Rated PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language. Running time: 158 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Cataclysmic disaster and apocalyptic doom, as foretold by Hollywood, have a way of bringing together broken families, revealing the unseen heroism of deadbeat dads and neatly disposing of their rivals.
This, too, is the micro-level drama of "2012," the latest nihilistic disaster flick to revel in the destruction of the planet. John Cusack plays the castoff father (Jackson Curtis), a failed novelist getting by as a limo driver. We greet him as he rolls out of bed, spilling his copy of "Moby Dick" as he rushes out the door, disheveled and late for a camping trip with his kids.
His ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet), has shacked up with a plastic surgeon named Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy) who drives a Porsche, an obvious clue that we're not meant to like him.
When the apocalypse comes, Gordon, for a time, proves quite useful as an amateur pilot. But it's no spoiler to say Gordon is not long for this world — after all, he stands in the way of Jackson's redemption.
The Curtis family may be our ground-level protagonists in "2012," but the ground is shifting. Due to explosions on the sun, neutrinos (that old action movie villain) are heating up the earth's core and will soon destabilize the planet's crust, birthing volcanoes and shifting tectonics.
Hip to this development is government scientist Adrian Helmsley, played by the exceptional Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose gravity — best seen in 2002's "Dirty Pretty Things" — elevates "2012." He alerts the president's chief of staff, Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), who quickly brings Helmsley to the president (Danny Glover, apparently filling in for Morgan Freeman).
California falls into the ocean and much of the world follows suit.
The origins of the current rash of doomsday movies isn't hard to decipher: Science has determined the earth won't exist in its present state forever and global warming may well expedite things. "2012" has no overt reference to environmental issues, but there's a smack of familiarity when the scientists in the movie realize the planet's destruction is coming faster than they predicted.
The most grounded thing here is the acting — John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Tom McCarthy and Woody Harrelson are all better than But instead it's just another doomsday film, with new digital effects and stock scenes patched together from "Jaws," "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Armageddon."
And a long one at that. For too much of the 2 1/2-hour "2012," the end is not near.
Rated R for for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language. Two and half stars out of four.
By Peter Rainer/The Christian Science Monitor
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire" is an ungainly title for a powerfully ungainly movie.
Boxers like to say that a punch hurts less if you see it coming. I saw just about every punch coming my way in "Precious," and yet it still packs a hurtful wallop. It melodramatizes everything and yet its overall effect is something more than melodrama.
Gabourey Sidibe plays Claireece "Precious" Jones, a 350-pound near-illiterate 16-year-old who is pregnant for a second time by her father, who turns out to be HIV positive, and lives with her nightmarishly abusive single mother Mary (Mo'Nique) in a dingy two-floor apartment in Harlem.
This litany of woe is laid on awfully thick. Director Lee Daniels and his screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher periodically showcase Precious's fantasies of dancing with a studly beau at the Apollo, or gazing into the mirror and seeing the reflection of a slim, blonde, white girl. You can cut the pathos with an Exacto knife.
What rescues "Precious" is that Daniels also has a sharp documentarian's eye for realism. As overblown and coercive as his movie often is, it also has admirable feel for the workaday struggles of its people, especially Precious's. It's a bizarrely bifurcated movie, alternately realistic and garishly hyperbolic.
Both Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey came on board as executive producers after the film won awards and standing ovations at Sundance (a response duplicated in Cannes and Toronto). It's easy to see what appealed to them: The heartbreak in this movie is never so abject that it cannot be overcome.
But this inspirationalism is what I liked least about "Precious."
Precious moves from a girl who refers to herself as "ugly black grease to be washed from the street" to a young woman who becomes the mother she never had. In the rush of overheated praise for this movie's power, would I be a spoilsport to ask what the sequel might look like? From the looks of it, Precious is en route to "Oprah."