My snarky reviews of Movies, TV series, Food and other happenings...
Lee Daniels' The Butler
Lee Daniels' latest effort, after the Oscar winning "Precious" and the not-seen in Singapore's "The Paperboy", is a history film disguised under an Oscar-baiting sheen. But like History, in whatever context, perspective is key, and here, we end up with a rather schizophrenic movie: a distinctively White voice in a Black-handed movie. Through all that mess, the one bright, Best Supporting Actress spark is Oprah Winfrey. She brought a strong intensity interlaced with a feminine fragility in the one character that had any consistency amid the two male leads who were painted in broad strokes and had broad, sweeping changes which were barely touched on by the narrative. Yes, Winfrey's character may not have any "character growth" or "development" but at least she was arresting at what and who Gloria Gaines was; Forest Whitaker is a terrific actor and he did his best with what was given to him. The biggest problem laid with Danny Strong's script. It covered such a wide time-span but majority of the show was focused on a particularly short period, and in that period, both Whitaker's and David Oyelowo's characters had no character development. They were essentially one-dimensional portrayals of two sides of a coin. They were clean, dry and factual. Then, towards the end, time sped up and wham! a moment of clarity, a life-changing experience, and we dealt with that for barely 15 minutes and are supposed to accept some drastic character change. This would have been great for another HBO-esque mini-series, but I guess Strong got bored of winning Emmys. Now, it just ended up as being another excuse for a movie to pile on as many famous names on its poster and marquees as possible. That being said, most of these big names did work, albeit in their small roles: Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Pettyfer, Robin Williams, James Marsden, Jane Fonda and Alan Rickman. The others not so much. The main supporting casts like Cuba Gooding Jr, Lenny Kravitz and Terence Howard were not terribly memorable (although Howard did give out a rather intense skeevy vibe). The soundtrack was melodramatic and suited the mood of the show, however, it was too blatantly obvious a tool to manipulate the audience's emotion, also a pity they did not get Mariah Carey (who was on in the first 5 minutes) to do a (Gospel) song for the show. Throughout the show, we get a rather factual depiction of the racial situation in US in the past, the one outstanding scene was an early-years demonstration/sit-in. Subsequently, though it became rather dry and cold. And since, as foresaid, there was barely any character development at that time, it did feel like watching a History film. The White voice comes from the feeling that no blame is ever laid on the whites. The film daftly waylaid assigning blame for the situations, and on top of it, goes out of the way to show the empathy of the Big White Man (aka POTUS). But being "politically correct" they had to throw Nixon into the mix and under the bus. Similarly, the movie also obviously skipped out on Malcom X, Bloody Sunday and Martin Luther King's speeches, instead we have Eisenhower's, JFK's and Reagen's TV moments. And throughout all that, we know this is a Lee Daniels' movie, so what is this black man trying to show? If this is not a movie about Racism, then is it a movie about a butler? If so, why do we not feel like we know this butler anymore in the end then in the beginning? If this show is about exploring a Father/Son dynamics, then why do I not care that they grew apart, or got back together? If this show is a Family drama set against a backdrop of the civil rights movement, then where is the drama? And why is the civil rights movement more front and centre than the Family? If this show is about America, what about America is it trying to highlight? It lost a great opportunity when the show's MLK said how the butlers are bringing about change in the country through not their subserviency but through subversion. Fruitvale Station was a more complex and more provoking study of racism in America.
Director/Writer Barry Jenkins' moving examination about one boy's tumultuous upbringing shaping his teenage years and moulding him into the man he becomes is both a deeply personal story about self-identity and also an heartachingly poetic narrative of love and romance.
Where "Fences" and Denzel Washington failed in their translation from stage to screen, Jenkins effectively transposed Tarbell Alvin McCraney's "In Midnight Black Boys Look Blue" to the silver screen and embraced all that cinema has to offer to give the story the necessary added depth, scope and cinematic magic.
However, all would have been for nought if not for the cast.
Jenkins struck jackpot with his casting of Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert as the film's protagonist in all three ages. Not only for their uncanny resemblance to each other, but also in the way their eyes and body talk. Similarly, the roles of his best friend were also exceptional. Perhaps only Rich…
A feel good, underdog triumphs, girl-power film, highlighting both a significant and unlooked scientific history during a period of known darkness and discrimination. Led by the superbly entertaining and funny trio of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, this story deserved to be told. However, despite all the hype, its execution was rather lightweight and the storytelling frou frou in nature. Director Theodore Melfi could not find the true heart of the story and although all three women are extraordinary in nature, without a true focus, all three stories felt under served.
Henson was great. Funny and heartfelt, showing us the great range that she has that made her a previous Oscar nominee and now a perennial Cookie/Emmy nominee. However, she was failed by the lack of characterisation and the simplicity in which her character was handled.
Spencer was also strong in her role. Although like Henson, her character was way too simplified.
A competent film from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine" that tried to juggle too much including gender politics, LGBTQ rights, themes of love vs ambition and of freedom to love with a love story and a love triangle, and unfortunately, in the end, underserved all of them to the point that the actual titular tennis match was the most exciting moment of the whole 121 minutes. In a similar vein, the supporting actors, including the scene-stealing Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming, and surprisingly nuanced Austin Stowell and Elisabeth Shue, were more interesting to watch than the leads: a miscast, albeit competent, Emma Stone (who had no chemistry with Andrea Riseborough) and a funny, but lightweight Steve Carrell. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris delivered a by-the-numbers story but may have bitten more than they could chew such that although the narrative moved forward, it moved erratically and without focus. Furthermore, with such a well known historical momen…