Monday, November 30, 2009

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire was released in Canada on September 13, 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The star power in this one is mediocre. The lead is played by Gabourey Sidibe in her debut. The BET favorite, Mo'Nique is the horror of a mother. Mariah Carey stops by as the relatively homely social worker, and Lenny Kravitz has a minor role. The Director is Lee Daniels, best known for producing Monster's Ball. Of course, one should not neglect the marketing efforts of Oprah Winfrey.

The story is just potent. As a social worker, I confess I had little desire to see another movie that was looking just a little too much like work. Honestly, anyone with a few years in my field has met more than one Precious. I also tend to be a touch skeptical about Oprah's pet projects. That said, I was completely enthralled through the entire 109 minutes, and was a little sorry to see it end. The protagonist is an obese 16 year old victim of every abuse imaginable. She is pregnant with a second child for her father when we meet her. Despite the hell that is her life there is something hopeful, and both passive and determined within her. For the viewer who has not yet met a Precious, the story is shocking, and even if you have, it still has the potential to bring you tears before all is said and done. It is also laced with humor, and of course, challenges one's own worldview. This fictional biography is very well told, and true enough to life to be given an address closer to your own.

This film has Oscar written allllllll over it. First of all, the fact that the movie title references the book from which it originated is practically an application for adapted screenplay. A nomination in this category is likely. Directorship may also get some consideration based on the quality offered at a very low cost. Of course, the acting is brilliant. Sidibe deserves a nomination for a simply wonderful performance. Her inexperience makes this showing even more impressive. Mo'Nique was also very good, and a nod for supporting is also in order. It may have had a shot for Best Picture in a category of five, but with the extension to ten, it will be surprising if this movie is not at least rewarded with a nomination. This may also open the door for a Best Director nomination for Daniels.

Precious is a very pleasant surprise. Good call on this one O.

The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats was released in Canada on September 11, 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival. With a full cast of household names, and a title to grab the attention of any expectations were high. Names of note were George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. All four lads ably demonstrated their skill in portraying the complete goofball.

The story... now what does one say about this story? McGregor is a reporter, recently dumped by his wife and having a point to prove, and looking for the big story in Iraq. He meets Clooney and gradually the others, who are all part of a special unit in the US Army specializing in the paranormal. The rest is mirky, and not really essential for you to know. The phrase that comes to mind is "Coen Brothers Wannabe." It has its moments, and at times I laughed out loud at the "almost there" satire, but mostly it is a little too contrived.

Initially I had imagined this moving having screenplay potential. I will be surprised if the pool is weak enough to get a nomination in this category. The acting is good. Clooney, in particular, nails it. Though his role may be a little too reminiscent of Burn After Reading, a Coen flick that makes Goats look like a college assignment. A lot of movies remain to be seen, but I'll be surprised if this performance warrants a nod. Not much else to mention about this one.

The Men Who Stare at Goats was definitely not all I hoped for, but still worth the watch.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Soloist

The Soloist, released in Canada on April 24, 2009, is a Joe Wright project featuring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.

The plot is thus. RDJ is an uninspired newspaper columnist brainstorming for material when he encounters the gifted Juilliard dropout, portrayed by Foxx, who is mentally ill and homeless. The predictability factor is over the top. Yes, Foxx's character is talented and likeable and misunderstood and tragic. And yes, the writer is apathetic, then intrigued, then determined to rescue, and battling his own demons along the way. Are you seated? Yes, they each learn from the other and the connection is tear-jerking. Except it isn't. Beyond predictable, the plot is contrived, the emotional efforts require a little too much effort, the dialogue is blah, and the overall impact is disappointing.

As for Oscar potential, the movie, screenplay and directorship leave no impression. Downey Jr. delivered an entirely forgettable performance. However, based on last year's nomination for the beyond ridiculous Tropic Thunder, the Academy may be high enough on him to surprise us with another nod. Now let's talk about Jamie Foxx. We know the lad can act following the Ray execution. But watching him in this role was tedious. In fairness, the poor performances may be a direct result of shabby screenplay.

The Soloist is a rental, at best.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Julie & Julia

Julie and Julia was released in Canada on August 7, 2009. Amy Adams was Julie Powell, and of course, Julia Child was mastered by my gal, Meryl Streep.

The movie is the crafty intermingling of two entirely charming stories. Nora Ephron weaves the tale of Julia Child's development as a chef and author, with the story of Julie Powell, as articulated in her personal blog, cooking her way through Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." It's a fun watch. Politics and class-consciousness aplenty... culture... humor... beurre... and romance, if contemplating Julia Child as a sexual being is not too disturbing. Meryl does make it easier.

It's early for Oscar buzz, and this film has made minimal noise so far. The early release date is no doubt a factor. But let's be honest. A pre-schooler using a cheap cell phone could record Meryl Streep napping in an airport and it would be worth at least a nod. As usual, she was just brilliant. I saw the film on opening day, and the first time Streep opened her mouth as Julia Child the theatre fell apart with affectionate laughter. Streep's problem is that she is eternally competing against herself. She has another flick due for release on Christmas Day, but beyond that, the standards to which we hold her are beyond the marker for any other competitor. That said, a nomination is not a long shot here. Adams was mediocre, Chris Messina was adequate as usual, and Stanley Tucci was great. In fact, depending on the competition, his performance as Paul Child may get him consideration for Best Supporting. Screenplay may be an option. I would not have given this one Best Picture thoughts, but with the Academy proposing a pool of ten this year, who knows?

Julie and Julie was just wonderful. Don't see it hungry.

Oscar Season 2010

So 'tis the season!

For the Christmas fanatic, it's time to obsess about wish lists, last minute sales, airline bookings, Canada Post deadlines, party plans and Christmas concerts. I'm doing a little bit of that myself, being both a fan of the festivities, and a member of an enormous family.

But it's also a perfect time of year to begin a movie review blog. After several months of film drivel, we can begin to look forward to some real reels. Already, a few contenders have crept through theaters, whetting the appetites of those who cannot abide the mindless money makers and simply crave a good story with some authentic acting.

So for the next three months or so, until the Academy Awards are presented, I will see as many potential contenders as possible and review them here. I have learned that few things assist better in surviving the annual Seasonal Affective Disorder than frequent escapes to a popcorn-fragranced, darkened room in the company of other stranger-lovers, sharing a passion for plot and climax and role-immersion.

Please feel completely liberated to respond to my ramblings with your own... as long as you can handle a feisty comeback.

Let the reels begin!