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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The standard biopic plotline based on the life story of Carl Brashear follows the uneducated sharecropper's son (Gooding) as he braves 1950s-era racial discrimination for the right to risk his life in one of the most dangerous occupations in the armed services. At the Navy's elite salvage school in New Jersey master diver Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro) gives Brashear the "Officer and a Gentleman" treatment singling him out for special punishment at the request of the base's insane racist commander (Hal Holbrook). Will the hero overcome the obstacles in his path to becoming a master diver himself?
Gooding's glowing likability is the main factor keeping the film's saintly conception of Brashear from getting annoying fast. The one-dimensional character lacks a single flaw for an actor to grab onto but Gooding's enthusiasm is contagious (remember that Oscar speech?) and he gets surprising mileage out of it. De Niro's trademark intensity is put to only minimal use in a variation of the cantankerous drill sergeant part familiar from half the military flicks ever made.
George Tillman Jr. ("Soul Food") delivers some effective if obvious action-drama in the film's first half which chronicles Brashear's tireless efforts to earn his Navy flippers. Unfortunately Scott Marshall Smith's screenplay gets a bit water-logged dealing with the hero's subsequent career both above and below the waves. (One key development closely parallels John Wayne's role as a Navy flier in another true story 1957's "The Wings of Eagles.) All this sets up a particularly weak courtroom finale reminiscent of another slew of movies including "A Few Good Men" and "Rules of Engagement."
With Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise and director Cameron Crowe introduced to the world a new--and destined to-become chronically overused--catchphrase in "show me the money." Heck, screaming out those four words into the phone at Cruise probably secured co-star Cuba Gooding Jr. his Oscar.
Vanilla Sky, the second collaboration between Cruise and Crowe, also arrives with its own catchphrase. But don't expect "open your eyes" to roll off too many tongues this holiday season. Or for Vanilla Sky to prove as accepted or as rewarding as Jerry Maguire. This expensive and vacuous reworking of the 1997 Spanish psychological mindbender Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) also will test Cruise's box office appeal, just as Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia did in 1999.
Vanilla Sky should open with more than Jerry Maguire's $17 million--between $20 million and $25 million--but once word spreads this is an unsatisfactory and unconventional Cruise endeavor, it will fall well short of the $153.7 million that Jerry Maguire earned
Crowe's faithful but heavily Americanized remake chronicles a rich and charismatic magazine publisher's efforts to get his life in order. A car crash left his face disfigured, killed his "f**k buddy" (Cameron Diaz) and destroyed his chance at true love with the perfect woman (Cruise's new squeeze Penelope Cruz, who played the same role in the original). But reality and fantasy start to blur as Cruise is arrested for murder.
The constant narrative shifts--which worked so well in Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) but are strained under Crowe's languid direction--will certainly tax the patience of those willing to sit through the lengthy and longwinded Vanilla Sky. It doesn't help that its protagonist is a spoiled, selfish, rich brat whose journey of self-discovery doesn't lead to any worthy revelations about his life.
Crowe, coming off the critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing semi-autobiographical Almost Famous, attempts to infuse Vanilla Sky with his trademark pop culture sensibilities. He also litters the soundtrack with great songs from the past and present. Yet Vanilla Sky remains Crowe's coldest and most impersonal offering to date.
The unraveling of Cruise's marriage to Nicole Kidman should not hurt Vanilla Sky, but Cruz's presence is something of a hindrance. Besides mangling her lines when working in English, Cruz also represents something of a kiss of death at the box office. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, All the Pretty Horses and Woman on Top all flopped within the span of one year. The very public unveiling of the Cruise-Cruz love affair seemed strategically timed to the August release of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, but it not did inspire audiences to see the World War II romance.
Cruise is one of Hollywood's few sure things, but even his attempts to reinvent himself fall by the wayside. Paul Thomas Anderson's ensemble drama Magnolia couldn't capitalize on Cruise's Oscar-nominated performance as a brash motivational speaker, and stalled at $22.4 million. The long-in-the-works Eyes Wide Shut, the last film directed by Stanley Kubrick, failed to overcome negative reviews and crashed at $55.6 million.
Eyes Wide Shut also marked Cruise's third and final on-screen collaboration with Kidman (he produced Kidman's The Others, directed by Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)'s Alejandro Amenabar). Their lack of chemistry resulted in equally unsatisfactory grosses for 1990's Days of Thunder ($82.6 million) and Far and Away ($58.8 million). That Cruise and Cruz fail to generate much heat in Vanilla Sky could ensure that the film ends up doing no better than Days of Thunder at best and Eyes Wide Shut at worst.
Cruise, disfigured and masked for much of Vanilla Sky, also must do battle with another remake, Ocean's Eleven, which could retain the No. 1 spot for a second weekend. In this swinging reworking of the old Rat Pack heist yarn heartthrobs George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon plot to steal from casino owner Andy Garcia. After setting a December opening record of $38.1 million, Ocean's Eleven has $47.5 million stashed away itself through Wednesday. Solid word of mouth, and one of the best casts never assembled by Robert Altman, should give director Steven Soderbergh his third consecutive $100 million hit following last year's Erin Brockovich and Traffic. Indeed, Ocean's Eleven looks set to make more than $150 million.
Regardless, this weekend's box champ will have only five days to savor its victory. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring should claim the No. 1 spot when it opens Dec. 19.
Cruise's Risky Business takes a ribbing in Not Another Teen Movie, a Scary Movie-style assault on the angst-ridden high school dramas churned out in assembly line fashion in the 1980s by John Hughes. Those too young to remember such Hughesian classics as The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink will instead take solace in the ridiculing of such recent teen pap as Varsity Blues and Bring It On.
The holiday season has in recent years been inexplicably generous to such knuckle-headed fare as Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and Dude, Where's My Car?. Despite its no-name cast, Teen Movie should at least equal the $46.7 million that Dude drove away with last Christmas. Still, Teen Movie has little time to establish itself before facing direct competition next week in the form of the up-in-smoke rap-driven comedy, How High.
Riding off with the title of 2001's top-grossing film seems all but a certainty for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The family-oriented fantasy has $242.4 million through Wednesday, and should break $250 million in its fifth weekend. That puts Harry Potter within spitting distance of the $267.6 million amassed this summer by Shrek. The apprentice wizard, though, doesn't have enough juice in his Nimbus 2000 broom to catch up with Star Wars: Episode One--The Phantom Menace. The Phantom Menace cracked $314 on its 30th day in release. Harry Potter will have to make do with $300 million as its grand total, especially as business is likely to drop off heavily with the arrival of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Monsters, Inc. also wants to scare Shrek into submission. The Disney/Pixar adventure experienced a mere 28 percent drop in its sixth weekend, from $9.1 million to $6.5 million, no doubt due to the addition of faux outtakes. Monsters, Inc. has $213.4 million through Wednesday, versus Shrek's $21 million during the same period of play. Monsters, Inc. could surpass Shrek's total should it reap the box office rewards of a likely Oscar nomination for Best Animated Picture.
Behind Enemy Lines needs rescuing. After a healthy $18.7 million opening, the Bosnia-set war yarn plunged 57 percent in its second weekend to $8 million. Its total is $32.8 million through Wednesday. That's well behind the similarly themed Spy Game, which has $55 million through Wednesday.
The arrival of Ocean's Eleven hit both thrillers hard and fast, with Spy Game tumbling 59 percent in its third weekend, from $11 million to $4.4 million. Spy Game lost significant ground because it shares Ocean's Eleven co-star Pitt. Audiences preferred a clean-cut Pitt robbing Las Vegas casinos to a bloody and grubby Pitt locked away in a Chinese prison.
The rest of the Top 10--with the exception of French arthouse sensation Amelie ($9 million through Wednesday)--should prepare for their last hurrahs this weekend. A total of six wide releases debut on Dec. 19 and Dec. 21, leaving no room for holdovers Shallow Hal (a hearty $65.3 million), Black Knight (a lowly $27.5 million), Out Cold (a chilly $12.4 million) and Life as a House (a poor $15 million).
Then there's Texas Rangers. Released Nov. 30 in 404 theaters after 18 months on the shelf, the Clearasil-smothered Western continues to fire blanks. Texas Rangers dropped 70 percent in its second weekend, falling from $319,516 to $95,396. Its total is a pitiful but unsurprising $548,629, considering Dimension dumped Texas Rangers without giving it a fighting chance to stand tall and proud.
The mood was somber and celebrity little more than a means to an end when tonight's telethon, America: A Tribute to Heroes, was shown on every major network and most of the major cable channels. There was no audience applauding; there was no audience, period, except those at home. There were no introductions; that wasn't the point, as celebrity speakers made clear throughout the night by telling the stories of the many heroes who lost their lives and saved the lives of others.
To commemorate Sept. 11, a day that could easily be thought of as "the day the music died," talented and famous faces came together for an evening of songs, stories, and yes, the occasional call for contributions.
The speeches tonight came in all varieties, all impassioned, some tearful, others awkward. A clearly nervous Jim Carrey spoke of Winston Churchill, then told the story of heroes who saved a woman by carrying her down 68 flights of stairs. George Clooney spoke of John Perry, a New York City policeman who'd filed his retirement papers the morning of Sept. 11, but heard of the tragedy and went to help. He never came back, Clooney said.
Cameron Diaz told stories of teachers who saved children at schools near the World Trade Center. Robin Williams talked of a hero who'd saved lives in the 1993 bombing and again this time, only last Tuesday he didn't make it out himself. Jimmy Smits spoke of police heroes, "cops who are willing to sacrifice their lives in an instant, for people they do not know." Julia Roberts spoke tearfully of heroes at the Pentagon, and the flying of the flag and the applause that greeted it.
Kelsey Grammer, who lost a co-worker aboard one of the flights that crashed, quoted words of strength from John F. Kennedy. Clint Eastwood talked gruffly of a day that would live in infamy.
Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Calista Flockhart, Conan O'Brien, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ray Romano, Jane Kaczmarek, Sela Ward, Chris Rock and Dennis Franz also spoke.
With some of the biggest names in music on the bill, America: A Tribute to Heroes was bound to be good. Bruce Springsteen opened with a candlelit acoustic performance of "My City of Ruins." Willie Nelson closed the two-hour event with "God Bless America," backed by an all-star cast of celebs who had been manning the phones all night. Does it get any better than that? Cut the album; give the proceeds to charity. We're there.
Of course, there were those who pointed out the reason for the event in their songs. Stevie Wonder, who followed The Boss, sang, "Love's in Need of Love Today," with the rather pointed line, "Don't delay, send yours in right away." Wyclef Jean's version of "Redemption Song" was peppered with cries of "Brooklyn" and "New York City" and "we've got to full-fill that book," which he sang while pointing to the phone bank.
The much-maligned Mariah Carey sang the only song she could under the circumstances, "Hero," of which she said, "When I wrote this song," she said, "it had a lot of meaning for me, and tonight it has even more meaning." Well said.
U2 appeared from London. Billy Joel tossed off a powerful rendition of "New York State of Mind" with a firefighter's helmet perched atop the piano. Faith Hill, Enrique Iglasias, Alicia Keys, a bearded and shaggy Tom Petty (with requisite Heartbreakers), a cowboy-hatted Neil Young performed as well. The Dixie Chicks were spot on, and Dave Matthews did an impressive solo acoustic tune.
Jon Bon Jovi did "Living on a Prayer"; Sting dedicated his performance of "Fragile" to a friend who died in the attacks. Sheryl Crow performed, and Paul Simon sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, James Woods, Meg Ryan, Cuba Gooding Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Ben Stiller, Penelope Cruz, Danny DeVito, Halle Berry, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Benicio Del Toro, Cindy Crawford, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Brad Pitt, Sally Field and other famous faces were seen answering phones at the telethon bank or singing backing vocals on the finale of "God Bless America."
The stars also took the time to make a point about the evils of racism and hate. Several Arab children spoke of the tragedy and its affect on their lives, then Will Smith appeared on stage, with Muhammad Ali, whom he'll be portraying in the forthcoming Ali.
"It was hate, not religion that motivated the attacks," Smith said.
Then Ali spoke. "I'm here because of the troublin' thing that happened the other day. I'm a Muslim, and I've been a Muslim for 20 years…. I think people should know the real truth about Islam. You know me, I'm a boxer…and a man of truth, and I wouldn't be here defending Islam if it was really like the terrorists made it look…. Islam is peace."
Later in the show, Lucy Liu said "America's greatest enemy is hatred itself."
The telethon was Hollywood's effort to generate contributions for the September 11th Telethon Fund, which is administered by the United Way and guaranteed to be distributed 100% to the victims of the terrorist attacks on America last week and their families.
Quentin Tarantino, whose recent credits include, well, nothing, has finally lined up his next writing gig -- penning the liner notes to an upcoming Johnny Cash CD box set. According to Reuters, the MIA Oscar-winning filmmaker uses his new forum to muse about how much country's Man in Black has in common with, you know, gangsta rappers.
Writes Tarantino: "In a country that thinks it's divided by race, where actually, it's divided by economics, Johnny Cash's songs of hillbilly thug life go straight to the heart of the American underclass."
All rightie then.
The Cash collection, due out May 23, is called "Love, God, Murder." Tarantino's thoughts appear on the "Murder" CD.
For the unitiated, Tarantino used to be a filmmaker critically embraced for his poetic use of the F-word. He made a film called "Pulp Fiction" (1994) that everybody liked and then a film called "Jackie Brown" (1997) that not as many people liked, so he punished us by acting on Broadway (1998's "Wait Until Dark").
Tarantino's next movie gig looks to be a project called "40 Lashes," based on an Elmore Leonard novel.
YO, SPACE! Rapper/actor Ice Cube is set to star in the sci-fi thriller "John Carpenter's Ghost of Mars," Daily Variety reports. Shooting is slated to start in June.
DOWN THE 'HOLE': According to The Hollywood Reporter, Thora Birch, who played the bratty-cool daughter in "American Beauty," will star in the indie thriller "The Hole," about four teen-age girls, Britain and a bomb shelter.
BOMBS AWAY: Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Hartnett and other stars of Disney's megabudgeted "Pearl Harbor" were on hand Sunday in Hawaii for a ceremony to mark the start of production.