"Precious" is remarkable and not to be missed. It also is proof positive that film is a medium that can move and touch audiences and offer a prism through which to view and contemplate the human condition in ways that are perhaps unimaginable.

"Precious" is remarkable and not to be missed. It also is proof positive that film is a medium that can move and touch audiences and offer a prism through which to view and contemplate the human condition in ways that are perhaps unimaginable.

To be clear, "Precious" is not a "black film." It does not create or encourage black stereotypes, nor is it easy to dismiss. Rather, it is an unflinching narrative that reveals the all but unbearable life of an obese 16-year-old girl, named, ironically, Precious (Gabourney Sidibe).

Jean-Paul Sartre, in his existential play "No Exit," answered the question, "What is hell?" by saying, "Hell is other people." And so the audience bears witness to Sartre's truth. For Precious, hell is a dark, windowless apartment in Harlem where she is repeatedly humiliated and attacked by her mother, Mary (Mo'Nique), who is the essence of cruelty and defines the terms dysfunctional and pathological. It's a place — not a home — where Precious also must contend with Mary's boyfriend, who is her father and also the father of her two small children.

As a character, she is remarkable, her struggle saturated with an appalling truth, her surroundings perpetually conspiring to steal any remnants of optimism. And yet, her spirit remains intact, ever resilient.

Of course, given all that has been described above, it is tempting to turn away, to assume that this film is, in essence, too much to bear. It's not. In many ways, unexpectedly, it is transcendent. Even hopeful. As bleak as the geography of Precious' life is, she finds, improbably, those who embrace her: a kind teacher (Paula Patton); an interested social worker (Mariah Carey); a small classroom of peers who see beyond her size (as if to insulate herself from all that she must face as she is alarmingly overweight), her self-imposed silence, and do indeed find something precious within.

Know that the story of Precious is not a ghetto story. It is not about a place apart. It is, ultimately, a story of all children who bear the weight of a corrosive family where humiliation and violence comprise the texture of their days. "Precious" is a graphic reminder that our children, the must vulnerable among us, too often find themselves living lives of No "Exit" and do what they must to survive. Some conclude that escape is the only alternative. It is, however, never an answer, becoming too often another form of hell. And yet children leave. As does Precious. Finally.

The film offers a surprisingly gifted ensemble, each actor offering a tour de force performance. Mo'Nique, as Mary, is stunning. The character lives in an abyss of twisted self-absorption, fills the air with vile and hate-filled language, and personifies evil. And yet Mo'Nique so convincingly inhabits Mary that it is chilling. Sidibe, in her debut role as Claireece "Precious" Jones, is perfect. She anchors the film and so carries its honesty and its pain.

"Precious" is a film to be treasured for what it depicts with a wrenching honesty. Film can be art and those who love film will not be disappointed.

Avatar

"Avatar" is a breathtakingly beautiful, science fiction/ fantasy hybrid that is unparalleled in its use of state-of-the-art technology — motion capture and CGI — to create an alternative world that stirs a sense of wonder and awe from the first frame.

James Cameron, writer and director, lived with the nascent idea of "Avatar" for decades, waiting for cameras to be invented that could convey his vision. For the last four years, and employing some 2,000 people, he has worked relentlessly to bring to the screen what was once only a dream.

As a visual spectacle, the film is glorious. As a story, it's a gumbo of themes, stitched together in a narrative that takes more than two and half hours to develop.

Essentially, the film is set on the distant moon of Pandora, inhabited by the Na'Vi — 10 feet tall, with cat-like features and blue humanoid bodies. They are an aboriginal people with nothing more than bows and arrows; yet, they possess a profound connection to their natural world, a place of floating mountains, lush, luminescent forests filled with exotic animals and Paleolithic flying birds that they fearlessly ride. Their lives are filled with the sacred, and a natural wisdom that transcends the technology of those from earth who have arrived to mine a much-needed mineral called unobtanium. Earth, it seems, has finally been all but depleted of its resources (the year is 2154).

The conumdrum is that the Na'Vi live on the richest deposit of unobtanium on Pandora and must either be relocated peacefully or driven into the forest by force. A warrior and ex-Marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is melded with a Na'Vi body, created from their DNA, and sent to collect intel on the clan (hence the title Avatar). Initially he hopes he can negotiate with them, learn their ways; however, his sympathies gradually begin to change. Neyfiri (Zoe Saldana), an impressive female and the daughter of the chief of the tribe, introduces him to Na'Vi and to the harmony with which the clan approaches all living things.

Granted, Cameron, for all of his groundbreaking originality as a filmmaker, is a fairly pedestrian writer. The dialogue is serviceable and the narrative instantly recognizable. In essence, "Avatar," for all of its richness, is an old-fashioned adventure story. There's the quintessential bad guys — led by a mercenary Col., Mike Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who hates the locals and loves the smell of napalm in the morning. Embedded in the story are multiple strands: first, an anti-corporate bias (Earth has been depleted, on to Pandora); a native people are romanticized; a tender love story emerges; and an ecological statement that obliquely flirts with Luddism — an interesting contradiction since Cameron is all about gadgets and technology, without which Cameron could not be Cameron.

The meta-question, for the studios to be sure, is: will "Avatar" win at the box office? Costing more than $300 million to make, it will have to turn some serious numbers over the coming months to even break even. Keep in mind that Cameron's "Titanic" remains the highest grossing film in Hollywood history. But also recall that the demographic for that film was tween and teen girls. They fell in love with the intensely romantic story and with Leonardo DiCaprio. Many saw it multiple times and the film became a cultural phenom.

So what might be the demographic for "Avatar"? Still to be determined. Younger audiences, though enchanted, will find it much harder to identify with Jake and Nefiri than with Jack and Rose. Males will love the protracted battle scenes that culminates act three. It's an audial and visual treat. And film geeks will be completely captured by the look of the film, it's unrelenting, seamless technology, realizing instantly Cameron's huge accomplishment; it's breathtaking.