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Cherdonna & Lou a diamond in the rough
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Rufus Wainwright's electric performance at Benaroya Hall
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Albee's poetic Zoo Story joined by prequel
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Great cast in intriguing Bone Portraits
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Seattle burlesque performer fundraiser
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A Dyke About Town: Met broadcast and Sweet Cruise
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Opus playwright Michael Hollinger
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Seattle Symphony performance a rich Russian meal
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Cappella Romana's exciting, unfamiliar music
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Precious director Lee Daniels' twisted tale
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Fourth Kind leaves one questioning the skies
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John/Joel, KISS, Clarkson all arrive in November
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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PNB stages 'Director's Choice,' Rep opens Opus
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Deep Inside Hollywood - Romeo San Vicente
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Book Marks
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Rufus Wainwright plays Benaroya Hall - 'One of the great talents of his generation'
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Precious director Lee Daniels' twisted tale
by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

Precious, Based on
the Novel 'Push'
by Sapphire
Opening November 13


Lee Daniels, the out - and outspoken - producer and director, sat down to discuss his searing new film, Precious, Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire.

Dressed in a bright yellow shirt and blue jeans, he emoted and effused about being a Queer filmmaker.

He recounted a particular exchange that gets his blood flowing, possibly boiling, "A very powerful Hollywood producer told me [about Precious], 'You can tell a Gay man made this movie.'" Daniels responded to the comment brashly. "It was a complement, I think," adding another, more sarcastic "I think!" to further emphasize his point. "All of my films have a Queer sensibility, because my fingerprints are all over them."

From Monster's Ball and The Woodsman, which he produced, to his directorial debut, Shadowboxer, Daniels' films are edgy, extraordinary, and frequently over-the-top.

Precious is all of these things. The story concerns an illiterate, pregnant for the second time (by her father) African American teenager named Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe), who is mentored by a Lesbian teacher. Full of wild, tense, emotional moments and dazzling performances, the film has won awards in Sundance and Toronto. Mo'Nique is already garnering Oscar buzz for her role as Precious' abusive mother, Mary, and Sidibe is a strong contender for a nomination as well.

While Precious, along with the films he's produced, received accolades, his directorial debut, Shadowboxer - which starred Helen Mirren as a dying hitwoman in love with her stepson (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) - received an almost uniformly negative reaction from critics.

"Bastards! Bastards!" Daniels cried. "That's my baby, too. I love my baby!" He gets himself under control, and continued, "I think that people were expecting something different from me after Monster's Ball and The Woodsman. Precious goes back to that world. But for me, Shadowboxer was a fucking party. I have Dame Vivienne Westwood in to costume my movie in Philadelphia. C'mon! I have Dame Helen Mirren! I've got Macy Gray&."

As he recalled the film, he stops himself, and admitted, "I think I'm really humbled by the experience of Shadowboxer, because I never got a bad review ever. I grew up. That [film] made me grow up, and I needed that as a filmmaker. I had no perspective, except from the other two films I produced."

Daniels more than answers his critics with his new film, Precious, something he wanted to bring to the screen even before he made Monster's Ball. Recalling the incendiary response the book had upon publication, the filmmaker said, "I stalked Sapphire for 10 years. Her book is a piece of brilliance. My reaction to it was guttural, absolutely guttural. Why I wanted to do this was to say, 'Guess what? The hero is a Lesbian!'"

Daniels captures the very essence of the novel on screen. Viewers can smell the bucket of chicken Precious steals in one scene, or the mustiness of the hallways and apartments where the characters eke out their lives. The film features harsh scenes of Precious being raped by her father as well as flights of fancy such as one in which Precious and Mary enact an homage to Two Women. The sequence, shot in black and white, and featuring the actresses speaking Italian, is a highlight.

"That was really funny," recounted Sidibe, in a separate phone interview. "We had three weeks of Italian training and not once did Mo'Nique say the lines correctly - until the camera rolled. We did two takes, the one in the film, and one for safety."

Daniels deflected criticism about this scene as well. "Somebody said to me, 'Why would they be watching Two Women," and I said, "Because I am watching Two Women, and it's my movie. You're in my world!" He calmed down, and adds, "I thought it was so truthful - so in the moment."

The scene is truthful, and it is important in establishing the universality of these women struggling against oppression. How Sophia Loren and Eleonora Brown fared in World War II Italy is not that far removed from Mary's and Precious' experiences in Harlem, 1987.

And it is not that far removed from Daniels' experience. He grew up in southwest Philadelphia, where he says there was "zero tolerance" for Gays.

He recalled, "I was beat up, and I went away to a white world that was more tolerant [of homosexuality]. I don't want to know what I would have become if I'd stayed where I was. In our culture, homosexuality is so bashed, and I think that's what fucked me up." Parallels to Precious' situation are entirely intentional.

In contrast, while Sidibe insisted that she can identify and empathize with her screen persona, she claimed to be nothing like the character she portrays, "I felt like I knew Precious. She was such a real person to me. What makes her story universal is that she's been ignored, neglected. I've felt that more times than I care to count in my life, but I've not been through what she's been through. [Lee] reminded me that we're getting a peek into her life. She can't be completely sad or pathetic. It's just a Tuesday for her. It's a bad day, but they've all been bad days."

The student turned actress used her knowledge from being a psychology major to inform her character. Sidibe has always been interested in what she called, "the anatomy of a victim and victimizer." In the film, Precious' body language is very telling, and the actress conveys more with a silent squint than with a whole page of dialogue.

Daniels has nothing but praise for his cast. He deemed Sidibe's performance "phenomenal," and insisted that Mo'Nique is equally revelatory in her role - especially when she gives an astonishing speech at the film's end. Daniels has Mo'Nique as Mary sporting Whatever Happened to Baby Jane powder on her face in that scene. He remembered informing her, "Mary's going out in public, honey. She has to put powder on her face!" If the actress was initially reluctant, the moment pays off fabulously.

The filmmaker explained his theory why Mo'Nique is able to surprise viewers with her dramatic talents. "Comedians have a third eye - they don't see the world the way ordinary actors, or people, do. They are able to take a character and really twist the fuck out of them. Jim Carrey does it. Richard Pryor did it in Lady Sings the Blues."

And yet Daniels, as a Gay man, has the same ability to twist a character or a story and make it relatable. With Precious, he does an extraordinary job - and Daniels will fiercely debate anyone who argues with that.

© 2009 Gary M. Kramer


Fourth Kind leaves one questioning the skies
by Rajkhet Dirzhud-Rashid - SGN A&E Writer

The Fourth Kind
Now Playing


One either believes there's a government conspiracy to cover up the appearance of alien craft and that people are seeing things that aren't weather balloons or high-powered Air Force planes, or one doesn't. I'm not sure the new Mila Jovovich film The Fourth Kind (in which lovely Mila gives perhaps her most heart-wrenching performance as a psychologist determined to find out what really happened to her husband) will do anything to make non-believers into believers.

The title refers to the kind of alien encounter where not only contact is made (which is the "third kind," from the Steven Spielberg movie), but where the innocent victim is taken aboard an alien craft and horrible things are done to them. There's lots of "sciencey" footage that is supposedly based on actual events that happened in Nome, Alaska, in October 2000, and real interviews with patients Dr. Abigail Tyler (played by Jovovich in the film) questioned in her hope to discover what was behind Nome's high disappearance rate.

Dr. Tyler, in sepia-colored footage, looks like something as horrible as alien probing and egg harvesting (what most people who have supposedly been abducted report) has happened to her. Her eyes remain dead and resigned, a few tears leaking out as she recounts how her reputation is ruined, her children have been taken away, and the town sheriff - a touchy, unhappy man (Will Patton) who just wants people to stop dying on his watch - has charged her with murder.

"I don't know what's going on here, but people die when they're around you," he spits at her after one of her patients undergoes hypnosis, then blows his whole family and himself away, and another ends up paralyzed from the neck down in the middle of being hypnotized by Dr. Tyler. And though she begs him to be compassionate - after all, they never found her husband's killer and he was murdered (or something) right beside her - but the sheriff is resolute and decides to take her son away after her daughter goes missing. It doesn't help that her son sides with the sheriff on this unhappy occasion.

At the beginning and end of the movie are Jovovich and the director (newcomer Olatunde Osunsanmi) saying "you'll decide for yourself," but this does nothing but obscure what is presented as factual. Still, as someone who has wondered what's out there, and has seen things in the sky that couldn't be explained (and who might have had a real-life encounter, according to my ex, on a deserted Wisconsin road back in the '70s), the film does chill and some of the footage is a bit scary, like Jovovich as Tyler screaming under the hypnosis done by her friend, a fellow psychologist whose name is not given (played by Elias Koteas). Her rising off the bed in archival footage and supposedly being "abducted" is pretty creepy, too.

Let's put it this way: if you're a believer in all things UFO and a conspiracy theorist, this film might make you salivate a bit. If you're a skeptic, all The Fourth Kind will do is confirm how improbable alien abduction is, though it still might get you wondering why the aliens always do things in isolated areas, to people like Tyler and the other folks in this film. If anything, it's a pretty scary movie and I recommend it for that reason alone, pseudo-science and sketchy footage aside.









 
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