Reviews in Short

By Cole Smithey

Precious. Director Lee Daniels (producer on "Monster’s Ball) unleashes an urban drama pressure-cooker steeped in vérité realism. "Precious: Based on the Novel ’Push’ by Sapphire" follows 16-year-old Claireece "Precious” Jones (well played by newcomer Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe). Jones is a 300-pound high school student, pregnant with her second baby by her own father. Precious’ cruel mother, Mary (Mo’Nique), humiliates and physically attacks her daughter — when she isn’t giving orders from her permanent place in front of the TV. Daytime reveries of red carpet fame and the adulation of her imaginary fans allows Precious to block out her stressful reality. The lighthearted vignettes also allow the audience a chance to breathe in the midst of an unbelievably devastating story of traumatic family abuse. Precious finds hope and support when she gets into an alternative school. Paula Patton adds some much-needed optimism as Blu Rain, an altruistic teacher whose dedication to her students enables their intellectual growth. Significant too is Mariah Carey’s disarming performance as Ms. Weiss, a no-nonsense welfare counselor who listens to Mary’s explanation of her treatment of her daughter. If you’re looking for a gritty, socially conscious movie, this is it. Rated R. 109 mins. (A)

Fantastic Mr. Fox. Wes Anderson, famous for his quirky sense of absurdist humor, seems to have found his forte in animation vis a vis Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s book “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” With a script co-written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, Anderson creates a magical stop-animation world inhabited by a fox family, various other woodland creatures and a group of nasty human farmers who don’t take kindly to having their livestock and cider stolen. George Clooney applies his signature leathery voice to Mr. Fox, a snappily dressed family guy whose animal nature sits at direct odds to his family’s safety in their peaceful foxhole. Meryl Streep voices Mr. Fox’s even-keeled wife, and Jason Schwartzman speaks for Ash, the couple’s bratty son who tries to compete with his athletically-prone cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). The nearby industrial farms too much of a temptation for Mr. Fox, whose burglary plan brings down more human wrath than he is prepared to handle. Anderson’s lavish attention to visual detail supports the dry wit on display in a highly original animated film geared to appeal equally to adults and children. Rated PG. 88 mins. (B )

2012. You can tell by the audience’s inevitable disdainful laughter with you in the theater that, on a narrative level, "2012" is a flop. So ham-andcheese heavy is the dimwitted dialogue (by Harold Kloser and Roland Emmerich) that half the time you feel like you’re watching a remedial screenwriting project. Naturally, there is plenty of guilty pleasure in watching a twin-engine plane flown by an amateur pilot between two falling skyscrapers impossibly pass through the falling rubble without being hit. Essentially, the story describes a shift in the Earth’s crust that comes sooner than White House-connected scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chewetel Ejiofor) predicted. Divorced author/part time limo-driver Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) borrows his son and daughter from his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) to take them on a vacation in Yellowstone National Park. Once camped, Jackson meets Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), an apocalypse-predicting whacko living in a mobile home. Mother Nature’s proverbial poo hits the fan, as volcanoes erupt, earthquakes shake, California slips into the ocean and lots of people die without a drop of blood shown on-screen. Think of "2012" as global-apocalypse-lite; you get all of the disaster without any of the gore. Sure, the Blu-ray DVD will look great on your home theater as ambient background for your next house party, but that’s about it. Rated PG-13. 158 mins. (C-)

Pirate Radio. Once titled "The Boat That Rocked," “Pirate Radio" is a victim of over-editing for a loosey-goose ’60s rock ’n’ roll period piece set around a pirate radio station on board a ship large enough to have a basketball half-court on deck. Philip Seymour Hoffman coolly plays the Count, an American DJ with a heart of gold who enters into a cold war of sorts with British DJ rival Gavin, whose cruel-to-be-kind personality proves less toothy than the Count imagines. Intended as a celebration of a more innocent-yet-swinging time when the music of The Beatles, Stones and Jimi Hendri promised a world of endless reverie, "Pirate Radio" is missing enough character reference points — ostensibly left on the cutting room floor — to allow the audience to share in the random festivities of the ship’s fun-loving inhabitants. Still, there’s some great music and the movie sustains a groovy vibe that might have you imitating Bill Nighy’s British accent, as the boat’s undemanding owner, Quentin. Rated R. 116 mins. (B-)

The Box. Riffing on a “Twilight Zone”-themed morality tale, writer/director Richard Kelly ("Donnie Darko") sets the table for a three-course meal of supernatural events but serves up an anemic narrative entree instead. Period costumes and set-designs place Richmond, Va., couple Norma (Cameron Diaz) and her NASA scientist husband Arthur (James Marsden) in a mid-’70s era of bad ties and polyester pants. Arthur and Norma receive a dubious opportunity to improve their financial status in the form of a surprise package containing a wooden box with a big red button on top. A promised visit from a disfigured but impeccably-dressed Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) explains that the couple will receive $1 million dollars if they choose to press the button that will cause the death of another human being that they do not know somewhere else on the planet. Of course, there would be no story if the couple didn’t press the button, but the oddly related incidents that follow never add up to a cohesive plot. Although based on a short story by television’s "Twilight Zone" contributor Richard Matheson, "The Box" is an over-inflated mess that doesn’t come up to snuff. Rated PG-13. 115 mins. (D)

The Fourth Kind. Neglecting cinema’s compulsory three-act structure, writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi ventures into shallow narrative waters that puddle around the foundation of his unbalanced docudrama set in the remote corners of Nome, Alaska. Redundant split-screen compositions compare grainy "actual" interview footage of spaced-out-looking psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler and her better-looking movie twin, played by Milla Jovovich. A reenactment of the unsolved stabbing murder of Dr. Tyler’s husband, as he lay in the bed next to her, casts some doubt on the mental faculties of our would-be heroine in an alien abduction story that comes with more than a few UFO-sized plot holes. It doesn’t help matters that "The Fourth Kind" follows so closely the other recent surveillance-camera-enabled fright fest "Paranormal Activity." Rated PG. 98 mins. (D )

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