Posts Tagged ‘Viola Davis’

‘The Help’ works with sharp humor, excellent acting

Friday, August 12th, 2011
Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in "The Help" Skeeter (Emma Stone), left, befriends “The Help” — Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) — so she can write an expose on the snooty, racist white women in a Southern town during the Civil Rights era.

Set in Mississippi during the violent Civil Rights era, “The Help” uses lots of crisp humor and sharply drawn, well-cast characters to empathize with the plight of black women working as house servants for self-centered, racist white women.

Tate Taylor’s movie, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, focuses on a white, wannabe journalist named Skeeter (played by Emma Stone) who interviews these black women and records their revealing, personal stories in an anonymously written book titled “The Help.”

It doesn’t actually change anything, but it apparently makes everyone feel better.

Adopting a light, comic approach laced with serious turns (“Steel Magnolias” comes to mind), “The Help” comes dangerously close to becoming another one of those white savior movies in which a noble and just white character selflessly fights for the rights and dignity of minorities unable to help themselves.

Here, the black women are quite adept at survival tactics to get through the daily injustices heaped upon them by the South’s continuing slave culture and the childish behavior of their employers, socially elite white ladies.

Although Skeeter serves as the main character who draws together the unheard stories of the invisible help, the real hero is Aibileen Clark, a black woman who puts her income and safety on the line to tell Skeeter the truth about her life and the insensitivity of the Southern culture. (Read more…)

Schwimmer’s ‘Trust’ a little too preachy

Friday, April 1st, 2011
Clive Owen and Catherine Keener in "Trust" North Shore Chicago parents Will and Lynn Cameron (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener) deal with the aftermath of their daughter’s sexual assault in David Schwimmer’s “Trust.”

David Schwimmer’s “Trust” methodically, earnestly, painstakingly details a 14-year-old girl’s seduction by an online pedophile, then meticulously chronicles the emotional aftershocks experienced by the teen, her mother and her father.

For a while, you think the girl is the main character. But she’s not.

The father is.

“Trust,” to its credit, immerses us in the guilt of a North Shore dad who failed to serve his prime directive as protector of the family.

The drama also, to its detriment, wags its finger at a culture obsessed with turning children into sex objects. It slaps us around for not being more aware and sensitive to victims of sexual abuse.

Schwimmer, a founder of Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, directs his second feature (the comic “Run Fatboy Run” was his first) with a zeal that almost feels like a lecture.

Nonetheless, “Trust” is a valuable, honest drama that treats its subject matter with equal parts insight and alarm.

Young and vibrant volleyball player Annie Cameron (a wonderfully cast Liana Liberato, who won best actress at the Chicago International Film Festival last year) goes to New Trier High School. She’s constantly on her phone and computer messaging friends, and we see the messages flash on the screen as if we’re reading them along with her. (Read more…)

‘Kind of a Funny Story’ a low-key comedy

Sunday, October 10th, 2010
Keir Gilchrist and Zach Galifianakis in "It’s Kind of a Funny Story" Craig (Keir Gilchrist), left, befriends a patient (Zach Galifianakis) in a hospital ward in the comic drama “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.”

It’s kind of funny, yes.

Kind of serious, too.

Kind of sad as well.

Mostly, it’s kind of restrained and keeps its characters at an elbow’s length, just enough for us not to get inside them, know them or truly come to care about them, even as we find them likable.

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” comes from critically celebrated directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Bolen, who gave us the moving high school drama “Half Nelson” and a little gem of a baseball feature, “Sugar.”

They have created their new movie based on Ned Vizzini’s autobiographical novel as a comic adolescent revamping of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by taking a gentle view of a hospital’s mental ward through the eyes of a suicidal teenage boy.

Craig (Keir Gilchrist) doesn’t seem to have a real reason to feel depressed and suicidal.

True, his parents (Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan) don’t get him. Dad does say thoughtless things that undermine Craig’s self worth. And Craig’s little sister is no walk in the park of self-esteem, either.

He silently covets his best friend’s hot girlfriend Nia (Zoe Kravitz), and that, plus pressure at school, doesn’t help his frame of mind.

It doesn’t matter that we don’t see why Craig would feel depressed enough to contemplate suicide.

He just does. (Read more…)

‘Knight and Day’ delivers lots of speed, little substance

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise in "Knight and Day" June (Cameron Diaz) hangs onto rogue CIA agent Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) in the action thriller “Knight and Day.”

If you took all the breathtaking stunts and wild chase sequences in “Knight and Day” and pressed them together so tight that they squeezed everything else out, you’d still have a bloated, cliche-riddled Hollywood action movie.

Only shorter.

A thin line separates a tongue-in-cheek spy adventure (any 007 film starring Roger Moore) from an overt spy movie parody (any “Austin Powers” comedy).

“Knight and Day” has no idea where that line went.

So, some of Tom Cruise’s impressive displays of athletic acumen approach the level of a fun and clever Jackie Chan fight sequence.

Others, such as a scene where Cruise steps into machine gunfire to prove his love (and the bullets magically miss him!) hearkens back to the silliness of Leslie Nielsen’s “Naked Gun” comedies.

“Knight and Day” opens with Cruise flashing some free advertising for a cool set of shades (he did wonders for Ray-Ban Wayfarers in “Risky Business”) while hanging around an airport.

He checks out women, but not for the regular reasons. When he finally spots June Havens (Cameron Diaz), he makes his move by pretending to bump into her and transferring unknown contraband into her purse.

We find out his name is Roy Miller and he’s a rogue CIA agent who’s been accused of kidnapping a dweeby genius named Simon Feck (Paul Dano) with his tiny invention: a battery with perpetual, renewable energy.

“Knight and Day” apparently wants to be a source of perpetual energy as well. Director James Mangold throws the narrative thrusters into overdrive, pushing Roy and his unwitting partner June from one hyperbolic survival sequence to the next. (Read more…)

Father seeks crazed justice in smart ‘Citizen’

Friday, October 16th, 2009
Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx in "Law Abiding Citizent" A sociopathic avenger (Gerard Butler) examines evidence from an investigator (Jamie Foxx) in “Law Abiding Citizen.”

Take Charles Bronson’s vigilante architect from Michael Winner’s semi-classic “Death Wish” and mix him with Tobin Bell’s insanely creative sociopath Jigsaw from the “Saw” movies, you’d roughly have the anti-hero of F. Gary Gray’s conscience-slapping, MENSA-powered thriller “Law Abiding Citizen.”

Actually, “Law Abiding Citizen” is just as much of a tragedy as a conventional thriller. The two men butting legal and moral heads in this crime drama are neither all heroes nor all villains, but flawed fathers wrestling with their consciences.

In the case of the very flawed Clyde Shelton, played by Mr. Beefcake himself, Gerard Butler, his conscience loses big time.

In a nail-biting prologue, two thugs invade Shelton’s home. They stab him, kill his wife and little girl.

When the killers are arrested and enter the legal system, hotshot Assistant D.A. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), anxious to preserve his impressive 97 percent conviction rate, cuts a deal with Shelton’s assailant, Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte), to finger his accomplice, Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart), for the fatal attacks.

Shelton can’t believe the man who killed his wife and daughter will be free in a few short years.

“This is just how the justice system works,” Rice explains. (Read more…)