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November 25, 2009 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-11-25

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 - 5

Rihanna's dark

A picture of tragedy.

Touching heartbreak

The letdowns never stop
coming in 'Precious,' but it's
a treasure nonetheless
Daily Film Editor
There's a lot "Precious" has going against it
before you've even sat down to watch the film.
For starters, there's the
mind-numbingly obvious
title (changed from the origi-
nal "Push") that smacks you
over the head with its bitter
irony - an abused girl named BaSed on the
"Precious" - ho ho ho. Novel'Push'
And then there's the story,
which piles tragedy after by SaPPhre
tragedy on top of the poor At Showcase
main character (black Har- Lionsgate
lem teenager Precious Jones)
to the point where viewers
will practically need to pop a bottle of Prozac
before even sitting down to watch the thing.
Precious is 16 years old, and she's pregnant
with her second child. And the father of the
child is her own father - he raped her. And her
first child has Down syndrome. And her mother
assaults and torments her night and day. And
they live on welfare checks. And she just got
kicked out of high school. '
There's just too much sad going on all at once,
almost to a parodic extreme - bordering on
comedian Dave Chappelle's description of the
ghetto as a place where babies sell weed on the
streets. "Well, OK," you'll say to yourself during

the film's deliberately crude, misspelled open-
ing credits. "Maybe this is going to be exactly
the kind of melodrama I expected from a movie
presented by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry."
But it's not. "Precious" gets to you in ways
you don't expect. The film finds your emo-
tional center by investing so much in its char-
acters that they virtually become real - yes,
even Precious's monster of a mother, played
with uncharacteristic fierceness by Mo'Nique
("Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins"), an actress
who usually resigns herself to playing the "fat
girl" in comedies. The anger and insanity of
her character is often over-the-top, but it never
seems like she's acting. Her dialogue flows
naturally and her nervous breakdowns feel dis-
turbingly intimate.
"Precious" reallybelongs to GaboureySidibe,
though. In her lead role as Precious, the new-
comer could have easily undersold or oversold
her struggle to succeed in the world, either of
which would ihave resulted in an unmitigated
cinematic disaster. Miraculously, this isn't the
case. Precious clearly has a tough soul, and
Sidibe communicates this to an astonishing
degree. Over the course of the film, she finds her
way to an alternative education center led by a
saintly teacher (Paula Patton, "Swing Vote"), in
which her success and newfound relationships
help her forge a new path of hope ina less obvi-
ous and cheesy way than one would expect.
Director Lee Daniels's ("Shadowboxer")
stylized approach to the story is surprising but
mostly effective. There are fantasy scenes when
Precious imagines herself as the star of BET
music videos, and while these can get a little too
obvious with their message, Daniels reserves
them for key moments. Still, Daniels adds other

great touches that reveal everything about Pre-
cious that she's not saying out loud: one brief
sequence shows her looking into a mirror, with
a skinny white girl looking back.
The script, by first-timer Geoffrey Fletcher,
also transcends the well-worn ghetto-fabulous
redemption story by keeping the audience on
a tight, suspenseful leash, always concerned
with where these characters are heading next.
Fletcher has a great instinct for dialogue, so
much so that it's hard to pinpoint what he wrote
and what the actors improvised. Regardless,
the structures of the scenes are all his, and he
demonstrates a strong understanding of dra-
matic flow.
In the film, Precious's mother puts on an act
with her disabled child to fool a social worker
into handing them more welfare checks. The
kids at the alternative school introduce them-
selves and joke about each other's stereotypes.
Precious notes via voice-over that her teacher
talks like "TV channels I don't watch." These-
telling moments help create incredibly three-
dimensional characters -- hyper-realistic souls
who genuinely don't know how-to handle lih
situations they're in.
By the end, though, it's hard to say whether
the film's brought you up enough after bringing
you down so far. Even toward the end, awful
new acts of misfortune continue to befall the
protagonist. Was quite this much doom and
gloom necessary to tell the story? Maybe it's a
success - we're with the characters the whole
way through, never throwing up our arms in
revulsion. Still, this movie has the power to
reach out and touch you. And that's so rare
these days that "Precious" is something that
should be treasured.

Daily Arts Writer
If 2007's breakthrough hit
Good Girl Gone
Bad positioned
old Rihanna as
a carefree pop
star, her newest Rated R
release effec- Def Jam
tively blows
persona. With Rated R, the Bar-
badian artist's fourth full-length
studio effort, Rihanna eschews
the feel-good "Umbrella"-style
hits that made her an industry
favorite, instead choosing to pur-
sue a darker - and arguably more
mature - sound. While this latest
effort clearly marks a new era in
the singer's performing career, it
seems to be less accessible than
her preceding efforts and is prob-
ably less likely to make an indeli-
ble mark on American pop music.
Considering the year Rihanna
has had, it isn't surprising to see
the star shedding her upbeat,
radio-friendly exterior for a more
somber demeanor. The artist
first began recording songs for
Rated R in early 2009, soon after
the tumultuous fallout from her
hyper-public assault at the hands
of then-boyfriend Chris Brown.
Several of the album's collabo-
rators have stated that the singer
requested a darker edge for her
new album. This moody feel is
evident on the album's first single
"Russian Roulette," a somber,
beat-driven ballad that is strik-
ingly different from any single
Rihanna has released before.
Chuck Harmony, who produced
the track, said the two purpose-
fully pursued "something a little
darker, something a little edgier,
something a little more morbid"
for the lead single.
The ballad, which employs
reckless gunplay as a not-so-
subtle metaphor'for' trbubled
relationship, achieves its seem-
ingly morbid intent but in turn
sacrifices the singer's knack
for easily digestible dance-pop
anthems. While it's likely that
Rihanna released the track as a
bold attempt to both shock fans
and introduce them to her newer,
darker sound, the single is more
likely to push away devotees from
her "Disturbia" era than to wel-
come new listeners into the fold.
The album as a whole follows
the framework set by its lead

single, as Rihanna channels her
inner emo side with brooding bal-
lads and truly tragic references to
her past relationship with Brown.
On the bleak, piano-driven "Stu-
pid In Love," Rihanna candidly
recounts her past love life and
repeatedly calls herself "stupid"
throughout the song's chorus.
It's more than a little unsettling
when she belts in her pitch-per-
fect voice, "Don't understand
it / blood on your hands / And
still you insist on trying to tell
me lies." By relying on the shock
value of her publicly abusive ex-
relationship, Rihanna manages
to raise eyebrows, but her taste is
At times, Rated R shows
glimpses of the power jams that
made Rihanna a renowned pop
hit-maker. The Stargate-pro-
duced "Rude Boy" is the closest
the album gets to a bona fide club
rager. "Rockstar 101," which fea-
tures a guitar cameo by Slash, is
another beat-heavy banger with
radio potential. The song gives
Rihanna the edge she is looking
for, although it seems a little out-
Eschewing pop
for brooding
bAt-s and ballads.
of-place when the singer repeat-
edly refers to herself as a "rock
star" and a "big shit talker."
one of the album's more prom-
ising cuts is "G4L" (produced by
Chase & Status), a synth-driven
wonder that showcases Rihan-
na's more macabre side, boasting
repeated references to gangsters
and guns without compromising
her pop sensibility. By promot-
ing strong beats over downtrod-
den lyrics, the song encapsulates
the qualitiesthatdade Rihanna a
star, but still highlights her new-
est album's shortcomings.
With a not-so-homogenous
mix of Whitney Houston-style
ballads and the occasional quirky
dance beat, Rihanna's latest is a
definite turn from the poppy club
hits that have defined her career
thus far. Although the singer had
hoped to strengthen her image
as a dark and brooding pop tart,
Rated R proves the songstress
is better suited to vocalizing
demurely about umbrellas.

Stretching way out on a'Vacation'

E-mail join.arts@umich.edu for
information on applying.

By MIKE KUNTZ the record, credited as "Birds"
DailyArts Writer in the liner notes, could easily
be mistaken for astonishing field
For us Midwesterners, the jun- recordings. In actuality, friend
gle might sound DeDe Sampaio performed each
like a pretty *** squawk himself from the floor of a
ominous place grain silo. The result is startlingly
- with nature On Fillmore authentic: Each screech has such
left to its own Endless a sense of proximity and imme-
devices, "wild" Vacation diacy that the oddly soothing
takes on a whole feeling of being surrounded on all
new meaning. It Dead Oceans sides by beasts, bugs and birds is
might not be the inevitable.
first place you would want to spend Establishing a mood-driven,
a vacation either, as the rainforest minimalist feel right off the
is a far cry from sandy beaches and bat, opener "Checking In" sets a
sunshine, let alone the city. relaxed tone with a few minutes
Endless Vacation, the third of prolonged laughter over mobile,
widely released album from Chi- jazzy basslines and sparse vibra-
cago duo On Fillmore, certainly phone. The comparitively driving
evokes the Amazon more than "Master Moon" has a more sin-
the Midwest, using a wealth of ister feel, introducing Sampaio's
Tropicalia-inspired freeform jazz cacophony of bird-calls for added
and musique concrete. The band tension. The title track, appropri-
pairs percussionist Glenn Kotche ately enough, is the longest on the
(of Wilco) with bassist Darin record, with junkyard percussion
Gray. They met through Chicago and seemingly random xylophone
scenester Jim O'Rourke in 2000. strikes slowly building over the
Kotche and Gray found similari- course of its 12 minutes.
ties in their classical training and Because the songs are primar-
free jazz affinities, and formed On ily ambience-focused, they tend
Fillmore as an outlet for the more not to stand out on their own
experimental ideas their day jobs - the album is more representa-
wouldn't allow. tive of a unified aesthetic, mood
While side projects have a ten- or location than a collection of
dency to be swept under the rug in singular tracks. The musical ano-
comparison to their parent bands nymity from track to track, while
- in this case, avant-pop-rock jug- slightly homogenizing, ultimately
gernaut Wilco - these projects aids the record in its primary
tend tobemore meditative, sprawl- goal: getting you lost inside of
ing and experimental as a result. It it. And, on these grounds, it suc-
seems appropriate to note, then, ceeds.
that On Fillmore's latest release, Kotche is known for experi-
Endless Vacation, sounds nothing menting with non-traditional
like Wilco - this is an experimen- percussion, and it shows here -
tal jazz record immersed in the in addition to using the standard
sounds of the wild. set of toms, cymbals and snare,
The animal sounds that adorn Kotche employs two octaves of

paio's fe

s, a gong and something own world that, like the jungles it
a fruit basket, among seems to genuinely conjure, can
us other homemade con- be quite frightening. Where the
s. His latest solo release, wild things are, indeed.
even featured an army of Through its seven tracks of
g crickets. exploratory, occasionally aimless
jazz composition, Endless Vaca-
tion is a break from the daily grind
for for its creators - Kotche, who has
Ulte wlild for been touring relentlessly with
Wilco in support of last summer's
dwesterners. Wilco (The Album), has certainly
had his hands full. More than
anything, the record is a vacation
tded Vacation uses found from form, pop-oriented arrange-
from nature to an even ments and expectation, as Gray
extent than on Kotche's and Kotche tune out the noise and
s work, employing Sam- static of the city in favor of the
ral utterances to create its freedom of the wild.

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