The Help


Film (with rating): The Help (PG-13)

 

Studio: DreamWorks Studios

 

Summary: This film, based on the best-selling novel by
Kathryn Stockett, is about very different women in 1960s Mississippi who build
an unlikely friendship when one of them attempts to write a book detailing the
African-American maids’ point of view on the white families they work for.

 

Review: Sometimes, beloved books made into big-screen
Hollywood flicks often fall flat simply because the film world cannot become as
multi-textured and amazing as the written word. But in the case of “The
Help,” director Tate Taylor did Stockett justice, big time. The film is
just as powerful and rich as is the novel. In fact, it is a bit richer, thanks
to the amazing performances by the leading ladies.

The confident and spunky
Emma Stone rocks the role of Skeeter, the college grad determined to uncover
the story of these African-American maids who have endured and witnessed much
in the homes of their employers. Then there are Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.
Their much-heralded talent is not overstated in the least, and both are highly
deserving of the Academy Award nods they’ve been given. As is Jessica Chastain,
the young wife with a secret. Her Oscar nomination was also spot-on.

These
actors brought the rich and real characters birthed by Stockett to life in a
way that fans of the novel will celebrate; even those who are not familiar with
the book will appreciate the phenomenal casting and acting. Davis and Spencer
steal the show, and it’s thanks to their deep characters and engaging storyline
that we are drawn into the heart of this film, which has been
nominated for the best picture Oscar.

Here’s a nifty bit of trivia: Stockett
was rejected 60 (60!!!) times during the course of writing “The Help.”
Her novel was literally tossed away by dozens upon dozens of powerhouses in the
publishing world, until an agent named Susan Ramer,  No. 61, took a chance on her.

But even before that, Stockett
took a chance on herself, escaping for an afternoon to a motel so she could
write in peace, carving out bits of time to further develop her characters. She
never gave up. Her soul and determination leak beautifully into each of her
characters. And for once, Hollywood didn’t blot it dry.

 

Extra highlight: “In their Own Words: A Tribute to the
Maids of Mississippi.”

 

What to serve for dinner: Black-Eyed Pea Gumbo
(allrecipes.com) and Mississippi Mud Cake (Paula Deen/foodnetwork.com).

 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

5 stalks celery, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup brown rice

4 (15 ounce) cans black-eyed peas with liquid

1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

 

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and
cook the onion, pepper, and celery until tender. Pour in the chicken broth, and
mix in rice, black-eyed peas with liquid, diced tomatoes and green chiles,
diced tomatoes, and garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45
minutes, or until rice is tender. Add water if soup is too thick. Also sprinkle
with additional Cajun seasonings and hot sauce if more heat is desired.

 

Mississippi Mud Cake

 

2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup cocoa

1/4 cup water

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 bag miniature marshmallows

 

Icing:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons cocoa

6 tablespoons milk

1 (1-pound) box confectioners’ sugar

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 by
9-inch baking pan. Combine the sugar, salt, and flour in a large mixing bowl.
Bring the butter, oil, cocoa, and 1/4 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Add to
the flour mixture.

 

Beat together the eggs, baking soda, buttermilk, and
vanilla. Add to the chocolate mixture, mix well, and pour into the prepared
pan. Bake for 25 minutes.

 

While the cake is baking, make the icing by melting the
butter in the cocoa and milk over low heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then
remove from the heat. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Slowly mix in the nuts
and the vanilla. Take the cake from the oven, and when it cools a bit cover it
with miniature marshmallows. Pour the warm icing over the cake and the
marshmallows. Cool the cake before serving.

 

What to talk about over dinner: How have things changed from
the 1960s until now? Can you imagine living in a time like that? How are race
relations different? Did you read the book? How do you feel the movie differs
from the book? Does it? What is your favorite book-turned-movie? The worst one?
Who was your favorite character in “The Help?” How do you think it
will score at the Academy Awards this Sunday? Who is going to wear the tackiest
dress? The best? Which film will win best movie? Rumor has it the Oscar is
Viola’s to lose. Agree or not? Or do you think Michelle Williams will go home
with the award? What was the part of the film that resonated most deeply with
you? What have you done that has gone against the grain of societal norms? When
have you bucked the system for what you believed in? Would you have given up on
“The Help” after 10 rejections? Thirty? What do you think made
Stockett keep going? What are you that passionate about?

 

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

  Photo #1


Film (with rating): A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
(R)

 

Studio: Warner Home Entertainment

 

Summary: It’s been six years since Harold and Kumar escaped Guantanamo
Bay, and now they’re estranged, living totally different lives. Harold is a
straight-laced banker with a beautiful wife he’s trying to impregnate, and
Kumar is still stoned out of his mind and living like a college frat boy. But
when holiday circumstances get these two back together again, hilarity–and some
pretty illegal activity–ensues.

 

Review: Ever seen “Bad Santa?” Did you enjoy it?
Then “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” is right up your
chimney. Nothing and no one is spared in this third “Harold &
Kumar” film, not religion, not Jesus, not Santa (who gets shot in the
head, for crying out loud), not even babies. The entire film is not to be taken
seriously, but really, what did you expect? Being an older, rather boring,
suburbanite mother, I find it rather wickedly enjoyable to watch these guys
(played hysterically again by John Cho and Kal Penn, who wasn’t nearly as good
in his recent guest run on “How I Met Your Mother”) do all sorts of
stupid and stoned things. Such as play beer pong at a mobster’s party, all for
a Christmas tree. I did not watch the film in 3D, which I’m sure added to the
appeal in theaters (that, and a little help from some non-medicinal Mary Jane,
perhaps). But even without those effects, the film can still be enjoyed.

 

Thomas Lennon, who plays Harold’s new BFF Todd, is a
delight. It’s his poor baby who becomes perhaps the youngest crackhead in
history. While absolutely not politically correct, the joke stream involving
sky-high tykes is obscenely funny. The stint in the mobster’s closet is just
hysterical.

 

Another perk: Neil Patrick Harris. His bit in the film is fantastic,
but pretty much everything he does rocks. Do not miss him.

 

All in all, this is a good film to watch any time of the
year if you’re craving some absolutely stupid, no-thinking-required,
offensive-to-all comedy. But even with that said, “A Very Harold &
Kumar 3D Christmas” does have a decent message or two. Such as some
friendships are worth fighting for. And waffles rock. Two things anyone can
enjoy, even without the help of Kumar’s stash. 

 

Extra highlight: Bringing Harold & Kumar Claymation to
Life (Blu-Ray)

 

What to serve for dinner: Do as WaffleBot says, and eat some
waffles. Try Savory Cornmeal Waffle & White Bean Chicken Chili (from
achowlife.com).

 

1 recipe Chicken and White Bean Chili (see below)

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup wheat germ

3 large eggs

2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional oil for brushing
waffle iron

 

Into a large bowl sift together flour, cornmeal, baking
powder, baking soda, and salt. Repeat sifting two more times and stir in wheat
germ. In another large bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk and oil. Add flour
mixture all at once and whisk just until combined. Preheat a waffle iron and
brush lightly with additional oil. Spoon batter into waffle iron, using 1/4 cup
batter for each 4-inch-square standard waffle and spreading batter evenly, and
cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer waffle to a baking sheet
and keep warm, uncovered, in middle of oven. Make more waffles with remaining
batter in same manner, brushing waffle iron with oil before adding each batch.
Serve waffles topped with hot chili.

 

Chili:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/3 cups chopped onion

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

2 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into
1/2-inch cubes

3 1/2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 15- to 16-ounce cans white beans, drained, juices reserved

2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

(sour cream and white cheddar as topping options)

 

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell
pepper, and garlic; saut until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add chicken; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saut until chicken is no longer
pink outside, about 5 minutes. Mix in chili powder, tomato paste, cumin, and
oregano. Add beans, 1 cup reserved bean juices, and canned tomatoes. Simmer
until chicken is cooked through and chili is thickened, about 25 minutes. If
chili is too thick, add more bean juices by tablespoonfuls to thin. Season
chili to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in cilantro and serve with your choice
of additional toppings including sour cream and white cheddar cheese.

 

What to talk about over dinner: I’m not really sure there’s
much to talk about. I mean, you may have lost numerous brain cells just from
watching that movie. So why don’t you just keep calling each other
“dude” and eat more waffles? WaffleBot would be proud.