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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British singer Adele has given folk duo The Civil Wars a major chart boost after she urged her 16 million Twitter.com followers to buy the band's new album. The group has returned to the spotlight with a self-titled second album, which has been sent racing up the charts in both Britain and America after Adele offered them a tweet of support.
In a message posted on the singer's Twitter page on Tuesday (07Aug13), she wrote, "Please go and get the new Civil Wars album. They're my absolute favourite and the new record is beautiful!"
Chart officials on both sides of the Atlantic have reportedly seen a spike in sales and the record now looks on course to land a double number one.
The Civil Wars' critically-acclaimed first full-length album, Barton Hollow, peaked at number 10 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and it reached number 13 in the U.K. charts following its release in 2011.
Chart success would be a major boost for the troubled duo following months of turmoil in the band.
Singer Joy Williams recently revealed she is still not on speaking terms with her bandmate John Paul White following the cancellation of their 2012 tour due to "internal discord" and "irreconcilable differences of ambition".
Legendary composer John Williams will return to pen the score of the next generation of Star Wars films. The multi-Oscar winner came up with the atmospheric music in the original trilogy, as well as the three prequels, and now he's been confirmed to write the music for Disney's reboot of the cult franchise.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy says, "I had breakfast with someone very important to the Star Wars family last Friday, and he has committed to working on Episode VII. And that is Mr John Williams. Every time I hear John's music, it just gives me the chills. It's so important to the saga."
Williams adds, "Of course I haven't seen the script, the new story is still unknown to me, but I can't imagine that there won't be some references to the existing stories that we know that would necessitate and make appropriate the use of earlier themes."
Disney took over the rights to George Lucas' production company last year (12) in a deal worth $4 billion. Williams is also famous for his work on the Harry Potter films, Indiana Jones and the iconic Jaws theme.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy officially announced at Star Wars Celebration Europe II, a gathering for international fans of that Galaxy Far, Far Away, that legendary composer John Williams is in fact gearing up to make the jump to hyperspace once again. It is now confirmed that he will indeed be writing the score for J.J. Abrams' still-untitled Episode VII, just as he has for the previous six installments of George Lucas' saga.
"The Galaxy Far, Far Away...I actually feel like I'm still in it, that I've never really left it," Williams then said in a pre-recorded video Kennedy introduced. And no wonder...for almost all Star Wars fans, Williams' blaring fanfare and iconic triple-beat theme music is Star Wars. The composer lent a symphonic grandeur to a story of farmboys, nerf herders, droids, and walking carpets that enshrined it forever as the quintessential example of pop culture mythmaking.
However, Williams says that he hasn't seen the script yet for Episode VII and basically has no idea what he will be scoring. Still, he says he "can't imagine there won't be references to the existing stories," which means that some of his leitmotifs — musical themes attached to a particular character, like "Luke's Theme" or "Leia's Theme" — may return.
Kennedy and Abrams have already shown themselves to be keen on honoring Star Wars' past — shooting Episode VII in England, just like the original trilogy, for example. Hiring back Williams is the perfect way to show that this is the Star Wars you know and love...even as it plunges us into uncharted galactic territory.
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A group of former American Idol contestants is suing show producers for discrimination. The 10 African-American singers - including Corey Clark, who alleged he briefly romanced then-judge Paula Abdul - claim they were forced out of the TV talent contest because of their race.
The plaintiffs have accused Idol bosses of conducting a "cruel and inhumane" scheme to exploit them for ratings by illegally digging up their arrest histories and using the records to humiliate them on national TV, according to TMZ.com.
Clark's fellow Idol Season Two wannabes Jaered Andrews and Jacob John Smalley and hopefuls Donnie Williams, Terrell and Derrell Brittenum and Chris Golightly have joined forces for the battle.
The group's legal team claims the show producers portrayed the singers as "violent criminals, liars and sexual deviants" when, in fact, none of them had ever even been convicted of the charges stemming from their arrests.
The singers are demanding upwards of $25 million (£16.6 million) each.
Swedish DJ Avicii is riding high at the top of the U.K. singles chart with the release of his new track Wake Me Up. Robin Thicke's collaboration with T.I. and Pharrell Williams, Blurred Lines, falls to two, while John Newman's Love Me Again drops to three.
Icona Pop's I Love It with Charli XCX remains at four and will.i.am's Bang Bang stays put at five.
In the U.K. albums chart, Thicke's Blurred Lines debuts in first place, knocking Jay-Z's Magna Carta... Holy Grail to second.
Electric by Pet Shop Boys enters at three, Rod Stewart's Time slips to four and rounding out the top five is All the Little Lights by Passenger.
Monsters Inc. and Monsters University stars Billy Crystal and John Goodman will be among the celebrity honourees at the Disney Legends Awards in California next month (Aug13). The actors will be celebrated at the D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center, where tragic Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and late TV icon Dick Clark will also be feted posthumously.
A statement from company chairman Bob Iger reads, "The Disney Legend Award is our highest and most coveted honour. It’s reserved for the extraordinary visionaries and artists behind the Disney magic, the men and women who push the limits of innovation and creativity to ensure Disney remains truly special."
Each star will receive a large sculpture to mark the occasion on 10 August (13), while Crystal and Goodman will leave their mark in cement during a special handprint ceremony.
Previous honourees have included Tim Allen, Robin Williams and Mary Poppins stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
The Civil Wars star Joy Williams has denied fan suggestions she has reconciled with her bandmate John Paul White following the cancellation of their 2012 tour, revealing the pair are no longer on speaking terms. The folk duo scrapped all live shows in November (12) due to "internal discord" and "irreconcilable differences of ambition", but the stars were thought to have settled their differences in December (12), amid reports they had reunited in the studio to record new music.
Now Williams has opened up about the status of their hiatus, confessing the future of the group remains uncertain, even as the August (13) release date of a new album quickly approaches.
She tells the Associated Press, "John Paul and I aren't speaking right now but, to me, that doesn't determine the outcome of the band, because if we're not speaking we can't determine the outcome of the band at this moment. So the other elephant in the room is what's happening with the band? The reality is I'm not even quite sure."
Stopping just short of detailing their troubles, the 30 year old admits the two had problems before setting out on tour and she's convinced fans will be able to pick up on the tension in their songs, which were written last summer (12).
She adds, "If you want to know what happened to the band, listen to the album... (It) chronicles loss and regret and anger and victory and sweetness and loyalty and I hope that people get the chance to listen to it... It's so honest and it's so rich and, not to toot my own horn, I'm just really proud of what we created together. And we created it together - we just happened to be in a bit of a civil war ourselves."
Veteran crooners Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow thrilled spectators in Washington, D.C. on Thursday (04Jul13) by performing a spectacular concert to celebrate America's Independence Day. Thousands flocked to the city's National Mall to watch the Fourth of July extravaganza, which included an emotional performance from Diamond, who sang his anthem Sweet Caroline in tribute to victims of the recent Boston Marathon bombing.
The event also included a video message from Lincoln director Steven Spielberg before celebrated composer John Williams conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the film's soundtrack.
Manilow closed the show by singing Let Freedom Ring prior to the big fireworks display.
In New York, Mariah Carey performed as part of the Macy's Fourth of July 2013 show and singer Usher curated the fireworks.
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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