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Out in Theaters: ’TULLY’

Parenting is perpetual sacrifice. Or so says Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, the directing-writing duo behind poppy cult classic Juno, with their comeback collaboration Tully. A dramatic comedy or comedic drama, depending on how you want to look at it, Tully is a soaring success no matter what box you want to put it in; a well-meaning, deeply felt, irreverently mature exploration of growing pains and adulating. Charlize Theron is a knock-one in this deliriously enjoyable feature that has no short supply of wit, bite and verve with a shot of mindfuck mixed in to boot.  Read More

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Out in Theaters: MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN

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Sorry Jason Reitman, I don’t know if we can be friends anymore. We had a good run but, I think it’s time to cut the umbilical cord. Though Men, Women and Children is a marked improvement over Reitman’s nearly horrendous Labor Day, it still misses the mark by a long shot, offering a muddled, obvious, sentimental mess trying to pass as smartphone generation gospel. The film’s central thesis is as convoluted as a Reddit comments section, as insincere as an emoticon apology. Reitman’s throughline that “technology bites…or does it?” is set up with the cold precision of a Mac Store. The section on why video games are bad is over here, in the front we have scummy chatrooms, the dangers of technophobia is jammed back there and right this way is the destructive power of internet speed-dating. It’s a Tinder of hot topic issues; a mosaic of D.A.R.E. videos from middle school health class. Through a girth of over-sharing, Reitman steeps the film too deep in melodramatic strife and winds up imparting a cold, stiff, impotent feeling. Like grandpa when he’s taken far too much Viagra.

The film introduces us to not just one, two, or four main protagonists but a heaping ten of them. But before we even get to any of these men, women and children struggling within their mortal coils, Reitman introduces us to a character that will have a significantly larger role than you’d ever expect. That character is a satellite voiced by the wonderfully British Emma Thompson. I guess she isn’t technically speaking actually the satellite – nor is the satellite necessarily anthropomorphized – but every time we see the thing rocketing to the outer reaches of the Milky Way – something we’re supposed to believe is significant but never is – we hear her voice and vice versa. Thompson has a few zingers and crude observations that cull early laughs but the intermittent returns to said satellite is a consummate representation of the film at large. It’s odd, ill-fitting and just doesn’t work.
 
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Ansel Egort
is one of Reitman’s many targets. He’s coping with the fact that his mom abandoned him. He just quit the football team because he’s a teenager and life is pointless because a YouTube video called “Tiny Blue Dot” says so. Because all teenagers prescribe to YouTube philosophy. Now he spends his days playing League or Legends or World of Warcraft or whatever MMO was currently popular when Reitman was filming this. Not to imply that Reitman is actually tapped into what teenagers do and don’t think is cool. I wouldn’t dare suggest that. At school, Ansel’s friends have not only abandoned him but have turned to harassing and outright bullying him. All for tapping out of the varsity pigskin squad. As milk cartoons strike him down, he’s a statue, taking it on the chin like some self-imilkating monk. With him alone, Reitman deals with abandonment issues, bullying, teenage dating and even suicide. Had the princely-named Ansel and his trials and tribulations been the sole subject matter of Men, Women and Children, we could actually be convinced to care. As is, he’s just another brick in a wall of “woe is me”.

Spontaneous abortion is yet another. Anorexia another. Cheating on your spouse just one more. BDSM porn addictions? Check. Teenage impotence? Check. Underage maybe-pornography? Double check. Overbearing, technophobe mothers are an obvious shoe in for Reitman’s catalog of problems. But I know what you’re thinking. What about a woman pimping out her own teenage daughter to online yucksters? Yup, that’s in the mix too. It’s like Reitman fingered through the DSM and earmarked every other page. Then he went Urban Dictionary and yanked some of the most common entries. Finally he made a Facebook poll of what the biggest issues facing people in 2014 were and shoehorned the top ten responses into one bloated, junky, blood-and-thunder diatribe. The product resembles spending two hours on Chat Roulette. The statement, little more than a bunch of obscured dicks in your face.

The trouble is, there really is a lot of really good acting going on within its midst. It’s a frustratingly similar case to Labor Day. Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin weren’t bad so much as they were just trapped in an awful script, working for a director than had never been anything but competent. Men, Women and Children suffers an identical blow. The actors have shown up ready to put in the work but the script lets them down at every turn. Save for (miraculously) Adam Sandler, the sole survivor of Reitman’s mushy hand and the only character whose arc feels genuine and unsentimental. The only explanation for the fierce dichotomy of talent and production is that those Hollywood folk still haven’t gotten the memo to jump ship on Reitman. Accordingly, he’s still got a designer cast to work with and they give it their all.

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Even though I took issue with the trumped up dramatics of his character, Egort’s performance is airtight; frothing with pathos and interspersed with moments of true joy. Jennifer Garner excels as a dictatorial mother who safeguards each and every internet interaction for daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever). She’s easy to hate, though a bit hack-i-ly written, but Garner helps flesh her into an actual person rather than the one-dimensional character she’s sculpted as. As a villain, she works but only ironically and that’s still only because of the depth of Garner’s skill.

Another cast stand out is Dean Norris, father to Ansel and new boyfriend to the washed-up but nonetheless fashionable Judy Greer (the mom pimper). Norris was always a dark horse on Breaking Bad (side note: his garage confrontation with Walt alone should have earned him an Emmy nomination. COME ON!) and he unleashes much of the same macho man with a mushy inside energy here. That guys eyes vibrate when he’s worked up like no one else’s. And those jowls. Whoa mama.

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Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt are as divided in their marriage as anal beads and bounce off each other just as much. Their romance is as snuffed out by the forces of the world as a dog queefing in the wind. Whenever sex needs to be scheduled (or, ugh, rescheduled) you should probably just buy matching his and hers FleshLights. As DeWitt and Sandlers sexual absentia mounts, they each turn to online lovers. Her via Ashley Madison – the go-to cheat on your hubby website (side note: I wonder if they paid a sponsorship for their inclusion)- him with a high class escort. And when I say high class, I mean $800 an hour high class. The only real bit of emotional honesty comes from Sandler’s awkward interaction with said hooker and how he ultimately decides to deal with his and his wife’s infidelity. But, as has come to be expected of a Reitman film, that emotional honesty is few and far between.

At its heart, Men, Women and Children is rochambeau. Not the French general, the nut kicking contest. With so many potentially nerve-striking issues on display, Reitman has money on the fact that at least one will get ya where it hurts. And he does. A few scenes legitimately sting. The duteously great acting makes this feat possible. This doesn’t however make Men, Women and Children “good” by any means. It’s just a statistical fact that if you’re blasting a shotgun blindfolded, you’re bound to hit something eventually. Can we have the old Jason Reitman back now?

C-

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Out in Theaters: LABOR DAY

“Labor Day”
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Macquire, Tom Lipinksi, Clark Gregg, JK Simmons
Drama
111 Mins
PG-13

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Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day is a hokey, sentimental, botched abortion of a film, asking “Would you like some cheese with that ham?” Dreadfully sappy and spilling over with predictable narrative turns that’ll have you groaning in your seat, this gushing melodrama employs the trifecta of director Jason Reitman, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin with all the elegance of buckshot into a watermelon.

Both accomplished performers do give it their all and commit to the dungy script with full hearts but they’re given such softcover romance novel material to work with that even their most devout earnestness can’t cover the gaping hole. Even the most talented of artists could turn this thin-skinned story that screams bubble bath bathos into a respectable and engaging tale.

Almost at points weaker than a Nicholas Sparks’ doomed romance, Labor Day sees an escaped convict (Brolin) hole up with a single mom (Winslet) and her son, played by a steady-handed Gattlin Griffith. Quicker than this beast can say Belle, Winslet’s Adele is fawning over this goatee-rocking con with none other than a gaping wound in his side. We’re led to believe that her illogical swooning comes from some form of “love at first sight” nonsense but the shoddy sham that’s truly going on is far more evident to the audience. She falls for him because he’s a man, willing to employ years of manliness to fix up the house and put her, near crumbling, affairs in order. Most importantly though, Frank’s the first dude to look her way in what seems like years and he’s apparently really digging her shaky, damaged goods routine.

As for Frank’s broken brand of bittersweet, he’s a man deeply distressed by certain events in his past, that oh so conspicuously percolate up over the course of the film, but he’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything and is as soft-skinned as the peaches that he makes into pies. From making irresistible pie crust to replacing furnace filters, he’s got more tricks up his sleeve than Mary Poppins. “How could this guy possibly be in jail for murder?” we’re meant to wonder, “He’s just so great!” Even though Brolin tries to sand down the edges of this over-the-top character with his rough and gruff persona, nothing he does is able to override the neon heartstring-yanking intent seeping from the page.

Strangely enough, in the throes of this hackneyed love drama Reitman tries to ratchet up some invisible tension with a syncopated score reminiscent of a 90’s spy thriller complete with edgy camera casts into the foreboding wooden atmosphere. Truly, there is never a moment of suspense, never a second where we don’t know exactly what is going to happen next so it rarely makes sense why he’s trying to weave tension from thin air. Worse yet, as he moves into the home stretch, the narrative makes drastic turns towards egregiously cornball resolutions we’d expect from a mega bargain paperback fiction. When Tobey Macguire‘s career turns to pie making, the writing has covered the wall.
 
An embarrassing stain on the respected filmography of all involved, Labor Day is really just not the kind of film one would expect Reitman to make. From Juno to Up in the Air, Thank You For Smoking to Young Adult, this is a man intent on exploring themes of loss and personal exploration, growing pains and manipulation. This sees none of the above and has the grace of a drunken tabby cat. A misfire in all senses of the word, let’s just write Labor Day one off as the dud that it is and hope it’s no more than a fluke in an otherwise commendable career.

D+

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Watch the First Trailer for Jason Reitman's LABOR DAY

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Once thought to be a serious Oscar contender, Labor Day opened to lukewarm reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival and has largely fallen off the radar as one to be strongly anticipated. Nonetheless anything from Jason Reitman, director of Juno, Up in the Air, Thank You For Smoking and Young Adult, is worth a watch, even if this will be one of his lesser efforts. Starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet as a pair of strangers forced together by chance, Labor Day is currently rocking a 65% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Depressed single mom Adele (Winslet) and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man (Brolin), who turns out to be a con on the run, a ride home and a place to lie low. As the police turn over the town in search of the escaped convict, Adele and her son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited. As the Labor Day weekend runs to a close,  Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, JK Simmons, Brooke Smith and James Van Der Beek co-star.

Labor Day is directed by Jason Reitman and stars Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, JK Simmons, Brooke Smith and James Van Der Beek. It will not open on Labor Day as it comes to theaters on Christmas Day.