The Help (2011) Review

30 12 2011

Copyright 2011 Dreamworks SKG

★ ★ ★ ★

I have to be honest, this was not a film I was expecting to enjoy.  Usually, when the girlfriend and mother are excited about a movie, that means that it will definitely not be my cup of tea.  However, I am pleasantly surprised to report that I enjoyed this movie; I wouldn’t say it is a masterpiece as lauded by some critics, but it’s definitely an enjoyable and solid film.

The story takes place in Jackson, Miss. in 1963, a place where racial intolerance was at an all-time high.  Many African-American women were employed as maids to white families, a job that offered little appreciation and even less pay/benefits.  Aibeleen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) have been maids, raising and feeding white children, for as long as they can remember.  Free spirited Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) is one of the white children that was raised by an African-American maid.  Unlike her blatantly racist “friends”, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly), she doesn’t agree with Jim Crow laws and the under appreciation and maltreatment of African-Americans as a lower class.  Wanting to become a novelist, Skeeter takes a job at the local paper, but has higher aspirations of working for Harper and Row in New York.  She gets the idea about interviewing African-American maids in Jackson as a way to tell their story, while also helping her writing career.  Harper and Row are interested in the idea and Skeeter enlists the help of Aibeleen and Minny.  Through the process of writing, Skeeter learns a lot about the life these maids lead and, likewise, within the town, becomes more aware of the racial intolerance and two-sided ways of her peers.

The story has many more plot points than the brief synopsis above, and elicits a well-woven tale of history, friendship, civil action and triumph of the human spirit.  From what I hear from my girlfriend, the book is even more in depth and interesting.  Directed aptly by relative newcomer Tate Taylor and beautifully shot by seasoned veteran Stephen Goldblatt, this is a very solid film; however, the top accolades go to the cast, primarily Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who give some real knock out performances.

As stated at the beginning of this review, this is not the typical type of film I usually enjoy.  So, if I enjoyed it as much as I did, I’m sure it will fit the bill for anyone looking for a well-written, tightly put together drama.

Book Review: The Film Director 2nd Edition by Richard L. Bare

13 07 2011

Copyright Richard L. Bare and WIley Publishing 2000

My personal library of books on film history, theory, production process and reference numbers currently at just over 100 books.  Of that lot, I would say about 10-15 are books on directing, which include such classics as Making Movies by Sidney Lumet and On Film-making by Alexander Mackendrick.  This book, by television and motion picture director Richard L. Bare, was the latest edition to the “library,” and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the information contained within.

Richard L. Bare himself is probably not known to the mainstream by name, but I’m sure you’ve seen his work before.  The majority of his professional career was spent in television, where he directed episodes of such classic shows as The Twilight Zone, Petticoat Junction and Maverick, among many others.  However, he is probably best known for directing the lions share (168 episodes), and being a driving creative force, behind the popular CBS program Green Acres with Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor.

I came across this book upon reading background information on a recent Twilight Zone episode I had watched.  Intrigued, and with the price not being very high from Amazon, I decided to go ahead and buy the book blind and give it a shot.  Of all my books on directing, I’ve never really felt like there’s been one that touches on the practicalities of directing in the precise manner in which I had hoped.  Some are wonderful personal accounts of a career, some tinged in personal philosophies and many are very existential musings on the process of directing and taming performance.  However, none has fully satisfied my desires on practical text until this one.

Of course, you can’t learn all the complexities of directing and how to become a great director from a book; this book will even tell you that!  A truly great director takes a certain God given trait, but the ability to learn how to properly make a movie in the director’s chair, can be covered.  This is what The Film Director does for you.  It lays out every facet of what a director has to do in pre-production, production and post-production to make sure that a picture is produced correctly, on time and how to stay in budget.  Bare covers how to deal with difficult actors, short cuts you can utilize when budget is an issue and other inside information that only a learned director could tell you.

In addition, Bare recounts his own experiences becoming a director and some of his other personal trials and tribulations in the field.  He makes it clear that it is no easy process as well.  An early graduate of the University of Southern California’s film program (he’s 97 and still kicking!), Bare won the coveted Paul Muni award for a short film he did in school, The Oval Portrait, based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name.  This was a national award and he was invited to wine and dine with many of the industry’s top producers and directors.  However, in the end, it was still another seven long years before he was able to gain employment from a studio.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book for someone who hasn’t any idea the role a director plays all the way to a practicing director with many various films under his belt.  You’re never too old to learn something, and this is the most practical, straight-forward text on the role of the film director that I have yet to come across.  Note that the original text was written in the early 1970s, this 2nd Edition of which I am reviewing was updated by Bare in 2000 to include some of the advances in the process of filmmaking and the industry itself.

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