Lee Daniels’ The Butler

The Weinstein Company

Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, smoking, profanity, ethnic slurs, disturbing images and mature themes

Forest Whitaker Delivers Oscar-Quality Performance In Emotionally-Searing Civil Rights Saga

Eugene Allen (1919-2010) served eight presidents over the course of an enduring career in the White House, during which he rose from the position of Pantry Man to Head Butler by the time he retired in 1986. In that capacity, the African-American son of a sharecropper felt privileged to be an eyewitness to history, since his tenure coincided with the implementation of most of the landmark pieces of legislation dismantling the Jim Crow system of racial segregation.

Directed by two-time Oscar-nominee Lee Daniels, The Butler is a father-son biopic relating events in Allen’s life as they unfolded against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. This fictionalized account features Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker in the title role as Cecil Gaines, and his A-list supporting cast includes fellow Oscar winners Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams and Melissa Leo, as well as nominees Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey.

The point of departure is a plantation in theDeep South, where Cecil witnesses his father’s (David Banner) murder on the cotton field for protesting his mother’s (Mariah Carey) rape at the hand of an overseer. Because the perpetrator was never brought to justice, the youngster gets the message at an early age that “Any white man could kill us at any time and not be punished for it.”

Therefore, eager to avoid the same fate as his dad, he skips town as a teenager, settling in Washington, D.C., where he lands steady work as a bartender in a hotel catering to an upscale clientele. There he also meets Gloria (Winfrey), the maid he would one day marry and start a family with.

Cecil’s sterling reputation as a polite and deferential black man eventually reaches the White House, where he takes a position on the express understanding that “You hear nothing. You see nothing. You only serve.” Although he manages to maintain an inscrutably apolitical façade on the job, the same can’t be said for the home front, where current events are freely debated.

There, Cecil finds himself increasingly at odds with his elder son, Louis (David Oyelowo), a civil rights activist inclined to participate in voter registration marches, sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and freedom bus rides. The simmering tension between the two builds over the years to the boiling point when Louis derisively refers to his as father an Uncle Tom.

At that juncture, Cecil’s protective spouse intervenes to slap her son before uttering the moving line likely to land Oprah Winfrey another Academy Award nomination: “Everything you have, and everything you are, is because of that butler.” However, Forest Whitaker is even more deserving of accolades, delivering a nonpareil performance as a humble provider understandably reluctant to rock the boat.

Kudos to Lee Daniels for crafting such a gut-wrenching tour de force which never hits a false note while chronicling critical moments in the African-American fight for equality.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 132 minutes

 

 

Elysium

Tri-Star Pictures

Rated R for pervasive profanity and graphic violence

Sick Seek Help At Utopian Space Station In Futuristic Sci-Fi Thriller

It’s 2154, a time when the Earth has become so polluted and overpopulated that all of the idle rich have abandoned the planet to loll in the lap of luxury on a state-of-the-art space station. Their decadent enclave, Elysium, looks suspiciously similar toBeverly Hills, being dotted with palm trees, mansions and built-in swimming pools.

Down below, the teeming masses of poor people struggle to survive, with escape to Elysium being their only hope for a decent existence. Of course, that’s easier said than done, since you have to be able to afford a ride aboard an expensive rocket ship just to get there. And, even after arriving, you have to provide the authorities proof of citizenship in order to stay.

The job of preventing illegal immigrants from entering Elysium falls to its steely Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), a heartless ice princess who has no qualms about shooting unauthorized space shuttles right out of the sky. She ostensibly does the bidding of John Carlyle (William Fichtner), the nefarious CEO of Armadyne Corporation, much to the chagrin of the orbiting outpost’s president (Faran Tahir).

For, it’s impossible for any politician to reign in the powerful defense contractor, a fact which humble everyman Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is about to learn the hard way. He only has five days to live after being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation in an industrial accident.

After his request for medical treatment readily available on Elysium is summarily denied, he becomes determined to breach the border of the remote oasis by hook or by crook. He also wants to bring along his childhood friend, Frey (Alice Braga), and her young daughter (Emma Tremblay) who is suffering from acute leukemia. Standing in their way, however, is Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a bloodthirsty, heavily armed mercenary deputized by Delacourt to patrol Los Angeles to make sure no unworthy earthlings ascend to her exclusive abode.

Directed by Neill Blomkamp, Elysium is a distinctly disappointing sophomore effort from the South African wunderkind who’d made such a spectacular splash in 2009 with the sleeper hit District 9. This film feels like he’s all out of ideas, between the exploration of similar themes revolving and a cliché-ridden script filled with hack, action flick lines like: “That’s what I’m talking about,” “You have no idea,” and “I’m just getting started.”

An underwhelming, sci-fi adventure more akin to After Earth than District 9.

 

Fair (1.5 stars)

Running time: 109 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening August 16, 2013

 

Jobs (PG-13 for drug use and brief profanity) Ashton Kutcher portrays Steve Jobs in this reverential biopic revisiting the early years in the incomparable career of the visionary entrepreneur and Apple founder. Supporting cast includes J.K. Simmons, Matthew Modine, Lesley Ann Warren and Dermot Mulroney.

 

Kick Ass-2 (R for sexuality, graphic violence, crude humor, pervasive profanity, and brief nudity) Two-fisted sequel finds the original’s crime-fighting, pint-sized heroine (Chloe Moretz) forming a new team of masked vigilantes to take on an ally-turned-super villain (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). With Jim Carrey, Aaron Johnson,Clark Duke, Donald Faison and John Leguizamo.

 

Paranoia (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and violence) Espionage thriller about a rising corporate superstar (Liam Hemsworth) who finds himself caught in the middle of a deadly game of cat and mouse being played by a couple of rival billionaire CEOs (Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford). With Richard Dreyfuss, Amber Heard and Lucas Till.

 

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Unrated) Fugitive drama about an outlaw (Casey Affleck) who makes a daring escape from aTexas prison in order to be with his gun moll (Rooney Mara) and the young daughter (Kennadie Smith) he’s never met. With Ben Foster, Keith Carradine and Nate Parker.

 

Austenland (PG-13 for sexual innuendo) Keri Russell stars in this romantic comedy about an eligible Pride And Prejudice fanatic who travels to a Jane Austen theme park in search of Mr. Right. With Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour and Bret McKenzie.

 

The Happy Sad (Unrated) Bifurcated Brooklyn drama about two young couples, one, black and gay (Leroy McClain and Charlie Barnett), the other, white and heterosexual (Cameron Scoggins and Sorel Carradine), whose lives serendipitously intertwine as they explore their sexual identity. Featuring Maria Dizzia, Jamie Harrold and Sue Jean Kim.

 

The Patience Stone (R for profanity, sexuality and violence) Female empowerment flick, set in war-torn Afghanistan, revolving around a woman (Golshifteh Farahani) who finally summons up the courage to share a lifetime’s worth of frustrations with a husband (Hamid Djavadan) left paralyzed and in a vegetative state by a bullet in the neck. With Hassina Burgan, Massi Mrowat and Faiz Fazli. (In Persian with subtitles)

 

Spark: A Burning Man Story (Unrated) Back-to-nature documentary offers a revealing peek at the challenges involved in staging an annual, week-long gathering of 60,000 free-spirited hippies in a temporary city erected on a windsweptNevada desert.

 

Standing Up (PG for bullying, brief smoking, mild epithets and mature themes) Screen adaptation of The Goats, Brock Cole’s young adult novel about two kids (Chandler Canterbury and Annalise Basso) forced to fend for themselves after being stripped naked and stranded on an island by fellow summer campers. With Val Kilmer, Radha Mitchell and Keith Flippen.

 

This Is Martin Bonner (Unrated) Paul Eenhoorn stars as the title character of this unlikely-buddies drama about a newcomer to Reno, Nevada, who forges a friendship with a recent parolee (Richmond Arquette) he helps while volunteering at a non-profit charity. With Sam Buchanan, Robert Longstreet and Demetrius Grosse.

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