Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Help

This morning I saw The Help, starring Viola Davis and Emma Stone.

I'll confess, I haven't read the book, but what I saw today certainly impressed me.

It's the early 60s and Skeeter (Stone), a recent Ole Miss grad, returns to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi to launch her career as a writer. Assigned to write responses for a cleaning column (something she knows nothing about) she turns to 'the help' for help. Her friend's maid Aibileen (Davis) graciously agrees to provide her with correct answers for the column, and once they begin talking, Skeeter realizes she could write a much more interesting story. Her idea is to interview Aibileen and other black maids in town to tell about their lives from their perspective.

After much persuasion, Aibileen begins sharing her history in secret meetings with Skeeter. The talks go well, but Skeeter's editor wants more material to make a complete book. Trouble is, the maids in town are so scared of losing their jobs—or worse, their lives—that they choose to remain silent.

A number of awful, racist things happen in Jackson. Town bitch Hilly, played marvelously by Bryce Dallas Howard, wants all the colored people to have their own toilets. Because she holds so much respect among the Junior League, the other white housewives blindly follow her lead and begin installing their own separate toilets.

Shortly thereafter, civil rights leader Medgar Evars is gunned down in his own front yard, and all of the maids band together to tell their stories. They've reached the end of their tether.

Octavia Spencer as Minny is especially entertaining, her stature and strength reminiscent of Mammy in Gone With the Wind, who is coincidentally referenced in the film. But all of the maids are convincing in their individual degrees of conviction, just as the white-people-who-don't-realize-their-racist also seem authentic.

The film is peppered with various notable supporting performances: Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney and Nelsan Ellis all seamlessly blend in to the landscape and add just enough spark to make us remember them. Also fabulous is Jessica Chastain as Jackson's token outcast, Celia.

Really, there are no bad performances in this film, and with the exception of the length (at least half an hour could've been shaved off), this is a very satisfying, if not somewhat sad, snapshot of life in the South not so long ago.

Oscar season, here we come.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Tonight I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson.

It is seldom that a film franchise provides a decent sequel, let alone a respectable eighth film in a series, but this one thankfully did.

Deathly Hallows, Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off with (me sobbing at) Dobby the House Elf's untimely demise.

Harry has a mission to find the final Horcrux, kill the snake and ultimately kill Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who is more menacing and magically awful in this one than any of the previous films.

The pace is slow at first, but that's okay—we've missed these characters and it's nice to warm up to them again. In fact, the scene where Harry first sees his love, Ginny, was especially stomach-jump worthy. Then again, I'm a hopeless romantic so your results may vary.

Anyway—after they get the reunions (somewhat) out of the way, the film goes very Indiana Jones, and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's definitely the most physical of the eight and quite possibly the only one that will give me nightmares (specifically the fire with the faces in it and just about any Voldemort scene). But it's exciting—even when you know what happens next.

The main characters are pitch perfect, as usual, and the supporting (three cheers for Neville Longbottom!) are just as charming. Though I wasn't too young when the series started, I do feel like I've "grown up" with this bunch, and their familiarity is a comfort.

I won't reveal the ending, though if you're a breathing human being you probably know how it all turns out.

I'll just say that the finale was incredibly satisfying, I was never bored, and I'm so, so sad that it's over.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Tonight I saw Crazy, Stupid, Love starring Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling.

Yes, it really is that good.

I'll admit I was skeptical of what some critics are practically calling the second coming of romantic comedies, but it really got me.

Cal (Carell) is a devastated dad who is blindsided by his wife's admission of an affair and her desire for a divorce. He drowns his sorrows in cranberry vodkas at a local club, which is obviously geared toward younger singles.

His moping catches the eye of womanizer Jacob (Gosling) who decides to adopt Cal as a pet project and give him a man-makeover. Soon they are picking up women in the same way, and loving-and-leaving them.

Emily (Julianne Moore), Cal's wife, is remorseful about her cheating, but still seeing the "other man" at work. Jessica, the babysitter, (Analeigh Tipton) has a crush on Cal. Cal's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has a crush on Jessica. Confused yet?

Really, it's much simpler than it sounds, and undeniably sweet.

Sure, Emily's done something bad and Cal's behavior in the aftermath isn't much better, but the difference between this and a million other rom-coms is that these characters are very likable. We actually kind of want them to reconcile, despite their mistakes, to keep their son's vision of true love alive.

Also a joy to watch is the slimy-yet-redeeming Ryan Gosling and the always-electric Emma Stone. Their chemistry is fantastic, though they're barely on screen more than 15 minutes together.

There's laughter throughout, a borderline-slapstick scene at the end (following a twist that most won't see coming) and a satisfying ending that's both believable and welcome.

Yeah, you should go see it. I might just see it again.