TIFF is still going and so is this column. Today we sneak a peak at Jason Reitman’s drama Labor Day and the movie geek bait doc Jodorowsky’s Dune.

Labor Day

Jason Reitman may have burst onto the filmmaking scene with a bang with Thank You For Smoking and Juno, but the quirky quick-fix charms of those flicks faded fast on repeated viewings. Thankfully, Reitman seemed to feel that way too and took a step towards maturity with the underrated Young Adult, which he now attempts to follow through on with the straight drama Labor Day. The good news is that Reitman doesn’t embarrass himself while becoming the latest in a long line of comedy directors dying to be taken seriously. He proves to have some filmmaking chops with a fairly complex and enigmatic piece of work for about 80 minutes. The bad news is that the flick limps across the finish line. That’s probably as much a fault of Joyce Maynard’s source novel as anything that Reitman did as a screenwriter or director, but it does leave a sour taste nonetheless.

The story is about Henry, voiced by Tobey Maguire in nostalgic narration and played by Gattlin Griffith as a 13-year-old protagonist. He’s one of those sad-eyed kids from a broken home, stuck with a single mother (Kate Winslet) so beset by insecurity and phobias that she can barely leave the house, as well as a sadsack weekend Dad (Clark Gregg). It’s not an ideal life, so it’s almost exciting when an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) suddenly crashes the mother/son pity party. At first, Brolin appears to be an oddly polite kidnapper, but soon he turns into a full on pie-baking, catch-playing father figure. He even seduces Winslet and somehow, for the first time, it’s almost as if Henry has a family. Of course, narrative bubbles like this are built to burst, so the tantalizing intrigue can’t last forever.

For most of the running time, Reitman pulls off his dramatic debut surprisingly well. He does a good job of generating suspense and tension, gets uniformly solid performances out of his actors, and finds an intriguingly ambiguous tone within the fractured family dynamic. If the film could somehow only be about the weird kidnapping/makeshift family trio without concern for narrative closure, it could have been something special. Unfortunately, once things start wrapping up, the cheese is spread on thick. It all starts with flashbacks to Winslet and Brolin’s past that conclude in irritatingly pat ways and then really goes off the rails in a finale that takes the film into weepy melodrama (almost at Nicolas Sparks levels, but not quite). It’s not enough to completely undo everything that went right with the film, but it was enough to secure Labor Day a Christmas release – and no movie about a dysfunctional family kidnapping should fit into the Christmas season other than The Ref.


Dune-storyboard.jpgJodorowsky’s Dune

There was a time when Alejandro Jodorowsky seemed like he might become the world’s next big director. His weirdo Western El Topo invented the midnight movie market and so impressed John Lennon that the Beatle co-financed the director’s even odder follow-up project The Holy Mountain. Both were such unexpected hits that suddenly Jodorowsky could make anything he wanted and he decided to mount a massive adaptation of Frank Herbert’s cult novel Dune. Sadly, the project never came to fruition, but came so close and had such potential that it became a movie buff legend anyways. That’s where director Frank Pavich’s new documentary comes in.

His film is a detailed “making of” documentary for a film that never was. However, with the lovably nutty Jodorowsky as a guide, the story of an ambitious failure might even be more enjoyable than the actual movie would have been. Jodorowsky spins tales of hiring Salvador Dali to play the emperor of the universe, signing on Pink Floyd to write the score fresh off Dark Side Of The Moon, putting his son into rigorous training to become the warrior hero, and casting Mick Jagger as the villain. He even made a massive book that storyboarded every ambitious scene, featured designs from geniuses like HR Giger, and proved that the whole thing could be made for a reasonable $15 million. Even though only $5 million needed to come from Hollywood, no studio trusted Jodorowsky enough to co-finance his epic. However, the book circled the studios for years and as a montage late in the doc proves, ideas were stolen from it for years in movies like Star Wars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Flash Gordon and Alien.

The stories Jodorowsky and Pavich weave are undeniably enthralling. The preproduction was an adventure that would have been almost impossible for the actual movie to live up to, even if a few animated interludes in this doc show how stunning some of the sequences could have been. In the end, it’s unlikely Dune would have made the impact of Star Wars given that Jodorowsky’s passion for surrealism and subversion never would have been a hit with the kiddies. Not to mention the fact that the films he did make over his career never exactly broke box office records. Still, being teased with the production’s potential makes for an undeniably wild ride as a documentary and Jodorowsky even breaks down in a few key moments that make the movie somewhat tragic. The doc’s appeal will primarily be the select few whose eyes pop at the title, but for those lucky movie geeks Jodorowsky’s Dune is a wonderful and long overdue summary of all the legends and facts whispered in the backs of theatres and on IMDB message boards for years.

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