DVDs serve up 2 brands of Southern discomfort

Gregg Shapiro, Staff writer

‘The Help’

Gay director and screenwriter Tate Taylor’s movie adaptation of “The Help,” based on Kathryn Stockett’s acclaimed and bestselling novel of the same name, is set in 1960s Mississippi. One can immediately see that not much has changed in race relations since the 1950s – or the Civil War, for that matter. Most of the white society women of Jackson treat their maids as less than human, refusing to share toilets with them. And yet these maids are indispensable in the kitchen and in the nursery, where they essentially raise the children of women who can barely conceal their disdain for them.

Then along comes Eugenia (the ubiquitous Emma Stone), aka Skeeter, fresh from college with her wild and frizzy hair and her progressive attitudes. For her first job, Skeeter is hired by newspaper editor Mr. Blackly (gay actor Leslie Jordan) to fill in for the cleaning advice columnist. Raised by a maid herself, Skeeter knows nothing about cleaning or housekeeping. So she solicits the help of Aibileen (Viola Davis), the maid of a family friend. Observing how badly Aibileen is treated sets Skeeter on a path she never expected to follow.

“The Help,” which could afford to shed about 20 minutes, is nevertheless a film full of Oscar-worthy performances, powerful social messages and enough laughter and tears to require a full box of tissues. In the Blu-ray+DVD combo pack, bonus material includes deleted scenes, featurettes and the Mary J. Blige music video for “The Living Proof.”


You’d think 2010 was a slow year on Broadway if “Memphis” won four Tony Awards, including best musical. But it was also the year of “American Idiot,” “Fela!” and “Million Dollar Quartet,” so that isn’t the case.

Whatever the reason, “Memphis,” with a book by Joe DiPietro and score by DiPietro and David Bryan, was a hit with Tony voters. It tells the story of the rise of Memphis DJ Huey (Chad Kimball, whose accent can best be described as distracting), and his singing girlfriend Felicia (Montego Glover). 

The story is complicated, because Huey was white and Felicia was African-American. Early 1950s Memphis was a hostile place for mixed-race relationships. And Memphis airwaves weren’t exactly welcoming when it came to playing what was then called “race music.” Combining the stories of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll with elements of the civil rights movement, “Memphis” borrows liberally from other sources, including “Hairspray.” 

The Blu-ray features the original Broadway cast, including Glover, whose performance is the best thing about the show. Special features include cast interviews, the “How Memphis Was Captured” featurette and more.