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.

B+

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.