Sunday, December 13, 2009

A day at the shore

I became aware of the movie "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" not because of its reviews or Oprah Winfrey sponsorship, but because of its inexplicably long name, which really stands out when you're browsing

After learning that the movie has quite a high fresh rating, I decided to check it out. I knew virtually nothing about it except that, according to one Rotten Tomatoes snippet, it offers a grim but uplifting portrait of a poor black girl.

Two hours later: Wow. What a movie. Directed by Lee Daniels, it's at times terrifying, often disturbing, and ultimately, pretty reassuring. If you can stomach upsetting pictures of domestic violence, I highly recommend it.

Set in Harlem, the story follows Claireece (Gabourey Sidibe), or Precious, an obese, dark-skinned 16-year-old who looks in the mirror and imagines that she's a slim white girl. She lives in poverty with a chain-smoking mother, Mary (Mo'Nique), who occasionally emerges from a TV-watching lethargy to beat Precious, berate her, and throw things at her. As the movie opens, we learn that Precious is pregnant with her second child by her own father, who has repeatedly raped her. This fact seems to incite particular violence in Mary, who sees Precious as a conniving other woman. Precious is suspended from school, but a concerned administrator persuades her to enroll in an alternative school.

This alternative school is where Precious finds solid ground. Here, she meets Blu Rain (Paula Patton), a beautiful English teacher who exudes serenity and, among other things, teaches Precious to read (starting with an idyllic-sounding story, "A Day at the Shore"). The other girls in the class are not 100% welcoming at first, but they evolve into a family of sorts. As the story progresses, other comforting faces show up in the form of a nurse's aide (Lenny Kravitz), a tough but kind social worker (an unrecognizable, very good Mariah Carey), and the school's secretary (Sherri Shepherd).

At times the movie's happy scenes seem a bit pat, but overall the film succeeds, largely because of its strong performances and its uncompromising portrayal of the place that Precious comes from. "Precious" features scenes as scary as any I've seen on film — the movie is truly not for the faint of heart. But you have to respect a story that's willing to go in some of the places this one does. For me, a lot of credit goes to screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher and to Sidibe. Sidibe plays Precious with a gravel-voiced, unlikely strength, one infused with occasional lines of ragged poetry ("The other day I cried," she says in a voice over. "I felt stupid. But you know what? Fuck that day. That's why God or whoever makes new days.")

After watching the film, I learned a little more about the book and was slightly disappointed to learn that it wasn't penned by a "Precious" figure. I say this because there is a scene in the film, a slightly heavy-handed one, where Miss Rain vigorously urges Precious to write about her problems. I wondered whether such instruction led a real-life troubled student to create this story. Rather, the author, Sapphire, apparently was a teacher — more of a Blu Rain — who knew girls like Precious.

Whatever the source of the story, it is one that stays with you. It was heavily on my mind for some time after I watched it, especially that afternoon. When I came out of the theater, I walked for a while, then ducked out of the cold into the Finagle-A-Bagel outside Copley Square. It was only 5 p.m. but already dark outside. Perched at an upstairs window, I had a nice view of the Hancock tower and everything in its wake: the lights of the square, freshly decorated for the holidays, the crowded sidewalks, and the headlights inching along Boylston Street.

Gazing at this scene, I found myself wondering about the mood of the whole city just at that moment. I wondered: if right now I knew the mind of every single person in Boston, how much happiness would I see? How many people would be in perfect comfort, perhaps looking forward to a privileged evening — an early holiday party, or a date with an adoring partner? How many would be scared? How many disheartened? How many drifting along numbly? I guess it's not unusual to wonder things like that, but "Precious" especially made my mind move in that direction. I pass so many people in the city about whom I'll never know anything. How many nurse anguish like that of Precious? How many will find their way out? At the risk of sounding cheesy, I hope that this movie helps, by reminding people to treat others with compassion.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tom, get us out of here

Several years ago, a friend gave me a blank book that I never got around to using, probably because it's too small for writing comfortably in for long periods of time. But fortunately it was within grabbing distance a few months ago while I was watching an episode of "Star Trek: Voyager" that featured a line of dialogue so astonishingly cheesy, I had to record it right away. And so a tradition was born.

This book is now filled with only the most superlative dialogue from "Voyager" — the most melodramatic, the most pseudo-scientific, and, yes, the most actually eloquent.

I just finished watching the last season of "Voyager" and, in preparation for writing a review of the whole series to follow up on an earlier review I did, I am now going to list my favorite of these quotations.

My exercise started with "Demon" — a show from the fourth season, just a bit past the halfway mark of the series — so it won't include any gems you might have noticed from earlier episodes.

As a sidenote, you can tell from my list which characters ultimately became the focus of the series. Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) notwithstanding, the pseudo-humans were really highlighted, mainly Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), the part-cybernetic woman rescued from the Borg, and the Doctor (Robert Picardo), the hologram created in the image of a human. Vulcan Tuvok (Tim Russ), my favorite character, also had some good dialogue.

Here are the quotations:

"I'm having trouble with the nature of individuality." — Seven, to Janeway (from "Latent Image").

"Proposing the same flawed strategy over and over again will not make it more effective, Ensign." — Tuvok, to Harry Kim (from "Extreme Risk").

"With all of these new personalities floating around, it's a shame we can't find one for you." — The Doctor, to Tuvok (from "Infinite Regress").

"Remember the temporal prime directive. ... Try to avoid time travel." — Lieutenant Ducane, to Janeway (from "Relativity").

"Oh, the almighty temporal prime directive. Take my advice, it's less of a headache if you just ignore it." — Admiral Janeway, to her younger self (from "Endgame").

"I ended up stranded in the late 20th century. Have you ever been to that time frame? ... I don't recommend it." — Colonel Braxton, to Seven (from "Relativity").

"Dating is a poor means of interaction." — Seven, to the Doctor (from "Someone to Watch Over Me").

"Fortunately, I was able to create a chroniton-infused serum that brought you back into temporal alignment." — The Doctor, to Chakotay (from "Shattered").

"Like most time paradoxes, it's implausible, but not necessarily illogical." — Tuvok (from "Relativity").

"A soldier and a philosopher. Your intelligence file doesn't do you justice." — Janeway, to Chakotay (from "Shattered").

"I told Lieutenant Torres that your saxophone playing reminded me of a wounded targ. I should have put it more delicately!" — The Doctor to Harry Kim (from "Renaissance Man").

"I am familiar with human banter. Yours is crude and predictable." — Seven to Maxwell Burke (from "Equinox").

"Do you have any idea how inappropriate it is to follow your therapist on vacation?" — Deanna Troi, to Reg Barclay (from "Inside Man").

"It looks like a simple case of space sickness. ... It happens to everyone." — The Doctor, to Janeway (from "Relativity").

"Perhaps there is something to be said for assimilation after all." — Seven, on the merits of small talk and other human courtship rituals (from "Someone to Watch Over Me").

"You are an imposter. Admiral Janeway visits on Sunday. Today is Thursday. Logic dictates that you are not who you claim to be." — Tuvok, to Admiral Janeway (from "Endgame").

"As the Ferengi say, a good lie is easier to believe than the truth." — Janeway (from "Shattered").

"When you take me from the Borg, you're going to tell me that part of being human is learning to trust. Trust me, now." — Seven, to Janeway (from "Relativity").

"Did he ever stop being a doctor? ... I can't stop being a weapon." — The intelligent bomb, speaking through the Doctor's holomatrix, to Harry Kim (from "Warhead").

"My courage is insufficient." — Seven (from "Infinite Regress").

"Do what all good pragmatists do ... compromise." — The Borg Queen, to Admiral Janeway (from "Endgame").

"If you don't like the way I do things, I can leave you on the nearest habitable planet." — Janeway, to a Hirogen aboard Voyager (from "Flesh and Blood").

"Tom, get us out of here." — Janeway, to helmsman Tom Paris, in too many episodes to list!

"Computer, delete audience." — Tom Paris, referring to the other people in a holographic movie theater (from "Repression").

"Fun will now commence." — Seven, to a group of children she is teaching (from "Ashes to Ashes").

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Practical feast

I recently joined a blog called Monday Artday, where the host issues a one-word challenge each week, and the participants draw an interpretation of it. This week's challenge is "feast," and my entry is below.

For the purpose of preparing for this drawing, I took my camera to the office every day this week so I could get snapshots of people eating at their desks — but it never worked out. I kept thinking I should at least take a snapshot of the back of my computer (at home I only have a laptop), but I didn't even do that!

So this was done without a model of the sort of pose I wanted, which is why she's just sort of sitting there. I kind of wanted her to be interacting more with the can of Coke or the lo mein, but I'm not good enough at drawing hands to wing it with something like that. So instead she's staring at her monitor like a really good worker. That is supposed to be a fortune cookie in her hand, at least.

Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.