Music Video of the Day: It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over (1991, dir by Jesse Dylan)


I love this song.  It’s simple but it’s profound and I think the video works for the exact same reason.  Sometimes, you don’t need to be flashy.  You don’t need to show off.  Sometimes, you just have to let the music do its thing.

Enjoy!

Music Video of the Day: Superlove by Avicii featuring Lenny Kravitz (2012, dir by Rich Ragsdale)


I like this video because it’s an unapologetic celebration of how music and dance can transform even the most mundane setting into something special.

Dance!  Enjoy!

Film Review: Lee Daniels’ The Butler (dir by Lee Daniels)


Dare I admit it?

When I saw Lee Daniels’ The Butler, I was not impressed.

Yes, the audience applauded as the end credits rolled.  And yes, I know that almost all of the mainstream critics have given it a good review.  I know that Sasha Stone has been hyping it as a surefire Oscar contender.  I know that, up until 12 Years A Slave introduced us all to an actress named Lupita Nyong’o, Oprah Winfrey was considered to be the front-runner for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

But it doesn’t matter.  The Butler did little for me.

I also realize that the film ended with a title card that announced that what I had just watched was dedicated to the American civil rights movement.  In many ways, that title card felt like emotional blackmail, implying that if you criticized The Butler than that meant you were also criticizing the brave, real life men and women who risked their lives to fight for equal rights.

However, when you put emotions and good intentions to the side, the fact of the matter is that Lee Daniels’ The Butler is not that good of a movie.  One need only compare The Butler to some of the other films that were released this year that dealt with the African-American experience — films like 12 Years A Slave and Fruitvale Station — to see just how safe and uninspiring The Butler truly is.

The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forrest Whitaker), the son sharecroppers (played by David Banner and Mariah Carey) in the deep south.  After Cecil’s father is murdered by plantation owner Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer), Cecil is raised and educated by the wealthy Annabeth Westdall (Vanessa Redgrave).  Eventually, the teenaged Cecil leaves the plantation and ends up working in a hotel where he’s educated in how to be a master servant by the elderly Maynard (Clarence Williams III, who brings a quiet dignity to his role).  Cecil eventually gets promoted to a hotel in Washington, D.C.  It’s there that he meets and marries Gloria (Oprah Winfrey).

In 1957, Cecil is hired to work at the White House.  Along with befriending two others butlers (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Lenny Kravitz), Cecil also gets the chance to observe history play out first hand.  Starting with Dwight Eisenhower (played by Robin Williams) and ending with Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman, giving a performance that is incredibly bad), Cecil watches as President after President deals with the civil rights movement.  Some presidents, like John F. Kennedy (James Marsden) are portrayed as being heroes while others, like Richard Nixon (John Cusack), are portrayed as being villains but all of them have the watchful eye of Cecil Gaines in common.

Meanwhile, at home, Gloria has a brief affair with Howard (played by Terrence Howard and really, you have to wonder what Cecil was thinking leaving his wife alone with anyone played by Terrence Howard) and Cecil’s oldest son, Louis (David Oyelowo), gets involved with the civil rights movement and grow increasingly estranged from his father.

The Butler actually starts out pretty well.  There’s a lengthy sequence where Louis and a group of students are trained on how to conduct a sit-in that’s extremely compelling to watch.  However, then John Cusack shows up wearing a big fake nose and the entire film starts to fall apart.

From a cinematic point of view, the film fails because it ultimately seems to be more dedicated to trotting out a parade of celebrity cameos to actually telling a compelling story.  As is his usual style, Lee Daniels directs with a heavy hand and, as a result, the film is full of emotionally-charged scenes that fail to resonate for longer than a handful of minutes.

My main issue with The Butler is that the film literally contains no surprises.  Nothing out of the ordinary happens and, at no point, is the audience actually challenged to consider the way they view history or race relations.  Whereas films like Fruitvale Station and 12 Years A Slave truly challenge our assumptions, The Butler encourages us to pat ourselves on the back for being so enlightened.  Every single frame of The Butler is specifically designed to fool us into thinking that we’re watching an important and challenging movie.

Because of a silly copyright lawsuit, the official title of The Butler is Lee Daniels’ The Butler.  However, that title is very appropriate because The Butler is definitely a Lee Daniels film.  Even if you didn’t know it beforehand, it would be easy to guess that the  same man who directed Precious and The Paperboy also directed The Butler.  As a director, Daniels specializes in making simplistic points in the most bombastic way possible.  The results are films, like The Butler, that are more concerned with manipulating an audience than challenging an audience.  When audiences applaud at the end of The Butler, they aren’t so much applauding the film as much as they are applauding themselves for having seen it.

Trailer: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Exclusive Teaser)


CatchingFire

The next installment in The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, looks to return later this year with a new director taking over the reins. Gary Ross began the series as director of the first film and the film enjoyed massive success and very positive reception from the critics-at-large. So, it was surprising news that Ross wouldn’t be returning to continue the series and instead Lionsgate replacing him with Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend).

This sequel brings back everyone who survived the first film and adds some new faces in the cast such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toby Jones, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is set for a November 22, 2013 release date.

Quick Review: The Hunger Games (dir. by Gary Ross)


The Hunger Games is something of an event film, which means that this may not be the only review for the movie. Especially since I haven’t seen Battle Royale, which many say The Hunger Games is very similar to, there’ll probably be a number of viewpoints to this movie.

Update: leon3duke has added his own in-depth review of The Hunger Games. Definitely worth reading.

I consider myself fortunate that I knew next to nothing about the movie adaptation to Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games” or the novel itself. When I purchased my ticket for a midnight showing, there were only about 10 people around, many of them wearing T-Shirts with the logo. However, when the movie house started asking for the tickets, that 10 turned into 30. By the time the movie started, the 30 became about 50 or so. Not exactly a packed spectacle for where I reside, but I know the ones in Manhattan were.

If any comparisons can be made, I guess it could be to 1987’s The Running Man, with maybe a dash of The Truman Show, but The Hunger Games stands on it’s own because it’s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, comes across as being in danger every step of the way. That’s enough to keep the audience enthralled. Arnold, not so much.

So, what are the Hunger Games? It’s overall a really great film with a strong female lead in Jennifer Lawrence.

In the future, the nation goes through a number of changes. Wars, famine and poverty ravage the land and eventually, a sense of peace is found. Panem, as the country is called, is divided into 12 Districts. Much like Joss Whedon’s Firefly, the land is broken between the rich who live in the Capitol and the Districts, which live off of a bartering system and are extremely poor. At one time, a 13th Division challenged the rule of the Capitol and had to be taken down. As punishment and to remind the other districts of how great the Capitol is, each District picks one boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in a last one to the death event known as the Hunger Games.

Lawrence (X-Men First Class, Winter’s Bone) easily carries the film as Katniss Everdeen, a resident of District 12, who is great at Archery and uses her skills to hunt for food for her family. When her sister, Prim (Willow Shields) is chosen as a Hunger Games Tribute, she volunteers to take her place. Leaving behind her mother, sister and best friend (Liam Helmsworth), Katniss is taken to the Capitol to participate. Joining her is another member of her District, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

Katniss and Peeta are then introduced to their team, lead by Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (a nearly unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks), and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Harrelson pretty much nails every scene he’s in, something I’ve noticed lately with a lot of his roles. I found it interesting as well to see Lawrence play opposite Lenny, considering she only recently acted alongside his daughter Zoe in X-Men: First Class last year. He actually does well with the time he has on-screen.

That there is the core of the film. Can Katniss survive The Hunger Games? There’s much more to that, but in originally writing this, I ended up explaining most of the film.

The movie does get bloody. It doesn’t try to make light of any of the situations the characters are in, but being a PG-13 film, it doesn’t turn into anything on the lines of a Saw film (which makes me wonder how that would have turned out).

Can I take the kids to this one? 

You can, yes, but note that even though this based on a story written for young audiences, it does have its share of blood and violence. Then again, considering that you can get the same kind of violence from video games these days, I’d say only the really young may be bothered. If there’s any problem regarding kids, it could be a patience factor. Kids expecting non stop action may get a little bored, but if they already read the book, they probably won’t have any problems with it at all and know what to expect. In terms of sexual situations, there aren’t any.

How long is the film? Am I going to yawn? 

The Hunger Games clocks in at about 142 minutes (2 hours and 22 minutes). The first half of the film needs to set up for the second half (The Games themselves), and while it doesn’t move slow, it takes it’s time in letting the audience know what the stakes are for them and to show the contrasts between the districts and the Capitol. Think of it like Batman Begins. Before we get to see Batman, we had to be able to see Bruce Wayne go through his training. There’s not action all the way through the movie, which actually works in it’s favor. The same kind of applies for The Hunger Games. If that made you yawn, then that first half of this film may have the same effect. I loved it, myself, because a lot of that information felt necessary to me, but what works for me may not work for everyone else.

Overall, The Hunger Games was definitely worth it, at least for an initial viewing. I hope that if they go with a sequel (given the success of this one, that’s pretty much guaranteed), they expand more on Panem and some of the events that brought things to where they are now.