Monday, 1 February 2010

Film Review : Precious

Another of those movies that are released around this time of the year that you just know is intended as Oscar bait. It's already been recognised gaining some acting honours at the Golden Globes (although you'd be excused for thinking that Mariah Carey had somewhat misinterpreted what was intended by a golden globes presentation!) and may well get more come Oscar time.

Notwithstanding that, this is a powerful story depicting the life of Precious who has been brought up in an abusive relationship and who is pregnant by her mother's partner for the second time at the age of 16. Given the opportunity to enrol in a school designed to teach similarly underprivileged kids to read and write and, in doing so, to help to develop the other social skills that they are lacking in, Precious learns to find herself and to begin to understand what is important for her future.

Debutant Gaboury Sidibe gives a powerful performance in the title role, seething with resentment about the life she is forced to lead but equally unable to break the ties from her mother. Played by Mo'Nique, the mother is a manipulative and selfish woman but who is equally trapped by the cards dealt her by life. However, it is hard to feel any sympathy for this woman and a number of scenes (some of which brought an audible gasp from many of the audience) lead you to despise the woman. I hope for Mo'Nique's sake, that's a sign of good acting!!

Paula Patton plays teacher Ms Rain and portrays someone with a commitment to helping her pupils although it's not made clear until later on what perhaps motivates her. However, she is in her own way as much of an outsider as the children under her care. She is also the only conventionally attractive women on display, and her glamour and the glimpses of her own lifestyle make a considerable contrast to the other lives depicted on screen.

Precious' first baby was born with Downes Syndrome and is used by her mother as a means of claiming further benefits although that is far as her interest in her grandchild extends. The second baby is born with the full compliment of health and Precious is determined that she will be a worthy mother.

This is a film that also manages more than creditable performances from singers Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz as an extremely dowdy social worker and male nurse respectively. Carey, in particular, is surprisingly effective as the social worker who manages to build a relationship with Precious and ultimately to a showdown with her mother.

The other classmates are a cosmopolitan group and it is a joy to watch their initial suspicions and fears subside as they bond over time.

Although their are many bleak scenes in this film, the ending is uplifting without being too saccharin. All in all, this is an excellent and thought provoking film that lingers in the memory long after you've left the cinema.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Film Review : Brothers

This was a movie that didn't get much in the way of advance publicity (or, at least, none that I was aware of) until I saw the trailers which appeared in December. Despite its' top-notch leading cast, it looked as if it ran the risk of being a little too cut and dried in its' approach to its' topic.

Tobey McGuire and Jake Gyllenhall play two brothers, with McGuire being the dutiful son who married his childhood sweetheart - and who wouldn't if she looks like Natalie Portman - and Gyllenhall the black sheep of the family who has just been released from a prison sentence.

Sam (McGuire) is sent to serve in Afghanistan and is involved in an incident which leaves him missing in action. Believed to be dead, his family and friends mourn him and attempt to move on. Having made some attempt to sort himself out, Tommy (Gyllenhall) seeks to provide some comfort and support to Grace (Portman) and her two daughters.

Sam, however, is not dead but has been prisoner for some time and is eventually released after his hiding place comes under attack. However, his exposure to the horrors of war has been traumatic and deeply personal which have damaged him tremendously.

It is therefore a withdrawn, sullen and paranoid Sam who returns to his family. And for Tommy, Grace and the family an equally difficult set of challenges faces them.

As mentioned, the trailer suggested that this might treat the topic with some predictability and perhaps the script does this - the ending, in particular, is a little glib and unsatisying. However, the performances have an intensity and realism about them which makes this a gripping movie. McGuire in particular is excellent and is required to show considerable range from the loving father through to the mentally unstable soldier returning from combat.

Film Review : The Book Of Eli

How many post-apocalyptic films is it possible to enjoy in quick succession. After The Road comes The Book Of Eli which shares a similar theme depicting the world after events which change the face of the earth forever leaving humanity of no doubt about its' place in eternity's pecking order.

It was clear from the trailer that although it shared a post-apocalyptic vista that this would be a very different style of movie from The Road. Starring Denzel Washington in the title role as a man with a mission although at first it's not quite clear what that mission is. More than ably supported by Gary Oldman in his best over the top villain mode as Carnegie who displays all the usual villainous trait used to win friends and influence people. Carnegie is fixated with finding a book and send his henchman all round the surrounding country to find it.

Of course, Eli has this book and it is also the key to his mission. The book is the last copy of The Bible on earth and Oldman seeks it to use the content to further cement his control of the survivors.

Whilst the violence that was displayed on The Road was used to demonstrate the depths to which humanity will quickly sink when every meal might be a matter of life and death, in The Book Of Eli it takes a more conventional movie form being the means by which the struggle between Eli and Carnegie is determined.

Throw in the daughter of Carnegie's concubine who joins Eli on his journey, and enjoyable cameos from Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour as an old couple who have taken to eating human flesh, this films pull all the entertainment levers that The Road so studiously avoids.

As such, this can't compete (and, to be fair, doesn't attempt to) with The Road's grim attempt at realism but is nevertheless an entertaining tale, with a nice little twist at the end.