Archive for "Movie Reviews"

Movie Review: “Non-Stop”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

Summary: The friendly skies are a living nightmare when a terrorist harasses a federal air marshal with a drinking problem. But this isn’t your average terrorist; it’s a texter with impeccable grammar demanding 150 million dollars. William Marks, played by Liam Neeson, must find out which one of the crafty passengers is the texting terrorist or someone onboard will be killed every 20 minutes.

Review: Liam Neeson is the king of junk food action flicks. Audiences should expect no great plot, mediocre acting and nothing memorable. If you want a formulaic, brainless action thriller, Non-Stop is your movie. Does this mean Non-Stop is a great film? No! Does this mean Non-Stop is a bad film? Nope! It’s an irrelevant action movie without significance, but not without entertainment value.

Non-Stop is one of those movies where you ask the person next to you, “How is that possible?” Start with the most glamorous trans-Atlantic airplane I have ever seen equipped with a live feed to New York 1 across the Atlantic Ocean (you can’t even get New York 1 in Jersey!), impeccable Wi-Fi that can handle video uploading and hacking into a federal computer network — all while suffering through ungodly turbulence. I can’t even get a phone signal during a Nor’easter!

But endure the wild suspension of disbelief, and Non-Stop does its job. The film moves quickly, so it’s easy to ignore the stupidity of each conflict (like the bizarre deaths that happen every twenty minutes) or the hilarious reaction from frantic passengers.  That said, Neeson as the air marshal on the hunt for the texting terrorist is suspenseful enough. It’s a who-done-it in the sky. Is it the stewardess? A frantic NYPD officer? A bearded Muslim who everyone is giving the eye? A muscular computer programmer (Nate Parker)? Maybe Neeson as Bill Marks is the culprit? In the end, the answer is basic and the logic on how the terrorist managed to pull off such an elaborate hijacking is ludicrous.

The film includes a solid and diverse cast with Nate Parker, Julianne Moore and this year’s “it” girl Lupita Nyong’o. Unfortunately, we don’t get much from the fashionista, who is now an Oscar nominee for 12 Years a Slave. Surely Jaume Collet-Serra, the director, would have given the Kenyan actress a larger role had he known she would be up for an Academy Award two days after the film’s release.

An unexpected plus, there is subtle commentary on stereotyping of terrorists. In addition, Non-Stop clearly critiques the media running with a story and not fact checking, which results in more chaos in the sky.

Liam Neeson is the granddaddy of action films. The Oscar winner’s stoic, deep-voiced, monotone, but — most importantly — likable demeanor is consistently entertaining. You want him to win and he always does.

Non-Stop is in theaters now.

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Movie Review: “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete”

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: State Street Pictures)

Summary: After being abandoned by his heroin-addicted mother, 14-year-old Mister and his 9-year-old friend Pete endure the projects of Brooklyn on their own. Race and class intersect in this story of despair and survival.

Review: In many ways, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is a classic tale. With the title almost sounding Shakespearean, it’s a story of childhood friends navigating the residuals of adult mistakes, forcing them to grow up at a rapid pace. Set in the projects of Brooklyn, screenwriter Michael Starrbury crafted a nuanced story with the highest of highs, the deepest of lows and enough complexities to provoke thought. For many viewers, the film might feel consistently macabre because there is no Hollywood ending.  Nonetheless, there is a bold joy in the George Tillman Jr.-directed film, which can be credited to Mister and Pete, played wonderfully by Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon. Their childlike innocence but adult sensitivities gave the flick an undeniable heart.

Jennifer Hudson stars as Mister’s drug-addicted mother Gloria. Next to Effie White in Dreamgirls, the performance is her best to date. There are also appearances from an unrecognizable Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Mackie and Jordin Sparks — all adding their high-profile chops to the indie flick. That said, the film is not perfect. In many scenes the storyline gets lost in its own poetry. But the direction of George Tillman Jr. and the writing of Michael Starrbury make for a solid cinematic team. In addition, the thoughtful score from Alicia Keys accentuates the  kids quirky and admirable ways to survive.  Mister and Pete see a light, no matter how dim, knowing there is something on the other side of their dire circumstances, which is a reality that resonates with many youths.

Side note: A variety of critics have sounded off on the film, but it’s important to note the version being released today is edited, shorter and includes a different ending than what was seen at Sundance.

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is on DVD now.

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Ten Best Movies of 2013

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 12:00 am.

(Photos: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures; The Weinstein Company)

Some say 2013 was a great year for Black film — but every year there are several stellar African-American films that hit the big screen.  However, this year, these films were easier to find and didn’t require endless searching at your local indie theater.  Regardless of race or ethnicity , check out my fifth annual list for the best films of 2013, which covered HIV/AIDS, slavery, police brutality, civil rights icons, zombies, animal cruelty and more.

10. The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete (2013)

(Photo: State Street Pictures)

There is a bold joy in the film, which can be credited to Mister and Pete, played wonderfully by Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon. Their childlike innocence but adult sensitivities gave the flick an undeniable heart.

9. Fruitvale Station (2013)

(Photo: The Weinstein Company)

Raw, real and memorable.

8. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

(Photo: The Weinstein Company)

A phenomenal continuation of the director’s visionary eye for storytelling, imagery and reality.

7. Blackfish (2013)

(Photo: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Blackfish proves in our pseudo-reality, entertainment-hungry world that the art of documenting is not lost. Docs can still create change — and for SeaWorld, the perception of the theme park is forever changed.

6. World War Z (2013)

(Photo: Plan B Entertainment)

Zombies in Philly, zombies in Jerusalem — even zombies in the projects of Newark! Innovative and terrifying — World War Z is arguably the best zombie film since 1968’s Night of the Living Dead.

5. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

(Photo: Focus Features)

The film shows homophobia, racism and sexism indirectly affects all of us — even when you believe you’re not one of ‘those people.’ You never know the circumstances in life that might make you one of ‘them.’ One of the best films of the year.

4. Call Me Kuchu (2013)

(Photo: Cinedigm)

Simultaneously difficult to watch and a must-see.

3. Free Angela & All Political Prisoners (2013)

(Photo: Overbrook Entertainment)

After watching Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, audiences will walk away rejuvenated, thankful and, surprisingly, even more proud to be an American.

2. 20 Feet From Stardom (2013)

(Photo: Gil Friesen Productions)

(Photo: Gil Friesen Productions)

2. 20 Feet From Stardom (2013)
The unforgettable 20 Feet From Stardom highlights the stories of gifted people praying their time is going to come, which transcends music. Isn’t that what most of us hope for?

1. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

(Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/FOX Searchlight)

Equally grisly and beautiful, 12 Years is the reason why films are made. A movie you must-see, no matter how gory or violent. Steve McQueen strangles the psychosis of racism, forcing the viewer to witness ugliness with no escape. A modern day masterpiece.

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Movie Review: “20 Feet From Stardom”

Published by Clay Cane on Monday, December 30, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

(Photo: Gil Friesen Productions)

(Photo: Gil Friesen Productions)

In 2013, we think every story has been told. But with enough digging, there are still some gems left and who knew that 20 Feet From Stardom, about the history of unsung Black background singers, would be one of the best documentaries of the year. Directed by Morgan Neville, the movie is a must-see for lovers of music, but it’s not just another music doc. This is a film that captures the lengths you will go to make wildest dreams come true.

The heart of the film is the legendary Darlene Love. The church singer changed the trajectory of background singers and, in many ways, the sound of contemporary music with her gospel voice adding soul to pop.  She sang background for Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, Elvis Presley, Cher and countless others. Whether or not we know it, it’s the infectious hooks sung by background singers that make a hit song. From Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” — the background singers put in tons of work and don’t get much of the credit.

All of the singers featured in the doc were just “twenty feet from stardom.” Most of them wanted a solo career and clearly possessed the talent, but the viciousness of the music industry overpowered them. 20 Feet From Stardom wonderfully peels back the layers of fame with candid interviews from Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger and more. How much do you want the fame?  What price will you pay?  Are you willing to give up everything even if your name in lights never happens?

One of the best moments in the film is Lisa Fischer’s story. Best known for her 1991 hit song “How Can I Ease the Pain,” Lisa landed a record deal, got a hit single and even won a Grammy, but she walked away from being a solo artist. Her reason is amazing to hear in our fame-hungry world of today: She didn’t want to be famous.

20 Feet From Stardom is a must-see for anyone who wants to be in the music industry. The history of music from the days of early R&B in the 1950s to the eventual annihilation of background singers in the 1990s to today’s background singers like Judith Hill is woven together like a perfect melody. Plus, rare footage that includes Ray Charles, Luther Vandross, Tina Turner and more.  The unforgettable 20 Feet From Stardom highlights the stories of gifted people praying their time is going to come, which transcends music. Isn’t that what most of us hope for?  In many ways, we all start in the background.  It’s the drive and ambition that craves the center stage — whatever the “stage” is in your life.

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Movie Review: ‘Blackfish’

Published by Clay Cane on Monday, December 30, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

(Photo: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

When I was a kid, I always gave SeaWorld commercials the side-eye. There was something unnatural about whales popping, dipping and spinning like they were in the club. This year’s Blackfish confirmed what many thought all along — humans and whales were being exploited for profit at the legendary theme park. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Blackfish exposes the horrors “killer whales” endured as property of SeaWorld. In addition, the tragic stories of the trainers who were injured or killed due to the lack of safety precautions.

The documentary delivers the gruesome details of killer whales, also known as Orcas, in captivity.  The wild animals suffered abuse, starvation, disfigurement and eventual death. Even if you are not an animal rights’ advocate, it’s hard to not be moved by Blackfish. Cowperthwaite’s telling of the story is sharp, educational and compelling.  The use of interviews and archival footage presents hard-to-deny evidence of SeaWorld’s alleged misconduct, which resulted in several lawsuits against the company and, most recently, SeaWorld suing the creators of Blackfish. In a long statement,  a rep from SeaWorld stated, “SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue. The millions of people who visit our parks each year make possible SeaWorld’s world-renowned work in rescue, rehabilitation and release … We have rescued more than 23,000 animals with the goal of treating and returning them to the wild.”

Blackfish’s argument is that killer whales should remain in the wild, not a theme park. Furthermore, the documentary turns the mirrors on us as the consumers and asks: Is entertainment more important than safety and compassion? Considering the controversy and response from the public (many musicians have vowed to never perform at SeaWorld again), Blackfish proves in our pseudo-reality, entertainment-hungry world that the art of documenting is not lost. Documentary films can still create change — and for SeaWorld, the perception of theme park is forever changed.

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Movie Review: “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

(Photo: StudioCanal)

After yawning through one hour and 45 minutes of the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, I considered not writing a review. Writing a review requires me to invest more precious seconds in this dull, folk musical. Yes, the film will rack up awards and critics will love it, but Inside Llewyn Davis is more about the pretentiousness of filmmaking and less about its audience.

In case you didn’t know, the Coen brothers are darlings every awards season. No one can deny their talent, therefore, it should be no shock that their latest flick is nearly universally praised by critics. But regardless of the accolades, I have to be honest — just imagine I’m strumming a guitar, it might be easier to read: Inside Llewyn Davis earned the distinct honor of being the most overrated film of the year — consider the snooze-fest The Artist of 2013.

The comedy-drama was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who have mastered artsy, highfalutin filmmaking. The star of the film is Oscar Isaac, who portrays Llewyn Davis, a struggling singer-songwriter in 1961 New York City. Going “inside” his world, the movie takes us on a week in the life of Davis. He sleeps from couch to couch, loses a cat, tries to land a record deal, argues with his bitter, pregnant lover and plays guitar at random bars in Greenwich Village. Decorated with grey cinematography that appeared to be polished with ash, the moody film is a cinematic tranquilizer.

Inside Llewyn Davis is not a poorly made film. But no matter how much one tries to intellectualize, dramatize or emotionalize Inside Llewyn Davis — the film lacks entertainment value. Yes, the acting is good, there are a few well-written folky ditties performed by Isaac, Justin Timberlake plays a small role, John Goodman is perfect as always, but the flick is inaccessible. Inside Llewyn Davis will be another overhyped, award-winning film that the average moviegoer will never see or hear about beyond 2013.

Inside Llewyn Davis is playing in select cities now.

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Movie Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Published by Clay Cane on Monday, November 25, 2013 at 12:36 pm.

(Photo: Focus Features)

Summary: Matthew McConaughey portrays Ron Woodroof, a homophobic drug addict who was diagnosed with HIV in 1985. Desperate to live but struggling with his own prejudices, Ron finds his unique resources for survival, community and support in the unexpected.

Review: “Based on a true story” is the key phrase when watching Dallas Buyer’s Club.  Yes, some key-facts are missing from the story — such as the legendary HIV/AIDS activists who were presented in last year’s How to Survive a Plague. Nonetheless, the film is riveting without being steeped in politics, skillfully showing the soul of one person who was affected by a disease that was thought to be a death sentence — proving from the start that HIV/AIDS was never a “gay man’s disease.” The major theme: A straight man from Texas is shocked when he is diagnosed with HIV and experiences homophobia, forced to confront his own insecurities. The turning of tables plot-line is nothing new, but director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack created on screen magic, which was undeniably powerful.

Matthew McConaughey gave the performance of his career as a man who only learns to value his life when he is faced with death.  Doctor’s ignore him, friends abandon him and his community exiles him.  McConaughey’s physical transformation is noteworthy but it’s the spiritual reinvention that makes the actor award worthy. However, if you ignore McConaughey’s littering of romantic comedies in his resume, this is an actor who has consistently proved he is more than a shirtless man running around on TMZ — especially when you see his performance in last year’s The Paperboy.

Jared Leto transforms himself into a transgender woman named Rayon, who creates an unlikely bond with Ron. Sure, audiences always praise someone’s acting when a heterosexual actor plays gay or trans (although I would love to see a transgender actor play a role that isn’t trans or an openly gay actor play a character that isn’t gay), but Leto’s performance is less about the exterior. His subtleties is what made Rayon likable and tortured, beautiful but sickly, intelligent and addicted.

Dallas Buyers Club is easily one of the best films of the year.  Most importantly, the film shows homophobia, racism and sexism indirectly affects all of us — even when you believe you’re not one of “those people.”  You never know the circumstances in life that might make you one of “them.”

Dallas Buyers Club is in theaters now.

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Movie Review: “12 Years a Slave”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm.

(Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/FOX Searchlight)

Summary: The true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped in 1841 and endured twelve years of slavery on plantations in New Orleans.

Review: 12 Years a Slave is the most difficult review I’ve written. I am still recovering from the two-hour and thirteen-minute epic — the brutality, gore and piercing screams are bouncing around in my mind a day later. The sobbing in the theater can only be compared to a funeral. 12 Years a Slave goes beyond film making — director Steve McQueen was a man possessed to tell the story of Solomon Northup. He held nothing back and every time you thought “It’s too much” you remember: This was a true story. No matter how extreme the violence, nothing could fully capture the ghastly horror of living as a slave. 12 Years is the closest we’ll get to slavery and I couldn’t handle being any closer. Welcome to American history…

The London-born director created a timeless film that will go down in history (or at least it should) as the seminal representation of the antebellum South. Based on the 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave, the impeccable script was written by John Ridley, who wove together a complex tale of not only slavery, but the fearless fight for one’s soul. The film will sweep the Academy Awards and Golden Globes — and if the movie doesn’t due to those awkward Hollywood politics, it doesn’t matter. The Fox Searchlight film is more than potential awards and praise from the elite. 12 Years a Slave is a modern day masterpiece.

We begin with Solomon Northup as a free man in 1841 New York with his wife and two children. After being drugged and kidnapped, Northup is sold and “broken” into slavery — broken is an understatement.  Moved to several plantations, Northup never accepts the hopeless finality of being a slave. All he knew was freedom, he never knew slavery. McQueen drags viewers through the most gruesome and terrifying depiction of slavery Hollywood has ever seen. 12 Years makes Django and Amistad seem like Disney. Maybe it’s McQueen’s perspective… finally there is a Black director (with roots in the Caribbean) telling a story of the antebellum South — it’s about damn time.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup is the best performance by an actor that I have seen in my lifetime. Ejiofor went deeper than just acting; it was as if the spirit of Northup jumped into his bones. There was the deepest of sadness in his eyes as he breathed a unique life into slavery, which is too often deadpan, mocked or watered down on the big screen. Ejiofor brought the soul of slavery alive like no other actor before him. He gave a once in a lifetime performance that stands right next to Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field and Marlon Brando in The Godfather.

Another notable performance was from newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who is originally from Kenya, as Patsey. She was terrorized with sexual and physical abuse by the master and head mistress, her character merging the grim reality of being not only Black — but a woman on a plantation. A 10-minute scene, shot with a single camera circling around her weak body tied to a whipping post is unbearable. Blood splashes from the whip with Nyong’o’s screaming in never-before-seen terror and pain. It was reported some audiences walked out of the film during this emotional moment, but this is the scene people need to see — the disgusting stain of barbaric racism is as American as apple pie.

Michael Fassbender as an insane plantation owner appeared to be in a manic trance. Viewers can expect nothing but excellence from the Golden Globe nominee, but the film is not the master’s story — thankfully, it is Solomon’s. Other notable appearances included Brad Pitt, Michael K. Williams, Quvenzhané Wallis, Adepero Oduye and the always-flawless Alfre Woodard.

The visionary Steve McQueen clearly had a goal with 12 Years a Slave — to finally show the relentless, unforgiving reality of the antebellum South and immortalize the life of Solomon Northup. Equally grisly and beautiful, 12 Years a Slave is the reason why films are made. A movie you must-see, no matter how gory or violent — this is American history. Murder, rape, suicide, the auction block and the emptying of the human soul is how African-Americans lived for hundreds of years in the “land of the free.” McQueen strangles the psychosis of racism, forcing the viewer to witness ugliness with no filter nor escape. As brutal and heartbreaking as the film is to watch — can you imagine living it?

12 Years a Slave opens in select cities October 18.

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Movie Review: “Winnie”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, September 6, 2013 at 7:00 am.

(Photo: Ironwood Films)

Summary: A biopic on Winnie Mandela, who was known as “Mother of the Nation” during apartheid-era South Africa and was eventually labeled a corrupt political figure who condoned the murder of a child. Starring Jennifer Hudson, the film tackles forty years of Winnie’s life, including her marriage to Nelson Mandela, who is portrayed by Terrence Howard.

Review: After over two years, Winnie finally opens in select theaters today. The flick originally made its rounds at film festivals, first debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011. But critics have been rough on the Darrell Roodt-directed film, which is currently distributed by Image Entertainment. Maybe it’s because Winnie Mandela herself is such a polarizing figure, or perhaps people are skeptical of another film about the Mandelas. In addition, Winnie Mandela blasted the movie, which is an adaptation of Anne Marie du Preez Bezrob’s biography Winnie Mandela: A Life. Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife said: “I think that it is a total disrespect to come to South Africa, make a movie about my struggle and call that movie some translation of a romantic life of Winnie Mandela.” There was also discussion about the casting of Jennifer Hudson, with many questioning why a South African actress wasn’t chosen to play a South African legend.

Putting the controversies aside and solely focusing on the movie, Winnie is no masterpiece, but not nearly as bad as the early reviews. Critics argued the movie glamorized Winnie Mandela’s life and glossed over her involvement in the horrific murder of 14-year old ANC activist Stompie Moekets. Plus, the controversial Mandela United Football Club — Winnie Mandela’s violent security team. Winnie tackled these issues without demanding the audience to sympathize or hate her, the viewer is left to make their own decision. Similar to The Iron Lady, the biopic on Margaret Thatcher (a perfect example of glamorizing a woman who was not a champion for equal rights or fair pay), Winnie attempts to morph her into a feminist icon, which she is not. But there is enough balance, which biopics usually lack.

That said, Winnie suffers from an awkward script, plagued with trite biopic scenarios (she comes from poverty, meets the love of her life, becomes a star and loses everything by the film’s end). But when director Darrell Roodt avoids the clichés and touches on the complexities of Winnie, who was once revered, the film finds its lane — at least for a few frames.

Jennifer Hudson becoming Winnie Mandela was a huge task for the Oscar winner. She clearly gave her all but the role consumed her, which could be more a fault of the storyline. Yes, Hudson struggled with the accent, but more importantly, she never seemed to fully capture the essence of Winnie Mandela. There is an important transition of Winnie as an angelic figure to one of the most hated people in the nation — this is never fleshed out. One scene she is perfect, the next scene she is evil. Some finessing of the story might have resulted in a much better performance. Hudson was by no means awful, but she didn’t own the nuanced ferocity needed for Winnie Mandela. In addition, many raised an eyebrow at Terrence Howard as Nelson Mandela, but the Oscar nominee was surprisingly effective. His accent, demeanor and chemistry with Hudson as Winnie made you forget the slick, villainous characters he’s mastered over the years.

Winnie suffered many hiccups and historians will not be satisfied. The story wasn’t told as powerfully as it could have been, but one cannot deny the importance of Winnie Mandela’s tribulations and contributions to South Africa, which the film appropriately highlights.

Winnie opens in select cities today.

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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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