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The Cricket's Daily 3: History or fantasy?

Published August 18, 2013 10:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A cadre of superheroes and a long-serving butler enter the box office derby this weekend.

"Kick-Ass 2" brings back the would-be superheroes Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Hit-Girl (Chlöe Grace Moretz) for more New York crimefighting. But when they're not tackling the travails of high school life, they must contend with archrival Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) trying to be a nasty supervillain. Director/screenwriter Jeff Wadlow can't decide whether he's satirizing violent comic-book stories or creating the most violent one he can conceive, and the results are jarring and unpleasant.

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is a bombastic history lesson, seen through the eyes of a White House butler (played by Forest Whitaker) serving presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan. Daniels ("Precious," "The Paperboy"). While the butler serves silently as presidents wrestle with civil-rights issues, his son (David Oyelowo) is a rebellious student who – thanks to the screenplay machinations of screenwriter Danny Strong – is in the middle of every major moment of the civil-rights movement, from lunch counters to the Freedom Riders to being in Martin Luther King's Memphis motel. The cavalcade of actors playing the presidents (Robin Williams as Ike, James Marsden as JFK, Liev Schreiber as LBJ, John Cusack as Nixon and Alan Rickman as Reagan) are glorified cameos, set dressing for Daniels' overheated meloddrama.

The Cricket's colleague Vince Horiuchi saw "Jobs" at the Sundance Film Festival, and he was unimpressed with this by-the-numbers biopic of Apple Computers co-founder Steve Jobs (played by Ashton Kutcher).

"Paranoia" is a dull corporate thriller, starring hunky Liam Hemsworth ("The Hunger Games" and brother of Chris Hemsworth, a k a Thor) as a computer whiz who gets caught up in espionage between rival CEOs. Those titans are played by Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford, and only when those two fire barbs at each other does the movie rise above its generic trappings.

There are two good movies opening this week, and both are from Denmark.

"A Hijacking" is a riveting thriller, which gets up close and personal with two characters during a crisis: Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), a ship's cook who is among the hostages when Somali pirates overtake his cargo ship; and Peter (Søren Malling), the CEO of the shipping firm, who must negotiate a ransom with the pirates. Director-writer Thomas Lindholm keeps the focus tight on these two desperate men, ratcheting the tension as the situation unfolds.

Lastly, there's "The Hunt," which showcases the great actor Mads Mikkelsen (currently playing the title role in NBC's "Hannibal"). Mikkelsen plays a kindergarten teacher wrongly accused of molesting a student, who is tarred as a monster in his small town. It's a brilliant performance, brimming with frustration and boiling over into anger.