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Jiim Gaffigan: comedian and kale-hater.

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Jiim Gaffigan: comedian and kale-hater.

Jim Gaffigan: Obsessed

Comedian Jim Gaffigan is a big doughy guy and it helps that his physical presence is so perfectly synced with his material.

When the man talks doughnuts, his monologue rings with authority.

Much of the shot-in-Boston comedy special Obsessed is fixated on food, including the stuff he finds delectable -- doughnuts, ice cream, biscuits and gravy -- and stuff he finds gastronomically suspect: grits, Chinese desserts, lobster ("bug meat") and kale. Especially kale.

"That stuff tastes like bug spray," he says. "I was looking at a can of bug spray and it said: 'Made with real kale.'"

Unerringly funny, Gaffigan is a comic who tends to turn his limitations into assets, especially his sole alternative voice, which sounds something like a spoiled teenage princess. It's such a weird alter ego for this big pasty dude.

Gaffigan is celebrated as one of the great "clean" comedians and it's a testament to his comedy that he doesn't seem especially clean, given his bad attitude and a ferocity of tone -- especially on the subject of kale:

"They could find out that kale cures cancer and I would still be, like: 'I'm just going to do the chemo.'" 3 stars

 

Devil's Due

The apostrophe in the title apparently indicates a contraction, not a possessive, which is the most clever thing about the film.

It's all downhill from there.

Co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, this found-footage movie outrageously begs comparison to Roman Polanski's 1968 horror classic Rosemary's Baby in that it's about a pregnancy from -- and of -- hell.

Newlyweds Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha (Allison Miller) are honeymooning in Santa Domingo where they encounter a palm reader who tells the blushing bride, an orphan, that she was "born of death" and more ominously: "They are waiting."

They flee, ending up at an authentic Santa Domingo underground party, where the couple drink themselves into a dangerous, Rob Ford-worthy stupor. They awake the next morning in their hotel room wondering how they got back there. Sam soon learns she is pregnant.

Zach, who already has an annoying habit of videotaping his experiences, kicks it up a few notches to record Samantha throughout her pregnancy, as a gift to their unborn child.

One hopes the kid will have a high tolerance for supernatural cliché. As Sam's belly gets bigger, the devil-baby tropes get more strained. In a direct homage to Mia Farrow's raw liver consumption in Rosemary's Baby, the vegetarian Samantha is caught by a supermarket surveillance camera chowing down on raw meat.

A more helpful approach to Devil's Due would focus on the ways the film doesn't resemble Rosemary's Baby. Gilford and Miller are unforgivably boring compared to Farrow and John Cassavettes. (Cassavettes' work in Rosemary's Baby is one of the great unsung horror movie performances.)

Instead of slowly ratcheting up the tension la Polanski, the directors alternate exposition and jump scares with clockwork regularity for a film that's a forgettable throwaway.  1 1/2

 

Labor Day

 

A mysterious, hard-edged but sensitive man enters the life of a single mom and her son and gives them both hope for a potential family life.

Director Jason Reitman (Young Adult, Up in the Air) edges perilously close to Nicholas Sparks tear-jerker territory here.

The year is 1986 and the hard-edged man is Frank (Josh Brolin), a dangerous-looking Vietnam vet freshly escaped from a prison hospital.

In a department store, he menacingly enlists the help of single mom/borderline agoraphobe Adele (Kate Winslet), by suggesting harm could come to her 14-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith).

Mother and son drive Frank to their home, where Adele tends to his surgical wound. It emerges the convicted murderer is a fundamentally decent sort who repays Adele's troubles by fixing up her house, changing the oil in her car and whipping up chili -- a Sparksian motif if ever there was one.

He also teaches Henry how to throw a baseball and bake a delectable peach pie. If his crusty exterior suggests Charles Manson, Frank's convict nature is closer to Martha Stewart.

To distinguish the film from the maudlin Sparks oeuvre (Safe Haven, The Lucky One), Reitman creates tension from innocent domestic encounters. The performances also balance the potentially drippy romance. Winslet brings a real frailty to Adele. Brolin somehow stays credible in a role that requires him to be scary one minute and sympathetic the next. And young Gattlin Griffith brings a refreshing less-is-more sensibility to his troubled teen hero. 3 stars

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2014 C15

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