The Butler is based on the real life story of Cecil Gaines, an African-American who served as a butler in the White House through eight administrations. Cecil, played by Forest Whitaker who always disappears into whatever role he’s inhabiting, here takes on the part of a man whose job is to please by not making his presence felt; as he’s told by one employer–the room “should feel empty” when you’re in it.

The Butler starts out with Cecil as a young boy in the 1920s working on a cotton plantation in the South. From the very beginning the story is set up to tug at your heart strings and what human being with a heart and mind wouldn’t be affected by the horrors of the brutal racism of the time. The film is emotionally affecting and will make you tear up but it’s hard to escape the feeling you’re watching a movie meant to do just that.

Despite this undercurrent of manipulation the life of Cecil Gaines is extraordinary and certainly worthy of a film. The changes that occurred in American society in general, and specifically in terms of civil rights during the more than 30 years Cecil worked in the White House, and his proximity to the seat of power and history give the film weight. Continue reading »

I first heard about The Hunger Games when I was looking for a book to buy my niece.  I ended up getting her Judy Blume books and eventually buying The Hunger Games for myself. I loved the book and quickly bought and read the next two in the series of dark and complicated young adult fiction

Like all fans, I was concerned when I heard the book about a future totalitarian United States split into 12 districts that every year must each send a boy and girl to fight to the death in a gladiator version of American Idol, would be made into a movie.

The Hunger Games movie is a necessarily stripped down version of the book. At two hours and twenty-two minutes it certainly couldn’t be considered short, yet I wanted more. What is captured on screen works. It’s what is left out that lessened the emotional impact of the film and makes reading the books a much deeper experience. The importance of Katniss’s relationship with her father, his death in a mine explosion and her mother’s subsequent breakdown is barely alluded to. Moviegoers who have not read the books will not get the deep connection between Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who is barely seen. The significance of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Katniss facing off each other in the games is not revealed until well into the film, which minimizes the tension between the two. A full scene with the prep team as they serve as an introduction for Katniss to the world of the capitol also would have added some texture. Continue reading »

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