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By Michael Calleri

"Page One: Inside the New York Times" is not your typical day-in-the-life documentary, but is instead an entertaining social commentary about the current state of newspapers.

From the 1880s through the 1980s -- an era considered by many to be the Golden Age of Great American Newspapers -- daily publications were more often than not a beacon of a publisher's identity. These days, with rare exceptions, corporate ownership of newspapers has resulted in a watering-down of opinion.

It's a given that the Internet's rise has hurt what's known as the print side. How many people of college age regularly read a hard copy of the daily paper? Not many.

The combined loss of print subscribers and advertising revenues has battered daily newspapers. Interestingly, weekly papers with strong local identities and a recognizable editorial force at the helm are gaining readers in print and online.

This documentary looks at the struggle for readers at The New York Times, a publication even its haters have to admit is a powerful bastion of news presentation with an importance that rankles many and calms others.

Although the film does look at how stories are chosen and positioned, and offers insights into office politics and personalities, much of the movie focuses on the paper's new media department, specifically on the tough-minded journalist David Carr, whom the Times calls its social media watchdog. Carr goes to newspaper conferences to defend the Times against social media sites that relish the demise of print news.

Carr fights back with gloves off. His favorite presentation is one that shows the Home Page of a news-oriented website. He then removes all articles "borrowed" -- or "stolen" -- from The New York Times. What's left is a computer screen filled with holes. Are you paying attention, Huffington Post? It's a hilarious and brilliant rebuttal to the concept that the all-powerful newspaper is dead.

"Page One," directed by Andrew Rossi, is especially effective showing that hardly anybody actually reads Internet-based news. Most people merely scan web articles. An Internet blog on a local website that reports on zoning meetings is virtually unread.

The documentary proves that people who want to stay informed about local events need a newspaper with a staff trained in journalism. The paper can be daily or weekly, but training and standards are vitally important. Truth be told, the best blogs are written by actual journalists who have been downsized from their daily newspaper.

"Page One" is an eye-opener.

In the 1970s, a young chimpanzee went to live with a family in a New York City brownstone apartment. The animal was raised like a human child and was taught 125 signs using American Sign Language. The critter was called Nim Chimpsky, after linguist Noam Chomsky. Eventually the animal would move to the suburbs and revert to jungle behavior.

"Project Nim" is fascinating, combining actual footage with recreated scenes. It touches on how people thought Nim's owners were a little bit kooky. The phrase "it was the '70s" is heard many times. There are also scientists in the picture offering insights into the relationship between humans and animals. When Nim is a bad little monkey, he actually signs "sorry."

The primary question is this: Is Nim's "sorry" merely a reaction to the sad face of its owner, a face caused by the misdeed, or does Nim really understand what sorry means? The film throws this out to let the audience decide how far it wants to believe that a chimpanzee can "speak," even if it's non-verbal communication.

And as is the case with monkey movies, you grow to love the little tyke.

"Project Nim," directed by James Marsh, who made the great "Man On Wire," is genuinely unique.

"The Help" rises and falls on its bravura acting. The movie sparkles with wonderful female performers playing recognizable characters. The men in the film are inconsequential, which is one of the picture's mistakes, because it tries to present early-1960s Southern racism as if it were the sole purview of a bunch of country club-going white ladies.

Based on a novel by Kathleen Stockett, "The Help" is about African-American women who work as maids, nannies and housekeepers for the elite families of Jackson, Miss., just as the Civil Rights movement is becoming the focal point of a revolution.

Emma Stone is a white college graduate, with a degree in journalism, who is eager to chronicle how black women react to their jobs. She was raised by a black woman hired to serve her household, which allowed Stone's mother to do her charity work and tsk-tsk about "those poor colored people." The movie's spotlight on hypocrisy is telling.

Unfortunately, as well-acted as the film is, there's a bit of a minstrel show going on here. The black women -- especially Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer -- deliver comic wisecracks behind the backs of the white ladies who rule the roost. The nannies may be strong women able to complain, but they are complaining in private because they fear the wrath of their white bosses. Meanwhile, the black men in their lives are beaten and lynched.

The overlong film, poorly written and weakly directed by Tate Taylor, never lets let the ugliness of racism move to the forefront.

"30 Minutes Or Less" director Ruben Fleischer, and his writers Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan, claim they never heard about the pizza delivery man who was blown up as part of bank robbery scheme. I don't believe them.

The failed comedy they've made with the same theme is without redemption. Chopped to 83 minutes, it's a moronic compendium of how not to make a movie. Star Jesse Eisenberg, who plays the hapless delivery guy, embarrasses himself.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 16, 2011