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The Help (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 26, 2011 by  



A powerful film with a magnificent performance by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. “The Help” is a moving drama that opens your eyes to the difficulties and challenges of Black maids during that era in time.   Heartbreaking and a story of inspirational hope, “The Help” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2011 Dreamworks II Distribution Co. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Help

FILM RELEASE: 2011

DURATION: 146 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA (48 kHz/24-bit), English 2.0 DVS, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: DreamWorks Pictures

RATED: PG-13 (For Thematic Material)

Release Date: November 29, 2011

Directed by Tate Taylor

Screenplay by Tate Taylor

Novel by Kathryn Stockett

Produced by Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Brunson Green

Co-Producer: Sonya Lunsford

Executive Producer: Mohamed Khalaf Al-MAzrouei, L. Dean Jones Jr., John Norris, Mark Radcliffe, Jeff Skoll, Tate Taylor

Music by Thomas Newman

Cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt

Edited by Hughes Winborne

Casting by Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee

Production Design by Mark Ricker

Art Direction by Curt Beech

Set Decoration by Rena DeAngelo

Costume Design by Sharen Davis

Starring:

Emma Stone as Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan

Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark

Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook

Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson

Jessica Chastain Celia Foote

Ahna O’Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt

Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan

Anna Camp as Jolene French

The Help stars Emma Stone as the courageous Eugenia “Skeeter‟ Phelan, who goes against the beliefs of her family and friends to find her own voice. The critically praised, emotional performance of Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, a woman who secretly dreams of one day having more than she has been given, offers a deep emotional storyline. The breakthrough performance of Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson, whose sass and tough exterior disguise the pain and fear she faces every day, brings both drama and humor to the film. Bryce Dallas Howard breathes life into the catty Jackson socialite Hilly Holbrook and Jessica Chastain brings charm and humor as Celia Foote, a kind housewife living outside of town who longs to fit in. Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney and Ahna O’Reilly also provide vivacious performances that round out this all-star female ensemble. 



In 2009, Kathryn Stockett’s novel “The Help” was released and praised by book critics of major publications.

For a book that was rejected by dozens of literary agents, the book would eventually become a major hit in 2011 as five million copies of the books have been sold and it spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

Kathryn’s childhood friend, Tate Taylor (director of the film “Pretty Ugly People), who grew up with Stockett in Jackson, Mississippi, gave Taylor the film rights and in 2011, the film adaptation of “The Help” was released and the film would receive rave review from film critics and the film which was budgeted at $25 million, would go on to earn over $196 million in the box office.

The period film would feature a talented cast which would include Emma Stone (“Easy A”, “Zombieland”, “Superbad”), Viola Davis (“Doubt”, “Solaris”, “Far From Heaven”), Bryce Dallas Howard (“Spider-Man”, “Terminator Salvation”, “The Village”), Octavia Spencer (“Spider-Man”, “Seven Pounds”), Jessica Chastain (“The Tree of Life”, “The Debt”, “Take Shelter”), Allison Janney (“The West Wing”, “Juno”), Cicely Tyson (“Sounder”, “Roots”, “A Lesson Before Dying”) and Sissy Spacek (“Carrie”, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”).

“The Help” takes place during the early 1960’s and we are introduced to a Black maid named Aibileen Clark (played by Viola Davis) who works for the Leefolt family and often leaving her own family to do her maid duties which include taking care of Elizabeth Leefolt’s young daughter.

We then are shown a moment in time where a journalist begins asking questions to Aibilieen about her life as a maid.

The film then goes back in time and focuses on Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (played by Emma Stone), a recent graduate who has applied for a major publication in New York but was rejected because she needed more journalism experience.  So, Skeeter returns back home to Mississippi to work at the Jackson newspaper.

While returning home, she reunites with her friends which include Hilly Holbrook (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) who leads a group of other fellow socialite, upperclass mothers from the area as part of the Junior League.  Hilly doesn’t care for the Black people that much and she tries to convince the other mothers to have their husbands build a bathroom so they do not have to share a toilet with the Black maids because in her words “black people carry different diseases” than white people. In fact Hilly has been working with the Governor of Mississippi in order to pass the “Home Help Sanitation Initiative” bill to prevent Black help from using the same toilets in their home.

We learn that Aibileen is often busy with taking care of the Leefolt’s children and that her daughter spends more time around the maid than the mother and that Elizabeth Leefolt can’t even take care of her young child.

Meanwhile, at Hilly Holbrook’s home, she often treats her maid Minny Jackson (played by Octavia Spencer) quite terribly and looks at the Black maids as lowly people. And she sets the tone for the other mothers who tend to follow her.

But Skeeter, she is the opposite because when she was younger, she was raised by a Black maid named Constantine Jefferson (played by Cicely Tyson) who literally raised her (similar to how Aibilieen is raising Elizabeth’s Leefolt’s daughter).

But while Hilly and friends are more interested in Skeeter finding a man and getting married, so she can start a family, Skeeter is more interested in pursuing her career as a journalist.  In fact, after seeing how her friends treat their maids, Skeeter gets an idea to write a book about “The Help” which she is submitting drafts to Miss Stein, the publisher in New York and hopes this will be the experience that she needs in getting a career for a major publication.

But the problem is that Skeeter needs to get the time to interview the maids but since discrimination is quite large in Mississippi, it is against the law for the whites and Blacks to be together and its even more problematic for Skeeter because her friends are the maid’s bosses and they rather not have their friend associating with the Black people.

Meanwhile, when Skeeter comes home, she keeps asking her cancer-stricken mother Charlotte (played by Allison Janney) of what happened to their longtime maid Constantine.  But for some reason, her mother and father will not tell her the truth.

So, Skeeter devotes her time by secretly meeting with Aibileen at her home to conduct the interviews.  And Aibileen, who was reluctant at first to tell her story to a White woman decides that perhaps telling her story to the public would be good.

Meanwhile, Minny is fired by Hilly for using her toilet and when Hilly tries to make it hard for Minny to get a job, she takes a job with Celia Foot, a kind woman but since she started dating Hilly’s former long-time boyfriend, she is branded as a whore by Hilly and since the other women follow’s Hilly’s lead, they tend to look down on her.  And not long after, Milly joins Aibilene in sharing their story with Skeeter.   But Miss Stein requires Skeeter to find at least 12 more people to document their story as “the Help”.

And as Skeeter gets deep into her story, she starts to learn how her friends are towards the Black maids and how they are mistreated.  And with the Civil Rights movement and the assassination of African American civil rights activist Medgar Evers, the Black maids know that their voices need to be heard and hope that Skeeter can document their experience.

VIDEO:

“The Help” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1).  The film looks absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray.  The film manages to capture the details of the South quite effectively, especially certain details that are much clearer such as the freckles on Emma Stone’s face,  the cut on Minny’s forehead or even cold sore on Hilly’s mouth.  If anything, the clarity and detail of this film is much more evident, especially during the closeup of the characters and the details of scenery, including the homes such as Aibilene’s home as we can see the paint gone from the old home.

Also, felt that part of the efficacy of this film was location and costume design.  Cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt (“Closer”, “Batman Forever”, “Lethal Weapon”) did a great job in capturing the look and feel of the 1960’s and it really helps to find a location such as Greenwood, Mississippi retain the look that the city of Jackson had a long time ago.  But costume/makeup and hair design was well-done and really made this film come alive! And it all looks great on Blu-ray!

I didn’t see any banding, edge enhancement, artifacts or any problems on this Blu-ray.  If anything, “The Help” looks fantastic on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Help” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA (48 kHZ/24-bit), English 2.0 DVS, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound.  For this type of film, there is not much of action.  In fact, the film is primarily dialogue and music-driven.  While surround channels are mostly used for the ambiance of a crowded room or church area, I wasn’t expecting “The Help” to have an immersive soundtrack.  But for the most part, dialogue is clear and the music compositions by Thomas Newman (“WALL-E”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “American Beauty”) sounds fantastic on HD!

Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“The Help” comes with the following special features:

  • The Making of “The Help” From Friendship To Film – (23:29) Featuring interviews with director Tate Taylor, writer Kathryn Stockett, producer Chris Columbus and Brunson Green and the cast of “The Help”.  From the challenges of making this film and working among friends.
  • In Their Own Words: A Tribute To The Maids Of Mississippi – (11:51) Featuring a interview done by Tate Taylor and Octavia Spencer with Tate’s maid and also other maids (and their daughters) in regards to their memories of working during the turbulent ’60s.
  • Deleted Scenes – Five deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor.
  • “The Living Proof” music video by Mary J. Blige – (5:08)
EXTRAS:
“The Help” comes with a slipcover case and a DVD.  The DVD is presented in 1:85:1, English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital and subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.

A powerful film with a magnificent performance by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, “The Help” is a moving drama that opens your eyes to the difficulties of Black maids during that era in time.

There is no doubt in my mind that in order for “The Help” to be as effective for its film adaptation, you’re going to need talent that can make viewers feel the raw emotion that these characters go through onscreen.  But also people who have experienced having a Black maid and also were passionate in giving a voice to those maids.

You have to give credit to author Kathryn Stockett and screenplay writer and director Tate Taylor for sticking to their guns for the making of this film because without this friendship, I’m not sure if the film would have been as successful as it was.

For one, these two grew up together.  Both came from broken homes and both were raised by their Black maids.  For Stockett, the novel was therapeutic to write about her past but also making her think about her maid Dimitri and how she was part of her family for over 30 years.  And while her book was being shopped with no success, as best friends with Taylor, she had always wanted Tate to direct the film, whether or not it was low-budget or high-budget.

And what is most remarkable is the dynamic among these best friends but also their close friends around them.  Actress Octavia Spencer worked with Tate Taylor as production assistants on the 1996 film “A Time to Kill” and both moved from the south to Los Angeles earlier in their career.  Octavia played a role in Stockett’s novel, giving her input (even her disdain at first but as a friend of Tate, she read it).  Also, a close friend was actress Allison Janney who was part of Tate’s circle of friends and producer Brunson Green and both worked with Tate in his smaller films.

But they faced major opposition because Tate was not a well-known director and when Hollywood told Stockett that she can use her friend to direct the film, she wasn’t going to budget.  And it goes to show you how close these best friends are.  And fortunately because Tate was friends with producer/director Chris Columbus (“Night at the Museum” films, “Fantastic Four” films, “Harry Potter” films) and his wife loved the Stockett’s novel and Chris knows Steven Spielberg (who co-founded Dreamworks), Spielberg gave the thumbs up to the project and Kathryn Stockett’s best friend Tate Taylor would eventually get this opportunity to direct this film.

And this is what I found to be magical about “The Help”.  It’s a film that features a close circle of friends who believed in the project but also a story that is so personal for both Kathryn Stockett and Tate Taylor and their love for the maids that raised them, that “The Help” was made possible.  And for the most part, the critics and viewers enjoyed this film.

Not only is it a powerful, honest and entertaining period film, “The Help” is an important film because it does give a voice for to those women who worked during those turbulent times.  Is the story perfect?  Probably not.  While the best-selling novel was loved by film critics and readers, it was also criticized by the Association of Black Women Historians for distorting and ignoring the experiences of Black domestic workers.  I know there are many stories of challenges and dangers that many other maids out there but at least “The Help” does give people the opportunity to talk about the past.  For surviving Black maids, their daughters to talk about stories from the past and if anything, giving America and people around the world a portrait of how things were at that time.

While the film focuses on the lives of Black maids, it was important for the film adaptation to put the mental image of how wrong these women were treated.  While the novel is much more darker than the film and even more heartbreaking, I do credit Tate Taylor for giving viewers some hope with this film, than giving the exact ending of what took place in the book.

But if there is one thing that brings Kathryn Stockett’s novel-to-life, its the performances.  Both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have done a magnificent job in this film and I can only hope these two women are nominated for various film awards because their performance was outstanding!

You can sense the fear in Davis’ character of Aibelene as she doesn’t know if she can trust a white woman with her story.  You can see the frustration of Octavia Spencer’s character of Minny as she tries her best to keep quiet when her boss is often criticizing her and making her out as if she is nothing. It’s all in the eyes and the facial expressions and both women are able to effectively show those raw emotions onscreen.

As for Emma Stone, it was quite interesting to see her in a more serious role than the last films I have seen her in, especially actress Allison Janney as Skeeter’s mother Charlotte Phelan.   But as far as the antagonist goes, it was great to see actress Bryce Dallas Howard doing a good job playing such an appalling role of Hilly Holbrook.   In fact, my wife (who has watched this film several times) was often saying expletives each time Hilly showed up on screen and just loved the scenes that dealt with Minny’s pie.

And it was great to see Cicely Tyson in the film as well and see how her role as Constantine made a big impact in the life of Skeeter.  But also Sissy Spacek who plays Missus Walters and her jabs at her uptight daughter Hilly were effective in breaking down the seriousness of the movie with humor.

As for the Blu-ray release, it was great to have the “Making of the Help: From Friendship to Film” which goes into more detail of the friendship between Stockett and Taylor and their circle of friends that took part in this film, also to include “In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi” included with the Blu-ray release but also deleted scenes which feature two additional scenes such as Hilly confronting Skeeter on the commode situation but also a deleted scene showing what happened to Minny after the book was released.  I do agree for pacing purposes, these deleted scenes were best left out.

I would have loved to hear a director’s commentary or even cast commentary included but still, are a few special features included with this Blu-ray & DVD combo release that were quite entertaining to watch.    Picture quality was very good, the lossless audio soundtrack was appropriate.

Overall, “The Help” is a fantastic film that takes a look back at the racism endured by Black maids back in the 1960’s.  Although there is more to the story of what other types of harassment or difficulties Black maids have had in the job, nor does the film focus on the lives that these women have when they do return back home after work, there are many scenes throughout the film that are heartbreaking but also inspirational.

“The Help” is highly recommended!

 

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