David Oyelowo

The Butler

Lee Daniels finally goes full historical drama with his Forest Whitaker-starring bid for awards season glory, The Butler (or, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, depending on how sensitive you are to technicalities). Based on the real life story of White House butler Eugene Allen, who worked for eight U.S. presidents between the years 1952 and 1986, Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong have retrofitted Allen’s compelling story to suit their own aims (changing the name of the Allen character to “Cecil Gaines” is the least egregious modification to the story, and even that one feels strange). Less a story about one man and his experiences in a changing White House (and a changing world), The Butler is mostly a domestic drama told in the vein of Forrest Gump about a man who just happens to work in the White House, with much of history hitting him outside the confines of his unique job. Despite Gaines’ (or Allen’s, again depending on how sensitive you are to technicalities) incredibly interesting career path (from Southern slave to hotel employee to highest ranking butler in the White House), most of The Butler is focused on the family squabbles that play out between the apolitical Cecil and his oldest son Louis (played mostly by the wonderful David Oyelowo), who becomes a civil rights crusader in the most Forrest Gump way possible (you name a major event in the civil rights movement, and Louis is there, usually on television too, just for good measure). The film’s very subject […]

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Jack Reacher Tom Cruise Robert Duvall

Lee Child has published seventeen novels with lead character Jack Reacher, and this December one of them will finally be hitting the big screen. Reacher was a military policeman once upon a time, but just because he no longer carries a badge doesn’t mean he’s forgotten wrong from right. Now he wanders the nation from one state to the next, and like Bruce Banner and Sam Beckett before him he helps those unable to help themselves. “One Shot” (renamed simply Jack Reacher for the movie) is the ninth book in the series and sees him investigating a mass shooting in Middle America and the man arrested for the crime. Reacher has some very specific characteristics, mostly focused on his size, that should have realistically precluded any actor under 6’3″ from playing him onscreen. Hollywood though is a magical place where respect for the written word isn’t always a priority, so Tom Cruise was cast in the role. Cruise, as we all know, stands 3’7″ which led to a fair amount of bitching and moaning online about his giant ego in a tiny body ruining such a kick-ass literary character. But books and movies are two different mediums, and changes big and small are inevitable when adapting between them meaning the resulting films should be judged on their own merits. We got a glimpse of those merits with the first teaser back in July, but today the full trailer has dropped offering us a look at the story, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie‘s sense […]

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Middle of Nowhere Movie 2012

Editor’s note: With Sundance winner Middle of Nowhere hitting limited release, here is a re-run of our LAFF review, originally published on June 21, 2012. The concept of loneliness permeates director Ava DuVernay’s sophomore effort, Middle of Nowhere, as we watch Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) struggle to move forward after her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is given a eight year prison sentence. We open on Ruby and Derek during one of their weekly visitations, and the desperation to get through their situation plays all over Ruby’s face while Derek seems more hesitant to look too far into the future. Ruby is hanging on to the hope that with good behavior, Derek’s sentence will be reduced from eight years to five and she makes him repeat this mantra before she leaves. We learn that Ruby had been on track to go to medical school, but now with Derek locked up, she has decided to put it off in favor of being able to make her weekly visits (and the two hour, each way, bus ride to get there) and be home for his phone calls. It is clear that Derek does not want Ruby to put her life on hold for him, but stubborn and passionate Ruby will hear none of it. She has a plan and believes if they each keep their heads down, they will soon be together again and get their lives back on track. But can things ever go back to the way they were after eight potential […]

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the paperboy

The Paperboy is, to put it bluntly, quite like a swamp. It is hazy, disorienting, and full of disgusting images. It is so densely packed and so haphazardly arranged that the experience of watching it is not unlike trying to find one’s way out of the Everglades with only a machete and a faulty compass. With this, his third feature, Lee Daniels has created a fictional universe in which rhyme and reason, focus and direction, and even basic character motivation seem like forgotten concepts. It is the sort of film that makes you miss Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s amazing. Ostensibly, this is a Southern-fried film noir, riffing on such films as In the Heat of the Night and Mississippi Burning. Matthew McConaughey is Ward Jansen, a muckraking journalist for the Miami Times, back in his tiny home town to expose the wrongful conviction of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) for the murder of the county sheriff. He was given the tip by Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), who is currently engaged to Hillary even though they’ve never actually met. Ward’s partner is the dashing and difficult Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), a sort of British take on Virgil Tibbs. They hire Ward’s buff brother Jack (Zac Efron) as their driver. All of this is narrated by the Jansen’s former maid, Anita Chester (Macy Gray). In the ensuing detective drama not much actually gets investigated. It’s the summer of ’69, the air is sticky and sweltering, and the entire cast is in […]

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The Paperboy Movie Lee Daniels

For a long time heavy-weight director Pedro Almodovar attempted to bring an adaptation of Peter Dexter‘s excellent novel “The Paperboy” to the screen, and a cursory glance at the story details of that novel confirm exactly what promise the Spanish auteur saw in that potential project. The book focuses on the case of death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter, convicted for the death of a local sheriff who murdered his cousin, and whose romantic relationship with letter-writer Charlotte Bless leads to the involvement of two investigative journalists from Miami who look into the possibility of Van Wetter being innocent. Without wanting to give away too much, as the book progresses, all is not what it seems, leading to a catastrophic ending. It seems that Almodovar was not the man to bring a film version of The Paperboy to life, and Precious director Lee Daniels stepped in to offer his own take on the story, investing a good deal more social outrage and shifting the focus onto the younger brother of one of those journalists. Zac Efron plays that brother – Jack Jansen – a former swimmer kicked out of college for an angry act of vandalism, and Matthew McConaughey his elder brother Ward, who enlists the help of writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) to investigate Van Wetter’s (John Cusack) innocence, at the behest of local vamp, and regular inmate letter write Bless (Nicole Kidman).

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Last night, my Twitter feed coughed out a story from THR, an exclusive report about casting rumors for Lee Daniels‘ (Precious) potential next project, The Butler. At the time, I was too stunned (and too busy laughing hysterically) by how completely wrongheaded a few of the potential stars seemed to be for their respective roles to pen something on the subject. I’ve yet to fully recover, but my typing hands are itchy. The Butler is the true life story of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who worked under eight presidents, spanning the years of 1952 to 1986. Danny Strong wrote the script (with a re-write from Daniels), based on Wil Haygood‘s 2008 Washington Post story “A Butler Well Served by This Election.” You can read the full story HERE, which is a wonderful tale not just about Allen, but about life (and race) in the White House (and America). The story also paid particular focus to the election of Barack Obama – it was published on November 7, 2008, just days after he was elected – and days after Allen himself cast his vote for the first African-American president. But while the story behind The Butler is phenomenal, and Daniels’ apparent first choice to play Allen (David Oyelowo) is pretty great, the rest of the rumored casting for the film is a big bag of “wait, what?”

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Culture Warrior

Warning: this editorial contains spoilers for Rise of the Planet of the Apes (and, for that matter, the original Planet of the Apes). Consider yourself warned, you maniacs! The original Planet of the Apes lends itself quite readily to allegory. 1968, the year of the film’s release, was the peak of one of the most tumultuous eras in American social history. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in April of that year, and Robert F. Kennedy’s death followed a mere two months later. Student resistance and campus demonstrations grew increasingly violent in their opposition to the Vietnam War, the Chicago DNC broke into an all-out war, and racial discord mounted. Of course, none of this had happened yet when Planet of the Apes went into production, but the intersections of intent and circumstance that permit the film to be read so heavily, so variously, and so often in allegorical terms enrich the original film and its sequels with resonance that outlives whatever else may date it. Beyond entertainment value, the Planet of the Apes series has lingered in the popular imagination not because of any strong connection to a specific associative meaning, but because of the many possible allegorical readings it is capable of containing. One of several reasons that Rise of the Planet of the Apes succeeds where previous reincarnations of the series did not is its reclaimed capacity for allegory.

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