Friday, November 25, 2011

The Help (2011)

What a happy little film about Civil Rights-era racism. Maybe not how the filmmakers want the movie to be described, but it's not false. And much to my surprise, I enjoyed this The Help very much.

"Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) has returned home to Jackson, Miss., after graduating college with big dreams of becoming a writer. In her return, Skeeter realizes her family has severed ties with her beloved childhood maid. As a progressive-minded woman, Skeeter pitches the idea of a book from the perspective of the help (GET IT). She asks maids Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) for any kind of tales they may have that would be good enough to be published. The two black women are very skeptical at first, but circumstances arise that make them want to humiliate their employers. As the maids tell their stories to Skeeter, things are made more difficult when Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) becomes suspicious of Jackson's and Clark's actions. If Holbrook's pissed now, just wait until the book is actually released.

I really was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. I went into it thinking it would be a solid film, possibly leaning towards "chick flick" status, but it kept me interested the whole time. Viola Davis will get an Oscar nomination for her performance, and rightfully so, but also deserving are Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. Every single scene those two women had together in the film could qualify as the best scene in the movie. While this movie may have been a little too cheery to deal with such topics, it's still a great film. It could very well grab a spot on my 2011 Top Ten list. Grade: A-

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Red State (2011)

Kevin Smith. Not a name synonymous with the horror/thriller/psycho genre but nevertheless, he gave it a go with Red State. Not a bad movie by any means, but he should stick to his comedies.

Travis, Jared and Billy Ray, three high schoolers in search of sex, borrow a car and travel out into the country to meet with a woman offering to them a night they won't soon forget. The teens arrive at a trailer and meet Sarah (Melissa Leo). She tells the boys to drink beer in order to get their treat, but the booze is spiked and the three of them pass out. When they come to, they realize they are at the mercy of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and his church of religious nuts. The revelers are prepared to sacrifice one of the boys when a local deputy disrupts the service. Once the law finds something amiss, all hell breaks loose and the boys are running for their lives while the local sheriff calls for help from the ATF. Agent Keenan (John Goodman) and his men quickly realize the situation is going to go from bad to worse if they don't take immediate action. But between the guns, the zealots and the law, what could possibly end up going right?

This movie had enough action and pretty solid dialogue to keep me interested, but the lack of plot really hurt some sections of the film. I loved the idea of a Westboro Baptist Church-type group being involved in a scheme like this, but some of the back stories and characters seemed thrown together just for the sake of having them. Kevin Smith is a talented writer/director, and he navigated the action scenes very well. On a scale of Smith movies though, I'd rank this probably right in the middle, between Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Jersey Girl. Smith fans should like this, but they may be the only ones. Grade: B-