Friday, November 29, 2013

A Special "Black" Friday Movie List

In honor of all you crazy shoppers who either woke up before the crack of dawn on Black Friday, or even worse, cut your family-time short on Thanksgiving, November's Movie-List-of-the-Month takes a look at the greatest films with the work "Black" in their title. But before you get to this month's list, feel free to visit October's List and follow the monthly series as far back as you'd like. Now, on to November's list we go.

Honorable Mention: The Woman in Black and Meet Joe Black

#5. Black Hawk Down

People who know me well understand that I'm not a huge fan of "war" movies. That being the case, Black Hawk Down may seem a little further down my list than you might expect. But Ridley Scott's epic tale about a mission-gone-wrong in Somalia is both candid and intense, enough so it captures the 5th spot on my list.

#4. Black Sheep

While it's clearly no Tommy Boy, Black Sheep is still an iconic comedy from my younger years starring David Spade and the late-great Chris Farley. The laughs are endless and the absurdity is through the roof. And as the added cherry on top, who doesn't love a little Gary Busey now and again?

#3. Men in Black

I'm going to keep it in the 90s with my third selection, the sci-fi comedy Men in Black. I remember a time way before After Earth, when Will Smith ruled the box-office. Although those times has seemingly come and gone, I'll always look back on films from that era, like Men in Black, with nothing but the fondest of memories. And who can deny how catchy that song was?

#2. Black Swan

A much more recent selection comes in the form of Darren Aronofsky's Best Picture Nominee, Black Swan. Natalie Portman took home the Best Actress Oscar for her gut-wrenching turn as a shy and precise ballet dancer who's desperate to convince her director that she can handle the role of the unpredictable and daring Black Swan. This dark psychological thriller toes the line of reality and insanity in such a provocative and tantalizing way.

#1. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

You may call it a "reach", but I'll use the word "clever". While scouring the history of cinema for my favorite film with the word "black" in its title, I came across none other than Gore Verbinski's action-adventure Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. This first installment is immensely superior to its band of sequels and even found itself nominated for five Oscars including Best Actor. Johnny Depp introduced us all to an abnormal, yet still lovable, Captain Jack Sparrow. A man that made the word "savvy" socially acceptable again. 

*** That concludes my list but, as always, feel free to leave a comment pointing out movies that I may have overlooked.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Independent Spirit Award Nominations

It's official, the 2013 movie awards season is finally under way following yesterday's 29th annual Independent Spirit Award Nominations. Walking the grayest of lines, the supposed "indie" representation constantly receives scrutiny for its not-so-indie inclusions every year. While the committee declares that eligible films must have a budget of less than $20 million (does that REALLY feel like an independent dollar amount?), this year's big-shot, 12 Years a Slave, and last year's Silver Linings Playbook reportedly had budgets just north of that line. But rather than nit-picking these rather insignificant nominations, let's relish in the fact that the 2013 awards season has begun!

The Spirit Awards have confirmed that Steve McQueen's squeamish drama, 12 Years a Slave, is a serious contender this year. The film lead the way with 7 nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and acting nominations for all three pictured above. Following close behind with 6 nominations of its own is Alexander Payne's Nebraska, who also hopes to me a major player at the Oscars.

Every year the Spirit Awards delivers some head-scratching inclusions and omissions. While James Franco has pushed hard for a Supporting Actor nomination for his thuggish turn in Spring Breakers, he was (perhaps surprisingly?) left out of the conversation. Furthermore, in a more unbelievable turn of events, the extremely buzzed about drama, Dallas Buyers Club, missed out on everything but acting nominations for McConaughey and Jared Leto who are pictured below (and both of which are more than deserving).

Below is a full list of nominations:

"12 Years A Slave"
"All is Lost"
"Frances Ha"
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
Shane Carruth, "Upstream Color"
J.C. Chandor, "All Is Lost"
Steve McQueen, "12 Years A Slave"
Jeff Nichols, "Mud"
Alexander Payne, "Nebraska"
Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave"
Oscar Isaac, "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Michael B Jordan, "Fruitvale Station"
Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Robert Redford, "All Is Lost"
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Julie Delpy, "Before Midnight"
Gaby Hoffmann, "Crystal Fairy"
Brie Larson, "Short Term 12"
Shailene Woodley, "The Spectacular Now"
Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"
Will Forte, "Nebraska"
James Gandolfini, "Enough Said"
Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Keith Stanfield, "Short Term 12"
Melonie Diaz, "Fruitvale Station"
Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"
Lupita Nyongo, "12 Years a Slave"
Yolonda Ross, "Go For Sisters"
June Squibb, "Nebraska"
Woody Allen, "Blue Jasmine"
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater, "Before Midnight"
Nicole Holofcener, "Enough Said"
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, "The Spectacular Now"
John Ridley, "12 Years A Slave"
Lake Bell, "In A World"
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon"
Bob Nelson, "Nebraska"
Jill Soloway, "Afternoon Delight"
Mike Starrbury, "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete"
Sean Bobbitt, "12 Years A Slave"
Benoit Debie, "Spring Breakers"
Bruno Delbonnel, "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Frank G. Demarco, "All Is Lost"
Matthias Grunsky, "Computer Chess"
Shane Carruth & David Lowery, "Upstream Color"
Jem Cohen & Marc Vives, "Museum Hours"
Frank G. Demarco, "All Is Lost"
Matthias Grunsky, "Computer Chess"
"20 Feet From Stardom"
"After Tiller"
"Gideon’s Army"
"The Act of Killing"
"The Square"
"A Touch of Sin (China)
"Blue is the Warmest Color" (France)
"Gloria" (Chile)
"The Great Beauty" (Italy)
"The Hunt" (Denmark)
"Blue Caprice"
"Fruitvale Station"
"Una Noche"
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (best feature made for under $500,000)
"Computer Chess"
"Crystal Fairy"
"Museum Hours"
"Pit Stop"
"This is Martin Bonner"
Toby Halbrooks & James M. Johnston
Jacob Jaffke
Andrea Roa
Frederick Thornton
Aaron Douglas Johnston, "My Sisters Quinceañera"
Shaka King, "Newlyweeds"
Madeline Olnek, "The Foxy Merkins"
Kalyanee Mam, "A River Changes Course"
Jason Osder, "Let the Fire Burn"
Stephanie Spray & Pacho Valez, "Manakamana"

Monday, November 25, 2013

Muppets Most Wanted and Out of the Furnace (NEW) Trailers

Jason Seigel spawned the rebirth of The Muppets in 2011 and it was such a hit that a sequel has been under way ever since. Although Seigel has stepped down from his writing and lead star responsibilities, Muppets Most Wanted brings together a lengthy list of talent including Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Christoph Waltz and many more. The plot follows the Muppet gang through a European tour where they end up involved in a jewel heist that's being masterminded by a Kermit look-a-like. Due to hit theatres in late March, hopefully Muppets Most Wanted can stand on its own as a worthy sequel.

While many people seem more excited for Christian Bale's other major role of 2013 in David O. Russell's con-man crime-drama American Hustle, he'll first arrive on the big screen in December with Out of the Furnace. Directed by Crazy Heart's Scott Cooper, the film follows a vigilante named Russell (Bale) who's forced to take matters into his own hands when his brother (Casey Affleck) goes missing and local law enforcement refuses to help. Also starring Woody Harrelson, Forrest Whitaker and Willem Dafoe, Out of the Furnace should certainly be on everyone's radar.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Delivery Man

Film: Delivery Man

Starring: Vince Vaughn (The Internship) and Chris Pratt (Moneyball)

Director: Ken Scott (Starbuck)

U.S. Release: November 22nd, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 103 minutes

Stealing creativity from all over the world and remaking it with an American twist is nothing new to Hollywood. Beloved films like The Departed, The Ring and Scent of a Woman are just a few of the many foreign remakes that we've enjoyed over the years. Yet, in 2013 we've added a little spice to the mix with Vince Vaughn's latest blockbuster, Delivery Man. Because rather than simply adapting from the successful 2011 foreign film, Starbuck, Disney and Dreamworks went even one step further by securing the same director for the project, Ken Scott. The result is an almost line for line and scene for scene carbon copy of the original.

David Wozniak (Vaughn) is a middle-aged deadbeat with zero order in his life. But after a surprise visit from a stranger breaks the news that David's previously donated super-sperm has been mishandled and used to impregnate over 500 woman, his life is turned upside down. He enlists the help of his best friend and lawyer, Brett (Chris Pratt), to guide him through the decision of whether or not to break the confidentiality agreement and reveal himself to these now full-grown children who seek the identity of their biological father.

Delivery Man, the latest comedy starring Vince Vaughn, is both short on laughs and drowned in sentiment. The feel-good film attempts to win over audiences with a gentle blend of PG-13 humor and Vaughn's trademark slacker charm, however that cupboard has been empty for quite some time. It's been eight years since the energetic and fast-talking actor raised the comedy bar with a hilarious turn in Wedding Crashers, and each subsequent release continues to pull him further and further from that historic peak. Despite Vaughn's grandest efforts, Delivery Man is nothing more than an average collection of situational jokes with blatant tugs at the heartstrings. As a whole the dramatic effort is futile and unconvincing, making director Ken Scott's second go around with the story completely unwarranted.

For as irritating as it is to sit through conveniently placed plot builders, Delivery Man scratches its way to the finish line with the occasional comedic highlight. Although Vince Vaughn isn't nearly as funny as he used to be, the always hysterical Chris Pratt picks up the slack as frequently as possible. However, since Vaughn undoubtedly dominates the screen time, the film mainly rests on his shoulders and he never puts it all together. Surely there are moments within Delivery Man, they're just too few and far between.

With plenty of other fish in the sea, you're better off spending your time and money on a more enjoyable and authentic film such as Richard Curtis' About Time. Delivery Man feels like a movie made simply for profit instead of the sincere dramatic-comedy we all expect. Unless you know that you'll swoon over the film's positive family-first message, there's plenty of reasons to look elsewhere.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Noah and Cuban Fury Trailers

Director Darren Aronofsky returns in march of 2014 with Noah, his first major motion picture release since the 2010 Oscar-darling Black Swan. Russell Crowe stars as the biblical figure who experiences apocalyptic visions of a massive flood and takes extreme measures to protect his loved ones from the impending doom. The special effects look mesmerizing, but why don't you see for yourself.

On a much lighter note, Cuban Fury hits theatres in time for Valentine's Day 2014. The romantic comedy stars Nick Frost (The World's End) and Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) as feuding co-workers trying to win the affection of their new beautiful American boss (I Love You, Man's Rashida Jones). And when the two men discover her love of Salsa dancing, the competition's on!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club

Film: Dallas Buyers Club

Starring: Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Jared Leto (Mr. Nobody) and Jennifer Garner (The Odd Life of Timothy Green)

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria)

U.S. Release: November 22nd, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 117 minutes

It's the type of news story the media adores. When word spread like wildfire that heartthrob Matthew McConaughey was planning to shed the pounds for a daring Oscar-bait role, all eyes focused on the Texas native. But there's an even bigger story at hand, the former romantic comedy star finds himself in the midst of a remarkably impressive string of fine dramatic turns, including his latest effort in Dallas Buyers Club. Forget about the excessive weight-loss, McConaughey channels his southern roots and delivers a dynamite performance that stands tall against any other acting role of 2013.

Dallas Buyers Club tells the real life story of Ron Woodruff (McConaughey), an electrician who lives life by breaking all the rules. And in 1985, after years of binge drinking, cocaine use and unprotected sex with countless women, Ron discovers that he's HIV-positive. The life-altering realization sends Woodruff on a renegade mission of illegally transporting the latest unapproved AIDS treatments from all over the world to his home state of Texas. And with the assistance of a transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto), Woodruff opens up the exclusive and expensive treatment providing Dallas Buyers Club.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée's character driven Dallas Buyers Club is a fine cinematic conquest that provides arguably the most notable acting ensemble of the year. There's no question, McConaughey is absolutely electric in his role. So good, in fact, I can say without reservation it's the best lead performance I've witnessed all year. Whether the Academy agrees, we'll just have to wait and see. If there's one obstacle standing in McConaughey's way, it's his own onscreen sidekick, Jared Leto. Leto's emotional supporting turn as a drug-addicted transsexual is brilliant enough to almost overshadow McConaughey, which should make for a very interesting awards season. But Dallas Buyers Club is more than just a showcase for towering performances, it's a platform for a captivating and authentic true story. Vallée does a profound job of placing the viewer into the heart of 1980s Texas, where HIV runs rampant throughout the homosexual community and fear is in the front of everyone's mind. Due to a strong collaborative effort from the cast, director and screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club brings a realistic and engaging true story to life.

Although the film is a successful effort for nearly all parties involved, Dallas Buyers Club does include a few notable miscues. For example, Jennifer Garner doesn't warrant the amount of screen time her character is given. And as her face time mounts, she leaves plenty to be desired. In Garner's defense, it's difficult to pinpoint whether her character is under-developed or if she just squanders the opportunity, but either way it's ineffective. In addition, one of the biggest disappointments in Dallas Buyers Club revolves around the fact that Ron Woodruff is never allowed that quintessential moment of triumph. While this slowly-paced drama falls into a repetitious coma where Woodruff is halted by the authorities and then finds a way to circumvent their roadblocks (and so begins the cycle), the finale finds itself rather anti-climactic. Leaving nothing more to savor than a wonderful character arc for McConaughey.

Jean-Marc Vallée's Dallas Buyers Club culminates like almost every other highly anticipated film released this year, extremely commendable, but far from perfect. While this feature is one of the better ones, Dallas Buyers Club is an exceptional character study that admittedly moves slow and lacks a knockout punch. Fans of groundbreaking performances and superior filmmaking will find much to enjoy. But if you're looking for an entertaining blockbuster, then look elsewhere.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Book Thief

Film: The Book Thief

Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) and Emily Watson (War Horse)

Director: Brian Percival (Downton Abbey)

U.S. Release: November 8th, 2013 (Limited Release - PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 131 minutes

Australian author Mark Zusak's novel-turned-motion picture, The Book Thief, spent more than 230 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and captured numerous "Best Children's Book of the Year" awards. Therefore, you could feel the enthusiasm from the packed house of parents and children all throughout the sizable theatre. And when the film finally concluded, they eagerly voiced their appreciation by erupting into a thunderous applause. However, notice that I said "they".

After Liesel (played by Sophie Nélisse) discovers her first book beside the grave site of her younger brother, she continues on her journey to the heart of Germany to live with a set of foster parents just prior to the start of World War II. Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) welcome Liesel into their home, where she quickly grows comfortable and eventually learns to read. Time elapses and as World War II gets under way, Hans and Rosa put all of their lives at risk by providing a safe haven for a Jewish refugee named Max.

Director Brian Percival is best known for his pioneer work with the hit drama series Downton Abbey. Yet, with his newest effort, The Book Thief, the filmmaker supplies a bloated story that barely glosses over the cruel and heinous realities of Nazi Germany. Keeping in context the feature's PG-13 rating and its adaptation from a children's novel, one could justify such a sugar-coating. However, Percival's sluggish pacing and exhaustively unentertaining approach counteract The Book Thief's sentimental and endearing qualities. For every compliment there's a detractor, simply reminding that this effort is mired in mediocrity. Furthermore, the lack of development involving the narrator makes for an ineffective inclusion in the film. Having looked into the specifics regarding the book, the narrator becomes a strong central character to the story. While in the film, they provide nothing more then a sporadic voice-over. Illustrating another miss on the part of screenwriter Michael Petroni and director Brian Percival.

Despite the multiple areas where blame can be assigned for all of the movie's shortcomings, acting cannot be one of them. Geoffrey Rush continues his spectacular career with another magical performance as the lovable adoptive father to Liesel. His onscreen significant other, played by Emily Watson, also delivers in a wide-ranging role. In addition to her foster parents, Sophie Nélisse's acting is mightily impressive for a 13 year old girl. Hollywood can safely expect to see plenty more of her in the future. Although The Book Thief is flooded with sound acting, issues surrounding the script and an over-extended running time build too big of a roadblock for the feature to overcome.

With a niche audience that notoriously flocks to movie theatres and a PG-13 rating that caters to their demands, The Book Thief could make a pretty penny if it expands to a wide release. But ultimately, the feature is what it is, an overly long and mildly entertaining fluff piece. Outside of the fantastic performances, there really isn't much else to be seen. Unless you're a faithful fan of the novel, take a pass on The Book Thief.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4.

Grade: C

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis

Film: Inside Llewyn Davis

Starring: Oscar Issac (Drive), Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby) and John Goodman (Argo)

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

U.S. Release: December 20th, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 105 minutes

At the exact moment the final credits rolled, leading man Oscar Issac scurried from the back of the theatre to discuss his newest film, Inside Llewyn Davis. And much to the surprise of the audience members, the handsome clean-shaven actor resembled nothing of his shaggy and depleted onscreen persona. Issac talked at length about famed sibling directors Joel and Ethan Coen's latest offering and the warm reception it received earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival in France. The multi-talented actor/musician expressed that, at Cannes, the crowd just "got it". Much like the woes and hardships prevalent in 1960s American folk songs, the Coens mirror their main character's life to the same brand of music that flows naturally from his lethargic body. It's clever and it's creative, but its also uninspired.

Lleywn Davis (Oscar Issac) is a struggling folk musician living in New York at the start of the 1960s. While spending night to night crashing on the couches of various acquaintances and friends, Llewyn makes one last push at jump-starting his career before he decides to walk away from it all. But no matter how skilled and talented the performer truly is, Llewyn appears to be his own biggest hurdle.

There's a somber and sorrowful ambiance surrounding Inside Llewyn Davis, something that's both elegant and depressing all at the same time. Like a magnet, the title character attracts each and every hardship that he encounters. Yet, Llewyn is still shown nonchalantly laughing off the proposed notion that he welcomes these burdens. You see, it's very important to remember that Llewyn is an artist, perhaps even ahead of his time. His perspective on life and music is slightly off-center, which makes for a remarkably fascinating, but not always likable, character. Thankfully, the Coens bring Drive's Oscar Issac to the stage, where he delivers a knockout performance that provides buoyancy to the film. During the periodic moments where Inside Llewyn Davis struggles to thrill the audience, Issac never disappoints. He trudges on, just like his character stomping through the frigid Chicago snow. Although the feature feels more like a mediocre effort from a Coen brothers standpoint, Inside Llewyn Davis still manages to be beautifully filmed and superbly acted. Both of which are regular staples in Joel and Ethan's long list of accomplished work.

While the Coens have obviously mastered the craft of storytelling, Inside Llewyn Davis has an heir of incompleteness. The tale's metaphoric foundation and soulful delivery are enough to keep it afloat, but the picture lacks resolve and closure. Despite the rumblings regarding Joel and Ethan's ineffective endings that have been heard throughout their brilliant careers, Inside Llewyn Davis is definitely worthy of such criticism. Don't get me wrong, I completely understand the clever purpose behind a final Bob Dylan reference and the slamming of the barred door leading into the dark alleyway. However, I envisioned a bleaker more indelicate conclusion, a place the siblings clearly weren't willing to go. Occasionally wading through a tiresome and exhausting expedition en route to an unsatisfying resolution, Inside Llewyn Davis suffers from a few self-inflicted limitations.

Trapped in the midst of a cinematic year that feels so feeble in comparison to 2012, all eyes shifted to the Coen brothers. Looking for some film, any film, to run away with this awards season race, it's suddenly apparent that Inside Llewyn Davis isn't "the one". But in conjunction with a collection of fine roles from Oscar Issac, Carey Mulligan and many more, a solid humor-induced script and a smattering of phenomenal live-music performances help guide you along Llewyn's bumpy journey.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Thursday, November 7, 2013

DVD Outlook: November 2013

Let me be the first to tell you that the DVD and Video-On-Demand selections for November include a feeble cluster of mediocre options. Therefore, it might be a good idea to check out something from October's releases instead. Otherwise, here's my suggestions from all the new titles for the month.

Breaking Bad: The Final Season - The Greatest Show Ever Made!

Honestly, there's nothing to be more thankful for this November than the DVD release of Breaking Bad: The Final Season. I suggest you go out of your way and either start, or resume and then finish, the best drama television series of all time. Yes, I'm aware. It's a bold claim to label something as "the greatest" of its kind, but I believe it whole-heartedly. Vince Gilligan crafted an amazing transformation story, unmatched by anything we've ever seen before. Breaking Bad is a pioneer, setting the bar well beyond imaginable heights and doing so on a cable television network. Nope, Breaking Bad never got the HBO or premium channel treatment. It opened the door for a world of possibilities, showing that immaculate writing and creativity far exceeds budget and marketing. So if you want to know my number one recommendation for the month of November, it's to get your hands on the entire series of Breaking Bad and begin to be transformed. (November 26th)

Clear History - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (No review available)

What an easy segue. From the greatest drama show to the man behind the greatest sitcom/comedy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David's latest HBO project finds its way to DVD this month. David stars as Nathan, a man who jumped ship on a rising car manufacturer and cost himself billions of dollars. Living under the dark cloud of his decision, he moves to Martha's Vineyard where he begins a whole new life under the name Rolly. Yet, while thriving with his new identity, Rolly's former business partner moves to the island and threatens his new existence. Clear History has plenty of laughs and includes a remarkable cast made up of Jon Hamm, Kate Hudson, Danny McBride, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber and the list goes on. (November 5th)

I Declare War - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

One of the most compelling blends of reality and make-believe ever caught on film can be found in the independent film I Declare War. General PK has never lost a game of capture the flag. But on this day, his arch-nemesis Skinner has big plans of his own. Without an adult actor appearing throughout the entire film, I Declare War delivers the ultimate childhood nostalgia. While the feature is clearly imperfect and it comes with its ups-and-downs, the imaginative approach taken by directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson serves as a formidable foundation for a war movie unlike any other. (November 12th)

Honorable Mention: There are quite a few selections that I haven't seen, but look forward to catching this month. First up are the indie films Frances Ha and Prince Avalanche (both on 11/12). While I have my complaints about earlier features released by both of their directors, I still have enough of an interest to check them out. One major release that I failed to see during its theatrical run was the comedy We're the Millers (11/19). Although I've heard mixed reviews, it could also be a film worth watching. As far as documentaries go, one of the most buzzed of its kind is the feature Blackfish (11/12). Finally, although I wasn't a fan of Zack Snyder's action overdose, Man of Steel (11/12), I'd do a big disservice by failing to mention that it comes to DVD this month.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Labor Day

Film: Labor Day

Starring: Kate Winslet (Contagion), Josh Brolin (Gangster Squad) and Gattlin Griffith (Green Lantern)

Director: Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)

U.S. Release: December 25th, 2013 (Limited Release - Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 111 minutes

This year's closing night feature at the 22nd annual Philadelphia Film Festival was Jason Reitman's upcoming drama, Labor Day. While the selection felt a bit puzzling from the onset, I still managed to arouse some excitement for an ultra-early screening of the Christmas Day release. But despite having Academy Award Winner Kate Winslet in a starring role and Oscar-regular Jason Reitman set to direct, Labor Day is a hapless reminder that Christmas won't be coming early this year.

Adele (Kate Winslet) is the depressed and divorced mother of her teenage son Henry. When they venture out to the grocery store to make some routine purchases, a recently escaped and wounded criminal named Frank (Josh Brolin) bullies them into harboring him for the night. Yet, what's only intended to be a short term disruption, turns into an unexpected set of circumstances that extend throughout the entire Labor Day weekend.

Jason Reitman's Labor Day is a grossly dramatic affair that falls victim to an unlikely and inordinate collection of situations. Nothing about the feature makes any logical sense. Brolin stars as an escaped convict on the run who decides to spend his newly found freedom fixing cars and cleaning gutters in the middle of the day while a community-wide manhunt is under way. Although Kate Winslet and Brolin try their best to mask Reitman's glaring onscreen absurdities with a pair of heartwarming performances, the baffling situations that arise time and time again make their efforts a lost cause. And at the end of the day, Labor Day is an imposing piece of fluff that never resonates or holds much weight.

For all of its weaknesses, none of the blame deserves to be placed on Reitman's fine set of cast members. Winslet and Brolin are beyond serviceable in their leading roles and additional praise should be given for youngster Gattlin Griffith's admirable performance. Griffith truly captures the essence of a bashful and lonesome teenager struggling with his entry into adulthood and understanding of the world around him. However, outside of Reitman's cast, the director's latest attempt is completely off the mark. Whether it's the hokey usage of flashbacks in the story or the off kilter manner in which the sequence of events unfold, nothing about Labor Day feels natural.

With expectations of history repeating itself, many anticipated that Labor Day would mark a triumphant return to the heart of the awards season debate for Jason Reitman. But to the contrary, elements of charm and charismatic humor that reigned prevalent in the director's past work are nowhere to be found. As a big fan of Up in the Air, Juno and even the under-seen and under-appreciated Young Adult, Reitman strays from the norm and appears extremely lost. With the success of his previous films, Reitman clearly has discovered his niche. Let's just hope he returns there sooner rather than later.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4.

Grade: C

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street (New) and Labor Day Trailers

Now that the debate is over as to whether or not Martin Scorsese's wildly ambitious drama The Wolf of Wall Street will be released in time to qualify for the Oscars, the announcement of a Christmas Day opening came in conjunction with a new theatrical trailer. While Leonardo DiCaprio continues to show his range, perhaps the most intriguing role comes from a frequently seen Jonah Hill. But one question still remains, can The Wolf of Wall Street stand the test of its hefty (and hopefully not bloated) 165 minute running time. We shall see.

Jason Reitman has garnered plenty of acclaim for his directorial efforts with Juno and Up in the Air. He returns in 2013 with Labor Day, the odd story of an escaped convict (played by Josh Brolin) who forces a divorced mother (Kate Winslet) and her young son to harbor him throughout the Labor Day weekend. As the closing night selection for the Philadelphia Film Festival last month, I've screened Labor Day and don't foresee a busy awards season. However, you can check out it's first theatrical trailer below and decide for yourself.