Monday, September 24, 2012

The Help Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter (Emma Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends’ lives – and a Mississippi town – upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. Aibileen (Viola Davis), Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper, is the first to open up – to the dismay of her friends in the tight-knit black community. Despite Skeeter’s life-long friendships hanging in the balance, she and Aibileen continue their collaboration and soon more women come forward to tell their stories – and as it turns out, they have a lot to say. Along the way, unlikely friendships are forged and a new sisterhood emerges, but not before everyone in town has a thing or two to say themselves when they become unwittingly – and unwillingly – caught up in the changing times.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

The Help is based on the novel of the same title by author Kathryn Stockett.  The film is directed by Stockett’s childhood friend Tate Taylor.  The movie takes place in the 1960s South with  Emma Stone playing a young woman named Eugenia, nicknamed Skeeter, a young white woman who recently graduated from college and returned home to learn that the maid who raised her has left.  Skeeter cannot get a straight answer from her family about where her maid Constantine went and she believes that she would not have quit without writing a note to tell her.
Life goes on and Skeeter’s friends in the Junior League are all getting married and having babies, but Skeeter wants to be a writer and she is more concerned with her career.  She gets a job writing a housekeeping column, and asks a friend’s maid Aibileen (Viola Davis) for help with her column.  Aibleen proves to be a lot of help since she is an expert at raising other people’s children taking care of a house but she’s sadly lost a son recently.
Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is attempting to pass a “Home Help Sanitation Initiative” requiring separate bathrooms for the help, because she believes that blacks and whites carry different diseases.  Skeeter is one of the few young white women who doesn’t believe in discrimination or segregation.  She decides to write a book from the perspective of the help and enlists the help of Aibleen to tell her story.  Other maids are reluctant to share their stories with Skeeter.  When Aibileen’s friend Minny is harshly fired by Hilly, she eagerly agrees to be the second person to share her stories for Skeeter’s book which is a good thing since she is told that she needs at least a dozen maids’ stories for the book.
The fact that she only has two stories concerns her greatly since she is far from her goal.  Since she is changing the names of the maids and the families already, it is suggested to her that she could just make up some stories about imaginary maids, but she refuses saying it would not be genuine.  It’s only after Medgar Evers is assassinated, that Skeeter finds herself with a room full of maids finally willing to talk.  Once the book is finally published it quickly becomes a huge success and Skeeter shares the royalties with the maids who helped her.  Unsurprisingly, later Hilly lies about a theft to get Aibileen fired, causing her to have to say goodbye to the last child she will care for.
The Help is a very touching movie.  Aibileen’s phrase she teaches the children “you is kind, you is smart, you is important” turns into quite a tear-jerker when you hear a young toddler repeat it back to her.  The performances from all involved were excellent and my attention was held throughout.  When the movie was released there was a little bit of controversy about how the maids were portrayed as well as the unflattering portrait painted of their husbands as mean abusive drunkards.  Some also felt that that the movie didn’t pay enough respect to the civil rights movement and the efforts of the people who supported it and there may be some truth to that but I think the movie was made with good intentions and if it fell short of the mark, at least it gave its earnest best.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The Help is presented on Blu ray with a 1.85:1 ratio.  Flesh tones are natural and accurate.   The scenes shot in daylight look great, both indoors and out.  I was especially impressed with the nighttime shots and the detail and black levels which were solid. There’s some very nice detail present that allows you to see every curl of Emma Stone’s hair.   The rich atmosphere and colors of Mississippi have also transferred well to Blu-ray and I was very happy with the almost flawless video quality.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The Help is presented in 5.1 DTS HD-Master Audio.  Dialogue is clear and consistent throughout and the volume never needed adjusting. This is a fairly quiet mix but there’s a lot of nice directional effects that are subtle but ever present.  They add such a nice amount of atmosphere that it feels like you are there in Mississippi.

Extras (4 out of 5 stars) 

While there are not a lot of special features, they are as memorable as the film itself.  I’m not even complaining about a lack of a gag reel as that would actually be in poor taste for this film.
  • The Making of the Help: From Friendship to Film – A behind the scenes featurette with interviews with cast and filmmakers.  It turns out the author and the writer/director have been friends since childhood. Alison Janney spends thanksgivings with the Director.  Octavia Spencer met the director when they were both production assistants on A Time To Kill. The people making the movie had a lot of history, and the locations have a lot of history for the filmmakers as well.
  • In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi - Director Tate Taylor and Actress Octavia Spencer talk to some of the real life maids of Mississippi, including the one that took care of Tate, and their daughters.
  • Deleted Scenes with Introductions by Director Tate Taylor – Five deleted scenes with Director introductions.  The movie is already lengthy, but they are all good scenes that would have been great had been left in the movie.
  • The Living Proof Music Video – Mary J. Blige’s Music Video

Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

The Help is not a movie I will watch every week but it’s one I definitely enjoyed.  It’s a very serious subject matter and for those with children, I think the relationship between the Aibileeen and Mae Mobley will be especially touching.  I can think of a few people I know that will love this movie and will never let go of the box of Kleenex.  I think it’s important to know that going into the movie because you have to be in the right mood for this kind of movie.  It’s a very heavy drama, and a long one at that…but well worth it.
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