Sunday, November 22, 2009

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

So... here it is. Perhaps it’s a bit presumptuous of me, but every year I wait (hope) for that one movie. The film that really gets me. The one where I sit in complete awe as the credits roll. The one that gives me the “holy shit” moment, if you will. As in, holy shit what did I just see, and more importantly, when can I see it again?

It was The Wrestler last year, There Will Be Blood the year before. I was fortunate enough to have that awe-struck moment in January when I first saw Precious at Sundance. And now, several months later, I can proudly admit that I am still in complete awe of this film.

Everything you’ve heard about Precious, the hype and all that comes with it, is completely justified. This is a film that aims to shake you almost immediately, and never let you go for a second. The result is brutal, unflinching, and poignant as all hell.

Who would be interested in spending two hours watching a movie about a morbidly obese, illiterate, impoverished black girl in ‘80s Harlem? One that’s been beat up and beat down both emotional and physically by her parents since day one? Not too appealing. But suck it up; you’re in for one hell of an emotional rollercoaster.

After Precious (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) is kicked out of public school for being pregnant, she enrolls in an alternative school, taught by the charming, understanding Ms. Rain (Paula Patton). Her new school is her only escape, because at home Precious is subjected to things most of us cannot even fathom. Her mother (Mo’Nique) is a complete monster of a human being. Never hesitant to throw a frying pan at her daughter, or remind her how stupid she is. Their apartment is a ghetto hell that shocked me to the core. The kind of living situation that makes you thankful for what you have.

Her mother’s only concern is welfare money, but to get that, Precious has to sit in on sessions with a tough-as-nails social worker (yes, that is Mariah Carey) which, in addition to her new school, acts as therapy for Precious’ dismal life.

Moving away from plot, let’s get to the important stuff. As Precious, Sidibe delivers a performance of such candid disarray that it will leave you utterly heartbroken. Her face is often clinched in tight anger, never letting anyone into her world. When she smiles, as she often does in beautiful, fantasy-like daydreams, it’s as if we’re watching a different actress. This is as good a debut performance as I’ve ever seen.

You’ve heard about Mo’Nique in this film, I’m sure. But nothing can prepare you. From the first moment she is on screen, you fear her. This is a woman that makes you stir in your seat, just with a grimacing stare. Seldom times do actors “get there” in films. Where they reach a point where they are no longer acting. They are their character. I have no idea what Mo’Nique’s method for acting is, but she has created one of the most repulsive, vicious characters in recent cinematic memory. Simply put: this is the best acting I’ve seen so far this year. From any person in any movie. Oscar… please?

Supporting performances by Patton and Carey are not to be overlooked. Patton actually has one of the hardest scenes in the film. She has the task of reacting to Sidibe after Precious explains how worthless and unloved she is. Patton’s role could’ve easily been a clichéd mess. But not in these capable hands.

When I first saw Precious, I had no idea that the social worker was played by Mariah Carey. Stripped of any makeup, attractive clothes or nice hair, Carey is an astounding revelation. You sit there in a daze, shocked at the subtle intensity of her performance. If Carey can deliver like this, you can expect much more film work from her. She may very well have a slot in the Supporting Actress category with Mo’Nique.

Lee Daniels only has one other film to his credit as a director (2005’s poorly received Shadowboxer), but that matters little. With the help of screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, who adapted Sapphire’s searing novel, Daniels has created a haunting masterpiece. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When reading about this film you may suspect that it is a gritty downer. Such is not the case. Badness happens to Precious, of course, but somehow you’re left with a sense of clarity, importance. It’s quite remarkable, actually.

Take these two brief scenes as an example. Early in the film, Precious does her hair in front of the mirror in her bedroom. We see her staring at the mirror, but the reflection staring back isn’t Precious. It’s a blonde haired, blue eyed, Caucasian beauty. Later in the movie, Precious walks in front of a giant mirror in the lobby of an office building. She stares for a couple seconds at her own reflection. She finally sees herself. (I’m tearing up just writing about it). This is what Precious is all about: finding yourself amongst insurmountable pain.

This is the best film of the year, folks. Step outside your comfort zone a little. Do yourself a favor and see this film. I promise you will not regret it. Behold a thing of absolute wonder. A+

An Education

Ahh what a delightful film. An Education is long and far the best romance of this year. There isn’t a scene void of curious charm. Every moment is genuine and heartfelt. Welcome to the bliss of independent movie heaven.

Proper British schoolgirl Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is young, innocent, daring and a tad precocious. Weighted down by her strict, well-to-do father (Alfred Molina) who wants nothing more than Oxford for his daughter, Jenny jumps at the chance to stir up a little mischief. Enter David (Peter Sarsgaard) and older, mature gentleman who falls head over heals for Jenny after a chance encounter.

The two begin a wondrous, consenting relationship, one of the best in recent cinematic history. David, while young, is mysteriously loaded with cash. He gives Jenny the world, full of expensive meals, far away trips, lavish gifts, etc. In essence, he’s educating her, hence the title.
The film playfully carries on for a while without introducing any real conflict. But be advised, An Education is packing one hell of a wallop, and that’s when the film really takes off.

It isn’t often that I simply smile for no specific reason while watching a film. When it does happen, I can usually credit an actor. Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky had me grinning like a fool last year. Give the honor to Mulligan this time around. In her early scenes, Mulligan carries herself with a bit of clandestine desire. We know she’s more mature than her friends, and we want nothing more than for her to lash out, bustle up a spot of trouble. So when she does, Mulligan takes her character to remarkable heights.

There are two scenes in particular that should make Mulligan a lock for a Best Actress nomination. Watch one of her encounters with the ever-brilliant Emma Thompson (as the school’s head mistress). In one startling monologue, Mulligan exclaims what it means to be a young, independent woman in ‘60s Britain. She stands up for herself, sure, but it also feels like she’s standing up for most of the other female characters in the film. It’s truly remarkable.

The next standout scene is even more impressive, and Mulligan doesn't have to utter a single word. After a spat with her dad, Mulligan locks herself in her room, as Molina talks to her from behind the closed door. Now pay attention to these actors. What Molina does here is nothing short of amazing. For the first time in the film, he gives his character a heart. He pleads with his daughter not condescendingly, but as an adult. It’s the single best scene of Molina’s impressive career, but made all the more endearing based on Mulligan’s emotional, silent reaction.

An Education is the kind of film that slowly nestles itself in you, delicately transfixing your feelings into sheer joy. Mulligan, an actress I’ve never heard of, has a grand career ahead of her. Her quiet, awesome power rocks you to the core. You’ll care about Jenny every step of the way. Forget the silly teenage vampires; this is the season’s real romance. A

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Who better to star in a Herzog film than Nicolas Cage? Werner Herzog, master of the eccentric, and Nicolas Cage, a truly fearless actor when pushed hard enough, have created an absurdist work of art. Not absurd. Absurdist. There isn’t a single scene in Bad Lieutenant that doesn’t teeter on the edge of being over-the-top. But somehow the film miraculously works.

Much has been made about the similarities between Herzog’s film and Abel Ferrara’s 1992, crime drama Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Keitel. Cage and Keitel both play cops with a drug problem. Let’s move on.

Herzog’s film is set in The Big Easy, with Cage playing the delightfully evil, if not manically insane, Lieutenant Terence McDonagh. To say McDonagh has “issues” is to be very very kind. The dude skims dime bags of coke off a club-going couple, but not before hitting a crack pipe and banging the chick while her boyfriend watches. He pops Vicodin like candy and snorts coke like it’s nasal spray. He steals evidence, slaps around old women, gambles away money he doesn’t have, and so on. So what the hell is to like? Here’s the thing. Herzog, along with Cage, never take the film too seriously. In fact, Cage’s performance is filled such great, zany one-liners, that I may go as far as to call it the funniest performance of the year. How'd that happen?

Just watch him play McDonagh. The way his massive .44 caliber gun sits in the front of his belt, centimeters from slipping out. The way his voice inflection drops all over the place the more messed up he is. The way he laughs when introducing characters by their “street” names. Or how he delivers a seemingly cheesy line like “shoot him again, his soul is still dancing” with precise, frantic conviction. And there’s more. McDonagh gets downright serious when dealing with his hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold girlfriend (Eva Mendes), and is troubled dad. So whether Cage plays McDonagh as a comic devil, or serious as Satan, he’s always believable. It’s a tour de force performance, easily Cage’s best since Adaptation.

The movie doesn’t really have a plot, it’s far more appealing as a character study. There are big-time drug dealers, low-life cops, and alcoholic family members to keep McDonagh going. (Yes that is Jennifer Coolidge, the MILF from the American Pie films, as McDonagh’s stepmother). But I was most impressed with how Herzog pulled off his Bad Lieutenant with such frenzied finesse. Herzog, who has never made a bad film, always manages to put his odd stamp on everything he does, without being overly obvious. There are a few scenes, shot with a camera-on-acid feel, where McDonagh is the only person in the room who sees creepy reptiles. What’s the point? I have no idea. But it’s sheer demented delight. This is Herzog at his absolute best. Oh yeah. A

The Messenger

When I got home after seeing this movie, my aunt asked me what it was about. I briefly explained story details, a young Iraq War hero, who with a little time left to serve, is enlisted in the Casualty Notification Office, meaning he’s the poor son of a bitch who has to go to family’s homes and tell them that their 18-year-old son (or daughter) just got killed.

“Really?”, my aunt asked, “they made a story around that?” Yes, I told her, that’s exactly what talented, first-time director Oren Moverman has done; he’s made a story. The Messenger isn’t bogged down by a gimmicky plot, there’s no silly motivation, it’s just two guys doing a very tough job that they both hate.

Ben Foster, who’s had throwaway roles in X-Men 3 and Alpha Dog, plays Staff Sergeant Montgomery like a quiet storm, ready to stir up trouble at any minute. With a bum eye, limping leg, and far-off girlfriend, Montgomery is a man looking for what? Purpose? Acceptance? Solitude? Probably a bit of all three. Foster is subtly striking, internally combustible.

If Foster is the storm, then Woody Harrelson, as the CNO veteran, is the hurricane. Harrelson’s Captain Stone, is a man so far removed from his inner turmoil, that it’s actually uncomfortable to watch at times (which is very, very good acting). Harrelson has always impressed. From The People vs. Larry Flynt to No Country for Old Men. But watch him in the scene when Stone and Montgomery argue outside a convenience store. At one point, Harrelson pushes Foster’s head into a wood railing. It's completely unexpected. And given Foster’s slightly bewildered reaction, I can only assume that Harrelson improvised that small bit of volcanic rage. Simply put: this is the best work Harrelson has ever done, watching his character progress throughout the film, as he becomes more at ease with his internal hell, is truly incredible. Expect a nomination.

The Messenger actually plays out as a successful study of the grieving process. There are a slew of notifications. Some end badly with screaming, some end worse with slapping, some family members deny their loss right away, others don’t seem the least bit swayed. How would you respond to such news? It’s a hard feat for actors to pull off. One father, played by the ever-incredible Steve Buscemi, completely embodies what it is to be overcome with instant fury. He takes the news fine at first, then erupts. Remarkably done.

Aside from the fine performances, of which there are several others, including an indelible Samantha Morton, the film holds up dutifully as an exercise in minimalism. There’s no fancy camera work, no popular music; the story is just… there. It’s one of the movies where you actually forget you’re watching a movie. And that’s what it’s all about. A-

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Here’s what’s gonna happen: New Moon is going to make a shitload of money its first weekend (like, more than The Dark Knight… maybe). But after that, its box office numbers are going to plummet faster than my attention span during this film.

Two reasons. First, every tween who is dying to see this movie will get it out of their system this weekend, after that they won’t need to see it again, which leads to point number two. New Moon will demand no repeat viewings or positive word of mouth because it is absolutely worthless. From start to finish, nothing… happens. I don’t even hate this movie, no not at all. Because there is simply nothing to hate. New Moon may even be better than its predecessor Twilight, I have no idea, because in the end, this franchise is as weightless as air.

Plot? Forgetaboutit. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year you know what a shitstorm of teenage frenzy Stephenie Meyer’s books have stirred up. But, I hate when people say they didn’t like a movie without explaining themselves, so let me cite a few specific reasons.

One of my biggest pet peeves with literary adaptations is when the director (Chris Weitz, American Pie, The Golden Compass, in this case) actually expects you to have not only seen the first movie, but read all the books as well. Just like the extremely overhyped Lord of the Rings films (yes, I do not like them, attack away) they do not stand on their own as individual films. I don’t need to see The Godfather to appreciate the awesome power of The Godfather Part II.

More bashing: who the hell do the kids in this movie think they are? It’s obvious that none of them have ever been in a relationship before, so why do the males walk around promising young women “if you are with me, I will never ever hurt you, we will be together forever” and shit like that? I don’t know, maybe 13-year-old girls buy into that, but when you’ve lived a tad bit longer you know that your first “serious” relationship probably won’t work out. So, before you consider turning yourself into a vampire and promising to spend the rest of your life with a dude, you may want to, I don’t know, play the field a little first. You’re a hot chick, Bella, go out and get laid. Oops, I meant kiss, hold hands, touch another’s face affectionately.

Holy shit this review got long, not my intention. To sum up: New Moon offers nothing; I actually think it’ll be a disappointment for loyal fans. But have no fear, another Twilight romp will be out next year. Instead of seeing this movie, stare at a wall for 130 minutes. That would be time better spent. D-

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Box

A creepy old dude with half his face burnt off shows up at your door. He offers you a box with a nice shinny red button on top. Push the button, you get one mil. But someone you don’t know will die. Don’t push the button, no hard feelings.

Pretty cool gimmick. Mix in a narcissistic, I’m-better-than-every-single-person-alive director (Richard Kelly), some horrible overacting (Cameron Diaz, James Marsden) and a narrative that makes absolutely no sense from one scene to the next and voila! you get The Box.

(sigh)

This year is turning into a real disappointment. Sure there are a few standouts, but the way 2009 is panning out, the Razzie Awards will have more films in the running than the Oscars. F

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pirate Radio

I don’t know. I mean… is it a sin to expect a decent movie based on its talented cast, hip trailer, and rockin’ soundtrack? My hopes weren’t even that damn high, I was just hoping for a good story to accompany the classic rock tracks. Jesus, what is wrong with 2009?

Because it’s a formality: the plot revolves around a ship anchored just off Britain circa 1966. Pop music is illegal to play, you see. So certain “pirate” ships broadcast this music for people all over the country to enjoy. The powers that be want to shut it down, of course. because too many people are enjoying it. True story. Cool concept. Rock ‘n roll.

So where does this go wrong? I’m not sure. Maybe its complete lack of narrative. Maybe in its lead character, a kid who got kicked out of school and is sent to the ship by his mother as punishment. Punishment? To drink, smoke dope and get laid all day at age 17. That’s punishment? Huh?

Maybe it’s when the lame who’s-my-daddy subplot gets introduced, by which point, you don’t even give a shit about any of the characters. So somehow, Pirate Radio plays like a bad Almost Famous meets an even worse Mamma Mia.

But even though the plot is lame, the music makes up for it… right? Not a chance. Put aside the fact that it’s the same songs you’ve heard thousands of times, but music in film is supposed to complement images evenly. Better put: the film simply isn’t good enough for this music. I’d rather skip this dud and create a playlist on my iTunes: Great Songs from that Shitty Movie. Hmmm. D

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2012

First big action scene: a limo narrowly escapes an earthquake swallowing Los Angeles. Second big action scene: a plane narrowly escapes a natural disaster. Third big action scene: a plane narrowly escapes a natural disaster. Fourth big action scene: a plane narrowly escapes a natural disaster. You following?

This is my issue with Hollywood clusterfucks of films. There… is… nothing… to… them. I’ve been accused, more than once, of not accepting blockbusters for what they are: mindless entertainment. But I disagree. Independence Day, the first film in which director Roland Emmerich destroyed the world, is great, cheesy fun. Get enough pizza and beer and Michael Bay’s The Rock is actually pretty damn cool. The Dark Knight, Jurassic Park, Iron Man; all exceptional action films.

But come on. 2012 is a farce, plain and simple. The action is excruciatingly repetitive, and resembles that of a high-quality video game. The acting is beyond horrible (Danny Glover as the President… really?), the climax is anti-climatic, and the running time (nearly 3 hours) will have you bored before the second act.

Emmerich said he doesn’t plan on destroying the world via film anymore. Yeah, right. Just like Michael Bay said he wasn’t going to do another Transformers farce. As I always say, with a movie like 2012 you know damn well what you’re getting yourself in to. So… if you’ve got three spare hours to numb your brain into oblivion, then by all means. D

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Fourth Kind

Originally, Paranormal Activity was going to be remade into a Hollywood feature film. Fortunately for all of us, it wasn’t. But if it was, I imagine it would look something like The Fourth Kind.

Okay, I have to give a little credit to director Olatunde Osunsanmi for trying his damndest to convince people that this movie is “real”. That it seamlessly mixes “real” footage with dramatized footage. That actress Milla Jovovich (as she tells the audience in the opening scene) is playing the “real” Dr. Abigail Tyler, who claims to have been briefly abducted by aliens in 2000.

So, yes, Osunsanmi does a good job intercutting in “real”, grainy, home-video footage with the pretty, steely Hollywood stuff. But come on. Seriously dude. Anyone with an internet connection can disprove this hoax via a simple Google search.

Okay, if it were real, what the hell kind of shrink would release footage of her patients levitating, breaking their backs, and screaming bloody murder… to a horror film crew? Also, wouldn’t we have seen the footage from the police camera that “caught” a UFO flying over a house on one of those WORLD’S CRAZIEST COP SIGHTINGS shows?

Clearly, I’m more concerned with bashing the film’s narrative technique than discussing its content. That’s for good reason, because, the content pretty much sucks. The “real” footage under-delivers because every time shit goes down the camera conveniently becomes fuzzy and distorted. So, basically, there is no payoff. The acting is as good as you’d expect (except by Will Patton, playing the Sherriff as a laughable caricature).

Those still suckling at the tit of Paranormal Activity, crazed for their next fix in horror fun, should skip The Fourth Kind. Maybe… maybe if the movie was only grainy, “real” footage it could’ve been creepy. Maybe. D

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats is just as bad as you would expect a movie titled The Men Who Stare at Goats to be. Which is a shame. With names like Clooney, Bridges and Spacey (10 Oscar nominations among them) it’s not unfair to expect something decent.

I’m wasting precious seconds of my life typing the next few sentences, but here is the plot. A reporter (Ewan McGregor) gets wind of a super-secret sect of the military, a group of soldiers who fight with their minds. They can walk through walls, turn invisible, put animals to sleep by thinking; real Jedi shit. McGregor goes to Iraq and meets up with Clooney, the main dude behind the Jedi mind tricks. Clooney is on a mission, I think. I don’t know. Jesus. This movie is so damn bad.

Honestly, I had no idea what was going on for most of the movie, and no I wasn’t tripping on acid like the characters do for a bulk of the film’s excruciating 93 minutes. Kevin Spacey shows up at some point, as a guy who is jealous of Clooney’s powers. But this is just pure, wasted talent.

I know why Clooney did it. The director, Grant Heslov, is Clooney’s production partner (Good Night and Good Luck) but you probably know Heslov best as the smart-ass CIA agent opposite Tom Arnold in True Lies. Either way, Heslov is saying nothing with his directorial debut.

I get satire, it’s actually one of my favorite comedy styles, but this is a mess. The film clearly wants to be compared to Dr. Strangelove but falls so flat that it’s nearly invisible. Perhaps I’m bashing too hard, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was actually excited about this movie. Having expectations shattered typically makes for a dreadful movie-going experience.

I’ll explain. I know Transformers 2 is going to be shit when I walk into the theatre. But a movie like Men Who Stare at Goats, with its witty trailer and powerful ensemble of actors, is the worst kind of film. You want it to be good, but it lets you down in every way. Because of that, this will surely be one of the very worst, most disappointing films of the year. F

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Antichrist

It all began in 1929 with Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou where we see a man slit a woman’s eyeball with a razor blade (actually a calf’s eye). Since then we’ve been given such brazen shock cinema milestones as Salò (Pasolini, Italian), The Night Porter (Cavani, Italian), Funny Games (Haneke, German), and Irréversible (Noé, French), but that’s just to name a few.

Hmm, no American directors there. That’s interesting. I may stretch a little to consider David Lynch’s Eraserhead, but that’s more surrealist than shock.

Each of these films are appalling, sure. But they’re also kind of brilliant, if you take a step back and consider the scope of film in general. However, a film isn’t poetic “art” just because it pushes the limits. The hipster-intellectual crowd may bow over backwords for a fresh slice of shock cinema, but just because a film has gratuitous sex and deplorable violence, doesn’t make it great, or even worthy of cult status.

Enter Antichrist, the next feasible step in Lars Von Trier’s personal shock factory. And may I say, the auteur behind bold, innovative films like Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville, has surely outdone himself this time.

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as a married couple who in a steamy, bravado prologue lose their infant son in a tragic accident. Gainsbourg blames herself as she falls deep into the wallows of grief. Dafoe, a professional shrink, steps in with his very odd, hands-on tactics to “correct” her sorrow.

All is good and mundane while the two work out their issues in their trendy loft apartment, but once they head to Eden, their cabin in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, the movie starts to seriously drift into delirium.

I’m not really sure how to describe the plot from there. Expect extremely slow-motion shots of a deer giving birth, talking animals, falling acorns, graphic masterbation, and a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence that would make any person squirm. By the end, I wasn’t really sure if the film was about anything in particular. As is the case with most shock cinema, Von Trier seems more interested in… shocking us, than delivering solid content.

But that argument goes both ways. On one hand, Antichrist deeply disturbed me. It is one, if not the, most gut wrenching movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. The violence gets over-the-top, sure, but it is definitely believable. On the other hand, Antichrist provokes some damn fine post-film chatter. There is a lot going on here, it just feels like Von Trier is the only one in on the joke.

So, all in all, I guess I can recommend this film. If for no other reason than the performances, both of which are brilliant (Gainsbourg won Best Actress at Cannes). But know what you’re getting yourself into. Antichrist is a test. A challenge. It just may not be one you’re willing to accept. B

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Afterschool

Whoa. Where do I begin? Afterschool, the super small indie that barely got a theatrical release, is a rare film that transcends a movie theatre screen (or a TV set) and knocks the wind right out of you. I watched this film via Comcast OnDemand because I liked its trippy preview. And damn am I glad I did.

Let’s get plot out of the way: a lonely teenager at a swanky private high school enrolls in an audio/video afterschool program. His first assignment is to create a nice promo video for the school. One day, shooting B-roll of a hallway, he videotapes the school’s two most popular girls dying from bad drugs. After, everyone has questions. The cops, the head master, the parents, the fellow students. Everyone.

So there's your brief dissection of the plot. But that isn’t really what the movie is about. No way.

Afterschool, better than any film from recent memory, successfully displays several pertinent teenage issues. Obsession with money, with drugs, with being popular, with getting laid. The need to feel wanted by your parents, be respected by your teachers, bend the truth for a little advancement, and so on. The film goes deeper, of course, touching on issues such as upper-class favoritism and the fascination (domination) of the internet over our youths.

While these themes may seem similar to other American-made films, I haven’t even started talking about how the movie is presneted. Its slow, deliberate beauty. Its delicate, off-kilter pace. Know it going in: this is an odd looking film. Young director Antonio Campos (he was 24 when he made it) often shoots out of focus, out of frame, out of mind. A face will be in extreme close-up, but we may only see them from the eyes up. Many shots are unbroken and extended, the camera lurking back and forth in conversation, never breaking away the tension. In writing, these shots sound annoying, but they aren’t at all. Campos has successfully found a way to deliver a simple story using unconventional methods. It’s Michael Haneke’s Caché, mixed with Christian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, mixed with Gas Van Sant’s Elephant. Pure indie bliss.

I’ve never heard of Campos or most of the actors in the film. But there isn’t one second of one performance that I did not completely believe. The film’s focus, Robert, is played by Ezra Miller, who gives one of the most haunting performances of the year. There’s a lot here, for both sexes, to identify with. Several times during the movie I thought to myself, “Wow, that is exactly how a 15-year-old kid thinks.” There are scenes that feel so personal that we actually feel like we are intruding. We are eavesdropping in on a conversation we aren’t supposed to hear, or an event we aren’t supposed to see.

You probably haven’t heard of Afterschool, and for good reason. It only made $3,000 at one New York theatre, it stars no one you know and it doesn’t have a scheduled DVD release date. This is a real shame, because this is one of the best movies of this or any year. Simply put: Afterschool is best, most realistic film about adolescence that I’ve ever seen. It’s an all-encompassing, unsettling, all together remarkable film that you’re likely to never see. If you have OnDemand, rent it. You won’t be sorry. This will be in my Top 10 of 2009. A+

Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself

I can’t even begin to describe how god awful this movie is. With its atrociously over-the-top acting, its horribly clunky editing and its amateurish dialogue, as is evident in the following passage, which took place during the film’s climax:

Man: I love you.
Woman: You mean like a buddy? Like a pal?
Man: No, I don’t want to make love to my buddies. I’m in love with you. I’m ready to love you but you have to be ready to give it back the right way.
Woman: I want to learn how to love the right way, will you show me?
Man: Yes, I will show you.

I respect Tyler Perry, I really do. He’s made like 40 movies in the past seven years, and asserted himself as the forefront filmmaker of African American-produced films.

But the fact that Entertainment Weekly called I Can Do Bad All By Myself Perry’s best film yet is beyond me. This is the first Perry film I’ve seen and likely the last. About 20 minutes into the movie I stated keeping track of all the ridiculous, laughable scenes. After a half hour, I had completely lost track. With a record like that it makes it all too easy to give this film a quick, hard F.