While the likes of Madonna, David Bowie and Prince have made the process of musical reinvention appear effortless, not every artist can get away with adopting such a chameleon-like approach to their career. Here's a look at five of the most misguided attempts at changing musical direction.
Garth Brooks Turns Into Chris Gaines
Pre-dating Joaquin Phoenix's equally perplexing attempt to become a rock star by about a decade, country's biggest star swapped his black cowboy hat for some black guyliner in 1999 for an album recorded under the guise of Chris Gaines. Unfortunately the film that Brooks assumed the fictitious persona for was never filmed, meaning that most of his fans thought he'd simply lost his mind and the ironically-titled Greatest Hits spent the next few years filling up bargain bins.
Robbie Williams Turns To Rap
Following nearly a decade of colossal success in which even a lazy collection of swing covers sold by the bucketload, Robbie Williams must have believed he was untouchable. 2006's Rudebox, a bewildering mixture of hip-hop, electronica and synth-pop spearheaded by the title track rap turkey, proved he most certainly wasn't, derailing his career at exactly the same time that his old boyband Take That began their triumphant second wind.
New Kids On The Block Get Tough
Following four albums of sugary teen pop, New Kids On The Block shortened their name, fired their long-time producer Maurice Starr and decided to go even more 'hangin' tough' on their 1994 comeback, Face The Music. Unsurprisingly, few were convinced by their transparent attempt to court some street credibility and the album crawled in at a lowly No. 37 on the Billboard charts.
Liz Phair Goes Pop
Hooking up with hit factory The Matrix, indie favorite Liz Phair made an unexpected bid for mainstream success with her pop-focused eponymous 2003 LP. In the short term, the bid to become Avril Lavigne's older sister paid off when it equalled the chart peak of her critically-acclaimed sophomore, Whip-Smart. But in the long term, the album was considered as an act of career suicide and despite returning to her lo-fi roots with subsequent releases, those fans who labelled her a sellout never returned.
Pat Boone Takes On Metal's Finest
In one of those career moves you still can’t quite believe actually happened, conservative Christian pop veteran Pat Boone donned a leather vest, earring and dog collar to promote 1997's In A Metal Mood...No More Mr. Nice Guy, a collection of classic rock anthems from the likes of Metallica, Guns N' Roses and of course, Alice Cooper, bizarrely performed in a big band style.
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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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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.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos| Follow hollywood.com on Twitter @hollywood_com
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On Wednesday, family and friends of Donna Summer attended the late singer's funeral to pay their respects. Among those who attended the private memorial service in Nashville, Tenn., were producers David Foster and Giorgio Moroder and singer Tony Orlando, reports The Huffington Post.
Those close to the "Queen of Disco" — who is survived by an endless list of hits, including "Last Dance," "Bad Girls," and "Love to Love You Baby" — paid poignant tribute to Summer, with Foster and Natalie Grant performing "The Prayer." Summer's sisters, Linda Gaines Lotman, Mary Ellen Bernard, Dara Bernard, and Jenette Yancey also sang "We've Come This Far By Faith."
As friends and family remembered her at her service, fans of the legend are remembering Summer by purchasing copies of her albums. Since Summer's death on May 17, her album sales have increased by 3,277 percent, according to Billboard.com.
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Kindly chemistry whiz Sherman (Eddie Murphy) has found the love of his life in cutie colleague Denise (Janet Jackson) who appreciates the heart of gold beneath his extra-large exterior. But the hero's happiness is threatened when his irrepressible alter-ego Buddy Love (Murphy) reappears with a scheme to wreak havoc with Sherman's newly discovered youth potion.
"The Klumps" displays Murphy's remarkable talent for submerging himself in diverse characters even more prominently than the original did. He impressively expands upon the four Klump family members he plays with the aid of Rick Baker's Oscar-winning prosthetic makeup effects -- especially his hilarious turn as sex-crazed Granny Klump. Larry Miller is amusingly caustic as the dean of Sherman's college while pop diva Jackson deserves credit simply for keeping a straight face opposite Murphy's various incarnations.
Peter Segal ("Tommy Boy") hands in a polished if not particularly inspired piece of broad comedy that achieves its primary purpose -- staying out of Murphy's way as he works his special magic. The filmmakers pay little attention to the brainless shamelessly mechanical plotline devoting nearly all their energy to fart and sex gags that if anything aim lower than the original film's. We're talking about a flick draws one of its biggest laughs from a character getting sodomized by a giant hamster. Baby that's nasty!