Sunday, February 14, 2010

Recent Movies

Usually, movies dealing with poor, embittered, socially deprived, psychologically damaged students from rotten homes with cruel, alcohol and drug infested, sexually molesting 'parents', and with determined, committed, talented, gifted, dedicated, never-give-up, middle class, tertiary educated, physically attractive teachers, are best left right alone for the stinking pile of cliches that they invariably are. It's To Sir With Love ad nauseam.

So Precious should be avoided like the plague. Not only is the main character, Precious herself, one of the physically ugliest leads ever to grace a screen, the saviour teacher is one of the most beautiful. The director nails the cliche to your forehead without apology. 

However see this movie for the performance of the supporting actor Mo'Nique. She is riveting as the wholly bad mother. She is an exquisite creation, and her masterful use of underclass, street dialect straight out of Harlem is as richly invigorating as all good language is. The other good performance in the film is from that ridiculous diva Mariah Carey, who plays a social worker. It's a minor role but Carey pulls it off to perfection.

I'm one of the handful of people on the planet who tried valiantly to finish the book The Road but couldn't. I found it as boring as batshit - endless pushing of that god-forsaken trolley by a father and his son along deserted roads in a god-forsaken aftermath landscape...every waking day! To me the author never succeeded in getting beyond the physical into the metaphysical, so all we got were incidents, then more incidents, then more...It had to end by the death of one of them and of course it did. (The death of the two of them would have made it tragedy. The death of just one makes it sad, and sadness is this book's emotional world, imbuing it with far less meaning and resonance.)

The film is a faithful adaptation of the book. Enough said.

We've seen enough prison movies throughout the history of cinema to know the dynamics of them backwards by now. The prisoners milling around in the exercise yard, plotting, confronting, exchanging, whispering; the cruel guards; the heartless administration; the foul, stinking food...there's very little that's new. 

What really impressed me about A Prophet however was that there were no guards, no administration, plenty of good food. The entire focus of the film was the psychological and emotional growth of a young, 19 year old prisoner doing his six year term, and how he navigates his own way through the group dynamics and power centres of the prisoner community. It's a long film, but slowly you get the point. This young, uneducated guy is smarter and more intuitive than most, and his great gift is his immigrant Arab background and how he uses it. Early in his term he opts for protection from the Corsican Italians, led by an old vicious crim (powerfully played by Niels Arestrup), but at the end the Arabs prevail, mainly by force of numbers, and he's one of them. You know when he's released that Europe has another powerful criminal mastermind to contend with.

Comparisons have been made to The Godfather, and that seems pretty right to me.

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