THE FILM YAP » the help We Never Shut Up About Movies Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:48:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Austin’s WORST 10 of 2011 Sat, 31 Dec 2011 05:02:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Last year was my first year with The Film Yap. I was the young’un who took every film assignment, mainly the ones that nobody wanted to take — AKA the worst films imaginable. This year, I tried to avoid those assignments, but I kept taking ones that I found morbidly curious. They can’t really be as bad as people say, right? Of course they are.

Most of my most hated films this year I actually didn’t figure were going to be this bad. I was even anticipating most of them. Not all of them can be winners, but … boy they should be better than this.

#10 – Drive Angry 3D

By this point, everyone knows that Nicolas Cage desperately needs to make money. Even if you aren’t following his hysterical financial problems, it’s evident through his films. He makes a few films people enjoy like “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” and “Kick-Ass,” but mostly he just jumps aboard anything in production from “Next” to “The Wicker Man” to this. The reason “Drive Angry” is bad isn’t because of the subject matter. Having a guy escape hell to save his granddaughter from a satanic cult can be silly fun. Oh sorry, “daughter’s daughter.” They never use the “g” word; can’t let you think Cage is old. Instead, all of the plot holes, boring action scenes, worthless characters and fading stakes make this a mess instead of the cool ’80s film it wanted to be.

#9 – Anonymous

There are dozens of solid theories about why Shakespeare wasn’t the author of some of the beloved plays in history. “Anonymous” may be the dumbest. Their idea is that William Shakespeare was a poor actor. Therefore, he couldn’t have written anything of value, so it must have been a rich aristocrat. Then, it’s one implausible connection after another to set the pieces in place so “Hamlet” can be released to the world. Saying someone who didn’t go to an established university couldn’t have written “Richard III” but saying an 8-year-old wrote “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is valid? This would be stupid on its own, but with an idiotic structure, laughable theatre scenes and the most serious tone imaginable, this is unwatchable.

#8 – The Help

When this film ended, I really expected the row of critics to be on my side to say this is a trainwreck. Nope! But truly, this is a disaster of a film. Joe Shearer and I extensively argued the film when it came out. What still resonates after so many months is how the characters feel like nothing. Viola Davis is a great actress who deserves plenty of complex roles, but this wasn’t anything except for a footnote of history. She could have played a character who happened to live in an era where the situations of history affected her persona, but that’s not the case. She is just an archetypical example of a maid from this time, which means she will cry a lot. Everyone is either an extremely racist person or someone with 2011 ideals to criticize the others. The script, direction and editing are so amateur, it’s a struggle to get through.

#7 –The Beaver

I wanted Mel Gibson to have a comeback. He seems like a lousy person with whom I wouldn’t want to have dinner, but he is still an entertaining actor. This script has been thrown around for a while noted as one of the best unproduced screenplays. Now that I’ve seen the final product, I have no idea why. All of the actors are perfectly fine, but the skeleton of “The Beaver” is a mess — cliché after cliché without a single earned moment. Since none of the characters acts like realistic people, they fail every time they try for catharsis.

#6 – Mars Needs Moms

This is one of the biggest Hollywood financial disasters of all time, and most people can’t even remember this came out. Thus, the disaster. “Mars Needs Moms” cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make but only made a tad back theatrically. This hurt Robert Zemekis’ motion-capture business so much he’s had to return to live action after vowing to never do that again. Could this be an undeserving failure? I wouldn’t wish them to lose that much money, but this is a terrible movie. Aliens kidnap moms because they need to suck out the maternal instincts. That could be a cool, dark kids movie, but this is joyless. The main character learns that he loves his mom in the first few minutes, and the rest of the time is just complaining while being surrounded by ugly trash. Even without the 3D glasses, it has this unpleasant color to it that makes you want to switch it off. Never the vibe you want to create.

#5 – Just Go With It

I refuse to see “Jack and Jill” even though I was tempted to put the trailer as my No. 1 choice. At this point, I just want to swear at Adam Sandler on the street, which is a problem because everyone says he’s a nice guy. Why would such a nice guy keep making these movies where he’s treated like a god and everyone else on the planet is labeled as a worthless buffoon? Characters don’t just laugh at his jokes; they bust a gut and may even try to kiss his feet. “Just Go With It” is a remake of the very funny “Cactus Flower,” for which Goldie Hawn won an Oscar. That character in this one is a bikini model who is just supposed to stand with cleavage. Her most emotional moment happens off screen, further proving if it’s not about Adam Sandler being praised, it doesn’t make it to the final cut.

#4 – The Hangover Part II

When I walked out of the theater for this, I was disappointed. The more I thought about it a day later, I hated it. When I listened to an interview with the screenwriters, I loathed it. They took such pride into make the exact same movie without having a single point to add to it. It took them so much work to recreate every single plot point, changing only the setting or prop. Changing a joke from “Two guys walked into a bar” to “two guys walked into a pub” won’t get a laugh the second time ’round. I really liked the first one because I liked the characters. I wanted to see a sequel because I wanted to see them in something new, not to be in a shot-for-shot remake.

#3 – The Change-Up

Never see this movie. It’s vile.

#2 – Green Lantern

“The Change-Up” is probably a worse film, but I hate “Green Lantern” more for what it represents. (By the way, don’t see “The Change-Up”; it’s vile.) My favorite director is Alfred Hitchcock. With every film, he wanted to show the audience something new; he always wanted to shock and awe them. It’s a contract with an artist. We give them money for the product and they make the best product they can. People can easily spend their money on something practical like food or rent, but they wanted to spend it on art. So at least pretend to make something worthwhile.

This is the laziest film I have ever seen — boring beyond anything imaginable because it doesn’t care about the audience. The hero is blander than a green screen, and the story doesn’t exist. It literally doesn’t exist. A story is a character who wants something but can’t get it, so there’s conflict. In “Green Lantern,” the character wants nothing. He’s fine with how he is. There isn’t even an unconscious want for a better life. He’s just so static about everything even when he’s whisped across the galaxy and given extreme responsibility over the Earth. When confronted with that, he quits because it doesn’t seem interesting to him. If saving the world is boring to him, why should we care? Everything else in the movie has been done a million times already — this summer even! So if Hitchcock wanted to always give you something new because he cares about the audience, what do these filmmakers want?

#1 – An Invisible Sign

I have no wish to watch any of the movies on this list again because they’re awful. Except for this one. Honestly, I want everyone to see this movie because it’s wonderfully bad. People give allegiance to colossal failures like “Troll 2” because they are made by people who thought they were making a good film without having the perspective of questioning all of the madness around them. This film is worthy of being included amongst those great awful movies. Why is this so bad?

Jessica Alba plays a math expert … who doesn’t do any math during the movie.

Alba doesn’t know how to play a quirky Zooey Deschanel-esque character, so she plays her as autistic.

J.K. Simmons wears ivory numbers around his neck that reflect his mood.

Alba gets her job as an elementary school math teacher because the principal remembered that Alba liked math when she was a kid and her mom said she went to college. NO FOLLOW UP WAS NECESSARY.

Alba did not go to college.

Since first- and second-graders stress her out, she does not bother to teach them anything. The fourth and fifth graders are never seen.

There is a scene where Alba is supposed to guess what type of cancer a student’s mother has. That scene is a comedic setpiece.

Alba buys a giant ax because it kinda looks like the number seven and hangs it on the wall of a children’s classroom after putting wrapping paper on it. (You know what happens if you introduce an axe in Act 1 …)

The science teacher avoids a parent teacher conference and blows bubbles on a swing outside. He has a quote, “If anyone asks, just say it’s a science experiment. Look … spheres.” A sphere is a geometric shape. Geometry is math, not science.

Alba really really plays up the autism performance.

Thinking of numbers all the time is apparently math.

A student says her favorite number is 100. Alba scolds her because she says it should be from 1 to 10.

The science teacher hitting on Alba is the most aggressive thing imaginable. It’s basically flirt rape. Or rape flirt. Or whatever you’d call the idea of not taking “no” for an answer of them being a couple.

Their movie date is adorably bad in all the ways the movie didn’t attend.

Jessica Alba plays a math expert.

Please see this movie. I own it on Blu-ray!

The Rest of the List

11. Cars 2

12. The Music Never Stopped

13. The Green Hornet

14. Gnomeo & Juliet

15. Take Me Home Tonight

16. My Last Day Without You

17. Another Earth

18. The Art of Getting By

19. The Thing

20. No Strings Attached

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Joe’s Top 10 of 2011 Tue, 27 Dec 2011 14:59:09 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 2011 has been an exceedingly weak year of cinema. There’s no “Social Network” or “Brokeback Mountain” or other clearcut classics.But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a large number of really good films.

But 2011 has a bevy of solid flicks about illegal immigrants, illness and ill-gotten gains, with memorable performances from maids, monsters and mutants. Here’s the 10 best of the bunch.

10. Midnight in Paris

A breezy, easy romp through the most romantic city in the world in what is, ironically, about a love affair with the city, not between two people. Owen Wilson is the most unlikely Woody Allen protagonist this side of Steven Seagal, but acquits himself well as a head-in-the-clouds writer who wanders Paris at night, entranced, and when the clock strikes 12 he is picked up by … Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald!? Rachel McAdams co-stars as his grounded rich fiancee, making “Paris” something of a breezier, alternate-universe sequel to “Wedding Crashers.”

9. A Better Life

The beautifully told tale of a struggling undocumented immigrant and his son and the multitude of dangers the better life presents. Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir) struggles doing landscaping work while his teenage son (Jose Julian), bored at home in inner-city Los Angeles, finds himself drawn to gang members. A hard-hitting, sobering drama about a father and son who find themselves drifting apart at a time they need each other more than ever.

8. X-Men: First Class

It would have been easy for director Matthew Vaughn to just crank out another superhero (pre)origin story, but Vaughn, who also helmed another unconventional superhero yarn, “Kick Ass,” infuses his superhero movie with equal parts ’60s pop-kitsch and ’70s revenge flick, culminating in a film that dares both to turn the previously villainous Magneto (Michael Fassbender) into a vengeful anti-hero and have the previously grandfatherly Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) hitting on chicks and uttering the word “groovy” Austin Powers style no less than a half-dozen times. Oh yeah, and it spectacularly melds an exciting X-Men tale with the real-life Cuban Missile Crisis, creates believable relationships between mutants and offers a surprisingly emotional explanation for why Professor X is in a wheelchair.

7. Margin Call

A dense, taut, gutsy flick that doesn’t dumb down its dialogue or story for an audience of laypeople, “Margin Call” goes full-speed and dares the audience to keep up. It’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” meets “Wall Street” and features enough cast to stock at least three films full of star power. The film follows a company in the vein of Lehman Brothers that almost singlehandedly throws the entire country into the Great Recession. The most telling thing about the film is the character Sam Rogers, who starts the film by callously firing a bunch of people (including Stanley Tucci of all people) and telling their friends and co-workers how irrelevant they were, then spends the rest of the film as the voice of reason.

6. Super 8

Exciting, scary, engaging, romantic and full of wonder, “Super 8″ is J.J. Abrams’ love letter to Steven Spielberg (or, perhaps, since Spielberg is an exec producer, his love letter to himself). Told through the eyes of a ‘7os-era preteen (Joel Courtney), we get kids making movies, daddy issues and a first crush, all built around a mysterious train crash and the extraordinarily frightening creature that caused it.

5. Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s take on the Killer Disease genre succeeds mostly because it sticks to the basics: a smartly told story of paranoia and fear that solidly shows both the government response to combatting the illness and the human toll as people lose loved ones. He turns the genre on its head a bit by using a big-time Hollywood cast — including Jude Law, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet — and isn’t afraid to kill some of them off. Soderbergh also employs a plot device masterfully used in at least one other film this year, which is mixing grief and anger when finding someone close to a major character has been betraying them.

4. The Help

A tremendously affecting period film dealing with race relations in the 1960s, “The Help” overcomes the the urge to be a patronizing crowd-pleaser and allows its characters to be real people. Even the film’s villains are afforded moments of kindness, whether it’s Hilly Holbrook’s activism or devotion to helping out Skeeter’s (Emma Stone) love life, or Skeeter’s mom, Charlotte (Allison Janney), taking her daughter’s side at a pivotal moment in the film, “The Help” understands that while intolerable cruelties were perpetuated on a people that continue to affect us all, they were made by people driven not by evil, but by fear. It’s that message at the core of “The Help” that allows the courage shown by its heroes to mean all the more that the cowardarice of the villains is not exaggerated.

3. The Descendants

While it’s one of the more mainstream-accessible films on this list, “The Descendants” has a lot going on. None of the major characters is extraneous or exists simply to drive the plot; each of them is given a real motivation, from Matt’s (George Clooney) broken relationships with the women in his life to Alexandra’s (Shailene Woodley, showing she’s anything but the cardboard cutout she is on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”) anger at her mother, father, and the world, to Sid (Nick Krause), a character who in a lesser film would exist solely as comic relief whom we find out is more than the dunderhead he seems to be. This is Clooney’s film, about a man who will soon be a widower who learns that his wife has been cheating on him, all the while finding pressure as the trustee of a lucrative stretch of ancestral land in Hawaii to sell, effectively spoiling the last stretch of undeveloped land in the Rainbow State but providing a financial windfall to himself and the rest of his family. But the film’s two best performances may belong to Amara Miller as Clooney’s younger daughter, and Judy Greer, who owns a pivotal scene where she comes face to face with the comatose woman who has been cheating with her husband.

2. Win Win

A quietly brilliant film featuring virtuoso performances by Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan (who between this, her run on “The Office” and her stellar performance in “Gone Baby Gone” is proving to be one of the more versatile actresses working), in a story about Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer who moonlights as a high-school wrestling coach. After back-dooring a client who can’t help himself (Burt Young) for a financial windfall, he meets the man’s troubled grandson (Max Shaffer), who happens to be a talented wrestler. Soon he’s on his wrestling team, battling opponents and the reach of his alcoholic, manipulative mother (Melanie Lynskey) to succeed. Also featuring outstanding performances from Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor, “Win Win” is stunningly emotional and sharply funny.

1.  Hugo

It took Martin Scorsese to finally get this new age of 3D going in the right direction after so many other films pussyfooted the gimmick into near obsolescence, and boy, did he tell a dynamite story doing it. “Hugo’s” title character (Asa Butterfield) is a scamp on the run — from the shopkeeper he keeps stealing from (Ben Kingsley), from the lame constable of the train station he lives at (Sacha Baron Cohen) and from the desolation of being utterly alone at one of the busiest places in 1930s Paris. All Hugo has are memories and a mysterious, broken automaton he received as a gift from his father (Jude Law).

When he befriends the shopkeeper’s granddaughter (Grace Chloe Moretz), he unlocks the secret to the automaton, and to the shopkeeper himself whose past he’s tied more to than he realizes.

With a dizzying, dazzling array of 3D effects that accentuate rather than dominate the film and an interesting, engaging cast of characters, “Hugo” is an enchanting, heartwarming, family-friendly story that is Scorsese’s love letter to cinema’s past.

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The Help Tue, 06 Dec 2011 05:47:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I would not be surprised to see “The Help” get a raft of Academy Award nominations. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer seem like locks in the Best Supporting Actress Category, playing African-American maids struggling with racism and oppression in 1960s Mississippi. And Bryce Dallas Howard might just slide in there, too, as the catty queen bee of the white social establishment.

Emma Stone also has a shot at a Best Actress nomination. She plays “Skeeter” Phelan, the recently graduated college woman and aspiring journalist who takes it upon herself to write about “the help” — black women who essentially raise the children of white well-to-do families only to be rewarded with condescension and Jim Crow status quo when those young ones grow up into adults.

For that matter, writer/director Tate Taylor does a smart job translating the phenomenally popular book by Kathryn Stockett to the screen, taking syrupy chick-flick material and turning it into a moving and surprisingly funny portrait of Southern womanhood in all its gritty glory and brittle pettiness. An Oscar nomination might just be in his future as well.

Heck, for that matter, why not a Best Picture nod for “The Help”? How many other films have grabbed audiences this year like this one, leaving them rolling in the aisles and with tears on their cheeks? It’s sure to be a big hit on video.

One disappointing note is that video extras are rather on the lean side. The DVD version comes only with a few deleted scenes and a music video for “The Living Proof” by Mary J. Blige.

Upgrade to the Blu-ray, and you add a few more deleted scenes, along with two featurettes — a making-of documentary and a tribute to real-life maids of Mississippi.

Film: 4.5 Yaps
Extras: 3 Yaps

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Coming to DVD & Blu-ray Dec. 6 Mon, 05 Dec 2011 01:56:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]> “The Hangover Part II”

The Wolfpack is back. Phil, Alan, Stu and Doug put the misadventures of their last bachelor party to shame — almost without even trying. With Stu’s upcoming wedding, a bachelor party is back in order, but the plan is for a quiet get-together. That’s the plan anyway … until they end up in Bangkok.

Rated R

The Help

Based on the bestselling novel, “The Help” tells the story of a group of women whose paths cross to change each of their lives in racially tense Jackson, Miss. The film boasts a roster of female stars including Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Alison Janney, Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson. When Skeeter (Stone) returns home from college, she finds nothing much has changed in her hometown — except her. After getting a job at the local paper, she searches for a unique story to tell to impress an editor in New York City. And she finds it in the world of Minny and Aibileen, just two of the many maids who raise Jackson’s white children.

Rated PG-13

Also on DVD & Blu=ray this week:

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” (Jim Carrey, Rated PG)

“Cowboys and Aliens” (Daniel Craig, Rated PG-13)

“The Debt” (Helen Mirren, Rated R)

“Seven Days in Utopia” (Robert Duvall, Rated G)

“Christmas Wedding Tail” (Jennie Garth, Rated PG)

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Marketing Breakdown: Best and Worst of the Summer Fri, 19 Aug 2011 04:37:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Now that the summer is over, cinematically speaking, let’s take a look back at the posters it offered — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Top 5 Best Posters

1. “Captain America: The First Avenger”

Unfortunately, the best poster of the summer didn’t grace the walls of movie theaters. It lives exclusively online, in the homes of the film’s cast and crew and with the lucky winners of a giveaway at the Hero Complex Film Festival. Matching the movie’s retro aesthetic and patriotic exuberance, this poster is a perfect embodiment of the film itself. With its “Casablanca”-style design, it is also evidence that the heart of Old Hollywood is still beating. And if you’re a comic-book nerd like me, you’ll appreciate the Stan Lee reference near the bottom — a nod to one of his best-selling comic-books, “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos,” which Lee created to fulfill a bet that he could make a successful comic book with a bad title. Last, but not least, this poster has Captain America punching Hitler, a reference to the first issue of the “Captain America” comic book.

2. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

In my last “Marketing Breakdown” column, I wrote, “This simple, unsettling image perfectly summarizes the film. The movie’s tone is evident in the ape’s cold, fiercely focused eyes. And the central figure and title are initially difficult to see, which draws you closer to the poster and makes it all the more eerie. At once murky, ambiguous and perfectly clear, this is one of the summer’s riskiest — and therefore most effective — posters.” I stand by those sentiments.

3. “The Devil’s Double”

I didn’t see the film, but I love the poster. It’s a startling, arresting, flamboyant image reminiscent of a vintage James Bond poster, only scarier. And it seems to perfectly match the movie’s tone, which is like that of an operatic gangster film in the vein of Brian De Palma’s “Scarface.”

4. “Super 8″

What a ballsy poster. What could have easily been an obvious nod to posters for early Spielberg films is scrapped in favor of this murky, eerie image. It grabs your attention and holds it, forcing you to uncover the poster, and the film’s, mystery. Its true stroke of genius is the way it literalizes the fact that the characters’ world is turned upside down. And look at that stormy sky! So ominous, so intriguing. But this isn’t a simple horror image. As in most Spielbergian spectacles, this film — and its poster — strike a perfect balance between danger and wonder.

5. “Bad Teacher”

Not a “great” poster, but I like it because, like the film’s title, it is charmingly simple and straightforward. What you see is what you get.

And the Worst (in no particular order)…

“The Help”

Simply put, this is a boring image. Why not design the poster as a close-up of a maid’s uniform? Or a dirty dishrag? Any of those images would be more interesting than this one.

“30 Minutes or Less”

The deer-in-the-headlights expressions worn by Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari fit perfectly considering their characters face the surprising situation of being forced to rob a bank. However, this poster is lazy and flat. It seems more focused on attracting moviegoers to the film’s stars rather than its plot. See “Marketing Breakdown in 30 Minutes or Less” for more.

“Green Lantern”

If you are not familiar with Green Lantern as a comic-book character, I suppose this poster would be enticing. But if you are a comic-book fan, this image isn’t all that exciting. I felt the film’s whole marketing campaign was a bit lazy, depending too much on summer moviegoers’ blind loyalty to superhero films.

Well, there you have it. Although this wasn’t an exceptional summer for movie posters, it wasn’t without a few great ones and some stinkers. Which posters did you love — or loathe? Feel free to comment here and discuss the promotional artwork that caught your eye or got your blood boiling. And stay tuned, as I will shine my magnifying glass on more posters in the weeks to come.

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Yap vs. Yap: The Help Mon, 15 Aug 2011 04:01:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

At the end of “The Help,” Yappers Joe Shearer and Austin Lugar had decidedly differing opinions on the film: Joe thought it was one of the best movies of the year, if not the best, to date, and Austin regarded it along the same lines as a particularly nasty hangnail or perhaps a particularly problematic paper cut.

So Joe and Austin agreed to settle their differences in the ring — more accurately, the Film Yap’s version of the squared circle: Yap vs. Yap.

Here they debate the merits of the film, the characters, the acting and whether, y’know, it sucks or doesn’t.

Austin: This week I will be part of two Yap vs Yaps — one where I try to argue that it’s OK to dislike a Holocaust film and one where I say the heartwarming civil-rights film is one of the worst of the year. Clearly, I’m a man who does not care much about his reputation. (See also my many “Doctor Who” articles).
I went into “The Help” with no expectations. The only thing I was curious about was to see how much range Jessica Chastain possesses, since all I’ve seen her in was the tremendous “The Tree of Life.” (She did well in this!). Then something happened. I went from thinking the film was lifeless and bland to lifeless and bad. Then lifeless and terrible. The static depiction of its characters and their culture made it impossible for any message to come through organically. They took a complex situation with plenty of high stakes and made a stick figure picture with pretty colors.
Typing anymore will just snowball me into an essay-length rant. I must be gentlemanly and allow you to present your case. En garde, sir!
Joe: What an engaging, witty, smoothly paced, well-acted and fascinating film “The Help” is. It gave a spin to a well-worn genre (the period racial drama) and infused it with a life I’ve never seen before in a film of its kind. With very few minor exceptions, it didn’t take the easy way out of any situation, treated its characters like people (bringing at least a sense of empathy to the movie’s villains and allowing flaws to its heroes) and didn’t fall into the many traps films of this type often leap headlong into.


Even Bryce Dallas Howard, whose character is a wicked, terrible person, is afforded a few moments of real loyalty to her friends, and Emma Stone, who is the purehearted hero of the piece, is portrayed at times as more idealistic and caught up in fame more than simply wanting to help. (There is a wonderful moment where she realizes the gravity of what she’s doing and how it really affects the people with whom she’s involved.)

It is a female-centric film, “Steel Magnolias” meets “Driving Miss Daisy,” and it takes the best parts of those films and removes the more maudlin moments, leaving a fantastic film.  I’d go so far as to call this the best film of the year to date.

I’m curious, Austin: What do you feel this film needs to really improve?

Austin: I never really found any empathy to most of the “owners” of the maids. Chastain’s character of Celia is a different discussion, but the members of the junior league were portrayed as irredeemable people. I thought Howard did a terrible job because she never brought any humanity to the character. She was playing the character as Cruella de Vil instead of someone who grew up in this time. The film used dramatic irony in an annoying and condescending way. Sure, there were the eye-rolling jokes like, “One day they’ll discover that smoking kills!,” that I hate, but it was the attitude toward all of them as characters. 

For example, slavery is a horrible thing. It is inhumane and one of the worst aspects of human history. Yet amid that now obvious conclusion is a more complicated issue. Not every slave owner was an utterly horrible person. We have had good presidents who have owned slaves. In “The Help,”  if you hired a maid (Celia excluded), you were seen as horrendous creatures who only speak in contradictions and vile sayings.
The characterization of everyone was rather amateur. Emma Stone’s character goes through no arc. At the beginning, she thinks that the treatment of maids are bad and by the end she realizes she was right. The ones who do change do so in a laughably bad fashion. I’m looking at you, Allison Janney — a good actress who can’t rise above bad material. I never believed that she would so dramatically change her entire mindset in the matter of movie hours like she did.
I keep bringing up Celia as an exception, and it’s because I didn’t mind that character. I liked Chastain’s performance and aside from her last scene, most of her story served well toward the greater whole. But she was betrayed by lousy filmmaking as well. There is a scene when Celia is planting a flower that represents something very important to her. What she’s doing is one of the most emotional moments of the movie, yet it’s filmed like everything else: bright colors and poor cinematography. The fact that the main focal point is her gaping cleavage astounded me.
Writer-director Tate Taylor made every scene feel empty. No emotion was created aside from characters mentioning we should be feeling these emotions. The only way he knows how to portray drama was to silence the troublesome Thomas Newman score to create an awkward atmosphere — a trick that didn’t work the first time or in repeating instances. The whole movie felt like it was taking on a complicated subject matter but, in not knowing how to approach it, falling upon simplicity that hurt all that it’s trying to accomplish.
When it comes to period-piece Southern dramas, I’m sticking with “Tree of Life” as the best film of the year so far. That said, if “The Help” featured dinosaurs, I would reverse my entire opinion of the movie.
By the way, I did a quick check: I do have a heart, but I’m getting a second medical opinion.
Joe: This story is a parable, not really meant to be a wholly accurate look at the time. Of course, there were good slave owners, but I disagree that Howard was just Cruella de Vil. Early on, she was portrayed as a popular socialite who genuinely cared about social issues and had several moments of kindness and true friendship early on with Stone and some of the others. She grew into a megalomaniac when her misguided cause gained popularity, and by the time the film ended, she became almost cartoonish because that’s what people like that do. I’ll also note that Stone and Sissy Spacek’s characters were both portrayed as benevolent maid employers (of course, the stand-in phrase for “slave owners,” as the film equates being a maid in this time and place with being a slave), and Janney’s character wasn’t a completely miserable employer either. There was a definite social pressure to engage in condescending, even abusive, behavior to the maids, and this was the film’s main point.


I’ll won’t begrudge you your hatred of the cutesy jokes, but they leaned more toward endearing to me, and there were only a couple early on.

I do agree with you 100% about Allison Janney. She is terrific at times, and I saw her line coming a mile away, but that’s her persona and she’s played that role several times over.

Emma Stone’s arc had nothing to do with racism or the maids: It was about finding her place in the world and was a secondary consideration in the film. She was more the mirror of the modern day being held up to this time.

This film belonged to two people specifically, whom we haven’t even mentioned yet: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Yes, the things they faced were well-worn, but somehow they brought a freshness to the whole thing. They openly talked about their bosses behind their backs, and Davis’ role as the surrogate mother to her boss’s daughter was especially touching and brought a new element to the subject. The film didn’t fully victimize black people; it stressed that they had to take the steps to break the chains, so to speak, and called them out for displaying verbal brazenness but not taking actual action. And dammit, they were so sassy!

As for your technical concerns, I’ll just say you’re much more a stickler to the technical than I am. (Dare I use the word “snob”?) There was a certain technical roughness to this film, but it took nothing away from the experience for me. Tate Taylor (isn’t he the Office Linebacker, by the way?) isn’t an auteur, but he told the story well. Kind of like a guy who made a certain racism film a couple of decades ago. Of course, “Boyz n the Hood” is a far superior and more important film than “The Help,” but my point is that John Singleton had some rough edges in that film as well, but it took nothing away from its overall effect.

Austin: You say “snob,” I say TCOM major and occasional filmmaker. So yeah, snob.
Actually having Emma Stone be a mirror is a major thing that bugged me. It’s something I hate in period pieces when there is a character who seems like they are from the modern day. There were certain aspects to her character that I liked, which work as a cause and effect to who she became. Yet, when dealing with the culture at the time, she always felt like she was from 2011. That works to make her an audience surrogate, but that harms the film because the world doesn’t feel real.
I kept thinking about “Mad Men” during this movie because that’s a show that captures the perfect tone. I believe all of that show’s characters are in the ’60s. They all have flaws within their own characters and the cultural shocks, but I believe them. They aren’t broadcasted and don’t have someone try to teach them the errors of their ways. That’s what the audience is for. Betty Draper even has a maid and treats her poorly, but it’s done in a way that always seems genuine to the character. In “The Help,” the film felt awkward when portraying any sort of meanness. “Boyz n the Hood” may have been rough as well, but that fit with the film. It always felt genuine because it matched the characters, setting and story. “The Help” feels too polished to the point of being empty.
I wish I could jump toward the humor since the drama didn’t work for me, but I hated the humor. I’m probably more of a comedy snob than anything else because I write a lot of comedy and I focus a lot on its structure. There is one joke in this film that was foreshadowed too heavily and the payoff was lousy. This is the big joke of the movie and, again, Taylor had no idea how to film it. I was shocked anyone didn’t know the punchline before it was revealed. Yet even if they didn’t, the joke was literally repeated up to 15 times by different characters to lesser results. It started to become unbearable.
Those characters were sassy! Viola Davis is a wonderful actress who ought to have more roles than just being the wise woman of authority (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” “Trust,” “Knight and Day,” “State of Play”). I think it’s very racist of Hollywood that the only time brilliant black actors get the chance to have rich characters is in a movie about segregation of the races. There’s another argument. Back to the topic!
Davis did a lot of good things in a character that wasn’t well written. There were these small moments when she made herself seem uncomfortable that were wonderfully organic and new. Then, most of the time she had to cry a lot, which was great to see what she could do, but it didn’t pay off for the character. There’s a key monologue she delivers that falls flat because we’re watching Viola Davis, not Aibileen. She has to get off a bus at one point, and it should be an anxious and fearful moment, but instead it’s nothing. No payoff.
I never really bought Octavia Spencer’s Minny. She seemed inconsistent in how she moved through white culture, especially near the end, and I never really found her that funny. There’s an early point when she was basically yelling at Emma Stone that I thought there could have brought richness to the character. Then, again, no payoff.
To me this film is very similar to the often-mocked “Crash” and “The Blind Side.” This just has better actors in its ensemble, but not necessarily better performances.
Joe: We’ll agree to agree on the racism of Hollywood when it comes to strong roles for black people. I’ll also agree that the movie’s big joke wasn’t particularly clever. The moment they say “the Terrible Awful,” it wasn’t tough to figure out what was going on, but I’d argue it’s not supposed to be. At the risk of you hitting me, I’ll draw an analogy to Hitchcock’s old adage for creating suspense, where there’s a bomb under the table. One character knows this and so does the audience, but there is one character who does not. The suspense is in when that one character finds out, and that’s where the admittedly broad comedy worked in that scene. Given the characters, I thought it fit where a more grandiose, intricate plot would have seemed out of place. You have to remember that these are maids and housewives, not the Ocean’s 11 crew or international spies tricking each other. For the material, it was right. Perhaps it could have been done in a more witty way, but I didn’t have a problem with it, and if you like your comedy highbrow and not broad, you won’t be down with much of “The Help.”


I’ll agree also with your assessment that the acting improved the film quite a bit, though I wouldn’t call Aibilene poorly written. The acting overall was really strong, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few nominations come out of this, though the line between award-worthy acting and cliche is very fine indeed (and sometimes nonexistent, as in the case of those two movies you just mentioned).

But indeed, it was that acting, and the respective personalities of those actresses that lifted “The Help.” Look at that cast: Davis, Stone, Howard, Sissy Spacek, Janney and finds like Spencer and Chastain. (I’ll admit I only remember Spencer as being the woman who signed up Peter Parker to wrestle Randy Savage … er, Bonesaw McGraw in the first “Spider-Man” movie, and I hadn’t seen Chastain in anything.) “The Help” is definitely a chick flick, but is one of the really good ones, perhaps one of the best.

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Racial Dramas Thu, 11 Aug 2011 02:13:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

From “The Help” to “Do the Right Thing” to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?,” there is a long history of Hollywood films tackling racial issues. Chris and Joe yap about the reasons these films endure.

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The Help Wed, 10 Aug 2011 04:58:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

It’s grown-up time. Summer has exhausted its silos of slow-mo explosions, CGI critters and second-rate superheroes. So who’s ready for a touching, serious film that should get attention come Oscar time?

“The Help,” based on the popular book by Kathryn Stockett, is a look at the relationships between black maids in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s and the white families for whom they work. Written and directed smartly by Tate Taylor, it’s a movie in the mold of weepy chick flicks, but with more brains and gumptions than we’re used to.

Yes, it’s the sort of film that looks at the plight of oppressed black characters through the eyes of a white protagonist who swoops in to save them — or at least fortifies their bravery enough to stand up for themselves.

But I found it to be a touching journey that manages to make most of the black and white characters relatable. And “The Help” has a surprisingly funny streak, in that tried-and-true laughing-through-the-tears way.

Viola Davis gives a knockout performance as Aibileen, the long-suffering maid to the Leefolt family. Her duties include cooking and cleaning, but her primary task is tending to the clan’s offspring. By her own reckoning, Aibileen has raised 17 children, but “they always turn out like their mommas.”

The greatest strength of “The Help” is in examining the sclerotic entrapment of the Jim Crow South, where black maids were adored by children who held for them a closer affection than for their own parents but who grow up to enforce the unspoken codes of segregation and subjugation.

It’s easy to talk about the illogical mindset of that time and place, where people were terrified to deviate from the social norm because “that’s the way things have always been.” This movie brings the contradictions of the pre-civil rights era to full, fleshy life.

Emma Stone, who between “Easy A,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” and this film is quickly establishing herself as the most ambitious actress of her generation, plays Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, recently graduated from Ole Miss with ambitions of becoming a writer. She tackles the cleaning-advice column in the local paper but soon hatches a plan to tell the stories of “the help,” the gray-uniformed maids who silently serve as the ties that bind the community.

Skeeter is initially motivated by selfish reasons: She feels ostracized by women her age who have all gotten married already, and the beloved maid who raised her, Constantine (Cicely Tyson, in convincing aging makeup), has abruptly ended her decades-long service with the family without any explanation from Skeeter’s brittle mother (Allison Janney).

Skeeter’s mother is less than subtle about her wish that her daughter would give up this crazy notion of a career and find a husband: “Your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?”

But as the civil-rights movement finally makes its way to Jackson, Skeeter joins forces with Aibileen to tell their stories in hopes of changing things or at least bringing them to light.

The third leg of their triad of strength is Minny (played by Octavia Spencer), a woman whose spirit is indomitable and whose cooking is the best in Mississippi. Minny instructs her teen daughter not to sass the white folks but doesn’t take her own advice.

The heavy of the film is Bryce Dallas Howard, the angelic-looking red-headed actress who shows plenty of brimstone as Hilly Holbrook, the queen bee of the social set who rules with a velvet fist. Hilly thinks of herself as compassionate because she wants to maintain the current social arrangement as benevolently as possible — such as mandating separate bathrooms in white homes for the help because “they carry different diseases than we do.”

Hilly has a run-in with Minny that compels the latter to take her revenge with an act she comes to dub “the Terrible Awful.” Minny asks God’s forgiveness for her sin but doesn’t seem very regretful about it.

An unexpected character is Celia Foote, a spitfire blonde who lives on the edge of Jackson and can’t break Hilly’s vice grip over the Junior League set. She’s played by Jessica Chastain in a role that seems breathy and girly at first, but one that finds some pluck through a growing bond with Minny.

“The Help” is like a heaping helping of comfort food mixed with a nutritional social message delivered without preachiness or schmaltz. What a satisfying cinematic meal.

4.5 Yaps


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