Movie Review: “Labor Day”

Starring
Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, Tobey Maguire
Director
Jason Reitman

For a moment, it seemed like Jason Reitman could do no wrong, following up his excellent directorial debut, “Thank You for Smoking,” with one great movie after the next, and earning a quartet of Oscar nominations in the process. But even the best filmmakers are capable of making bad movies, and though “Labor Day” isn’t a complete failure, it’s the director’s weakest film by a country mile. Based on the 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, the movie represents a major departure for Reitman, who’s made a name for himself telling stories with a dark comedic bite. That trademark humor isn’t present in “Labor Day,” instead replaced by the kind of gooey sentimentalism that you’d be more likely to find in a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, which leads me to wonder what Reitman was even thinking.

Set in a quaint New England town during Labor Day weekend in 1987, the film stars Kate Winslet as Adele, a shut-in single mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown. During a rare excursion outside to take her teenage son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) clothes shopping for the new school year, they’re approached by a wounded stranger named Frank (Josh Brolin), who takes Adele and Henry hostage and holes up in their rundown house with the intention of making a run for it at nightfall. A convicted murderer who escaped from the hospital while recovering from an emergency appendectomy, Frank insists that there’s more to the story, and as they spend more time with the supposedly dangerous fugitive, he turns out to be a pretty nice guy. So when Frank ends up staying the next day to do some repairs around the house, Adele and Henry don’t complain, and before long, he’s accepted as a part of the family, serving as a father figure to Henry and passionate lover to the fragile Adele.

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Movie Review: “Gimme Shelter”

Starring
Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, Ann Dowd, James Earl Jones, Stephanie Szostak
Director
Ron Krauss

Vanessa Hudgens’ quest to prove to audiences that she’s all grown up takes a strange, dumpster-diving turn in Ron Krauss’ intentionally inspirational “Gimme Shelter,” about a girl’s quest to get off the streets.

Hudgens stars as Agnes “Apple” Bailey. Of course, being called Agnes makes her angry, and you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. She’s a rolling snowball of rage as the film opens, hacking off about nine inches of her long but gnarly hair and setting out to find the person whose name is scrawled on a mysterious envelope. Her journey seems perilous from the start as her drugged-out mom (Rosario Dawson) literally stands in her way. A fistfight ensues before she hops into a waiting cab, from which she’s kicked out of for lack of payment and trying to steal said cab.

Who wouldn’t feel sorry for this girl?

Apple makes her way to the swanky estate of Tom (Brendan Fraser), who turns out to be the dad she never met. Tom’s new life as a Wall Street mogul, complete with two new kids and attractive French wife, Joanna (Stephanie Szostak), runs counter to Apple’s scavenger mentality, and it’s not long before Joanna demands that Apple leave as quickly as she entered. But Apple lays even more drama on the doorstep when she discovers that she’s pregnant. Tom goes into instant damage control mode, prompting Apple to “turn the page” on this unfortunate incident by getting an abortion. Joanna even offers to hold her hand and take her to the clinic. Once they get there, Joanna drops the handholding offer and leaves her at the clinic, where Apple decides she’s going to turn the page as a mother.

After a night on the streets and a frenetic encounter with a pimp that resembles the late Biggie Smalls, Apple ends up in the hospital, complete with a broken leg, a few facial scars and a bit of salvation in the form of Father Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones). McCarthy refers her to a group home for pregnant teens where she meets girls just as messed up as she is and seem to be fine with it, because they’ve found a place where they fit in. It’s there that Apple’s journey takes on new and tragic turns that will either make you cheer her on or ask for a refund.

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Movie Review: “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”

Starring
Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Costner
Director
Kenneth Branagh

Chris Pine is both James T. Kirk and Jack Ryan. Has anyone ever anchored two franchises that big at the same time? That’s like being both James Bond and Luke Skywalker, and is it wrong to suspect that Paramount, which owns both the “Star Trek” and Jack Ryan franchises, might make him the next Indiana Jones? They have to know that Indy heir apparent Shia LaBeouf is box office poison at the moment, not to mention “retired.” We’d speculate about Pine becoming the new Ethan Hunt, but Tom Cruise would have him killed well before that ever happened.

All kidding aside, Pine is a good choice for Ryan. He’s handsome but not too handsome – which is helpful when you’re CIA and need to blend in – and he is believable as an action hero, an element which is ramped up considerably in the reboot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” This is without question the most action-packed Jack Ryan movie to date. It’s a bit formulaic, but that seems acceptable if it means that the end result is less dull than “Patriot Games.” From this vantage point, that’s a win.

Inspired by the terrorist attack on 9/11, a young John Ryan (Pine) enlists in the Marines to serve his country. Two years later, on an assignment in Afghanistan, Jack’s helicopter is attacked, and during his lengthy recovery, he attracts the attention of Navy Commander William Harper (Kevin Costner), also a CIA operative. Jack is brought in to the group as an analyst, putting his skills to work on Wall Street. Fast forward 10 years, where Jack works for a large firm and discovers that his employer has lost access to billions of dollars in accounts that are owned by a large Russian client. Jack gets approval to travel to Moscow and audit the now-missing accounts. Jack suspects something isn’t right, and his suspicion is confirmed from the moment he arrives, and an attempt is made on his life. Run, Marine, run!

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Movie Review: “The Legend of Hercules”

Starring
Kellan Lutz, Scott Adkins, Gaia Weiss, Liam McIntyre, Liam Garrigan, Roxanne McKee, Rade Serbedzija
Director
Renny Harlin

As if people needed any more reason to lament the lack of originality in Hollywood, it seems like every year there are at least two dueling movies about the exact same thing. Last year, it was terrorist attacks on the White House, and two years ago, it was Snow White. The trend continues in 2014 with Hercules, pitting Renny Harlin’s brawn-over-brains film about the Greek hero against the Dwayne Johnson summer vehicle directed by Brett Ratner. Though Ratner’s involvement will no doubt irk film geeks who’ve made it their life mission to attack the director-for-hire any chance they get, it’s hard to imagine that his movie will be even remotely as terrible as “The Legend of Hercules,” although that’s not much of a challenge.

For starters, this rendition – a sort of origin story about Greek mythology’s most famous demigod – stars the emotionless Kellan Lutz as the title character. Raised by King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) as his own son despite suspicions that he was sired by someone else, Hercules is in fact the product of an unintentionally hilarious one night stand between Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) and Zeus. When Hercules’ true love, Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss), is arranged to marry his weaker and whinier older brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), Amphitryon sends Hercules off to war in the hopes that he’ll be killed. But despite being captured and sold into slavery, Hercules uses his skills in the gladiator ring to win back his freedom and return to Greece, where he leads an army against Amphitryon to reclaim the kingdom.

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Movie Review: “47 Ronin”

Starring
Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Todanabu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Director
Carl Rinsch

If you’re too late to get under the mistletoe and need to take your mind off the credit card bills you’ve racked up, director Carl Rinsch’s “47 Ronin” is sure to remind you what Christmas is all about: love, deception, swords, CG and, of course, ritual suicide. The deception comes in before you even step into the theater with the posters and trailers leading you to believe that Keanu Reeves is the star, but I guess that’s another story.

“47 Ronin” is based on a legend of 47 rogue samurai who avenge their fallen master. In this version, the story begins as a tween half-breed demon Kai (and he’s often reminded of it) is found fleeing from an unknown force in the forest. Despite his assistant Oishi’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) insistence on killing the exhausted Kai, Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) brings him back to the village. Although Asano treats Kai (played as an adult by Reeves) with respect, the rest of the village treats him like a second-class citizen.

Kai’s humble life of servitude (and secretly sharing glances with Asano’s daughter Mika, played by Kou Shibasaki) is interrupted when Shogun Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and his delegation come to visit. He brings with him the maniacal Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), who, along with a beautiful witch (Rinko Kikuchi), concoct a scheme to trick Asano into attacking an unarmed Kira, a crime punishable by execution or a more honorable ritual suicide called seppuku. Adding insult to injury, the Shogun allows Mika a year of mourning, at which time she must marry Kira.

No sooner does the Shogun leave town does Kira makes his presence known by banishing the samurai, selling Kai into slavery and setting out to mentally and physically destroy Oishi. Before you can say “Didn’t this happen in ‘300‘?” Oishi sets out to get the old band of samurai back together for one last battle to avenge his fallen master and free Mika from Kira’s clutches. He’s outnumbered, outgunned… I mean, outsworded, and his only chance is reuniting with the man he looked down upon, Kai.

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