Tower Heist (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a Wall Street kingpin and the owner of a posh high-rise condominium, was arrested for fraud which left Josh (Ben Stiller), the building manager, and the rest of his staff shocked and angry. It turned out that Shaw invested their pensions in various schemes and lost it all. Eventually, though, an idea scurried into Josh’s head. There was a safe in Shaw’s penthouse which contained about twenty million dollars. With the help of Charlie (Casey Affleck), Josh’ brother-in-law, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), one of the residents who was recently bankrupt, Dev’Reaux (Michael Peña), the establishment’s recent hire, and Slide (Eddie Murphy), one of Josh’ neighbor with a criminal background, they could purloin the money and distribute it to the staff. “Tower Heist,” directed by Brett Ratner, was uneven in tone and pacing with strong but often inconsistent laughs. The exposition was slow but necessary because it allowed us to see Josh’ pride in his work. As a building manager, he was more than a guy in a suit who bossed people around. He was determined to perform his job well. In order to be successful in his occupation, he needed to be liked which meant that he was required to get to know the residents beyond their superficial needs and to have a certain insight in terms of his co-workers’ personal lives. Since he was familiar to details and habits, when he did eventually decide to plot the heist, we were able to believe that he could succeed. The funniest parts of the picture were found in the middle prior to the actual break-in. In one of the scenes, Slide was not convinced that Josh and his friends would be able to go through with the heist. In order to be convinced, he assigned the tyro thieves to shoplift fifty dollars worth of items at the mall. There was joy and energy in the way each of the characters had to summon the courage to take something without paying for it. I just lost it when the store attendant walked away to get a catalogue and Charlie tried to pick up a pair of earrings with his mouth. I’ve never stolen anything from a store so I think that if I was dared to do it, I’d make a mess of things out of anxiety. Another very funny scene was a discussion about lesbians and why their breasts were better than heterosexual women’s. Just when I expected that the screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson might turn mean-spirited, I was surprised that there was always a light-heartedness in the material. What didn’t work for me were the more serious scenes. In a more solemn movie about a person losing his entire savings, Lester (Stephen Henderson), the hotel’s doorkeeper, walking toward a moving train and trying to jump in front of it would have had more emotional impact. When the picture attempted to be more serious, it felt rather cheap. Like the most engaging heist movies, getting to the object of interest was the easy part. There was a running theme about playing chess. When Josh and company broke into the building, I thought it was more like watching people playing checkers–while some strategy was involved, it was straightforward. I was underwhelmed. The nearly impossible task was getting away with it. It was the point where, finally, I felt like I was watching a chess game. There were always unforeseen forces that threatened to destroy the operation. I wish there were more scenes of Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), one of the hotel’s cleaning ladies, being sassy and having her way with men. “Tower Heist” gave a few laugh-out-loud moments but it could have been more snarky, therefore funnier. Poke fun of the more improbable physics employed, for instance. By being a step ahead of the audience who think they know better, the picture can appear smarter and get the last laugh.
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
I find it an uncommon experience to watch a movie that really gets involved with my emotions, but it’s rare that I watch a movie that has the ability to completely transport me in its reality. Directed by Lee Daniels, “Precious” tells the story of an pregnant, obese, illiterate African-American teenager (Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe) who has grown accustomed to the physical and emotional abuse inflicted by her mother (Mo’Nique) and how she eventually found strength inside of her to stand up and take her life in a positive direction. A few people who genuinely took interest in Precious were Paula Patton as the school teacher, Mariah Carey as one of the people who works for the welfare system, and Lenny Kravitz as a male nurse who took care of her after she had her second baby.
I have to admit that I choose to ignore or even actively stay away from people like Precious, partly due to fear since she came from a terrible neighborhood and partly due to how she presented herself: very quiet yet volatile and someone that seemed like she had no interest in taking care of herself. That stereotype that I often rely on doesn’t come consciously to me anymore and it was nice, through watching this film, to be reminded that despite physical appearances, everyone has a surprising (and even touching) story to tell, a story that transcends all the stigma and the pain that a person shows and hides. Even though the subject matter of this film was depressing, it found enough moments to insert not just amusing lines and moments but actual hopes and dreams of the lead character’s. Such scenes illustrated that although Precious didn’t like herself (when she looks in the mirror, she sees a completely different person–Caucasian, skinny, happy), she wanted to break out from her violent living environment and ultimately be loved for who she is and what she has to offer.
I thought the scenes of physical abuse from her father were done in a sensitive and insightful way. Instead of actually showing us the act, I admired how the picture chose to dissociate itself from the scene as when Precious would dissociate herself from the experience and think shiny, happy thoughts. From what I learned in Psychology, rape victims, especially those people who were raped ever since they were children, dissociate their minds from their bodies as a defense mechanism. So I thought the film’s craft was spot-on. Mo’Nique’s character was beyond cruel but just when I thought she was a complete monster, the movie shows us that she does indeed have a heart. It’s just that she became angry and bitter over the years because of how she interpreted certain events and how she saw certain realities. Again, I saw this through a psychological lens so her reaction made sense to me even though I do not agree with the way transfered all her frustration and anger (that should have been directed to her husband and herself) to her only daughter. Mo’Nique has been getting a lot of strong Oscar buzz for Best Actress and I believe she should be nominated because out of the many movies I’ve seen in 2009, her performance stands out by a mile.
The reason why I consider “Precious” one of the strongest movies of 2009 is because, despite its gloomy premise, it’s ultimately a very inspiring story about a seemingly hopeless girl from Harlem who chose to break the chains of abuse and find an alternative path so that she could grow as a person and maybe even reach her potential. This is a great film to show to kids from the poorer neighborhoods because it might give them enough courage to speak out and discover a role model that they might not have in their respective homes. It’s been a while since I saw people actually crying in the movies and people talking about it right when we were walking out of the theaters. Even though I saw this film alone (For some reason, I almost always watch the best films of the year by myself), I felt connected with the world and wanting to embrace everyone in it.