Lee Daniels

Richard Pryor Biopic

Okay, this isn’t normally the way we do things. An actor gets cast in a role, and we hear about it from some trade magazine of glamorous and shining repute. But not this time. Lee Daniels‘ Richard Pryor biopic looks to have just cast its lead, and we’re hearing the first news…on Twitter. But it’s Lee Daniels’ Twitter, so we’ll take that as slightly more legitimate than most. Here’s the fateful tweet in question: Get ready y’all- #MikeEpps as #RichardPryorpic.twitter.com/0sothu7yVB — lee daniels (@leedanielsent) August 24, 2014 I think it’s safe to assume that, were Stephen Spielberg to tweet “Get ready y’all- #Ryan Reynolds, #RyanGosling and #RyanSeacrest in #SavingPrivateRyan2,” we’d be inclined to believe him. If Saving Private Ryan 2 was real. And probably if he didn’t use the words “Get ready y’all,” which probably mean Lee Daniels has gotten a hold of Spielberg’s Twitter password.

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That Richard Pryor biopic that’s seemingly been in the works since before Pryor was born? Well, it might actually be moving forward, with a director and a shortlist of three potential actors and a giant wheelbarrow full of money to fund it. The director? Lee Daniels. The actors? Eddie Murphy, Marlon Wayans and Michael B. Jordan. The group filling farm equipment with legal tender?  The Weinstein Company, which has come on board to finance the entire project. There’s a lot to think about here. The big issue might seem to be Daniels’ involvement, and one could discuss that until the cows come home (if Lee Daniels lived on a farm, which I’m assuming he doesn’t). Daniels isn’t known for his funny bone, and a biopic about a stand-up comedian would have to at least acknowledge that jokes exist and that people do this thing called “laughing” after hearing them. But that’s only one half of the story. The other half involves those three fellows up for the starring role, and the humongous differences between each one. So let’s break ‘em down one by one.

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Breaking Bad Writers Room

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amy-adams-normal

We’ve been hearing that Amy Adams was going to star in a biopic of legendary drug monster/songstress Janis Joplin called Get It While You Can for quite a while now. We’ve been hearing about it since July, 2010, to be exact. Up until this point it’s proved to be one of those projects that keeps getting mentioned but never actually goes into production though. Somewhere around the fall of 2012 it was said that Precious director Lee Daniels was negotiating to make the movie, which seemed like it could be the thing that finally got it moving, but ultimately nothing came from the deal. Or, at least, nothing came from the deal until now. Now that Daniels’ latest film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, has come out, had a decent showing at the box office, and avoided creating any controversies surrounding anyone getting peed on, it’s looking like Daniels has once again solidified his position as a maker of studio movies—so it stands to reason that he’s going to have to pick a project to do next. Well, in an interview he recently did with THR, Daniels revealed that not only is he still attached to make that Joplin pic with Amy Adams, but that he now intends on making it his next job.

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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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The Butler

Now that Warner Bros. and the Weinstein Company have come to a peaceful understanding over the title of Lee Daniels’ The Butler (which is now titled Lee Daniels’ The Butler, for true ease) let the marketing games begin for the Oscar bait. Entertainment Weekly has eight new stills from the presidential drama, which follows the story of one African-American butler, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), who served in the White House through decades of administration changes to see firsthand how the country itself changed. The film has an all-star roster playing the presidents and their first ladies, and the stills show a few of those actors doing their best party impressions. Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan is pretty uncanny. And the beautiful irony of Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan will hopefully not be lost on any audiences. Her ’80s party dress is spectacular; I’m expecting taffeta and jewels for days.

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The Butler

When Lee Daniels signed on to direct The Butler, it was unclear how Wil Haygood’s “Washington Post” article would be converted into cinematic storytelling. There was a lot of room for maneuvering. Although deft and interesting, there are about a dozen different tones that could emerge from the profile of White House butler Eugene Allen — who served eight presidents from Truman to Reagan and is played here by Forest Whitaker. Judging from the trailer, Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong swung for the fences. It’ll be fascinating to see how they’ve packed so many trenchant, racially-charged years of American history into an intimately human story. Allen was born in 1919 and would live to see Barack Obama elected president. That’s not merely a lot of time to cover; considering the loaded symbolism, the people who sat behind the Resolute desk while Allen was stacking champagne, and his rich personal struggle with the paperwork behind shuffled on Capitol Hill, Daniels and the production have their work cut out for them here. Of course there’s also John Cusack, whose face looks like its about to explode playing Richard Nixon. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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Amy Adams

Though it might have seemed like the Amy Adams-starring Janis Joplin biopic, Get It While You Can, was permanently stalled out after years of back and forth, THR now reports that its gotten fresh life thanks to the addition of a new director. The outlet reports that recently-revitalized Precious helmer Lee Daniels is currently in talks to direct the tragic rock n’ roll film, with Adams still set to star in the project (whole years after her first attachment). The script has been penned by producer Ron Terry and his wife Theresa Kounin-Terry. Adams has been attached to star in the film since back in July of 2010, when Fernando Meirelles was set to direct the project. At one point, Catherine Hardwicke was also once rumored for the directing gig. The film will be independently financed, but THR also reports rumors that “there have been preliminary talks with Focus Features about coming on board, though no deal has been made.” With such a named cast and crew, Get It probably won’t stay indie for too long. Get It While You Can is, however, not the only Joplin film in the works. A Joplin biopic has long been a passion project for producer Peter Newman, and after cycling through its own differing incarnations, Newman’s film recently started to come together this summer, with the addition of Martha Marcy May Marlene director Sean Durkin and star Nina Arianda. Much like those “dueling” Jeff Buckley biopics, it will be interesting to see which […]

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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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After the critical and commercial success of Precious, director Lee Daniels most likely had offers flooding into his office. Considering the way he describes the post-Precious period, that was indeed the case. There were plenty of movies Daniels could have made and for large sums of money as well. In the end, Daniels decided to followup Precious with The Paperboy, a movie many have called “pulpy.” Pulpy material usually doesn’t equal commercial success, but after making a hit, Daniels decided to stick with his gut even if his gut told him to turn down millions. The Paperboy, as ludicrous as it certainly is at times, remains a personal story for Daniels. Some may not see through the sweat and violence of the picture, but he saw this as another tale filled with people he knows well and who we don’t see on screen often enough: characters with a death wish. The world those characters inhabits is one you’ll either love or hate. Here’s what director Lee Daniels had to say about his artist side superseding commercialism, when the magic happens on set, and why he really shows Zac Efron in his underwear so much:

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Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan in The Butler

Lee Daniels is currently waist-deep in White House history, exploring the most visible citizen’s home office through the eyes of The Butler – a forthcoming adaptation of a Wil Haygood newspaper article chronicling a butler (played by Forest Whitaker) who served under 8 presidents. Daniels is taking advantage of the huge swath of famous political faces by having a huge supporting cast to play them. One of the less-famous faces is being played by Oprah Winfrey (who is surprisingly not one of the 30 some odd producers), and she tweeted out (via Cinema Blend) this first look at Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan and Alan Rickman (!) as Ronald Reagan. Once again we get to marvel at the make-up, hair and costuming of a historical flick. The team has done a great job of making both look as close as possible (to the point where Rickman is virtually unrecognizable as himself). Plus, the actor raised taxes 11 times in preparation for the role, so everyone’s dedication levels are high for this one.

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James Marsden in The Butler

Make no mistake, we love us some Matthew McConaughey around these parts, but his unique brand of show-stopping performance is perhaps not so well-suited for historical dramas with large casts of characters, particularly ones that might not have the strongest of directing talent to steer them. Films like Lee Daniels‘ upcoming The Butler, set to chronicle the life story of Eugene Allen, who served as a White House butler under an incredible eight presidents and through the years 1952 to 1986. To that end, Variety reports (via The Playlist) that James Marsden has joined the film as JFK. McConaughey had been attached to the role for only two months, but dropped out of the project just last month due to scheduling conflicts with the long-gestating The Dallas Buyer’s Club. Of course, we must also wonder if those “conflicts” have anything to do with Daniels and McConaughey’s last project, Cannes giggle factory (and home of Nicole Kidman demanding to pee on Zac Efron), The Paperboy.

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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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Simon has already weighed in on Moonrise Kingdom – his first Cannes film of 2012 – but we check in with him to see what 6 films he’s looking forward to the most. Plus, Movies.com’s Peter Hall faces off against Landon Palmer in the Movies News Pop Quiz, and we end up asking important questions about repertory screenings. Will the films of the future digitally last forever? Download Episode #134

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“Yes, the same Jane Fonda who has been described as a communist, was part of the “F” the Army too and is an enemy sympathizer.” “Perhaps Fonda will be perfect at mangling history on film, since she’s certainly done that in real life.” “Of all people Hollywood could haven chosen to portray Nancy Reagan in a new film, they come up with Jane Fonda. It’s like they’re trying to offend half of America before the movie is even made. ” “Arch-liberals Fonda and [John] Cusack playing a pair of major figures on the Right? Conservatives should stock up on antacids starting … now.” That’s Townhall.com, News Busters, The Lonely Conservative and Breitbart.com in response to the Variety story that writer/director Lee Daniels (Precious) has hired Jane Fonda to play Nancy Reagan for his new movie The Butler, which follow the story of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who served under eight, count ‘em, eight presidents during his career.

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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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In The Paperboy, Zac Efron and Matthew McConaughey play reporters from Miami hired to prove the innocence of a death row inmate (John Cusack). The woman who hires them is the highly sexual Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) who has fallen in love with the inmate despite never meeting him. She’s convinced he should be free, and that they should be married. The movie is based on the novel by Pete Dexter (who wrote the screenplay), and it’s being directed by Precious helmer Lee Daniels. With one Oscar-nominated film under his belt, it will be interesting to see if he shoots for a second. It will also be interesting to see if they keep the harrowing ending to the novel, because if they do, things are about to get a lot darker. A new poster for the film is making the rounds, and it’s the kind of artwork that makes most poster artists seem lazy (as if they need help). It’s a fantastic throwback style with a little too much eye-liner. Check it out for yourself:

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Walk up Broadway from 20th to 30th streets in Manhattan and you’ll find a bustling bazaar of low-rent storefront shops hawking an array of consumer goods, some legal, most not. With salesmen haranguing you to come with them and check out their latest deals, it’s not the best spot for a leisurely stroll. In the portrait the neighborhood offers of the American dream being aggressively pursued, it is, however, a fascinating milieu. Sean Baker, director of the new shoestring budget feature Prince of Broadway, now in limited release, seizes upon the small dramatic moments and intricate details that characterize the daily flow of life centered on this part of town.

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Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson has been waiting to get to work on Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic which appears to be stalled. What’s an actor to do when he can’t get into the Oval Office on film? Sign up to play a different president. In this case Neeson will be taking on the role of Lyndon Johnson in Selma. It’s a very good fit.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Director

Best Director is a tricky category with, like many awards bestowed at the Oscars, a questionable track record. Venerated filmmakers like Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Altman, for instance, never won the award. While it’s arguably impossible to objectively compare different works of art, Best Director is an especially elusive and subjective category that forces one to compare apples to oranges, especially with this year’s nominees.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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