Oprah Winfrey

oprah the butler

It’s not even July yet. Do we really have to start with Oscar stuff now? The only other people mentioning this fall’s crop of potential award-winners do so with hilarious disclaimers like “It’s never too early to semi-blindly predict the rest of the year’s critical darlings” or “It’s only June, but let’s take an ignorant stab at the Oscar nominations anyway, shall we?” Oh, how I wish such a disclaimer could have run at the top of this paragraph. But now there is news. News that does not mention any explicit Oscar-mongering, yet carries the faint swooshing noise of Oprah Winfrey, polishing her mantle in anticipation of Oscar number two (and the first one was an honorary humanitarian award, so it barely counts as it is). Selma, the Winfrey-produced, Ava DuVernay-directed, David Oyelowo-starring biopic about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has a release date: December 25, 2014, for a limited release, and then January 9, 2015, for the wide expansion. And that kind of a release schedule, or course, is what you do when you want to see your film dented and eventually destroyed under a shower of heavy awards statuettes. Last year, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and 12 Years a Slave went for the late-year, limited-then-wide release pattern. Today, all those movies can proudly proclaim “Academy Award Winner” on their various Blu-ray and DVD covers.

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oprah the butler

That sound you just heard was a million The Wire obsessives, all emerging from their subterranean lairs at the same time (as most Wire fans burrow underground, subsisting on nothing but Wire marathons, YouTube clips and constant assurances that “you come at the king, you best not miss”). This natural phenomenon happens very rarely, but when it occurs, it can mean only one thing: David Simon has announced some new TV project. And, indeed, he has. As Deadline reports, the head writer/creator/showrunner of The Wire (and Supreme God-King amongst those strange, mole-like TV bingewatchers) is now working on a Martin Luther King Jr. miniseries for HBO. The series is based off of Taylor Branch‘s “America in the King Years,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the civil rights movement. Simon will be writing at least the first episode and the series bible (essentially, an encyclopedia of all necessary characters, settings and major details), then he and Eric Overmyer (producer on The Wire and co-creator of their later series, Treme) will be “seeing the entire mini through completion.” Simon might not be showrunner (at least not yet), but his name’s still attached, and that’s more than enough to slake the thirst of desperate Wire fans worldwide.

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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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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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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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When Tuesday began, I reported that Roger Ebert would be televised on today’s Oprah Winfrey Show debuting his brand new voice software, a piece of software that would allow him to speak in a way that sounds like the voice we all know and love from his many years as television’s most prominent film critic. Late in the day, I get to share some real footage with you. And it’s pretty incredible.

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princess_and_the_frog_header

‘The Princess and the Frog’ doesn’t have the greatest of stories or the most interesting characters, but it’s a welcome return to a classical style of animation and a form of animated storytelling that Disney appeared to have written off.

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The Princess and the Frog

The folks at Walt Disney Animation can still draw. Just in case you weren’t aware of that, they have made a point of illuminated said fact in the opening moments of the trailer for their first hand-drawn film in 5 years, The Princess and the Frog.

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