Labor Day

Have you ever felt manipulated by a screenplay? I have... Writer/director Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air"), working with Joyce Maynard's novel, really knows how to manipulate us. At the beginning we are hesitant, particularly in the early scenes, which threaten to become mawkish (yeah, the peach pie); but soon, through flashbacks, we come to under- stand our characters, and the film suddenly becomes unpredictable and involving. Nice switch!

We watch:
  • Kate Winslet ("Contagion") as Adele, the clinically depressed mother who is forced to shelter an escaped convict in order to protect her son.
  • Josh Brolin ("Gangster Squad") plays Frank, a felon who escaped from the hospital where he had an emergency appendectomy. He tells her "things aren't like they seem."
  • Gattlin Griffith ("Green Lantern") is Henry, the boy is struggling to help his mother, who is practically agoraphobic. He sorts through bits of information gleaned from her, a classmate, and his father, who has remarried and has a second family.
  • Maika Monroe ("The Bling Ring") is Mandy, the classmate, overflowing with youthful theories about life, love, sex and family dynamics.
  • Clark Gregg ("Much Ado About Nothing") is Gerald, Adele's former husband. He knows he has let down his son Henry and regrets it.
  • James Van Der Beek (Lots of TV) is the ultra-helpful Officer Treadwell. If only he weren't quite so diligent...
  • Tobey Maguire ("The Great Gatsby") is the adult Henry.
The casting of the younger versions of our main characters is extremely good, with the glaring exception of Toby Maguire as the adult Henry. The first couple of flashbacks confused me; until I realized that we were seeing flashbacks for BOTH of the lead characters.  Duh....

This is PG-13, so expect some mildly sensual situations (no nudity), little or no profanity, the presence of a gun but the only gunshots are off screen and, as I recall, harmless. The screening audience, defying more "artistic" critics, applauded this one.
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Here is the trailer:
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That Awkward Moment

First-time director Tom Gormican, who also wrote this R-rated screenplay, gives us three buddies in the process of growing up (you are supposed to write what you know...smile...). They have a New York City pace to their repartee: very quick, acerbic and witty. The actors mastered the art of interrupting and talking over one another in a very natural way, while still managing to convey their dialogue. Not an easy task...

We enjoy:
  • Zac Efron ("The Lucky One") is Jason, one of our young men on the make, determined to stay single and "live the life!" He designs book covers.
  • Imogen Poots ("A Late Quartet") plays Ellie, the gal he sees in a bar and diverts from a pickup artist so HE can pick her up. She conducts poetry seminars.
  • Miles Teller ("The Spectacular Now") is Daniel, who works with Jason. He makes sure no one underestimates him; he has braggadocio down pat!
  • Mackenzie Davis ("The F Word") Our tall, slender Chelsea, however, can see right through Daniel's smooth talk.
  • Michael B. Jordan ("Fruitvale Station") plays Mikey, a young doctor who is in shock over his wife's infidelity.
  • Jessica Lucas (Lots of TV) is Vera, Mikey's estranged wife; she's just looking for more "spontaneity." Who knew?
Some things impressed us: all of our young adults have jobs; no one lives with his or her parents, although they all get along with them just fine; these are NOT stoners, not one hint of drugs is seen, and there are no pressing money problems. HOWEVER, the comedy is juvenile and raunchy, the language is profane, the behavior is VERY R-rated, and, I blush to admit, we laughed out loud regularly.

No car chases, no guns, no blowie uppie stuff and the nudity is pretty much played for laughs. All in all, even though it was funny, it made me grateful that I do NOT have to go through these modern-day dating rituals. Yikes!
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Take a peek at this preview:
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Gimme Shelter

The shelter would be for a runaway girl who has become homeless and now finds herself pregnant. She had left home hoping that she could find her successful father but now it looks as though she may be repeating her unwed mother's turbulent story.

Writer/director Ron Kraus ("Amexica") inspires his actors, both with his words and his direction. There were several long, single-take scenes that were notable. Watch for the one at the front door with Dawson and Dowd. I'll keep an eye out for this guy.

Here is some of the cast:
  • Vanessa Hudgens ("Machete Kills") is Apple, our desperate runaway; her mother is a drug addict; her foster families don't work out; she has no job, no life skills, and no resources; now her new-found father wants her to have an abortion.
  • Brendan Fraser ("Inkheart") is her father, Tom Fitzpatrick, a successful Wall Street businessman. He was only 19 when he fathered our heroine and bailed out on her mother because his parents wanted him to go to college.
  • Rosario Dawson ("Zookeeper") is the reason our gal ran away: Mom is a drug addict and a prostitute...reason enough, don't you think? Her actions are chilling; our screening audience gasped during one scene.
  • James Earl Jones ("Jack and the Beanstalk" voice) brings hope with his role as the white knight who comes galloping into our wounded girl's broken life, insisting that things CAN be better.
  • Ann Dowd ("Side Effects") is Kathy, the practical and loving woman who provides that much-needed shelter.
This PG-13 story is based on true incidents in the life of a pregnant runaway, with some very welcome photos of the real people during the final credits. I LOVE it when that happens!
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Take a peek:
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Rare Exports

Ready for a complete change of pace? Have I got one for you!

The full name of this Finnish tale (English captions) is "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale," and it's about Pietari, a little Lapp boy living with his widowed father in an isolated settlement up near the Russian border. His father depends on reindeer for their livelihood but their way of life is disrupted when, just across the border, a construction company sets up and begins dismantling a nearby mountain. This activity disrupts the local balance and their entire reindeer herd is soon found dead. This is a crucial event and spells disaster for father and son.

We watch as our little guy gossips with a chum about "the REAL Santa Claus, not the Coca Cola one we believe in. Our parents have lied to us!" He launches a major investigation about this mythical Santa and discovers that, according to Lapland lore, naughty children are stolen on Christmas Eve and never come back!

Now he's really concerned, particularly on Christmas Eve when his school chums start disappearing.... and he discovers that the construction across the border is really an architectural dig... and his father doesn't believe any of his theories... and he's supposed to go to bed early...

This R-rated 2010 fable is certainly a new approach to the Christmas legend! We don't know any of the actors, so we completely buy into this unearthly story. Just wait until you discover what's in those crates being exported!

Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, this little tale, by turn both spooky and funny, provides an interesting view of life on the edge. The award-winning cinematography by Mika Orasmaa brings breathtaking scenes of the great northern wilds. (I love it when JayFlix folks recommend films I would otherwise never hear about!)
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See for yourself:
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Dallas Buyers Club

Already laden with awards from the Golden Globes, this audacious film has collected six nominations for Academy Awards. After viewing this moving story, I can certainly see why. Director Jean-Marc Vallée ("Young Victoria") pulled off nothing short of a miracle when funding suddenly dried up and he filmed this in 25 days. He fed his cast on over-loaded credit cards.

Through the use of dates (when initially diagnosed in 1985, our hero is given 30 days to live), we know that this actually happened; it is a brilliant script by two newcomers, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, who used Ron Woodroof's life to inform their script (he's "Woodruff" in the film). Last year I saw the excellent documentary "How to Fight a Plague" and feel that the time lines and the learning curve about AIDS are realistic and factual.

Some of this terrific cast are:
  • Matthew McConaughey ("The Wolf of Wall Street") is Ron Woodruff, a macho rodeo cowboy and hustler. When told his diagnosis he lets the doctor know in no uncertain terms, what he thinks of THAT: "Only faggots get AIDS!" Mr. M. lost 45 pounds to add realism to his role. (2014 Oscar for Best Actor)
  • Jared Leto ("Mr. Nobody") is Rayon, a transgender wannabe who partners with our hero to form the Buyers Club, a gimmick that (temporarily) circumvents Texas law. He lost 40 pounds as well as waxed his body for this role. (2014 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor)
  • Jennifer Garner ("Butter") plays Eve, a doctor who sees the value of reducing the toxic doses of AZT, despite her medical colleagues and Big Pharma. See how that works for her!
  • Denis O'Hare ("J. Edgar") is Dr. Sevard, whose face we soon come to see as evil because he represents the implacability of the ADA and Big Pharma.
  • Steve Zahn ("Diary of a Wimpy Kid") is our hero's brother Tucker, a Dallas cop and an all-around good guy.
  • Griffin Dunne ("Broken City") is Dr. Vass, an American doctor exiled to Mexico because of his unorthodox approach to HIV and AIDS. This proves to be a game changer.
Ron Woodruff is a rake hell, so expect "F" bombs by the score, sexual situations (he didn't get AIDS sitting home watching TV), drug use and realistic depiction of dying victims. No wonder it is rated "R" and is awarded with wins and nominations! There isn't a weak performance; a tip of the Stetson to French-Canadian Monsieur Vallée!
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Here is a free sample:
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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

What in the world does a "covert CIA analyst" do? Director Kenneth Branagh ("Thor") explains it all, and our screening audience got to watch this action/thriller to find out! Branagh can be a slam-bang director, so we were pleased to see his name here.

This is a set up for a more contemporary version of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series, with our hero as a fumbling recruit, already whip smart but ill-prepared for his first kill. Planted by the CIA as an analyst in a stock brokerage, he is sent to Moscow to interview one of his employer's clients. He has an immediate trial by fire, with a violent attempt on his life, complicated by an unexpected visit from his girlfriend who "just wanted to surprise" him. Eek!

We have:
  • Chris Pine ("Star Trek") as Jack Ryan, our eponymous hero, resourceful and observant, but not quite sure about his assign- ment. He thinks he is there to support "our man" until he realizes that he IS "our man!"
  • Keira Knightley ("The Duchess") is his fiancée Cathy, a doctor who, while doing her residency, had served as his physical therapist after he was hurt in Afghanistan.
  • Kevin Costner ("Man of Steel") is Thomas Harper, an analyst for the CIA who serves in the military as a cover. He recruits our shadow recruit. He warns, "Don't trust anyone."
  • Kenneth Branagh ("Rabbit-Proof Fence") is Viktor Cherevin, the mastermind behind a terrorist plot against Wall Street. He has a HUGE secret...or two.
This has a massive cast, but so much of this film is done at a full gallop, we didn't linger very long in any one place or on any one face. We have excitement and tension, along with the unmitigated pleasure of looking at Chris Pine for 105 minutes...smile...

This is rated PG-13, so expect lots of gunfire, vehicular mayhem, stabbings, clever repartee, great scenery, the CIA's astonishing use of digital equipment, and a white-knuckle countdown with a time bomb. Whew!
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Ride Along

Director Tim Story ("Think Like a Man") brings us a crowd pleaser that had the screening audience laughing from the first frame. Of course that is partly due to the great popularity of fast-talking Kevin Hart, but this silly odd-couple story is fun. Any self-respecting police department would NEVER allow the sorts of capers we see, but what's a few plot holes between friends? It certainly didn't handicap writers Greg Coolidge ("Baby Mama") and Jason Mantzoukas (Lots of TV) as they pile laugh upon laugh while we happily suspend disbelief and wait for the happy ending.

Even through our hero is steadily employed as a security guard, he really, REALLY wants to be an Atlanta police officer like his finance's brother James. He feels prepared: after all, he has played a cop in countless video games. There are three important things in his life: Being a cop, those video games and his gorgeous fiancée Angela.

We watch:
  • Kevin Hart ("Grudge Match") is our hero Ben, who has finagled a ride in a cop car with his potential brother-in-law to prove he is worthy to marry into the family. (Every legitimate PD in the country is shaking its collective head.)
  • Tika Sumpter ("Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas") plays our hero's lovely sweetheart, Angela. This patient gal seems to find his immature ADHD-type personality appealing.
  • Ice Cube ("21 Jump Street") brings us James, a no-nonsense cop who has trust issues, particularly with this haywire fruitcake his sister Angela has unaccountably fallen for.
  • Bruce McGill ("Lincoln") will always convince ME that he is a tough but fair police captain who is running out of patience: Detective James is highly effective, but his unorthodox methods are difficult to justify.
Of course we have other cops who provide backup, plus a surprise mystery guest whom I won't divulge because he is uncredited, so that would be a spoiler.

This is PG-13, so expect mild profanity, no nudity, no sweaty bodies, some vehicular mayhem, some dandy blowie uppie stuff and a LOT of gunfire! By the time Ben gets his hands on a loaded gun, I was ready to slap him! I've been around guns all my life and have never seen such careless mishandling! I know, I know, it's a comedy, but....
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Hitch a quick ride on this one:
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Lone Survivor

This grueling R-rated thriller is based on a failed 2005 mission when four SEAL team members were sent to kill or capture a Taliban leader. Director Peter Berg ("Battleship") takes us into the heart of a pretend Afghanistan (actually a stunningly rugged New Mexico) for a white-knuckle experience with all the adrenalin and gunfire that you could possibly expect in a situation like this. We were physically and mentally exhausted before the final credits began to scroll.

If I were to look for a villain, I would point to the communications failures that leaves our quartet stranded in harm's way with no hope of rescue. This movie makes sure we understand what skilled and determined fighters the Taliban has become with their ever more sophisticated weaponry. Our team is painfully aware of the Rules of Engagement, even to their own detriment. This film does NOT trash our military; on the contrary, it shows the superb training and dedication of our warriors.

We see:
  • Mark Wahlberg ("2 Guns") is our lone survivor; brace yourself for some bloody self-surgery before any medic is on the scene. (And remember, this is based on a true story!)
  • Taylor Kitsch ("Friday Night Lights") makes the tough call that colors the rest of their raid.
  • Emile Hirsch ("Prince Avalanche") has a girlfriend who wants an "Arabic" horse. He is told the breed is "Arabian," but he's not sure.
  • Ben Foster ("Ain't Them Bodies Saints") votes to "eliminate" those accidental hostages because the team's goal is to prevent more US fatalities.
  • Eric Bana ("Closed Circuit") is the capable and dedicated officer in charge of the attempt. It's clear how wisely he plans the strike and how loyal he is to his troops.
  • Yousuf Azami ("The Unit") is Ahmad Shahd, the notorious Taliban leader: Brace yourself for at least one beheading.
  • I wish I had the name of that big-eyed little boy in the village: He brings the whole sortie down to a personal level.
Expect a lot of profanity (this is a military assault with young men fighting for their lives), confusing action (just like it would be in real life), more blood than I care for (remember the real fellows actually bled real blood!), and the shock when our hero sees Afghani villagers in the fight.

Mark Wahlberg went up a couple of notches in my estimation when he did a well-publicized rant about actors who complain of the hardships they suffer when filming a movie like this. He said (I'm paraphrasing), "They should try it in REAL life with REAL bullets and NO catered lunch!"

Stay through those final credits as they pay homage to the actual members of SEAL Team 10, complete with names, ranks, family photos, etc. By then, we know which ones are dead. Our pumped screening audience could NOT stop applauding!
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Take a look:
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August: Osage County

Is it Oscar time already? Here comes Meryl Streep's 2013 entry (it opened early in some choice localities in order to qualify), a film adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play of the same name; AND she has amazing company. This cast is to die for, even though the hateful characters they portray are ruthless, sordid and cruel.

We see:
  • Meryl Streep ("Hope Springs") Violet is pure venom, even after we hear her life history and try to sympathize, she's still evil. Her drug of choice makes quite a pharmacy! In my opinion, Streep is given too full a rein: The dialog does the job, we don't need all the histrionics as well. I saw this on stage and it was effective without her extra Methody tics.
  • Sam Shepard ("Safe House") Beverly her husband, has had enough of her. He prefers scotch.
  • Julia Roberts ("Mirror Mirror") Barbara was her daddy's favorite, but the apple didn't fall very far from the tree: her tongue is pretty sharp and she has become an unyielding sort of woman.
  • Ewan McGregor ("Jack the Giant Slayer") Bill is trying to grasp the family dynamics so maybe he can understand his wife Barbara a little better.
  • Abigail Breslin ("Ender's Game") Jean is only fourteen, but pretending to be a little more grown up sure can be fun!
  • Juliet Lewis ("The Switch") Karen didn't come back to the old homestead after she went off to college but THIS time she has hit it lucky!
  • Dermot Mulroney ("Joline") Steve is wealthy, drives a great car and Karen will marry him in Florida next January!
  • Margo Martindale ("Justified") Mattie Fae is Violet's only sister. They both have secrets.
  • Chris Cooper ("The Muppets") Charlie is the nicest in-law of the bunch (even though his prayers CAN go on a little too long), but if Mattie Fae doesn't button her lip she might not see her 39th wedding anniversary.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Fifth Estate") is stunning as Little Charlie, Mattie Fae's son. This actor is brilliant! This time he's a shy, awkward young man who arrives late, plays the piano and sings.
  • Julianne Nicholson ("Boardwalk Empire") is Ivy, the third daughter. She stayed around and took a lot of lip from her heartless mother, but now she's in love.
  • Misty Upham ("Frozen River") is Johnna, the young woman hired to help care for Violet. Johnna is the calm at the center of the storm but we LOVED it when she picked up that shovel! Born in Montana and raised south of Seattle, Misty has been working steadily since 2002.
This R-rated story is about a toxic family and its chemical dependencies - both pills and alcohol - that drive people to do what they do. It felt really good to watch Barbara fling all those prescription bottles at her mother's doctor, but I was clutching at straws, because there are only three or four people in the entire story that I can remotely care about. (I always want someone to root for.)

Do NOT spend your discretionary money if you want relaxing entertainment but by all means GO if you want to see brilliant acting! (AND Oscar contenders.)
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Don't be mislead, this is NOT a comedy:
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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

This scattershot bio-pic covers everything from Mandela's early child- hood as a Xhosa born to the royal Thembu family in apartheid South Africa, through his revolutionary role with the African National Congress (ANC), his time in prison, and up to his election as President of a multi- racial South Africa. For some reason it seems to skip the international honors he was awarded, e.g., The Nobel Peace Prize, but offers a rich story arc of his wife Winnie.

We watch:
  • Idris Elba ("Luther") as Nelson Mandela, a cunning lawyer, a cautious revolutionary and a crafty prisoner. He was arrested for his ANC activities, for which he was given the death sentence, commuted to life. He served 27 years in two different prisons during which his wife Winnie and the ANC launched an effective, international "Free Mandela" campaign, augmented by trade embargoes and other pressures brought to bear on the apartheid government of South Africa.
  • Naomie Harris ("Skyfall") is Winnie Mandela, his second wife; mother of his two daughters; an intelligent and proactive partici- pant in his life. After being imprisoned, she became a dedicated terrorist who vilified her white oppressors. Her rabid activism became a liability to him later in life.
As a fan of Idris Elba ever since "The Wire," I would be happy to watch him read a telephone book, so even though this gave him plenty to do, I would have appreciated a better script. William Nicholson based his screenplay on Mandela's autobiography, but tried (unwisely) to make this film encompass his entire life. Director Justin Chadwick ("The Other Boleyn Girl") uses flashbacks and other devices to fill in the blanks.

This movie had the mixed blessing of being released 20 days after Mandela's death at age 95, so there was more than uncommon interest in his life.
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See what you think:
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