Musings on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

The fifth installment of the Jurassic franchise already made nearly half a billion bucks before it even opened here in North America (it now stands at over $700mil). So yeah, its financial prowess still prove to be monstrous, even as the power of its monsters continue to reach diminishing returns.

If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t worry about spoilers as I marked them properly. But if you have seen it, you can highlight the hidden text to read ’em.

In reply to my meh comment about the movie, my co-worker said ‘it’s a movie about dinosaurs, you can’t expect it to win an Academy award.’ True. I never expected an Oscar-caliber movie, but still, it’d be nice for a blockbuster of this magnitude to at least aim for greatness. I recently rewatched Jurassic Park and still gasped when the dinos were first revealed. Alan Grant’s and Ellie Sattler’s reactions were so infectious that we’re vicariously living through their experience and seeing those dinos for the first time through their eyes. The moment Dr. John Hammond said ‘Welcome to Jurassic Park!’ still gave me goosebumps. Well, the genuine sense wonder of the Spielberg original is gone, and so are the characters worth rooting for. This article from Decider.com is absolutely correct that every Jurassic sequel forgot what made the Spielberg original so great.

The only genuine thrill for me in this movie is the opening sequence under water which felt JAWS-like (perhaps an input from Spielberg who still serves as executive producer?) But after that it’s more like Jaws 3-D. The movie overall is practically thrill-free as nearly every sequence is predictable. In the first Jurassic World, we saw the luxury theme park/resort destroyed to bits by the dinos. Well, as soon as the movie shows news footage of it with the remaining dinos now threatened by molten lava, we know they’ll be back on Isla Nubar in no time. So thanks to Dr. Hammond’s former partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the film’s protagonist Claire is soon back to the island to save her precious dinosaurs.

Let’s try this new t-rex ride shall we?

Bryce Dallas Howard can’t seem to part w/ those darn heels, and the camera made sure (in a defiant way) that we noticed them. Never mind her choice of footwear, I just can’t fathom why Claire loves these dinos so much when she clearly didn’t mind working for a corporation which sole purpose is to profit from these creatures. But the writers didn’t bother to give any of the characters any background story or at least a semblance of real human beings. Heh, even in a fantastical universe like Star Wars and the Marvel superhero movies, you expect the characters’ drive/motivations to at least feel true. Here, the humans’ behavior are so ridiculous they should be the ones extinct!

Hello! I’m the Indoraptor, the new hybrid dino in town!

New dinos, but same old human greed. The theme of ‘greed breeds catastrophe’ is even more derivative when the novelty factor of genetically-bred dinosaurs has worn off since the last movie. As an Indonesian, I’m quite amused they keep naming the scariest dinos with ‘indo’ Indominus Rex in Jurassic World and the new one, IndoRaptor. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): the first bidder of the dino auction is from Indonesia, too, ahah.

Of course Claire’s not going back there alone without her beefcake ex boyfriend Owen. Seriously, the movie actually refers to Chris Pratt‘s character as that, complete with eye-rolling sarcasm. There is so little chemistry between Owen and Claire, but that’s not the actors’ fault as we’re given very little reason to care for either of them. Is it just me or Pratt looks bored the entire time here? And what’s with all the squinting?? Unlike his role in The Guardians of Galaxy (or even his brief appearance in Her), Owen is devoid of the wit and playful charm Pratt is known for, but then again ‘devoid’ is the perfect word to describe this movie.

Let’s heal him so he can get back to attacking all of us!

The supporting cast are basically stock characters. The wuss computer genius dude (Justice Smith) and bad ass paleo-veterinarian (Daniella Pineda), played by a black actor and a Latina actress to fulfill the diversity quota. But since the writers (Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow) don’t even bother to give any depth to the main characters, let alone these guys. Poor Rafe Spall and Toby Jones (more terrific Brits wasted in a giant Hollywood tentpole flick) are relegated to a vanilla run-of-the-mill corporate ‘monsters’ who merely view these dinos in terms of dollar signs.

Spoiler alert: I gotta give him points though that he somehow manage to hide some freakishly scary dino under his boss’ mansion’s basement. I mean come on! You’d think its yawning sound alone would wake up anyone within 10 mile radius?? That’s not the most absurd bit of all though, that ‘honor’ would have to go to the auction scene. I mean, a bunch of billionaires gather for dinosaur auction. We’re talking about ‘the most dangerous creature that ever walked the earth’ as the auctioneer described, on full display inside poorly-constructed cages! As if that wasn’t enough, they’re selling these for a mere $10 million dollars?? Sotheby’s auctioneers would laugh in their faces. That’s even less than a penthouse in Manhattan or the Bay Area. What is this? Dinos Rummage Sale??

“Just what the heck are we doing in this movie??”

Naturally plot holes abound in this movie, but I guess logic be damned when you go into a movie about dinosaurs roaming around on earth, facing yet another extinction no less. So the sheer lack of logic is not the movie’s biggest fault (after all my suspension-of-disbelief level is already in overdrive), it’s the fact that it’s a dull movie. Not only is the ‘dinos as war weapons’ plot is unimaginative (and incredibly stupid), many of the scenes are recycled material. There are countless moments that lazily mimic the original (i.e. ‘objects in mirror are closer than they appear’ in rearview mirror, the raptors in the kitchen, etc.) yet nary any of the suspense and terror of the original.

Here we go again, dinos in the kitchen!!

I still remember fondly, vividly, the water ripple (or even the green Jello shaking) scene because of that visceral sense of dread. Here all the dino violence and gore are on full display as they trample, maim, chomp the human victims to bits, but none of it create a genuine sense of thrilling terror. Not much of emotional resonance here either (there is one scene on Isla Nubar that tugged my heart strings a bit, but even that felt like orchestrated melodrama), as the relentless action and convoluted plot pile on. Spoiler alert: That bit about the snoopy little girl being a clone thanks to Dr. Hammond’s technology is intriguing but the movie didn’t really expand much on it at all. Instead, they borrowed a scene from Nightmare on Elm Street w/ the IndoRaptor’s trying to claw her on her bed.

Dino Nightmare on Elm Street??

I gotta mention about the music. Michael Giacchino is a great composer but the music here feels so busy. It made me miss John Williams’ spectacularly-iconic score that’s only used in bits and pieces, too brief to make any real impact.

Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona have proven his chops with his smaller-budget films The Orphanage and The Impossible. I think his directing is okay, I take more issue with the absurd, criminally-vapid script that no amount of flawless CGI or mechanical dinosaurs can cover up. So Claire later swapped her heels with the more sensible boots, but unfortunately the movie itself refuse to evolve from being a formulaic, engineered money-making machine for the studios. Honestly, it left a terrible aftertaste as soon as I left the theatre. It’s a franchise that’s way past its extinction date.

P.S. If you love Jeff Goldblum… spoiler alert: Yes, he’s back as Ian Malcolm but all his scenes are in the trailers and nope, he has zero interactions w/ any of the dinos. Another criminally-wasted talent, especially considering how fun he was in the recent Thor: Ragnarok. I mean why bother hiring Goldblum if you’re just gonna have him sit in a congressional hearing the entire time?? 


Well, what do YOU think of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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FlixChatter Review: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

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I always try to keep a neutral expectation going into a film, and it’s a lot easier when I didn’t know much about that particular movie. I had no idea that Pete’s Dragon was a remake of the 1977 movie until days before I saw it, and I didn’t see the original (which is apparently a live-action musical mixed with animated elements). Well, thankfully the constantly-advancing CGI technology enables this live-action version to have a pretty realistic looking dragon.

Now, great CGI alone does not make a movie, but Pete’s Dragon has an engaging story, lovable characters and so much heart. The movie opens with young Pete on a road trip with his parents. I knew somehow things would go wrong and it did. The car crash claimed his parents’ lives, leaving Pete (Oakes Fegley) all alone in the woods… until he found a new friend. I’m surprised how it didn’t take long before we see the creature in the title role, which Pete named Elliot. He’s not a scary, slithery dragon like The Hobbit‘s Smaug nor the ones in Game of Thrones. Elliot is a green fury dragon who can fly and breathe fire, but yet gentle and huggable. In other words, I fell in love with Elliot instantly, the same way I did with Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon.

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Now, the friendship that developed between Pete and Elliot wasn’t shown in the same manner as HTTYD. After that initial meet-up when little Pete climbs into Elliot’s huge paw, we meet them six years later and they’re already BFFs. The scenes of them hanging out in the woods reminds me a lot of Disney’s recent The Jungle Book with Pete as a Mowgli-like character. But of course the story is quite different and none of the animals can talk here, neither does Elliot. Like in Jungle Book, you also can’t overthink about how a child survives in the woods being raised by an animal.

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Elliot’s become kind of a local folklore (kind of like the Lochness monster). Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) is practically the only one who still talks about it, despite being teased by his skeptical daughter, forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). It’s when Grace ends up running into Pete, and taking him back to civilization that the real action begins. Grace bonds immediately with Pete, who shares her wide-eyed wonder of her beloved woods, and so is her step-daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence). For the first time Pete has someone his own age to hang out with. There’s little resistance on his part to live amongst humans, but it’s obvious he misses his fury friend. Elliot too, misses Pete, and the moment he watches Pete hanging out with Grace’s family from the window tugs my heartstrings.

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Pete’s Dragon is set in the 80s, so naturally it conjures up images of Spielberg’s family movies. Interestingly, Spielberg’s latest The BFG left me underwhelmed & quite bored. But what David Lowery did here captured my imagination as well as my heart in equal measure. I cry easily in movies but I’ve never cried so much like I did here. I literally sobbed watching some of the scenes. The story isn’t original and predictable at times, but I was transported into another world and was caught up in the journey of the characters. It’s quite a feat since he hasn’t made a family feature before and his last feature effort was the R-rated crime drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

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Oakes Fegley is wonderful as Pete, and there’s so much believable chemistry between him and the CGI character Elliot. Redford adds gravitas in the role, but also has a memorable scene towards the end that makes up for his rather small screentime. Howard fares so much better here than in the other big Summer movie featuring large creatures Jurassic World. The closest to a film’s antagonist is Karl Urban‘s lumberjack Gavin, who seems rather silly and even childish as he saw Elliot as a threat but then later became very possessive of him. But I like Urban as an actor and he looks really good in his lumberjack outfit (ehm), plus Gavin did redeem himself in the end. It’s Wes Bentley who isn’t given much to do here as Gavin’s brother/Grace’s fiancé.

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The New Zealand scenery is absolutely breathtaking. For a film that utilizes a lot of CGI for the dragon scenes, it looks pretty natural and organic throughout, with seamless mix between the dragon & humans. The music by Daniel Hart helps enhance the emotional factor of the movie, though not quite as memorable as John Powell‘s in HTTYD.

So yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed Pete’s Dragon. As Pete and Elliot take flight through the clouds, my heart literally soars along with it. Easily one of my favorite movies this Summer that I certainly won’t mind watching again and again.

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What do you think of ‘Pete’s Dragon?’

FlixChatter Review: Jurassic World (2015)

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It’s been twenty two years since the release of Jurassic Park, the phenomenal sci-fi thriller that’s still as timeless as ever when I saw it recently. So even though Steven Spielberg is no longer in the directing chair (but still served as executive producer), I was still anticipating my return to Isla Nublar.

This time around we’ve got a sprawling dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as envisioned by John Hammond. It’s been fully operational for about a decade but even with a giant shark-eating Dino-Shamu attraction, visitor rates is on the decline. So of course a new, shinier attraction is created to entice the masses.

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I have to say that there’s not much of the way of surprise or even suspense in Jurassic World. When they engineered a bigger, louder and scarier dino called Indominous Rex, you know it will somehow escape and wreck havoc on the park. There are thrills and special effects extravaganza when that happens and that’s really the reason to see a dinosaurs movie, but for me, it’s not enough for a movie to only succeed on a technical level.

I miss the wit and emotional depth of the original film. Richard Attenborough’s Hammond had such warmth when he first welcome us into the park… and he loved the creatures he built in that park so it was not just about profit. There’s also an intoxicating and contagious energy as the group begin their journey to Isla Nubar that just wasn’t present in this film. This time around we’ve got billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the Bollywood actor adds gravitas to the film despite not having much to do. Simon doesn’t really have emotional investment in those dinos other than what they could do to his pocket books. Same could be said about his employee Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who’s portrayed as an ambitious go-getter who’s all business and no time for *frivolity* like spending time with her two young nephews visiting the park.

The only person who seem to have a semblance of relationship with the lab-engineered creatures is Owen (Chris Pratt), a former navy who’s been working as a velociraptor trainer at the park. He even gave them cutesy names: Charlie, Echo, and Blue. The scenes involving him and those raptors are pretty cool. He had no idea the park is engineering this monstrous creature called the Indominous Rex, part T-Rex, Raptor, cuttlefish and frog which gives it all kinds of superpower like chameleon camouflage. The monstrous beast is truly the star of the show, not even Pratt’s charisma can compete with THAT. More of that later.

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So it’s during its paddock inspection when all hell broke lose. As if that mammoth lab rat weren’t vicious enough, the fact that it was bred in captivity means it’s got zero social skills and loves ‘killing for sport.’ The scene inside his paddock is the moment with genuine spine-chilling terror in the film, and the first time we get a sense just how horrible things would get in the park. The rest of the movie is pretty much a series of chase and action sequences, with the most thrilling parts involving dino vs dino fights. Seems that the Indominous Rex is kind of an analogy for the movie itself. Yes, it is bigger and louder, but bigger does not always mean better or more exciting. It doesn’t help that some of the human story is so lackluster and cheesy.

The romance between Owen and Claire falls flat for the most part and I cringe during the brotherhood story of the two young boys trapped in the park. It’s supposed to be heartwarming but it feels so forced that it comes off as hackneyed and annoying. It’s too bad because I really like Nick Robinson in the indie flick The Kings of Summer and Ty Simpkins seems like an adorable child actor. Don’t even get me started with Vincent D’Onofrio as the bad guy Hoskins, head of InGen’s Private Security division. He’s just irritatingly verbose and not nearly as sinister as his turn as Fisk in Netflix Daredevil. Omar Sy and Judy Greer are completely wasted here so not much for me to say about either of them. Jake Johnson basically served as comic relief in this movie and not much else, but at least he made me laugh a couple of times.

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Back to Mr. Pratt, Hollywood’s Boy Du Jour who’s charismatic and sexy in this movie. He’s definitely my first choice to play Indiana Jones, and here he even looks the part. But he’s not given much to do in this movie and most of the time his alpha male character across smug, not charming. I like Dallas Howard as an actress but her character is kind of tough to root for, which is the problem with the way she’s written. I mean, why the heck would they have her running around in heels the entire movie?? It’s not a question of whether she can pull it off [she did], but why?? Apparently that was the actress’ choice according to this article, “… those heels were her shield in a certain way as a woman. She felt like surrendering the heels felt like surrendering the femininity of the character…” Huh??

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But in any case, that’s one small quibble as the movie has other issues. Despite some of the spectacular action, the movie felt pretty boring at times. Even the most thrilling moment involving the Indominous Rex still didn’t hold a candle to the moment the t-rex escaped from captivity during a power outage in Jurassic Park. I suppose it’s not fair to compare it to the original and most of us knew it’s never going to top that first film. But at the same time, this seems to have a lot going for it to be much more memorable than it is.

Similar to a recently-released blockbuster Tomorrowland, this film has an intriguing concept and lots of attention to detail, but the movie as a whole just doesn’t gel as well as I had hoped. The emotional connection is non-existent either, despite the ever increasing peril the humans are subjected to. Humans are either being gobbled up like a piece of meat or thrown around like mere playthings, but it hardly matters because they didn’t earn our sympathies. Heck, the most emotional moment for me actually involves an injured dino as a result of Indominous Rex’ killing spree.

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It’s interesting that the producers hired director Colin Trevorrow, who only has one feature film credit under his name, the charming & quirky sci-fi comedy Safety Not Guaranteed. So this is his first foray into blockbuster territory, and though I think he is talented, I wonder if he’s really the right fit for this job. At times this movie plays like an action comedy, instead of a mystery thriller with some comedic elements. We’ve got the visual and effects spectacle, but yet the sheer terror and that sense of wonderment Spielberg gave us in the first film is largely absent.

Final Thoughts: Jurassic World is nothing more than popcorn cinema and no less disposable as the nameless extras gobbled up by Indominous Rex. I suppose if you go in expecting a ton of dino-chomping action and all kinds of chase scenes, then you probably enjoy this movie immensely. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this film, it just doesn’t leave a lasting impression to me. I’ve rewatched Jurassic Park countless times and still in awe, but I doubt I’ll be revisiting this film anytime soon. The only thing that remains epic, evocative and powerful is John Williams‘ score, even when a few notes came on in the beginning of the film, it made me feel nostalgic about the Jurassic universe. It speaks volumes about this movie when the classic score is still the most spectacular and memorable piece about it.

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Have you seen Jurassic World? Well, what did YOU think?

Weekend Roundup: Leap Year, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond & a whole lot of Toby Stephens

If someone were to ask me, “What did you do this weekend?” Well, the short answer would be “Toby Stephens.” Ahah, well ok so it came out wrong, didn’t it? I meant, my weekend pretty much consisted of watching/listening/tumblr-ing about him, my long-lifeless tumblr has been set ablaze now by Toby’s fiery charisma.

I did manage to fit in a few movies… one of which is Some Like It Hot, a Billy Wilder classic that I mistakenly thought it’s one of my Blind Spot list.

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Oh well, the good thing is I finally watch that movie as it’s a lot of fun, but the bad part is that my Blind Spot post is going to be late. I’ll just have to post a double review next month then.

As for the other two movies I saw, here’s my quick thoughts on them:

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I really don’t know what came over my hubby and I that made me want to rent Leap Year. Well my friend Ashley and I were talking about Matthew Goode earlier in the week but I wasn’t intending to watch the movie this weekend. In any case, it turns out to be such a dud. For some odd reason, iTunes listed the Rotten Tomatoes rating as 100%, which was so surprising to us to see a rom-com got a high rating but as it turns out, the real RT rating is 21%!!! Ok so I don’t always agree with the critics but this movie is everything I dislike about today’s rom-com: vapid, banal, clichéd and immensely unfunny. There’s nothing romantic nor funny about this movie, gah!

The whole thing revolves around a girl who flew from Boston all the way to Ireland to propose to her cardiologist boyfriend on leap year. Of course along the way she falls for someone else [yawn] Amy Adams‘ cute-as-a-button charm might’ve worked for Enchanted but here she comes across as dimwitted and shallow as her character is supposed to be. Goode seems bored throughout the whole movie and can’t say I blame him, his talent is utterly wasted here anyway. Right from the start, everything about the plot is so contrived that even the slight 1 hr 41 min running time was such a drug all the way to its predictable conclusion. I doubt even Toby Stephens could save this movie for me, though it’d probably make it a million times more watchable 😉

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We actually wanted to check out this one after we saw Captain America 2. Funny how Chris Evans often mention in interviews how bad his movies are, ahah. Well, this one is actually not horrible, but not exactly good either. Set in the 1920s, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is a societal drama about a rebellious Memphis débutante Fisher Willow who can’t stand the suffocating Southern tradition and the narrow-minded people surrounding her. Bryce Dallas Howard looks the part and she’s pretty believable in the role. Evans play the handsome but penniless suitor Fisher hired, passing him up as an upper-class suitor to her friends. He seems ill-suited for the part despite his best effort, not to mention his touch-and-go Southern accent, ahah.

The screenplay was apparently written by Tennessee Williams himself back in 1980, not sure why it took 28 years for the film to finally got released. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof is the only Williams’ work I’ve seen so far and this one definitely not as memorable, but the story is mildly intriguing. I just didn’t find Fisher’s journey as particularly engaging, the most memorable part is actually Howard’s scene with a dying woman played by Ellen Burstyn. There is an odd lighting technique during this scene where the whole room suddenly dimmed out and a spotlight appears on top of the two characters conversing on the bed. That’s really strange to see a technique used on a stage performance, not sure what that’s all about. Overall it’s not a complete waste as Leap Year, so I’d still recommend it if you’re a fan of Tennessee Williams.


Falling Madly…

Well, in case you missed my tribute from last week, I’ve been struck with a seemingly-incurable Toby-itis. Hence there’ll be a heck of a lot more Toby Stephens for the unforeseeable future 😉

I watched a myriad of Toby clips on Youtube, he’s had such a varied career, even starring in a Bollywood movie called The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey where he’s sporting a Scottish brogue AND actually spoke Hindi.I’m not talking about a couple of sentences here, but he held multiple conversations with the Bollywood actors throughout the movie! My admiration for him just went through the roof!

The two clips I watched most were Jane Eyre 2006 and Black Sails, though both are period pieces, the roles couldn’t be more different from each other. And that’s what amazes me about his chameleonic quality.

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This interview on his role as talking about his role of Mr. Rochester has broken the record as the vid I’ve watched the most in a single weekend. Don’t ask me how many times, I’ve lost count already… This interview on his role as Rochester in Jane Eyre 2006 has broken the record as the vid I’ve watched the most in a single weekend. Don’t ask me how many times, I’ve lost count already…

Thank goodness for youtube where I get most of my Toby watching as it’s really tough to get access to most of his previous work. I’ve ordered a few dvds but it’ll take a week before those get here. I never thought I’d say this either but THANK YOU Michael Bay for hiring Toby as Captain Flint in Black Sails. Thank goodness for youtube where I get most of my Toby watching as it’s really tough to get access to most of his previous work. I’ve ordered a few dvds but it’ll take a week before I got my hands on those, so I had to turn to youtube to get my Toby fix.

Toby_Flint_BlackSailsI never thought I’d say this either but THANK YOU Michael Bay for hiring Toby as Captain Flint in Black Sails.


So that was my weekend. What did YOU watch folks, anything good?

Guest Review: The Help is a faithful adaptation

Special thanks to my friend & colleague Susan Martin.

While I read Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, The Help, almost three years ago, seeing the movie adaptation a few weeks ago truly reminded me how much I loved the book. I appreciated the fact that the movie stayed true to the novel in every sense.

The Help is set in the segregated and hierarchical deep South, nearly half a century ago, and writer-director Tate Taylor’s film adaptation captures the time and place in perfect detail. The story starts with Skeeter Phelan, played by Emma Stone, just graduating from college and returning home to Mississippi in the 1960s.

The town is divided by racial lines – black and white – and nowhere is this more evident than in Skeeter’s circle of friends, young women married right out of high school, having children who are raised by the black maids who work for them. This isn’t the life that Skeeter wants, however. She wants to be a serious writer, but she needs a strong story to shop around New York so she is taken seriously. So Skeeter, having gotten a job at the local newspaper writing a housecleaning column, asks one of her friends’ maids for help with tips. But what she really wants is to know how “the help” is treated, about the world from their perspective.

Viola Davis plays Abilene, the maid who originally helps Skeeter with her cleaning column and eventually begins telling her story. This is definitely Davis’ movie, as her acting is phenomenal. Davis and Octavia Spencer, playing the sassy maid Minny, give names and faces to a group of women who were so much more than what they did for a living.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays the villain of the movie, Hilly Holbrook, to perfection. When I first heard that she was being cast as Hilly, I questioned this decision as I pictured someone more villainous to play that role. Someone a little more icy, like Elizabeth Banks or Anne Hathaway. But Howard captured Hilly’s cool and snotty demeanor spot-on.

Another delight was Jessica Chastain, playing the blond, bubbly Celia, who tries to force herself into the social circle only to be ostracized for being “white trash.” Chastain is empathetic and funny as Celia, and I found myself rooting for her as she got her revenge on the evil Hilly near the end.

In terms of its basic plot points, The Help only skims the surface of one of the most painful and violent periods in our country’s history. But it definitely worked on me as a tear-jerker with a terrific cast, and I thought it was the summer’s only decent drama.


Have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.