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Entries in The Help (38)

Sunday
Dec042011

Parties: "The Help" Are Singing a Happy Tune

This year I've had the pleasure of attending a few celebratory events for movies. At these luncheons or cocktail parties the filmmakers mingle with media types and Academy members. The most recent was a lunch for The Help held at Desmond's which is quite rectangular like a railroad apartment albeit one with very high ceilings. This gave the event a distinct bottleneck frenzy feel once Oscar buzzing actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were making the rounds... or in this case walking the aisle. Conversation became next to impossible. After a quick exchange with Octavia (in very high spirits) we both did a double take of mutual fandom; the hilarious Anna Deavere Smith (Nurse Jackie, Rachel Getting Married) was squeezing past us saying a string of goodbyes. By the time I was face to face with Viola Davis, utterly gorgeous and much younger looking in person, she was ending a conversation with a time-hogging reporter in which she was trying to work her way around and straight out of a Meryl Streep as Competition' question. (Viola's take: It belittles the work to view it like that.) I was flustered and not uttering coherent sentences when it was my turn for "hello".

Octavia & Viola speaking to the crowd © Nathaniel Rogers

The highlight of the event found Viola and Octavia and the art direction team addressing the crowd (which included André Leon Talley of Vogue fame - a fan of the movie. who knew?!). There was an awkward moment of silence as they lined up as if on stage. Octavia Spencer broke the tension quipping "We've prepared a song for you" and started humming to tune them which sent Viola into peals of laughter. Then they were off, talking about the expectations placed on them, their nerves about the movie -- you never know if people will end up appreciating your work -- and their eventual joy at being a part of the phenomenon, which one executive called "the gift that keeps on giving". (The Help is still in theaters after 17 weeks and the 11th highest grossing film of the year). 

Viola: What we ultimately saw was something that made us so proud. It's something unlike anything else that's out there. [Pause] Just in the hues of the people! [Crowd laughter]
Octavia: [Posing] And the size!

There were two other very funny bits.

First, a guest asked them how they stopped themselves from killing Bryce Dallas Howard on set. "Well, we did beat the crap out of her one night," Viola said, with mock seriousness to more big laughs. But they quickly launched into a heartfelt discussion of how sweet she is in real life and they thought it would be hard to hate her onscreen. Second, another guest dared asked about the negative response from some pockets of the African American community. There was a beat of silence before Viola stepped to the side with a deadpan "Octavia..." handing her the hot potato question. The two actresses are born entertainers off screen as well. Ultimately they said they were proud that the movie had sparked so much discussion and that discussion was important.

As it turns out the Production Designer Mark Ricker and Set Decorator Rena DeAngelo of The Help were seated directly opposite me at lunch and fun to chat with. Rena had done the pilot for Mad Men (I restrained from freaking out about this reveal but damn). To my amusement, they revealed that they knew their way around online Oscar charts (hey, they brought it up, not me!). As a moviegoer you don't often think about the experience of movie crews leaving one set for another but it was  interesting to hear their relief at how much period fun and color they could bring to The Help after all the time spent with grey sterile interiors for You Don't Know Jack. I told them my favorite set was Celia Foote's (Jessica Chastain) house. They stripped that house bare to decorate it for Celia's tastes and said that Jessica was constantly downing soy milkshakes (she's a vegan) to gain curves for the role.

Ms. Chastain was not in attendance but when the waiters came round to ask if we had any dietary restrictions, I spared a thought for Jessica's soy milk and Celia's limited oeuvre in the kitchen.

Related: The Help review | Best Picture | Visual Oscar Categories | Best Supporting Actress | Best Actress

Sunday
Oct022011

Naked Gold Man: War Horse Un'Lock'ed & Oscar Vote Theories

Weekly Column! Just in time for weekly chart updates. You heard me!

Let's start with an oft-forgotten fact: there are no "locks" until films are open and seen by the Academy. Even then, positive reactions don't always translate into votes. War Horse would be the right example. It feels like a winner by way of pedigree (Spielberg and Team), topic (World War), intangibles (the Broadway play on the same topic is a hit!) and early peeks (the trailer), but until voters are actually watching any movie from start to finish, you can't know.

Until you have seen a movie there is no way to consider how it tugs at your own heart (or doesn't), how it seizes your imagination (or doesn't) and how your instant reaction sizes up with general consensus. Instant reactions do not happen in lockstep with voting (at least not usually) and consensus --  which is say the wisdom of masses, media favoritism, and opinions from one's own social circle  -- absolutely affects individual response though people regularly feign otherwise.

Seeing the pictures is key and without the keys, aren't locks mere abstractions?

J. Edgar is another prime example. It's got the pedigree team, the baity topic and genre, but the second people are watching it things will change, for better or worse. I can't say that I'm hopeful after seeing the dull musty trailer, which plays more like the zombie corpse of an Oscar contender rather than a lively shiny hopeful. But then, I didn't get the Clint Eastwood Appreciation Gene so I readily admit that I am no representative sample.

To win nominations a film (or performance) must not only win hearts, minds and imaginations but it must stack up favorably against its competition. In other words "locks" for films or actors no one has seen are an absurd notion. Take War Horse again... will its message resonate with voters as much as The Help's? Will the young male lead (no, not the horse) inspire them or make them feel as protective as his counterpart in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close might? Will anything within War Horse, stimulate like the wit and adult soul of Moneyball? Does the equine war drama have any lighter moments and are they as effervescent or charming as the best scenes from The Artist or Midnight in Paris

If nominations were held RIGHT NOW, right this second, and all films that have been seen by a lot of people -- i.e. multiple festivals (whether they're technically open yet or not) were eligible these would be your only "Locks"

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Oct022011

Box Office: Family Fare Wins Again

Given the ease with which family fare always tops the charts whether animated or live action -- this time the story of a dolphin with a prosthetic tale (?) flipper (?) fin (?) I don't know these terms -- you'd think taking the family to the movies didn't cost as much as people always claim it costs when they complain about how much it costs (whew): parking, food, multiple tickets.

Also: Dolphins are cute and all but I'm only seeing Dolphin Tale if you can promise me that it contains a musical sequence in which Olivia Newton-John reprises her treacly "Promise (The Dolphin Song)" from the 80s.

With Morgan Freeman on back-up.

Anyway, don't mind me. I'm just bitter because I'd prefer it if adults went to movies for adults in droves. That way TV wouldn't be able to hog all the entertainment intended for adults. (Moneyball is doing well but people really should be queuing up in droves, you know?)

Box Office (U.S.) Baker's Dozen -estimates
01 DOLPHIN TALE  $14.2 (cum $37.5)
02 MONEYBALL [review] $12.5 (cum $38.4)
03 THE LION KING 3D [review] re-release $11 (cum $408.1)
04 50/50 [review] new $8.8 
05 COURAGEOUS new $8.8 
06 DREAMHOUSE new $8.2 
07 ABDUCTION [review] $5.6 (cum $19.1)
08 WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER? new $5.6 
09 CONTAGION $5 (cum $64.7)
10 KILLER ELITE $4.8 (cum $17.4)
11 DRIVE [review] $3.3 (cum $27)
12 THE HELP [review$3.0 (cum $159.3)

Michael Shannon Sees Storms ComingTalking Points
In limited release land the apocalyptic visions of Michael Shannon in TAKE SHELTER had the best opening weekend at just 3 theaters but with a sturdy $18,000 per screen (in other words the houses were four times as full as those of the top films in wide release). The extremely well reviewed gay romance WEEKEND did a tiny expansion from 1 theater to 6. It also became available On Demand so one suspects it'll make a hefty percentage of its revenue there.

• The Help finally left the gold-lined interior of the top ten list in its 8th week, falling just short of Bridesmaids staying power (which fell the same distance in its 9th week). The sole advantage of The Help (#12 of the year right now) if it hopes to topple Bridesmaids (#10 of the year) for bragging rights of "Highest Grossing Non-Franchise Film of 2011" is that it's in more theaters than Bridesmaids was at this point. The Help is still $10 million behind. It might be a squeaker or it might be all over if Real Steel and The Ides of March rip most of its screens away next Friday.

•Somehow Dream House opened to $8.2 million even though you can see the whole movie from start to finish in the trailer. If people keep buying tickets to movies whose trailers reveal every detail, Hollywood will keep making trailers filled with more egregious spoilers than even the laziest and most bitter critics would dare type. Sigh. At least Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz found each other in the process. 

•I don't want to make too much of a point about what could merely be a coincidence but Contagion's numbers week to week are very similar to Crazy, Stupid, Love.'s numbers (to the point where they both hit $64 million on the 4th weekend!) Will their twin performance be the new standard for what happens when you just cram your movie full of multiple well-liked stars who aren't always bankable on their own?

What did you see over the weekend?
If it wasn't Dolphin Tale, what could convince you to see that movie?
If it wasn't Moneyball what are you waiting for?

Monday
Sep052011

Box Office "The Help" Still Gainfully Employed. 

The stars of The Help are actually in France at the moment (Venice isn't the only festival happening as I type: Telluride and Deauville are also attracting celebrities). They've been posing with a champagne bottle. Corporate sponsorship sitch aside, they have every reason to break out the bubbly with the longest time lodged at #1 since... Inception (!!!) With a budget of only $25 million, The Help is going to prove hugely profitable for all involved. So congratulations to Tate Taylor and team.

The movie shows no signs of slowing down, dropping only 2% this week while most movies fell about 25% (everyone got a small holiday boost). It might end up outgrossing pre-sold brands like The Smurfs and god knows what other huge budgeted would-be blockbusters when it's done. Maybe that Best Picture nomination could actually happen after all. [Please note: I'll be updating all the charts on September 13th... to kick off our busy season. And given what's happening at Telluride and Venice, there's a lot of changes to be made.]

Box Office (U.S.) Baker's Dozen -actuals
01 THE HELP [review] $14.6 (cum $118.9)
02 THE DEBT new $9.9 
03 APOLLO 18 new $8.7 
04 SHARK NIGHT 3D new $8.3 
05 RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES [articles] $7.9 (cumulative $160.1) 
06 COLOMBIANA $7.4 (cum $22)
07 OUR IDIOT BROTHER [review] $5.4 (cum $15.7)
08 DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK $5.1 (cum $16.5)
09 SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD $4.8 (cum $29.2)
10 THE SMURFS $4.1 (cum $132)

11 CRAZY STUPID LOVE [thoughts$3.3 (cum $74.5)
12 HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART TWO $2.4 (cum $374.6)
13 CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER [review]  $1.9 (cum $171.6) 

What did you see over the weekend?
Did you love it?

Friday
Aug262011

I'm Linking As Fast As I Can

The Hairpin has a huge piece on Ava Gardner's career, femme fatale posing, and storied romantic life. I always always forget she was married to Mickey Rooney because it just seems so wrong.
My New Plaid Pants Thursdays Ways Not To Die... Fashion Faux- Pwned (Serial Mom)
The Critical Condition looks at three (unfortunate) differences between "The Help" as a book and The Help as a movie. 

 

Movie|Line first pics from Bel Ami --not an historical epic about the gay porn studio -- wherein Robert Pattison sexes up various actresses we like: Uma Thurman (pictured below), Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas
The Wow Report congratulations Carrie Fisher on her new look. Jenny Craig worked wonders! 
Cinema Blend Universal keeps dropping film projects. What's going on? 
Grantland predicts the Worst Supporting Actress for this year's Razzies. Agreed that Blake Lively's got at least a nomination sewn up for Green Lantern.
Socialite Life Michael Ian Black recalls his sex scene with Bradley Cooper in Wet Hot American Summer. (Cooper is the only holdout so far on a sequel.) 
IndieWire Jim Carrey's video love letter to Emma Stone. So random.

Finally, did you hear about the big Scarface reunion party to celebrate a special edition BluRay release? Scarface himself Al Pacino, Oscar winner F Murray Abraham, 80s character actor Robert Loggia and 80s hunk Steven Bauer were on hand. But without Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (what, was she too busy?) and especially without Elvira herself, Michelle Pfeiffer, what is even the point? I'm assuming Pfeiffer wasn't there because she's filming Tim Burton's Dark Shadows in London at the moment. But if The Avengers cast can leave Cleveland for a 10 minute walk on at that Disney convention last week, shouldn't they have flown La Pfeiffer cross the Atlantic to class up that party a little? 

Thursday
Aug252011

Who is Jessica Chastain?

Here's pretty much all that we know about her: She was raised in North Carolina, she just turned 30, she's in every seventh movie opening in 2011, and though we've only seen three of them thus far (The Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter) it takes a minute in each to realize that yes, that's her. Even in photoshoots she seems to be more than one person.

Is she a moldable young starlet?
Is she a Swintonesque Off-Hollywood provocateur?
Is she a Lead Star just waiting for her own vehicles?

Further IMDb and Wikipedia grazing reveals that she graduated from Juillard and that her best friend is the actress Jess Weixler (of Teeth fame. How about that?) but the point is this: we like people we can't pin down immediately.

I don't want to play the same character twice. There's something about the feeling of 'I don't think I can do this.' If you have that moment of doubt, you have to rise up and meet it. I learn from my failures more than my successes."
-Chastain to Michael Musto at the premiere of The Debt 

Hitting a Take Shelter screening last night I tweeted "Okay, Jessica Chastain. Show me what else ya got" Of her three summer performances (her fourth The Debt opens soon) it's the least impressive but it's almost the most telling. 'What I got' was the surest indication yet that she's a future Oscar winner as she embraced their favorite role, the long suffering wind-beneath-her-husband's-wings type, with such unfussy naturalistic ease.

Regarding Oscar...
While she's ethereal and lovely in The Tree of Life it seems less an acting feat than a well judged minimalist act to allow Terrence Malick and Emmanuel Lubezki's camera and the rich scoring to fill her Way of Grace with meaning. Auteur vessel performance are rarely nominated. While she's hugely entertaining in The Help she probably has too much internal competition for traction. And her most Oscar-friendly role in Take Shelter is within a film that one suspects will be too under the radar for Oscar. She may have to wait for the Kodak theater but it'll be exciting to watch her work her way there.