“Jobs” (PG-13): More a fact-filled docudrama than a poetic exploration of a man’s soul, “Jobs” offers a hard-edged, atmospheric account of the man who started Apple Inc. in his parents’ Northern California garage with his computer wonk pal Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad).
Ashton Kutcher proves highly convincing as Steve Jobs, the design and marketing genius with huge ambitions and a legendary mean streak. Teens curious to learn the history and personalities behind the technology they use today will find “Jobs” wholly absorbing.
The film traces Jobs’ career between 1971 and 1991, from his college drop-out days to his triumphal return to Apple after years in exile imposed by the company board, concerned about profits and Jobs’ management style. This is not a subtle film. It’s full of heavy foreshadowing and meaningful glances. But it’s intelligent. It explains with clarity how Jobs and “Woz” built the Apple brand. “It’s gotta work like an appliance,” Jobs barks at his designers about the still-developing Macintosh.
The film shows how revolutionary that idea was. We also see Jobs in a harsh light – emotionally repressed, firing people in humiliating ways; blocking some guys who worked in that garage with him and Woz from getting shares in the company; denying paternity after his girlfriend gets pregnant.
The film shows Jobs and others in their student and post-graduation years taking LSD and smoking pot. Some characters chain-smoke cigarettes. The dialogue includes frequent profanity.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (PG-13): The transformational nature of the civil rights movement weaves throughout director Lee Daniels’ story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a butler at the White House from the Eisenhower through the Reagan administrations.
Based partly on a 2008 Washington Post profile by Wil Haygood of real-life White House butler Eugene Allen, the film fictionalizes the man and the story in order to link it more directly to the arc of the movement. Despite some instances of stunt casting (Robin Williams as Eisenhower does not work), stilted dialogue and an epilogue celebrating the election of Barack Obama that feels overdone while he’s still in office, the movie is deeply affecting.
Gaines starts life in the 1920s South, working the cotton fields with his parents. After a vicious boss (Alex Pettyfer) rapes his mother (Mariah Carey) – we only hear screams – and fatally shoots his father, Gaines is brought inside and taught to wait on the owner (Vanessa Redgrave). He runs away as a teen and gets hired at a hotel, where a mentor (Clarence Williams III) teaches him elegant table service and how to be “invisible.” While working at a Washington, D.C., hotel, Gaines gets invited to interview at the White House. He’s hired and does well, never talking politics, even when presidents such as John Kennedy (James Marsden) or Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) seek his opinion. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz are great as Gaines’ colleagues. At home, Gaines’ wife Gloria (an excellent Oprah Winfrey) has a drinking problem, but they stay together. The greatest strain is fear for their older son Louis (David Oyelowo), who risks his life working with the civil rights movement. Gaines sees only danger, and trusts the presidents he serves to improve African-American life. For Louis and others, that’s way too slow.
The re-creation of lunch counter sit-ins and civil rights marches, with violent responses from police using nightsticks, fire hoses and snarling dogs, and from epithet-shouting, punch-throwing whites are stomach-churning. Characters use occasional midrange profanity, racial slurs, drink and smoke.