Valdosta Daily Times

August 23, 2013

‘The Butler’ may reflect too many things

Adann-Kennn Alexxandar
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — “The Butler” (Drama: 2 hours, 12 minutes)

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and John Cusack

Director: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, and Jane Fonda

Rated: R (Violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, sexual innuendo and profanity)

Movie Review: An adaptation of “The Butler: A Witness to History” by Wil Haygood, this film is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, a White House butler whose tenure spanned several presidents from Truman to Reagan. “The Butler” is a powerful cinematic story, but Danny Strong’s fictionalized screenplay has too much fluff. 

Set against historical events covering the 1920s to the 1980s, Cecil Gaines, played by Oscar-recipient Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland,” 2006), grows up on a plantation in Georgia. He quickly leaves the plantation after coming of age. After several jobs, he lands the chance of a lifetime, a position as a butler in the White House.

Cecil works in the White House for decades. While near some of the most powerful men on the planet, he is also witness to some of this country’s darkest moments during the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, political events and other moments such as Kennedy’s assassination. Cecil must also balance family and work. His wife, Gloria (Winfrey), is lonely, and his oldest son, Louis (Oyelowo), is on the dangerous frontlines of the Civil Rights battles. Through it all, Cecil Gaines remains a resolute butler.

The best stories are not those created in movies. It is those stories created by real-life people in everyday life situations. Writer Danny Strong takes an already powerful story and makes it overly fictionalized moments. This story did not need such treatment. It is already compelling enough.

A prime example is the addition of Louis, Cecil’s oldest son. Louis poetically provides a portrayal of new African-American activism compared to Cecil’s forfeiture of dignity to make a good living mentality. This contrast between the two is intriguing. A certain intellectual study exists with these men. One finds complacency in a society that mistreats him, and the other finds he must make changes happen rather than waiting for them happen.

Cecil’s story is stronger, but Strong’s screenplay allows the film to follow Cecil’s son, Louis, in an extreme manner. Louis appears to be a part of every major Civil Right movement, including traveling with Dr. Martin Luther King. Louis’ life becomes overkill, as he plays a part and meets major figures of the Civil Rights movement. Louis appears omnipresent. This is where this plot’s fictionalization tries to make Louis too relevant when the film is really about his father.      

The extra dramatics go overboard when it is unneeded here. “The Butler” is already an interesting enough tale without such additives.

A man’s ability to find a purpose after being born and raised like a slave on a plantation in a 1920s Macon, Ga., is phenomenal and a moving part of this story. Cecil Gaines feels real. More important, Gaines interactions with presidents and others through multiple presidential administrations are engaging. Also impressive, the changing American social structure from the 1950s to the 1980s is a worthwhile overview of American history.     

Whitaker has an everyman appeal. He works well as Cecil Gaines, a man trying to earn a decent living for his family. Oprah is good as his wife, although picturing her as anything than a worldly billionaire is difficult. Oyelowo easily provides a valuable performance. They and others comprise an intriguing cast. Perhaps, the film’s weakest aspect is it tries to make all of the characters too important.

The good moments are plentiful despite some minor irritations. The artistic manner in which Cecil and his son, Louis, work within the confines of institutionalized racism is a pivotal part of this drama. In addition, the film is a nice story of historical events from plantations to the nation’s first minority president. The union of these concepts makes this a compelling drama.

“The Butler” gains one’s attention with its opening scenes. It maintains that momentum until its touching conclusion. Its powerful end is a welcomed treat that is emotionally riveting.

Lee Daniels, the director of the exceptional “Precious” (2009), provides a photoplay with plenty of realism. He does not shy away from controversy or energetically intense scenes. As with “Precious,” Daniels’ attempt is to present a life — the good and the bad — with some humor, history and a large well-known cast.       

Grade: B (The tenure of this butler provides plenty.)

“Paranoia” (Drama/Thriller: 1 hour, 46 minutes)

Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford

Director: Robert Luketic

Rated: PG-13 (Some sexuality, violence and language)

Movie Review: This film has an attractively youthful leading actor. It also has two seasoned veterans of the big screen, Oldman and Ford, who are talented actors. The problem is that their characters do not appear real. Directed by Luketic (“Legally Blonde,” 2001), “Paranoia” is a messy and unoriginal screenplay.

Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) is an entry-level worker needing to take care of his ailing father (Richard Dreyfuss). Nicholas Wyatt (Oldman) blackmails Cassidy. Wyatt has Cassidy spy on corporate rival, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford). Wyatt was once Goodard’s protégé. Cassidy thinks his life is grand. He is making a healthy salary and has a luxurious life. Unaware he is merely a pawn in a war between two techno-savvy magnates, Cassidy finds himself in a terrible place.

Audiences will find themselves in a more terrible place, in a terrible movie.   Unoriginal with flat characters is the manner to describe this dramatic thriller. The characters do not inspire one to care for them or their cause. They are greedy, deceitful people, and the actors play them in a lifeless manner, as if the energy has drained from this script.

None of scenes are compelling. Each appears fabricated and weak. Scenes are scattered-brained material, where the characterizations are under par and plain uninteresting. Corporate executives, played by Oldman and Ford, act like syndicate leaders. While the corporate world is competitive, these men act like rough thugs at points.

When the plot reaches its apex, it disappoints because no joy exists with seeing justice or revenge settled. This is because this film does not inspire one to care about these people. These matters make the film unbelievable and an easy pass.                

Grade: D- (Beware, this screenplay causes paranoia.)


“Kick-Ass 2” (Action/Comedy: 1 hour, 43 minutes)

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jim Carrey

Director: Jeff Wadlow

Rated: R (Violence, profanity and sexual innuendo)

Movie Review: This sequel is not as likable or as funny as 2010’s “Kick-Ass” (Director Matthew Vaughn). This version, while supplying some laughs and plenty of action sequences, is mainly potty-material comedy. The director Wadlow (“Never Back Down,” 2008) helms this adolescent piece. He allows the film to become a profanity-based comedy that is neither as smart nor as original as its prequel.

Dave Lizewski (Johnson) once again becomes the masked superhero Kick-Ass after Chris D’Amico (Mintz-Plasse) becomes a cloaked villain and starts recruiting a gang of evil henchmen. Lizewski is not alone. He once again teams with Hit-Girl, a.k.a. Mindy Macready (Moretz). The two eventually become part of a larger group of masked heroes led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Carrey). Together, they must stop D’Amico.

While starring a number of youths, this is a not a children’s film. This action comedy is for adults. The violence is plenty. The profanity is hefty. In this sense, it is like its prequel. It is irreverent material from start to finish. The characters are likable, but they exist in a perverted, childish script.

A few genuine comical moments exits, but the film attaches no intelligence to them. Comedic surplus is also missing. This version focuses mainly on action sequences. When it showcases comedy, the moments are adolescent. This distracts form the originality that the first “Kick-Ass” offered.

Grade: C (It does not deliver the same kick.)


“Jobs” (Drama: 2 hours, 8 minutes)

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad and Dermot Mulroney

Director: Joshua Michael Stern

Rated: PG-13 (Strong language and drug usage)

Movie Review: Like or dislike Steve Jobs, this drama portrays him as a jerk, a perfectionist and an egoist. In between, the portrayal displays Jobs as an innovator. All those points are debatable. What is not debatable is this film is an abysmal moment of moviedom.

“Jobs” is an in-your-face picture of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple computers. A lackluster screenplay, it takes about an hour and a half to become something of interest. Before that, it is merely and a film that shows how Jobs inspired many through Apple products. The problem is this screenplay is not very inspiring. It often portrays Jobs as cruel and boring.

Kutcher plays Jobs well, considering this is not biography. However, when the film’s setting is milling through the 1970s, it is easy to wonder, where is Fez from “That ’70s Show.”  

“Jobs” jumps through decades, detailing Jobs’ life with a demure nature that barely registers. It is not that the film is uninteresting. Rather, each scene is uninspiring. Director Stern (“Swing Vote,” 2008) and writers forgot to make this life tale interesting. All is a just a chronological mixture of scenes about how Jobs made a technology company a worldwide phenomenon.

Too bad, this film is not as innovative and entrepreneurial as it portrays Jobs.

When the iPhone debuted, it did not feature a cut-and-paste feature. That was definitely not innovative. “Jobs,” as a movie, needed some cutting and pasting. Like the first iPhone, this film needed more testing before its unveiling. More important, it needed a rewrite.                   

Grade: C- (A lackluster job.)