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« Yes, No, Maybe So: "August: Osage County" | Main | Boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into weak adaptations of great books »

Yes, No, Maybe So: The Butler

abstew here with another edition of "Yes, No, Maybe So". Tonight's trailer of choice Lee Daniels's latest, The Butler. Oh, and please be gentle–it's my first time...

When last we caught up with the Oscar nominated director, he was dishing up a heapin' helpin of some southern fried, kitschy, camp in The Paperboy. I think people were a little surprised to see that the follow-up to the Oscar-winning Precious involved an Academy Award winning actress peeing on the star of the High School Musical movies. And, well, surprisingly the Academy didn't feel the need to shower that film with any gold of its own. So, just how will the decades-spanning Butler fair? Will it be more Precious (Oscar noms for all!) or more Paperboy (um, the Razzies are next door...) Let's take a look!


  • One word: OOOOOooooPPPPPPppppPPPRrrrAAAAaaaAAAAaaAaHHhhh!!! [more]
  • The one and only O is back in our lives (not that she ever really left). But I, like the rest of America, decided not to follow her over to the OWN network (no, I do NOT want to see a reality show about Shania Twain), so this is really our welcoming back. And what better way than acting in the Oscar baity role of the long suffering wife? Could this be the film to get her a second acting Oscar nom? I hope so. She is by far the best thing about this trailer. Quick someone more technically skilled than I–make a gif of Oprah slapping her son!
  • Wait, Vanessa Redgrave is in this? In all the media coverage about which actors were playing presidents and first ladies, how did this pass me by? She is acting royalty and a living legend. 
  • "We have no tolerance for politics at the White House" I was really surprised at how much comedy Daniels was able to infuse into Precious. This cheeky line at the beginning of the trailer gives me hope that humor is to be found amongst the drama.
  • Did I mention that slap?!?!
  • Okay, rather than write individually about every actor that gets their name displayed. Here's a run-down of the ones that excite me: Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan (oh.my.god. YES)! Alan Rickman as Reagan! Liev Schreiber as Johnson! David Oyelowo as the Freedom-Riding, Black Panthers-joining son! 


  • One thing you can say about The Paperboy is that it really had a distinct look. The story may have been whackadoo, but the cinematography and 60s look were great and consistent throughout the film. But, this film looks like...I don't want to see dull...but, dull. It looks like it could have been made by anyone. There seems to be no signature to it. After seeing two of his films, I'm still not sure I know who Lee Daniels is as a director.
  • And just judging from the trailer (which, you know, is what this post is about), it just screams too much like a prestige piece wanting to win Oscars. It also doesn't help that the first thing in the trailer is: The Weinstein Company. 
  • Who the hell is John Cusack supposed to be? Nixon? Really? We can do better than that I think...


  • (More names!) Robin Williams and Melissa Leo as the Eisenhowers, James Marsden (does he ever age?) as JFK, Lenny Kravitz as...a friend? But, the list goes on and on, which has me a little worried. With all these big name actors playing famous people, will it become too crowded? It seems that, unless the film is over 3 hours long (please, no) they'll all end up as cameos. And will the perception we have of each actor give us enough time to see them as the character? Or is it just gonna be: 'is that <insert famous name here>?' I mean, this is a film that also includes Mariah Carey and True Blood's Lafayette playing MLK and they didn't even make the trailer! And poor Alex Pettyfer is featured in the trailer, but doesn't even get a mention in the names.
  • I love a history lesson. But, are they also trying to cover too much of it for one movie? There's a southern backstory, Black history, all the presidents. Like the cast, it's a bit much. If all the important details are glossed over it'll be The Idiots Guide to American History?

  • I always forget that Forest Whitaker won an Oscar. And that's the thing with him as an actor, I've never been excited by his work. He's a classic character actor that works best in a supporting role. Will he be compelling enough to carry the story or will we wish we spent more time with one of the many other characters in the film? I would have loved to have seen Laurence Fishburn or Idris Elba here. Although, his character is not to be noticed and be able to keep secrets, so maybe it can work.

Despite some misgivings, I am still very much a YES.

What about the rest of you? Did Daniels lose you after Paperboy or do you think that film will be reevaluated? Is Oprah getting an Oscar? Speak your mind in the comments before you get an Oprah smackdown.


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Reader Comments (55)

I dont know to think of this trailer. Hate this melodramatic music. Oprah looks fierce, but"larger than life" Oprah as always. . Marsden looks convincing as JFK. I'll watch it for sure, though.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Oprah. The Slap. Oprah.
Melissa Leo
Lee Daniels who seems to be interesting even when he fails. So I am hoping for that.
The British actors will bring it. Jane Fonda in 80s period costuming!
Minka Kelly as Jacki Kennedy??? What ?

Mariah Carey, I was curious to see her in the trailer
I just realized I got this far without even thinking about Forest Whitaker, so I guess he is a maybe!

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrami (ramification)

I just realized Marsden is heavily featured in the trailer but his name is not. That's weird.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

i'm a no... looks to schmaltzy to feature any nasty doggy style sex. Thanks for nothing this time Daniels!

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

this looks... interesting. it almost could be one of the pictures nominated in that "naked gun" movie.

on the topic of trailers, the one for AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is out. I haven't read or seen the play, but is it feel good? if it isn't, the trailer is strange.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

On Cusack: We only hear ONE LINE, and, as Zack Snyder's Watchmen showed us, we can do a WHOLE LOT WORSE, as far as Nixon goes, than what Cusack might be giving us.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

As bad as the OSAGE trailer is, at least it hints that Meryl won't push as hard as we were all afraid that she would.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

I'm team trash. A little more Shadowboxer and The Paperboy than Precious, please.

"I was really surprised at how much comedy Daniels was able to infuse into Precious."

I saw no humor in Precious aside from just outright grotesqueness, then again I come from a family who were not only social workers but also were in welfare system during the Reagan 80s. Needless to say the movie offended me and I am whiter than a shade of pale. I just found the movie baffling and never cared for the original novel either because Sapphire seemed to not have the slightest idea about life in that socio-economic class either.

I can only really say that Liev Schreiber as LBJ is compelling casting. I always wanted Tommy Lee Jones to play LBJ mini-series/movie based on the Caro biographies but was always stumped on who could play him younger-ish circa his rise through Texas politics.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

The Color Purple shunning on Oscar night was completely unjustifiable.

Oprah's my pick for Supporting Actress '85 — but luckily for the world this didn't happen. Huston received her historical (3rd generation Oscar winner) welcome to Hollywood statuette — Oprah becomes a national brand — Kathy Bates is a Best Actress literally.

The Paperboy is Lee Daniels' best movie. The casting of Nicole Kidman has a lot to do with this but the movie certainly does not fall apart when she's away and that's a miracle.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I'm a tentative yes for many of the aforementioned reasons, and though I'm not an Oprah devotee per se, she really does own this trailer. The performance about which I'm most excited, however, is that of David Oyelowo.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

The Paperboy is a terrible film. This looks equally terrible.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMika

Lee really can convince any actor to do his movies, can't he? That list is cray...

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Thankfully the Razzie's were smart enough to not nominate THE PAPERBOY for anything. Because it's a great movie. Yes sir.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I'm SO confused by the "serious" tone of the trailer. They cast ALAN RICKMAN as Ronald Reagan and JOHN CUSACK as Nixon which forfeits your right to be taken seriously. I thought this movie was going to be flat-out entertaining like The Paperboy rather than prestige film/Oscar bait.

I'm still looking forward to it. The Paperboy was one of my favorite films last year considering pure entertainment value, plus, The Butler has a really great, eclectic cast.

and as someone who is not familiar with the source material, August Osage County looks terribly boring/purely built for awards whoring. What an awful trailer. Currently, I have no desire to see it.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

This shit looks like a Chappelle skit. I'm sorry, I can't take another "black people help white people, white people learn the plight of black people" movie, especially after that ugly, grotesque, maudlin, heavy-handed crap Precious

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

Lafayette is on the trailer. He's the one who asks: "what did you daddy do?"

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoaoVB

Shadowboxer? Shit
Precious Shit

Am I excited to see The Butler?

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

How can Oprah be believable as anyone but herself at this point?

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave


But that's why I liked it the most out of all of his movies. Daniels wanted to adapt Valley of the Dolls as a TV show. Could you imagine?

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Clarence Williams III. That is all.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

oh, they age in the trailer at the very end;

Harvey is behind this;

Oscars, here we come :)

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Looks very tv Movie of the Week, yes I would go along with dull, the only interesting things about the trailer for me was Oprah with or without the slap, and Redgrave

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe UK

I know The Paperboy was a bit of a jumbled mess but Nicole emerged with new found respect and kudos as fearless as they come,Bette D or the new millenium.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

Nicole Kidman has yet to make any kind of comeback. She is perceived as a good actress who makes horrible films. Box office poison.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeirdre

Derreck: On John Cusack: I (kind of) like that he's trying to do the Brechtian thing of "1/2 himself, 1/2 Nixon" as opposed to a full impression. If he could do a full impression right, it'd have SECURED a nomination and healed his career. If he failed at a full impression, though, it'd have DESTROYED his ailing career. Hopefully this will bounce him back to a strong 2013 and 2014. On Alan Rickman: Really? Alan Rickman isn't like the much more limited Cusack, though it might seem that way if all you've seen of him recently is Snape in Harry Potter or Bottle Shock.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I'm sorry but this looks hilariously bad.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

"Nicole Kidman has yet to make any kind of comeback. She is perceived as a good actress who makes horrible films. Box office poison."

Was she ever bankable? No. She made a share of commercial movies and then sometime after Eyes Wide Shut really showed herself off to confirm that To Die For was not some anomaly. I'm no Kidman stan but give credit where credit is due. She takes risk and goes through the motions of her characters.

And she got recently an Oscar nomination for Rabbit Hole (a good movie) and plenty of awards notice for The Paperboy that for a trashy movie is pretty impressive.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

You mean, this ISN'T a parody trailer?

This could very easily turn out to be a black Forrest Gump. Daniels's presence behind the camera gave me some hope that it might have some personality, but after seeing this and hearing that he called this his most "for hire" directing gig, I'm not too hopeful.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I'm probably in the minority but Precious made me dislike Lee Daniels but The Paperboy made me like him. But this looks like pure Oscar begging bullshit .. however I'm surprisingly curious about Oprah's performance. To me she's always been a ridiculous public figure who acts insane on a regular basis on TV but I will admit I'm curious to see how this performance works out for her.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Volvagia: It is just that neither of them share any resemblance to their counterparts and it strains credulity. Cusack looks way younger and from what the original promo pics have shown, Rickman is making some sort of face as Reagan. I can get behind some of the casting choices like Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan and James Marsden as JFK, but Rickman and Cusack seem like egregious errors. Rickman can probably pick up the slack but Cusack with Nixon? Nixon was *very* distinctive in looks and voice and i can't see Cusack fitting in that role.

Like the Paperboy and pretty much all of Daniels' films, the actors already have alot of things working against them (especially Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy) and it takes a skilled one to rise above them.

But it does seem like loads of fun to watch. I'm interested in how everyone involved is going to perform.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

and as a Nicole Kidman stan, i'm sure she does care about her box office performance like any actor but you can't say that she doesn't make interesting and totally non-safe choices. Its those choices which aren't box office friendly that makes her interesting. You'd never see Julia Roberts trash it up in The Paperboy or Sandra Bullock freezing it up in Stoker.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

do you think Oprah will go Leading or Supporting during the Awards Season?

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

I hope it turns out well. I quite liked "Shadowboxer" and "Precious: Based on the Novel PUSH by Sapphire" but I didn't care too much for "The Paperboy" (except for Nicole Kidman's performance and Zac Efron half-naked all the time). I kinda get the whole "Bobby" vibe with this film, especially with all the stars acting as famous people.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

Derreck: Okay. Let me ask this: Would you rather see a quick performance that, though not that accurate, you can take somewhat seriously or the Futurama cariacture version in live-action?

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

volvagia -- i dont think Cusack has any prayer or an oscar nom at any point in his career.

cal -- for serious? I really like his gusto. you cant say that he phones it in as a director. he might be a lunatic but at least his films have personality. but that said I think the Paperboy is grossly underappreciated already (it has incredible things happening in it even if it's quite messy) and I love Precious. so there's that.

denny -- right? it does play as parody of oscar bait.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternathanielr

Nat: I can always hope, as extraordinarily unlikely as it may be. As long as he's working in film, I can at least do that, can't I?

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Does Fox News know this is happening yet? Because watching them lose their shit over the Reagan material is going to be hilarious.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Seriously?? This trailer looks like a practical joke, no thanks.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

A YES for me. For gawd sakes, we need more movies about non-White American history. I'm looking forward to seeing Oprah and Forrest and David O. (not so much Cuba).

Also, I have a new mantra--Never, Ever, Judge a Movie by its Trailer. (Saw Gatsby today., and boy, is that trailer false advertising...I was pleasantly surprised by the film.)

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

OPRAH is giving me EVERYTHING in that trailer! Get your next Oscar nomination, please! There is only one Queen O, bitches!

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKenny


"Would you rather see a quick performance that, though not that accurate, you can take somewhat seriously or the Futurama cariacture version in live-action?"

Depends. I thought that this would've veered towards entertaining like the Paperboy rather than serious fare like Precious so his performance depends on the tone of the film. But with Cusack, i'm at least looking for the essence of Nixon. It doesn't have to be a complete transformation but if his look isn't even close to being right, like how it is in the trailer, i doubt the rest of the performance will be either.

I'm thinking more along the lines of Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. She only somewhat looked like Marilyn but the *essence* of the distinctive icon was there in her performance. I know Cusack's part won't nearly be a big as Williams' in "My Week with Marilyn" but that doesn't mean that more of an effort should be made. Anyways, he could be aces in the role. Who knows? It is just that right now, i don't have much faith.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

I hate his movies for different reasons.

Of course he has personality, but can personality save a movie when you have no idea what you're doing?

I found Precious very offensive too. It should be a very delicate movie but he clearly prefers sensationalism. The actors are not to blame, of course.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth


I disagree Williams had anything from Marilyn Monroe in her. No essence, not at all. She has no sense of humor, no sensuality, her intense sense of vulnerability that reads like cluelessness. She just poses as Marilyn and tries to look like her, but it is only surface.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Yes: the trailer doesn't look anything like W. That one and All about Steve must be among the worst bad trips moviewise, I've had in the last few years. Also, Jane Fonda.

No: as a non-American who hasn't grown with her mega-Tv-stardom, the name Oprah leaves me cold. And yes, sometimes it looks as if it was one of those Jimmy Kimmel parodies.

Maybe so: if there's any other movie coming at the same time looking a bit more interesting, I'll pass on this one.

After the comments, I watched the August Osage County trailer. I don't think it's that bad. It's just that it doesn't oversell it, I think. That said, It freaked me out what my adored Ewan McGregor has done to his teeth, he could light an entire room with them.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Yes: Jane Fonda, even in a small role (somebody find her that nomination role dammit!), Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, don't care that he's British and playing Reagan-he's Alan Rickman and is up to the challenge. James Marsden! Levi Schreiber as LBJ-interesting. My love of historical dramas.

No: John Cusack-When he broke through in The Sure Thing there was no one more goofily charming but he's managed to chip away at that steadily through the years until now he comes across as a slimy douchebag. Melissa Leo-I find her affected and irksome. The trailer looks like the film is going to be a highlights reel of greatest hits of each president's moments and the civil rights movement, too much scope and no focus with a cipher at its center.

Maybe so: Oprah-I like her and she's a decent actress but the trailer almost makes it seem like its her story or maybe we just saw her whole role leading back to the too much scope issue. Forest Whitaker-Again a fine actor but I agree a character actor best in an ensemble not the linchpin of that ensemble.

What this really reminded me of was the 70's TV miniseries Backstairs at the White House which was great but also was nine hours long and still didn't seem like it was trying to cover as much as this trailer.

I hated both Precious and The Paperboy but because of the cast and the subject matter I"ll hold my judgement until this comes out.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I honestly was only excited for this movie because Oprah is returning to acting and Lee Daniels (I am a big Precious fan). But this trailer looks SO bad :|. Yikes.

I'm still excited for Oprah, but if she's not in awards conversation (which I hope she will be, and I kinda think she will be), then I probably won't end up seeing it.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

"A YES for me. For gawd sakes, we need more movies about non-White American history."

But why a movie about a butler? I kept on hearing Lincoln naysayers annoyed about no inclusion of Frederick Douglass so why was there no movement to make a Frederick Douglass movie? I'd watch that life story in a second.

And frankly this movie lies in its trailer JFK suddenly 'inspired' to be active in Civil Rights by the WH butler's Freedom Rider son? I find that condescending and also a huge lie regarding JFK's ambivalence and often opportunistic point of view about Civil Rights. Unless this movie actually gives LBJ his due as the actual champion on this issue, I feel like Daniels will disappoint in giving a real gravitas-driven movie on a black experience. In which case, I will just have to wait and see about the reception for 12 Years a Slave.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

joel6: To chart roughly: Stand by Me to Map of the Human Heart: Goofily charming nice guy. Money for Nothing to Grace is Gone: Charming, but with occasional growing moments of amorality. War, Inc. to now: Total slimy monster, even though it doesn't suit him.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

CMG--Cheryl West's new play opened to great reviews. It's about Pullman Porters, and yes, they were hired help for the railroads, but their stories also demand to be told. I agree that a biopic of Frederick Douglass would be fascinating but sadly, unless Hollywood can count on the international dollars, this tale won't be produced by big studios.

FYI--Jesmyn Ward's National Book Award winning Salvage the Bones is supposedly in play for movie rights. Let's hope this one gets made.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I get a "Hitchcock" vibe from this for some reason. Big actors as famous people, some good moments, some viewers like the film, ultimately forgotten.

The other film that comes to mind is "Bobby."

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

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