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.

B+

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Movie with Abe: Winter in the Blood

Winter in the Blood
Directed by Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith
Released August 20, 2014

Some movies utilize their settings more than others. Backgrounds and landscapes can tell just as compelling a story as characters and plots, and when the two work in concert, the results can be very worthwhile. “Winter in the Blood,” the new film from twin directors Alex and Andrew J. Smith, is a film about a Native American man and his search for something – it’s not entirely clear what – that takes full advantage of its setting in rural Montana. It’s a film that boasts some intriguing moments and visually strong scene, and occasionally manages to interweave them together at the same time.

Charles Spencer stars as Virgil First Raise, who says just as much with his haunting expressions and penetrating stare as he does with his words. His beginnings aren’t inspiring – he has just been beaten up and awoken from what appears to be a brutal hangover – and he returns home to find that his wife is no longer there, nor is his gun. What ensues is a confusing, often hypnotic trip that puts Virgil on track to rediscover himself, even if it doesn’t give him all the answers he needs to get his wife or his gun back.

The most undeniably magnetic part of Virgil’s journey is Airplane Man. Portrayed by David Morse, an accomplished actor who earned Emmy nominations for his roles in “House” and “John Adams,” Airplane Man is best defined as an enigma. He’s someone who talks a lot and always leaves an impression whether or not his words make sense or lead somewhere specific. It’s hard to know what to make of Airplane Man and whether he is simply a construct of Virgil’s imagination, but his every moment onscreen is a boon for the film.

“Winter in the Blood” starts from a moment of confused uncertainty and slowly puts together a picture of its character’s motivations and who he is as a person. The journey to that point is filled with ups and downs, both for the character and for the film itself. It feels in many ways like an old Western, with Native American culture substituted in for the Old West. As with most Westerns, it’s hard to remain fully intriguing and engaging for the duration of the story, and “Winter in the Blood” manages to tell an interesting story in a fashion that’s intermittently alluring and memorable.

B

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Maps to the Stars

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.

Maps to the Stars – Opening September 2014


I hadn’t heard anything about this film, which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and won Julianne Moore the Best Actress prize, prior to watching the trailer, which was featured on the IMDB home page. David Cronenberg is a director known for head trips, and this appears to very much be that. I never got around to seeing “Cosmopolis,” his last feature, but I did see his Viggo Mortensen trilogy before that – “A Dangerous Method,” “Eastern Promises,” and “A History of Violence,” three affecting films about seriously disturbed people. This looks to be a combination of those ensemble narratives and the truly wild and weird nature of a film like “Spider” with Ralph Fiennes. The cast is stacked, to say the least, with Julianne Moore in what appears to be one of the meatiest roles she’s had in a while in the lead. John Cusack has had a variety of parts in recent years, and it’s hard to tell if this will be a dramatic breakthrough for him. I’m glad to see Mia Wasikowska taking on another challenging – and seemingly creepy – character, and Robert Pattinson is back for his second consecutive Cronenberg acting to show that “Twilight” doesn’t define his acting abilities. Add in Olivia Williams to the supporting cast and it’s sure to be a very watchable film. Examining Hollywood and celebrity life will definitely be insightful, and a cast like this might just enable Cronenberg to cross over to the mainstream again.

Saturday, August 16, 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

Frank (recommended): This truly bizarre film features a rock star who wears a giant fake head all the time and the people who follow him without question and with amazement. Great performances from Michael Fassbender, Domnhall Gleeson, Scoot McNairy, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in this peculiar but very worthwhile movie. Now playing at Landmark Sunshine. Read my review from Sundance.


New to DVD

Dancing in Jaffa (recommended): The opening night selection from this year’s Other Israel Film Festival is a balanced, harmless look at what happens when Arab and Jewish children come together to do nothing but dance in Israel.

Locke (recommended): Director Steven Knight and actor Tom Hardy achieve a brilliant success in unconventional cinema in this 85-minute car ride, which screened at Sundance this year and features only a terrific Hardy on screen as a man whose life is falling apart over the phone as he drives home from work.

The Moment (mixed bag): Jennifer Jason Leigh stars in this drama about a war photographer trying to get a grip on what happened to her missing boyfriend following an injury in the field. Its story is relatively intriguing, and it has its strong moments.


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Capital (recommended): (recommended): Gad Elmaleh is the standout part of this decent French drama from director Costa-Gavras about an executive appointed to be a placeholder interim CEO of a bank who decides to make the most of his new opportunity. It’s an interesting and somewhat memorable movie.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: The Guest

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.

The Guest – Opening September 17, 2014


Wouldn’t you like to know what Dan Stevens, best known as Matthew from “Downton Abbey,” has been up to recently? I know I would, and I tried to find out when this film screened at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, but couldn’t make any of the screening times. Now I got a chance to see the trailer, which makes me just as curious as I was before I knew anything about the film. It’s always interesting to see British actors don American accents, and it seems like Stevens does pretty well adopting a slight Southern drawl. Stopping by the home of the family of one of his military buddies killed in action seems very innocuous at first, but it’s clear that Stevens’ David has quite a profound effect on all of the inhabitants of the home. This looks like a powerful, endearing drama in some senses, and also like an enthralling thriller by the looks of the second half of the trailer, which introduces the inevitable twist of our good friend David not being completely honest with his new adoptive family about his reasons for being there. I’m interested to see what Stevens can do with a role that isn’t so antiquated and melodramatic, and he looks great in the trailer. Director Adam Wingard’s resume is basically all horror films, and I think this could well be a productive departure. This kind of film has the potential to be a surprising, invigorating thriller but could also end up being poor and entirely forgettable. Let’s hope for the former!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Slow Summer...


...Or rather, a busy summer that's kept me largely away from movies. As other pursuits are winding down, I expect to be able to return to many more regular film reviews and other features this fall. For now, head over to TVwithAbe.com for your fix of cinema: I'm currently in the process of looking at each of the individual episodes submitted by each performer nominated for an Emmy.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Movie with Abe: Begin Again

Begin Again
Directed by John Carney
Released June 27, 2014

A spontaneous trip to a movie theatre for the first time in a few months during a busy summer season presented a few options. A director’s resume is a major reason that I would opt for one film over another, and therefore this film, from “Once” director John Carney, was a natural choice. A return to the world of music at its face value presented in an honest and soulful fashion proves to be extremely productive for Carney, who penned and directed a film that’s much more expansive and aware of its surroundings than “Once” but still manages to capture the same spirit of and love for music.

“Begin Again” begins almost too simplistically and familiarly, introducing Gretta (Keira Knightley) as a shy woman with obvious musical talent timid at the idea of performing in front of others at a bar and expectedly disappointed with the lack of reaction from her audience after her friend forces her to come up and sing a song. One response, however, far outweighs everything else, and that comes from the eccentric Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a music producer undone by his inability to appreciate or tolerate modernity. The two form an almost instant bond and begin recording an album au naturale, using New York City as their soundstage and set.

That ordinary start doesn’t necessarily turn into anything extraordinary, but it does create an inviting and enjoyable environment in which to watch these two characters, burdened by a failed relationship and a poor connection with his daughter, respectively, grow and overcome their weaknesses. The music isn’t magical but instead serves to subtly draw out their true passions, allowing them to comprehend just what they have and to embrace their situations fully and optimistically.

Knightley and Ruffalo are both actors who have gotten much work recently, and this ranks as one of their most positive role selections. Knightley is charming and actually quite a musical talent. Ruffalo draws upon the insatiable rabid energy he displayed in “Infinitely Polar Bear” to create another appealing nut. Hailee Steinfeld and James Corden stand out in the supporting cast as Dan’s daughter and Gretta’s best friend, respectively, both contributing to a movie that’s entertaining and fun to be a part of, pleasantly enthralling and a great example of how being groundbreaking or original isn’t always necessary when a strong, well-executed story will do just fine.

B+

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: This Is Where I Leave You

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.

This Is Where I Leave You – Opening September 19, 2014


This trailer has been out for a while now, but I actually got the chance to watch it for the first time at a theatre this past weekend. This ensemble comedy takes four actors who honed their skills on television, all on very different series. Tina Fey was a player on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock,” and Jason Bateman was the star of the immortal “Arrested Development.” Adam Driver broke out on “Girls,” for which he was nominated for back-to-back Emmy Awards for his prickly performance as Adam, and Corey Stoll was in the first season of “House of Cards” and now stars in “The Strain” and soon on season four of “Homeland.” Bringing the four of them together to play siblings and children of Jane Fonda’s wacky mother suggests plenty of comedy potential, though I’m hoping this is a more serious effort from director Shawn Levy, known for the likes of “The Internship,” “Night of the Museum,” and “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Contrasting that resume is Jonathan Tropper, who wrote the novel on which his screenplay is based, and whose most notable recent credit is the creation of Cinemax’s dark but fantastic series “Banshee.” I think this will be an effective vehicle for Driver, who does a great job playing the fish out of water, while Fey and Bateman have played these same roles many times before. The ensemble cast has many familiar faces, including Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Abigail Spencer, Timothy Olyphant, and Dax Shepard (all TV faces too). This is set to be this fall’s big comedy, and I think that, at the very worst, it will be pretty funny and generally enjoyable.

Saturday, August 2, 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

Calvary (recommended): Director John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to “The Guard” is a very different film, one less laced with humor, but still features Brendan Gleeson in a strong and memorable role as a priest threatened by an unknown parishioner in small Irish town. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and the Angelika. Read my review from Sundance.

Happy Christmas (recommended): Anna Kendrick is perfectly charming as an immature screwup who has difficulty being an adult when she stays with her brother, his wife, and their baby. Director Joe Swanberg gives a great companion performance in this enjoyable comedy. Now playing at Landmark Sunshine. Read my review from Sundance.

Rich Hill (recommended): This documentary, which took home the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, is an honest, involving portrait of three young boys facing tough circumstances but proudly talking about their lives to an interested camera. Read my review from yesterday.

War Story (mixed bag): This was the last of 31 films that I saw at Sundance this past year and was probably the least involving or memorable. Catherine Keener anchors a theoretically compelling story whose tedious pacing does the film few favors. Now playing at the IFC Center. Read my review from Sundance.

New to DVD

Nothing of note this week!


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Face/Off (highly recommended): This 1997 action film pits John Travolta and Nicolas Cage against each other as each assumes the other’s identity. It’s both a fantastic showcase for the actors, particularly Travolta, and for truly exciting and energizing action scenes.

Kinky Boots (recommended): Before it was a Broadway show, this offbeat story was a 2005 film starring the incomparable Chiwetel Ejiofor, who finally earned an Oscar nomination last year for “12 Years a Slave.” It’s worth a watch.

Make Believe (recommended): I did a giveaway three years ago on this site for prizes related to this informative, clever, and ultimately fun documentary about young musicians preparing for a major competition. It’s a blast!

Shooter (recommended): This was one of the film I recapped in my first-ever post back in 2007. Mark Wahlberg is the perfect choice to play a man framed as a presidential assassin who takes it upon himself to find the real culprit in this action-packed, enjoyable blockbuster.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Movie with Abe: Rich Hill


Rich Hill
Directed by Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Dogz Tragos
Released August 1, 2014

I’ve written before about how there are a few different types of documentaries. There are those that seek to expose or to advocate for change, those that argue vehemently against something, and those that simply show and tell a story. “Rich Hill,” which took home the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, falls into the third of those categories, presenting three boys from the title town in Missouri, all of whom struggle to overcome the obstacles in their lives to persevere despite less than ideal circumstances.

“Rich Hill” is a very literal film that, more than anything, lets its characters speak for themselves. It does present the occasional intertitle to explain who someone is or where they are, but most often, it simply shows the name of one of the characters. Andrew, Harley, and Appachey are the protagonists, each challenged by the unstable nature of their parents’ employment – or imprisonment – and other social issues. They are by definition not set up for success, and hearing them talk about their lives and how they understand their situations to be reveals an unexpected maturity and a somewhat unique outlook on life and its rewards.

Ultimately, it’s these three boys who make this film come alive. It is abundantly clear that these three are real people, eager to tell their stories because they think that their lives are worthwhile. They embrace the notion of the camera in front of them because they believe that others would want to know about their lives, but not in a pompous or self-involved way. Most of the time, they don’t look at the camera or even acknowledge its presence, but instead just go about existing, seemingly just distantly aware of the fact that they are being recorded.

Charting their lives over the course of a year allows filmmakers Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos the opportunity to really get to know them and convey their attitudes and spirit to their viewers. Their stories are edited together to seem like coherent and cohesive parts of a whole, an overarching statement on the nature of poverty and those who might be dismissed outright as doomed failures. This mostly appealing if not entirely enthralling documentary makes an argument for the lower class, advocating for their right to tell their stories just as much as anyone else.

B