Friday, 31 July 2015

The Movies Of Eve Arden

All movies starring Eve Arden and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Eternally Yours (1939)

Manpower (1941)

Cover Girl (1944)

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Anatomy Of A Murder (1959)

Grease (1978)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Monday, 27 July 2015

Movie Review: The Butler (2013)

The story of a black butler who served at the White House under numerous administrations, The Butler is a mildly enjoyable drama centred on the history of the black civil rights movement as experienced from a unique vantage point.

On a Georgia cotton plantation in the 1920s, Cecil Gaines is a young boy helping his parents in the fields when his mother is raped and his father is killed by the farm's owner (Alex Pettyfer). The plantation's matriarch (Vanessa Redgrave) takes pity on Cecil and converts him to a house servant. As a teenager, Cecil leaves his origins behind and makes his way north, stumbling into a job at a modest hotel and eventually securing a position at the fancy Excelsior Hotel in Washington DC. By the late 1950s Cecil (Forest Whitaker) is offered the coveted position of White House butler, with Eisenhower (Robin Williams) and his Vice President Nixon (John Cusack) in office.

Cecil marries Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and they start a family, although his long hours at work take a toll on their marriage. Their son Louis (David Oyelowo) grows into an idealistic young man seeking to translate theoretical black rights into actual societal change in the South. Much to Cecil's consternation, Louis becomes an activist who lands in jail with alarming regularity, and eventually joins Dr. Martin Luther King's circle. Meanwhile, Cecil observes the successive administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy (James Marsden), Johnson (Liev Schreiber), and Nixon grapple with the changing social landscape, as blacks slowly and painfully gain the rights to equal treatment.

Very loosely inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, who worked as a White House butler for 34 years, The Butler (also known as Lee Daniels' The Butler) is a staid recounting of the civil rights movements from the late 1950s to the election of Barack Obama as the first black President. Directed by Daniels, the film revisits familiar material from the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan eras (Carter and Ford are afterthoughts), as Cecil Gaines finds himself with an unlikely front row seat to more than 30 years of White House history.

The Butler suffers from being an observer of history rather than having any meaningful part in shaping it. Cecil Gaines actually instigates precious little over the more than two hours of running time. History happens around him, and he catches snippets of it. While the focus on the civil rights struggle provides an admirably concise summary of an essential slice of American history, the film never gains traction as a drama and does not generate any emotion momentum. All the screen time invested on Gaines' family life, including Gloria' frustration with her husband's long absences, her drinking problems, and her toying with the idea of an extra-marital affair with a neighbour (Terrence Howard) is quite mundane and more tedious than engaging.

Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong go looking for sources of tension, and find them more in the fully manufactured story of Louis Gaines. The activist son fighting at street level in the deep South for the meaningful fulfillment of black rights is carrying on his father's legacy, but of course Cecil only sees a headstrong young man potentially throwing away a hard-earned opportunity for a respectable life. Louis appears to show up at every major incident in black history, including Dr. Martin Luther King's motel room on the day he was killed. The estrangement between father and son takes over as the focal point of the film, but is too easily fabricated and just as conveniently resolved.

Forest Whitaker is fully committed in portraying Cecil from a young man carving out the early stages of his life to a stooped old grandfather witnessing the election of the first black US President. The performance is good, but is more concerned with studious aging rather than capturing any compelling dynamism. David Oyelowo provides the most watchable character, bringing a steely eyed intensity to the generation of black youth that pushed a dream into real change. The huge supporting cast includes Cuba Gooding, Jr. as another White House butler, while Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda bring Ronald and Nancy Reagan to the screen.

The Butler moves with elegance, and allows events to surround him while maintaining a watchful eye. The film offers as interesting a perspective as can be expected from the standpoint of the silent witness.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Movies Of Joaquin Phoenix

All movies starring Joaquin Phoenix and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Parenthood (1989)

Inventing The Abbotts (1997)

8mm (1999)

Gladiator (2000)

Walk The Line (2005)

The Master (2012)

Her (2013)

Inherent Vice (2014)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Movie Review: Grown Ups (2010)

A low-brow comedy slapped together with nominal effort, Grown Ups is almost condescending in its minimalist attitude and lack of talent application.

A group of five snotty 12 year old friends overachieve and win a school basketball championship. Thirty years later, their beloved coach dies, and they gather for his funeral along with their wives and kids. Lenny (Adam Sandler) is now a successful talent agent and is married to uppity fashion designer Roxanne (Salma Hayek). Eric (Kevin James) has been less successful in his career and is married to Sally (Maria Bello), who is still breastfeeding their four-year-old son. Kurt (Chris Rock) is a stay-at-home-dad, married to the pregnant Deanne (Maya Rudolph) and having to tolerate her loudmouth mother (Ebony Jo-Ann).

The group is rounded out by Higgy (David Spade), who never settled down and is still chasing women, and Rob (Rob Schneider), who always had a thing for older women and is now married to the much older Gloria (Joyce Van Patten). After spreading the coach's ashes, the group settles down for a countryside weekend of fun and adventure, and they learn a few truths and air out some issues related to the past and their relationships.

Purportedly directed by Dennis Dugan and co-written by Sandler, Grown Ups is as vacuous as it sounds. The project smells of a group of comedians gathering for a week of fun, ad-libbing most of the dialogue, cracking a few jokes, and wrapping the whole thing in the flimsiest of premises to pretend that this is a film worth releasing. Somehow the movie reportedly cost $80 million, while what's on the screen resembles a glorified family vacation video. More remarkably, Grown Ups grossed $270 million, testament to the dumb power of the lowest common denominator.

There is undoubted talent involved, and there are some laughs to be had, all of the really silly variety. But the lame pranks outnumber the good moments by a good two to one margin, and all the scenes involving Rock, Spade and Schneider are more awkward than funny. Sandler and James do better, and they are halfway believable as fathers doing their best to deal with middle-age issues. Steve Buscemi shows up late as a member of the local dimwits who challenge Lenny and his friends to a rematch of that famous grade school basketball final.

The ladies have way too much talent to be involved in this project. Hayek, Bello and Rudolph hide their embarrassment, deliver their punchlines with no conviction, and scurry off to cash their cheques.

Despite offering some laughs, Grown Ups is nothing if not juvenile.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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