Skip to main content

Review: Precious, Edge of Darkness, Land of the Long White Cloud, Shifty & The French Kissers

By March 16, 2010September 5th, 2011No Comments

Precious posterAfter watch­ing so many films that are so sim­il­ar in con­tent and con­struc­tion that they are hard to tell apart, it is a real pleas­ure to come across some­thing that con­tains no famil­i­ar faces, has a dir­ect­or whose name is unknown (to me at least) and takes an approach to storytelling that con­sist­ently sur­prises and delights – even if the story itself is about as dark as it gets.

Lee Daniels’ Precious, I’m pleased to gaboure­port, is far more than just nov­elty, rising con­fid­ently (cine­mat­ic­ally) above its kitchen-sink found­a­tions to soar high above almost every drama I saw last year. Set in Harlem in the mid 1980s, it presents us with the unprom­ising fig­ure of Clareece Precious Jones (new­comer Gabourey Sidibe). She is 16 years old and over­weight, abused at home and ignored at school, dream­ing of some­thing bet­ter but not hope­ful of a way out. Her fath­er has just made her preg­nant for the second time and when the school finds out she is giv­en the option of wel­fare (which sus­tains her grot­esquely awful moth­er) or a spe­cial school for those with poten­tial gifts – she has some tal­ent for maths.

This is one of the few aspects of the film that doesn’t ring true – the school she is sent to seems alto­geth­er too per­fect, and her teach­er too self­less and per­son­ally gen­er­ous – but those classroom scenes are played with such energy and earthy wit that it’s eas­ily forgivable.

The poten­tial for mawk­ish­ness is kept at bay through­out, as if the film knows how heavy it is get­ting, and there’s quite a bit of self-aware humour to help it along – the classroom dis­cus­sion about the mean­ing of the word ‘relent­less’ comes to mind. All the per­form­ances are first-rate, but the stand-out is comedi­enne and talk show host Mo’nique as Precious’ awful moth­er – a scin­til­lat­ing and vivid por­tray­al of bru­tal (and bru­tal­ised) self-regard. I’ve nev­er seen any­thing like her.

Edge of Darkness posterNearly 25 years ago, New Zealand dir­ect­or Martin Campbell made one of the finest tele­vi­sion series ever in “Edge of Darkness”, a para­noid nuc­le­ar thrill­er with fiendishly clev­er psy­cho­lo­gic­al under­tones. It was six hours long and I’m sorry to say the only resemb­lance between it and Campbell’s new big screen ver­sion is that the new one feels six hours long. Relocated to Massachusetts, and with fad­ing super­star Mel Gibson in the role made fam­ous by tacit­urn Bob Peck, this Edge of Darkness should be named some­thing else so that it can’t be com­pared to the ori­gin­al. Then we can hate it for what it is rather than what it isn’t.

Land of the Long White Cloud posterWhen Florian Habicht burst on to the scene in 2003 it was with a bizarre and per­plex­ing black and white art film called Woodenhead. Who would have guessed tha he would go on to become our premi­er doc­u­ment­ari­an, mak­ing essen­tial films like Kaikohe Demolition and 2008’s Rubbings from a Live Man. In his new film Land of the Long White Cloud he returns to the Far North of New Zealand, to 90 Mile Beach for the country’s richest fish­ing com­pet­i­tion. He, and his off-sider Christopher Pryor, roam up and down the beach for five days get­ting to know the char­ac­ters and help­ing us under­stand that strange and won­der­ful part of New Zealand even more. Often quite spellbinding.

Shifty posterThe New Zealand Film Commission is tout­ing films like micro-budget UK thrill­er Shifty as the future of low-budget film­mak­ing in this coun­try and has brought writer-director Eran Creevy out to talk to loc­als about how they get things done. After watch­ing Shifty on DVD last night, I can see their point. It’s a well-made, dark drama about an Anglo-Pakistani drug deal­er and the final 24 hours in his career – a run of bad luck means he either has to get out or he will be got­ten out per­man­ently. The script bal­ances the per­son­al rela­tion­ship stuff with some clev­er plot­ting and Creevy draws good per­form­ances from his cast – par­tic­u­larly the elec­tri­fy­ing Riz Ahmed as the title character.

Having said all that, the film won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you want to watch ignor­ant Poms swear­ing at each oth­er for an hour and a half while drink­ing lager from very tall cans, this is the film for you.

The French kissers posterFinally, a word about the French Film Festival which gets under­way at the Embassy this Thursday. Despite the organ­isers gen­er­ous offers of pre­views, my oth­er com­mit­ments have restric­ted me to only one from the pro­gramme so far but it was a goody: The French Kissers is like the flip­side of the recent smash-hit The Class (which was a sig­ni­fic­ant hit here last year). Instead of a ded­ic­ated teach­er this film focuses on the sex-mad stu­dents in a multi-cultural inner city high school. Beautifully observed, the obses­sions and habits of teen­age boys are per­fectly por­trayed. Was I ever like that? I’ll have to refuse to answer on the grounds that I may incrim­in­ate myself.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 10 February, 2010.

I know the French Film Festival is long gone but The French Kissers might show up in your loc­al video store, so here it is.