Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: August 12, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr makes big plans to publish a best-selling book that women across the nation will read in hoity-toity book clubs. Step one: Move to the deep south and get raised by an African American maid.

While Kevin tries to figure out how to move past that step, he gets a job delivering pizzas and lives in constant fear he’ll be used in a bank heist. Then he cheats death by avoiding the Glee concert movie, but lives in even more constant fear that the flick will hunt him down and make him watch it.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Take a listen below as Tim Buel from The Golden Briefcase on FirstShowing.net joins him in the Magical Studio in the Sky.

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Studio: DreamWorks

Rated: PG-13 for thematic material

Starring: Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone and Jessica Chastain

Directed by: Tate Taylor

What it’s about: In the early 60s in Jackson, Mississippi, a progressive young white woman named Skeeter (Emma Stone) starts writing an exposé on how the African American maids are treated by their white bosses. She stirs up trouble and even breaks the law by showing racism, inequality and downright nastiness in the town.

What I liked: Honestly, I had been dreading this film for months. It’s just not my cup of tea. I’ve never been a fan of film adaptations of popular book club books (e.g., check out my review of Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love last year). Then I found out the film was 2 hours and 17 minutes long. Yikes! I thought I was in for a snoozer.

But I wasn’t. Even when the film ended, the rep asked me what I thought. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “It was okay.” And that’s a glowing recommendation coming from me.

The Help is a real button-pusher, and it makes its case with very familiar and often trite situations. However, it does so very smoothly. The acting is quite good, and the cast is populated by some really fantastic women – from Emma Stone to Viola Davis. The story is set against the emerging Civil Rights movement, and it uses those events to frame the characters pretty well.

The Help would have been more impressive if it was based on a true story, but that doesn’t take away its presentation. Of course, it’s easy in 2011 to cheer on this film and what it has to say, but that just helps it along as a real crowd-pleaser.

What I didn’t: When The Help stumbles, it is often for the same reasons it works. The acting is pretty solid, though I’m getting tired of seeing Viola Davis play a brooding soul with internal struggles. Haven’t we seen this time and time again? I’d like to see her play in a screwball comedy opposite Rainn Wilson, and she can get back to me.

Also, while the film doesn’t get too preachy, it does feel like it’s shaking its finger at the white audience, as if to say, “Shame on you white people for the way you treat your help.” Of course, whether you live in the modern or 1960s south, the majority of people can’t afford a full-time maid, so the antagonists in this film are as much in the minority as anyone else. The Help relies on a lot of white guilt to make its point, and every African American character – aside from a single abusive husband, who is never seen on screen, incidentally – is presented as nearly flawless.

Finally, just as I was irritated at Hollywood preaching to me about true love and soul mates in Crazy Stupid Love a couple weeks ago, I find it ironic that a major theme of this film is that one shouldn’t keep minorities subservient to raise their kids and do their chores. Yet, Hollywood is a Mecca of nannies and minority gardeners. That truth seems to escape those making this film.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone who read the book and fans of book club films.

Grade: B+

Studio: New Line Cinema

Rated: R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, and some language

Starring: Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, David Koechner, Tony Todd and Courtney B. Vance

Directed by: Steven Quale

What it’s about: Pretty much the same as the other four movies, only instead of a plane crash, a traffic accident, a roller coaster or a stock car race, it’s a bridge disaster that people narrowly escape, only to be hunted by death one by one.

What I liked: Like any of the Final Destination films, this fifth installment relies on the gimmick of seeing people die in horrible and creative ways. So for the gorehounds out there, it has that going for it.

With that said, the opening disaster – the collapse of a bridge – is pretty spectacular. It’s a bit horrible to watch, but that’s the point. The digital effects are aplenty in this sequence, but they look a little more refined than other films soaked in CGI blood… but still not perfect.

There’s also a pretty clever ending to the film, which I’m still not quite convinced works perfectly. I’ll know when I watch the movie again on DVD.

What I didn’t: The characters in this movie are so laughably bad that it almost puts this element in the “What I liked” category. Almost.

Watching the actors desperately try to eke out some drama and emotion borderlines on pathetic at times. Like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when Final Destination 5 focuses on the human element, the film becomes mundane. Both have spectacular bridge sequences, but sadly there’s no apes to save the day in this flick.

And the misogynist in me is really miffed that we have a horror flick clearly made for an R rating, and there were no boobs. I thought that was an essential element of a slasher film, which this series basically is.

Who is gonna like this movie: Those who forgave the atrocity that was The Final Destination.

Grade: C

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Rated: R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity and some violence

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson and Michael Peña

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

What it’s about: Jesse Eisenberg plays a slacker pizza delivery boy who is kidnapped and forced to rob a bank. Danny McBride and Nick Swardson strap a bomb to his chest and threaten to blow him up if he doesn’t get them $100,000.

What I liked: Even though there’s been some negative controversy about this premise being ripped from the headlines, it still makes a compelling catch for a film. Ruben Fleischer, who directed Zombieland takes things more down-to-earth in this film, and he juggles the characters to get some humorous moments out of it.

A lot of this film’s appeal is hinged on how much you can take of the shticks of its stars. Personally, I’m done with Jesse Eisenberg, and Danny McBride is wearing thin. I still like Nick Swardson and Aziz Ansari, so their performances were the highlights for me.

What I didn’t: A couple years ago, I took a lot of crap from people (and on this site, in particular) for hating all over Observe and Report. The reason I didn’t like that movie is that I hated the characters and found the whole film too mean-spirited. While 30 Minutes or Less isn’t at the same level as Observe and Report, it suffers from the same problems. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and many of the jokes are at the expense of others.

The movie is a dark comedy, sure, but often I find myself wondering if the filmmakers moderated too much. At times, it’s too dark and uncomfortable. Other times, it feels like it’s trying to be more light and airy.

Finally, like so many films that I’ve seen this summer such as Bad Teacher and The Change-Up, it aims for a sweeter ending than it should. Trying to make things work out in this movie opens up too many plot holes and problems, unlike Zombieland which existed in its own fantasy and stayed there.

Who is gonna like this movie: People (unlike me) who liked Observe and Report.

Grade: C

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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