This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 12, 2011)

12 Aug 2011

Opening this week are FINAL DESTINATION 5, 30 MINTUES OR LESS and THE HELP.

TIFF Bell Lightbox is currently presenting a Norman Jewison retrospective.



Directed by Steven Quale

The 5th instalment in the franchise of FINAL DESTINATION movies, this 3D version proves that there is still life after 4 sequels.

FD5 follows the same story and formula as the other 4 films.  In each film, the lead character foresees an accident.  Then before the catastrophe occurs he saves the lives of a couple of people. So these people escaped death.  But one cannot cheat death according to the movie.  The logic is that these people will eventually face uncertain violent death unless they find and kill someone in their place.

In FD5, the future foreseer and lead character is Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto).  His girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) has just dumped him as he is about to leave for Paris to fulfill his dream career in cooking.  The accident is the collapse of the bridge while their business retreat bus is making its way across.  This opening scene (the film’s best) was filmed at the Golden Gate Bridge in Vancouver.

There is no point varying a successful formula.  Writer Eric Heisserer and director Steven Quale know that too well.  They story line of FD5 is similar to all the others and the violence and humour is taken one step further in terms of horror outrageousness.  For example in the segment in which a victim is killed by a freak accident while undergoing laser eye surgery, her eye ball not only pops out of the socket after she dies, but gets crushed by a passing vehicle.  There is also a lot of playing and teasing before any death occurs.  The dialogue is deliberately over-the-top, which adds to the entertainment.

The cast of relative unknowns perform their task with sufficient enthusiasm.  One wonders about Miles Fisher cast as Peter.  He was probably hired because he looks a direct replica of Tom Cruise.

The 3D effects are used to its fullest, with rods protruding (out of bodies) out of the screen or objects flung out to the audience.  The collapsing of the bridge at the beginning of the film is very impressive with concrete cracking and breaking with cars and busses falling into the river.  Quale was in charge of visual effects for TITANIC and the visual effects for FD5 are no less stunning.

FINAL DESTINATION 5 works and proves that a film can be entertaining despite following a well known formula.

THE HELP (USA 2011) ***
Directed by Tate Taylor

An early Wednesday opening this week for the film adaptation of Kathryn Stocketts’s 2009 novel of the same name, the studios must be expecting a great film and a hit on their hands.  The film does not disappoint despite quite the few flaws.

Running at over 2 hours in length, this film takes its time to tell its story.  Often than not, that length in time is important and the depth created is felt at the end of the story.  The film is one that praises courage, persistence and derring-do while putting down cowardice and laziness on not taking a stand.

The book is told from the points of view of 3 narrators but the film centres on Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone), a young white woman who has recently moved back home after graduating from the University of Mississippi.  She is shocked and not given an explanation (though she will find out why at the end) of her beloved childhood maid’s (Cicely Tyson) disappearance.  Her mother (Allison Janney) has obviously fired her but kept quiet about it.  Skeeter’s best friend is a very nasty Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) if not abusing her maid working for her is bent on her quest of separate toilets for blacks and whites.

Skeeter who works for the local paper then has the bright idea of writing about the black help in her town of Jackson, Mississippi.  She is intent on interviewing the maids of her friends beginning with Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), a middle-aged African-American maid who has spent her life raising white children and has recently lost her only son. The next to agree to being interviewed is Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) whose outspokenness has gotten her fired many times including once from Hilly, and built up a reputation for being a difficult employee.

As far as African American films go, there are roughly 3 types.  The first is the go all out for the kill Spike Lee type of movie like MALCOLM X or DO THE RIGHT THING.  The second is the playful Tyler Perry Medea type harmless comedies and the third is the literary dramatic, sometimes over serious films such as Steven Spielberg’s THE COLOR PURPLE or Norman Jewison’s THE HURRICANE.  THE HELP falls into the third category.  The main trap of films here is that the films here often try too hard for example, as in PRECIOUS in which the message is kept drummed into the audience once too often (this happens in the beginning of THE HELP) or in THE HURRICANE in which the script alters the facts of the story. In the case of THE HELP, we accept, with a pinch of salt that most of what is seen on screen actually happened.

But what eventually is winning about the film is the wealth of performances.  Octavia Spencer steals the show as the mouthy maid as does Dallas as the super bitchy Hilly.  Jessica Chastain also deserves mention playing Celia, Minny’s naïve employer.  The sets and production design is impressive as are the gardens and scenery of Mississippi wonderful to look at.  The film looks plain gorgeous.

The male characters in the story are most often brushed off as silly and incidental with no backbone.  Johnny, Celia’s husband (Mike Vogel) never puts his foot down while Skeeter’s boyfriend Stuart (Chris Lowell) is portrayed as an idiot.  The females black or white, are given the real characters.

It is difficult not to admire these hard working African American help who have more than often given more than necessary in their duties.  Whether a few incidents are made up of exaggerated, THE HELP still comes through as a very endearing human drama.

30 MINUTES OR LESS (USA 2011) **

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

30 MINUTES OR LESS or pizza is free.  That is where the film’s title comes from and also what trains pizza delivery boy, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) to drive very, very fast.

The rather ludicrous plot involves two goofballs, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and partner-inc-crime (Nick Swardson) needing 10 grand to hire an assassin (Michael Pena) to kill Dwayne’s dad (Fred Ward) so that he can inherit the rest of the lottery money that he had won some years back.  Dwayne decides to kidnap pizza boy, strap a bomb on his chest, forcing him to rob a bank in order to get the 10 grand.  Dwayne wishes to use the money to open a massage parlour delivering massages with happy endings.

Nick seeks help from his best friend or ex best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) depending on where about in the movie one is at.  Nick is also dating Chet’s sister, Katie (Dilshad Vadsaria).

Tough the story might seem silly, the comedic set ups may be terrific but the laughs are missing.  The bank robbery is an example of one that generates few laughs.  But director Fleischer’s (ZOMBIELAND) is all over the place and suffers from a weak narrative.  For a comedy, there are too many goofballs and no straight man.  The jokes come fast and furious but the miss and hit ratio is high.  Everyone seems to be shouting most of the time.

One figures that the title of the film implies Nick using his driving skills to help him get out of the difficult situation.  Wrong!  Driving only has a bit to do with the film.  No one is really funny in this movie except (surprisingly) for Fred Ward as Dwayne’s military father who will not give his son the light of day.

The climax involving a chaotic shoot-up/hostage exchange tends to be more violent than funny.  Also there is a scene with Eisenberg smoking a cigarette at the start of the film and henceforth nowhere else.

It seems that the filmmakers should sit down and decide what works and what doesn’t instead of having all the actors make a wild grab for laughs.  30 MINUTES OR LESS is hardly funny at all.


Best Film Opening This Week:  Final Destination 5
Best Film Playing: Attack the Block
Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Best Family: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Best Documentary: Project Nim
Best Foreign: Potiche

Avoid: The Change Up

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