^ a meal and a weekend, but it doesn’t digest ; Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith, and Jason Brolin in “Labor Day”

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A good meal can solve a lot of things, and the leftovers too, mixed with canned goods from the pantry can sate as well, but not so much in Jason Reitman’s uneven romantic hash that’s chockfull of disparate parts, stock elements and daubs of cliche.
Reitman, who once served notice as a quirky indie director along the lines of Wes Anderson, with his acerbically big tobacco satire “Thank You for Smoking” (2005), held the line steadfast with “Juno” (2007) and “Up in the Air” (2009). Even “Young Adult” (2011) bore his droll punchy fingerprint, which is why “Labor Day” is such a puzzler, a change-up royale and by-the-numbers affair that lacks air, style or wit.

All of Reitman’s previous works were carefully hung on the framework of a situational dark comedy infused with varying degrees of romance. “Labor Day,” of all things, is a dark romance with a deep vein of crime drama to propel it. Perhaps Reitman saw the project as something new to challenge his skills, or maybe he simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, two of film’s most complete and capable thespians of the moment.

Those two performers become the film’s saving grace. Brolin recently clocked a yeoman effort that gave legs to Spike Lee’s remake of Chan-wook Park’s “Old Boy.” He delivers this time as well, assuredly with simmer, compassion and just the right amount of intimidation as Frank, an escaped con who, at a thrift store in a deep New Hampshire enclave, takes a woman and her son captive. It’s the mid 80s, so Frank doesn’t have to contend with a texting adolescent to give him away or a viral internet trend to alert folks of his wanted status.

TV news flashes do provide a bit of an obstacle, but they’re also a means to inform viewers that Frank is serving eighteen years for murder–the details and complicated nuance of which are meted out sparsely by intermingled flashbacks that infuriate as much as they enlighten. Frank gains his freedom by jumping out a second story window of a hospital following an appendectomy. As a result he’s got a weeping wound in his side, while Adele (Winslet), the woman he takes captive, has a hole in her heart, lazing around her house, too inert to do anything. Her twelve-year-old son Henry (an effective Gattlin Griffith) pretty much sees after himself, but the sleepy old Victorian they share, as evidenced by the overgrown lawn and general state of disrepair, isn’t so lucky.

So there you have it, Frank’s physically damaged and Adele’s emotionally scarred (she had several miscarriages after Henry, became depressed and her marriage dissolved) and in that, the one can heal the other if the lurking police don’t intercede first. Following the carjacking, Frank ends up back at Adele’s house where holing up becomes hanging out. Besides fixing the front porch and dry wall, he proves pretty good in the kitchen, whipping up a tangy chili out of nothing, and pie? Boy can he bake a pie.

The film’s peach pie scene is one for the ages. Never before, not since “Ghost,” have hands on hands taken center stage with such inflamed hyperbole. In “Ghost,” it played to the texture of the film. Here, with such fine actors so debased, it feels soft-core cheesy and wrong. “Let’s put a roof on this house,” Frank growls as a trembling Adele fumbles with a pancake of thick dough. Reitman, who penned the script from Joyce Maynard’s novel, must have thought the scene smart and leaven with innuendo and metaphor, but as is, it has the sensory effect of chocolate mousse made from a package of stale Hersey Kisses.

Food becomes a reoccurring yet unbridled motif, and a point of bonding for Frank and Henry. Frank even teaches the boy to throw a baseball, and there’s a touching scene with the handicap kid from around the corner who’s allowed to play third base, but of course, the police loom and the film, as the title tells us, is limited to a long weekend.

The good news is that as the film sails into its final chapter, the pace, as well as Reitman’s directorial skills, pick up. Winslet too, who is so shell shocked and unkempt for so long, seizes the opportunity to blossom and fills the screen with her fully ripe, yet restrained sexuality. She and Brolin, like Frank in the kitchen, take what’s there, and with sweat, integrity and resolve, make the best of meager makings that have been dealt to them.

— Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies



^ Just DO it : Charlie baker with Karyn Polito supporters in Leominster (photo by Baker campaign)

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The contest for Massachusetts Governor has taken on a definite shape during the past three days. The biggest shaping force has been Charlie Baker’s, given as his response to Governor Patrick’s state of the Commonwealth speech. Baker used the occasion to announce his support for raising the state’s minimum wage and for expanding the earned income credit. The news surprised almost everyone. It contradicted recent GOP orthodoxy — you know, the whole “job creators,” no ACA, no minimum wage legislation mantra — and also went beyond what most of the Democratic candidates have suggested. Baker also accepted Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo’s minimum wage raise requirement, that there be some give-back on umployment insurance contributions.

I wrote yesterday about Baker’s announcement and its implications ; these merit repeating. First, Baker established that he will join with Speaker DeLeo on minimum wage legislation. No Democratic candidate has yet done so; when specifically asked what they would do if the Speaker rdejected their legislation, all avoided answering. Second, by embracing doable (and very popular) legislation to relieve income inequity, Baker has vetoed all those GOP-ish advocacy groups (such as Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance) that oppose “using government to make people’s lives better” (as Mayor Walsh has stated his mission). And this may actually be the hugest consequence of Baker’s announcement. Right now I cannot think of a single Republican Governor, Senator, Congress person — or GOP candidate for these offices — who embraces minimum wage hikes and expanding the earned income credit. Whether Baker’s announcement has national GOP implications I can’t yet say; but for Massachusetts its consequence could not be weightier. He has taken the Massachusetts GOP back not just to Weld-Cellucci — whose administrations Baker was part of and mentioned in his talk — but (as my old colleague Peter Kadzis mentioned to me) to the days of John Volpe, Eliot Richardson, Frank Sargent, and Ed Brooke — almost 50 years ago — when the Massachusetts GOP was the reform party, the advance guard of using government to benefit people.

Granted, that Baker is free to take this stand because the Tea Party has never had much ground in Massachusetts — in 2010, Tea candidates didn’t even get the 15 % of votes at the Republican convention needed to get their names on the ballot — and because the huge right-wing greedPACs that have all but kidnapped the national GOP, knowing how un-Tea this state is, don’t involve themselves here. Baker needs no greedPAC money. He has almost out-raised the five Democratic governor candidates combined. T

Baker’s move all but assures that he will have significant Democratic support in the November election. That is how it used to be for the Massachusetts GOP in state elections, Why not again ?

And here is where my headline for today’s column comes into play : “wish list” candidates versus “do list.” Most of Massachusetts’s 166 Democratic legislators and State Senators are realists — do list people, not wish listers. Their voters want stuff done first, talk stuff later. Massachusetts voters are quite common sensed about this. We send our inspirational wish listers to Washington — none more arch-typal than Elizabeth Warren — to voice our noblest wishes, ideals, hopes for a juster social future. To Beacon Hill, we send our grubs and drones to do the grub and drone work. Nor is our thinking wrong. Deval Patrick’s entire two terms has shown just how powerless wish list eloquence is to move the Speaker of the house — no matter who he was or now is — to support legislation. To cite just two examples ; Governor Patrick wanted casino legislation badly. When Sal DiMasi was Speaker and opposed, no casino.. Then came Robert DeLeo, supportive, and lo and behold, casino legislation, no problemo ! Second example : Governor Patrick wanted an enormous, $ 2 billion transportation bill; Speaker DeLeo wanted a much smaller bill. Guess whose “transpo bill” got enacted ?

We like to think of today’s GOP as missing the point of governance, but the Massachusetts Democratic party misses the point too. In its rush to speak nobly of social justice and the higher purposes of civic life, the Democrats of Massachusetts talk just as unrealistically about governing as do the GOP right-wingers. Yes, there is a “progessive caucus” in the Massachusetts Democratic party, and there’s one in the legislature too. What have they recently achieved ? CORI reform, maybe. But every other advance enacted by the legislature belongs entirely to the realists : charter schools, an $ 800 million “transpo bill,” casino legislation — vigorously opposed by “progressives” and right-wingers alike (Ha!)– electronic toll taking, divorce law reform, mandatory sentencing amendments. I often get the impression that the social justice focus of many Massachusetts Democrats arises as a reaction to GOP right-wing talk rather than for its own sake. A genuine progressive movement would be far more broadly based, out among the people — as was the Progressive movement of 110 years ago — broad enough to affect, even command, both political parties, not just one.

The five Democrats running for Governor cannot break free of these conditions, and only one has really tried : Steve Grossman. In forums he talks real talk about realistic goals. Even he has yet to admit that only in sync with the Speaker can he accomplish anything. Even he has yet to tailor his policy suggestions to the Speaker’s — and just yesterday, the Speaker made clear that the coming year’s State budget would include no tax hikes or fee increases. Still, Grossman talks the business-climate, innovation talk that, until two days ago, was Baker’s core message. He also of course supports minimum age legislation though not the Speaker’s conditions). At Forums, Grossman swims in a sea of words : perfume from Don Berwick, chatty niceties from Juliette Kayyem, and quiet sarcasm from Martha Coakley, and often gains a measure of respect thereby : surely the Forum attendees, most of whom will vote in the coming caucuses, understand that Grossman is climbing the mountain, not paragliding onto it. Yet the impulse to high-minded wish lists runs strong in the souls of our Democratic activists; strong enough that Grossman, even if he becomes the Democratic nominee, will be forced to divide his campaign between talking dreams and picking priorities. Baker right now faces no such division. His party’s angry philosophers have been put to bed, freeing him to focus on a do list that the Speaker can agree with and which thus can actually be enacted into state law. That’s a winning message in a Governor election.

Especially with do-nothing gridlock gripping Washington so completely, voters want state government to get good stuff done. Baker has beaten Steve Gossman to the get-good-stuff-done milepost.

—- Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere