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Entries in The Help (40)

Thursday
Aug112011

Review: "The Help"

The first storyteller is Aibilene (Viola Davis), a black maid raising her 17th white baby in the Jim Crow south. She can't answer the question of what it feels like to raise another woman's baby when you've left yours behind at home. It's an overwhelming opening inquiry to be sure. Though it's immediately clear Aibilene is being interviewed, we don't know why and for what purpose as The Help begins. This type of prologue is common in movies as you get a peek at what's to come before stepping back to the beginning, but the introduction is important: Abilene is the first person we meet and the narrative voice of the movie. 

Viola Davis even listens with dramatic depth!

Though mainstream Hollywood has proven time and again that they're constitutionally incapable of telling black stories without a white frame --  in this case Emma Stone's frizzy haired provocateur "Skeeter" who is secretly writing a book about the experience of maids in Jackson, Mississippi -- The Help, however subtlely (and perhaps accidentally), suggests with its Davis-centric opening and closing passages that Abilene is capable of creating frames of her own, thank you very much. In fact, she'd rather write her own story than tell it to another writer.

So she does.

Mm-hmm. It's Octavia Spencer as Minny, a surefire Oscar nominee.If Tate Taylor's adaptation or Kathryn Stockett's bestseller were confident enough in Aibilene's voice to downplay Skeeter's this would be a much more revelatory movie, and surely a more painful one, but we're dealing with the movie we've got which is essentially both of theirs.

The story, or, more accurately, stories of The Help are passed like batons throughout the movie. Deep breath now: Skeeter who wants to be writer has a starter job as a cleaning advice columnist which leads her to conversations with (baton pass); Aibilene who is dealing with personal grief and a weak-willed bad-mommy employer; Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly) who is continually pushed towards racist actions by local queen bee; Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) who loves lording her power over her mother, local girls, maids and the town outcast; Celia (Jessica Chastain) who is loud and 'trashy' but really loves her maid; Minny (Octavia Spencer), the best cook in town and Aibilene's BFF, who has a sharp tongue and is at war with Hilly.

Though it's easy to take potshots at The Help  -- we might discuss those soon -- it's also somewhat ungenerous since The Help is well meaning and entertaining and best of all affords us the rare opportunity of seeing several watchable actresses chewing on a meaty multi-course feast together. Sometimes they mistake the scenery for another course (Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain may both provoke heated arguments about the line betweena "type" and a caricature) but this was bound to happen. Chief among the delights in the acting arena is watching the dependable Viola Davis (Doubt, Far From Heaven) take the reins of a movie for once instead of stealing the whole thing in one scene or two.

The interplay between the characters makes up the bulk of the entertainment value, since with its sometimes candy color glossiness and very brief detached asides to actual history (usually on television sets), it's obviously not going for a deep historical rendering of the violent racist south. The movie would have done well to jettison much of Skeeter's story, both for pacing (it's far too long) and thematic strength, but Stone is such an engaging actress that it feels strange to object to having more of her around. Her storyline does eventually return, movingly, to the subject at the heart of The Help.

In the end where The Help wins over its audience, provided that they're okay with a surface take on a deep troubling subject, is with its trio of central performances. The intertwining still relevant topics of civil rights struggles, labor and racism are so large and overwhelming that it can be hard to breathe in their vicinity. What potency The Help does achieve it gets from its entertaining actresses sharing the thick pressure cooker air: Davis inhales, Stone fumes, Spencer erupts.

One final exasperated exhale from Aibilene is just the right cathartic move to end with. The audience breathes with her. And isn't this her story after all?

Related:
Oscar Discussion With Katey 
Review Index 

Tuesday
Aug092011

Will Oscar Hire "The Help"?

Here's a quickie conversation with Katey Rich and I about Tate Taylor's The Help and its Oscarable cast. We accidentally ran into each other outside the theater (hitting different screenings on the same day) so we decided we should have a brief chat.

How might the ladies campaign? Who really owns the film? Is this an Oscar vehicle for Viola and Emma or something more like momentum for a future Oscar?

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are the title characters but we also discuss the work of Emma Stone, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, and an unrecognizable Jessica Chastain if The Tree of Life is all you have to go on. And that was all I had to go on going in.

The movie opens tomorrow in theaters. Have a listen.

Katey and Nathaniel on "The Help"

Monday
Aug082011

10 Word Reviews: Maids, Apes, Robots

A few movies we haven't yet said much about. In the interest of saying something -- more will definitely follow in the case of The Help and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes both of which I suspect we'll be talking about thru Oscar season -- here's two handfuls of words for each.

2011... the year of the put upon maid?

The Housemaid (Im Sang-Soo)
in which a nanny/maid contemplates her own Fatal Attraction
10WR: South Korea continues its Actressy roll. Classy/Trashy, expertly shaped. B+ 

The Help (Tate Taylor)
Maids in the South tell their provoactive stories to a feisty young writer
10WR: Ungainly in telling yet super compelling. Well seasoned cornpone acting.
UPDATE: FULL REVIEW 

Transformers Dark of the Moon (Michael Bay)
giant fucking robots return so that visual f/x may occur and billions may be made
10WR: Surprisingly coherent explosiveness. But debris clears immediately (i.e. totes forgettable) C+ 

Cars 2 (John Lasseter & Brad Lewis)
in which Mater the tow truck, the Jar Jar Binks of Pixar, travels the world.
10WR: Noisy unfunny lemon stuck in traffic jam of easy gags. D-

Septien (Michael Tully)
in which..., no, I don't know what happens. Something about three abused backwoods brothers.
10WR: Incomprehensible indie auteurism. Masturbatory but at least someone's getting off. D

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)
a science experiment gone awry has deadly simian consequences
10WR: Overly familiar beastie, schocked back to life by superb staging. B+
10 Word Bonus Thought: As new directors go, we suspect Rupert Wyatt could "A"  

COMING SOON: I know that everyone is already talking about Andy Serkis's killer work as "Cesar" in terms of its Oscar battles to come. But I want to let the film settle before I sound off. Anyway, I already suspect this conversation will make me crazy because it'll end up being a "supporting" discussion and "Cesar" is the lead of the film. James Franco's stardom is a red herring ;) 

Friday
Aug052011

The Link-Up

Ultra Culture "the stills photographer is here? fetch me my viewfinder at once!" HEE
Movie|Line on the weirdly surprising colors of the new EW issue featuring The Help. (More on this film right here very soon.)
Wet Asphalt "how to write a book in three days" regarding Michael Moorcock (of Elric of Melnibone fame. Weird that Hollywood's never managed to make that into a franchise)
Scott Feinberg thinks The Artist will be a good case study for Oscar. Will a silent film catch on in today's marketplace?
lemonwade doesn't mind the lack of Supes' spit curl but don't get him started on those cape pleats.
Show Blitz Game of Thrones director Brian Kirk in discussions to helm Thor 2. er... i worry about this. Thor's saving grace was its humor and Game of Thrones biggest problem as a series is its humorlessness (believe me the book has humor... admittedly of the gallows kind. But still)
Scene Stealers h-a-t-e-s on The Change-Up consider this opening bit about that trailer moment where infant poo flies at Justin Bateman's face. 

I know how Dave feels. In its opening moments “The Change-Up” took a dump in my mouth, and did not relent until the credits rolled.

Ouch. But then the film really does look terrible. Let me know if you see it and can verify.

Anomalous Material top ten movie roles Lady Gaga could have played. (I myself suspect she cannot act. But I'll hold my tongue.)
Socialite Life look i love Neil Patrick Harris but should he and David Burtka really be yachting with Elton John? Shouldn't NPH be doing penance for Beastly and The Smurfs? And by penance I mean: searching tirelessly for scripts that are actually worthy of his talent? Because, awards-show hosting aside, isn't it going to waste?

Unearned vacation! Find a good movie NPH.

Off Cinema
Daily What "Internet Filtration System" I'm lol'ing despite the fact that i've screwed this up myself in moments of speed typing. (sigh)
Tom Shone wonders if Sarah Palin is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It sounds far-fetched until you actually read what he has to say. 
The Onion "Obama Turns 50 Despite Republican Opposition" hee. 

I'm loving this video called "Trim"

Trim from Petey Boy on Vimeo.

 

It's amazing how a change in hairstyles affects your perception about someone. People don't talk about this but that's the #1 thing that's most depressing about losing your hair -- if you're someone who is visually oriented that is -- it really cuts down on the number of ways you can modulate your own look and persona. I am my hair ♪

Judy Fest
Stirred, Straight Up With a Twist has a detailed look at The Pirate, which is one of the films I sadly missed at the current Judy Garland retrospective here in NYC. Weirdly I've never seen it despite the fact that Gene Kelly and Judy are both among my top dozen or so favorite movie stars of all time. I absolutely disagree with the comments about Gene Kelly's screen persona though since they directly contradict what I wrote in my For Me and My Gal review about his sexual allure. 
Enthusiasm has notes on the The Pirate and its camp value.
Towleroad In this week's column I wrote up a short bit about Presenting Lily Mars (1943) which is my new favorite that I hadn't yet seen from the Garland canon. Let's raise this film's profile, people. It's really funny and quite fresh. I was tempted to slap it in the face and then take it to bed like some prim but randy 40s heroine. Loved Van Heflin in it. 

Thursday
Apr072011

Supporting Actress Predix & Jessica Chastain

I don't have the patience or the time to research this but what do you suppose was the tipping point moment when Hollywood decided that they MUST have Jessica Chastain in every single movie in production? She's like Michael Fassbender's twin sister in terms of output. This happens fairly regularly with actors that Hollywood suspects you'll go crazy for. The most recent examples: Mia Wasikowska and Chloe Moretz. Sometimes the audience complies fawning all over the actor, other times they get all excited about the person as a celebrity but not as an actor (Colin Farrell's weird initial trajectory some years back), and other times they barely notice and don't care and Hollywood starts scrambling for another next big thing. [Editors note: Actually they're always scrambling for that even if you do embrace the one before.]

What will happen in 2011 with Jessica Ubiquity Chastain? Hollywood has gifted her with a potentially huge year. Will her work return that investment? Here's what her year is like...

Jessica Chastain in THE TREE OF LIFE

  • JAN - She co-starred with Michael Shannon in Sundance hit "TAKE SHELTER"
  • FEB - She started filming "THE WETTEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD" with an all star ensemble that includes Shia Labeouf, Tom Hardy, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman.
  • MAR - She turned the big 3-0.
  • MAY - She stars as Brad Pitt's wife in Terrence Malick's long awaited drama "THE TREE OF LIFE"
  • JUL - She co-stars with Chloe Moretz and Sam Worthington in the thriller "THE FIELDS"
  • AUG - She plays the young version of Helen Mirren in 'THE DEBT" and is part of the Southern ensemble in "THE HELP" with Emma Stone.
  • NOV - She co-stars with acclaimed thesps Ralph Fiennes & Vanessa Redgrave in the Shakespearean adaptation "CORIOLANUS"
  • TBA -- She's supposedly completed work on Terrence Malick's Tree of Life follow up picture which stars Rachel McAdams. She's also Salome in "WILDE SALOME" which is Al Pacino's documentary about Oscar Wilde's play. It might come out this year.  If you've ever seen his Looking for Richard, we imagine it'll be like that - totally worth seeing if you're into the theater, the playwright in question and don't mind listening to actors indulgently talk about their craft (I don't just not mind this. I love this) but otherwise you probably won't care.

My god. Does she ever sleep?

I realize that Terrence Malick's films have never resulted in an acting Oscar nomination but there's a first time for everything and one has to assume she'll be in the 2011 conversation in some way even if it's just "oh my god there she is again!" I've included her in the predicted five because honestly, this is the hardest time I've ever had predicting Best Supporting Actress a Year in Advance. None of the roles/film/star matchups are screaming ME!

I am totally anxious to hear your thoughts on this entirely foggy category. This category requires psychic powers and perhaps mine are on the fritz.

 

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