The Movie Club
All I really have to say about the two sex scenes is a) it always alarms me when two superheroes have sex, because I'm afraid someone will get hurt, and b) from my knowledge of evolution, I would conclude it is impossible for Jake and Neytiri to reproduce, sharing (as they presumably do) no genes at all, it's a good question who would do what, and with which, and to whom.
I'll leave it to Dana to defend the sainted Tilda and move on to Dan's experience of watching Julia on a computer screen. Forgive me if I say that watching movies on a computer is so … well, 2008. A revolution in online streaming has taken place, and movie fans are ahead of critics on this one.
The way to watch Netflix or any other high-bandwidth streaming source is on television. And by television I mean the biggest screen you've got. Yes, even a wall screen with an overhead projector. If you have cable or satellite, Netflix delivers a picture of HD quality, and for a few bucks more a month, of true Blu-ray quality. Its buffering software ensures no interruptions of the flow.
Many people can do this right now but don't know it. Most of the new Blu-ray DVD players can stream Netflix, and so can many game boxes. With neither, it would take something like the $99 Roku box to bring it in. In reading the comments on my best of the decade list, I was surprised that so many readers had seen such titles as Julia, Munyurangabo, Goodbye Solo, Of Time and the City, Summer Hours, and The Son. These were not widely distributed, to say the least. They are all on Netflix's Instant Stream, which is included in the price of all Netflix packages.
I'm not shilling for Netflix. I'm observing that the crisis of indie and foreign distribution is being sidestepped. Yet to be seen is how the makers of these films will make any money—and, to their intense interest, how studios will make money with mainstream titles. Everyone knows that the best way to see a movie is in a theater. But the fact remains that many of the films we discuss haven't played in most cities and some states. Things are moving so fast that Reid Rosefelt is opening out to international markets on his Speedcine.com.
On to the movies. We're supposed to feel some revulsion about the food scenes in Precious, but they belong in the movie, filmed the way they are. African-American families consider macaroni and cheese all but one of the basic food groups. It's rare to sit down to a largish black family reunion or gathering without seeing a bowl on the table. Few people of any race eat the way they eat in Precious' house, but they do, and that's the point. Daniels' close-ups of food are a visceral way of communicating the nature of the diet that has made Precious fat against her will. Those shots are central to the odds against Precious; today in America, fat is probably more widely discriminated against than color.
As for her fantasies: Does anyone have realistic fantasies? What would be the point? Those scenes act as relief from the implacable horror of her life, for Precious and for us as viewers. Could we take two hours of her misery?
I've also read that it's unlikely anyone like her would encounter mentors as physically attractive as Mariah Carey and Paula Patton, even as "dressed down" as they are. People making that criticism may not have been around many middle-class African-Americans. Daniels and his casting directors may have known more about the African-American norm than some audience members. Gabourey Sidibe says she has known girls like Precious and teachers like those, and I believe her. Mo'Nique's mother is also, sadly, not rare. Sapphire's novel is inspired by truth and observation.
Of course it's no defense of a movie to say it's based on fact. Many good films are; many bad ones are not. I believe the strength of Precious is in its visceral impact. For many viewers, it works so well because it breaks through filters and connects directly. In a very different way, that's also true of The Hurt Locker, and that's why one of those two, or Up in the Air, will probably win as Best Film. Despite its many awesome accomplishments, Avatar doesn't compete in that arena. Does anyone give a damn about the romance between Jake and Neytiri? What does the future hold for them? With the ship not functioning on Pandora, Neytiri will be left with a very expensive dead love doll on her hands.
Roger Ebert is the Chicago Sun-Times' film critic.