MARIAH WILL WRITE/SING ‘PRECIOUS’ THEME

Mariah Carey is so good in Lee Daniels’s ‘Precious’ in a small pivotal role of a social worker. But her involvement in this extradordinary independent film won’t stop there. She told me yesterday at a lunch in Cannes that she and Jermaine Dupri are recording a theme song called ‘100 Percent’ to be adde to the final print.’ Expect to see and hear Miss Mariah at the Oscars next March.

Indeed, expect to see all the folks from ‘Precious’ at lots of awards shows next winter. ‘Precious’ is this year’s ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ or ‘Juno.’ It’s a passionate, breathtaking offbeat drama that if handled properly’and that’s questionable at this point since Lionsgate is not Fox Searchlight’could upset everyone’s apple carts.

‘Precious’ is not in competition at Cannes because it was already shown at Sundance. Nevertheless, if it were part of the main race here, it would win hands down. It’s just that good. Lee Daniels has taken the work of African-American cult writer Sapphire and wrought a deeply honest, affecting, and indelible portrait of a young woman’s triumph out of abuse.

Clareece Precious Jones is a 16 year old, morbidly obese and pregnant for the second time. She’s an incest victim, and she’s physically and mentally abused by her mother. This horror of a human being is played by comedian Mo’Nique in a performance that is guaranteed Best Supporting Actress in every award show. You’ve never seen anything like it: I cannot wait for the first Oscar nominee with an apostrophe in her name.

Precious is played by newcomer Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe, who got the part after one audition. Like Ellen Page in Juno, Gaby is going to startle audiences who may think that she is Precious. She is not. She is simply a gifted, natural actress who has an amazing presence. The 26 year old New Yorker is going to be an actual overnight sensation.

Daniels, who produced ‘Monster’s Ball,’ fills out the rest of ‘Precious’ with a talented supporting cast. Paula Patton, a striking beauty, is Precious’s astute, involved teacher. Mariah and Lenny Kravitz are each excellent in their supporting roles. Carey is a revelation as the social worker who must bring the movie to its climactic moment toward the end. She does everything right as Mo’Nique and Gaby play out the film’s incendiary truths.

One thing ‘Precious’ does need, however: better back end credits. I’m sure whoever designed them thought they were clever, but the actors’ names are hard to read and disappear too quickly. Trust me, everyone’s going to want to sit and see who’s who when this film comes to an end. The producers should make it easier.

If you don’t know already, Oprah’Winfrey’and Tyler Perry saw ‘Precious’ and decided to ‘present’ it to the public this fall. I hope they can get some others on the bandwagon, like Ellen Degeneres and Anderson Cooper. ‘Precious’ has got to be a film that is not missed’by adults and teens, too. And PS, there’s great older tracks from LaBelle on the soundtrack and a couple from Lenny Kravitz, too.

WOODSTOCK RETOLD, BUT WITHOUT MUSIC

If someone said, I’m going to make a movie about the 1969 Woodstock music festival but without any of its classic music’what would you say?

The great director Ang Lee has made ‘Talking Woodstock’ based on the memoirs of a little known player in the 1969 festival named Elliott Tiber (nee Teichberg). Elliot’s parents ran the dumpy motel on the grounds where the Woodstock festival took place in upstate New York. Tiber (he changed his name) claims that it was his idea to bring the festival famously to Max Yasgur‘s nearby farm.’

This summer is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, so it’s time for tie-ins and cash-ins. On the face of it, an Ang Lee movie on this subject seems cool. He made a masterpiece in ‘The Ice Storm,’ another piece from the same period where he got so much right you’d think he’d been in New Canaan, Connecticut in 1972.

‘Taking Woodstock’ is also slavishly reproduced right down to the white Ford Falcon Elliot drives, and all the touches of people watching Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. There’s background talk of the Vietnam War. All of that is precisely detailed. But some things are missing for a New York story: for example, it’s 1969, but no one mentions the historic winning season of the Amazin’ Mets.

Ang Lee’s movies fall into two categories. ‘Ice Storm,’ ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ are among my favorites. There are some missteps, like ‘Ride with the Devil’ and ‘Lust, Caution.’ I don’t think ‘Talking Woodstock’ is actually in that category, but it’s often a dull endeavor. Where the Woodstock music might have been valuably weaved through Elliot’s story (he actually missed the concert even though he was there), Lee has jettisoned it almost completely. There’s just a bit of Crosby Stills, Nash singing ‘Wooden Ships’ and a snippet of the Doors. You do hear Country Joe and the Fish in the background. But that’s pretty much it.

The inexpressive Demetri Martin wanders around as Elliot, a fairly one dimensional character without much charm. If Woodstock was really his idea, it’s hard to imagine how he inspired people to go along with it. Much better is Jonathan Groff as Michael Lang, the real organizer, and Mamie Gummer as his hippie girlfriend. If you can forgive their bad hippie wigs, then this pair is the most fun and used too sparingly. There’s also an urge to call this ‘Brokeback Hippie,’ as’with so many Ang Lee films’the central character turns out to be gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

There are a couple of goofy over the top performances campy enough to keep you watching: Imelda Staunton as Elliot’s hardcore older Jewish mother reminded me a little of Frances McDormand’s strident mother in ‘Almost Famous.’ (The parents are much older, and they say they’ve been married 40 years. They are obviously immigrants. Are they Holocaust survivors? Unclear.) Liev Schreiber is hilarious as a pre-op drag queen who volunteers to head Elliot’s security force. He’s like the cinematic cousin of John Lithgow from ‘The World According to Garp.’

James Schamus’s script doesn’t delineate the many hippies and yuppies in training who descend on Max Yasgur’s farm. Hippies were colorful types, but in ‘Taking Woodstock’ they’re interchangeable’especially when they take off their clothes. Paul Dano and Emile Hirsch are wasted, literally and figuratively. So is the guy who plays Dead Denny on ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ This could have been the ‘Nashville’ of hippie movies, and you can only wonder how Robert Altman would have sculpted this whole scene and given it meaning. You’d be better off watching ‘Hair’ to know what was going on in America at this moment in time’and there’s great music.

In the end, Lee and James Schamus missed what could have been the funniest refrain of this movie entirely. They just didn’t get’how millions of people claim to have been at Woodstock but couldn’t possibly have been there. And then here was Elliot, who claims to have put the thing in motion and then didn’t bother to go down to the show. The movie implies he had an LSD-fueled m’nage a trios with a young hippie couple in a van while the music played outside. Let’s hope the next installment isn’t what’s suggested here’the Rolling Stones’s disastrous Altamont concert, as told by a t shirt vendor who only heard about the infamous murder of a fan but was off getting a beer at the time.

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