So, yeah, I liked “The Help”

This will be out in next week’s LGBT Weekly.

I must admit that I walked into The Help expecting to be offended. Because I knew it to be about a young white woman writing a book about the black maids in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, perhaps unfairly I expected it to be a prequel of sorts to The Blind Side. That movie, about a rich white lady who saves a poor black boy from poverty and turns him into a successful pro football player, won Sandra Bullock an Oscar. But as the critic Melissa Anderson wrote, and I concur, The Blindside “peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of blacks who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them.” However, I was thrilled that The Help, in fact, is nothing like that. Despite (or maybe because of) some cloying sentimentality and an overly simplistic binary of good and evil, The Help is strikingly good populist entertainment about morality, ethics, and bravery. Yes, it is about a white woman who helps black women rise up, but it is also about why and how these women fight back, why they decide to risk everything, and why telling the truth becomes more important than anything else.

The story is centered around three women: Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a young, unmarried, rich, and white Jackson society woman who wants to be a writer; Aibilene Clark (Viola Davis), a black maid who has raised nearly two dozen children for white employers who couldn’t or wouldn’t do it themselves; and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), another black maid who is as a good at cooking as she is bad she is at controlling her “sass.” Both Aibilene and Minny work for friends of Skeeter, and when Skeeter decides to write about “the help” from their perspective of the maids, it is first Aibilene and then Minny who provide the initial stories. Since this is 1963 Jackson, not only is it taboo for Skeeter and Aibilene to be having anything more than the most superficial of conversations, it is actually illegal for Aibiline and Minny to help write the book, since it is, according to the film, a clear violation of Jim Crow laws banning the dissemination of literature advocating equal rights for whites and blacks. There is danger all around, with the evil of white supremacy, classism, arrogance and hypocrisy conveniently embodied in lithe steeliness of Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard).

The seriousness of all of this is lightened by several less scary subplots and by every scene involving Minny. While Spencer has been stealing scenes in small roles for years, as Minny, she is a revelation, brilliantly funny (sometimes with only a raised eyebrow) while also being so deeply and believably embedded in the role of an arrogant yet terrified, wise yet impulsive woman trapped in the hell of Jim Crow. Even better is Viola Davis, one of the great actresses of her generation, whose pride, sorrow, love, and bravery is as intensely portrayed as possible without being difficult to watch. That Davis and Spencer will be nominated for Oscars should be a foregone conclusion.

I missed the review screenings for the film, so I saw it in the theater with an actual paying audience. It was a Thursday matinee, and the theater was packed with women, about a third of whom were African-American. I’m glad I saw it with that crowd, because their love – the easy laughter, the cheers, and the expressive loathing of Hilly – was infectious. I’m sure I would have liked The Help if I’d seen it alone, but the communal experience of watching the film with the demographic it was made for added to its enjoyment. (For example, when Warrior comes out, see it with Marines. You won’t regret it.) This is a movie about and for women – of its 146 minutes, there may be all of ten minutes of scenes featuring men speaking. Movies like this, from The Women to Steel Magnolias, tend be beloved by gay men, too. There are as many, if not more, witticisms and zingers in The Help as either of those two earlier classics. As funny as it is, it’s also rather moving. The schmaltz is turned up too high for me, but for the audience I watched it with, it was just enough.

The Help
Written and Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, and Bryce Dallas Howard
Rated PG-13
At your local multiplex

Oh, yes. Glee in 3-D.

It was surprisingly good, that Glee movie.

About ten minutes into the review screening of the surprisingly moving and not-so-surprisingly entertaining Glee concert movie, I whispered to the Gleek I was allowed to bring, “This is gayer than a leather man in an Easter bonnet.” The hit TV show about a high school show choir from which the concert movie sprang is also pretty gay, not just because it features a half dozen gay or bisexual characters, but because it’s unabashedly flamboyant, over-dramatic, ironic, heartfelt, and camp. And this is all a good thing: despite its inconsistencies and missteps, Glee is fabulous TV.

But the concert movie (which is inexplicably and unnecessarily in 3-D) goes beyond just re-staging performances of some of the shows most famous numbers; much of the film is about Glee’s fans, or Gleeks. While, yes, there are straight male fans of Glee (or so I’ve heard), most Gleeks are women, especially young ones, and gay men. This is pretty clear from interviews of concert goers and shots of them dancing and cheering. But the in-depth interviews of three Gleeks which run through the whole film are not focused on stuff like “OMG! BLAINE IS SO CUTE!” Rather, they are about how the show has inspired them.

One of the three is a young gay man, but the other two are just as queer – they’re just as different. Reed, the gay man, was bullied in school, and he learned from the character of Kurt (Chris Colfer) to be proud of who he was, even if he was alone. Janae, a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, isolated herself from the world until she met Heather Morris (who plays Brittany), whose kindness inspired her to be a better person and try to inspire others. And the third, Josey, is a cheerleader – “a real life Cheerio,” referencing the nickname for cheerleaders in Glee — who is also a dwarf. She is one of the most popular kids at her school, both in spite of and because of her difference.

The central conceit of Glee is the celebration of, the owning of your own difference. It would seem self-congratulatory of Glee’s producers to show how profoundly affected its fans were (see, for example, the Justin Bieber and Hannah Montana movies) if the effects were not so profoundly moving.

Oh, and the concert? That’s pretty great, too. One of the most common and pointed criticism of Glee is the overuse of the computer program Autotune to fix the pitch of any off-key singing from the cast. No one, especially not high school students, sound that good all of the time. It was hard for me to tell if the live singing was autotuned, but it didn’t seem to be lip-synced, which, to me, matters more. The best singers – Lea Michele (Rachel), Amber Riley (Mercedes), Colfer, Kevin McHale (Arties), and Darren Criss (Blaine) – sound great, even when they’re dancing. But the weaker singers, in particular Cory Monteith (Finn) and Diana Agron (Quinn), are conveniently overshadowed by the music, which seemed to have been deliberately amped up to drown out their vocals.

As in the TV show, the group numbers in the film tend to be more spectacular than the solos (though Riley and Michele’s are both stunning). Both the opener, their signature version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” and the closer, a recreation of their inspired rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” showcase great choreography and cast chemistry. The three songs Criss and his army of a capella singing, perfectly synched back-up dancers are given in the middle of the film are another highlight, as they were in the show last year.

That Criss’s Blaine, who plays Kurt’s boyfriend, is now a teen heartthrob makes me hopeful. But not as hopeful, even overjoyed, as I felt hearing the screening audience’s reaction to Reed saying that he is now proud to say that he’s gay. Three-quarters of the theater were kids from Chula Vista High School. They cheered for Reed.

Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie
Directed by Kevin Tancharoen
Starring Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, and Cory Monteith
Rated PG
At your local multiplex

You finally made a monkey out of me!

But: “They’re not monkeys! They’re apes!” So spoketh the chimp wrangler in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which I thought was pretty damn entertaining. My review will be in print next Thursday, but here it is, early:

If your jaw dropped at how realistic, how life-like and creepy Gollum was when you first saw him in The Fellowship of the Ring ten years ago, it will fall open again and your mouth will dry out when you see Caesar, the super smart chimpanzee at the center of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The rise of CGI (computer generated imagery) has been derided as much as it has been hailed; the detractors need only point to Green Lantern or The Last Airbender or any original film on SyFy, while the supporters have Jurassic Park and all three films in The Lord of the Rings. And now the CGI cheerleaders have Rise, which I think is a new benchmark in the use of computers to create non-human characters who are not just believable, but whose digital origins become forgettable seconds after first view. Caesar’s movements are performed by Andy Serkis; the motions are captured on camera and then technicians use them around which to draw and animate a chimpanzee. Caesar’s acting, then, is a collaboration between Sirkis, who voiced and moved Gollum, and the effects team put together by director Rupert Wyatt.  Too bad you can’t give a Best Actor Oscar to four dozen people.

Planet of the Apes, to which Rise is the ninth film sequel or remake (there was also a TV series), was groundbreaking in 1968 because of its special effects, in particular the costumes and make-up for the super smart simians who lorded over mute humans in the distant future. None of the films that followed were remotely as well-made, neither technically nor in their stories, and some were just terrible, even though they have their camp appeal. Tim Burton’s remake of the first film ten years ago wasn’t even campy, just a mess of terrible acting, a dumb-downed screenplay, and weak effects – though the ape costumes weren’t that bad. Rise’s special effects alone make it probably the best since the first film, and it’s definitely the most entertaining, despite its faults.

One of the reasons gay audiences might be drawn to the movie is James Franco, who plays the present-day scientist responsible for making Caesar, and by extension, every other ape, way too smart. Franco loves to play gay or gay-ish (Milk, Pineapple Express) and is strikingly handsome, and he can be an intensely great actor, as he was in 127 Hours and James Dean. But he has been known to phone it in, becoming wooden and distracted. See, for instance, his bizarrely unfocused and terrible hosting of the last Acadamy Awards show. And in Rise, while he’s believable, he’s much less intense – he’s almost lazy – than I would expect from his character.

Franco plays Will Rodman, a brilliant scientist trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s, which his father (John Lithgow) suffers from. Testing the cure on chimps, one of them becomes smarter, showing that the drug is working. But she goes berserk, and is killed, and the study is shut down. It turns out it wasn’t the drug making her crazy; she was just protecting her baby. This baby is Caesar, who Will takes in, raises, and discovers to be even smarter than a human. But Caesar still has some wild animal in him, and after he attacks a man threatening Lithgow, he’s sent to a primate sanctuary, which is really a prison for problematic apes. The rest of the film is a prison break revenge story crossed with a “Don’t play God!” cautionary tale. Science doesn’t end up looking too hot by the end.

And science is represented by a cartoonishly evil drug company exec (David Oyelowo), a dull Franco, and Frieda Pinto, who has the thankless role of Will’s veterinarian girlfriend and voice of reason. I was thrilled when the humans were off-screen, because Caesar and his fellow apes, communicating almost entirely in grunts and body language, starred in scenes as fascinating, entertaining, suspenseful, and action-packed as the human scenes were dreary. By the end, as Caesar and his pals are marauding through San Francisco, you cheer for their dominance. These computer-generated apes just seem so much more alive.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Written by Rick Jaffe and Amanda Silver
Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, and John Lithgow
Rated PG-13
At your local multiplex

Oh, and the title of this post is from the musical Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want To Get Off! which was depicted in the episode “A Fish Called Selma” of The Simpsons. Ha.

Watch Planet of the Apes, The Musical in Comedy  |  View More Free Videos Online at

I meant to post these reviews, but I forgot.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve spaced on posting my movie review here, even though I’d been writing them and they kept appearing in print. In reverse chronological order of the movies that haven’t been blogged.

I really wanted to like Cowboys & Aliens. Oh, well.

When I first saw the poster for Cowboys & Aliens,I got excited. These are two great tastes that haven’t yet gone together, but should. Five years ago, that’s what I said about chocolate and bacon. Now you can buy bacon chocolate bars everywhere. (Well, maybe not everywhere. But soon, I hope.)

Two of the great American film genres, the Western and the sci-fi action film, seem incongruous, even odd together, but they have a great deal in common. Both the Western and the sci-fi action film are, often, about honorable underdogs who must fight evil in the form of the corrupt (evil cattle barons or the Galactic Empire), the criminal (bank robbers or super-corporations of the future) or the racial other (Indians or green reptilian monsters from a distant solar system). Mixing the two genres would give the filmmakers all sorts of interesting material to work with, crazy juxtapositions and surprising plot twists. Or not. [Read the rest here.]

I was dumbfounded by how much I loved — by how good — Captain America was.

Captain America: The First Avengerdebuted in San Diego last week at a screening full of both comic book geeks here for Comic-Con and local soldiers, sailors and pilots in fatigues and pressed blues. Both groups were thrilled when a troupe of dancing girls decked out like Rockettes from the 1940s performed at the front of the theater; they got a lot more cheers than Chris Evans, who plays the Captain and who showed up to tell everyone how much he loves the movie.

With that much fanfare, anything less than an exciting, enjoyable, morally simple and beautifully shot action film would have been a disappointment. No one was disappointed; I certainly wasn’t. [Read the rest here.]

Tabloid really disturbed me, and I’m one of the maybe three people who had a lot of issues with the movie.

Tabloid, the latest documentary from Oscar-winner Errol Morris (The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line), couldn’t have arrived at a more appropriate moment. While Britain is immersed in an epic scandal involving the relentless, creepy and illegal overreach of its most popular tabloid newspaper The News of theWorld,Morris’ film showcases a sex scandal that provided cannon fodder for Britain’s tabloid wars almost 35 years ago.

The unintentional irony of Morris’ film is that he focuses on the tabloidy, if amazing and hilarious, aspects of the story – its protagonist’s delusions, the almost impossible-to-believe details and the sex, sex, sex – while glossing over the enormously shady ways that the tabloids used and abused the people involved in the scandal. Joyce McKinney, the colorful, charismatic, sexy and maybe a little crazy center of it all, ends up as fodder for Morris, too. As she was in 1977, McKinney is an expendable casualty in the service of a story told for profit. [Read the rest here.]

Transformers: Dark of the Moon was ridiculous.

I’m not sure why anyone needs to watch, let along make, 157 minutes of a third movie based on Hasbro’s popular toys known as Transformers. But Transformers: Dark of the Moon,the latest in the series of action movies about morphing robots from outer space, is more than two and a half hours long. With a reported budget of $195 million, director Michael Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg have spent $805,000 for each minute of computer generated robots attacking each other, chunks of the Chicago skyline and the various humans unlucky or dumb enough to get in the way.

If you are the kind of moviegoer who is happy, even gleeful, about paying $16 to see Michael Bay’s special effects bonanzas in 3-D, then you will need to see, and may love, Dark of the Moon. It is by far the best of the three movies, and yes, that is damning it with faint praise. If you don’t compare it to other Bay movies, but rather to the work of his genre-mates like James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Spielberg, Dark of the Moon is a bombastic, occasionally fun to look at, but still craven piece of schlock. [Read the rest here.]

The next movie review post will be early

My review of Horrible Bosses is mostly about how annoying Ramin Setoodeh is

Well, the title of this post pretty much says it all. I liked Horrible Bosses, despite everything. I’ve posted the beginning below, and you can read the whole review here.

Last week, gay Newsweek senior writer Ramin Setoodeh tried to rustle up some controversy around Horrible Bosses by writing an article about how Jennifer Aniston’s sociopathic sexual harasser character calls Charlie Day’s character “a little faggot” when he tries to explain all of the ways she’s inappropriate. Setoodeh became infamous after writing in one article that out gay actors can’t convincingly play straight and in another that Glee’s Kurt is so queeny he hurts the gay cause.

He makes the screenwriters defend the use of the word, and then asked various out Hollywood types about whether the use of the word could hurt Aniston’s career. (It won’t. At all.) Setoodeh’s implication is as clear as it is insipid: any use of the word “faggot” is cause for concern…

Setoodeh is awful.