Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lee Daniels' The Butler

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Reverend Ron's review of Lee Daniels' The Butler...

Lee Daniels’ The Butler – 5 out of 5

Whenever I see a movie that is “based on true events” or, even worse, is “INSPIRED by true events,” I try to take the movie with a grain of salt and remember that Hollywood loves to “sex” things up with movies. Let’s face it, real life is boring and almost never ends up as cool as movies make it look…except my life, movies can’t handle all the ninja battles, daredevil piloting, high speed racing and shark punching that makes up just a single hour of a usual day for me—for example, I am writing this review while driving a motorcycle…that’s on fire! Anyway, it’s kinda foolish to expect reality from a movie…it wouldn’t be a movie if it was reality. Hell, even documentaries understand you need to take some liberties to make them interesting.

Liberties sometimes makes stories more does adding Forest Whitaker
to your story.  Which is why I add him to every story I tell my coworkers.

Inspired by the real life of White House butler Eugene Allen, The Butler--excuse me, I mean Lee Daniels’ The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) and his life of servitude. Born on a plantation in Georgia, Gaines witnessed the plantation owner rape his mother and murder his father but, shockingly, didn’t grow up to hate the white man but, rather, ended up living his entire life as a butler serving them. Gaines is such a tremendous butler that he eventually catches the attention of the White House and is hired on to join the staff and remains there for over thirty years. Along the way, Gaines watches Presidents enter and leave the Oval Office, tragedy strike his family and, most of all, a civil rights movement sweep the nation and change the country forever.

Another thing that changed the country as we know it, seeing Robin Williams
play a U.S. President in something that wasn't a Night at the Museum movie.

I really, REALLY enjoyed this film (obviously, I gave it my perfect score) and, even though I know most of it detours away from the life of the butler that inspired the film, the film tells a touching and very emotional story, and contains a terrific cast that’s full of powerhouse actors.

As I stated earlier, I didn’t expect historical accuracy from this film. Other than the point I made about Hollywood taking liberties and making stories sexier than what they were in real life, this film was only INSPIRED by true events and not trying to recreate them (of course, even then Hollywood takes their liberties). The real life Eugene Allen wasn’t born in Georgia and his parents weren't the victims of rape and murder. The film depicts him with two sons; one that goes to war in Vietnam and one who becomes a political activist working in the civil rights movement. In reality, Allen only had one son and he never became a political activist. Finally, Eugene Allen’s name wasn’t Cecil Gaines!!!! IS NOTHING SACRED, HOLLYWOOD?!?

I'm starting to think that Eugene Allen wasn't Forest Whitaker at all but rather
Whitaker playing a role that is suppose to be like Allen.

Anyway, these liberties are what makes the film dramatic and attention grabbing. Movies are there for us to escape the monotony of everyday life. After working in a factor for eight hours or finishing up cleaning your bathroom or putting the finishing touches on your lawn, you want to sit down and watch people do things that are never going to be a part of your life…except my life. While I typed that sentence, I leapt off the flaming motorcycle and am now doing a handstand on the back of a frolicking dolphin…while it’s on fire!

The ultimate Fuck You to conservatives...having Jane Fonda play Nancy Reagan.

Even when it comes to drama, we want to see people struggle through troubles and hardship not because we secretly want it in our lives (although, some do) but it’s a part of the human condition to see people struggle and win. And that’s what this film is all about and why it was just so entertaining to watch. Historical inaccuracies aside, this film’s strongest point was watching Cecil Gaines struggle through life during a time of great racial prejudice and trying to provide for his family; all of whom are engaged in their own difficulties.

"Where the hell is the god damn bathroom in this place?"

Second to the story, but pretty much just as equally as important, is the stellar cast that fills this film. Right off the bat, Forest Whitaker is awesome as Cecil Gaines—but was that really a surprise? That man is ridiculously talented. Have you ever seen him in The Last King of Scotland? Shut the front door when you leave because he is amazing in that movie. However, beyond Whitaker, literally every actor in this film is amazing. Everyone from the actors portraying his family to the actors portraying the Presidents are all just giving their everything and are continuously adding to the film’s amazing story and adding to the amazingness (totally a word) that this film delivered.

He scared the shit out of me in The Last King of Scotland.  I don't like being
scared of Forest Whitaker.

Since Gaines’ family was such a major aspect of the drama the film had, the production delivered by supplying actors that not only played well together but were just incredibly talented to begin with. Oprah Winfrey—the woman who, I’m pretty sure, owns her own planet now—is normally not a person I think of as an actor because she doesn’t do it very often and it’s hard to see her as anything but the larger-than-life presence that she, herself, has become. However, she was truly captivating as the substance-abusing and lonely wife of Cecil.  Her chemistry with Whitaker was very apparent as well.  The two really played well together.

Seriously, she definitely owns her own planet.

Even more amazing, though, was David Oyelowo as Louis Gaines; the son who went on to become the political activist. Not only did this dynamic make for some terribly addicting drama to unfold on screen between a son who was actively out there trying to bring about equality and a father who was doing it in a more submissive fashion, but Oyelowo was just awesome to watch and see him develop as a character.  Watching him grow, learn and develop was just as interesting to watch as Cecil's story and combining the two is like taking two delicious foods and making something even more tasty.

Don't let the shirt fool you, David Oyelowo was great in the film.

Actually, that shirt is pretty awesome.

His cover of "American Woman," however, is considerably
less amazing.
Then you had Cecil’s coworkers at the White House being played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz. Kravitz, while a musician I occasionally enjoy (“Are You Gonna Go My Way” is just an amazing song!), I’ve never been sold on him trying to be an actor and was REALLY not sold on him that much in The Hunger Games…of course, nothing could sell me on that one, but that’s just me. However, I was taken back on how great he was; he wasn’t wooden in his delivery like many who make the jump from rocking a guitar to rocking a role. And then there’s Cuba…and Cuba is just a talented guy and he continues that streak with this one.

Yep, he showed us the mone--ow!  My brain just burned trying to type that

Liev Schreiber is sporting the posture of a man who is
either desperately trying to keep in a fart or fears that
said possible fart is actually something much worse.
One of the other aspects of the cast I enjoyed was the choices for playing the Presidents. While I believe all the choices were either good or sorta questionable, I started to worry that the film might have created a sort of game that was about guessing who the next actor was going to be portraying the next President. Much in the way the 90s era Batman films became a “Who’s Who” for the villains in the film, the casting of the Presidents was pretty much the same way of being but, thankfully, never ended with Arnold giving out ice-based puns. Even though there was an underlying ridiculous to getting these big names to portray each President, each actor still did their jobs terrifically. Everyone from Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower (yeah, not my first choice either) to Liev Schreiber as LBJ, the actors definitely got their impersonations down perfectly; especially Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan and James Marsden as JFK. 

They originally planned to have Ronald Reagan played by the puppet that was
used in that Genesis video.

The only actor I hesitated with was seeing John Cusack as Richard Nixon. While I love John Cusack, I just had a difficult time being sold on him as the rotund notorious liar. Maybe it’s just because I’ve become so used to the over-the-top nature of Billy West’s impression of Nixon in Futurama but Cusack was a very hard sell. However, he really had his voice down and, eventually, I started to see him in the role…of course, by then, we were already on to the next President in the story.

Come to think of it, I kinda wanna see Nixon say, "I'm not a crook," while holding
a boom box over his head blasting Peter Gabriel.

As much as I enjoyed this movie, if it is guilty of anything, it’s the fact that it is NOT subtle about the drama it brings to the story. At times, it almost felt like a satire as Louis Gaines (and the Gaines family in general) would be at the forefront of all the major events of the era they are existing in—like Forrest Gump’s life. While the film doesn’t end up getting to the humorous extent that the CEO of Bubba Gump Shrimp got, the end results that was portrayed in the film didn’t end up tossing me out of the film.  However, I can see how it might for some viewers as the drama does start to feel laid on pretty thick and, admittedly, pretty cheesy.

Cyclops played JFK but that's bullshit because Cyclops would have stopped the assassination
with a blast from his optic beams.

With it’s extremely long list of talented actors giving up amazingly stellar performances, a strong story that's over-saturated with drama and intrigue, and the fact it is based on a true story (well, kinda), Lee Daniels’ The Butler really delivered an entertaining and engaging film that went beyond my expectations. To be honest, I kinda thought it was going to be boring. I was wrong. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to hop off this dolphin that is on fire and destroy a helicopter that is flying by me with one punch. I told you, my life is exciting!

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