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by Nigel M Smith
August 12, 2011 2:42 AM
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What to See, What to Skip: New Reviews This Week

Emma Stone and Viola Davis in "The Help." Image courtesy of DreamWorks/Disney.

Talk about variety. This weekend's new releases include a heart-warming adaption of an Oprah approved best-seller, a hard-R comedy, a Sundance award-winning documentary, a gory horror sequel and more. Want to know what's worth your money? Check out the reviews published this week on indieWIRE and our blog network.

"30 Minutes or Less"

Leonard Maltin
What can I say about a movie that made me want to take a shower and cleanse myself afterward? 30 Minutes or Less is so shallow, self-satisfied, and downright repulsive that I hesitate to discuss it at all. It has none of the qualities of director Ruben Fleischer’s debut feature, Zombieland, and it’s a long way from Jesse Eisenberg’s Oscar-nominated The Social Network. In fact, I’d call this movie antisocial.

The Playlist: B-
One of the risks in having a movie this loaded with comedic talent is that their differing styles of humor can badly collide with one another or, worse yet, simply cancel each other out. (Look no further than “Mystery Men,” the heavily hyped studio comedy whose overwhelming and conflicting comedy styles of its all-star principles left you with little more than a brightly colored headache). But director Ruben Fleischer, who helmed the similarly svelte “Zombieland” (also starring Eisenberg) knows how to balance out the comedic strengths of his leads – Eisenberg’s nervous stammer, Ansari’s motor-mouthed anxiousness, Swardson’s sweet stupidity, and McBride’s off-color shouting – which allows for a more expansive array of styles without them ever bumping into each other or getting lost in all that noise and F-bombs.

Spout
To a great extent, “30 Minutes” is an excellent antithesis to “The Social Network,” and the movie doesn’t shy away from reflexively alluding to the earlier Eisenberg movie. Right away his character, named Nick, actually says he’s not on Facebook. A winking joke, sure, but also a good way to get us thinking about the characters at hand. Contrary to Mark Zuckerberg, Nick is entirely lacking in ambition.

"Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow"

The Playlist: A-
With work already displayed at both the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain and France’s Grand Palais, Keifer decided to take on his most ambitious project yet, starting by traveling to La Ribaute located near the Southern France commune, Barjac. This abandoned locale is his canvas; his place to create enormous sculptures and paintings and place them in refurbished homes for viewing. It’s quite an undertaking for sure, and a subject that would suit a documentary perfectly, no matter how amateur the handling. Thankfully, they didn’t just get any journeyman to do the job, as English director Sophie Fiennes creates a unique, hypnotic, and sometimes sinister exploration of this grandiose endeavor with “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow.”

"The Help"

indieWIRE
By positioning the struggles of African Americans during a period of great social upheaval as subservient to a charming white savior, “The Help” suffers from being markedly dated. That’s not meant as a knock to the talented Emma Stone, whose understandably likable screen presence makes the role at least tolerable. However, the book’s virtual overnight transition to the big screen (the movie rights were purchased shortly after its release) reflects the industry’s continuing inability to construct African American stories without a vanilla filter. It’s a cousin to the way “Schindler’s List” tells the story of the Holocaust from the perspective of a non-Jew to widen its accessibility.

Leonard Maltin
Any time a book strikes a chord with a vast number of people, as Kathryn Stockett’s The Help did, there is a mixture of anticipation and trepidation about its transition to the screen. Overall, I think writer-director Tate Taylor has done a good job bringing the book and its characters to life, in concert with an exceptional cast. And, crucially, he has managed to recreate the look and feel of a Southern town in the 1960s, with its separate but unequal citizenry: the well-to-do white folks and their black servants.

Thompson on Hollywood
There are three Oscar-worthy performances in the movie: the always-great lead actress/narrator Viola Davis as Aibileen (one of three narrators in the novel), and two supporting roles, Mississippi’s feisty Octavia Spencer, who inspired her friend Kathryn Stockett to write Minny, and Jessica Chastain as Miss Celia, in a standout tour-de-force that eclipses her other strong roles in The Tree of Life, The Debt, Coriolanus and Take Shelter—think Jessica Lange in her Oscar-winning Tootsie or Blue Sky. Unfortunately, the film’s mixed reviews—even if Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney and Bryce Dallas Howard also earn raves—could hurt its Oscar chances.

James on screenS
There are some high-end commercial novels with inflated literary reputations that actually become better on screen. Karen Joy Fowler’s strained chick-lit novel The Jane Austen Book Club was improved in Robin Swicord’s lived-in film. Now The Help has become an even more effective, big warm bath of a crowd-pleaser than Kathryn Stockett’s megaselling novel, a book that flirts uncomfortably with condescension and caricature. The Help has no artistic ambition, but with one huge exception, the movie avoids the novel’s lethal pitfalls.

The Playlist: B
But here’s the thing, for all the film’s obvious plotting and at times overwrought emoting, it’s undeniably enjoyable and entertaining. While the viewing experience may not be anything new, the performances lift the film out of what could have been a very Hallmark story. And something that can only be described as Southern charm evokes a uniquely homespun take on a story set within a very real place, in a history that we’ve seen before on the big screen—but not quite like this. Moreover, the idea of who this film is really about and who it belongs to is never lost, and as the film closes, the victory rightfully belongs to Aibileen and Minny—not to Skeeter.

"Senna"

indieWIRE
The film follows the story of Ayrton Senna, perhaps the greatest race-car driver who ever lived. In the mid ‘80s, Senna burst onto the world of Formula One racing. As a Brazilian in a predominantly European sport, he had to fight hard both on (against his nemesis, French World Champion Alain Prost) and off (against the politics which infest the sport) the track.

"Final Destination 5"

Spout
There’s not much to say on the quality of “Final Destination 5” other than it’s the best-directed of the series since the second installment. And if you’re a fan of the first two movies, even if not the subsequent two, you should enjoy the latest just as much. The kills are just as elaborate and tense as ever in their Rube Goldbergian fashion, but for some reason they’re also more exaggerated in their implausibility.

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