed politics and imagery of riots, fire and explosions doesn’t tend to gel with zany antics and improv riffing from one of the world’s leading fast-talking funnymen, but fortunately Williams is on fine enough form to just about rescue the material from an uneven mess, as his radio DJ Adrian Cronauer is brought in to perk up the on-air talent of 1965 Saigon. The troops love him, but his superiors, including the late, great Bruno Kirby’s put upon aggressive peon Lt. Steve, are less keen on his refusal to play approved material and pre-programmed songs, opting for rock and roll over Perry Como. Some storylines seem forced and contrived – Cronauer repeatedly infiltrating an English class just to meet a girl, her entire family accompanying them on a date – and you get the feeling that this is only loosely based on a true story.

Where it shines though is the comedy. Though some of the references are now very dated and probably worked a lot better back in the States (Ethel Merman, Walter Cronkite, Mr. Ed), Williams knack for voices and repartee with a crowd is unparalleled, though a young Forest Whittaker as station lackey Edward Garlick gets his share of decent lines too: “A man does not refer to Pat Boone as a beautiful genius if things are alright.”

The film tries too hard to make a political statement where none is wanted, and the failed attempts at poignancy leave a bad taste in the mouth. Had the serious side been toned down – difficult, I know, given that it’s about war – and the directionless plot been reined in a little this could have been a classic.

Choose life 6/10

Of Gods and Men


Based on the true story of Cistercian monks in Algeria in 1996 (stay with me) this film is the very definition of slow, but there is no other way it could be told. Had I watched it after a long day at work or a particularly stodgy meal (my favourite kind), then odds are I ‘d have drifted off into an unbroken slumber until the next morning at around twenty minutes in, but the elegiac pace, mostly following the monks everyday lives as they become gradually more effected by the increasing terrorist presence as their government deteriorates is beautiful and engrossing.

Long shots of prayer, studying, tending to the garden, cleaning the monastery, more prayer, ploughing the fields, singing hymns and praying again, largely showing little more than the backs of people’s heads doesn’t sound particularly enthralling, and it’s not, but the camera’s obsession with these monk’s defiance and dependency in the face of violence is just gripping, made all the more effective by the sheer lack of action preceding. The best scenes involve nought but dialogue – the monks refusing to allow their doctor and his medicine to be taken from them forcefully, monastery meetings discussing whether desertion is a viable option, or no dialogue whatsoever, with a piece of classical music and a glass of wine reducing the men to tears – and I previously wasn’t aware how fulfilling an experience could be achieved with so little happening on screen. 

This won’t appeal to the Friday night crowd after a little bang for their buck, a crowd I’ll admit to joining regularly, but for a thought-provoking watch with plenty of room to think and absorb the atmosphere, you could do a lot worse.

Choose film 8/10

Precious (based on the novel Push by Sapphire)


I knew what I was expecting when I sat down to watch Precious: being depressed, angered and infuriated by the action on screen, but doubtlessly impressed by the acting on display. Shockingly, I was correct, though thankfully most of the abuse was verbal.

Gabourey Sidibe (more recently seen in Tower Heist and The Big C, where I’m guessing everyone else on set spends most of their time working out how to pronounce her name) is Clarice ‘Precious’ Jones, a severely obese sixteen year old, pregnant with her second child as a result of being raped by her father again. She lives in a cramped apartment with her volatile, welfare-abusing mother (Oscar-winning Mo’nique, a revelation from a woman exclusively known for comedy until this point) in Harlem in 1987. Oh, and her first child has been nicknamed Mongo for suffering Down’s Syndrome. See, told you it was depressing.

Precious’ mother is a monster of Hannibal Lecter proportions, with every word calculated to bring the most destruction to her child. We hear such gems as “School ain’t gonna help none, take your fat ass down to the welfare,” “You will never know shit, don’t nobody want you,” and “I should have aborted your fat fuckin’ ass.” Charming. Many scenes are beyond difficult to watch, from the furious tirade aimed at Precious when her headmistress (“white bitch”) drops round after school, to the fantasies of red carpets and photo shoots that make up the only escape Precious has from her unbearable existence.

It’s not all crushing depression. Mostly, but not all, for Precious seeks to improve her situation, enrolling in an alternative school for kids who’ve fallen through the cracks, so there is light at the end of the tunnel, shone from three supporting adults, her teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), the nurse’s assistant who helps delivers her baby (Lenny Kravitz) and her social worker (Mariah Carey). These last two choices seem like some fairly risky stunt casting, but it pays off, as though the singers aren’t likely to be bothering the Academy any time soon, they perform ably and selflessly in places you wouldn’t normally expect them.

Though well made, directed and shot, the subject matter at times feels like a particularly sobering episode of Jerry Springer, interspersed with some truly shocking moments that generally involve potential harm to Precious baby. But it’s not as miserable as first thought, and the performances on display are worth watching.

Choose film 7/10