Russell Smith

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Labor Day Review


Good

With one of Kate Winslet's most layered, resonant performances, this film is definitely worth a look, even though the indulgent filmmaking style pushes it perilously close to Nicholas Sparks-style sappiness. Clearly, writer-director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) is shifting gears as a filmmaker, but the movie is in dire need of just a hint of his usual jagged wit.

It's set in 1980s New Hampshire, as the agoraphobic Adele (Kate Winslet) is struggling to raise her sensitive teen son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) on her own after her husband (Clark Gregg) left. Then one night escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) arrives at their house in need of a place to hide. The next day, Frank offers to help with some repairs on the house. He also notices that Henry needs to learn how to throw a baseball. And that Adele needs some affection. So over the long Labor Day Weekend, he becomes the badly needed man of the house. Then when a neighbour (J.K. Simmons) and a cop (James Van Der Beek) start snooping, they make a plan to run for the Canadian border.

Instead of a dark, menacing edge, Reitman washes the film in sun-dappled earnestness, ramping up the soapy emotions rather than the grittier issues these people so badly need to deal with. This reaches a low point when Frank teaches Adele how to bake a peach pie in a scene reminiscent of the lusty pot-spinning sequence in Ghost: laughably ridiculous. Fortunately, Winslet and Brolin generate some uneasy chemistry, and Griffith is a fine young actor in a very difficult role. Together, they pull the film back from the sudsy brink just in time for a genuinely tense final sequence.

Continue reading: Labor Day Review

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower Review


Excellent

Spikier than the average coming-of-age movie, this astute comedy-drama is packed with memorable characters and resonant situations. It's also strikingly intelligent, refusing to accept Hollywood's fake moralising as it grapples with big issues from mental health to bullying. And even better, it's funny and sexy.

Set in the early 1990s, it's the story of the painfully shy Charlie (Lerman), who plans to blend into the background as he starts high school. Scarred by an emotional event in his past, the only new friend he makes is his English teacher (Rudd). Then his sharp wit is spotted by the colourful Patrick (Miller), an anarchic gay teen who doesn't care what people think. Patrick also has a sexy stepsister, Sam (Watson), who takes a liking to Charlie as well, and soon they become inseparable friends. Well, until Charlie loses his nerve to ask Sam out and ends up in a relationship with her friend Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) instead.

After some less-than-thrilling lead roles (such as Percy Jackson or last year's Three Musketeers remake), Lerman finally comes into his own here with a sensitive, intelligent performance that's nicely underplayed. He also has terrific chemistry with Watson and Miller, whose feisty, hilarious love of life fills every scene they're in. They make such a strong trio that we are deeply moved by each rocky shift in their friendship. And Whitman brings a sparky energy to her scenes as the Buddhist punk with a bracingly honest approach to whatever happens.

Continue reading: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower Review

Young Adult Review


Excellent
There isn't much on the surface of this prickly comedy, but the sharp script slices through American culture so astutely that we continually see ourselves in characters who are clearly losers. And the film gives Theron another terrific role to disappear into.

Mavis (Theron) left her small-town home for Minneapolis to become an author of young adult fiction. But as her book series comes to an end, she hears that her high school flame Buddy (Wilson) has just had a baby with his wife Beth (Reaser). So Mavis heads home to try to win him back. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and she ends up instead commiserating with another former classmate, Matt (Oswalt), who also can't seem to move on from his teen years.

Continue reading: Young Adult Review

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Russell Smith Movies

Labor Day Movie Review

Labor Day Movie Review

With one of Kate Winslet's most layered, resonant performances, this film is definitely worth a...

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Movie Review

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Movie Review

Spikier than the average coming-of-age movie, this astute comedy-drama is packed with memorable characters and...

Young Adult Movie Review

Young Adult Movie Review

There isn't much on the surface of this prickly comedy, but the sharp script slices...

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