The Help

Overly simplified.  The “bad” white woman and “good” white woman characters are almost more stereotyped than the black women.  The starting framing of Skeeter and Hilly looked like it had far more potential; what do you do when your whole society, your best friend, your whole structure is racist.  In the end, it just ended up being a dumb portrayal of “only morally deficit people are racist”, which makes for a simpler, cleaner storytelling path but not much about racism and class/economic slavery linked to race persisting in the US.

Shadowy male figures in the background casually perpetuating violence upon women of all races.  Unchallenged through the course of the film; white women trying to please casually racist men become more violently racist than the men.  Black women trying to keep their families alive and find better futures for their kids, locked into domestic slavery under white women by the demands and general uselessness of alcoholic black men stereotypes.

Overall, the simplification was just as depressing as the content.  There were glimmers of interest in a few statements/connections.  “My momma was a maid.  My Grandmother was a house slave.”  And we are shown how Aibileen’s generation’s children become university students, lawyers, doctors, presidents.

For a movie about such a teetering cusp era in US history, the story and storytelling felt like it was still locked in the 50s.

Source Code

I don’t have a lot to say about this one.  Not very memorable, but it felt like one of the better Twilight Zone episodes stretched to a tightly plotted short film, in a good way.   Not too long, not too short, not too many people.  Made me think of End of Tomorrow (rinse and repeat), Minority Report (prevent the crime before it happens) and Cube (very tight/limited set; find the answer from the limited pieces).  It might have been better with completely unknown actors?

I disliked the marketing imagery, which for some reason focused on selling the romance.  There is basically no romance.  The predominant emotion this film left me with was sadness for the lead and the complete loss of control over his own fate.

Schindler’s List

I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this yet.  I vaguely recall getting it confused with Shawshank Redemption (Schindler’s Redemption…the Shawshank List…) and accidentally renting Shawshank Redemption twice instead of Schindler’s List.

The overall sense I’ve been left with is more about the filmmaking than the story.  The first 1/3 of the film had excellent film making.  It stood back and let the viewer make up their own mind about what they were seeing.  I kept thinking of the best of Quentin Tarantino – the unreal charismatic character, the near farcical exchanges.  By the time the storytelling hit the middle, it was so heavy handed in trying to force an emotion I switched off.  I could even tag the switch from ‘stand-back-storytelling’ to ‘movie-maker-manipulating’ to this one moment when some bathos-ridden musical theme started to play to further tug at the heartstrings.  By contrast, the first 1/3 I couldn’t recall any music except that which was integral to the scene (like party music being played at a party).

If ever there was a story which didn’t need all this film fruit on top to actually evoke an emotion, it’s this story.


Last Cab to Darwin

This was hard to watch.  There is something horrendously pathetic and painful about depictions of old Australian men.

The film does the usual Australian thing of too much overt schmaltz and bathos, which suddenly swings back to a very subtle empathy and pathos.  It’s a weird tactic which makes me always doubt how these films make me feel.  It uses cultural cliche after cliche, but then somehow sets up some scenes such that I remember the reason why these things are cliche is because we actually do this.  I find a lot of Australian films difficult to watch, because they really throw our cultural ridiculousness back into our faces sometimes entirely without meaning to.  This film feels like it does this consciously – but not for laughs – which is refreshing.

I appreciated the way this film was about a person, and didn’t become a euthanasia debate film. The tension between the doctor (who needed this story to become a euthanasia debate) and the lead (who owned the story) was quite key in maintaining a sense of story towards the end.

Those Happy Years / Anni Felici

This was a captivating view into Italian patriarchy and the horrendous shame struggle it perpetuates between men and women.  Towards the end I kept laughing – OMG this is exactly what Italian men are like, why do Italian men do this, look at her blackmailing away, I could not STAND to live in a relationship based on mutual disrespect, distrust and constant manipulation but apparently it is accepted as normal???, etc.

I started watching without much hope, because it looked like the film was going to follow the usual path of focusing on the dude’s struggles and tribulations without much meaning.  To my surprise, the film totally balanced itself between the father and mother’s story — or more appropriately, the husband and wife’s story, as the children are practically invisible to their lives until they either assert themselves, or become pawns in this endless power/emotional/blackmail style struggle by either the male or the female members of the family in trying to inflict shame on the opposite gender.  Even the grandparents get into it.  The whole framework results in this strange overreactive auto-defence mechanism on the part of the dad/husband where a compliment to his son is interpreted as a slight to him – an intensely defensive style of narcissism which feels enculturated rather than psychological.

The twist is the era – the 1970s – with feminism making movements into Italy, and the wife’s realisation of her own right to personhood.  The consequences of this does not necessarily make for a happier marriage, but it makes for happier individuals, and the eldest child (the narrator) acknowledges this with his verbal postscript.  It’s such a different take on the usual Italian farcial romances, I really enjoyed this.


Django Unchained

Better than I thought it would be.  Although the random addition of Australians made no sense.

It had an interesting development of mutual respect between the two leads.  A solid story although it felt like the pacing dragged – lots of setup for the final confrontation but seemed to take forever to get there.  The premise for the last setup was also flawed.  If they actually had up to $12k cash in hand, why wouldn’t the German have simply approached Candie, said he knew Candie had a German speaking slave that he wanted to buy, and was willing to pay more than she was worth because she was the only German speaking slave he had heard of in all his time in America and he really wanted to speak his mothertongue again?  But of course that would have been far too simple, they had to try to scam Broomhilde’s purchase instead.

Still, I liked the two leads and was interested enough to keep watching.

Neither a positive or a negative, everyone was a recognisable caricature and seemingly a repeat of past QT caricatures.  There was an uncomplicated (and hence annoying) divide between white American sadists and noble black victims (and the enlightened European).  The trouble is, I’m not American and this history (and related film genres of blaxploitation etc) are very distant to me.  I kept feeling like this plot, this story, the struggles of these characters (including the German’s last stand for decency, even considering his brutal profession) teetered right on the edge of being a deeply different story of longlasting value — if only the QT trademarks were toned down.  A setup in which QT could have done something different, not more of the same.

Except it turns out that making the film meaningful was the opposite of what QT wanted to do: “…movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to.”[4]

But the whole subject of the plot is a big issue, so how do you represent it as a non-issue?  Apparently by lacing the imagery with caricatures and ceaseless genre film references, which is an entire weird pastiche which really felt in conflict with Django’s story, which has a really raw truth to it which should have taken centre stage.

I also kept thinking how this film would have played out if made in the 1930s or 1950s with oldschool Hollywood star types.

Dracula Untold

Yet another film where the overly competent dude’s descent into bestial atrocity is made to seem inevitable, thanks to the unrealistic expectations of a patriarchal world view.  And those who suffer?  His dependents, of course.  This paradigm is so gutlessly tiring.

If only he’d simply stopped making stupid promises about things over which he had no control.  And then feeling like he had to uphold them.

That said, there was a lot to like about this.  The texture of the background scenes.  The priests, barely a line among them, yet I could imagine their stories of this story passing into myth and legend.  The grey filter (or whatever it is that gives that gritty faded texture; I know nothing of cameras).  Dracula’s pre-history (yes, there is a pre-history to this pre-history movie!) as the Impaler; his twisted logic.  The BAMF hilarity of single handedly killing an entire army.

I kept oscillating between being interested and being bored.  The end scene, in modern day, was the most interesting part of the whole movie.  I thought, ah, NOW the story starts — and of course it cuts to credits.



Safety Not Guaranteed

There are so many things that could have gone wrong with this movie to make it a horrible affair, but they didn’t.  It could have been another lame arsed manic dream pixie girl story, except it inverted the whole concept by making the bloke the dream pixie.  It could have been just another unhinged loser story, except it wasn’t, by adding in that little piece of success at the end.  It really walked that thin line of remaining an entertaining whole.

It was superficial hipster softness, sure, but comfortably so.  I like stories that try to cut across both genres and tropes.  The lead actor and actress were well suited to their roles.