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The Help - Blu-ray Movie Review

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5 Stars

Releasing a meaningful movie at the very end of summer is grossly unheard of from the executives up in Hollyweird and yet that’s exactly what Dreamworks and Touchstone Pictures have done with The Help.  Powerful and powerfully moving, writer/director Tate Taylor’s The Help illuminates one Mississippi’s many, many racial wrongdoings by exploring exactly what it is like to raise someone else’s children while yours go without and the consequences therein.  Of course, there is more to the movie than that.  Much more.  Hollywood should not - and probably will not - ignore this film when it comes time to hand out awards either.  That, in itself, would be a shame.  Yes, The Help and its three leads - Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer - are that damn good.

The year is 1963.  The place: Jackson, Mississippi.  Racial lines have never been more defined and no one dare cross them.  Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone), empowered by her acquisition of a newspaper job answering advice letters, finds herself suddenly offended by her snooty “separate but equal” female friends - Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) and helpless Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O'Reilly) – by how they treat the middle aged help - Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) - who raised them and, currently, raise their own kids.  Skeeter does what she does best.  She defies the norm and confronts the African-American help with a proposition: talk to her and get their burdens off their chests.  Clear their minds and answer the question: What is it like to raise a white person’s baby while yours go without?

Tell her their stories.  With her contacts, she should be able to make the entire nation aware of Mississippi’s reluctance to change.  While Aibellen and Minny are aware of the dangers, their will to change just how Mississippi operates becomes a stronger and force and, together, the three ladies – plus the wonderfully frantic and ditzy Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) – begin to meet and make the changes they want to see happen in Mississippi.

The Help is wonderfully inspired collaboration between lifelong friends Kathryn Stockett, who wrote the novel, and writer/director Taylor.  Stockett filled the pages of her book with characters that, while engaging, never once realized exactly what they were doing for the civil rights era.  This certainly is a strength that Taylor kept because, while socially aware in the waters its wades into, the film never once becomes preachy.  It’s a crowd-pleaser through and through.

Stone, with her frazzled look, is simply perfect for the part of the idealistic and - because of the absence of her own nanny, Constantine Bates (Cicely Tyson), and the failing health of her mother, Charlotte (Allison Janney) - somewhat socially awkward.  Viola Davis’ wonderfully subtle performance and reaction brings the film the heaviness of the era and, when she is allowed to cut loose, brings a nice change to the atmosphere.  Octavia Spencer’s facial expressions are a solid hoot.  And, once Chastain is thrown into the mix, the chemistry is simply off the charts.  You may even forget you are watching a movie.

There is a wonderful sense of time and place and character that maintains a constant throughout the film, too.  The sets and costume designs are lush and realistic and of the time.  It’s almost as if they are postmarked from the actual era.  The Help breathes of history and the warmth from the massive fire that’s about to start, due to the civil rights era the film alludes to, is also felt.  In a sense, what this film achieves – without schmaltz and without preaching – is massive.

So forgiving the film of its length, its lengthy and multilple endings, and slight narrative mishaps is easily done.  It’s a film full of great female performances, including the scene-stealing Sissy Spacek as Hilly’s mother.  Is it too soon to speak of Oscar season?  I ask only because, in my opinion, The Help could easily fill two or three slots.  Hands down.

It was William Faulkner, a Mississippi native and beloved American author, who wrote, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  Taylor’s wonderfully directed The Help reminds us of that fact with its wonderful insight into the passion of the human drama.

Words cannot express the importance and entertaining strength of The Help.

You have no excuse.

Go see this.

{2jtab: Film Details}

The HelpMPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material.
Director: Tate Taylor
Writer
: Tate Taylor
Cast:
Emma Stone; Viola Davis; Bryce Dallas Howard; Octavia Spencer; Jessica Chastain
Genre
: Drama
Memorable Movie Quote:
"She look like the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby"
Tagline:
Change begins with a whisper..
Distributor:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Official Site:
thehelpmovie.com/us
Release Date: August 12, 2011
Blu-ray Release Date:
December 6, 2011

Plot Synopsis: Based on one of the most talked about books in years and a #1 New York Times best-selling phenomenon, The Help stars Emma Stone as Skeeter, Academy Award–nominated Viola Davis as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny—three very different, extraordinary women in Mississippi during the 1960s, who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk. From their improbable alliance a remarkable sisterhood emerges, instilling all of them with the courage to transcend the lines that define them, and the realization that sometimes those lines are made to be crossed—even if it means bringing everyone in town face-to-face with the changing times.

Deeply moving, filled with poignancy, humor and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the ability to create change.

{2jtab: Blu-ray/DVD Review}

The Help - Blu-ray

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
5 stars

3 stars



Blu-ray Experience
4 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - December 6, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Russian
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Russian: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (1 BD, 2 DVDs); Digital copy (on disc); DVD copy; BD-Live
Playback: Region A

Touchstone’s 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer is a warm and vibrant mix of colors and rich details.  It’s a celebration of the South as it captures the ripe weather with smoldering detail.  Contrast is perfectly accurate and never falters with instable moments.  Fine detail captures skin tone and fabrics in the clothing of its cast with a marked precision.  There are only a few moments when the transfer seems to lose its grip of the source material and clarity doesn’t seem as sharp as it could be.  There are many textures – from Stone’s frizzed hair to Spacek’s wrinkles - that the transfer replicates well.  The sound, presented in a subtle DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, provides a great sense of place and purpose with its sprinklings of surround sound mechanics.   It certainly won’t shake the floor with deep bass levels, but it does pack an intelligible auditory punch.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Gulp.  There is none.  A missed opportunity.

Special Features:

With the significance of this movie and its chances for Oscar gold (as for as performances are concerned), it is a bit disappointing to discover that this is, more or less, a rush job from Disney.  The only really fine moments the release has is with a production documentary that steers clear from your traditional making of featurette and focuses on the development and the movie and the current culture of Mississippi.  Another featurette deals with the women who inspired the book and movie, but is a rather lighter than air happening.  Rounding out the collection is a music video and five deleted and extended scenes that include "A Senator's Son," "Humiliated," "Johnny's Home," "A Book About Jackson" and "Keep on Walkin."  Every single one of these should have been included in the movie.

  • From Friendship to Film (23 min)
  • In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi (12 min)
  • Five Deleted & Extended Scenes (10 min)
  • Mary J. Blige Music Video (5 min)

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