crap i have watched recently #3

chocolate pieYou know the drill…SPOILERS!

The Help:  Why are Hollywood movies about black people really about white people?  Case in point, The Help,  which pretends to be about empowering a group of black maids in Mississippi in the early 1960s, but which is really about how an appealing young white woman uses them to get a job at a fancy magazine.    Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) is a young woman ahead of her time.  Educated and liberated, she arrives in her home town after college and lands a job as the “domestic affairs”  (read “tips for housewives”) columnist at her local paper.  When she finds that she knows next to nothing about housework she seeks advice from Aibileen (Viola Davis), one of  her friends’ maids, who provides her with all sorts of little domestic tips.   However, a small town advice column is not going to gain her the experience she needs to land that big city job so Skeeter decides to write a book about the lives of maids.  After some understandable reluctance on the part of the maids to risk their jobs and possibly their lives for this white girl’s career, soon enough Skeeter has most of the women who work for her friends in on the exposé.    When it is published the book is a huge hit despite causing all sorts of hoopla among the country club set.  Skeeter gets her job and Aibileen loses hers but a happy ending for all is implied.

I guess what bugged me the most about this movie was how blithely positive it was about the power of, well, empowerment.  Perhaps I am too cynical but here is my take on this.   As the daughter of white privilege, Skeeter risks next to nothing by writing her book.   Her friends are, to a woman, vapid, shallow, selfish, and mean-spirited; losing them is no loss at all.   Her boyfriend is no prize either and it is neither surprising nor particularly sad when he leaves her after the book is published.  Her parents, particularly her mother, represent a sort of “transitional South”.  They want to do the right thing but don’t know how and they don’t really resent Skeeter for showing them the way.   Most of all, no one is likely to kill her over the book.  In the end Skeeter gets that job in New York and gets to walk away from the fallout she has caused.

The black women in this movie?  Well, they risk substantially  more than a bit of disruption in their social lives.  This is after all Jackson, Mississippi in 1964.  Emmett Till has already been brutally beaten and murdered and  Rosa Parks has already taken her seat for justice.  Medgar Evers has been assassinated.  James Meredith has braved rabid, frothing hatred to enter the University of Mississippi.  Freedom Rides, sit-ins, and demonstrations are occurring throughout the South and Jim Crow laws are being struck down in courts all over the country.   Lines have been drawn in defense of the old order and ugly things are about to get uglier.   People have died and more will die before it’s over (and it’s never really got to the “being over” point).  Taking a stand against this, participating in such a book, basically meant these women were targets for brutality on a scale people may not be able to imagine anymore.  Yet the movie implies that pretty much the worst thing that happened to them is that they lost their not-so-great-to-begin-with-anyways jobs.  And that was OK because there were so many other opportunities for African American ex-maids in the US in those days (not).

I dunno.  The movie is one long compendium of stereotypes.  The evil prejudiced crackers with their silly laws and vicious dogs.  The heart of gold white girl who is so much more enlightened than her peers.   The  oppressed, hardworking, yet noble and upstanding maids.   There was  so much more to this desperate, painful, beautiful time in our history than this softball of a movie would have us believe.  At the very least, Aibileen could have written the book that set her free.  Now, that would have been a story.

Score:  Fail

Super 8:  It’s 1979 and a group of kids are making a home zombie movie at the railroad station when a train derails in front of them (big budget special effects scene #1).  After the crash “something” escapes from one of the demolished rail cars, the kids are told at gunpoint by their biology teacher not to tell anyone what they saw there, the Air Force shows up to contain the situation, and all hell breaks loose.   Strange things start to happen.  Dogs, appliances, and people vanish.  The military establishes martial law.  The local sheriff’s deputy suspects that something more is going on but when he tries to confront the Air Force jerk in charge of the operation he is arrested.  The kids finally watch their footage of the train wreck (oh for the days when you had to send film away to get it developed!) and see the monster clawing its way out of a freight car.  They break into their school and discover that their kindly biology teacher was once a government scientist on a project involving a captured and brutally mistreated alien.  Lots more big budget special effects scenes ensue (wildfires, military hardware runs amok, the kids rescue people from the alien’s lair) before the kids help the alien rebuild its spacecraft and leave for home (big budget special effects scene #n+1).

The film is pretty much an old school monster/alien/coming of age movie and for the most part is enjoyable enough for an evening at home on the couch with the dogs.  The kids are a group of mostly misfits and social outcasts with some personal drama backstory (dead mother, survivor guilt, first love, jealousy, general nerdiness) to flesh out the story.   The Air Force plays the bad guy in this one, engaging in torture, murder, and egregious violations of the rights of both people and aliens.  The alien itself is a disappointment when we finally see it (aren’t they all?) and most of the special effects are ludicrous (trains do not fly through the air and explode when they derail…) but what do you expect from a popcorn movie?   You’ll be entertained and then you’ll forget all about it.  Not a bad deal, all in all.

Score:  Meh.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2:    I’m not exactly a Harry Potter fan.  I didn’t get around to reading the books until all of them were in print and I don’t see the movies until they are out on DVD.  I found both the books and the films to be slow starters.   The first one was so noncompelling that the only reason I continued reading the series was because I wanted to understand the basis of the cultural phenomenon.  I wasn’t expecting  much but it turns out not to have been wasted time.   Rowling wasn’t much of a writer when she began and one of the minor brilliances of the series is watching her grow as an author.  The first book is a children’s book told by someone who lacked confidence in herself, her readers, and her characters but by the middle of the series she seriously hits her stride and by the last book she and her creations are strong enough to take the full brunt of an evil wizard’s power.  I’d like to think this authorial growth was deliberate but I think it was just a happy accident that Rowling’s skill matured apace with her characters.  In any case, by the time one gets to Deathly Hallows one is no longer reading strictly children’s literature.   Dark things happen in this book and a lot of people die.

The book itself is huge and so was split into two movies.  The first one I saw a while ago and won’t review here.  It was fine; about what I expected.  Part 2 begins after Dobby’s death.  He-who-must-not-be-named has looted Dumbledore’s tomb and is in possession of the elder wand.  Snape is now headmaster of Hogwarts and Deatheaters roam its halls.  Three of the horcruxes have been destroyed.   As Harry, Ron, and Hermione search for the remaining horcruxes  Lord V. gathers his forces for an attack on Hogwarts and within the school’s walls a valiant band of students tries to thwart Snape while they wait for Harry’s return.  With a war raging all about them and their friends and family dying the three friends desperately search the school for the last horcruxes and finally face and defeat the evil wizard.

I really wanted to like this movie, I really did, because I liked the book so much.  But despite all the desperation and valor and loss the movie is strangely without heart.  All the performances are fine (although Daniel Radcliff does the emo thing a bit much), the plot moves at a brisk clip, and the special effects are wizardy enough.  Maybe that’s the problem.  Lots of magic bolts fly around but there is little of the gripping sense of an all-out war to save humanity (both wizard and muggle) fought primarily by children at a school.  It struck me also that Neville’s triumph was subdued; yes, Harry does kill Voldemort in the end, but in the novel it was  hard to escape the conclusion that he was a decoy and that the real danger was always poor, sweet Neville.   In the movie, Neville trots on, does his thing, and it’s all Harry after that.   I had a great sense of disappointment for the squandered potential when the movie rolled to its bittersweet ending.  That said, it was still better than The Help.   Lots better.

Score:  Meh

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~ by gun street girl on January 26, 2012.

One Response to “crap i have watched recently #3”

  1. That cake looks so good…

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