Labor Day

Director Jason Reitman has gone straight. Labor Day is a melodrama that’s quite different from his usual style.

Jason Reitman is known for hip, edgy movies that have a biting wit. Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air and Young Adult have specific points of view on modern American life. They have memorable flawed characters. They have killer opening sequences.

Labor Day, set in a small New Hampshire town over Labor Day weekend 1987, has its flawed characters. But the story has no significant agenda/message. And its title sequence is standard and ho-hum. Reitman wrote the script, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard.

Frank (James Brolin) is an escaped prisoner who chooses young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his divorced mom Adele (Kate Winslet) to hide him out in their home. Over this long weekend, Adele, a lonely woman who is beset with anxiety, finds comfort in the arms of this not-so-frightening convicted murderer.

Frank cooks! He feeds his chili (whose ingredients include coffee) by the spoonful to Kate. (He has temporarily tied her and Henry up so that, should authorities bust in, they would not suspect they were aiding and abetting the convict.) When a neighbor (J.K. Simmons) brings a basket of ripe peaches, Frank makes a peach pie with help from Adele and Henry. Yes, the pie making is sensuous.

Along with romancing mom, Frank is nice to Henry. He’s also nice to Barry (Micah Fowler), a handicapped kid who Adele agrees to watch for a few hours.

Reitman teases with flashback snippets of Frank and Adele’s respective early lives and episodes that made them the people they have become. As the flashbacks become more complete, so do the characters.

Of course, most of the film is a flashback, narrated by the adult Henry (Tobey Maguire). The actor portraying the young Henry, Gattlin Griffith, is impressive in his understated performance.

As authorities intensify their manhunt, Frank and Adele make a plan to leave town and take refuge in Canada. This decision leads to the film’s climax, which will not be revealed here.

Reitman’s effort to go mainstream is partially successful. He tells this suspenseful story well, but it moves very slowly at times. Should there have been more graphic evidence of Frank and Adele’s romance? Probably yes, but they wanted a PG-13 rating—more evidence of Reitman’s desire to play to the masses.

Sadly, Labor Day feels like a Lifetime/Hallmark movie with upgraded acting.



Total Recall

Now THIS is an action movie!

“Total Recall” gets set and then goes. And once it launches, it maintains a breakneck pace with just a few interludes of calm.

Set a hundred or so years from now, “Total Recall,”  presents a world devastated by war. Human life exists only in the United Federation of Britain in Europe and The Colony (Australia).

Colin Farrell is a worker who commutes each day from The Colony to UFB via a speedy underground bullet train called The Fall. He works a dreary job making robot cops. On a night when he’s restless, he takes a walk on the wild side. He turns down a come-on from a hooker with three boobs—no, she really has three boobs—and goes to a business called Rekall to have new memories implanted. That’s when all hell breaks loose.

Farrell’s character is revealed to have had another identity and another life, which he doesn’t quite recall, even with prompts and holograms along the way. The film is essentially a long—but thrilling—chase sequence, leading up to an explosive climax.

Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel provide more punch than eye candy in this movie. Kate plays Farrell’s wife who turns against him and Biel is his new/old ally in his escape from/return to his past. You want a cat fight between the two? You got it. It’s a good one.

The hundred-years-from-now land (and water) scapes of the UFB and The Colony may be the best since “Bladerunner’s” vision of a future Los Angeles. The buildings, the infrastructures and the teeming masses of humans offer a compelling guess at a future (not unlike in “Bladerunner”) with a huge Asian influence.

“Total Recall” features another glimpse of what our future may hold: phones physically embedded in Farrell’s and Beckinsale’s hands.

If you’re wondering why the 1990 version needed a remake, go see this one and compare. Also consider that anyone born in 1990 turns 22 this year and is right there in the film’s target demo. Despite the new film’s violence (and the quick flash of the three boobs), the film is rated PG-13. (The 1990 version was rated “R,” by the way.)

If you enjoy a good futuristic action flick, add “Total Recall” to your “must-see” list.




“The Woman in Black”—((Goosebumps!))

“The Woman in Black” is creepy good. With a tension-building musical score and clever lighting, the movie keeps the tingle going from scare to scare.

With an “all growed up” Daniel Radcliffe as the centerpiece of the movie, TWIB brings some old-fashioned fright. As opposed to many recent films that scare with outrageous CGI creatures and unbelievable settings, “Woman” takes us places we’ve all been. Darkened hallways, strange house noises, shadows in windows, late night door knocks, nervous dog barks, odd looks from strangers, sudden weird behavior from seemingly normal people—these occurrences in the movie help root the story in real life.

Radcliffe is Arthur Kibbs, an early 1900’s London attorney who is sent to a rural England town to go through a recently deceased woman’s papers. His job is to ascertain that the will his firm has is the correct one. Many of the townspeople give him dirty looks. Some discourage him from going to the woman’s home, a classic haunted house. Its location, on a hill, at the end of a long causeway, surrounded by a coastal marsh, adds to the mystique of the house.

When he arrives at the house, the spooky stuff begins. A favorite scene has Arthur exploring the upstairs of this haunted mansion. The creepy soundtrack music goes silent, allowing us to hear the creaks, pops and other vague noises that the house (and whoever else may be there) produces.

Arthur finds two useful allies in Mr. and Mrs. Daily, played by Ciaran Hinds and recent Oscar nominee Janet McTeer. They are rich enough to own the only car in town, but they share a particular sorrow with many others in the town.

Radcliffe, now 22, demonstrates that he is now old enough to grow whiskers and successfully portray a young adult. He’ll always be Harry, but he has a big future ahead that may someday equal his success of the past decade at Hogwarts.

If you’re a parent who allows kids younger than 13 to attend PG-13 movies like this one, take note. There are some scary elements that may engender nightmares and/or late night interruptions of your sleep by your troubled offspring.