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Old August 11 2011, 12:29 AM   #632
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Location: Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Re: Movies Seen in 2011

100. Bonnie and Clyde (A-)
101. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (B+)
102. Elmer Gantry (B+)
103. Sanjuro (A-)

After the success of Yojimbo, Kurosawa was urged by the studio to rewrite one of his scripts to make a sequel; commercial imposition, but in a few years Kurosawa couldn't get arrested in [Japanese Hollywood; I was going to type "Jollywood", but that sounds like a condom brand], so that's hardly something to complain about. We follow our masterless samurai into yet another town in need of his help; it follows basically the same narrative structure as the first film (Sanjuro effortlessly walks over people for most of the film, one mistake leads him into trouble, then the day is saved; in this case, his victory is accomplished more through guile, though). I've seen this described as a comedy in contrast to the more serious first film, and while it's lighter in tone, I'm not really sure I'd call it a comedy, because it's really not that funny. I didn't think the quality level was noticeably different from the first one. I also find that whereas we tend to think of older Hollywood films as a golden age of choreographed swordplay, these old samurai films are markedly less impressive than the Asian martial arts films produced today; you basically just have Mifune waving his sword around and killing everyone (with markedly little blood, up until the Tarantino-level final slaying). There's some good characterization for Sanjuro, particularly at the end, which is arguably bleaker than anything in Yojimbo.

104. The Help (B+)

After seeing only four 2011 movies in the first six months of the year, I've seen seven since the beginning of July. This is an adaptation of a "chick-lit" (which I find an overly dismissive term) bestseller that I have not read, but two visiting aunts and a cousin have, and they all liked it. The book appeared to be in the 400-500 page range, which can cause problems in adaptations, but this was for the most part effective (I thought Minny's domestic situation was a little underwritten, but I don't know if more time is spent on that in the book). This deals with race relations, so, par for the course, it attracts a bunch of controversy about how everyone is portrayed. For my two cents, I think it does a good job of telling the story of its two main black characters in addition to the one white one, and gives them motivations and validation that has nothing to do with her. The main reason to see it is the ensemble of strong female performances; for people who want more movies with more than one or two female characters, in a wider range of roles, this is the most prominent entry so far this year. If the film does well, I imagine awards bodies will focus mainly on past nominee Viola Davis, who is indeed powerful here. The increasingly prominent Emma Stone is very good as Skeeter. Also of note is Jessica Chastain, whose name I feel I've been hearing about forever without actually seeing any of her movies, since they keep getting pushed back (The Tree of Life arrives here on Friday as well; when it rains...); she's very affecting as a rich man's wife who is rejected by other society women for being born white trash. On the demerit side, I think the tone is a bit uneven (sometimes really serious, but there are bits of wacky comedy interspersed, including the recurring pie bit), and there's a lone dangling plot (with a super-minor character) that seems out of place.
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