Friday, September 19, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Directed by Ned Benson
Released September 12, 2014

Don't let this film's title fool you. It's not about someone going missing, being lost or kidnapped, or anything like that. It's nowhere near as dark as the similarly-titled "The Disappearance of Alice Creed," and has very little to do with the Beatles. It does, however, showcase the distancing between two people, as Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) separates herself from her husband, Conor (James McAvoy), effectively disappearing from his life. That process is a mesmerizing, highly emotional one, wonderfully told in this affecting and immensely human film.

This story begins from a point of complete joy and bliss, as Conor reveals to Eleanor in the middle of a date that he cannot pay for dinner. She responds by casually taking off her shoes and walking out of the restaurant. When he runs after her as he is pursued by an angry waiter, the two reunite in the park and share an intimate and passionate moment. That ecstasy and closeness is contrasted greatly by the loneliness visible on almost every successive moment as Conor tries to find his way back to the elusive woman he used to call his wife following a tragic event whose nature is revealed midway through the film.

“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” splits its time between its two protagonists, showcasing their individual lives as Eleanor reconnects with her family in Connecticut, portrayed by Jess Weixler, Isabelle Huppert, and William Hurt, and Conor runs his New York City restaurant with the help of Bill Hader’s chef and confidante. We see mostly what they are like apart rather than together, which makes the moments they do share on screen absolutely electric. This story, “Them,” will be released as two separate films, “Him” and “Her,” next month, designed to showcase their relationship from each perspective. After this start, those entries should be very worthwhile.

It’s difficult to describe the range of emotions captured and channeled by this film’s two stars. Both are actors whose entrance into cinema was defined by suddenly being everywhere, taking on a number of diverse high-profile roles within the first few years of making it big. Chastain, who earned Oscar nominations for being perky in “The Help” and determined in “Zero Dark Thirty” here delivers a focused and passionate performance as a woman who needs desperately to disconnect from her world in order to find some sort of peace. McAvoy, who has been the romantic lead in “Atonement” and other films and is no stranger to being pushed away by the woman he loves, is genuine, affable, and dedicated, never losing faith in the romance he longs to reignite. Watching these two on screen is an incredible journey, and the film is at its best when their paths do intersect. It’s an experience that’s at times devastating, inspiring, heart-wrenching, beautiful, and unforgettable.


Movie with Abe: Life’s a Breeze

Life’s a Breeze
Directed by Lance Daly
Released September 19, 2014

The latest Irish film to make its way to the United States, which premiered in its home country over a year ago, is “Life’s a Breeze,” the entertaining tale of an older woman (Fionnula Flanagan) whose family decides to clean out her house as a surprise for her, unaware that she has hidden almost a million euro inside what they thought to be trash. What ensues is an epic search by family and random devotees of the cause defined by a shared sense of camaraderie and hope. It may not be the most empathic or memorable film, but it sure is a lot of fun.

Flanagan is an actress who isn’t known for playing the warmest of characters. Her big American breakout in “The Others” was certainly creepy, and the mothers she played on “Brotherhood” and “Lost” were far from gentle. Her recent role in another Irish coproduction, “Tasting Menu,” was a bit lighter than usual, but it’s clear that she doesn’t tend to play warm and fuzzy. That works to this film’s advantage, since having a loveable old lady at its center wouldn’t be productive. Instead, Flanagan’s Nan is unimpressed even before she realizes her family threw out all her money, and though she is somewhat pleasant, she’s hardly a personality around which people can truly rally.

As a result, the energy of the film comes from the idea of a woman who saved all her money over the years and didn’t trust enough in the banks to take care of it, instead opting to hide it in her furniture so that she would know where it was. Upon realizing what they did, her family sets out to help her locate it again, uniting in a way that has far more substance than their shared effort to rid her of what they believe to be the possessions of a hoarder.

The true heart of “Life’s a Breeze” is Emma (Kelly Thornton), Nan’s granddaughter. She sees her grandmother in a different light than the rest of her family does, having known her only as the person she currently is. The connection between the two of them is a great one, and it, more than the search itself, keeps the film going. Writer-director Lance Daly, who previously made “Kisses,” has created another enjoyable film that manages to exist in its own universe where anything is possible if its protagonists put their minds to it.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Movies with Abe Got Married!

Sorry for the lack of updates recently, but I’ve been off to doing something much more important – getting married! Fear not, however, since movies were still very much on my mind. Each table at the reception had a movie poster like the ones shown in the picture above, with a whole range of wedding movies including “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Fill the Void,” “American Wedding,” “Rachel Getting Married,” and “Monster-in-Law” represented. I had originally such miserable offerings as “Melancholia” and “Margot at the Wedding” as well but then thought they were far too bleak. Movie songs such as “Falling Slowly” from “Once” and the theme from “Forrest Gump” were played during the meal. It was a fun and wonderful festivity and a great vacation.

Now, of course, I’m back, and there’s plenty coming up! I’ve seen a number of September 26th theatrical releases which I’ll be reviewing next week. Before then, however, you can look forward to coverage of the New York Film Festival. I’ll be attending select press screenings over the next few weeks. Oscar season isn’t too far away, so stick around for reviews, predictions, and much more!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in Theatres

May in the Summer (recommended): This was the very first film I saw at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2013. Cherien Dabis impresses as writer, director, producer, and star of this entertaining and involving story about a Jordanian-American bride struggling culturally and personally to plan her wedding in her home country. Now playing at the Laemmle Royal in LA. Read my review from Sundance.

Rocks in My Pockets (recommended): It’s definitely not for kids, but this animated film from Latvian writer-director Signe Baumane is a strong and ferociously interesting look at depression and family history, very adept at telling its story with just a narrator and no dialogue. Definitely an interesting experience. Now playing at the IFC Center. Read my review from Thursday.

New to DVD

Night Moves (mixed bag): Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard star as three ecoterrorists planning something big together in this slow-moving film that never really gets anywhere or achieves a satisfying finish.

Whitewash (mixed bag): Thomas Haden Church stars in this intriguing but uninvolving tale of a drunk snowplow driver who accidentally hits a stranger in the middle of a storm. It’s a worthwhile concept, but the execution here is slow-paced and less than inviting.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

All is Lost (recommended): Robert Redford missed out on an Oscar nomination for his solo performance in this story of a shipwrecked man fighting to stay alive, and while it’s a strong performance, the movie isn’t nearly as enthralling or immense as it’s been made out to be. Still a worthwhile if isolating journey.

Hugo (recommended): This Best Picture nominee and winner of five Oscars is a gorgeous cinematic experience with a certain enthusiasm for the movies. It has its magical moments, and its only real flaw is trying to be too fantastical at times. Definitely a worthwhile view, and HD couldn’t hurt.

Le Week-End (recommended): Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan star in this entertaining film about a couple celebrating their thirtieth anniversary with a weekend trip to Paris. Both performers are great, and the story around them is solidly interesting if occasionally uncomfortable.

Your Sister’s Sister (highly recommended): This terrific Tribeca entry from this past year features Mark Duplass as a depressed man caught between two half-sisters, wonderfully played by Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt, during a weekend away at a cabin in this superb and entertaining dramedy.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Movie with Abe: Rocks in My Pockets

Rocks in My Pockets
Directed by Signe Baumane
Released September 3, 2014

Animated movies aren't always for children. Some are good for all audiences and can be appreciated by children and adults alike, while others skew towards an older, more sophisticated audience. It's abundantly clear in the opening moments of this new animated feature that "Rocks in My Pockets" is most definitely an experience for adults, a harrowing and often brutal examination of depression and suicidal tendencies in writer-director Signe Baumane's extended family. Fortunately, this tale is a fervently interesting and extremely well-executed one, consistently engaging and thought- provoking.

This is a film that doesn't belong to a very populous genre to begin with as a mature animated production, and its style sets it apart in an even more unique class. Baumane narrates the entire film, putting on an accent or an extra intonation whenever she has to speak words of dialogue attributed to someone with a voice other than a standard calm feminine one. The lack of conversation or characters seen actually speaking to one another forces the film to use images to tell the part of its story usually left to the actors' lines.

Baumane's straightforward storytelling, which includes a strong Latvian accent, is accompanied by a marvelous display of creativity onscreen. Some events play out just as they're explained or described, but most are embellished in a way that serves to highlight the feelings and emotions behind each development, sentence, or thought. At times, it's equally amusing and horrifying to watch as visual depictions of strength, stress, happiness, hope, and other often intangible concepts are shown to tremendous effect. Constructing this film must have been an extraordinary thing, and it's clear that much effort was put into each frame.

In addition to its strong use of animation to tell its story, "Rocks in My Pockets," which boasts a clever and fitting title, does a magnificent job of personalizing its saga as a different protagonist emerges in each chapter. Baumane introduces her family members one by one as the drama revolves around each one of them, and it's easy to get pulled into their stories. The film hardly leaves its viewer with a positive, inspired feeling given its serious subject matter, but it’s very easy throughout to be drawn in and difficult to shake. Overall, this intensive experience is a thorough and compelling look at depression and endurance through a fascinatingly creative lens.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Bird People

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Tuesday's Top Trailer. One of my favorite parts about going to see movies is the series of trailers that airs beforehand and, more often than not, the trailer is far better than the actual film. Each week, I'll be sharing a trailer I've recently seen. Please chime in with comments on what you think of the trailer and how you think the movie is going to be.

Bird People – Opening September 12, 2014

This trailer is reminiscent of two films I recently wrote about for this feature. The first, “Birdman,” is because of its title, though I think this film has more to do with actual birds given how many times the animals appear in the trailer. The second, “The Guest,” also stars a TV actor who made a famed exit from his plum weekly role and is out to prove competence in cinema. Josh Charles is a seasoned actor who has had two regular TV gigs before “The Good Wife,” for which he was recently nominated for an Emmy. He was in the first season of “In Treatment” opposite Embeth Davidtz and Gabriel Byrne, and before that, he was the star of Aaron Sorkin’s first television effort, “Sports Night.” Now, he gets to calm down a bit from his fiery law partner role and detach from society. I’m eager to see him play a nice guy since I think his character was very charged with anger and passion throughout the last cycle of episodes of “The Good Wife.” Charles’ Gary Newman is only half of this film’s story, and it’s very interesting to see who his costar is. I was impressed by Anais Demoustier in “Elles” a few years ago when she played a likeable prostitute, and this looks like a fantastic part for her. I’m still not really sure what this film is about, but its trailer and its IMDB description - An American arrives in Paris, checks into a hotel, turns off his cell phone and starts his life anew – look mighty appealing.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

Starred Up (recommended): This Tribeca Film Festival entry is a strong, rich story of a son and father in prison together. It’s a visceral, intense experience that’s not easy to watch but features stellar performances from Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn. Now playing at Film Society Lincoln Center and IFC Center. Read my review from Tribeca.

New to DVD

Belle (recommended): Underrated actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw gets the lead role she deserves in this epic story of a black woman well ahead of her time in 1700s England. The film’s story is compelling, even if not all of its parts are fully engaging or enthralling.

The Double (recommended): This Sundance feature from director Richard Ayoade is a dark but extremely intriguing dystopian tale of an anonymous worker whose exact double enters his life only to wreak havoc on it. Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska are just the right brand of off-kilter for the film’s tone, but it’s not as good as the similarly-themed “Enemy” with Jake Gyllenhaal.

A Promise (mixed bag): This forbidden romance drama starring Richard Madden of “Game of Thrones” and Rebecca Hall is a very typical film of its genre, offering little in the way of originality or cinematic qualities.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Nothing of interest to report this week!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

Kabbalah Me (recommended): This documentary from directors Steven Bram and Judah Lazarus follows Bram’s own personal journey into the world of Kabbalah as he strives to make a connection with his religion. It’s a fun and enlivening journey from an involved filmmaker. Now playing at Quad Cinema. Read my review from Thursday.

Metro Manila (recommended): This prize-winning film from the Sundance Film Festival comes from the Philippines, and is an enthralling chronicle of a simple farmer’s transformation into big city security guard with an immensely likeable protagonist. Read my review from yesterday.

Winter in the Blood (recommended): This eccentric Native American story straddles the line between reality and imagination as its main character searches for tranquility and satisfaction with the help of scene stealer David Morse’s memorable Airplane Man. Now playing at IFC Center. Read my review from Wednesday.

New to DVD

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (mixed bag): The sequel to the series reboot still features the fantastic Emma Stone, but that’s about the best thing it has going for it as it ventures too much into casual unfocused storytelling and doesn’t stay true enough to its title hero.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

The Tortured (anti-recommended): This film’s title doesn’t exactly recommend its quality, and you should definitely steer clear of this miserable experience, which strands Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe in an excessively dark and disturbing universe appealing to no one.

The Way Back (mixed bag): This wannabe epic from usually reliable director Peter Weir casts Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, and Jim Sturgess as prisoners impossibly escaping from a gulag. It’s an impressive journey to be sure but a long and deathly boring one.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie with Abe: Metro Manila

Metro Manila
Directed by Sean Ellis
Released August 22, 2014

While it’s nice to tell a story about people who are inherently happy, it can also be fascinating to focus on those who manage to encounter extraordinary misfortune. That’s certainly the case in “Metro Manila,” which follows Oscar Ramirez and his family from simple farmer to security guard in major city Manila in the Philippines. Facing worsening health of his children, homelessness, and dismal job prospects, Oscar manages to find work and discover a sense of hope and optimism he didn’t realize he still had in this engaging and energizing drama.

Oscar (Jake Macapagal) is a man who can’t help but tell the truth. When he goes in for an interview to drive an armored truck, he readily admits to not having a license and tells his interviewers that his past includes time in the army and an occupation as a farmer. Those around him laugh at how honest he is, and he seems unfazed by their reactions, continuing to speak truthfully. There is a certain joy that comes with his ability to be natural, most evident in his excited decision to save all but the first bite of his first purchased work lunch for later so that he won’t enjoy and finish a good thing too quickly.

Oscar’s attitude doesn’t mean that his world is necessarily bright. After an unfortunate eviction, his wife Mai (Althea Vega) interviews for a position as a dancer at a bar, and it’s a job that gets grimmer by the minute, including more than a few unadvertised and despicable conditions. Oscar bonds with his new partner Douglas Ong (John Arcilla), and their lighthearted conversation also includes disturbing stories from Ong’s recent past on the job. Ultimately, Oscar’s enthusiasm proves inspiring, even if his circumstances are rather desolate.

“Metro Manila” is a film that builds in pace, starting out slow and then heightening to a far more dramatic and enthralling conclusion. A less than speedy start is more than made up for by strong dialogue, assigned particularly to Ong as he acclimates Oscar to his new lifestyle. As he opens up, Oscar too proves to be a fantastic vehicle for language and storytelling, getting a taste of the good life while he reflects back on all that led him to his current place. The winner of the World Cinema – Dramatic prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is a very worthwhile and enlivening foreign film.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Movie with Abe: Kabbalah Me

Kabbalah Me
Directed by Steven Bram and Judah Lazarus
Released August 22, 2014

The grammar of this film’s title is certainly questionable. Yet its meaning is easy to decipher as one man’s invitation to explore the world of the phenomenon known as kabbalah. What Steven Bram’s documentary does is enable his viewer to explore the journey into spirituality with him, learning all about kabbalah and what it has to offer. “Kabbalah Me” is a pointed and purposeful examination of how a movement transformed a filmmaker but also what its greater significance is to those seeking some sort of connection as well as to those who simply want to know more about this mystic strand of Judaism.

Bram is a filmmaker who has made a number of sports documentaries, and who here takes a very personal approach to his subject matter. Chronicling his Jewish roots and his difficulty connecting to the religion throughout his life, Bram begins to discuss the notion of kabbalah and its universal accessibility. As the title suggests, Bram’s search is a jovial one, filled with many humorous and enjoyable moments, and far from a serious and isolating trip that requires viewers to be on the inside of all the references and concepts along the way.

“Kabbalah Me” sheds a light on what it means to approach Judaism and its many facets with a spiritual microscope. What it doesn’t do is attempt to proselytize: while Bram clearly advocates for the effectiveness of this discovery in his personal life, he doesn’t mean to brainwash his audience or convince them that this is the answer to everyone’s problems. Instead, he looks at it in an energizing and inspiring manner, asking viewers, who wouldn’t want to be transformed and impacted in such an incredible way?

Clocking in at just eighty minutes, Bram and Judah Lazarus’ film isn’t meant to be comprehensive. In fact, its main message is that this is just the beginning. Bram has begun a journey that will keep him involved and enthralled throughout his entire life, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Bram’s immersion and interest in his topic is a positive rather than a negative, allowing him to fully represent his passion to the film’s advantage. For those looking for a nonjudgmental, entertaining investigation, this is a great documentary that merely seeks to spotlight a movement and how it motivated one filmmaker to turn the camera on himself and his life.