On the surface, framing the tumultuous civil rights era around the personal drama of a black butler working inside the White House might seem hokey. Folding history lessons in an entertaining package has always proven a difficult balancing act. But Lee Daniels' The Butler stands as a testament to reserved directing, a focused script and strong character-acting for the sake of the larger picture outside the movie house.
The heart and soul of the piece resides firmly in the capable hands of Forest Whitaker who, as titular character Cecil Gaines, balances pathos, pride, and strength with a human dash of regret. The other characters all seem to pass through his life but leave bold marks on him and the film's drama. Oprah Winfrey as Ms. Gloria Gaines, Terrence Howard as the sleazy philandering neighbor who takes advantage of the lonely Gloria, and Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz as fellow White House help stand out the strongest for their raw abilities to inhabit their roles.
Though you would expect such actors to hold their own, the real delight of the Butler comes from the fact that there are no shortcomings in the film's supporting roles. The dynamic between the brothers of Cecil and Gloria offers a delightful comic relief, which is peppered amongst the drama just enough to keep the struggles of those times bearable. Elijah Kelley delights as the younger, naïve, parent-pleasing Charlie, and David Oyelowo embodies ultra-righteousness as Louis, jumping at every opportunity of civil disobedience to fight for his people's human rights (from protesting Jim Crow laws in the South to joining the Black Panther party). Meanwhile, the presidents — despite being played by high profile actors like Robin Williams (Eisenhower), John Cusack (Nixon), Liev Schreiber (LBJ), Alan Rickman (Reagan), and an unforgettable Jane Fonda as Nancy — never hang around the drama long enough to distract from its main concern of a black man struggling with apathy as the times change around him.
No character ever overshadows Cecil, who encapsulates an array of issues, from escaping an oppressive life on a cotton farm as a child to arriving at a revelation stemming from a simple gesture by taking a seat at a fancy dinner in his twilight years. It's this quiet struggle of a man trying to get by in a rough and tumble world that remains the film's main concern. The 52-year-old Whitaker does a noble job as he ages from a young man to a 90-year-old.
Compared to Daniels' powerful breakout Precious (2009) and the horrible, dull mess of the Paperboy (2012), the film features a reserved sensibility thanks to the director's decision to turn down the histrionics for a change. Throughout his short filmmaking career, Daniels has always shown a keen control over camera placement to keep a film visually dynamic, despite some dramatic failings. The Butler is no exception, as Daniels' artistry appears in the film's first frame. He still, however, leans on slow motion during a few scenes for overkill emphasis. He doesn't need that. His greatest accomplishment in The Butler lies in how he keeps the other characters in check against the quiet but important struggles of Cecil. Despite the film's many stars, no one is distracted as Daniels reveals a strong sense of mise-en-scène when burying the cast's celebrity. Daniels also continues to do raw well with make-up and wardrobe dialed down to keep it real and earthy.
The script deserves singling out as the glue that makes The Butler work as neatly as it does. Written by Danny Strong, the scribe behind another brisk political drama, the acclaimed McCain-Palin exposé Game Change on HBO, it makes for an engaging, well-paced affair despite running over two hours long. Strong based his script on a Washington Post article about a black man who served as a butler to eight presidents between the '50s and '80s. In order to emphasize the history and the tension of the civil rights movement on this family who happened to have close ties to the White House, Strong took liberties with the story. He created composite characters based on other memoirs with intimate access to the White House. It's a matter of convenience to place some of these characters at three or four too many important historical moments that may seem contrived to some. However, I'd forgive the film for teetering close to Forrest Gump cartoonery for the sake of its emphasis on moments in history that can too easily be forgotten as generations pass.
After the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, The Butler serves as an important role in reminding us that equality and malaise between ethnic groups and classes still festers in this era, even after the election of the first black president. We need a movie that looks back at history and offers a reminder about the long way America has come and the long way it still has to go. That The Butler can do it while remaining entertaining is a bonus many will appreciate.
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On Tuesday night, Lifetime broadcast the series premiere of Bristol Palin's new reality program, Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp. Unfortunately for the daughter of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, her mother's penchant for decent television ratings don't seem to have been inherited: Deadline reports that the Lifetime series earned a viewership of roughly 726,000 — a significant drop from the show to air immediately prior on the network, Dance Moms (which took in about 1.8 million),
Sarah Palin's Alaska, a reality show the titular state's governor hosted from November 2010 to January 2011, actually premiered to record numbers for its home network, TLC. Nonetheless, the program failed to achieve a longevity beyond a few months. Palin's 2010 talk show was a much slighter example of the would-be VP's ratings capabilities.
In April, Palin's guest hosting gig on NBC's The Today Show managed to outshine Katie Couric on ABC's Good Morning America, further proving the nation's desire to keep up with Alaska's governor. And of course, the high-rated HBO movie Game Change proves that even those who aren't Palin fans are interested in the subject matter of John McCain's 2008 running mate.
Young Bristol Palin's program, however, has not earned as big a following as her mother, even in the wake of recent controversial activity. Bristol has also announced an interest in pursuing a political career.
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On May 25, Jay Leno celebrated his 20 year anniversary as the host of The Tonight Show. The episode's guests included former Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Army colonel and Battleship star, Gregory Gadson.
Leno might be one of the most consistent targets for mockery in the late night business, but his viewership has proven that he's doing something right. You have to admit, the past 20 years have delivered some memorable moments to the Tonight Show audience, whether you're more of a Team Coco person or not.
Below is a segment from Leno's 20th Anniversary opening monologue, wherein he briefly touches upon his milestone and then goes on to crack jokes at the usual round of ridiculous current events. But stay tuned after the video for our 20 Memorable The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Moments.
20 Memorable The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Moments
May 25, 1992: First Tonight Show with Jay Leno broadcast, featuring Billy Crystal as Leno's first guest.
May 20, 1993: Leno enjoyed a very intoxicating farewell to the NBC series Cheers with several members of the starring cast, including Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson and Kelsey Grammer. In keeping with the bar-theme of their sitcom, the live segment was filmed at the Boston tavern that provided the exterior shots for the program. Also in the spirit of the show's alcohol-oriented nature, the entire cast was visibly drunk.
May 6, 1994: Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait set a chair on fire on The Tonight Show. As you do.
March 2, 1995: A memorable parody of the O.J. Simpson trial: the Dancing Judge Lance Itos!
July 10, 1995: Hugh Grant owned up to his publicized reckless behavior — Grant had been arrested for lewd public conduct and for soliciting a prostitute — on the Tonight Show. Leno blatantly asked his guest, "What the hell were you thinking?" and earned his first ratings victory over The Late Show.
November 30, 1995: Howard Stern ran amok as a Tonight Show guest, with two porn stars in tow, provoking them to kiss on air. The radio host monopolized attention from the audience during the segment meant to focus on the episode's other guests, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Leno reportedly walked off set (though the incident was edited out before broadcast).
March 13, 2000: Law & Order star Angie Harmon accepted a proposal from her boyfriend, professional football player Jason Sehorn, on the air. Adorable.
June 21, 2001: In response to the California power outages, Leno hosted The Tonight Show Unplugged: an episode illuminated completely by candlelight and flashlights placed around the studio.
September 18, 2001: The first The Tonight Show broadcast following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11. Leno honored the New York City firefighters and police officers and Senator John McCain was the featured, patriotic guest.
May 12, 2003: Jay Leno switched places with Today Show host Katie Couric. Wackiness ensued.
August 6, 2003: Arnold Schwarzenegger announces his candidacy for governor of California on The Tonight Show and thus, the nation witnessed the birth of the Governator.
November 1, 2004: Bostonian Leno welcomed the Boston Red Sox to The Tonight Show following their first World Series victory since 1918. Wicked. January 24, 2005: Following the death of The Tonight Show legend Johnny Carson, Leno paid tribute with a show dedicated to his predecessor. Carson's sidekick Ed McMahon and regular guest Don Rickles gave Leno a hand. March of 2005: In light of his legal prohibition from talking about the Michael Jackson trial (due to being a witness), Leno brought on a series of comedians to deliver jokes about the highly publicized situation. There is always a loophole! April 8, 2005: Jay Leno vs. Hollywood icon Paul Newman in an unforgettable go-cart race. Although Newman defeated the Tonight Show host, Leno has referred to this as one of his favorite moments in the program's history. July 20, 2006: Colin Farrell was accosted by his "first stalker" on set during a Tonight Show interview. Somehow, Farrell's stalker actually managed her way past security and onto the set, before being physically removed by Farrell himself, who could be he heard telling her that she was "insane." Late 2007, Early 2008: Leno enjoyed a lot of press during the WGA Writer's Strike, for behavior such as vocally supporting the strikes' cause and for "burying the hatchet" with fellow talk show host Jimmy Kimmel (who has long been on the David Letterman side of the late night feud). March 19, 2009: Barack Obama became the first sitting president to make an appearance on The Tonight Show. It was a good night for Leno, but quite a controversial one for the president, when he made a questionable joke, comparing his own athletic abilities to performances in the Special Olympics. May 29, 2009: Jay Leno bade farewell to The Tonight Show... temporarily. Conan O'Brien, Leno's successor, was the featured guest — a gesture that was warm-hearted at the time, but just seems ironic in light of Leno's "reclaiming" of The Tonight Show in 2010. March 1, 2010: Welcome back, Jay Leno! Jamie Foxx and Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn served as his homecoming guests. More: Josh Hutcherson Tells Jay Leno About His Most Embarrassing Moment Ever Howard Stern Bashes Jay Leno To David Letterman Conan O'Brien, David Letterman Gang Up on Jay Leno on 'The Late Show'
SNL alums might actually be taking over television.
It used to be that a position on Saturday Night Live would launch you to film—that’s how it worked from Bill Murray to Will Ferrell…but things are beginning to take a different turn. Television is growing as a medium, broadening its artistic spectrum and attracting creative forces. As such, a lot of the comedic geniuses of the SNL stage are finding powerful projects on the small screen, such as the kingpin of "nice guy" deadpan, Will Forte. It was announced March 9 that Forte, who immortalized the character of MacGruber, will be starring in a new television series: Rebounding, a single-camera comedy on the Fox network about a man whose pickup basketball games serve to help him through the death of his fiancée. The series comes from Steven Levitan, creator of Modern Family and Just Shoot Me!. Forte is among many former (and some current) SNL stars who are, or will soon be, starring on original series on TV: Tina Fey is likely the first example that comes to mind. Fey not only stars in but created 30 Rock: the sitcom created as a means to chronicle her experiences as the head writer on SNL, whose sixth season is airing on NBC. One of NBC's most celebrated comedies running is Parks and Recreation, starring the unstoppable Amy Poehler as the even less stoppable Leslie Knope, head of the Parks Department in Pawnee, Indiana, and candidate for city council. A third NBC entry is Up All Night, which features Maya Rudolph as the vapid but good-hearted Ava, a talk show host and best friend to central characters and new parents, Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Chris (Will Arnett). And finally, the network offers Late Night viewers a host in Jimmy Fallon, who, although still honing his skills as an interviewer, has brought his knack for impressions and sketch comedy to the show. In development, also for NBC, is a new comedy for Sarah Silverman who was famously fired from the sketch show by fax. The new series is produced by Ron Howard and explores the life of a newly-single woman just getting out of a decade-long romantic relationship (the show is based on Silverman's real life experiences dating and breaking up with talk show host Jimmy Kimmel). Leaving the SNL home network, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose stint on the variety show helped launch her Seinfeld career, will be starring in a new HBO comedy series titled Veep. On the show, Louis-Dreyfus will play the harried vice president to an incapacitated presidential figure (mirroring the oft deliberated "what if"s of the McCain/Palin presidency). Veep will premiere Sunday, Apr. 22 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Finally, current cast member Fred Armisen acts as co-creator and co-star on IFC's sketch comedy series Portlandia, which serves as a clever send-up of contemporary "hipster" culture. Source: Deadline
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.