The Help is the summer blockbuster film adapted from the bestselling phenomenon written by Kathryn Stockett. The film was written and directed by Tate Taylor, a childhood friend of Stockett’s. In a rare sign of loyalty in Hollywood, Stockett stood her ground and insisted that her old friend be allowed to write and direct the film after she gave him the rights in 2008, before the book was published. When her agent and the studio wanted her to go with a bigger name, Stockett knew that Taylor was the one person who understood the work like she did. It was a wise choice because Taylor did an exceptional job on the film. The Help is one crowd pleaser that deserves the many year end accolades it’s receiving.
Emma Stone stars as “Skeeter” Phelan, a young white woman who moves back to her Mississippi home after graduating from college. The setting is the early 1960’s and Skeeter isn’t interested in just finding a husband, as is expected of her by her childhood friends and her parents. Instead, she wants to apply her education to become a writer. Skeeter has an idea to publish a book that tells the stories of “the help,” the African American women who served as housekeepers and surrogate mothers in all of the households of her small home town. Skeeter approaches Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), a middle aged maid who’s spent her life raising white kids. Aibileen’s only son was recently killed and she’s done with being a proper servant. Skeeter and Aibileen begin work on the book. However, both realize that they’ll need more than one voice to make the book authentic. Aibileen brings in her best friend, Minny (a priceless Octavia Spence), to contribute and the project takes off.
Simultaneously to delving into the lives of Aibileen and Minny, we get a healthy dose of southern hospitality through the characters of Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Elizabeth (Ahna O’Reilly), two young mothers who employ the help and carry on the racist attitudes of their parents. Hilly has no redeeming values and Howard plays the film’s primary villain to a T. Besides the black help, Hilly’s primary target of nastiness is Celia (this year’s breakout star, Jessica Chastain), a woman from the wrong side of the tracks.
The Help is a film that should have broad appeal to men and women alike. This isn’t a chick flick, even though the predominant characters are all female. This is a period drama that deals with racism, friendship and most importantly, family. The cast is exemplary, with Stone proving that Easy A, the comedy she headlined, was no fluke and that this young actress (she’s just 23) is a star, fully capable of carrying a movie on her shoulders. In this film, she shares the load with Davis, who turns in one of this year’s best performances. The actress brings so much to Aibileen -she owns this role – that if anyone could play this part I don’t know who it would be. And Spence, one of those great character actresses who often get overlooked, finally receives a meaty role that shows off her greatness. One of the highlights of the film are the intimate scenes between Davis and Spence, when their characters are in the kitchen gossiping. The laughter and quiet remarks they share are so authentic; you’ll imagine that these two actresses have been long time friends just like their characters.
Exclusive Blu-ray Bonus Features: “The Making of “The Help:” From Friendship To Film,” “In Their Own Words: A Tribute To The Maids Of Mississippi,” and Three deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor.
DVD Bonus Features: Two deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor and “The Living Proof” music video by Mary J. Blige
A completely different film about family, but once just as effective as The Help is the sports drama, Warrior. When I was in college, a film like Warrior would come on and I’d probably watch it just because I was hanging with all of my bros. A film like this would surprise me, because of its authenticity and power, and my reaction would be, “That’s a great fucking movie.” Yes, Warrior is a great fucking movie. You expect it to be a muscleheaded dumb jock film about MMA competition, but it’s so much more.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, two rising stars that you’ll hear so much more about in 2012 (when they appear in the tent pole pictures The Dark Knight Rises and The Great Gatsby, respectively) star as brothers Tommy (Hardy) and Brendan (Edgerton). The English born Hardy and Australian Edgerton each speak with perfect Pennsylvania accents in this story that finds the estranged siblings in dire situations and both separately training for a $5 Million purse in a winner take all mixed martial arts tournament.
War veteran Tommy returns from Iraq under mysterious circumstances and seeks out his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte, at his best), in Pittsburgh to train him for this competition. Tommy hates his dad, a recovering alcoholic whose years of physical abuse drove away Tommy and his mother. Tommy needs a trainer and he knows no one better than the man he despises. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Brendan is a retired MMA fighter scraping out a living as a high school physics teacher. Beloved by his students, this good man is married to a strong, beautiful woman (a great Jennifer Morrison) and he has three young daughters. Sadly, one of his girls needed heart surgery and this medical procedure, along with a bad home loan, has his family on the brink of bankruptcy. To make ends meet, he enters fights that take place in the parking lots of strip joints. He wins each night, but these brawls cost him his job. Brendan returns to his old trainer, Frank (Frank Grillo) to help him train for more street fights to make ends meet. Eventually, Brendan finds a way to enter the big money competition and the two brothers are on a collision course for a showdown in a cage fight.
I’m not going to begin to say that Warrior doesn’t follow the structure of most underdog sports films. Rocky immediately leaps to mind when you watch any movie that deals with guys, fists and Philly. But director/writer Gavin O’Connor (who also directed the underdog Olympic film, Miracle) uses those film clichés as a starting point for his powerful film that contains more than a couple of emotional wallops. You may recognize where the film is going, but this is a movie that’s worth seeing because of the superior acting by everyone in it. Hardy and Edgerton are near perfect, Nolte is never better, Morrison adds strength and compassion to a character that could have been one-note, and Frank Grillo takes the role of the “trainer” and makes him three dimensional and compassionate.
The fight sequences are expertly directed and the editing team keeps the pace moving forward. It says a lot that when you know where a story is headed, you still jump up and cheer when your guy wins his battle. Friday Night Lights had the ability to create this kind of reaction in its audience and Warrior does it just as well. I’m sure that this film isn’t even being mentioned by anyone now that awards are being handed out, but anyone who wants to watch fine acting and directing should consider Warrior during this holiday season.
The Blu-ray and DVD each have special features that include audio commentary, a “making of” documentary, mixed martial arts strategy, a gag reel, deleted scene and more! The Blu-ray Disc also offers an Enhanced Viewing Mode for the feature film, taking fans to the next level of entertainment.