Review Roundup: ‘Paranoia,’ ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler,’ ‘Kick-Ass 2,’ ‘Jobs,’ ‘The Spectacular Now’

paranoia

Paranoia

Studio-Provided Plot Synopsis: In this high-stakes thriller, Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) is a regular guy trying to get ahead in his entry-level job at Wyatt Corporation. But after one costly mistake, Adam’s ruthless CEO, Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman), forces him to spy on corporate rival, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford), Wyatt’s old mentor. Adam soon finds himself occupying the corner office and living the life of his dreams. However, behind the scenes, he is simply a pawn in Wyatt’s corporate game and realizes he must ultimately find a way out from under his boss who will stop at nothing, even murder, to win a multi-billion dollar advantage.

My Thoughts: Of the weekend’s four major releases, this is the one most likely to bomb, and deservedly so. It’s not the worst film I’ve seen this year, by a long shot, but it’s about as bland a film as I’ve seen in 2013. It’s a shame, because there are elements of the film that actually suggest a way this could work. Liam Hemsworth is very, very pretty, but he’s a weak lead. The decisions that Adam makes throughout the film just scream idiocy. He’s thoroughly trounced by his veteran co-stars, which also includes Richard Dreyfuss as Adam’s father. The best scenes of the film, to me at least, are the two shared by Oldman and Ford, who previously worked together in Air Force One. One big complaint that stuck with me throughout the film: the two corporations involved in this story develop new phones and operating systems, but half of the phones in this film (along with all of the computers) are Apple products, very clearly using iOS software. The other phones, meanwhile, seemed extraordinarily fake.

leedanielsthebutler

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Studio-Provided Plot Synopsis: Lee Daniels’ The Butler tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man’s life and family. Forest Whitaker stars as the butler with Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more. Academy Award nominated Lee Daniels (Precious) directs and co-wrote the script with Emmy Award winning Danny Strong (Game Change).

My Thoughts: The opening of the film suggests something more chaotic, but fortunately The Butler eventually settles into its tale of different approaches to the civil rights movement. Bouncing between the story of Cecil Gaines (Whitaker’s character) and his son Louis’ journeys from MLK to the Black Panthers show that it took several different methods to advance civil rights in this country. The main cast of Whitaker, David Oyelowo and Oprah Winfrey do some excellent work here, though some of the presidential portrayals are more effective than others (I’m looking at you, Robin Williams).

kickass2

Kick-Ass 2

Studio-Provided Plot Synopsis: His heroic antics having inspired a citywide wave of masked vigilantes, Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) joins their ranks to help clean up the streets, only to face a formidable challenge when the vengeful Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) transforms himself into the world’s first super villain in this sequel written and directed by Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down). Dave/Kick-Ass and Mindy/Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) are about to graduate high school and become a crime-fighting duo when their noble plans are foiled by Mindy’s strict parents. Now, as Mindy hangs up her Hit Girl uniform and navigates the treacherous high-school social scene, Kick-Ass begins patrolling the streets with Justice Forever, a fearless group of urban watchdogs fronted by former mob thug Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). They’ve got the criminal element on the run when Chris D’Amico lays his Red Mist persona to rest, and reemerges as The Mother Fucker, a powerful criminal mastermind with a loyal legion of henchmen. The Mother Fucker is determined to avenge the death of his late father, who previously perished at the hands of Kick-Ass and Hit Girl. Now, as The Mother Fucker and his minions begin targeting the members of Justice Forever, Hit Girl realizes that the only way to save Kick-Ass and his new friends is to emerge from her forced retirement, and fight back with everything she’s got.

My Thoughts: I quite enjoyed the original Kick-Ass. It wasn’t a perfect film, but there was enough that was different about the film to make it fun, in a perverse way. Unfortunately, Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t quite work as well as its predecessor. Among the problems: Dave is such a bland protagonist. Between Kick-Ass and Hit Girl, I’d be surprised to find someone who prefers watching the former over the latter. Bigger problems lie with Jeff Wadlow’s approach. In the original, Matthew Vaughn knew how to set up a fight sequence. Wadlow, however, is a big fan of choppy sequences that appear to mask limitations in fighting. Of course, we’ve seen Kick-Ass and Hit Girl fight, so audiences know that Taylor-Johnson and Moretz are more than capable of fighting. Also, while there’s still some subversive and shocking content, it feels like the film pulls back from being as outrageous as the original. Carrey’s performance is surprisingly understated, although way too brief for my liking. And for the one thing I truly enjoyed: an increased presence for Hit Girl, with some excellent work from the always-impressive Moretz. I’m not necessarily looking for a Kick-Ass 3, but the film does have me ready for Moretz’s take on a classic character in Carrie later this year.

jobs

Jobs

Studio-Provided Plot Synopsis: It only takes one person to start a revolution. The extraordinary story of Steve Jobs, the original innovator and ground-breaking entrepreneur who let nothing stand in the way of greatness. The film tells the epic and turbulent story of Jobs as he blazed a trail that changed technology – and the world – forever.

My Thoughts: I admit freely that I’m a bit of an Apple fanboy, and I came into this film aware of both Apple’s history and Steve Jobs’ reputation for being…well, an asshole. Unfortunately, this film fails to deliver what could be an engaging biopic. The film takes a while to get into the story of Apple, which is what makes the Steve Jobs story interesting in the first place: the mixture of technology and boardroom politics are what makes Apple’s history so fascinating. The film also quickly runs through the decade where Jobs was away from Apple, creating NeXT (not to mention Pixar, which the film certainly doesn’t), which…is important for a biopic on Steve Jobs, since Jobs’ experiences at NeXT ended up getting him back into Apple. Ashton Kutcher is visibly working to prove his actorly bona fides here, and at times it works. Often, though, I just saw Ashton Kutcher, Movie Star. Josh Gad, an actor I normally despise, actually does good work here as Steve Wozniak, while Dermot Mulroney, J.K. Simmons and others turn in solid but minor supporting appearances. Jobs would’ve been better served as a TV movie, especially with Aaron Sorkin hard at work adapting Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of Jobs.

thespectacularnow

The Spectacular Now

Studio-Provided Plot Synopsis: With sly humor and an intensity of feeling, The Spectacular Now (directed by James Ponsoldt) creates a vivid, three-dimensional portrait of youth confronting the funny, thrilling and perilous business of modern love and adulthood. This is the tale of Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a high school senior and effortless charmer, and of how he unexpectedly falls in love with “the good girl” Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). What starts as an unlikely romance becomes a sharp-eyed, straight-up snapshot of the heady confusion and haunting passion of youth – one that doesn’t look for tidy truths. The film was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber [(500) Days of Summer] and also features wonderful supporting turns from Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

My Thoughts: That the film comes from the screenwriting pair who wrote (500) Days of Summer is no surprise – there are a lot of similarities between the two films. I think it worked better the first time, but The Spectacular Now is no slouch. The chemistry between Teller and Woodley drives the film. It’s easy to buy each of them in their roles. That extends to the supporting cast, including a nasty turn by Chandler as Sutter’s long-gone father. My one complaint: I didn’t care for the ending. I felt it was a bit too abrupt and unnecessary. Either extending the scene or not including it at all would’ve been better options.

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