The Help (2011)

the help

Released: August 10, 2011Director: Tate TaylorStars: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia SpencerRuntime: 146 minDid you know? Director Tate Taylor and the author of the book, Kathryn Stockett, were childhood friends in Jackson, Mississippi.

Plot: An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids’ point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.

While the concept of racism may shine too vibrantly and be a little too preachy, its ensemble carries it well. From Viola Davis to Emma Stone, to Bryce Dallas Howard as the wicked bitch of Mississippi, Hilly Holbrook; the performances are stellar. Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain are both stunning. They mend one of the greatest relationships in the feature. As do Stone’s Miss Skeeter and Davis’ Aibileen Clark. The voice-over narration that Davis offers is often great, and it adds a further meaning to the picture. Her [Clark’s] relationsiop with the children she has taken care of over the years is charming, precious, and sometimes heartbreaking. It is not necessarily surprising to see how the white people treated the black people in these times, so it is accurate. When Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) opens up to Minny (Octavia Spencer) and eats with her, it really displays how skeptical these two races are towards each other – and it makes this period piece have a more touching and compelling impact. Also, one could feel for Miss Skeeter when many of her friends turn their backs on her. It’s equally heartbreaking for the character, and the audience member – at least, if they’re emotionally invested in her. It really is hard not to be emotionally invested in these characters, as the performances given are just so fine. This is a faithful adaptation to the Kathryn Stockett novel of the same name. It’s poignant, surprisingly funny and charming, and brilliantly written and filmed. It is one of the best films of 2011.

Score90/100

The Human Stain (2003)

The Human StainThe Human Stain

Release Date: October 31, 2003

,Director: Robert Benton

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris

Runtime: 106 min

Tagline: How far would you go to escape the past?
Did you know? To prepare for her role, Nicole Kidman visited women’s shelters and talked to former victims of abuse for inspiration.

When a disgraced former college professor has a romance with a mysterious younger woman haunted by her dark twisted past, he is forced to confront a shocking secret about his own life that he has kept secret for 50 years.

Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman are really great in this. As is Ed Harris in a petite, but creepy and effective role. Gary Sinise’s chemistry with Hopkins is stellar. Sinise is also good as a reclusive authour who is holed up in his cabin in the woods, but there aren’t any zombies or ‘oh my god’ moments in this flick.

The Human Stain‘s biggest fault is that it’s just a little dull and not very interesting. The best scene in the feature is a charismatic dance shared between Sinise and Hopkins to “Cheek to Cheek”. Or maybe Kidman laying nude on her bed, even though they didn’t do a close-up. Dammit. When the film could have been amazing, it falters. For example, part of the ending is revealed in the beginning, and when that said scene actually happens, it isn’t emotionally hard-hitting in the least.

This film is an absolute mess. It’s all over the place, and some stuff is pretty mind-numbing. However, it is admittedly a well-made mess. It has great performances all around from the cast, but that’s all that’s good about this. And by the time Coleman Silk’s secret gets revealed, it’s like… That’s it? That’s the big secret? Well that’s not as shocking as I was hoping. It’s a little silly.

Here’s one blurb from a review that sums up my thoughts on the film very nicely: “One of those films that makes you say, ‘That was powerful. Now what the hell was it about?'” David Edelstein of Slate.

45/100

 

March 1-3 Box Office Predictions

The new releases

21 and Over
21 and Over
Jack the Giant Slayer
Jack the Giant Slayer
The Last Exorcism Part II
The Last Exorcism Part II
Phantom
Phantom

21 and Over
21 and Over is getting a large advertising campaign, with the name of Todd Phillips being not-so-subtle on the film’s poster. He is the producer of The Hangover and Project X, and this very much seems like a mash between the two. The Hangover opened to $44.9 million, while Project X opened to $21 million last March. Project X was a fairly large success, much to my bewilderment, and this will probably come out a little shy of its number (it’s being targeted at basically everyone between the ages of 17 and 25) – it seems like it will be The Hangover and Project X, and unlike Project X, we’ve actually seen a few of these actors before. This could be a very hit-and-miss comedy, but it’s sure to grab a solid teen audience. By the end of the weekend, Jeff Chang could be a teen household name (like it isn’t already).

Jack the Giant Slayer will make the biggest splash this weekend, but it might just drop off the grid by this time next weekend, when Oz the Great and the Powerful comes out. Much like last March’s John Carter that opened to $30 million, this is a big-budget production, and it might be yet another bomb… Fairy tale re-imaginings often open well, like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters opening to $19.6 million, and Snow White and the Huntsman opening to $56.2 million. It could go either way for this one, it really all depends on how many people are willing to pay $13 to see giants and humans fighting in a giant war.

I’m really sick and tired of seeing the TV spot for The Last Exorcism Part II playing over and over and over. Since the found footage sub-genre’s trend has died down, this took away the found footage charm of the first, and will now just be a regular shot flick. The first opened to $20.6 million, but this won’t do nearly as well. Demonic possession is getting to be a very tedious sub-genre, and I’m not convinced that many will like to run out to see this, but it might do a bit better than last weekend’s Dark Skies $8.2 million.

Much like the covert mission cloaked in mystery Phantom depicts, this film is coming to 2000 theaters pretty incognito. I have not seen any trailers of this at the theater, nor have I seen any TV spots. I’m convinced that hardly anyone knows this is coming to theaters. This reminds me  of last year’s Red Tails, a film that opened to $18.7 million, and one that didn’t have a large marketing campaign. Of course, my memory might be horrible and I just don’t remember seeing any trailers for it. This film is a sort-of claustrophobic submarine thriller, and films like this (Crimson Tide opened to $18.6, The Hunt for Red October to $17.1) open to an average of $12.56 million. This won’t come remotely close to those numbers, nor will it get a total gross close to those numbers. My prediction for this is $2.3 million.

Here’s how I see the top 10: 

Title: Prediction

1. Jack the Giant Slayer: $26, 500, 000
2. 21 and Over: $15, 500, 000
3. The Last Exorcism Part II: $10, 200, 000
4. Identity Thief: $8, 400, 000
5. Snitch: $6, 500, 000
6. Escape from Planet Earth: $6, 300, 000
7. Safe Haven: $5, 500, 000
8. Silver Linings Playbook: $5, 150, 000
9. A Good Day to Die Hard: $4, 900, 000
10. Dark Skies: $3, 700, 000

The Impossible (2012)

The Impossible (Lo Imposible)

Release Date: December 21, 2012

Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

Stars: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland

Runtime: 114 min

Tagline: Nothing is more powerful than the human spirit.

Did you know? The real family that the main characters are based on are in fact Spanish but living in Japan at the time of the Tsunami.

On Sunday, December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake forever changed the lives of many people, and took the lives of over 230, 000 in fourteen countries. The earthquake trigged a series of ravaging tsunamis along the coasts bordering the Indian Ocean. Coastal communities were struck with waves up to 30 meters high. All these factors make it one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand were the countries most devastated by the tsunamis. The Impossible tells the true story of one of the families caught in the middle of one of the worst natural catastrophes of our time.

Maria Bennett (Naomi Watts), her husband, Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three sons, from eldest to youngest, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), are on an airplane on their way to a beach resort in Thailand, where they will be spending the Christmas holidays. They’re a very regular family, they get scared, and they open presents just like everyone else on a beautiful Christmas morning. On Boxing Day, they spend the morning at the beach, just like many other tourists. However, their normal day turns awry when they hear a distant noise becoming a roar. A tsunami strikes the resort, Maria and Lucas go one way, and Henry and the two youngest, the other. Will they be able to survive and overcome the unlikely odds of finding each other?

This definitely could just be another average, inspiring story. However, it has a lot more going for it. This manages to stand out in memory as a strong, emotional, inspirational feature that is one of the most truly moving films of 2012.

The dramatic screenplay sets a canvas for great performances from the whole cast. Naomi Watts is the strongest of the bunch, but is not the only one who deserves recognition for her efforts. Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland are also fantastic. McGregor must show fear and many other emotions in the hope of finding his family. In one scene, he breaks down emotionally calling a family member back home (it might be his brother) that deems difficult for the audience member not to be moved by. For this scene alone, he really should have received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Holland also shows that his character is strong-willed because he goes off to help other families, leading to a fantastic scene that strikes like an emotional bulldozer. Holland also proves capable of carrying a film when he is called on to.

McGregor and Holland express very real emotions of desperation and despair that we’d all be feeling in this situation. The two little kids also deliver strong performances, albeit not as memorable as everyone else. They still leave an impression, and they are great enough to not be just another child actor destined for a forgettable dead-end career on the Disney channel.

These characters are strong-willed and would do anything to survive and find each other. This film is a true testament of the human spirit, much like Les Misérables. However, the obstacle those characters had to face was the French Revolution, and not 30-meters high waves. The audience can really relate to the characters, because this could really happen to anyone in any place or time. They are so real that it’s difficult not to root for them. After watching this, you’ll probably want to run home and hug your loved ones all day long.

The film is usually very realistic, even if there are some tedious scenes that rely on suspense a bit more than drama, as there are some scenes where the audience member is in their seat dying for the family members to find each other. These aspects make it not only a drama, but at times a thriller. There are intense scenes like when they are trying to find each other, when the devastating tsunami strikes the resort and Maria and Lucas are fighting to hold onto each other, and in a few dream-like sequences. These aspects keep it from turning into a melodramatic mess. Some suspenseful scenes audience members might just wish would end, because they might just be a little too emotionally draining. It all gets back on track, though, when those few times come about. One other unrealistic aspect, however, is the fact that the two younger sons seem to be well-groomed. What, did they find a hair stylist merely floating about?

Naomi Watts gets a leg that’s disgustingly prone to infections, poor Holland has a spine that looks like it was dragged across a dirt road, and McGregor gets red rings around his pupils that will spark a nasty case of pink eye. These two little guys get a few scratches. What’s up with that? Other than that little misstep, the make-up is really quite marvelous, making us think that the actors really may have been in this tsunami.

This feature is really, really quite must-see. It is endlessly inspiring and emotionally strong, even if I feel four or five minutes could have been edited out. It even has some truly amazing cinematography, and the film is simply beautiful. I feel, however, that I must give you a few warnings about this feature. 1) There are some seriously nasty injury images, specifically Watts’ leg injury, that make this a feature not for the faint of heart. At all. 2) This is not a good date movie. Well, unless your angle is to let your date see you cry deeply, then go right for it!

One more thing: If you are not emotionally moved by this feature on some level, I highly recommend seeing a psychiatrist – you might be a sociopath. Seriously.

87/100