Saturday, August 20, 2011

Surprise Hits

I've seen two movies in the theaters lately, The Help and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I enjoyed them, and both movies deserve the great reviews and surprisingly good ticket sales.

I have never read the book on which The Help was based, but I was intrigued by the commercials for it and I liked Emma Stone in Easy A, so I went to see it. I thought it was great, very moving and with good performances all around. I never thought to wonder what segregation would be like if you worked in a white home, and they didn't want you to share a bathroom with them. When Minny was telling her daughter how she had to use one cup and dish to eat out of, and keep it separated from all others in the kitchen cabinet, I thought, wow, it's like they think you're an unclean beast. Yet they let you cook, clean, and raise their children for them. Slavery had been gone for a century and yet the Jim Crow mentality made the whites still view blacks as sub-human. As if nothing had changed. This is why civil rights is such an important issue, because even if laws change, it takes much longer to change people's attitudes and behaviors. How quickly America tries to forget and whitewash its past.

But it's not all depressing, for there are funny moments and stories, like Aibileen telling one white boy that she's black because she drank too much coffee. I also was surprised by Minny's friendship with the one outcast white woman, Celia. It was nice to see someone besides Skeeter being friendly and warm to the help, even to the point of wanting to eat at the same table, which Minny herself wasn't comfortable with. I really liked the fact that all the important characters in the story were women. Skeeter had a love interest, but his scenes were minor, and Aibileen had a dead son who was an important motivator for her, but he remained off screen, as did Minny's abusive husband. Even Celia's husband didn't show up until near the end. For once, it wasn't a man's film with a token woman for the hero to win. It was a community of women, with three great leads. It's so refreshing that a film celebrating women's strength and friendship could be made, and also be a hit.

I've heard that in the book Constantine was supposed to be light-skinned and her daughter Rachel able to pass as white, which they changed in the movie. I guess because they didn't have time for more complex racial issues like that. Also, apparently Aibileen was able to continue doing the housekeeping columns in the newspaper once Skeeter left, which wasn't clear at the end. But it kind of implied that she might do more substantial writing than that; after all she had been writing the stories of her life everyday with her prayers, so there is an itch in her. Maybe she will try to continue honoring her dead son's memory by continuing that. Earlier, there was a scene where Aibileen and Minny tell Skeeter to leave, because they don't need her to stay and protect them from Hilly. They were strong enough to take the consequences of the book and to speak for themselves. This really was a fine ensemble film.

I liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes so much that I saw it twice, which I never do while a movie's in theaters. I just couldn't wait until it came out on DVD, and I had hoped that I would see something I missed before--the reason why the one-eyed chimpanzee Koba hated Jacobs so much. But nope, there's no explanation really; it's just said that Koba has been experimented on in labs before, so all I can do is think that maybe Koba lost his eye in a previous experiment which he blamed on Jacobs, and once he got the virus, he started plotting revenge. However, I did notice something new on the second viewing. Cornelia was the only one of the apes in the primate center that was said to be female. There may have been others, especially among the ones grooming Rocket, the silver-haired king of the chimps, but only she was pointed out to the audience. When Caesar opened her cage, he found her missing, with the Gen-Sys tag on the cage. That was why Caesar led the others to that lab, to break out all the apes there. I wish we'd seen more of Caesar wanting to have a mate of his own. It was only implied when he would watch James Franco and his love interest veterinarian lying together, and I could hear some audience members wondering if Caesar was going to try to steal the woman herself. In the end it didn't happen, so maybe this can be covered in the sequel, which I'm assuming they'll try to do.

Anyway, about the film in general. I found the story of the 112 Virus wreaking havoc among the apes and humans very believable. James Franco's character is going through the kind of classic story of technological arrogance and unintended consequences that goes back to Frankenstein. He thinks he's doing this all to cure his father's Alzheimer's and for the greater good of humanity, but all his actions starting from taking the baby chimp home and stealing the virus for his father just keep snowballing into catastrophe. At the end when he says to Caesar, "I'm sorry, this is all my fault," he is truly correct.

The special effects are so good, and they really help in telling the story. All of Caesar's glances, movements, and sounds conveyed his emotions and his thought processes. Like when he rubbed away his drawing of the attic window of his home, because he had given up on going home. Even his posture changed as he grew from a baby to a mature chimp. He still ran, climbed, and leaped like a chimp, but when he became more of a leader for the other apes, he would stand erect almost in triumph, like a real Caesar and conqueror. He led the army bravely, though I wondered why they had to go straight through some buildings in the city. If they weren't going to steal food or weapons, why use up their strength on crashing through windows and terrorizing people, especially if it's going to lead to cops trying to kill or capture them? Was there no stealthy way to travel to the forest? Did Caesar not know enough about underground sewers or other routes? But the battle scenes were good, especially Caesar riding out on that horse out of the mist. He was a fantastic hero.

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