Archive for "Lee Daniels"

Lee Daniels Comments on Oscar Snub

Published by Smriti Mundhra on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm.

(Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for DCP)

Lee Daniels finally broke his silence on The Butler’s notorious Oscars snub, and the A-list director kept it classy with his comments. Speaking to TMZ at LAX, Daniels says it’s the media that starts the Oscar hype, not the artists who make the films.

“We don’t do it for awards, we do it for the art,” Daniels reiterates. TMZ’s cameraman gives the director props for the film, telling him his family loved it and the audience he saw it with gave the film a standing ovation.

Daniels, looking visibly touched, tells him, “that’s my award.”

Awards or not, no one can take away The Butler’s amazing box office run and universal critical raves. It was one of the few awards contenders this year that resonated with both critics and audiences. While The Butler didn’t earn any Golden Globes or Oscar nominations, Oprah Winfrey was in contention for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress (the honor ultimately went to 12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o) and is up for eight NAACP Image Awards.

Daniels himself is now part of the elite $100 million directors club, with the historical epic grossing $160 million worldwide against a budget of just $30 million. Not a bad consolation prize.

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Movie Review: “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, August 16, 2013 at 9:00 am.

(Photo: The Weinstein Company)

Summary: Based on the true story of Eugene Allen, Lee Daniels’ The Butler follows Cecil Gaines,  who served eight presidents at the White House throughout the most transformative times in American history. Through Cecil’s family, we learn of his struggles, which parallel America’s triumphs.

Review: Lee Daniels’ The Butler officially makes Oscar nominee Lee Daniels a Hollywood star. With an all-star cast, a PG-13 rating and an accessible storyline, the Precious director has gone Hollywood in the best way. The film screams Tinseltown royalty from Jane Fonda to Cuba Gooding, Jr. to Forest Whitaker to Robin Williams — all of whom are Oscar winners. Plus, the film has the star power of Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, David Banner and Oprah Winfrey. Daniels wove together a cast that viewers want to see on screen with a story they will love. Mainly sweet and rarely bitter, it’s easily one of the best films of the year and set to be an awards favorite — deservingly so. Lee Daniels’ The Butler is intense, emotional and stays with you long after the credits roll.

The Butler begins with narration from Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines. We learn of his heartbreaking roots, working on a cotton-field in Georgia. Plus, his “house n—-r” training and eventually his own family with Gloria (played by soon-to-be two-time Oscar nominee Oprah Winfrey) and his two sons, played by Elijah Kelley and David Oyelowo. Written by Danny Strong, The Butler cleverly presents the Black family unit within the struggles of the husband and wife, and father and son. The script is clunky at times — packing in eight presidents is a huge task — but Strong found the perfect balance of the family as too many films about the Black family are the extremes of either downtrodden poverty or upper-class perfection.

Whitaker as Gaines is equally subtle and powerful. Daniels and Strong show not all African-Americans wanted to fight, some did not want to rock the boat, such as Gaines. On the other hand, Gaines’ son is a revolutionary, embarrassed by his father while his father is complexly ashamed of him. There is a nuanced story in The Butler, but the root of family helps the film rise above race and politics.

Forest Whitaker is, as usual, cinematic perfection. But all eyes are on Lady O, who hasn’t been on the big screen in over 15 years. Some critics are praising Ms. Winfrey for becoming someone else. However, I was more impressed not to see any remains of Miss Sophia from The Color Purple or Sethe from Beloved on screen. Oprah as Gloria —  drinking, smoking, cursing, slapping and even the cracks in her voice — is a stretch. Oprah Winfrey skillfully reinvented herself.

Many critics will be happy to see the disturbing grit of Daniels’ previous films like Precious and Paperboy are absent in The Butler. However, as someone who is a fan of Daniels’ edgy work, there were several moments when I wanted Daniels to push further, such as Gloria’s relationship with her seedy neighbor, played by Terrence Howard or Gloria’s alcohol problem. Also, the opening scene on the cotton-field could’ve used more of the Oscar nominee’s signature grime. Daniels knows how to tear the cinematic skin off the screen and shake viewers to their core. This doesn’t happen in The Butler but it didn’t dent the flick for me — in the long run, Daniels’ restraint might help him with touchy critics who whine that his sex and gore is gratuitous.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a phenomenal continuation of the director’s visionary eye for storytelling, imagery and reality, undoubtedly a must-see.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is in theaters Friday, August 16.

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Movie Review: “The Paperboy”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, December 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

(Photo: Benaroya Pictures)

Summary: Set in 1960s South Florida, a small town reporter and his partner are seeking out the truth of a controversial prisoner. Secrets are revealed and the grime of this quaint town is exposed.

Review:  Critics are hollering Lee Daniels‘ interpretation of the bestselling novel by Pete Dexter is common camp. Maybe it is the exposure of the good ‘ole South mixed with racism and sex that makes some uncomfortable — but Daniels’ work has never centered on giving audiences a warm and fuzzy feeling. The Oscar-nominated director wants to push people’s buttons, force them to think and give them a movie-going experience that they’ve never seen. Mission accomplished.

The Paperboy is graphic and shocking, but undoubtedly intelligent. Each character is packed with layers and the story is unexpected at every frame. That said, I could see how the visuals might be a challenge for some to digest. Lee Daniels is refreshingly not presenting a sanitized version of the Jim Crow South. The Paperboy is the right kind of grime, which is a more realistic version of the 1960s South than the Disney-fied The Help. Gone are the passive, “shucking and jiving Negros.” There is no residue of prim and proper Southern whites who spit the N-word and quickly adjust their bouffant. The Paperboy is disturbingly foul — as it should be. This is a film about sexuality, race, crime and class. Congrats to Daniels for having the guts to go there.

The Paperboy includes an all-star cast. There is Nicole Kidman as the sex-crazed but tortured Charlotte Bless. The powers that be won’t take notice, but this is Kidman’s most transformative performance to date. She took every risk an actor should take — but I am still elated she refused to use the N-word.

Zac Efron demolished his former teen dream image, proving he is a gifted actor and it took Daniels to dig it up. Matthew McConaughey was pushed to places he had never been and appeared to be at ease in the madness of his character. Both McConaughey and Kidman might need therapy to recover from the film!

David Oyelowo as an assistant journalist continued his streak of stellar performances. The unsung actor in the film is Macy Gray — she was a beast onscreen and the glue that held a complicated flick together.

Like many other movies, The Paperboy is a film that will get the respect it deserves years later. One day, film schools will dissect the movie and marvel at the flick’s wondrous deconstruction of race, gender and class.

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Hurricane Isaac Shuts Down Production of The Butler

Published by Smriti Mundhra on Friday, August 31, 2012 at 10:00 am.


Lee Daniels is probably not a happy camper this week. The Oscar-nominated director had to sit idle while the threat of Hurricane Isaac shut down his production of The Butler, currently shooting in Louisiana. The film’s all-star cast, including Cuba Gooding Jr.Alan RickmanOprah WinfreyRobin WilliamsLenny KravitzMelissa Leo and Forest Whitaker, had to be evacuated to safe locations until Isaac passed.

A source tells the New York Post, “the cast and crew for the film is huge, and it was a giant operation to get them out. But everyone has been taken to safety.”

While we’re sure the cast and crew are eager to get back to work, you gotta imagine the bunker where they’re waiting out the storm must look like one hell of an imaginary dinner party. We’d love to be a fly on the wall as the eclectic and powerful group passes time doing Lord-knows-what. Perhaps Oprah started an impromptu book club?

The Butler is Daniels’ film about the life of White House butler Eugene Allen, played by Whitaker, and his service to eight American presidents over three decades. Allen started as a “pantry boy” in the White House in 1952, and rose through the ranks to head butler. He retired in 1986.

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Movie Review: ‘Prince of Broadway’

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, November 19, 2010 at 8:30 am.

Prince of Broadway is being revered as a gem in the world of independent filmmaking.  I prefer an indie film any day over a Hollywood blockbuster, but even independent films with good intentions can fall short of the glory. Directed by Sean Baker, a White director who was born in New Jersey and raised in Manhattan, the film takes a voyeuristic look into the lives of people of color in urban New York City.

The central character is Lucky, played by what might be a strong actor in newcomer Prince Adu, an illegal immigrant who aggressively sells knock-off merchandise.  Anyone from an urban environment is familiar with this hustling gig.  As a matter of fact, some of us might’ve had this gig in our youth.

When Lucky’s Latina girlfriend randomly drops their child off and he suddenly must be a father, eyebrow-raising drama ensues.   The “script” was mainly created through improvisation.

Lee Daniels, an advocate of indies, has given the film a stamp of approval, which certainly gives the flick some merit.  Nonetheless, Prince of Broadway felt like an offensive hodgepodge of stereotypes, lack of direction and a “Look at the animals in their cage!” voyeurism.  This could’ve been a solid movie with more character-building and a closer examination of poverty.  Every character adheres to a stereotype, which begs the question — aren’t we past this?  Spike Lee did this over 20 years ago, but with grace and social commentary.

Prince of Broadway is being coined a true New York film, but unlike the heavily improvised Kids, each scene was manic, loud and at times, careless.  Sure, there is low-budget filmmaking, but Prince of Broadway was just plain lazy at times.  Considering Baker is the co-creator of a television series on FOX (Greg the Bunny) and MTV (Warren the Ape), one would think there would be more care put into the project.

Maybe the perception is that the characters are so “raw,” they need no thought.  In one erratic scene, Lucky is frantically scampering around screaming the n-word more times than a slave master in Roots, then rips off his shirt preparing to fight someone who allegedly stole his merchandise.  No cohesion, no link to the story and looked more like an online web video that would post with a title that reads, “Here we go acting up again!”

Speaking of the n-word, the overzealous use of the word felt inauthentic. The ad-libbing actors seemed to be relying on what they perceived to be loudly “keeping it real” versus the care it takes to improvise dramatic scenes. Maybe if you aren’t familiar with the world  Prince of Broadway depicts then this might seem “real” and “edgy,” but in truth, it was pushed.

That said, there was some strong acting, especially from Prince Adu; Bronx native Kat Sanchez and Keyali Mayaga, who was clearly the most experienced.  All of the actors might truly excel in a flick with more direction.  If anything, Prince of Broadway might be a vehicle for these unknowns to get future work.

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Lee Daniels Talks Casting Mariah

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 12:00 am.

Mariah Carey and Lee DanielsLee Daniels made an appearance on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to talk about his six-time Oscar nominated film Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. Stewart joked about working with a cast of mainly non-actors: Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Gabourey Sidibe.

Daniels describes how Mariah got involved; Helen Mirren canceled for a “paying job,” Mariah called later that day and soon after Mariah had the gig — with Mirren’s blessing.  Stewart, never one to miss a joke, laughed that Daniels somehow said, “Get me the girl from Glitter!”

Check out the video below.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Lee Daniels
Daily Show
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Lee Daniels Talks To BET

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, February 5, 2010 at 12:00 am.

leedanielsAn animated Lee Daniels talked to BET’s Sharon Carpenter about his history-making film Precious. Daniels said he wasn’t expecting six nominations and that he carries on the legacy of the greats before him like John Singleton and Spike Lee.  He also talks the importance of sexuality in the film,  risk-taking and the critic.

Check out the interview below!  Can also click here to read my interview with Lee Daniels and Gabourey Sidibe.

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Will ‘Precious’ Get A Best Director Nod?

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:00 am.

Mariah Carey and Lee DanielsThe Oscar nominations will be announced a week from today and while Precious is a shoe-in for best actress and best supporting actress nods (maybe best picture) — I am wondering if the director of Precious, Lee Daniels, will get a best director nod.  Daniels was snubbed at the Golden Globes and the Oscars usually follows their lead.  Shockingly, John Singleton is the first and only African-American to receive a nomination for best director, which was 1991’s Boyz n the Hood.  Yep, not even Spike Lee got love at the Oscars.

The prestigious Directors Guild of America for its feature directing award.  But, an article over at the says the chances are still slim:

Before Daniels can earn a slot of his own, he might have to overcome competition from the formidable Clint Eastwood, an Academy favorite. The power of Eastwood’s star appeal was in evidence last month when the Golden Globes nominations were announced. His racial picture “Invictus” wasn’t nominated for best drama; instead, the five movies — including “Precious” — directed by the eventual DGA nominees made the cut. But when the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. turned to the best director category, it dropped Daniels in favor of Eastwood. Something similar could happen at the Academy.

Eastwood, after all, is justifiably viewed as a master, while Daniels, making a bid with only his second film as director, is the least-seasoned among the DGA’s nominees, which also include James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino and Jason Reitman.

From the start, Daniels has never seemed too concerned with awards, he just wanted to create a good movie and he surely did.  Nonetheless, we will see next week if some history can be made.

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Ten Best Films of ‘09

Published by Clay Cane on Monday, December 28, 2009 at 12:00 am.

BestOf09_Films_cpIt’s been an amazing year in film with so many diverse movies — you’ve laughed, cried, learned and been entertained.  Whether it was Mo’Nique’s gut-wrenching performance in Precious, Michael Moore’s biting commentary in Capitalism: A Love Story, or the high-octane energy from Star Trek — films may have been the only thing that got you through a year of global economic distress.

I have seen countless movies this year; here are my selections for the 10 most impactful, entertaining and well done films of 2009.   Sound off in the comments!

10. Star Trek (Zoe Saldana, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto)

startrek_2009movie“Normally, 11 versions equates disaster, but somehow, some way, director J.J. Abrams and the creators of Star Trek managed to pull off the best sci-fi movie since The Matrix.”

9. Tyson (Documentary)
ironmiketyson“Some parts are hilarious, some are heartbreaking and whether or not you think Mike is a rapist or saint — you can’t help but feel his truth.”

8. Capitalism: A Love Story (Documentary)
captialism“Michael Moore is the Obama of documentarians.”

7. More Than a Game (Documentary)
moregame“Deeply inspiring. That said, for every young kid who sees More Than a Game and thinks they are the next LeBron James — it should be mandatory to watch 1994’s Hoop Dreams.”

6. Good Hair (Documentary)
goodhair“Quite brilliantly, Chris Rock skillfully peeled back archaic layers, opening up a dialogue that could’ve been volatile. His natural talent made the doc hilarious and thought-provoking, rising above race and gender.”

5. American Violet (Nicole Beharie, Alfre Woodard)
american_violet“It’s not enough for a movie to have a Black cast for it to be good, it must have good writing, engaging stories and impassioned actors. This film has all three.”

4. Valentino: the Last Emperor (Documentary)
valentino“In a time where fashion is reduced to tawdry reality shows, Valentino: The Last Emperor reinjects the sophistication and elegance in what some say is a lost art form.”

3. Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen)
bruno-official-movie-poster“Yes, Bruno is in ‘gay face’ if you will, but when going beyond the surface, he is clearly turning the mirror on us and saying, ‘Do you see how stupid these stereotypes are?’”

2. Michael Jackson’s This Is It (Documentary)
MJThisIsIt“Fan or not, in This Is It, you don’t see death, just life. There is no sadness or tears; you walk out with a smile. Forget the controversies, this is truly who Michael Jackson was – his music. It’s a film that you don’t want to end.”

1. Precious: Based on the Novel PUSH by Sapphire (Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe and Mariah Carey)

precious“Clearly, the best film of the year.  Mo’Nique’s performance?  Even if Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn all came back from the dead — they could not pull that Oscar out of Mo’Nique’s hands.”

Honorable Mentions: Avatar, Skin, The Princess and the Frog and Life Is Hot In Cracktown.

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‘Precious’ Grabs Five Spirit Award Nominations

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 12:00 am.

monique-preciousThe Spirit Awards are almost always a precursor to Oscar nominations and if this year is any indication Precious will rack up this year.  The Spirit Awards has honored outstanding independent films for over 25 years.  This year, Taraji P. Henson helped announce the nominations, which gave five to Precious and five to a film called The Last Station — those two received the most nods.  As expected, Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe received nods.

“(500) Days Of Summer” – Producers: Mason Novick, Jessica Tuchinsky, Mark Waters, Steven J. Wolfe
“Amreeka” – Producers: Paul Barkin, Christina Piovesan
“Precious” – Producers: Lee Daniels, Gary Magness, Sarah Siegel-Magness
“Sin Nombre” – Producer: Amy Kaufman
“The Last Station” – Producers: Bonnie Arnold, Chris Curling, Jens Meuer

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen – “A Serious Man”
Lee Daniels – “Precious”
Cary Joji Fukunaga – “Sin Nombre”
James Gray – “Two Lovers”
Michael Hoffman – “The Last Station”

Sophie Barthes – “Cold Souls”
Scott Cooper – “Crazy Heart”
Cherien Dabis – “Amreeka”
Geoffrey Fletcher – “Precious”
Tom Ford, David Scearce – “A Single Man”

Maria Bello – “Downloading Nancy”
Nisreen Faour – “Amreeka”
Helen Mirren – “The Last Station”
Gwyneth Paltrow – “Two Lovers”
Gabourey Sidibe – “Precious”

Dina Korzun – “Cold Souls”
Mo’Nique – “Precious”
Samantha Morton – “The Messenger”
Natalie Press – “Fifty Dead Men Walking”
Mia Wasikowska – “That Evening Sun”

There were very little African-American projects nominated at the Spirit Awards. In the best documentary category Lebron James‘ documentary More Than A Game received a nod.

The Spirit Awards will air March 5th, 2010.

Check out this article fromThe New York Times Success of ‘Precious’ Highlights an Absence.


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