Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Help (2011)

The Help

The Help – IMDb 234/250

Poignant and moving while remaining greatly entertaining is how I would describe Tate Taylor’s The Help, a 2011 American period drama film based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.

Set in 1960s Southern America, Emma Stone plays Skeeter, a young aspiring journalist who returns home to Jackson, Mississippi and looking to start a career as a journalist, decides to write a book The Help, highlighting the experiences and prejudices black maids faced from their housekeepers, told by the maids themselves.

The experiences she writes about are mainly from Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), who tell Skeeter of their various experiences, despite the fact that revealing this information may draw the ire and racial abuse of their housekeepers and other racists in the city.

This story of courage is led by its mostly female cast, with Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain producing performances of real quality.

Davis is the star for me, doing an excellent job of creating sympathy for Aibileen while showing what a strong and compassionate woman she is, particularly in the loving, motherly care she shows for Mae Mobley, a young girl she essentially solely takes care of due to the apparent disinterest Mae’s mother Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly) shows for her child.

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer give Oscar worthy performances

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer give Oscar worthy performances

Aibileen’s care for Mae really does play on your heartstrings, not with a great deal of subtlety but it is still a beautiful and sad story that takes place within the central plot, particularly the ending which I will admit had me close to tears.

She gets Mae to say to herself every morning, ‘You is kind, you is smart, you is important.’ Not only is this Aibileen making sure Mae knows she is special when her mother shows her no interest, but is something Aibileen perhaps taught herself to say to herself after the prejudice she has endured as a black woman in Southern America in the 60s.

Octavia Spencer is excellent as Minnie as well. Although there as perhaps the main comedic element to the story, Spencer (in her Oscar winning role) is just perfect as the outspoken black maid, who puts something certainly not in the recipe book into her chocolate pie for her housekeeper Hilly Holdbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), in a truly memorable and hilarious scene.

The acting from everyone in The Help is simply wonderful though, helping to tell this inspiring story of courage and bravery in the face of inequality and hardship.

Jessica Chastain is also the right amount of sweet as the lovable but ditsy Ceilia Foote

Jessica Chastain is also the right amount of sweet as the lovable but ditsy Celia Foote

It is about these women doing what they can to create change in their society. From just showing the courage to tell their story to a white woman about the trouble they face in their day to day lives, at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was prevalent, these women hope to change their situation not necessarily for themselves but the future of their children and black society in general.

And The Help does a fantastic job of showing this. Tate Taylor paces this film superbly as the writer and director of the film, helped by having some great source material to base off.

With racial tensions in America still extremely high to this day The Helps story is, sadly, extremely relevant, even if this is set 53 years ago. It just shows how ridiculous white superiority is, and how awful having someone as ignorant and single minded as Donald Trump as president would be for the USA, clearly nostalgic of a time when divisions and prejudice was rife through the country.

Looking at it negatively you could say this movie is just a crowd pleaser film, an exercise in box ticking which glosses over serious racial tensions of the time. Some critics even say that it does more to distort and trivialise the experiences of black domestic workers, and reading up on the subject you can see what they mean and there is an argument to be made.

But personally I found this film almost impossible not to enjoy. It’s mixture of comedy with emotional drama made it one of the best films I have seen in a long time, even if its inner themes of equality and racial divides are glossed over. Driven by some stunning performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, The Help is an instantly enjoyable modern classic.

The Help – 8/10

Paul

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

xmen_days_of_future_past_ver5

X-Men: Days of Future Past – IMDb 235/250

The war between humans and mutants continues and potentially culminates in the seventh instalment of the X-Men film franchise with the 2014 smash hit X-Men: Days of Future Past, the most critically acclaimed film of the lot and the only one on this IMDb list.

Days of Future Past is set in the near future where many humans and mutants have been wiped out by Sentinels, a super adapting robot that was initially created to destroy mutants but has since destroyed much of the world’s population.

And so everyone’s favourite X-Man, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), is sent back in time to 1973 to stop an event that will birth the creation of these Sentinels, thus changing his and the worlds future.

Like many time travel films, Days of Future Past does struggle not to get overly convoluted, so that when I first watched this film during its release I just thought it was a little bit stupid, overly confusing for an action film and not a patch on X-Men: First Class.

However, before watching it this time I sat and watched an entire box-set of X-Men films, and I have to say I was surprised how much I enjoyed them all, as well as Days of Future Past.

Dealing with much darker issues than say the Marvel Cinematic Universe, such as our fear of the uncanny (unknown), discrimination, intolerance, the X-Men film franchise is a lot more poignant than I used to believe, but its struggle comes from the fact that many of the films are interchangeable, and I am afraid to say I think I would tarnish Future Past with that same brush.

The overall story of Mutants vs Humans is told in all most every X-Men film with the exception of The Wolverine, to the point where really the story we are seeing is repeated again and again, and I do hope with this one that overarching story can now be put to bed… I haven’t seen Apocalypse though.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t an excellent addition to that story. The time travel element to the film allows us to see Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and Ian McKellen’s Magneto in the same film as their younger versions played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, which works really well, as we get a sense of how each character developed over their troubled history.

Visually this film is stunning as well, unsurprisingly earning an Oscar nomination for its visual effects, with Magneto’s destruction of a stadium to build a wall around the President a particularly striking image.

The acting remains solid as well, with Jackman an excellent bit of casting as Wolverine throughout every film in the series, Peter Dinklage as the villain another brilliant choice and our mutants played by Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Halle Berry and more all doing a wonderful job of bringing their superhero characters to life, so that we can sympathise and empathise with their plight much more than we can relate to a Captain America or Superman.

Whose the better Magneto, Fassbender or McKellen?

Whose the better Magneto, Fassbender or McKellen?

But when you sit and watch every film in the franchise you do notice the plot holes and inconsistencies that do take away from its story.

They try to in some ways explain these inconsistencies by taking the Star Trek route, saying the future is now completely different due to the actions of Wolverine in 1973, but really this was just a get out clause to reset everything, allowing the production company to continue releasing more and more films without having to worry about continuity issues.

And essentially what this reset means is the previous 6 films a fan has just sat and watched through never happened other than in Wolverine’s memory, characters are back from the dead, life changing events never took place, it’s all a little silly and a bit frustrating for someone who has invested in this overarching story the franchise created.

Ultimately though I did like X-Men: Days of Future Past a lot more than when I first saw it, which I can say for a lot of the franchise, even Origins and The Last Stand had their merits.

But I am surprised Future Past is the most critically acclaimed. For me, my order would go: First Class, X:Men 2, Days of Future Past, The Wolverine, X:Men, Origins, The Last Stand.

But what watching these films has done is created a new fan in me, which I am sure their proud of. Now on to Deadpool again which I really enjoyed, and Apocalypse, which I haven’t heard great things about.

X-Men: Days of Future Past 6/10

Paul

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

Underground (1995)

underground-movie-poster-1995

Underground – IMDb 236/250

From France to Serbia for my next film, the rather surreal Serbian comedy drama Underground (1995) from director Dusan Kovacevic, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival.

A nearly three hour long epic, Underground tells the story of best friends Marko Dren (Miki Manojlović) and Peter Popara (Lazar Ristovski) nicknamed Blacky, two communist rogues fighting against the Nazis in Yugoslavia in 1941 all the way to the Yugoslavian wars in 1991, with much of the film spent ‘underground’ in a cellar, used as a base for their rebellious deeds against the “goddamn fascists”.

Kovacevic tells this epic tale of betrayal, love, and war through the use of surreal comedy and dark humour with a vibrant and constant party atmosphere created by a brass orchestra that follows our two main characters around through much of the film.

But really until I had read the synopsis on Wikipedia after watching it, I really had absolutely no idea what I had just seen.

I found the plot so hard to follow. Perhaps it was my decreasing levels of concentration when reading the subtitles or simply that I thought the film was just a bit too silly, but during the middle section of the film, part 2 as it is called, about Yugolsavia during the cold war in 1961, I realised I had completely lost what was going on, missing several key plot points which I read about later, and really from this point on I found Underground a chore to watch.

It’s all just too ridiculous. The brass orchestra while fun and unique is just annoying, although I can’t deny the tune got stuck in my head, and the comedy relied heavily on simple slapstick and over the top antics. At one point there is a monkey (Soni) that drives a tank – so if you’re into that sort of thing you might love this. Can’t say it’s my cup of tea.

Underground creates a kind of sombre, drunken party atmosphere

Dusan Kovacevic creates a kind of sombre, drunken party atmosphere for Underground through the use of the brass orchestra – as see in the background here

Like the party atmosphere and drunken shenanigans that follow it, Underground as a film almost feels tipsy; there is no real rhyme or reason to anything, the movie just drunkenly stumbles along, needing a glass of water and a lie down after a heavy night of drinking to sober itself up.

But despite this drunken stupor the film seems to find itself in, Underground deals with some deep political issues that Yugoslavia had in the past, and was still feeling the effects for during 1995, the year of this films release, particularly commenting on war and it’s brutality, and those that benefit from it.

Marko betrays his friend first by stealing Blacky’s true love, actress Natalija Zovkov (Mirjana Joković), and turning her against him, and then becoming something that the two idealistic best friends used to despise, war profiteers, gaining in wealth and political stature at the expense of Marko’s  friends, family and countrymen who trusted him.

When you read about the film and its plot you would think it sounds incredible – and the overall story truly is an interesting one. But for me this fascinating plot was hidden in the depths of stupidity.

If you took away the comedy, the surrealism and the unrealistic nature of Underground, I think you could create a proper film that would truly tell a tale of war in Yugoslavia and the end of a proud country that would appeal to audiences everywhere, and perhaps convey its message in a clearer way.

As it is Underground is just a film I would never watch again. Having said that as a piece of Serbian cinema it is considered a challenging and widely popular film, which caused controversy and sparked mass debates in Europe. So it must be doing something right.

Underground: 2/10

Paul

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

Le Samourai (1967)

Le Samourai 1967

Le Samourai – IMDb 237/250

We return to French cinema for my next classic IMDb film, Le Samourai (1967) – a crime film starring Alain Delon as Jef Costello, a fastidious and sullen hitman, or Samourai if you prefer, who carries out a contract for a crime lord by murdering a nightclub owner.

The film follows the immediate aftermath of this job, including the police’s attempts to prove he was the murderer, as well as Jef trying to survive being killed himself by those who hired him.

Seen as a French classic, Le Samourai is a very slow moving film, with little dialogue, grinding along at the pace of someone trying out hundreds of keys until he finds one that fits. This isn’t just a poorly worded metaphor by the way; this is one of the scenes of the film. A guy trying key after key after key to fit into a door. It drags a bit.

It feels very realistic, with colours like grey and white permeating throughout showcasing 60s France – but not the idealistic image we might conjure up about France – instead showing us the dull and damp features of the French metro station and city. However these dreary grey’s only add to the rather dull feel I felt while watching this.

Jef Costello is simply the central character in this film. With the other characters there is little to no character development, but we learn more about Jef’s character as the film slowly progresses.

At first it is hard to get a read on him. As a hired gun – showing little remorse for his actions, we might think of Jef as a villain, not a hero.

But by the end there is an intrigue to him, he has weaknesses, fragility, and by the end we see a remorseful side to his character, particularly evident in the last scene of the film.

The quietly charismatic Jef Costello - played with style by Alain Delon

The quietly charismatic Jef Costello – played with style by Alain Delon

The ending of Le Samourai easily improved this film in my eyes. Sitting back watching it rather nonchalantly, with an idea already in my mind for the rating I would give it, the ending truly shocked me, and left doubt over almost everything I thought I knew about the film and action that I’d watched.

Like a good novel, what is important in Le Samourai is what we don’t see, what happens outside the main plot – rather than the action taking place in front of us. It is hard to say more without giving away any spoilers – but for the ending alone I would recommend this film.

But similar to what I said about Three Colours: Red, the other French noir on my list, Le Samourai ultimately was style over substance. Very little happens and the plot moves as quickly as an England attack in football (yes I am still bitter about that). In fact with a running time of 105 minutes, and the intricate details that take place in every scene, there isn’t much story that director Jean-Pierre Melville could fit in.

What I have enjoyed most about this list however is the different kinds of movies I’ve seen, watching unique films I would never have got to see otherwise – From French films like Le Samourai to Korean films such as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, this list shows the diversity and brilliance of cinema.

Le Samourai: 5/10

Paul

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts