Thursday, September 22, 2011

Movie Review- The Help

Entertaining, endearing, and heartbreaking performances

One of the first films of August that had whispers of Oscar buzz is also one of the year's most memorably inspirational films about strong women. This year, women are taking over TV but with the exceptional performances from Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard and Emma Stone, it looks like movies are standing up and taking notice.

The Help is not about how Emma Stone's Skeeter Phelan saving the black maid community in Jackson, Mississippi like some of the promos might accidentally suggest. And thank goodness because there would be no realism or any endearing qualities in a plot like that. No, this film is about Aibileen Clark and her friend Minny Jackson and how the two decide to break the racial boundaries and stereotypes by tlaking about their hardships when very little in their community would.

The film has heart- a lot of it- and it never gets tied down by too many cheesy love stories (there are a couple) or disconnected side plots. Each character is interesting and all of the actors play their roles very convincingly. Every critic has talked about the brilliant performance of the mighty Viola Davis and the intelligence of Emma Stone's portrayal and there is good reason. The two ladies have a great connection and they make up the core of the film. But I was also drawn to Octavia Spencer's unwaveringly strong performance as Minny Jackson, the maid who's tired of being treated less than when it's obvious to her that she's better than the people she works for. Then there's Bryce Dallas Howard who gives the audience an unapologetically villainous to root against. For me, the light of the whole film came from Jessica Chastain's portrayal of the blond, slightly dim yet completely endearing Celia.

I am not a fan of chick flicks. I am not a fan of sappy films. In fact, I cringe while watching films like Steel Magnolias. But this film is not just for women and it's definietly better than it may sound on paper. Sure, there are definitely some cliche moments- Emma Stone's Skeeter has a love story that ends badly- and the film definitely doesn't play up the racial tension of the era as much as it probably should. But it's a smart look into the relationship between two groups of women who don't understand each other at all.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Movie Review- The Change-Up

A brainless Freaky Friday. Wait, rephrase- an even MORE brainless Freaky Friday.

We all knew this film would be dumb. I mean, the two leads said themselves this is a dumb, unoriginal idea. But the cast and crew of The Change-Up must have thought they were sitting on a comedy goldmine of a script to have the courage to make this film. Turns out they didn't. But it's not all bad. 

The Change-Up is about two old friends, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) and Dave (Jason Bateman) who are completely different. Mitch is a frat-tastic, dummy who can't get a real acting job so he settles for some soft-core porn (more on that later). Dave is a family man with a VERY impressive lawyer job. All Mitch wants is to keep his slacker/ladies man life and all Dave wants... is Mitch's slacker/ladies man life. After a drunken turn of events, they switch bodies and, well, the rest is obvious. 

Best thing about the film: watching Jason Bateman FINALLY play completely against type as the obnoxious, almost misogynistic Mitch. Ryan Reynolds is also great at being both aggressively awful and awkwardly charming in his two different personas. 

Not only does this movie suffer from a tired plot, the comedy is trying too hard to be raunchy. And instead of coming up with a new Hangover or Wedding Crashers, the audience gets a script full of dirty jokes that serve no real purpose. On top of that, there are so many body-switching cliches and the female roles are not well-written. But I will say that there were a few parts that were genuinely humorous- Most of those moments came from Jason Bateman's all-or-nothing performance.

With all the wrong that was going on, it was hard to see the right but for the most part, the film flowed and was a quick watch. Even though the story was dull and the twists were obvious, it didn't falter on pace. And when you're watching a fairly bad movie, that's the best thing you can hope for.

Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds deserve a much better vehicle with which to star in together. They're both fine actors who have more comedy genius than most people combined. But their talent is wasted here with the unoriginal script, twists, and jokes.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Movie Review- Crazy, Stupid, Love

Quirky, fun, endearing

Most critics like to describe this movie in sections: the Crazy, the Stupid and the Love. But this is not Eat, Pray, Love people. It's not a film with different sections. I believe the title suggest that love is crazy and stupid. This film is not shy with showing it's crazy or stupid sides, and that makes it the smartest and most realistic romantic comedy of the year. 

Let's start with the basics: Cal (Steve Carell) is a regular guy with a family and nine-to-five job. After years of the same old routine, Cal's wife Emily (Julianne Moore) tells Cal she cheated on him with a guy at work (Kevin Bacon) and now she wants a divorce. Cal is... bummed to say the least and has no direction in life. Enter Ryan Gosling's Jacob- a ladies' man to the core. He never cares about anything under the surface until he meets Hannah (Emma Stone). Finally, there's Cal's son Robbie who's in love with his babysitter Jessica. She, however, is in love with someone more inappropriate.

This film focuses on how these love lives interact and impact each other. Directors Glen Ficcara and  John Requa could have thrown in every cliche in the book- and to be honest there were a few- but the story seemed fresh and exciting, thanks in large part to the great script and the outstanding performances from the four leads.

Steve Carell has proven time and again how great he can be in all types of roles: Little Miss Sunshine, Dan in Real Life and this film are prime examples of how he strikes a perfect balance between the serious and the funny. He is utterly heartbreaking, hilarious and endearing all at the same time. Julianne Moore is stunning as always and actually shares a sweet chemistry with Carell. Emma Stone is charming as always- anyone who was a fan of hers from Easy A will continue their love fest here. But this film would not have been the same with anyone besides Ryan Gosling. He is a genuine star in this film, and it's about damn time considering how pitch perfect he is in most everything. His bromance with Steve Carell is the highlight of the whole movie- no wonder it takes up a large chunk of the story.

Sometimes the plot lines still felt a bit forced and it wasn't crazy enough for my taste- I think the directors did crazy MUCH better with their first film I Love You Phillip Morris but considering this is a more mainstream venture than that film, there's a great divide between Crazy Stupid Love and other rom-coms. Hopefully the genre can be changed with the addition of this film. No longer should romantic comedies be called chick flicks- as long as they are made like this.