After watching The Help, one movie came to mind: Field of Dreams.
Don't worry, the adaptation of 2009's biggest beach read hasn't been brought to the screen with an added baseball subplot, nor do we hear anything akin to "if you write it, they will come" during the main character Skeeter's quest to publish a revealing book on African-American maids in the 1960s. This is more of a feeling, a connection between The Help and Field of Dreams that would have felt run-of-the-mill in the late '80s/early '90s—but in 2011, it's like the cinematic equivalent of spotting a Bigfoot.
"They don't make them like they used to"—a nostalgia bomb generally saved for the films we devoured as kids, experiences that modern movies don't echo. But truthfully, they don't make them like they used to and they shouldn't; the passing of time spurs a change in sensibilities for both filmmakers and audiences. Trying to replicate or mimic movies from another era would feel disingenuous.
That evolution makes The Help a fascinating irregularity.
Let's agree on something: after the events of September 11th, a lot of familiarities changed—including movies. Without warning, the world became a darker, uglier, tangible place and our cinematic entertainment changed with it. Bombastic action flicks with gun-toting, patriotic heroes were replaced with reality-based fare, the Jason Bourne and Dark Knight approach to blockbusters. Pleasantly sappy, sentimental dramas that peppered the prior twenty years—Field of Dreams, Forrest Gump, Titanic and even Shawshank Redemption—slowly trickled out of Hollywood's slates, letting the smaller studios do the hard work with gritty, off-beat alternatives. Remember 2007, the year that gave us There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men? Things got serious. Serious serious.
And then out of nowhere, The Help—a charming little drama that smothers its serious social issues with a syrupy Southern twang. A serving of Hollywood glitziness and sentimentality that still tries to say something. If The Help starred Katherine Heigl you could toss the movie into a heap of pandering femme flicks. If it was Meryl Streep and Halle Berry, this era's obvious Oscar bait. But instead it opts for solid actors, straight-forward directing and a whole lot of heart. If that's not a Kevin Costner movie, I don't know what is.
This may be a turn off to some, but for me it's a breath of fresh air, a revival of an old-fashioned (yes, the '80s and early '90s are now old fashioned, brace yourself) way of movie making that we don't see in theaters today. That's the fate of mid-level films, movies that don't fit into today's Hollywood mold, where you're either a summer blockbuster, an end-of-year drama or a schlocky winter/fall genre grab. A movie needs a specific demographic and purpose now, or else it doesn't get out the gate.
Back in 1989, Field of Dreams made AFI's annual "ten best" of the year list. Today, I'd be surprised to find in a theater for more than two weeks, clawing its way between a zombie movie and an Adam Sandler comedy, gasping for air (and box office). That is, if it ever got the go ahead to be made. The Help, a bona fide anomaly, may be in the same boat: does it have the appeal to bring home the bucks of beyond the core audience that read the book two years ago?
Maybe, but if it does succeed, it may shepherd a new wave of films, a new perspective. Judging from the reception of the last decade of films, people aren't too unhappy with the post-9/11 direction—but maybe we could use a little fluff in there too. The Help helps.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Carbon copying the already overly convoluted idea from the previous Final Destination movies the latest worst installment continues on the theme of one unlucky twentysomething being able to predict who’s going to die and when; this time it’s Nick. After attending a NASCAR race with his girlfriend Lori and their friends Hunt and Janet Nick has a premonition about an elaborate horrific accident that threatens everyone present. Naturally it comes true — and even though plenty of people die in the stands Death (you know the bogeyman) has only just begun. But Nick realizes that he might be able to save the survivors of that day by remembering the order in which they're supposed to die and warning them of their imminent demise. Unfortunately though not everyone believes him and they carry on with their dangerous activities ... like going to a hair salon or — gulp! — through a carwash.
WHO’S IN IT?
Up-and-coming actor Bobby Campo plays the main pretty young thing and he makes the best of what is ultimately an untenable and God-awful role to have to accept. Still fresh faces capable of pulling off his part are a dime a dozen and Destination’s past leads like Mary Elizabeth Winstead at least left us feeling their fear. Supporting actresses Shantel VanSanten as Lori and Haley Webb as Janet are there for little more than eye candy and ear-shredding screams while former MTV 'It' dude Nick Zano as the obnoxious clichéd — and obnoxiously clichéd — Hunt can’t even provide the occasional comic relief for which he was brought on. The lone bright spot comes courtesy of an evidently desperate-for-work Mykelti Williamson (aka Bubba in Forrest Gump) who plays a widowed security guard adding a shred of cred to the otherwise disposable cast (which includes a barely there Krista Allen).
Clocking in at a mercifully brisk hour and 15 minutes the makers of TFD find one way to not essentially call us stupid: They know we want our scares quickly and they deliver — except for actually scaring us. Aside from its running time the aforementioned credible performance by Williamson is literally all the movie has going for it.
Wow where to begin? Destination another in a loooong line of wholly unnecessary sequels is riddled with problems — from the are-you-kidding-me? “special” effects (even in 3-D) to the jaw-droppingly horrendous writing. Director David R. Ellis (helmer of the infinitely better Final Destination 2) should bear much of the blame. He seems uninterested in delivering anything that people go to the movies for; this Destination is nothing more than tenuously connected scenes of video-game-like deaths that try to one-up each other. And not one of the sequences is even mildly suspenseful or scary — just disturbing in the sense that some people will actually smirk in earnest at the cartoonishness of it all.
The writing though is the real culprit. Eric Bress’ (also an FD2 alum) script is incredibly unimaginative merely recycling similar but better executed scenarios from the three previous movies and swapping out the settings. With ideas so bad Bress makes it abundantly clear that there’s no inane death massacre left to explore at this point; it's basically a metaphorical surrender. And yet the dialogue is even worse — with stock stereotypical block characters muttering it to boot.
LEAST FAVORITE SCENE?
Not to completely give it away — lest we make the movie predictable! — but one of the death scenes is just so far beyond ridiculous that it transcends even sarcastic laughter. Hint: It involves water and it’s about midway through the movie … if you dare stay that long.
Even if you’re not a cinephile and you couldn’t care less about things like character depth and plot development and you’re looking for a very quick thrill The Final Destination is well beneath you. It makes recent straight-to-DVD releases look like fully coherent masterpieces. Whether in 3-D or 2-D it’s a mustn't-see!