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Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’

A-III -- adults


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A compelling look at a hidden White House figure

A frequently heard slogan of the late 1960s held that “the personal is political.” Whatever its value as a rallying cry, that phrase certainly fits the affecting fact-based drama “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (Weinstein) in which the private and public realms collide.

Drawing on a 2008 Washington Post article by reporter Wil Haygood, director Daniels tells a fictionalized version of the life of former White House butler Eugene Allen (1919-2010). Allen’s screen character is named Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker.

Escaping the vicious racism of the early 20th-century Deep South – flashbacks to the Georgia cotton plantation where he was raised prove harrowing – Cecil makes his way to the relatively less oppressive surroundings of Washington. There he masters the art of providing elegant service to the all-white patrons of an elite hotel, a skill that requires him to suppress not only his true feelings but his views on any controversial matter.

Cecil’s discretion wins him the favorable notice of a White House agent, and he secures a coveted place on the domestic staff of the executive mansion. As he proceeds to work, close at hand, with every president from Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), Cecil cherishes the cautious hope that, under their leadership, white Americans will eventually see the light on racial issues.

This patient, conservative stance, however, increasingly conflicts with the civil rights activism of Cecil’s older son Louis (David Oyelowo). And the long hours Cecil puts in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue leave his strong-willed but fragile wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) feeling neglected. Of the several appealing performances from which the movie benefits, Winfrey’s complex portrayal of Gloria is perhaps the most impressive. Earthy yet spiritual, a commanding matriarch yet a woman tempted both by the bottle and by a slick, seductive neighbor (Terrence Howard), Gloria follows an erratic course through life – one very much in contrast with her husband’s steady ways.

In addition to its subtle fictitious characterizations, the surprisingly nuanced view of the various real-life chief executives – an irretrievably self-absorbed Richard Nixon (John Cusack) excepted – also helps to keep the unfolding events from feeling like a chronological checklist of postwar history.

Vulgar language and other red-flag content would normally preclude recommending this movie for any audience but grown-ups. But the moral significance of this uplifting journey – undertaken within a context of implicit religious faith and strong marital commitment – is such that at least some parents may consider it acceptable for older teens.

The film contains occasional action violence, an adultery theme, numerous mature references, a half-dozen uses of profanity, a couple of rough terms and some crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service


A-I – general patronage


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High-flying family fun

Having conquered the world of “Cars,” Disney waves its anthropomorphic wand skyward in “Planes,” a delightful 3-D animated adventure.

From a clever, pun-filled script by Jeffrey M. Howard, “Planes” excels on two, well, planes. The animation dazzles with exhilarating air races over beautiful scenery, while the entertaining plot offers good lessons for kids about friendship and overcoming obstacles.

Dusty (voice of Dane Cook) is a spirited crop-duster who dreams of something better: a dazzling career as a high-flying racer. It’s a classic underdog story, with naysayers at every turn in the small town of Propwash Junction.

“I just hope to be better than what I was built for,” Dusty dreams.

He’s fast, despite being a single-prop plane, but Dusty has a potentially fatal flaw: He’s afraid of heights. That’s not normally a problem, as crop dusters fly low and slow.

Determined to succeed, he persuades Skipper Riley (voice of Stacy Keach), a crusty veteran of wartime air battles, to train him for the “Wings Around the Globe” race. His non-aircraft support team includes Chug (voice of Brad Garrett), an advice-dispensing fuel truck, and Dottie (voice of Teri Hatcher), a sassy forklift and whiz mechanic.

Dusty qualifies, and is pitted against the best planes in the world. The international cast includes Bulldog (voice of John Cleese), a stuffy British flyer; Rochelle (voice of Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a comely French-Canadian racer; El Chupacabra (voice of Carlos Alazraqui), a Mexican lover boy who only has eyes for Rochelle; and Ishani (voice of Priyanka Chopra), an exotic Indian flyer.

The racer to beat is fellow Yankee Ripslinger (voice of Roger Craig Smith), a devious Mustang who would rather crash and burn than be beaten by an upstart “farm boy.”

“Planes" zooms across the globe, from America to Europe, across the Himalayas, past China and over the Pacific to Mexico, rendering familiar sights along the way.

Adults will enjoy the many sight gags and puns. Fans follow the race on “FlewTube” using their “skyPads.” The much-maligned, cowlike tractors who were tipped over in “Cars” are elevated to sacred status in India and roam freely. The aircraft carrier that comes to Dusty’s rescue is the U.S.S. Dwight D. Flysenhower.

Aside from some action sequences – including stormy weather and a wartime flashback – which might cause turbulence for the youngest aviators in the audience, “Planes” is just the ticket for the entire family.

The film contains a few perilous situations. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By Joseph McAleer Catholic News Service 

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (October)

Across the Divide, A-II (no rating)
After Earth, A-III (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
Baggage Claim, A-III (PG-13)
Battle of the Year, A-III (PG-13)
The Bling Ring, O (R)
Blue Jasmine, L (PG-13)
Bully, A-III (PG-13)
Closed Circuit, A-III (R)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, A-II (PG)
The Conjuring, A-III (R)
The Croods, A-I (PG)
Despicable Me 2, A-I (PG)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
Don Jon, O (R)
Elysium, L (R)
The Family, O (R)
Fast & Furious 6, L (PG-13)
Frances Ha, L (R)
Getaway, A-III (PG-13)
The Grandmaster, A-III (PG-13)
The Great Gatsby, A-III (PG-13)
Grown Ups 2, A-III (PG-13)
The Hangover Part III, L (R)
The Heat, O (R)
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, L (PG-13)
Insidious: Chapter 2, A-III (PG-13)
The Internship, L (PG-13)
Jack the Giant Slayer, A-II (PG-13)
Jobs, A-III (PG-13)
Kick-Ass 2 O (R)
Killer Elite, A-III (R)
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler, A-III (PG-13)
The Lone Ranger, L (PG-13)
Man of Steel, A-III (PG-13)
Monsters University, A-I (G)
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, A-III (PG-13)
Much Ado About Nothing, A-III (PG-13)
One Direction: This Is Us, A-II (PG)
Pacific Rim, A-III (PG-13)
Paranoia, A-III (PG-13)
Peeples, O (PG-13)
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, A-III (PG)
Phantom, A-III (R)
The Place Beyond the Pines, L (R)
Planes, A-I (G)
Prisoners, L (R)
The Purge, O (R)
Quartet, A-III (PG-13)
RED 2, A-III (PG-13)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, A-III (R)
Restless Heart, A-II (no rating)
R.I.P.D., A-III (PG-13)
Riddick, O (R)
Rush, L (R)
Skyfall, A-III (PG-13)
The Smurfs 2, A-I (PG)
Something Borrowed, L (PG-13)
The Spectacular Now, L (R)
Turbo, A-I (PG)
2 Guns, L (R)
Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, A-III (PG-13)
Warm Bodies, A-III (PG-13)
The Way, Way Back, A-III (PG-13)
We’re the Millers, O (R)
White House Down, A-III (PG-13)
The Wolverine, A-III (PG-13)
The World's End, A-III (R)
You’re Next, O (R)
CNS classifications: A-I – general patronage; A-II – adults and adolescents; A-III –
adults; L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O – morally offensive.

MPAA ratings: G – general audiences. All ages admitted; PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17 – no one 17 and under admitted.