the butler poster

Amusingly, the film seems to be both aware of how much it forgets to bother connecting the audience to Cecil's perspective yet aware of how important it is to try that, well over halfway into story, it contrives an excuse for Martin Luther King to turn up and intone a mini-speech of praise to the history of the Black Domestic Servant. Basic idea: Though they may seem submissive, by proving themselves adept at finery among in "polite society" they are also quietly subversive in their own way. No, really: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, here's Dr. King to explain how you are supposed to feel about the title character you have spent almost two hours supposedly getting to know."

Suffice it to say, "Lee Daniels' The Butler" is not a great film. But I'll take it in a New York minute over Jobs, which features Ashton Kutcher in a fairly impressive turn as the late Steve Jobs in a movie that appears to have mistaken the late Apple founder/CEO for Jesus Christ. (Maybe it's the beard?)

Chronicling Jobs' life from the early days of soldering together boards in his parents' garage with Steve Wozniak (played by Josh Gad) up to the re-launch of Apple as a trendy, status-symbol tech toy in the mid-90s, Jobs is the definition of sycophantic hagiography for a secular saint. Oh, all the well-known "bad stuff" is there: the temper, the utter lack of people skills, the tunnel-vision narcissism, screwing his friends out of Apple stock, etc. But all filtered through the justifying lens of a visionary view of the man it assumes the audience will share: "Yeah, this guy was kind of a jerk - but The Men Who Change The World often are, so it's okay." If any tech-heads in my readership are curious as to just how selective the film's memory is: Jobs berating Bill Gates over the phone for "stealing" the Mac operating system for Windows gets a whole sequence to itself, but no indication as to the two men's evolving relationship before, during or especially after that is included. At all. Oh, and care to guess what word is never once uttered during the film's entire runtime? Xerox.

But alright. He was a prominent figure, the Cult of Apple is a very real thing in popular culture, and he did pass away tragically young. A certain amount of bent-over-backwards positivity is to be expected for the first biopic out of the gate. A presumably "meatier" version from Aaron Sorkin is also coming down the pike soon enough. Jobs' cardinal sin isn't in approach but in tone: its one thing to want audiences to leave thinking Steve Jobs was a good guy, it's another to want them to leave thinking he really was as important as your one friend who still camps out for each new iPhone launch swears he was.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to make the audience feel as connected to the events and their personal importance as are the characters, in fact, it's the essence of a good biography. The idiosyncratic music and close, intimate cinematography in The Social Network did an able job communicating how important the petty skullduggery of the founding of Facebook was to Zuckerberg et al, but it's detached tragicomic tone established that it at least recognized that for the money at stake and cultural presence. All the shouting was still just over an online organizing-system for address books and funny cat pictures - and that's what made it all so interesting, however offbeat and quirky.

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