Archive for the ‘Lee Daniels’ Category

The Grand Floridian Tale

The Paperboy

paperboy

Director: Lee Daniels

Starring: Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, David Oyelowo, Matthew McConaughey, Macy Gray, John Cusack, Scott Glenn, Ned Beatty

Before controversial director Lee Daniels become famous for his film about the American civil rights movement in The Butler, he tackled the big screen adaptation of American writer Pete Dexter’s 1995 novel The Paperboy about journalism, ethics and sultry desire in the humidity soaked state of Florida in the mid-sixties.

Matthew McConaughey’s conscious decision as an actor to shed his Rom-Com image and star in more controversial films is evident in this edgy thriller as he bravely  takes on the part of Ward Jansen, a hard-drinking Miami reporter who returns home to Moat County, Florida to investigate the gruesome death of the town Sheriff and the consequent arrest and incarceration of the chief suspect Hillary van Wetter, a rural swamp dwelling redneck, dangerously played by John Cusack.

Add to the explosive story of murder, lust and betrayal is Ward’s younger brother Jack Jansen the scantily clad swimmer played by Zac Efron and van Wetter’s supposed prison fiancé the trashy yet resourceful Charlotte Bless, in a surprisingly different turn by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) making The Paperboy an intoxicating mix of pulpy journalism, sacrifice, mystery and tragedy, all atmospherically played out in the sweltering summer of 1965 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Paperboy is not for sensitive viewers and contains some controversial scenes in this unusual yet absorbing thriller including a scene where Kidman’s character Bliss urinates on the writhing jellyfish stung torso of Jack on a Florida beach, in a sequence which even shocked hardened Cannes Film Festival audiences at its 2012 premiere.

There are other equally gruesome and lurid scenes in The Paperboy, but the acting is topnotch especially from Kidman and McConaughey, the latter was clearly preparing for his groundbreaking Oscar winning performance in the recent Dallas Buyers Club. Whilst the narrative of The Paperboy is crude, shocking and ultimately tragic, what would audiences expect from the controversial director of Precious?

Unlike the superbly written and hugely stylish novel by Pete Dexter, the only criticism of Lee Daniels film version is that the ending is slightly altered. For those audiences that thought McConnaughey did a sudden transformation for Dallas Buyers Club, then its best to watch his more shocking performance in The Paperboy to see his ongoing evolution as an actor.

With a groovy retro soundtrack and a fabulous sixties, almost sultry Southern ambiance inspired by the more violent films like Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning set in the same period, The Paperboy is a gritty and brilliant thriller of one man’s desperate attempt to uncover the truth at all costs despite the damage it causes to himself and those around him for the sake of journalistic integrity. For in The Paperboy the Story becomes paramount despite the terrible cost of human sacrifice.

Pop star Macy Gray and David Oyelowo (also seen in The Butler) as the smooth talking Yardley Acheson round off the cast of The Paperboy which shows that teen heartthrob Zac Efron (Charlie St Cloud, Hairspray) can really hold his own onscreen against Oscar winners Kidman and McConnaughey. This Grand Floridian tale is recommended viewing but not for those easily offended.

Taking off the White Gloves

The Butler

The butler

 

Director: Lee Daniels

Starring: Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Alex Pettyfer, James Marsden, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lenny Kravitz, Minka Kelly, Mariah Carey.

The Oscar nominated director of Precious, Lee Daniels assembles an all star cast in the elegant and brutal chronicle of the American Civil Rights Movement from the Georgia cotton picking days of 1926 to the historic election of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States in 2008.

With a screenplay by Danny Strong based on Wil Haygood’s article “A Butler Well Served by this ElectionThe Butler follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a loyal and trusted African American butler to seven American presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower (played by Robin Williams) in 1957 to Ronald Reagan (played by Alan Rickman) in 1986 at the White House and features a staggeringly Oscar worthy performance by Forest Whitaker, Oscar winner for the extraordinary film The Last King of Scotland, whose sturdy and nuanced performance makes this historical film a must see. Alongside Whitaker portrayal of Gaines, is another wonderful performance by Talk Show Queen Oprah Winfrey as his hard drinking wife Gloria Gaines who along with her husband has to live through the turbulent sixties and seventies watching helplessly as one son Louis Gaines brilliantly portrayed by David Oyelowo gets involved in the civil rights movement in the Deep South whilst their youngest son Charlie joins up to fight in Vietnam.

During the Butler’s time at the White House he serves a range of American Presidents from JFK (played by James Marsden) to Nixon during the Watergate scandal, from Lyndon B. Johnson (played by Liev Schreiber) during the Vietnam War through to Ronald Reagan and his vetoing of sanctions against Apartheid South Africa in the mid 1980’s.

Whilst Daniels film is a clear tribute to the huge impact made by the American civil rights movement, the viewer at times will feel like they are watching a History Channel documentary. Yet despite the racial politics, at the heart of The Butler is the equally tumultuous yet tender relationship between Cecil Gaines and his family. Gaines employed as a White House Butler cannot jeopardize his job employed in service at the iconic seat of American power where ironically there is no room for politics. He cannot participate himself in the increasingly active American civil rights movement of the sixties, whilst his son Louis gets politically involved as he attends Fisk University in Tennessee.

From Gandhi inspired sits ins at segregated restaurants in Alabama to Freedom Bus rides through Klu Klux Klan riddled Mississippi, Louis finds his own identity as a civil rights activist only stopping short of joining the increasingly militant Black Panther movement which plagued the Nixon Administration in the early 1970’s. Gloria Gaines, wonderfully played by Winfrey has to manage two sons, an absent husband and an increasingly reckless lifestyle whilst adjusting to the ever changing race relations in contemporary American society.

remains_of_the_day

The Butler takes off the white gloves in examining the contentious issue of America’s history of race relations. Director Daniels expertly splices scenes of a brutal attack by white students on members of the civil rights movement at a Tennessee diner with images of Cecil Gaines and his fellow butlers Carter Wilson played by Cuba Gooding Jr and James Holloway played by Lenny Kravitz laying an immaculate table for White House state dinners, reminiscent of Merchant Ivory’s superb period drama Remains of the Day about the crumbling of the British class system in the late 1930’s prior to the outbreak of World War II.

What really makes The Butler so utterly absorbing is Forest Whitaker’s powerful performance as Cecil Gaines who whilst in service humbly retains only one constant request of equal wages from his White House employers. The rest of the star studded cast including veteran actors Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End) and Jane Fonda (On Golden Pond) really only have very brief scenes. John Cusack stands out as a troubled hard drinking Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal in 1972.

For lovers of period dramas with an expansive historical context, The Butler is recommended viewing. Director Lee Daniels expertly manages a huge and contentious time span of American history along with an impressive ensemble cast while extracting superb performances by Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo, making The Butler like his previously provocative film Precious a firm Oscar favourite.  A highly recommended and masterful piece of cinema.

 

2009 Toronto Film Festival

2009 Toronto International Film Festival Winners

TIFF-2009

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes place every year in September in Toronto, Canada.

Films which premiere at Toronto are often nominated for Academy Awards the following year.

TIFF does not hand out individual prizes for Best Actor or Actress but focuses on amongst others the following awards:
People’s Choice Award & Best Canadian Feature Film

creation_ver3

Opening Night film: Creation directed by Jon Amiel starring Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jim Carter, Guy Henry

precious

People’s Choice Award:  Precious directed by Lee Daniels starring Monique, , Paula Patton, Mariah Carey & Lenny Kravitz

Cairo Time

Best Canadian Feature Film: Cairo Time directed by Ruba Nadda starring,

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Toronto_International_Film_Festival

 

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