Weekly Mini-reviews: “Labor Day,” “Ride Along,” “The Virgin Suicides,” & More

June 9 – 15, 2014

WeekLaborLabor Day | Jason Reitman | 2013 | ★½

For it’s first two acts, Labor Day is tolerable if you think of the film as one of those silly paperback romances. It’s like a film version of Britney Spears’s “Criminal.” Kate Winslet is giving it her all, Josh Brolin is at his most attractive, and it has a great summery, sweaty atmosphere. But then the last third happens, the cheesy plot is set in motion, secrets are revealed in the most heavy-handed manner, Jason Reitman fails at creating drama, and James Van Der Beek and Tobey Maguire pop up in super distracting cameo appearances (it was bad enough that the latter was narrating the thing). Had that last third been handled differently and didn’t take its self as seriously it would have lived on as something of a camp classic. As it is, it destroyed any good will I had built towards it. It’s not a complete disaster, but now it’s just a forgettable bad movie.

CropperCapture[3]Ride Along | Tim Story | 2014 | ★★

I went into Ride Along expecting absolutely nothing but another January comedy that would at best get a chuckle out of me. I got just, and I don’t really want to say anything bad about it. Sure, the script is rarely funny and utterly predictable, it has no comedic timing, and it sucks as an action film. Still, though, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s harmless trash and we need some of that every once in a while.

TootsieWeekTootsie | Sydney Pollack | 1982 | ★★★¼

Tootsie was released in 1982 to great acclaim, and since then has grown in stature as it is now considered not just one of the greatest comedies of all time, but one of the great films. It’s easy to see why as it indeed delivers on the laughs, it doesn’t meander, it’s a great below-the-line achievement (I particularly love the editing and cinematography), and the truths it speaks about the way women are perceived in society by most men are still as relevant as ever. Perhaps it was my high expectations, but despite all this, when the rushed ending came about, I couldn’t help but feel like it was way too cold for the material that is being presented. I didn’t expect like big dramatic breakdowns, but given the way Dustin Hoffman talks about the film in retrospect, I expected something more emotional. I’m not going to argue against its classic status, but it was disappointment for me.

WeekVirgsThe Virgin Suicides | Sofia Coppola | 1999 | ★★★★

Having now seen Sofia Coppola’s directorial début, its easy to see why critics have felt underwhelmed by her post-Lost in Translation career. Although I believe she has only gotten better as time has passed and settled on her style, The Virgin Suicides is a smashing directorial début. The film does feel like its from a first time filmmaker, as she plays around with editing and cinematography techniques perhaps a big too much, but its all handled with the confidence of someone who had been at it for a while (in a way she had). This makes the concept the film being a representation of memories of the events rather than a more conventional, straight account of them feel more natural. Under a lesser director taking the same approach, I’ve no doubt they would have gone way more over the top to portray this. Thanks to her, the film is a hypnotizing representation of what its like to remember and manages to stay shocking throughout even though they tell you right away how things are going to end.

watcherWeekThe Watcher in the Woods | John Hough | 1980 | ★★★

It’s kind of odd that The Watcher in the Woods even exists considering it’s from Disney and it’s hardly what today’s audiences would call “family friendly.” It features Bette Davis as a creepy old woman with a secret, it involves an unseen supernatural force, cults, and has children constantly in danger. I think that ultimately that’s the reason it’s still remembered. Despite having an effectively creepy atmosphere and a plot that kept me intrigued throughout, the film in general is as messy as it could possibly get. With the exception of Davis, every performances is bland at best. The editing is messy and often makes the film lose tension. Also, the denouement is not handled particularly well, and when the big reveal comes, it has no impact. The whole thing was just a wasted opportunity. I enjoyed it to a degree, but I doubt I’ll ever want to watch it again.

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