The Help (PG-13) ****
Yes, this is very much a chick flick in the sense that it will appeal primarily to the same audience that flocked to buy the book. It is a story of women, black and white, united by geography and tradition in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early civil rights era — both Medgar Evers and JFK killings are noted in the story. The male roles in the film are almost interchangeable as well as non-essential, and they serve as plot points for the females who are the story.
Skeeter (Emma Stone) has come home to a mother (Allison Janney) suffering from cancer and her first job, at the local Jackson newspaper as a domestic columnist. Skeeter is meant for greater things and, after witnessing some appalling conduct by a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy led by Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) she conceives of a book telling the story of racism from the other end of the telescope, the help. She persuades Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) to be her primary sources, but events soon compel several more contributors to the project that, of course, takes off and creates scandal among the Daughters.
Howard as Hilly is scary-good as the racist head of the white women. She’s almost too good, she’s so easy to despise, and does nothing to redeem her character, even given several chances. Davis is remarkably effective as the shy but determined Aibileen, and Spencer’s Minny is an epic character whose revenge on Hilly is wonderfully funny as well as effective. Let’s just say you may skip chocolate pie for a few weeks after seeing what she does.
The film does not pound the main theme too much — the racism at the bottom of that society is well-known and documented, and suggestions of how appalling it was are enough to remind most older audience members and to stir questions that should be answered among younger audience members. Your teenager may not have understood the concept of separate bathrooms before; this film indicates how inhumane they were. Then again, the whole system was basically corrupt and inhumane.
On the other hand, this film asks the question: Was it “The System” or the failure of courage on the part of significant numbers of citizens that forced all these events in our history? That question, too, youngsters and their parents might consider, even today.
Fright Night (R) ***
What a shame that this film could not have been made in 1950 or 1960, when exploitation of vampires was relatively new. This is a very old-fashioned vampire movie, using all the confusing cornucopia of fang-toothed mythology to make something almost new.
Briefly, a Las Vegas suburb has a handsome and mysterious stranger move in next to single-mom Jane Brewster (Toni Collette) and her teenaged son, Charlie (Anton Yelchin from “Huff” of years ago). A nerdy friend of Charlie’s alleges that Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire and makeup, lighting and musical clues confirm the rumors.
Soon Jerry’s jugular-munching proves it conclusively and the chase is on. Which remedy, of the hundreds used in the past, will work? As a phony vampire expert reminds Jerry: “A vampire on fire is not thinking clearly.” Will flames work? Or will crossbows or crosses, or battle-axes or silver bullets or — anything? What about a stake in the heart? An SUV to the thorax?
You’ll have to wait until they try all of them out to see which, if any, have a terminal effect on Farrell and his ghastly recruits to plasma-sucking, but there’s a decent amount of fun along the way as you wait for the solution. If, that is, you regard bloodsucking as a spectator sport, something this film clearly does. Toni Collette is largely wasted, but a Russell Brand clone, David Tennant of “Dr. Who” has a great scene-chewing turn as Peter Vincent, the Strip act vampire expert.
As I intimated, it’s a shame that today’s kids could not bring a fresher, more innocent background to a film like this. “Twilight” is hinted at in the script, but it’s too bad that all that nonsense can’t be ignored so this entry in the genre could be enjoyed for the virtuoso exercise it is.
Colombiana (PG-13) **
Think Charles Bronson with more firepower and a cell phone, and let your imagination go wild. This is an old-fashioned “vigilante” movie with the comely Zoe Saltana as the trained killer who makes it all possible (as well as unlikely).
What we have here is a dedicated young woman who admits to her uncle that: “I want to be a killer.” He forces her to get an education, which, as we all know, makes her a better killer. Her targets are the drug lords from Colombia who wiped out her family when she was a youngster. There are uncounted dozens of them, so she starts to pick them off one-by-one as a freelance part of her job as a hired killer of general citizens. She marks each victim with her signature orchid — a “Cataleya” which is also her real name.
Her boss and murder-pimp is her otherwise delightful Tio Enrico (Cliff Curtis), who gets upset when she develops her own agenda. The murders are each creatively done and managed — a Mexican slug is done in by his own “pets” — and Saldana does everything with style, as is her habit, but with a stoicism that suggests mania rather than mere determination. Her final confrontation with the remainder of the Colombian gang is epic beyond possibility and uses up enough armament to explain the last name of the director of the film: Megaton.
Maybe it’s my age but I could not get Bronson’s visage out of my mind as the film progressed and revenge got chalked up. It helps that there is a dirty CIA agent, but doesn’t help that nobody is able to realize the significance of the orchid that Cataleya sketches on the chest of each victim until late in the film. The FBI and CIA must have been too busy using all the gadgets that Charles Bronson never dreamed of to find Cataleya.
A decent shoot-‘em-up with a high powered and physical star, but vengeance still reeks as a motivation for serial killing.
“Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” (PG) **
This is a film about a cast of a TV show that is allegedly all about diversity. If you don’t get that point, the scenes of various fans apart from the concert it portrays make it crystal clear: Diversity Is the Message. Strange, then, that this is one of the most exclusionary films I have ever seen. Even Justin Bieber took time to explain enough background to non-fans to give them a chance to get involved.
This film mercilessly pushes its message in every possible way while hypocritically exhibiting that, if you are not cast in a TV show for your symbolic diverse “weakness” and paid lots of money, choreographed up to your eyeballs and under 30, you may be out of luck in show biz and even life itself.
If you’re not a fan of the show, you don’t belong at the film’s showing in the first place. All songs are sung at full volume by the star struck (and diverse) audience, and any helpful references to the TV characters for those who don’t know them already are omitted.
Yet we are to believe that “you can be anybody you want to be,” even if you are a proud and self-described “loser.” (Hold fingers in the “L” shape up to your forehead so everybody knows how you want to be identified.) The hypocrisy reaches its height when the “disabled” member of the cast, Artie (Kevin McHale) rises from his exalted position in w wheelchair to dance up a storm, only to resume his rolling role at the end of his number.
Any shot that lasts longer than five seconds in this film is clearly a mistake. Seasick pills are recommended for those prone to that condition as the edits are whipped fast and furiously past your eyes, and the 3-D makes it worse. It is fine that various fans, gay and Asperger’s kids among them, cite “Glee” for making them realize that all people are different but acceptable. The sad thing is that they would need this crutch when previous films, novels, articles and even TV shows have already made the point with fewer sledgehammers.
Okay, okay, I know this is for a special and young audience, but we non-fans are audience members in the movie theater, too. Quit discriminating against us.
“30 Minutes or More” (R) *
As another exercise in the “F” and “S” word category, this male comedy is largely a waste of talent and time. The premise is promising: Force a pizza delivery guy to rob a bank in order to fund a murder-for-hire. Jesse Eisenberg’s screen persona is well-sculpted to bring off the necessary nervous tension of the role of Nick, and even Eisenberg himself, as Nick, his friend, Chet, (Aziz Ansari of “Parks and Recreation”) and particularly Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) are so deeply into stupid and vulgar that any chance at real wit and cleverness is given up with their first few lines.
The ignorance of the characters is irritating rather than endearing, and comedy goes out the window in favor of cheapness, smutty language and often-racist jokes. Even a beautiful young actress, Dilshad Vadsaria, is forced to be vulgar for no apparent reason other than to communicate with the Neanderthals that fill the rest of the cast.
I cannot explain the recent trend toward vulgarity as a substitute for wit and cleverness, but it is a disturbing trend that has ruined several recent films. We have seen and heard it all before and, when it fits, it can be comedy-enhancing. When used, as in this film and the recent “The Change-Up,” to substitute for good writing, it is juvenile and irritating.
Hollywood comedies can be funny without it. I wish they’d try it the old-fashioned way once in a while and let us all laugh at something that’s actually funny.
“Final Destination 5” (R)*
Formula: take a cast of horrible actors, ask them to overact whenever possible and figure out the best way to pierce, smash, pulverize, explode, burn, stab, annihilate them and make them bleed. Set up a phony premise that “Death Doesn’t Like to be Cheated” delivered by a threatening figure, then get rid of the cast one by one. If that sounds boring to you, you’re already tuned in to this hapless fifth episode of a series that has long since worn out its welcome.
Forget the totally inane plot “twists” in which students become valuable members of a corporation, forget the constant “Doom Tones” that accompany the prosaic tour of a kitchen full of knives (Where else would you put them?) and forget the attempt to make even an optometrist a threatening character. Just avoid this worthless piece of celluloid.
Among other things it will teach you to avoid as well are: lasik eye surgery, acupuncture, gymnastics, rotisseries and planes as well as bridges. In fact, never trust the infrastructure.
Oh, and if you missed any of the meaningless gore of Numbers 1-4, it is all reprised in the final credits so you can say you saw the whole series. And lose the respect of any friends you have left.