Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tough subject matters finally inhabit the Summer Movie season




If the last planet of the apes has showed us anything, its that apes are super smart and you don't fuck with them. OK, that's not the best way to start this review but I found James Marsh's Project Nim an entertaining and rather sad documentary. The titular subject is a primate that was part of an experiment in the 70s done by scientific hippies setting him up from birth with a family and watching his every move, trying to find a correlation between his and human behaviour. Did it work? the report was inconclusive but what we see is some amazing footage of the primate taking part in conversations through sign language with the scientists and showing real feeling and humanistic behaviour in the process. BUT did he really mean his sign communication? or was it just a way for NIM to repeat gestures and signs that he's learned by hard through humans. It's an interesting question that doesn't fully get answered but Marsh -a talented filmmaker- gets us involved through recreated scenes, found footage and interviews on the people that NIM touched along the way. It's an experience like no other that makes you think about our relations with primates but also our connections and similarities to animals themselves. It's a cry for help and -despite minor missteps- Marsh does the subject proud.

Based on Kathryn Stockett's best selling novel about black maids in a bigot-riddled Mississippi of the 1940's, The Help is a botched job of an adaptation, a mess that never fully comes together even though the pieces are there. Those pieces have to do with the great cast starring with the maids themselves -indelibly played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer - and the white housewives - a never better Bryce Dallas Howard as the racist, a radiantly comic Jessica Chastain as the one with a heart of gold and Emma Stone as Skeeter, a wide eyed young author with good intentions. It's a film that had potential, a story told from the black housemaid's point of view, but darkness never lingers, there's too much sunlight and not enough hard truths. What this adaptation needed was a bit more black coffee and a little less cream .. and a competent director to give us better filled frames and a real sense of auteur-ship. The scenes are brightly lit for such a heavy subject matter. Director Tate Taylor was handpicked by the author to helm the film, problem is this was her first movie and the job is not competently done. It's a TV movie with a solid subject matter but without the necessary execution to complete it. High expectations towards the film's release will please the book's female fans but won't win awards or won't leave a lasting mark.

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