Film Review: A Dog’s Way Home (dir by Charles Martin Smith)


I’ll admit it right now.  I’ve never really been a dog person.

That’s the way it’s been my entire life.  According to my sisters, I was bitten by a dog when I was two years old.  Needless to say, I don’t remember that happening but that still might explain why, when I was growing up, I was scared to death of dogs.  Seriously, if I was outside and I heard a dog barking or if I saw a dog running around loose (or even on a leash), I would immediately start shaking.  It didn’t help that, for some reason, I always seemed to run into the big dogs that wanted to jump and slobber all over me.  (“Don’t be scared,” one dog owner shouted at 10 year-old me, “that’ll just make him more wild,” as if it was somehow my responsibility to keep his dog under control.)

As I grew up, I become less scared of dogs but they still definitely make me nervous.  I still cringe when listening to the barking and I still reflexively step back whenever I see a big dog anywhere near me.  Now that I know more about dogs, I have to admit that I feel a little bit guilty about not liking them more.  Knowing that dogs actually blame themselves for me not liking them is kind of heart-breaking and I have been making more of an effort to be, if nothing else, at least polite to the canines who lives in the neighborhood.  That said, I’m a cat person and I’ll always be cat person.  Cats don’t care if you like them or not nor do they blame themselves if you’re in a bad mood, which is lot less of an emotional responsibility to deal with.

With all that in mind, I have to say that I still enjoyed A Dog’s Way Home.  It’s a family film that was released last January, dealing with an adorable dog named Bella.  Bella (whose thoughts are heard courtesy of a Bryce Dallas Howard voice-over) is raised underneath an abandoned building by a cat.  (“Mother cat!” Bella shouts as the audiences goes, “Awwwwwww!”)  When the building is demolished by an unscrupulous businessman, Bella is adopted by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King).  Lucas works at the VA and Bella is soon a hit with everyone from the patients to Lucas’s mom (Ashley Judd).  In fact, the only people who don’t love Bella are the corrupt animal control people.  They not only declare Bella to be a pit bull but they also say that it’s illegal for her to live in Denver.

In order to keep the city of Denver from putting Bella down, Lucas and his mom make plans to move to a suburb.  However, until they can move, they arrange for Bella to stay at friend’s house, 400 miles away.  Bella doesn’t understand what’s happening.  She just wants to get back home to Lucas.  And, when she hears someone utter the words “go home,” this leads to Bella attempting to do just that.  Escaping from her temporary home, Bella spends the next two years making her way to her real home.

Along the way, of course, Bella has adventures.  For instance, she discovers that humans really suck sometimes.  When a cougar is killed by hunters, Bella adopts and raises the cougar’s child.  (Bella calls her “Little Kitten” and then, after a few months pass, “Big Kitten.”)  She also discovers that sometimes, humans can be okay, like when she’s temporarily adopted by a couple who love her but who just aren’t Lucas.  And, when she’s temporarily the property of a homeless man, Bella learns about the comfort that a pet can bring to someone in need….

There’s nothing surprising about the film but it’s well-done and, like Bella itself, blessed with a genuinely sweet nature.  (I started crying about five minutes into the film and I teared up several times afterwards.)  Though the corrupt animal control officers seem like they stepped out of a bad Disney film from the 60s, the rest of the cast does a pretty good job of bringing some needed sincerity to even the most sentimental of scenes and it’s impossible not to be touched by Bella’s determination to return to Lucas.  It’s a sweet movie, one that can be enjoyed even by someone who isn’t much of a dog person.

The SAG Nominations are here and … Hello there, Captain Fantastic!


captain-fantasticEarlier the year, I choose not to see Captain Fantastic.  Every bit of advertising that I saw for it led me to believe that Captain Fantastic was basically just Wes Anderson-lite and, as we all know, only Wes Anderson can successfully duplicate Wes Anderson.

Well, I think I may have made a mistake because Viggo Mortensen is definitely in the hunt for best actor.  Though most of the precursor awards (so far) have gone to Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea, Mortensen still seems like a likely nominee.

Just consider this: he got a SAG nomination!  And so did Captain Fantastic, itself!  It was nominated for best ensemble, which is the SAG equivalent of best picture…

Actually, maybe you shouldn’t spend too much time fixating on that.  People like me always talk about how the SAG awards are an obvious precursor for the Oscars.  Our logic is that the Actor’s Branch is the largest voting bloc in the Academy and the members of the Actor’s Branch are among those who also vote for the SAG awards.

Of course, we always forget that the majority of SAG members are themselves not a part of the Academy.  So, while enough members of SAG may have liked Captain Fantastic for it to get an unexpected ensemble nomination, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those voters are also members of the Academy.

I mean, let’s consider what happened last year.  Beasts of No Nation picked up an ensemble nomination.   So did Straight Outta Compton.  So did Trumbo.  None of those films proved to be an Oscar powerhouse.  In fact, Beasts of No Nation received a grand total of zero Oscar nominations.

So, let’s put it like this — it’s a good sign for a film or a performer to get a SAG nomination.  But there’s still no guarantee that it will translate into Oscar recognition. Captain Fantastic may have been nominated and La La Land was snubbed (for ensemble).  But I imagine that the reverse will happen when the Oscar noms are announced in January.

With all that in mind, here are the SAG nominations!

FILM

Best Film Ensemble
“Captain Fantastic”
“Fences”
“Hidden Figures”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Best Actress
Amy Adams, “Arrival”
Emily Blunt, “The Girl on the Train”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Dev Patel, “Lion”

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Stunt Ensemble
“Captain America: Civil War”
“Doctor Strange”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Jason Bourne”
“Nocturnal Animals”

TV

Best Comedy Ensemble
“The Big Bang Theory”
“Black-ish”
“Modern Family”
“Orange is the New Black”
“Veep”

Best Comedy Actor
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Titus Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

Best Comedy Actress
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Jane Fonda, “Grace & Frankie”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace & Frankie”

Best Drama Ensemble
“The Crown”
“Downton Abbey”
“Game of Thrones”
“Stranger Things”
“Westworld”

Best Drama Actor
Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

Best Drama Actress
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Winona Ryder, “Stranger Things”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

Best Movie/Miniseries Actor
Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Sterling K. Brown, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”
Bryan Cranston, “All The Way”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”
Courtney B Vance, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”

Best Movie/Miniseries Actress
Bryce Dallas Howard, “Black Mirror”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
Audra McDonald, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”
Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”
Kerry Washington, “Confirmation”

Best Stunt Ensemble
“Game of Thrones”
“Daredevil”
“Luke Cage”
“The Walking Dead”
“Westworld”

Mad Max: Fury Road dominates the 21st Annual Critics Choice Nominations!


MadMaxFuryRoad

It’s been a busy few days as far as the Oscar precursors are concerned.  Let’s see how quickly I can get us caught up.  First off, the 21st Annual Critics Choice nominations were announced yesterday and Mad Max: Fury Road totally dominated them!

And you know what that means — its time to say that the Critics Choice nominations are …. MAD ABOUT MAX!

Anyway, here are the nominations!

BEST PICTURE
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn

Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Sicario
Spotlight

BEST ACTOR
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian
Johnny Depp – Black Mass
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Paul Dano – Love & Mercy
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon – 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
Helen Mirren – Trumbo
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
Abraham Attah – Beasts of No Nation
RJ Cyler – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Shameik Moore – Dope
Milo Parker – Mr. Holmes
Jacob Tremblay – Room

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
The Big Short
The Hateful Eight
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton
Trumbo

BEST DIRECTOR
Todd Haynes – Carol
Alejandro González Iñárritu – The Revenant
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott – The Martian
Steven Spielberg – Bridge of Spies

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen – Bridge of Spies
Alex Garland – Ex Machina
Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley – Inside Out
Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Charles Randolph and Adam McKay – The Big Short
Nick Hornby – Brooklyn
Drew Goddard – The Martian
Emma Donoghue – Room
Aaron Sorkin – Steve Jobs

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Carol – Ed Lachman
The Hateful Eight – Robert Richardson
Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
The Martian – Dariusz Wolski
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario – Roger Deakins

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Bridge of Spies – Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo
Brooklyn – François Séguin, Jennifer Oman and Louise Tremblay
Carol – Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler
The Danish Girl – Eve Stewart, Michael Standish
Mad Max: Fury Road – Colin Gibson
The Martian – Arthur Max, Celia Bobak

BEST EDITING
The Big Short – Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
The Martian – Pietro Scalia
The Revenant – Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight – Tom McArdle

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Brooklyn – Odile Dicks-Mireaux
Carol – Sandy Powell
Cinderella – Sandy Powell
The Danish Girl – Paco Delgado
Mad Max: Fury Road – Jenny Beavan

BEST HAIR & MAKEUP
Black Mass
Carol
The Danish Girl
The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Ex Machina
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
The Walk

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Anomalisa
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

BEST ACTION MOVIE
Furious 7
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Sicario

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Daniel Craig – Spectre
Tom Cruise – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Tom Hardy – Mad Max: Fury Road
Chris Pratt – Jurassic World
Paul Rudd – Ant-Man

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Emily Blunt – Sicario
Rebecca Ferguson – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Bryce Dallas Howard – Jurassic World
Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST COMEDY
The Big Short
Inside Out
Joy
Sisters
Spy
Trainwreck

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Christian Bale – The Big Short
Steve Carell – The Big Short
Robert De Niro – The Intern
Bill Hader – Trainwreck
Jason Statham – Spy

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Tina Fey – Sisters
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Melissa McCarthy – Spy
Amy Schumer – Trainwreck
Lily Tomlin – Grandma

BEST SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIE
Ex Machina
It Follows
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Assassin
Goodnight Mommy
Mustang
The Second Mother
Son of Saul

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Amy
Cartel Land
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
He Named Me Malala
The Look of Silence
Where to Invade Next

BEST SONG
Fifty Shades of Grey – Love Me Like You Do
Furious 7 – See You Again
The Hunting Ground – Til It Happens To You
Love & Mercy – One Kind of Love
Spectre – Writing’s on the Wall
Youth – Simple Song #3

BEST SCORE
Carol – Carter Burwell
The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
The Revenant – Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto
Sicario – Johann Johannsson
Spotlight – Howard Shore

6 Reviews To Help Lisa Get Caught Up: Ant-Man, Cinderella, Jurassic World, Magic Mike XXL, The Man From UNCLE, Terminator: Genisys


So, it’s that time of year!  2015 is nearly over and soon, it will be time for me to make out my best-of and worst-of lists.  That means that now is the time that I look over all the films that I have watched up to this point, I realize how many of those films I have yet to review ,and I think, “Oh my God, how did I get this far behind?”

So, here are 6 capsule reviews, designed to help me get caught up!

Marvel's Ant-Man

Ant-Man (dir by Peyton Reed)

Ant-Man has already been reviewed twice on this site, once by Leonard Wilson and once by Ryan The Trashfilm Guru.  Leonard liked it.  Ryan did not.  As for me, my reaction was somewhere in between.  I enjoyed Ant-Man, though not as much as I’ve enjoyed some of the previous Marvel films.  Ant-Man was better than the second Thor film but nowhere close to being as good as Captain America: Winter Soldier.

What I did like about Ant-Man were the performances of Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Pena.  I even enjoyed Michael Douglas’s performance, which is saying something when you consider the fact that, as of late, Michael Douglas has really been making my skin crawl.  I also thought that the film did a good job creating Ant-Man’s microscopic world, even if I’m still not totally sold on the character as a dynamic hero.  I do wish that the film had a stronger villain.  Corey Stoll is such a good actor and capable of doing so much and it was hard not to regret that he was stuck playing such a generic bad guy.

Cinderella (dir by Kenneth Branagh)

Oh, how I loved Cinderella!  The film, a live-action retelling of the Cinderella story, was a gorgeous fairy tale and a wonderful reminder that a film doesn’t have to be dark and depressing to be good.  (In many ways, Cinderella serves as an antidote to not only Into The Woodsbut countless Tim Burton films as well.)  Lily James is beautiful in the title role, Richard Madden is wonderfully charming as the prince, and Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter are perfectly cast as the stepmother and the fairy godmother.

Jurassic World (dir by Colin Trevorrow)

Jurassic World was previously reviewed by Ryan the Trashfilm Guru.  I hate to admit it but I was, initially, one of those people who watched Jurassic World and got annoyed because the film was predictable and the script was a bit clunky.  Traditionally (and, if you doubt me, just read my review of Avatar), it bothers me when a film devotes so much time special effects that it can’t seem to be bothered with character development and clever dialogue.

But then I thought about it somewhat and I thought to myself, you know what?  This movie had Chris Pratt and it had some very convincing dinosaurs!  And, especially when it comes to a summer blockbuster, that is sometimes all you need.

(Why I enjoyed Jurassic World while disliking Avatar largely comes down to the difference between Chris Pratt and Sam Worthington.)

Magic Mike XXL (dir by Gregory Jacobs)

Oddly enough, I had the roughly the same reaction to Magic Mike XXL that I had to Jurassic World.  Yes, there are certain things — mostly concerning the film’s script — about which I could nitpick but what’s truly important is that Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, and most of the original cast of Magic Mike is back and they’re stripping again.  Magic Mike XXL is a huge (heh heh) crowd pleaser, a film that delivers exactly what it promises.

Though Steven Soderbergh served as cinematographer for Magic Mike XXL, he did not return to serve as director and perhaps that’s why Magic Mike XXL feels like a far less pretentious film than the first Magic Mike.  Out of the original cast, both Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer both declined to appear in the sequel.  McConaughey is missed, Pettyfer less so.

The Man From UNCLE (dir by Guy Ritchie)

The Man From Uncle is one of the many stylish spy films to be released this year.  Henry Cavill is an American spy, Armie Hammer is a Russian spy, and Hugh Grant is the Englishman who tells them both what to do.  The Man From Uncle was entertaining.  It took place in the 60s, so there was a lot of wonderful retro fashion and the whole movie moved at a nice, breezy pace.  Ultimately — and I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t exactly fair — The Man From UNCLE suffered because it was released in the same year as Kingsman and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  Man From UNCLE was entertaining but rather generic.  At no point did it reach the lunatic high of Kingsman’s Free Bird sequence.

Terminator: Genisys (dir by Alan Taylor)

You can read Ryan’s review of Terminator: Genisys here.  I have to admit that Terminator: Genisys confused the Hell out of me.  Not being a huge fan of the entire Terminator franchise (though, yes, I do know what Skynet is and I have seen the first two films), I do have to admit that I sometimes felt lost while watching Genisys.

But you know what?  If you just sit back and relax and try not to think about the film too much — if you just accept it as an action film and watch for the stunts and the explosions — Terminator: Genisys is not the disaster that many critics made it out to be.  I mean, let’s just be honest here.  Most critics would die before they gave a good review to any film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  (Just check out all the negativity that greeted the brilliant zombie film, Maggie.)  After all, Schwarzenegger is an outspoken, confident, cheerfully arrogant Republican and most film critics can only relate to the arrogant part.  (And even then, they don’t ever seem to be very cheerful about it…)  Terminator: Genisys is a well-made and perfectly adequate action film, one that works as long as you don’t spend too much time dwelling on it.  It’s cinematic junk food and there’s nothing wrong with that.

terminator-genisys-super-bowl-ad-debuts

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Jurassic World”


jurassic-world-own-raptors-poster

“Everything old is new again.”

How many times have you heard that one? Well, in the case of the just-released (and record-setting in terms of its worldwide box office take) Jurassic World, it turns out that tired old adage is actually quite true, since director Colin Trevorrow has chosen to hew pretty closely to Steven Spielberg’s original model for this fourth installment in the previously-presumed- moribund franchise extrapolated from the works of Michael Crichton. There’s certainly nothing happening here that one could call overtly “new,” per se, but gosh — it’s been so long since Jurassic Park III  that it all just sorta feels new, ya know?

DLC00020-720x405

CGI technology has come a long way since the original Jurassic Park  made its debut in 1993, as well, and that’s a big factor — maybe even the biggest factor — in this new flick’s by-popcorn-movie-standards “success,” but don’t think that means I’m damning Jurassic World with faint praise. Truth be told, we just got back from seeing it in Imax 3-D and it’s got pretty much everything you’d ever want in a brainless summer thrill ride : superb effects, likable leads, drama, suspense, tension-cutting humor, nicely despicable (sorry, does that even make sense?) villains, and mile-a-minute thrills. My wife and I both left the theater smiling and I ain’t ashamed to admit it.

My only real gripe is one that I knew I’d have going in — Jurassic World continues the morally-questionable trend established at the series’ outset of using kids placed in danger (in this case brothers Zach and Gray, played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, respectively) as its primary focus/narrative crutch, with benevolent adults coming in to save the day (here represented by Chris Pratt’s  “dinosaur wrangler” character Owen, and Bryce Dallas Howard — who, goddamit, Hollywood is bound and determined to make a star out of yet! — as their hitherto- inattentive aunt Claire, who’s one of the park’s big-wigs), and I’m sorry, but if you don’t know why that scenario is inherently creepy to some of us, then you haven’t been paying much attention to the some of the uglier and more salacious rumors about Spielberg’s personal life that have been swirling around for decades now. And that I won’t repeat here. So let’s just move on, shall we?

ydln1orxqd4neeasuboo

In any case, that solitary-but-predictable qualm aside, the fact of the matter is that Jurassic World is expertly-crafted throwaway fun. Not every movie needs to re-invent the wheel to stand out, and Trevorrow wisely has that figured from the outset here. All we want from his big-budget extravaganza is pretty much the same sort of story that had us jumping in our seats all those years ago, and to feel the same sort of “rush of excitement” that we did back then and which the two previous installments in the series just weren’t able to capture. It’s a dinosaur movie, for Christ’s sake, so just give us a shit-load of dinos on the loose and we’re gonna be happy! How hard is that to figure out?

jurassic-world-pratt-howard

About the only  wrinkles to the formula here are the introduction of the new genetically-engineered “super-dinosaur” Indominus Rex, and the hare-brained scheme laid out by the villainous Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) to train Velociraptors to be — uhhmmm — super-soldiers for the US army. But rich people with more money than sense employing unscrupulous lackeys and amoral scientists have been a Jurassic staple, in one form or another, from jump, and one might even argue that really smart people doing really dumb things has always been at the heart of these flicks. That’s okay with me if the end result is admittedly disposable fare done with this much gusto, flair, and panache. There are a million and one reasons to write off Jurassic World as derivative, senseless garbage,  sure — but when you’ve got five or six bloodthirsty dinosaurs battling it out for supremacy at the end, I don’t care about any of those intellectual (or, as is more often the case, pseudo-intellectual) arguments. I’m just having a damn good time.

Jurassic World Adds To The Summer Action


JurassicWorld

Was there ever a need for a fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise? For years many have tried to answer that and projects to get it up and running stalled for need of a director willing to sign on to a franchise that has been passed up by the superhero action tsunami that has hit pop culture.

It is now 2015 and we’re just months away from finally seeing the fruits of over a decade’s worth of labor to bring a fourth Jurassic Park film to the big screen. While it may still have Steven Spielberg attached as executive producer there’s no Joe Johnston anywhere near this fourth film. We have Carl Trevorrow taking the director’s chair with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard taking on the lead roles.

Jurassic World is set to open it’s doors to the world on June 12, 2015 (took them long enough).

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: The Help (dir. by Tate Taylor)


I actually watched several things last night, including the season premieres of The Bachelor and Intervention.  However, neither one of those is an Oscar contender.  The Help is, so I decided I better take the time to watch the film via OnDemand.

Why Was I Watching It?

I wasn’t planning on seeing this movie when it first originally opened in theaters because, just based on the trailer, it looked like it would be your typical, terribly self-congratulatory mainstream films.  I’ve seen far too many films that promote the same old stereotypes in the name of progress and tolerance, as if good intentions can make up for bad filmmaking.  But, so many of my girlfriends came to me raving about how much they loved this film and then my Aunt Kate just about disinherited me when I told her I hadn’t seen the movie (or read the book that it’s based on) and eventually I realized that I had to see the film.  Add to that, chances are that this film is going to be an Oscar contender.

What Was It About

In segregated Mississippi, aspiring writer Skeeter (Emma Stone) decides to write book about the life of the African-American maids and nannies who work for her best friends.  After some initial difficulty, she wins the trust of two maids (Viola Davis and Octavia Spenser) and gets down to exposing the truth.

What Worked

First off, The Help is a perfect example of a well-made, entertaining mainstream film.  I laughed at the funny parts, I cried at the sad parts, and I thoroughly enjoyed the film, even though it kinda fell apart during the 2nd hour.  There’s a lot of very legitimate issues that you can raise about how the film portrays life in the segregated South but the film itself is entertaining and well-made.

It’s also one the best acted films of 2011 with Viola Davis, Octavia Spenser, and Emma Stone all giving great performances.  Jessica Chastain is funny playing a clueless newlywed and Bryce Dallas Howard does a typically good job playing the type of bitchy Queen Bee that we’ve all know and  have all secretly hoped would end up fat and divorced.  I also thought Allison Janney, who plays Stone’s mother, gave an excellent and underrated performance.

This film was directed with a perfect eye for the details needed to make even the most minor of characters memorable.  If nothing else, I enjoyed watching it just to see what everyone would be wearing from scene to scene.

The film’s first hour is probably as perfectly paced and tonally balanced as any film I’ve seen.  However, things fall apart during the second hour (more on that below).  Luckily, the film’s ending is powerful and partially redeems the film’s uneven tone.

What Didn’t Work

The film is moves along pretty well until the 2nd hour, at which point it smashed into a wall created by the inability of mainstream film to truly honestly deal with racism.  At the start of the second hour, civil rights leader Medgar Evers is assassinated by a member of the Ku Klux Klan and I found myself waiting for some sort of expression of anger (or really, any emotion other than stoic suffering) on the part of “the help.”  Instead, we get a scene where both Viola Davis and Emma Stone are watching Evers’s funeral together and both are impressed to see John F. Kennedy show up.  In the next scene, Davis has put a picture of President Kennedy up on her wall next to a picture of Jesus.  So, in other words, this film reacts to the murder of a black man but deifying a white man.  After showing us a clue of violent reality, it’s as if the film can’t figure out how to balance out the ugly realities of racism with the film’s need to appeal to the widest possible audience.  As a result, the next hour of the film feels rather disjointed and uneven.  Even though the film partially redeems itself with one of the best endings of the year, it’s still hard not to feel as if we’re watching a feel good film about something nobody should feel all that good about.

Like a lot of mainstream films about racism, a good deal of this film centers on the friendship between blacks and a few white people who, magically, don’t appear to have a shred of prejudice within them despite the fact that they were raised in the same racist culture as every other white person in the film.  As a result, the racism seen in the film doesn’t really seem like it’s an ingranied part of culture as much as it just seems like the result of a couple of bullies acting like jerks.  As a result, despite its very good intentions, a film like The Help will often unintentionally minimize just what a struggle the fight for civil rights was and is. 

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Needless to say, I totally related to Emma Stone’s character in this film. 

Lessons Learned

It’s difficult to make a feel-good movie about racism.