The Help (2011)

Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Anna Camp, Chris Lowell, Cicely Tyson, Sissy Spacek, Aunjanue Ellis, Mary Steenburgen

Directed by Tate Taylor

Expectations: Low. I’m watching this only because I loved Jessica Chastain’s work in Take Shelter.

The Help is a film I had no interest in seeing upon release. As soon as I heard it was set in the 1960s South and revolved around “the colored help” I went into a tirade about how Hollywood loves to make movies about the serving black person. This one’s supposed to be OK because it’s against the backdrop of civil rights and we’re supposed to get uplifted by the end, as things have gotten so much better for our characters. Pah-leese. But then I saw Take Shelter and immediately became intrigued to see Jessica Chastain work her acting magic in whatever she was in. My significant other was going to watch this one anyway, so I decided to stick around and see what all the fuss was about.

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Mini-Review: Hereafter (2010)

Starring Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Lyndsey Marshal, Thierry Neuvic, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mylène Jampanoï, Jay Mohr

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Expectations: High, but somewhat tempered because I know a lot of people had lukewarm reactions to it.

I genuinely have nothing bad to say about this movie. Sure, it is slow-moving, but it is perfectly paced for the story it tells. Matt Damon is superb in his role as a tortured psychic that can legitimately contact people’s recently deceased loved ones. Cécile de France and Frankie & George McLaren hold down their equal share of the film as well, turning in strong, touching performances. These individual stories are each given time to develop naturally, with each character having a unique point-of-view. It is not a Matt Damon vehicle, it is a film that Matt Damon is but a component of. I think therein lies a lot of what the mainstream audience that hated Hereafter didn’t like about the movie.

If I was having a bad experience with the film (as most seem to have had), I may have balked at some of the occurrences in the last half hour. Instead I enjoyed them and while their believability is somewhat in question, the events leading up to them are all logical enough and make sense for each character, so I can easily put to rest any misgivings or calls of Deus ex Machina. At the end of the day, I just want to have a good time at the movies, and the ending offered up here gave me what I wanted.

I also greatly enjoyed that the film never crosses into the religious fantasy afterlife that so many films tend to, and actually presents a few differing viewpoints on the subject. It is unfair to go into the film looking for answers, though, as it will provide none. It is fiction and should be taken merely as a jumping-off point for fun, intellectual discussions with your friends or family (or online acquaintances). It should be noted, though, that the mere existence of the film and the character’s brushes with an afterlife suggests the filmmakers believe in some sort of life after death, but what is truly intriguing about the film’s portrayal is the lack of religion in the discussion. I found that to be a stroke of brilliance.

Hereafter is easily one of my favorite films from last year and was much more deserving of a Best Picture nomination than some of the more lackluster nominees. It is definitely not a film for everyone, but those willing to give Eastwood some time to develop the characters will be rewarded with a moving film.

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