Now, its important you know this is Lee Daniels version of “The Butler , so you won’t confuse it with any other butler movies out there.
And, not just butlers – but Presidential butlers. More or less, probably less, it’s based on the true life story of Cecil Gaines, White House butler to eight Presidents, spanning from 1957 to the mid 80’s. And while I am questioning if Cecil really was right there on the spot while some major history was in the making, there’s no doubt this one was made to be a crowd pleaser.
Forest Whitaker plays Cecil, a man just trying to provide for his family. He gets out of the cotton fields after a horrific opening scene, learn the ropes as a house servant, and leaves the ugly South of the 1920’s and 30’s and ventures north. There he gets a shot to work on the Presidential staff, and along the way meets and marries Gloria, played by Oprah Winfrey. They produce two sons, Louis and Charlie. Louis gets involved in the civil rights movement and all Cecil can do is hope he isn’t killed and maybe he doesn’t lose his job over his son’s “radicalism”.
The center of the film is the struggle between father and son set during this important historical time. And that was well portrayed – the dignified and honorable Cecil versus Louis, who believes now is the time to do more than just wait and expect the American South to do the right thing and end policies like segregation.
I like the performances there – but, hold on, the real winner here is Oprah, who takes the role of Gloria and turns her into one conflicted, fascinating lady. Housewife, alcoholic, cheating on Cecil, trying to understand what Louis is doing with his life – it’s all so classic 1950’s and 60’s, and yes she can still act. You like her, then you hate her, then you are puzzled by her. There’s much going on there.
You might also enjoy the Presidents – if I thought it was bizarre having Bill Murray play FDR last year, how about Robin Williams as Eisenhower? James Marsden plays JFK, Liev Shriever gets the LBJ role, while John Cusack does a credible Nixon impersonation and Alan Rickman takes on a strange interpretation of Ronnie Reagan. It looks like Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter didn’t have enough good moments with Cecil to make the cut here. Which by the way is a bit of a clichéd low point of the movie – the Presidents are depicted as stereotypical highlight reels, even down to LBJ talking to staffers through an open door while on the toilet. And, yes Nixon drinks and mutters about his father.
But check out Jane Fonda in a role she was born to play – Nancy Reagan! That was worth waiting for – it breathed life into a movie that was starting to lag near the end.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” will probably get award buzz, it’s got the right content. But some of the execution is a bit iffy by me – for example, we are supposed to believe that Louis Gaines is “Johnny on the spot” being right there when both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were shot. Was this a Forest Whitaker movie or a “Forrest Gump” movie? Despite that, the family tension depicting the understandable tension in African American families during this time in history is the strength of this story. I give it a “7”.
It may seem early, but this one’s got that Academy Award buzz attached to it. It certainly is emotionally impactful, but where you stand on this movie may have a lot to do with your own life experiences.
Released just days before the George Zimmerman verdict in Florida, some say the timing couldn’t be more perfect. It was not intentional. “Fruitvale Station” is a day in the life of Oscar Grant III, the 22 year old man who was shot dead by a BART police officer on New Years day 2009. That title is the name of the train station where it happened. And the “day in the life” would happen to be Oscar’s last.
Southern Californians may be more aware than most outside of the Bay Area of this story, since the trial of the BART cop took place here. The story basically is that the police responded to reports of a fight on the train. Oscar and some others were told to sit still on the platform, words were exchanged and then cop Johannes Mehserle says he mistook his gun for a taser and shot Grant. The film is not about the trial and any feeling that justice was not done. In fact, Mehserle’s name is not even used, even though they do re-enact the episode. The cop was out of jail in a year and there was anger about that, but the focus here is on what Oscar was up to that day, and the theme is “new beginnings”.
I’ll say at the outset, it’s a bit hard to swallow that all that comes in this day really happened just that way. Oscar lived with his girlfriend and their young daughter and is barely hanging on. He’s about to be laid off from his job at a market and is tempted to go back to making money by selling marijuana. Both would up in the air on this fateful day.
Through flashbacks we learn he was recently in prison and if you listen closely at the beginning, he is also tempted by the ladies. It’s plenty to deal with – fatherhood, being an ex-con, no job and plenty of bad influences around him. But he has a loving family – a Mom, a Grandma, and his girlfriend are all rooting for him to pull through this.
As played by Michael B. Jordan, you will like Oscar. He’s easygoing and on this tragic day goes out of his way a couple of times to perform acts of kindness. I am not saying I doubt this, but the confluence of events that bring him to that fateful New Years Eve train ride and what happens on that train stretched the limits of credibility for me. In short, it is a small world after all – even in a city the size of Oakland. I understand they are not trying to say this is any kind of a documentary and you want to fit it all in. It’s just something I notice.
Further, we are led to understand that he was not even responsible for deciding on that train ride. Well, maybe that was the point - was much of his life just not under his control?
Having said that, for a first time director and a relatively new actor (Jordan was in HBO’s “The Wire”) to pull this off is remarkable. Note how many times during that day the BART trains passes by, an ominous reminder of what is to come. It’s well paced and pieced together superbly. And, despite my doubts I felt real empathy for Oscar Grant. I give “Fruitvale Station” an “8”.
Hey, the newspaper ad I spied this morning said this one would be “the most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer”. Meanwhile, the LA Times ran a story this week saying this could be the summer’s biggest box office bomb. So which is it? Sad to say, the Times is much closer to reality.
More than a few people noticed from the trailers it looks like a sad rip off of “Men in Black”. And that would be accurate. I’ll also throw in another one it vainly tries to copy – “Ghost”.
Nick is a Boston PD cop who is killed early in the movie. He ascends to the heavens where he is given a choice to face judgment day now or join the “R.I.P.D.”. That would be the “rest in peace department”, a police force which tries to round up the dead who have made their way back to earth and have somehow escaped judgment.
Yep – same thing as “Men in Black”, which was about aliens from other planets who have managed to hide themselves among us. Both must be removed or mankind's existence is threatened. In “Men in Black”, it was all done with style, humor and a great pairing of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Here, we get Ryan Reynolds, who killed superhero movies last summer with the horrific “Green Lantern”, and the real stinker, Jeff Bridges.
A fine actor, Mr. Bridges plays ole Roy, a Marshall killed around 1900, who will remind you over and over again of his agonizing death and his body being picked apart by the vultures. But good luck hearing any of that, Roy is a drawling cotton mouth. It’s as if he’s got the old chaw of tobacco stuck in the cheek and just about everything that comes out of his pie hold is nearly incomprehensible.
That makes it tough when you are making a buddy cop movie. They tried by adding a small twist – on earth Nick and Roy don’t look like Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges. No, Nick looks like an old Chinese guy and Roy a hot female model. Did it help? Marginally – no, on second thought not at all.
Kevin Bacon is another cop – Nick’s old partner before he died and this is where the whole rip off of “Ghost” comes in. I won’t ruin it for it – but you won’t care.
Here’s how bad this is – to draw the real “undead monsters” out of their earthly disguises, you need to provide Indian food. Yes, that means dishes like “tikka masala” or something with curry and all that. Beats me – that’s supposed to be funny?
You may or may not be still in your seat when Jeff Bridges begins to sing. Ryan Reynolds spends the whole movie with the serious face, the man on a mission. You know, he’s got the pretty wife he left behind and scores to settle, but “R.I.P.D.” is certainly “D.O.A.”.
Will this one make my worst list of the year? We’ll see – I give it a “2”. Oh, and by the way, the most “fun” I’ve had at the movies so far this summer is at a showing of “The Heat” starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.
Don’t confuse Guillermo del Toro with Benicio del Toro, like you know who either one of them are – the first is a film maker who some find just plain weird. He’s the guy behind the imaginative “Hellboy” movies which I loved. It was stuff from your darkest nightmares of monsters under the bed.
Now, he’s trying for the summer blockbuster with the monsters of “Pacific Rim”, which don’t come from space, but from beneath the ocean. How’s that for turning convention on its head?
The only tough time I really had with this movie was at the outset, when there is a too quick narrative about the war between us, using the “Jaegers” and the aliens from the ocean, called the “Kaiju”. Focus in, it breezes by through years of history when the creatures first rose up (they sort of look like a “Godzilla” thing) and we developed the Jaeger technology to fight them off. “Jaegers” are huge “Transformer” type robots which two human pilots control from within. In fact, when I first saw ads for this, I thought it was another “Transformer” sequel.
But, no, this was far more serious. And inventive – it you are the sort that like a little more than mind numbing battles on screen, check out the detail injected here. The pilots of the Jaegers must “mind meld” so they can control the big machine as one.
And the reason we skip history is that we have entered a new phase in the war – the Kaiju have adapted, if not evolved, to get bigger and stronger and more resistant to the Jaegers. Plus, how did they get there and how do you stop them? All will be revealed.
I also like the fact that we didn’t need a superstar like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt to lead the way. It’s a cast of unknowns – with the exceptions of Ron Perlman (the star of the “Hellboy” movies I mentioned earlier) and comedian Charlie Day (from TV’s “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) to add both the comic and scientific touches that really make this movie a winner.
The main stars are, what else, a boy and girl pilot (Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi- you see I said they unknowns) who team up by fate to try and be our last hope. It could have been worse – I’ve long accepted that summer blockbusters must, by rule, have this predictable, sweet romantic storyline.
What will be remembered are the fantastic special effects and small plot twists that keep this war going, and the back and forth between the battles and the relationship byplay of our stars is well balanced. And the laughs do come – they just take a little longer to develop. How can you not smile when one of Jaegers picks up a train car or a ship to clobber the Kaiju with? It’s always dark and rainy it seems, but the ferocity of these fights is not lost.
“Pacific Rim” is pretty close to that stereotypical summer action blockbuster people look for – I give it a “9”.
After looking at the commercials, I was intrigued. Who or what was the enemy? In them, you could see hordes, masses of people trying to scale big walls - what were they doing? What were they running from? That's what good ads do - they hook you in.
Soon after, I learned the "Z" in World War Z stands for zombies and that mostly answered that mystery. But, hey, I'm a sucker for zombie stories.
This one is based on a book by Max Brooks, son of comedian Mel Brooks. Who knew? But most of attention and credit or blame for this movie will fall on its megastar, Brad Pitt.
Who I read put a lot of time and effort into this one. Here he plays Gerry, a "retired" United Nations investigator living with his wife and two daughters in suburban
What comes next is an example of what they got right with this movie - the big picture special effects and that sense of grand foreboding. The family is stuck in city traffic but off in the distance are sirens, explosions, some kind of mayhem, but what? It's riveting, suspenseful and all you can think of is I'm glad I'm not there.
Yes, it is the zombies, but the take here is a bit different and certainly less graphic. These walking dead can move and I mean move. Plus, you convert to the zombie state pretty quick. Which makes the whole thing really horrific and terrifying. Gerry is soon involved in trying to get to the source of the outbreak while trying to keep his family alive. Who would have guessed a UN guy would be at the center of the saving the world?
His travels take us to
There's a sense I had that too much of this is "boom-boom" quick video highlight stuff which leads to short cuts and improbabilities. For instance, the wife and kids end up with a boy whose family gave Gerry and his clan refuge as they fled Philly. Their
But back to the special effects - enjoy a plane ride on "Air Zombie". That's memorable. As for Brad, he almost seems like a bystander half the time. With his aging surfer dude looks, he is a bit cast against the type you would expect for this role. Good thing he's an excellent observer, because that's what it might take to end "World War Z".
It's clear they cut some time out of this film, because the short cuts aggravated me too often. But, I'm a zombie fan, so I give it a "7".