Movie Reviews: Captain Marvel

It’s the last stop in the MCU before Endgame‘s premiere and the end of an era: Captain Marvel. Yeah, I don’t know why they took so long to release their first female-led movie, but better late than never, especially as we’re inching closer to an end of an era for the franchise and some big names may be leaving for good. In any case, Captain Marvel’s introduction to the MCU won’t be easily forgotten with massive box office numbers on opening weekend and a compelling story to captivate audiences, despite the pissy fanboys who won’t just let us live.

Vers is a young member of the Kree’s Starforce to protect and maintain order in the empire. Without any memory of her life before Starforce, she constantly struggles to keep her emotions and powers in check. But her whole point-of-view will flip upside when she crashes on Earth during a mission and discovers she had a life there years ago as an Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers. Along the way, she teams up with a young Nick Fury to find out more of her old life, the true intentions behind space travel tests, what she’s fighting for, and what kind of hero she really wants to be.

This is one of the more low-key MCU films like Doctor Strange where it tells the story straight without forcing itself to be funny or throwing a lot of twists and turns. The 90s references alone are hysterical enough, especially with Carol using technology which is practically archaic to her. Although the plot is semi-predictable, there’s still enough character from this stellar cast to make it entertaining enough to tide you over until Endgame. I really wish they went more into the drama of Carol’s arc with her rediscovering her past and figuring out the life she thought she knew and the causes she fought for were a lie. The drama’s there, but I didn’t feel the same emotional impact compared to other films like Black Panther or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But again, what keeps it afloat is the cast.

Brie Larson is a knockout as Carol as she tried to be the perfect soldier for Starforce, but her human emotions always get in the way. She has a blunt way of getting shit done, but she isn’t a total stick in the mud. I love the quips and playful banter she develops with her partners and all the pain and joy she experiences in starting a new life away from the Kree empire. She still has to get used to the fact that Earth is completely unaware of alien life which is equally funny and fascinating. And no matter how many times she’s thrown down, she’ll get back up and keep on fighting. I really admire her tenacity, and while the “girl power” aspect is played up a bit in marketing, it’s surprisingly very subtle in the film. Most of Carol’s arc is just the general female experience of not letting bullshit weigh you down, whether it’s some rando catcalling you or your male coworkers doubting your ability. It’s wild to think that the feminism was so harshly judged weeks before when it’s one of the more downplayed elements.

Samuel L. Jackson, as usual, kills it as Nick Fury, this time as a younger, lower level agent before becoming director of SHIELD. It’s actually fun to see him play in a more prominent role instead of being relegated to the background for occasional wisdom or a deus ex machina when the plot calls for it; this is the most screentime he’s had since Winter Soldier, and I love seeing this more wide-eyed agent who’s about to be thrust into a whirlwind of insanity and intergalactic battles and realizing Earth needs to seriously catch up if humanity has any chance in standing up against the likes of the Kree. And the digital editing to make him look younger is damn impressive. I honestly thought it was all make-up! It’s pretty awesome to see this technology get better and blend so seamlessly with everything else.

The side characters are also fun and for the most part get just the perfect amount of screentime to develop their relationships with Carol. Jude Law is perfect as the tough mentor, Yon-Rogg, who cares in a typical Kree fashion. His soft voice and brutal force makes him quite a wild card as you almost want to trust him and think he knows what’s best for Carol, but it becomes more difficult as her forgotten past unravels. Lashanna Lynch is equal parts sweet and tough as nails as Maria Rambeau, Carol’s old Air Force friend. Much like Fury, she doesn’t feel relegated to a sidekick or background character, and there’s a lot of time devoted to rekindling her relationship with Carol, even if she can’t remember any of it. Ben Mendelsohn is a hell of a surprise as Talos, a Skrull leader, from who Carol has a lot to learn from. You can tell he’s really pushing to emote through all that make-up, but he thankfully has great dialogue to work with.

Some of the built up cameos, however, are more downplayed than I think they should be. I don’t watch Agents of SHIELD, so it was fun to see Clark Gregg in film again as Phil Coulson. But his role is very minimal with just hints of his partnership with Fury and their work to make the Avengers Initiative a reality. Even more disappointing was Lee Pace probably only having five minutes maximum of screentime as Ronan the Accuser. I was hoping maybe he would be a bigger baddie for Carol to fight, especially given his role in Guardians of the Galaxy. Maybe we’d see the seeds of evil which led him to work for Thanos. The hints of his arc are there, especially with Carol switching sides, but it doesn’t allow enough time to dive into his psyche, who is a shame since he’s one of the weaker MCU villains.

While I can’t get as super hyped for this movie as much as I feel I should, Captain Marvel is still passes as an entertaining action flick. It’s just the right amount of comedy, drama, action, and character to tide MCU fans until Endgame (to which, you DO NOT want to skip out on the end credits scenes; trust me). Given recent talks that Carol may lead in the next phase for MCU, I can’t wait to see them deliver more.


From Pantry to Hair: Avocado Oil

Since I got myself wrapped up in a movie review month, I was quiet on the haircare front for February. I stuck with a stable routine without much change, but no matter how well I tried making the curls last in between washes, they always ended up looking like sad, limp ramen noodles by day 2. With spring around the corner, it’s time to experiment again and keep up with my hair’s ever changing needs.

So one of my first shifts will be my oil treatment from sesame seed to avocado!

Me and my roommates occasionally order those “ugly produce” boxes for the sake of convenience in between work and school. One item which popped up often was this giant bottle of avocado oil. I think you can find this particular brand at any grocery store among the high-end natural food products, and the 750 mL size ranges from about $10-15 depending where you get it. Plus we usually have at least 4 bottles of cooking oil in the kitchen at any time, so I didn’t feel bad cracking this bad boy open to see if my hair would like it.

Avocado oil is considered one of the best to moisturize your hair and scalp with its richness in vitamin D, vitamin E and oleic acid, and it even alleviates problems with dandruff. Much like sesame seed oil, it works as both a penetrating or sealing oil; it can penetrate the hair shaft for a deep moisture or seal your overall look.

However, unlike sesame seed oil, avocado oil is much, much heavier. I usually use, at most, a tablespoon of sesame seed oil to coat my hair for an overnight treatment. I tried using that much on my first go with avocado oil which was a severe overestimation, even for just a tablespoon. After a while, the oil just weighed my hair down, and as an overnight treatment, most of the oil still sat on the surface and didn’t get through my ends.

During February, I slacked a bit on my routine, skipped overnight treatments, and put in oil the day of. I wasn’t gonna totally give up on avocado oil since it did a hell of an amazing job in detangling. Depending on what my hair’s like on wash day, it takes a little bit of effort to work the oil through the knots, but with enough patience, it melts through the tangles wonderfully. On my next tests, I just used about a teaspoon, sometimes less, which was just enough to detangle and saturate my ends while having just enough to massage in my scalp. Then, I’d leave it in for about 5-10 minutes before continuing with the rest of my routine as usual.

My results weren’t noticeably different, though to be fair, February was just a hell-ish month for my hair for multiple reasons. But avocado oil is one of the best items on hand for detangling my hair, especially for those times when I don’t have enough spoons for an overnight treatment. Grab yourself a bottle from your local grocery store and see how your hair likes it!

Movie Reviews: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Between intense action and melodrama, sometimes you need a more laid-back feel-good movie. Maybe it’s not totally ground-breaking or original, but it’s a sweet two hour escape from all the bad in the world where happy endings are possible. Perhaps a fantasy of what your high school or love life could’ve been.

It’s the best way to describe teen rom-coms and the subject of today’s review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s the endearing kind of cliche and corny with likable characters, a pleasant atmosphere, and some commentary here-and-there on opportunities and romance, especially at that age.

Lara Jean Covey always struggled dealing with intense crushes and preferred to relish in the fantasy than the nerve-wracking reality. Instead of taking the leap of fate and confessing, she’ll just write a letter to said crush and hide it away in a box in her room. After trying to clean her room one night, her letters are accidentally sent out to all her crushes, resulting in a few confronting her. But the one who really won’t leave her alone is Peter Kavinksy, who she kissed once in the 7th grade during a game of Spin the Bottle. Peter learns about the letters and her other crushes, and proposes that they fake date to make his ex-girlfriend and Lara Jean’s former best friend, Gen, jealous and hopefully win her back. Lara Jean agrees and goes from a wallflower to a social butterfly almost instantly at her high school, unsure how to handle the sudden attention. On top of which, the two start developing genuine romantic feelings for each other which makes things really complicated. Through the ups and downs of the beginning of her junior year, Lara Jean will have to figure out how to handle these new emotions, confront the past, and see where her heart will take her.

The overall style is a fantastic blend of John Hughes and Wes Anderson. It captures a realistic understanding on how teenagers act without too severe dramatization to keep the characters and their struggles in growing up identifiable. The cinematography is also well-polished with meticulously framed scenes to draw your eye to the action or establish atmosphere, and the production design loves its pastel and high-contrasting color palettes. It’s just a pretty world to look at with a low-key fantasy of a high school experience where everything worked out okay. You almost get lost in the simple day-to-day lives and Lara Jean’s steady growth to a social butterfly.

The film plays the familiar beats of your typical teen rom-com: the shy and sweet female protagonist, the jock she falls for, her quirky best friend, her quirkier family, the boy-next-door who also has complicated feelings, etc. As much as it is about a girl and a boy falling in love, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before also covers how romance and allowing yourself to be seen breaks down your walls to possibilities you didn’t even realize were right there all along. I love seeing Lara Jean re-evaluate what kind of person she is as her feelings for Peter become more real, she gains new friends in his circles, and she sees a side to them which surprises her initial perceptions. I love seeing Peter go from this cocky, sure-fire jock to a sweet, emotionally-attentive boyfriend who occasionally allows himself to be vulnerable. And the two have amazing chemistry and take the time to know each other as they begin fake-dating and realize they actually have romantic feelings for each other. It’s definitely cliche and corny, and you can figure the story beats from the get-go, but the two main leads carry through in a wholesome and endearing environment.

If I had to be a total nitpick, I wish there was a little more depth in characterization, particularly with Gen, Peter’s ex-girlfriend. There’s a lot of potential to explore her relationships with Peter and Lara Jean, how events like a 7th grade party shape growing up in through high school, and why teenagers hold such intense grudges for years for stuff which shouldn’t be a big deal in retrospect. The hints are there, but it doesn’t dive further than just making her the bitchy rival. I know this movie is based off a book trilogy, and sequels are already in the works, so I hope they’ll take the time to further explore character and how Peter and Lara Jean’s relationship changes through the rest of their time in high school.

But otherwise, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a solid and delightful teenage romantic comedy. It’s not trying to be complex or break new ground for the genre, but it has a sweet atmosphere, wonderful romantic chemistry, and some fun characters to give you the fuzzies. If you have a night in coming up, and you just want to relax with a story with a happy ending, let that be this movie.

Movie Reviews: Bumblebee

Of the December blockbusters and potential awards contenders, one of many which surprised audiences was Bumblebee, a prequel/reboot of the Transformers film series.

Before then, I had no particular interest in Transformers. I knew the cartoons were great and the Michael Bay films were… an experience, but it just never piqued my interest. I only saw the first Transformers film from 2006, but my memory of it is super choppy. Plus, I never saw the point in purposefully throwing money at a movie I knew was going to be bad, even all things considered for a mindless action film and 80s nostalgia. Any other knowledge I have of Transformers mainly comes from Lindsay Ellis’s video essays, and I was content to leave it at that.

But when I first saw the trailers, I was slowly drawn in. A smaller story in a big narrative? And it’s not directed by Michael Bay? And it has a crap ton of 80s throwbacks? You know what? Why the hell not? Seems like everyone else is enjoying it, and it’s never bad to take some time out to enjoy eye candy. And this film definitely has more than enough of that with some wonderful writing and acting.

With the Autobot resistance slipping against the Decepticons, the remaining fighters scatter across the galaxy to lay low, eventually regroup, and grow stronger. One of the Autobots, B-127, lands on Earth to set up a base, barely escaping with his life, a damaged memory and broken voice box. Just before blacking out, B-127 disguises himself as a Volkswagen Beetle and is eventually taken to a scrapyard.Meanwhile, we meet our other lead, Charlie, a rebellious teenage girl who’s trying to find peace with her father’s death and often spends time alone working on cars.

She comes across the yellow Beetle and takes it home to fix, but just as she’s about to get to work, it transforms into B-127, unable to speak or remember who he is. Upon realizing he’s harmless, Charlie names him Bumblebee and starts repairing him to hopefully jog his memory while showing him around town and hiding his true identity. Unfortunately, the Decepticons are still hot on Bumblebee’s tail, determined to lure the remaining Autobots and crush the rebellion once and for all with the help of the American army via good old-fashioned manipulation. All the while, Charlie does everything she can to protect her new friend as her world view becomes larger than life itself.

Bumblebee marks the first live action movie for director Travis Knight who gained a hell of a career animating and producing Laika films, including with his directorial debut, Kubo and the Two Strings. He brings a wonderful attention to detail to this film from the sweet friendship between Charlie and Bumblebee, an excellent selection of filming locations highlighting the California coast, and a ton of 80s throwbacks, particularly in the music. Sometimes the music doesn’t totally match the scene (i.e they play Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer,” an intensely emotional song, during a mundane scene), but I’m a sucker for 80s music, so I don’t totally mind.

And as a big tribute to all things 80s, the film parallels the plot to E.T. where Charlie has to constantly hide Bumblebee as they get in trouble and out of trouble, and they learn about each other’s worlds as outside forces threaten to separate them. While often predictable, the main leads still hold interest as Charlie learns to open up and move on from her father’s death and Bumblebee figures this world is worth protecting, even if he can’t remember why just yet. As mentioned before, Bumblebee doesn’t talk in this rendition, an aspect taken from Michael Bay’s films, and has to learn to communicate through music and radio. It’s an interesting trait to play with as Bumblebee adjusts to a life on Earth and learns about all the people in Charlie’s life, from her family to your stereotypical mean girls. These are when the visual imagery takes advantage to bring Bumblebee to life and suspend your disbelief; I don’t feel like I’m watching some hacked-up CGI, and I feel like he’s really there in the moment.

And as your typical Transformers movie goes, it delivers on a ton of great action from chase scenes to explosions. But they thankfully learned from Bay’s failures and didn’t just shove shit on the screen to fill up the frame. It’s just the right amount of explosions and fast-paced movement where you can still tell what’s going on, and it allows enough time to breathe in between the intense action and allow the characters and emotions to carry a scene through. It’s not on a grand, epic level of storytelling, but it doesn’t need to. It’s very much just an extended Saturday morning cartoon pilot but in live-action, which is what the Transformers movies should’ve been from the get-go. And it’s also just one small story in a much bigger narrative, wherever that may go in the future for the franchise.

Creating an objectively “good” Transformers movie is the lowest bar to achieve which took way too long to hit the mark. So it’s such a relief for many to get that movie with a perfect balance between action, heart, and character. To be honest, this is the movie which actually sparked a little intrigue in the Transformers franchise, and I wanna know more about these characters, the old TV shows, and anticipate what the future has to hold. If you weren’t that big of a fan, this may be the movie to change that.

Black Excellence at the Movies, Day 28: BlacKkKlansman

February is finally at its end, and I can’t think of a better way to finish up this month than reviewing Spike Lee’s first ever Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay, BlacKkKlansman. As you do with Lee’s brand of comedy-drama and the same producers behind Get Out, it’s another odd yet profound blend of anti-black racism’s equal parts absurdity and horror. But with today’s film being a semi-fictionalized biopic, the strange tonal dissonance makes you sit there with your mouth agape wondering how much of it was real. As promised from the marketing, it’s crazy, outrageous and incredible, perfectly delivering the right laughs and gut-punches.

Ron Stallworth was the first black police officer of the Colorado Springs Police Department in the 1970s. Young and ready to prove himself, he demands to take on undercover work, and after finding their number in the newspaper, he calls the Ku Klux Klan, posing as a white man and expressing interest in joining a new chapter growing in town. Ron’s boss and co-workers obviously thinks he’s crazy, but they let him take on the investigation anyway. Ron recruits help from his white Jewish coworker, Flip Zimmerman, to impersonate him when meeting the Klansmen in person, and the two become a hell of a duo infiltrating and exposing the Klan’s terrorist activity and hopefully driving them out for good.

It’s another “based on a true story” sort of biopic, which, of course, takes a ton of liberties in the actual historical facts. Some of the timeline of the events are muddled up, and the actual identity and background of Ron’s partner is still unknown since he never went public on his side of the story due to meeting the KKK in person. Lee also incorporates a lot of his stylistic cinematography, drama and comedy to make it work as a film, but those elements do more than enough to make up for the lacking historical facts. It’s just hard to not enjoy these characters, all the wild situations they get in, their self-discoveries, and what this all matter in the grand scheme of modern history, especially with that gut-punch of an ending. The blur between reality and fiction is wonderfully crafted as a buddy-cop comedy and homage to blaxploitation but thankfully doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence by giving false hope. I definitely won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen it, but the upside-down American flag you see in the poster? Big hint.

John David Washington is a great fit for the wide-eyed yet clever rookie like Ron Stallworth. He’s the guy who wants to make a big difference and isn’t scared to take risks. But he still has a lot of learning to do both as a cop and a black man as the two seemingly polarizing identities clash. Ron starts a romantic relationship with the president of a college black student union but never reveals his profession, because it would totally piss her off. You may have all the good intentions in the world, but cops still get a bad rap for a reason, and the heavy amount of racism in the profession can’t be ignored. Additionally, despite Ron’s potential, he’s still looked down upon by a few coworkers who are notoriously racist and use their jobs to take advantage of other black people. It almost feels like a continuation of the question on how to “do the right thing” when all options have some major downside, and thankfully, Lee is careful to not give too much of a pass to the police.

You also have Ron’s partner, Flip, played by Adam Driver, who’s confronted by antisemitism constantly when he starts infiltrating the KKK. At first, he acts like it’s no big deal, but over time, he gets frustrated by these men’s hatred and how much of his own heritage is repressed for whatever reason. The parallels between Flip and Ron’s experiences do well to help them form a mutual connection and make a plan to expose the KKK and stop them before they commit terrorist acts.

As crazy as the film gets sometimes, the comedy is a lot more subdued and dry than I expected. It doesn’t need to be loud to get its point across, and it just lets the characters go loose. Ron’s first phone call to the KKK is probably one of the most hysterical scenes I saw in recent years, complete with Flip slowly turning around in his chair while his new black coworker is making racist remarks and pretending to be a white man. Lee’s portrayal of the KKK reminds me a lot of how Mel Brooks portrayed Nazis; reducing them to their most absurd until they have no power. It’s nothing but white masculine fragility at its finest, and you can’t help but laugh at these pathetic men and their wives crying over Birth of a Nation. But Lee doesn’t forget that there’s still a genuine threat to letting such ideologies roam free without consequence, and as irrational as that mindset it, it’s still rooted in destructive violence which isn’t above murder or terrorism.

This movie got a ton of nominations and rewards for a reason, and all the great talent is worth receiving such praise. The complex dissonance between tone and character actions piece together a hilarious yet hard-hitting story the ever-shifting American race relations and how not too long ago something like this really happened and how we’ve only come so far from then. If you’re going through all the Oscar nominations from the past year, definitely don’t skip BlacKkKlansman.

And with that, Black Excellence at the Movies is done!

This drained a lot more energy out of me with all the recent stresses of my personal life, but these were nice reprieves in between my mad, mad world. I’m glad I decided to go above and beyond for this month to explore films which almost constantly fly under the radar for most mainstream audiences. I know there’s a lot out there I missed to get in for February, but black history doesn’t stop for one month, and I know I’ll continue exploring more films in the near future to see what I’m missing out!

Black Excellence at the Movies, Day 27: Straight Outta Compton

I just realized that I loaded on the biopics on the tail end of this month, but with such a great selection, I couldn’t help myself. And another one I had to get in was definitely Straight Outta Compton which shows the rise and fall of gangsta rap and the music group N.W.A. Musician biopics tend to be super formulaic, and everyone goes through similar broad strokes in their careers, regardless of background. But we almost never see a dive into hip hop artists or rappers, especially a group still so controversial that when the film released, theaters unnecessarily beefed up security. Hell, I still remember news headlines after opening weekend which reported no violence happened at the shows. But that just got me more interested to see what the fuss and preconceived notions were about.

In Compton, California in 1986, a group of young black men become great friends with a mutual love for hip hop music as an outlet for frustrations on crime, gang violence and police brutality they experience every day. Individually, we know them as Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren. But together, they formed the world-famous gangsta rap group, N.W.A. They quickly rose to fame with hit after hit, their own record label, and their fair share of controversy with explicit lyrics, particularly with the song “Fuck tha Police.” In a span of less than a decade, egos soon get the better of each other as the members pursue solo careers and diss each other in battle raps, some earning more controversy than they need. And with police brutality becoming a hot button issue in cases like the Rodney King beating, it soon becomes times for a massive re-evaluation on what their music means to them and the public.

This biopic is more interested in exploring the music industry and how it affects artists, both as their passion and as their job, and in turn, how their art affects the world. There’s still plenty of character to keep you fascinated, but the details of these men’s personal lives are kept to a bare minimum. Some may find this off-putting for omitting too much truth on these events and figures for the sake of Hollywood dramatization. Even I can’t deny the discomfort many take with Dr. Dre’s abusive history, and with him being one of the film’s producers, it’s obviously never addressed; it really begs the question how much bias leaked in to make the final product. While the film definitely skips out on certain details and people who helped make N.W.A possible, it makes up for it with the musical passion which brought new life in the hip hop/rap genre as an outlet for anger, whether against social injustice or against someone you hate without starting a physical fight.

I really enjoy seeing them work together on how to make their music stand out, singing what they want to sing, and expressing discontent with society when no one wanted to talk about it. I can’t help but feel a little heartbroken when they split up and almost lose sight on what made their music so great. And it’s fascinating to see moments where they totally didn’t think ahead on how certain songs would be perceived; they just wanted to make passionate music as an outlet for years worth of pent up anger. It’s also fun to see that tool as an outlet for anger become a tool for rebellion, especially with “Fuck tha Police” which even garnered negative reaction from the FBI.

While it helps to research more about these men before going in, Straight Outta Compton is a film about the power of music which influenced a whole generation of artists and showed its possibilities of affecting the public, for better or worse. From that standpoint, you get a lot of entertaining moments on the process, performances and explanations on what N.W.A wanted to do for the world as the underdogs. Maybe not the smash hit I was expecting, but it was still well-paced and fun enough to get a peek into these lives with some great music to go with.

Black Excellence at the Movies, Day 26: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Just when you think you’ve seen enough hard-hitting drama in one month, there’s always something else around the corner to throw you in for another curveball. Today’s film of that caliber goes to Lee Daniels’ The Butler, inspired by the life of Eugene Allen who served in the White House for over 3 decades, never missing a day of work.

We follow Cecil Gaines who worked serving others his whole life. After witnessing his father’s murder, Cecil was immediately taken in to be a house servant on a Southern plantation. There he learned to please others with great service while keeping his presence to a minimum and never challenging authority. Upon becoming an adult, Cecil left the South to pursue a better life away from the violence of segregation. He continued taking servant jobs in grand hotels until eventually getting a recommendation as a butler in the White House to serve the president of the United States. From then on, Cecil becomes witness to all the major shifts in Civil Rights from Eisenhower to Reagan where he sees some of the best and worst of politics and activism, and he has to re-evaluate his years of subservience.

The Butler is simultaneously a loose biopic and a general overview of Civil Rights throughout the 20th century. Some people compare the pacing of historical events to that of Forrest Gump where Cecil and his family are mainly bystanders, and they’re definitely right on that mark. The film doesn’t dive too much further into the historical details, but it thankfully doesn’t need to as a character driven story. Honestly, I got the feeling the historical events are left succinct on purpose to showcase an apolitical bystander mentality which is what we see with Cecil.

Cecil learned early on that questioning authority, especially as a black man, was a death sentence. This was further cemented as he became a house servant and moved his way up to a White House butler. He had to be content with this life if he was going to survive and provide for his family. You can’t really blame him for trying to stay out of politics when job security was so fragile for African-Americans. Who would want to give up that comfort after growing up with little to nothing?

However, Cecil’s apoliticalness doesn’t come without a price, especially with Civil Rights activists becoming more vocal and his eldest son, Louis, getting involved as well, creating a massive generational rift between the two. Cecil is also witness to many meetings where the president of the time is confronted with major dilemmas on what to do next with Civil Rights; some even look to Cecil for guidance, even though he’ll skirt away from the issue to keep everything business as usual. The film does well to carefully justify and criticize Cecil’s lack of political involvement. His severely traumatic childhood shaped how he handles the world, and what can you do to recover from everything he saw? But it also destroyed all hopes that things could improve for African-Americans to the point when change is a tangible possibility within everyone’s reach, he defensively retreats.

And I really enjoy watching Cecil’s mind shift as he’s more exposed to politics and he sees who actually gives a damn about change, and better yet, who can make it a reality. Forest Whitaker is absolutely perfect for this character arc with his poise, kindness, anger and depression to emulate Cecil’s shift from apolitical to political. I especially love his interactions with the supporting cast to further shape the character as history progresses. Oprah Winfrey as Cecil’s wife, Gloria, makes heavily dramatic changes from a depressed alcoholic to a grounded rock trying to keep her family together. David Oyelowo is wonderful as Louis to highlight the generational gaps in social activism where he wants his family more involved, but has to understand where they’re coming from if they want to re-patch their relationship.

But my favorite interactions are Cecil with any of the presidents, and they couldn’t have picked better actors for these parts; Robin Williams as Eisenhower, James Marsden as JFK, Liev Schreiber as LBJ, John Cusack as Nixon, and Alan Rickman as Reagan. Cecil’s perspective of these men and their families are a great highlight since he sees them in their truest colors and sometimes at their most vulnerable, but stays as the dutiful, unassuming butler. Cecil sees the best and worst the nation has to offer from men who want to do right for the people but don’t know how when they have to appease everyone and those who think they’re doing the right things, but are just looking out for themselves. This kind of vulnerable perspective is probably the most realistic insight we’ll get into these men’s heads when they’re not in front of cameras, and you see the weight of the country they have to carry on their shoulders.

As historical fiction goes, it takes liberties and skips on major details for drama, as you do. However, The Butler offers a fascinating perspective on American politics and the Civil Rights movement from someone who tried to stay out of it for as log as he could. It’s a painfully heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful exploration on apoliticalness and seeing potential for change despite what your circumstances growing up otherwise showed. It’s another top recommendation from yours truly.