Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
For a film that involves a love triangle, mental illness, a Bohemian colony of free-spirits, an impending war and several important historical figures, the most exciting elements of Summer in February are the stunning shots of the English country and Cornish seaside. The rest of the film never quite lives up to the crashing waves and sun-dappled meadows that are used to bookend the scenes, as the entertaining opening never manages to coalesce into a story that lives up the the cinematography, let alone the lives of the people that inspired it.
Set in an Edwardian artist’s colony in Cornwall, Summer in February tells the story of A.J. Munnings (Dominic Cooper), who went on to become one of the most famous painters of his day and head of the Royal Academy of Art, his best friend, estate agent and part-time soldier Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens), and the woman whom they both loved, aspiring artist Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning). Her marriage to Munnings was an extremely unhappy one, and she attempted suicide on their honeymoon, before killing herself in 1914. According to his journals, Gilbert and Florence were madly in love, although her marriage and his service in the army kept them apart.
When the film begins, Munnings is the center of attention in the Lamorna Artist's Colony, dramatically reciting poetry at parties and charming his way out of his bar tab while everyone around him proclaims him to be a genius. When he’s not drinking or painting, he’s riding horses with Gilbert, who has the relatively thankless task of keeping this group of Bohemians in line. Their idyllic existence is disrupted by the arrival of Florence, who has run away from her overbearing father and the fiancé he had picked out for her in order to become a painter.
Stevens and Browning both start the film solidly, with enough chemistry between them to make their infatuation interesting. He manages to give Gilbert enough dependable charm to win over both Florence and the audience, and she presents Florence as someone with enough spunk and self-possession to go after what she wants. Browning’s scenes with Munnings are equally entertaining in the first third of the film, as she can clearly see straight through all of his bravado and he is intrigued by her and how difficult she is to impress. Unfortunately, while the basis of the love triangle is well-established and entertaining, it takes a sudden turn into nothing with a surprise proposal from Munnings.
Neither the film nor Browning ever make it clear why Florence accepts his proposal, especially when they have both taken great pains to establish that she doesn’t care much for him. But once she does, the films stalls, and both Stevens and Browning spend the rest of the film doing little more than staring moodily and longingly at the people around them. The real-life Florence was plagued by depression and mental instability, but neither the film nor Browning’s performance ever manage to do more than give the subtlest hint at that darkness. On a few occasions, Browning does manage to portray a genuine anguish, but rather than producing any sympathy from the audience, it simply conjures up images of a different film, one that focused more on Florence, and the difficulties of being a woman with a mental illness at a time when both were ignored or misunderstood.
Stevens is fine, and Gilbert starts out with the same kind of good-guy appeal the won the heart of Mary Crawley and Downton Abbey fans the world over. However, once the film stalls, so does his performance, and he quickly drops everything that made the character attractive or interesting in favor of longing looks and long stretches of inactivity. He does portray a convincing amount of adoration for Florence, although that's about the only real emotion that Gilbert expresses for the vast majority of the film, and even during his love scene, he never manages to give him any amount of passion.
Cooper does his best with what he’s given, and tries his hardest to imbue the film with some substance and drama. His Munnings is by turns charming, brash, and brooding, the kind of person who has been told all of their life that they are special, and believes it. He even manages to give the character some depth, and even though he and Browning have very little chemistry, he manages to convey a genuine affection for her. It’s a shame that Munnings becomes such a deeply unlikable character, because Cooper is the only thing giving Summer in February a jolt of life – even if it comes via bursts of thinly-explained hostility. It's hard to watch just how hard he's working to connect with his co-stars and add some excitement to a lifeless script and not wish that he had a better film to show off his talents in.
Unfortunately, by the time Florence and Gilbert are finally spurred into activity, the film has dragged on for so long that you’re no longer invested in the characters, their pain, or their love story, even if you want to be. Which is the real disappointment of Summer in February; underneath the stalled plot and the relatively one-note acting, there are glimmers of a fascinating and compelling story that’s never allowed to come to the forefront.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Before The Butler, few people knew anything about Eugene Allen, the fascinating inspiration behind the film's Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker. Though we've seen plenty of Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and MLK, there are tons of similar lesser-known historical figures out there who have lived exciting, influential lives. It might just take a well-scored, sumptuously costumed biopic to bring one of these historical unknowns into the spotlight.
Elisha KaneKane was a U.S. naval officer who journeyed into the Arctic twice, trekking across the ice for 83 days and saving many lives through his bravery and medical skill.
Adele AstaireThis story has serious romantic and musical potential; Adele Astaire was considered a far more talented performer than her famous brother Fred, but chose to give up show biz when she fell in love with a British lord.
Empress MyeongseongKnown as Queen Min, which is also what I would call the biopic, this 19th century Korean feminist used her position as the emperor's wife to wield diplomatic power, form alliances, and encourage the modernization of Korea.
Edward BernaysThough there has already been an excellent documentary made about Bernays, the advertiser who shaped modern consumerism deserves a lavish dramatization, perhaps starring Martin Freeman.
Amos Bronson AlcottThe father of better-known Louisa May, Amos was far ahead of his time; he was a vegan, a women's rights activist, an abolitionist, and a teaching reformer who attempted to create an Eden-like utopia for himself and was revered by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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Director Lee Daniels set his sights sky-high when casting new movie The Butler as he wanted U.S. President Barack Obama in a starring role. The historical drama tells the story of real life White House butler Eugene Allen, re-named Cecil Gaines in the movie, who served under eight consecutive U.S. Presidents including Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.
The film boasts an impressive cast list including Forest Whitaker as Gaines, Alan Rickman as Reagan and John Cusack as Nixon, and Daniels reveals he wanted to cast Obama as himself.
He tells website Thegrio.com, "(I wanted) Obama.... (But) I was too afraid to ask him. (Even if I had) I think that he was in the middle of something called the election. It would have been weird if I had somebody playing Obama. I couldn't have anybody playing Obama but Obama."
The role of Obama eventually went to Orlando Eric Street.
Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and filmmaker Lee Daniels have been granted permission to call their new film The Butler, as long as they preface it with the director's name. The Weinstein Company chiefs faced a legal battle over Daniels' historical drama after executives at Warner Bros. claimed they owned the rights to the name as they have a 1916 short comedy of the same title in their back catalogue.
Officials at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) initially ruled Weinstein had to change the name of The Butler ahead of its August (13) release, but late on Friday (19Jul13), they reversed the decision and allowed the movie to be released as Lee Daniels' The Butler.
However, the fight over the name has come at a price - The Weinstein Company bosses will have to pay $400,000 (£258,065) to the Entertainment Industry Foundation for continuing to use the title after the MPAA's initial order, reports Variety.com.
They have been given until Friday (26Jul13) to pull all original trailers, posters and other promotional material bearing the simple title of The Butler or face further fines of up to $50,000 (£32,258) a day.
They have also been ordered to cover Warner Bros.' legal fees, to the tune of $150,000 (£96,774).
The movie, which stars Forest Whitaker as real life White House butler Eugene Allen, is due for release in the U.S. on 16 August (13).
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is "shocked" by the legal battle over his latest film The Butler as he can't understand why a rival studio would try to force him to change the title. The Weinstein Company chiefs have been embroiled in a dispute over Lee Daniels' historical drama as executives at Warner Bros. claim they own the rights to the name because they have a 1916 short film of the same title in their back catalogue.
Warner Bros. bosses won an arbitration case last week (02Jul13) and The Butler is now facing a name change just weeks ahead of its planned August (13) release date.
Director Daniels wrote an emotional letter to Warner Bros. heads imploring them to drop their challenge, and now Weinstein has weighed in on the case, insisting he can't understand the reasons behind the legal action.
He tells The Hollywood Reporter, "I am shocked at what happened on The Butler. It's amazing to me how a 1916 short called The Butler is knocking out a movie that deals with civil rights. I have no idea what's going on with that. They're not making another Butler. I don't know what they're doing or what their reason is."
The movie, which stars Forest Whitaker as real life White House butler Eugene Allen, is due for release in the U.S. on 16 August (13).
Director Lee Daniels has written an emotional letter to studio bosses urging them to let him keep the title of his upcoming film The Butler. The Weinstein Company's historical drama, starring Forest Whitaker as real life White House butler Eugene Allen, is facing a name change after executives at rival movie studio Warner Bros. bosses launched a legal challenge over the title.
Warner Bros. bosses claim they own the rights to the title because they have a 1916 comedy of the same name in their back catalogue, and the battle has been raging just weeks before the film is due to open in America next month (Aug13).
The film's director Daniels has now attempted to settle the dispute by writing a letter to Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, offering him a private screening of the film and urging him to drop the challenge.
In the message, Daniels insists he feels "heartbroken" and hopes the legal spat can be resolved without changing the name of his movie.
He writes, "I have spent the last four years of my life working on the film, The Butler, and it is the proudest moment of my professional career. I am heartbroken as I write this letter to you...
"I am so proud of this movie. Every member of our cast worked for almost nothing so that this story could be told with only our very small budget. If we were to change the title a mere six weeks before we open, it would most certainly hurt the film by limiting the number of people who would ultimately see this important story. This movie is not a blockbuster, nor did we intend it to be. We just wanted to tell the dark and beautiful story of our nation's racial history, where we came from, and how far we have come."
One of this summer's most highly anticipated movies is the Weinstein Company's The Butler. Starring Forest Whitaker, the film tells the story of Cecil Gaines, a man who works as a White House butler during eight American presidencies, from 1952 to 1986. During his tenure, he witnesses countless important events in 20th century U.S. history from a highly unique perspective. But the historical drama may be facing some turmoil. According to Deadline, Warner Bros. is attempting to prevent Harvey Weinstein from using the title The Butler, claiming that it posseses the sole rights to the title because of a 1916 silent comedy by the same name.
With The Butler's August release date fast approaching, this matter seems to have arisen oddly late in the game. There is reportedly a great deal of "outrage" at the Weinstein Company, and we aren't surprised: the only logical response to this situation is, "WTF?" Has anyone actually seen this silent comedy The Butler? Isn't this new movie supposed to be an inspiring tale about adversity and American history? Why are you trying to bring everybody down, Warner Bros.?
The Butler is based on the true story of Eugene Allen and also features such heavy-hitting stars as Oprah Winfrey (in her first major film role since Beloved in 1998), John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams, Melissa Leo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Mariah Carey, Alan Rickman, Vanessa Redgrave, Liev Schreiber, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, and Lenny Kravitz.
With such an all-star cast and fascinating subject matter, The Butler promises to be one of the best biopics of 2013. Warner Bros' claim is fairly absurd, but it could have serious implications for the movie. Whatever its title may be, we're excited to see the film. After all, what's in a name? That which we call The Butler by any other name would be just as great.
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Movies that take place in the White House are usually focused on the President of the United States, but Lee Daniels' drama The Butler serves up a new perspective on the old location. Starring Forest Whitaker, Jane Fonda, and Oprah Winfrey (among a long list of Hollywood power players that make up the rest of the cast), the movie tells the story of Eugene Allen, the longtime White House employee who served under eight American presidents.
Allen was the White House's head butler from 1952 to 1986, and had a unique front-row seat as political and racial history was made. The Butler also stars Alex Pettyfer, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Melissa Leo, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, Terrance Howard, Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Vanessa Redgrave.
Watch the just-released trailer below:
The Butler hits theaters October 18, 2013.
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Dame Julie Andrews and Kevin Spacey helped honour Christopher Plummer in New York City on Monday (15Apr13) as he picked up a prestigious theatre prize in recognition of his lengthy career. Plummer was feted with the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's Monte Cristo Award at the Edison Ballroom in Times Square, and Spacey, who received the same trophy in 2009, was on hand to present the Oscar winner with the special accolade.
Stepping up to the podium to deliver a short speech, Spacey teased the A Beautiful Mind star about his penchant for Jack Daniels whiskey and reminded the audience about the time Plummer borrowed a police officer's horse and rode it to a Big Apple bar.
The 83 year later laughed off the incident, joking, "Nice thing was, the policeman was promoted to captain and the horse went to a home for alcoholics."
The evening also featured a touching video tribute from Plummer's The Sound of Music co-star Andrews, who sent well wishes to the icon and his wife Elaine Taylor.
She said, "You know I love you and wish I could be there. Give my love to Elaine, that saintly woman who puts up with you every day."