Labor Day

Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin are seeing eye to eye.

Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin are seeing eye to eye.

(2014) Romance (Paramount) Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, Tobey Maguire, Tom Lipinski, Maika Monroe, James Van Der Beek, J.K. Simmons, Brooke Smith, Brighid Fleming, Alexie Gilmore, Lucas Hedges, Micah Fowler, Chandra Thomas, Matthew Rauch, Doug Trapp, Dylan Minnette, Ed Moran, Dakota Shepard, Elena Kampouris, Kate Geller. Directed by Jason Reitman

Loneliness does things to the human soul. It saps our self-confidence, flogs our self-worth and turns us into desperate, quivering hopeless creatures who might well reach out for any life preserver available – even if it comes in the form of a convicted murderer.

The sleepy town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire is in those last days of the summer of 1987. the kind where the air hangs heavy and hot over town and school beckons just past the holiday weekend. Henry (Griffith) needs school supplies and his mom takes him shopping as the weekend commences. This is no easy feat for her; she is recently divorced and is suffering from a bout of pronounced depression that is manifesting as acute agoraphobia. Her hands tremble uncontrollably, especially when she is beyond the safety of the four walls of her slowly decaying home which, lacking a man to take care of such things, is slowly falling into ruin.

Henry is accosted by a stranger named Frank (Brolin) who is bleeding and limping after a fall from a second story window. He asks for a ride which Henry’s mom Adele (Winslet) is loathe to give him but subtle threats lead her to comply. She soon discovers that Frank has escaped from prison where he is serving after being convicted of the murder of his wife nearly 20 years earlier.

Frank looks threatening and hard enough but it isn’t long before he reveals a gentle side. He is almost apologetic as he ties up Adele, essentially so that if the police ask she can claim truthfully that she was bound. He does some repair projects around the home, cooks and cleans and teaches them how to bake a proper peach pie after a neighbor (Simmons) brings by some nearly overripe peaches.

Adele quickly falls for this handsome man and quite frankly who wouldn’t? Soon she and Frank are hatching a plan to make a run for the Canadian border, while Henry’s misgivings are fueled by the manipulative Chicago transplant Eleanor (Fleming) and by his dad (Gregg) who has remarried and has a new family that seems to give him what he craves. However with the law searching high and low for Frank and Adele’s issues with leaving the house, is this plan doomed before it starts?

This is based on a Joyce Maynard novel and seems to be geared at a certain audience of women who might well be classified as those who have flocked to the bookshelves to read 50 Shades of Grey. It very much plays into the female fantasy of the bad boy with a heart of gold, a man who has a dangerous element to him but is deep down utterly devoted, handy around the house and in the kitchen and in the bedroom is loving and gentle and amazingly attentive.

Adele is right in Winslet’s wheelhouse; few actresses can portray the kind of trembling arousal that she can. There is a deer in the headlights element to Adele that is attractive but there are times when she looks to be breathing so heavily you have a real concern that she’s going to pop a button on her blouse. Still, she captures Adele’s completely broken down personality and her dependence on her 13 year old son. It isn’t hard to believe that a woman like her would fall so quickly and completely for a stranger with a prison record.

Brolin is looking more and more like his father which isn’t a bad thing if you like handsome men. However as good an actor as his dad was, his son looks to exceed his talents with each passing film. While the character of Frank is really too good to be true, Brolin at least makes him memorable and you do end up rooting for Frank and Adele to make it.

Reitman is an impressive director who often adds a dose of humor to his films which has earned him a lot of critical accolades. He is definitely one of Hollywood’s up and coming prodigies in the director’s chair; films like Juno and Thank You for Smoking underscore that. This is much less cutting edge than his previous films and correspondingly comes off a bit bland. I’m not saying that Reitman is incapable of doing a romantic film – he plainly can and has – but when you set the bar on your career to a certain level, you can end up creating disappointment in your core fan base, sort of like when M. Night Shyamalan stopped doing twist endings (or more accurately, when he stopped doing good movies). It is fair to say that some critics may be coming down on him harder because he set the bar so high with his previous movies.

And therein lies the rub. This is actually a pretty solid and sweet film that accomplishes exactly what i is supposed to. It is a change of pace for Reitman and takes him straight out of the ghetto of black comedies which he has been essentially stuck in. While one can debate the subtext of a strong, magnetic man tying up the object of his desires to tame her before winning her with the aspects that appeal to essentially any woman, I think that this is a movie geared towards women who have more to them than just hitting the clubs and gossiping with their friends. This is a movie for single moms, working moms, divorced women and single women who have had their hearts broken one too many times. These ladies deserve their fantasies too.

REASONS TO GO: Laid-back pacing and strong performances from Winslet and Brolin.

REASONS TO STAY: A few lapses in logic and character.

FAMILY VALUES:  The themes are fairly mature. There’s also some brief violence and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Initially Reitman wanted this to be his follow-up to Up in the Air but due to Winslet’s unavailability he decided to film Young Adult first.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 32% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.



NEXT: Pulp Fiction


New Releases for the Week of January 31, 2014


(Paramount) Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, James van der Beek, Tobey Maguire, Alexie Gilmore, Lucas Hedges. Directed by Jason Reitman

A chance meeting in a small town store brings Frank Chambers into the lives of 13-year-old Henry Wheeler and his mom. After Henry’s dad left, Henry’s mom has become reclusive, shaking uncontrollably and withdrawing gradually from the world. With good reason apparently – Frank is an escaped convict, in prison for a particularly heinous murder. All is not what it seems and soon Frank and Henry’s mom are creating a world of their own, although reality has a habit of intruding on these sorts of things.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality)

Bride for Rent

(Star Cinema) Kim Chiu, Xian Lim. In order to get his inheritance, a young heir is required to be married. Sadly, he is not but that’s not going to stop him from getting what’s his. He hires a woman to impersonate his bride, and at first the plan is working perfectly. Unfortunately, he didn’t count on actually falling in love.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: NR

The Saratov Approach

(Saratov) Corbin Allred, Maclain Nelson, Nikita Bogolyubov, Bart Johnson. In 1998, two Mormon missionaries working in Russia were kidnapped and held for ransom from the Church of Latter-Day Saints. The movie opened in Utah last October and was such a hit that a nationwide release was set up.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence)

That Awkward Moment

(Focus) Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots. When one of a trio of bro-friends suffers a devastating breakup, both of his boys agree not to date until he’s ready. Of course, that’s easier said than done as that’s about the moment Ms. Right walks into all three of their lives.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout)

Four-Warned: January 2014

I, Frankenstein

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

4. LABOR DAY (2.0)

4. 24 EXPOSURES (1.5)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JANUARY 1, 2014

THE BEST OFFER (IFC) Genre: Thriller. A closed-off antiques dealer becomes enamored of a mysterious client. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 With a stellar cast and legendary director Giuseppe Tornatore this has my undivided attention.

JANUARY 2, 2014

INTERIOR, LEATHER BAR (Strand) Genre: Drama. The Al Pacino film Cruising legendarily had 40 minutes of sexually explicit material cut; a pair of filmmakers set out to re-imagine that footage. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 3.9 I’m really not sure what the purpose of this movie is.

JANUARY 3, 2014

BEYOND OUTRAGE (Magnet) Genre: Crime Drama. Although he yearns to retire after being released from prison, a Yakuza boss gets embroiled in a war between rival gangs manipulated by a ruthless police detective. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The sequel to Outrage, a brutal Japanese crime drama.
OPEN GRAVE (Tribeca) Genre: Horror. After waking up in a pit of dead bodies with no memory, a man makes his way to a nearby farmhouse where he finds others with a similar story. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Sharlto Copley stars in this one; looks pretty interesting from the trailer.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES (Paramount) Genre: Found Footage Horror. A Latino family finds itself the object of supernatural events. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 A spin-off from the hit franchise.

JANUARY 10, 2014

THE ADVENTURER: THE CURSE OF THE MIDAS BOX (RLJ) Genre: Fantasy. A 17-year-old boy discovers that the link to his missing parents and younger brother is a mysterious old hotel. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Sounds awful on paper but the trailer looks a lot better than it sounds.
BANSHEE CHAPTER (XLRator) Genre: Horror. A journalist investigating secret government chemical experiments uncovers a relationship with a mysterious radio signal of unknown origin. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 An intriguing concept but the trailer didn’t exactly rock my world.
BLACK COFFEE (One Village/RLJ) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A down on his luck man finally finds the woman of his dreams – until his gold-digging ex-girlfriend and her psycho ex-husband decide to get involved. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Appears to be another unfunny romantic comedy.
COLD COMES THE NIGHT (Stage 6/Goldwyn) Genre: Thriller. A nearly-blind criminal takes a hotel owner and her daughter hostage and forces them to be his eyes when he goes to retrieve a cash stash from a crooked cop. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Bryan Cranston and Alice Eve are both moving up in Hollywood and they make an intriguing combination.
DIVORCE CORP. (Candor) Genre: Documentary. A look at how the modern family court has turned into a cash cow more about generating revenue than in protecting families and facilitating safety as they are mandated to do. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 A chilling look at how broken the system has become.
DUMBBELLS (GoDigital) Genre: Comedy. A former college athlete turned trainer and the shallow owner of the gym he works at hatch a hare-brained scheme to turn their failing gym into a reality show. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 If you can’t laugh at the physically fit, who can you laugh at?
IF YOU BUILD IT (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. One of the poorest counties in North Carolina resolves to radically transform their school, their community and their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Can school still be inspirational? Maybe so.
THE LEGEND OF HERCULES(Summit) Genre: Swords and Sandals. The origin of one of Greek mythology’s most memorable heroes. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.9 I’m not sure that the first name that would have come to mind when you say Hercules would be Kellan Lutz.
LOVES HER GUN (Devolver Digital) Genre: Drama. After being attacked on the streets of New York, a woman moves to Texas and becomes enmeshed in the gun culture. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Wow! Enormous potential here if they don’t go the easy, safe route.
RAZE (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A woman is abducted and taken to a concrete bunker where she is forced to fight other women to the death in order to protect their loved ones. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Starring the incomparable Zoe Bell, this one raises above the average exploitation flick.
THE TRUTH ABOUT EMANUEL (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A troubled young girl takes an unhealthy interest in a neighbor who bears a striking resemblance to her deceased mother. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks very complex and layered; intrigued to see this one.

JANUARY 15, 2014

GENERATION WAR (Music Box) Genre: Drama. Five young German men navigate the nearly impossible moral consequences of Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 An epic German film that is the first must-see of 2014.

JANUARY 17, 2014

BACK IN THE DAY (Screen Media) Genre: Comedy. Crashing his high school reunion, an old Hell raiser takes his friends out and in doing so gets them in hot water with their wives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Doesn’t seem to break any new ground in the high school reunion sex comedy genre, limited as it is.
BIG BAD WOLVES (Magnet) Genre: Thriller. Three men involved in a murder are on a collision course; the father of the victim, a maverick police detective and the main suspect in the murder. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Revenge thriller Middle Eastern-style; Quentin Tarantino really likes it so that’s saying something.
DEVIL’S DUE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Horror. After a newlywed couple get pregnant sooner than expected, the husband begins to notice disquieting changes in his bride that may be far more sinister than hormonal mood changes. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 One gets the sense that the filmmakers are trying to go for a 21st century Rosemary’s Baby.
FREEZER (Anchor Bay) Genre: Thriller. A man finds himself locked in a restaurant freezer and a badly wounded cop may be the only way out. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.9 I generally find Dylan McDermott a compelling actor.
G.B.F. (Vertical) Genre: Comedy. Three high school clique queens battle for overall supremacy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 I can’t think of anything I could be less interested in.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (Paramount) Genre: Spy Thriller. A reboot of the Jack Ryan series as a pre-CIA Jack discovers a terrorist plot to destroy the world’s financial markets. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.8 I love the Jack Ryan series but for some reason this one isn’t really exciting me to see it much.
JAMESY BOY (Phase 4/XLRator) Genre: Thriller. A teenage gangbanger goes to prison and becomes the protégé of a convicted killer who wants to straighten him out. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Based on a true story but truth be told this really looks kind of…well, been there done that.
LIFE OF A KING (Millennium) Genre: True Life Drama. An inner city advocate tries to improve the lives of the kids of Washington DC – through teaching them the game of chess. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The best performance by Cuba Gooding Jr. in years.
LIKE FATHER LIKE SON (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. Two Japanese children are switched at birth into very different families. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 A beautiful trailer and what looks to be a thoughtful take on an age-old story from master director Kore-eda Hirokazu.
MAIDENTRIP (First Run) Genre: Documentary. 14-year-old Laura Dekker defies the odds and attempts to make a solo trip around the world in a sailboat. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The parent in me recoils in horror; the dreamer in me cheers her on.
NUT JOB (Open Road) Genre: Animated Feature. A squirrel who accidentally destroys the food supply for the winter hits upon a nutty scheme to replenish it. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.5 The animation and storyline look substandard.
REASONABLE DOUBT (Lionsgate) Genre: Crime Thriller. After a DA intentionally throws a case in which a career criminal is blamed for the hit and run death that he himself was responsible for, he discovers that he acquitted a guilty man. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 You can’t go wrong with Samuel L. Jackson.
RIDE ALONG (Universal) Genre: Comedy. A fast-talking but wimpy man seeking to wed the sister of a tough cop must go on a ride along to prove his worth. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Kevin Hart and Ice Cube may be the ultimate odd couple.
SUMMER IN FEBRUARY (Tribeca) Genre: Romance. The true story of Albert Munnings who rose from a working class background to become one of the greatest British artists of the 20th Century. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Very lush, very British.

JANUARY 21, 2014

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (eOne) Genre: Fantasy. A group of LARPers accidentally conjure up a real demon and realize that they are all that stands between us and the end of the world. We’re doomed.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks truly amusing and who could go wrong with the great Peter Dinklage (or the not-as-great Steve Zahn)?

JANUARY 24, 2014

24 EXPOSURES (IFC Midnight) Genre: Thriller. The death of a beautiful young model brings together a homicide detective and a fetish photographer as an unlikely crime solving team. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Looks incredibly compelling; may be Joe Swanberg’s best film yet.
ENEMIES CLOSER (Lionsgate) Genre: Thriller. After a drug cartel loses a shipment in the wilderness, they force an ex-Navy SEAL to guide them to their trove. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 JCVD as an over-the-top villain…hmm.
GIMME SHELTER (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. A pregnant street teen finds her strength and sisterhood in a shelter that she fights to save. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Impressive cast; trailer consists mostly of Vanessa Hudgens overacting though.
GLORIA (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. An aging woman tries to make the best of her loneliness until she finds a love that reignites her passion and allows her to discover her inner strength. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Looks life-affirming and who can argue with that?
I, FRANKENSTEIN (Lionsgate) Genre: Horror. The creation of Victor Frankenstein finds himself embroiled in a war between demons and angels in which he is the crucial tipping point. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX). RATING: 1.4 Looks like a cross between Hellblazer and…well, Hellblazer.
MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF LATIN AMERICA (First Run) Genre: Documentary. One of Argentina’s most famous singers was also famous for her courage to stand against dictators and bullies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 While she’s largely unknown to non-Latin Americans, she remains a symbol of freedom and democracy south of the United States.
RUN & JUMP (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. An American doctor arrives in Ireland to observe the victim of a rare type of stroke and ends up teaching the family of the victim as much as they teach him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 A slice of Irish wit and wisdom.
STRANGER BY THE LAKE (Strand) Genre: Thriller. After falling in love one summer by the lake, a man and his lover become the prime suspects in a murder. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles January 31). RATING: 2.0 Very Hitchcockian, with a gay twist.
VISITORS (Cinedigm) Genre: Documentary. The director of Koyaanisqatsi examines the relationship between man and technology. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 More of a montage of images than a documentary.

JANUARY 29, 2013

CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. Re-enacts airline cockpit emergencies using actual black box recordings. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 While it sounds very compelling, it also seems a little bit ghoulish.

JANUARY 31, 2014

12 O’CLOCK BOYS (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Documentary. A group of daring bike-riding hooligans capture the admiration of a Baltimore adolescent. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 I get the sense that the filmmakers are glorifying stuff that shouldn’t be glorified.
ARMISTICE (XLRator) Genre: Science Fiction. Trapped in a strange warehouse and forced to fight bizarre inhuman monsters, a Royal Marine finds hope in a diary left by a former occupant of the place who served in the First World War. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Fascinating concept; haven’t seen a full trailer yet (just a teaser) to really get a good sense of what the film might be like.
AT MIDDLETON (Anchor Bay) Genre: Romance. Two single parents of kids entering the same college ditch the campus tour and fall in love. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks kinda charming.
BEST NIGHT EVER (Magnet) Genre: Sex Comedy. A bride-to-be heads off to Vegas for her bachelorette weekend with her sister and two best friends for a kind of distaff Hangover. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 I get the sense that it takes the most cliché plot points ever from a lot of movies that are better than this will be.
BRIGHTEST STAR (Gravitas) Genre: Dramedy. Not wanting to give up the girlfriend who just dumped him, a fresh-out-of-college young man determines to become the man she wants him to be. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Doesn’t look bad…but doesn’t look all that compelling either.
LABOR DAY (Paramount) Genre: Drama. On a back-to-school shopping trip, a young boy befriends a wounded man who turns out to be an escaped convict and takes him home to his agoraphobic mother. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Has a bit of a Nicholas Sparks vibe to it but with Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in the leads there is a lot of potential here.
SOMEWHERE SLOW (Screen Media) Genre: Drama. After being involved in a convenience store robbery, a woman on the spur of the moment decides to walk out of her life and begin a new one. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 It’s one of those types of stories that needs flawless execution to work right.
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT (Focus) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Three friends resolve not to date while one of them is recovering from a rough break-up but find that harder to do than they thought. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 Looked a bit cheesy from the trailer.
TIM’S VERMEER (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. Follows the quest of Tim Jenison to try and duplicate the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s photorealistic style using 17th century technology that was available to the painter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Directed by Teller (of Penn and…) the subject is really fascinating to me.
THE WAIT (Monterey Media) Genre: Thriller. A family becomes divided over the possibility that their beloved recently deceased mother might be resurrected. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.5 Sounds interesting but unable to find a trailer for it online.

The Legend of Hercules, Her, Lone Survivor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Ride Along, I Frankenstein, Labor Day, That Awkward Moment, Tim’s Vermeer