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Review: Jobs

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Jobs

If Jobs were an Apple product, it might be called the iFlop.

Maybe that bit of snark is a bit too harsh, for the Steve Jobs biopic seems well intentioned. It plays like a sincere attempt at a mildly artsy, warts-and-all portrait of Jobs. But like Apple's worst missteps (remember the Newton?), Jobs is a clunky and buggy film that may frustrate its audience, especially viewers familiar with Jobs' life and career.

Jobs opens when Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) is a teenage college dropout auditing classes at Reed College, dabbling in drugs and seeking spiritual enlightenment. The movie spends a lot of time on his early career, when he co-founds Apple in 1976 in his parents' garage with his friend and fellow nerd Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad).

Jobs desperately needs funding for the company and finds a sugar daddy in semi-retired Intel manager Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), who becomes a longtime Apple board member and figures prominently throughout the film. Jobs then fast-forwards through the growth of Apple, the birth of the Macintosh and Jobs' increasingly rocky relationship with the Apple board of directors, culminating in his ouster from the company in 1985.

Review: Kick-Ass 2

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Kick-Ass 2 posterThe movie Kick-Ass 2 has already seen a bit of controversy as of late -- one of its stars, Jim Carrey, decried the amount of violence in it and announced his change of heart about gun violence on film after the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut late last year. He said he would not participate in any promotion of the movie, he just took his check and went about his way.

As it turns out, the gun violence is actually one of more tame elements in the sequel to the breakout hit from 2010. Homophobia, pedophilia, sexualization of minors and rape humor are much more stinging in Kick-Ass 2.  All of that ickiness (the only word really) turned what was a highly anticipated sequel with some really well-shot and kind of cool action scenes into something that makes you feel dirty for watching at times.

The story begins a short time after the events of the first film. Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is enjoying the legacy that his superhero alter ego has left on the city, but he's not done being a hero. Neither is Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). Every day she uses the fighting skills her father taught her, and she skips school and continues to train to become even more of an ultimate bad-ass killer than she was in the first movie.

Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass train until she has a change of heart, leaving Kick-Ass to fend for his own until he joins a band of similarly motivated superheroes. Meanwhile, a new supervillain is emerging (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and his name is one that I won't utter here, but he is the son of the crime boss Kick-Ass killed in the first movie.

A lot of Kick-Ass 2 feels like a retread of the first movie, which is a sure-fire way for a sequel to immediately feel inferior to the first one. The movie also has this incredibly strange subplot with Mindy (aka Hit-Girl) trying to fit in with the popular mean girls at her school. If you've ever wanted to see a short film version of Mean Girls with the naive girl fighting back in a pretty disgusting way, you'll get to check that off your bucket list here.

Review: Lee Daniels' The Butler

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The Butler Movie PosterWith the current social climate and concern over racism, it seems an appropriate time for a film about the civil rights movement in America to remind everyone how much has -- and perhaps hasn't -- changed in the last 50 years. In Lee Daniels' The Butler, we witness significant events and the politics that both impeded and fueled efforts by African-Americans and their supporters to effect change.

The Butler was inspired by a true story and tells the story of African-American Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), who serves as a butler in the White House for multiple presidents throughout several decades, including the civil rights movement.

Born in Macon, Georgia in the 1920s, as a young boy Cecil Gaines works in the cotton field with his mother and dad until brutal overseer Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer) swiftly and violently tears Cecil's family apart. Cecil is taken into the "big house" by the sympathetic Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave), where he learns the valuable skills of a house servant. Recognizing that he will likely suffer the same fate as his father at the hands of Thomas, Cecil travels in search of a new life and employment in a safer environment -- not an easy task in the South.

Desperation drives him to commit a theft for which he could be hanged, but instead he is rescued by hotel butler Maynard (Clarence Williams III). Under Maynard's tutelage, Cecil not only gains experience as a professional servant but how to survive in a white man's world. From there Cecil makes his way to Washington, D.C. where he continues to work as a hotel butler until he is discovered and plucked to the most prestigious location of all -- the White House during the 1957 Eisenhower Administration.

Thus begins the journey of Cecil in The Butler -- as a silent observer of the politics behind the movement that affects himself and his family. While he quietly accepts his fate, his son Louis (David Oyelowo) questions and acts upon the disenfranchisement he and his peers experience. Scenes are intertwined between Cecil going about the daily functions of special events at the White House, and Louis's activism with the Freedom Riders and later the Black Panthers. Meanwhile, Cecil's wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) deals with the disconnect between her husband and eldest by filling the void with booze and the attention of philandering neighbor Howard (Terrence Howard).

Review: Prince Avalanche

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prince avalanche

"Melancholy buddy comedy" isn't a description that comes in handy very often, but if you've seen any of Austinite David Gordon Green's previous films, this summary for his latest makes sense. With a resume that includes sensitive indies (George Washington, All the Real Girls) as well as mainstream bigger-budget fare (Pineapple Express and several commercials), it’s no surprise to hear that Prince Avalanche, which screened at SXSW a few months ago, is a finely drawn story of friendship and loneliness that alternates between being goofy and existential. 

Inspired by a 2011 Icelandic film called Either Way, Prince Avalanche is set in 1988 but filmed in the region of Texas destroyed by the Bastrop wildfires of 2011. Working as a road crew tasked with re-striping roads and installing signposts throughout the badly charred acreage are Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch). Thrown together by circumstance, these opposite personality types are at first indifferent companions, but before long have gained enough knowledge about each other's neuroses and failed relationships to establish an awkward understanding punctuated by moments of anger and macho rivalry.

With only four onscreen characters and a compact 94-minute running time, at first it's easy to shrug Prince Avalanche off as just a sweet movie that's admittedly a little quirkier than your average summer offering. Having seen it twice now, I was newly impressed by the little details my SXSW-weary eyes didn't fully appreciate when I first saw the movie back in March (here's Elizabeth's review). 

Review: The Spectacular Now

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The Spectacular Now

Most movies about teenagers are so unreal, you'd swear the people who make them never were teenagers.

Not so for the charming and bitingly realistic The Spectacular Now, a film that perfectly captures a universal teenage quandary: whether to live in the moment or plan for the future.

As the film opens, the moment -- that is, the now -- is pretty spectacular for the film's protagonist, popular party boy Sutter Keely (Miles Teller). The high-school senior doesn't study much or bother dwelling on life's unpleasantries. He's too busy hanging out at parties, getting it on with his sexy and equally popular girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), working at his easy job in a clothing store and nurturing his budding alcoholism.

All is well until Cassidy has enough of Sutter's noncommittal attitude and dumps him. But a potential rebound comes quickly: After a late-night bender to numb the pain, he awakens on someone's front lawn and meets nerdy nice girl Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), who helps him find his car while he helps her deliver newspapers. This meet-cute moment is The Spectacular Now's least plausible plot point, but all is forgiven as the film heads for places far darker and more believable.

Review: Elysium

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Elysium Still Photo

Science fiction has often been used as a vehicle for political and social commentary throughout film history. Most notably is Fritz Lang's 1927 classic Metropolis, featuring a dystopian society with distinct separation between the wealthy and the working classes. More recently, writer/director Neill Blomkamp employed social allegory in the 2009 awardwinning and thought-provoking futuristic film District 9.

Blomkamp returns to the theme of xenophobia with new movie Elysium, but this round the veil drops even more. It's 2159 and the Anglo wealthy class lives on an utopian man-made space station named Elysium, while the rest of the Earth's teeming population, who mostly speak Spanish, work and live in deplorable conditions to support the inhabitants of Elysium. Matt Damon plays Max, an inhabitant of Earth who's trying to break from his past as a car thief and stay on the straight and narrow, working in an assembly plant that builds the service and law enforcement robots for Elysium.

An industrial accident leaves Max with less than a week to live, and he must find a way to Elysium for a cure -- even if it means returning to his former crime gang, led by software and hardware genius Spider (Wagner Moura). When the high-stakes heist turns into an unexpected opportunity to change the entire course of the human race, Max's friend Julio (Diego Luna) and childhood sweetheart Frey Alice Braga also become entangled in a life-or-death encounter.

Review: Planes

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Disney's PlanesIt has been seven years since the release of Pixar's still-beloved movie Cars and two since the critical flop of sequel Cars 2. The question to be answered this weekend is "Will Disney's Planes fly?" Audiences will have to decide for themselves, but my opinion is that the animated film soars while not quite reaching the lofty heights of Cars. Unfortunately, since Planes is under the umbrella of Disney and not Pixar, no animated short precedes the feature, and I did not spy a cameo from the Pizza Planet truck.

With a story in many ways similar to Dreamworks' Turbo, Planes features some topsy-turvy casting choices. Comedian Dane Cook voices the lead character while more recognizable talents like Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Sinbad and Val Kilmer are, ahem, waiting in the wings. (Kilmer and Top Gun co-star Anthony Edwards are cast as a pair of F/A-18F Super Hornets.)

While the story of an underdog farmboy living his dream and making it big is instantly recognizable to adults, the much younger target audience should find the plot engaging. There are plenty of touches to keep the adults interested as well. The multinational cast of characters integrates both planes and cars imbuing them with human personalities that range from clever to completely hilarious. In particular, the split personality of a German Taylor Aerocar that alternates when it converts from car to plane was a delightful touch.

Review: Blue Jasmine

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It has been my experience that most people either love or hate Woody Allen films. A rare few fall somewhere in the gray area, but most tend to lean strongly towards one side or the other. I find myself more often than not falling towards the "love" side, but usually with a few apprehensions. This is how I felt about Blue Jasmine.

I was head over heels for 2011's Midnight in Paris, especially since I hadn't been a huge fan of Allen's films for the past few years. It restored my faith in Allen's filmmaking, and thus got me ready for Blue Jasmine. (I will note that I have not yet gotten a chance to check out To Rome With Love, so bear with me.)

The film follows Jasmine, played by the always beautiful Cate Blanchett, and her recovery from a recent mid-life crisis. We discover that her late husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was an embezzler and a fraud, leaving her with no money and nowhere to go. Desperate for help, she turns to her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for a place to stay while she gets back on her feet. Like most of Allen's movies, the lineup features a handful of other great actors such as Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Bobby Cannavale and many others.

Review: The Act of Killing

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Anwar Congo and dummy in The Act of Killing

Anwar Congo is a slender, grizzled old man from Indonesia who enjoys spending time with his grandkids. But back in the 1960s, he tortured and killed hundreds of people suspected of being Communists. He is one of several such men that filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer spent years filming for his movie The Act of Killing. Oppenheimer had hoped to make an earlier film about the culture of fear in Indonesia, but was thwarted along the way. So he asked these boastful killers to participate in a film where they would play themselves and/or the victims they murdered.

This idea isn't as bizarre as it sounds. During the course of their filmmaking, selective memory is evident as a former prison guard confesses he had no idea that folks were being tortured in the office next to him (doubtful!).  Sadism serves as a sort of theme. Congo frets that he doesn't want to come off as sadistic in the film they're making, and repeatedly says -- almost as if to assure himself -- that he was never sadistic in his treatment of the people he killed. And yet. During a break from shooting a pillage scene, one of Congo's pals (trigger warning!) fondly remembers his days of raping 14-year-old girls, and the group around him makes sounds of approval. Another of Congo's contemporaries recalls killing Chinese people in the streets -- including the father of his girlfriend at the time. 

Review: We're the Millers

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We're the MillersHumor in the vein of The Hangover or There's Something About Mary has become predictable in its attempts to shock and disgust. We're the Millers is more of the same. The story is so painfully simple, the biggest surprise is that it took four writers (Bob Fisher and Steve Faber of Wedding Crashers and Sean Anders and John Morris of Sex Drive and Hot Tub Time Machine) to bring it to life.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball), Jason Sudeikis stars as David Clark, a thirtysomething pot dealer who gets in a bind the one time he tries to do the right thing. With his supplier's stash along with his own life savings stolen, David finds himself choosing between death and a simple drug-muling mission across the border in Mexico.

In need of a cover, he recruits neighbors Rose (Jennifer Aniston), Kenny (Will Poulter), and Casey (Emma Roberts) to pose as his white-bread American family. The makeshift family then bonds over the course of a road trip filled with the usual hijinks involving such topics as forced gay sex, incest, wife swapping, attempted rape and the obligatory shots of genital exposure.

Sudeikis is treading water here, playing the straight man through most of the antics against such talented foils as Ed Helms, Luis Guzmán, Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman, who gets some of the best material in the script. Though not rich with complex plot, the script is good for a few laughs with a number of clever one-liners.

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