Saturday, December 15, 2018

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 and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.

Now Playing in Theatres

It’s a big week for major releases of Oscar contenders, and they’re all pretty great! One of them is profiled below because of its Netflix platform launch but is also playing in select theaters. Though that film is very likely to win Best Foreign Film, I might actually pick another likely nominee, Capernaum, an affecting Lebanese film about a young boy who believes his parents should never have had him. If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to “Moonlight, is very good and deserves to be seen by a very wide audience. I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a truly creative animated film that works on so many levels. And finally, there’s The Mule, Clint Eastwood’s late-breaking film in which he plays a 90-year-old drug smuggler, which is pretty standard fare for him these days that works pretty well. Don’t miss releases from past weeks, including The Favourite, Mirai, and Widows.

New to DVD

One of my favorite films from Sundance, Colette, didn’t receive nearly the praise it should have for a tremendous performance from Keira Knightley and for its fantastic production values. I wasn’t nearly as fond of Lizzie, a historical murder mystery starring Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart that just didn’t really work. Previous picks, almost all from Sundance, include: Juliet, Naked, Blindspotting, The New Romantic, Never Goin’ Back and The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

I’ve contended since I saw it that Roma was going to win Best Picture. The black-and-white Mexican film from director Alfonso Cuaro really is pretty incredible, and though seeing it on the big screen is worthwhile, I’d still recommend it on the streaming service for those not eager to go to a theater. Recent great additions covered in past weeks include: Breath and The Cakemaker.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Mule

The Mule
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Released December 14, 2018

As people get older, they usually become less able to do the things that might have seemed considerably easier and effortless at a younger age. Retirement is an appealing option for those who feel that they have worked their entire lives and want to spend what remains of their time relaxing and enjoying whatever they haven’t been able to previously. Some don’t know what to do with themselves when their daily routine is taken away, and those may well be the most capable of surprising everyone around them with their unlikely resolve and resilience.

In 2005, Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a horticulturist thriving in his industry and beloved by everyone at conventions, though his affinity for his craft leads to him prioritizing it over his family, including missing his daughter’s wedding. Twelve years later, Earl is facing foreclosure and not being able to fund the wedding of the one relative who still talks to him, his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga). An unexpected offer to drive leads Earl into an extremely profitable profession, transporting large shipments of cartel drugs across the country. As Earl becomes the top runner, he is unaware that a DEA team led by Special Agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) is closing in on him.

Eastwood is a veteran actor and director who, at eighty-eight, continues to make impressive films and deliver worthwhile performances. Ten years ago, he anchored “Gran Torino” as a racist remnant of changing neighborhood, and here he portrays someone who has clearly alienated his family but remains otherwise likeable to those within his industry and with whom he interacts on a regular basis. Elements of his personality reveal his age and his having grown up in a different time, and his inability to text using a burner phone is a source of humor. But there is an unexpected sweetness and approachability to Earl that isn’t usually found in the characters he portrays.

The timing of this film’s release seems to have negated any awards chances for Eastwood, but his performance is typically great, and fresh in a way that is rare for an actor of his age. Cooper, who has his own directorial debut this year, is a solid familiar partner for Eastwood as the man charged with hunting him down. The narrative is easy to follow and presented in a straightforward format, with a perhaps unnecessary emphasis on the cartel serving to weaken an otherwise strong and compelling film. Though the true story on which it’s based predictably differs in many ways, this is a decent adaptation that knows exactly what it wants to be.


Movie with Abe: Capernaum

Directed by Nadine Labaki
Released December 14, 2018

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Siblings with a large gap in age between them often have a more complicated and distant relationship than those who are around the same age. The way that they are treated by parents can also change depending on the size of the family, with more time possible to be devoted to one or two children as compared with a larger group, where older siblings often take care of the younger ones, stepping in as surrogates while the adults work to make enough money to be able to support their offspring.

Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) is one of a number of children growing up in Lebanon in an extremely small home. He has a particularly close relationship with his sister Sahar (Cedra Izzam), who he looks out for and cherishes. When his parents try to marry her off to a much older man so that she might have a shot at a better life, Zain runs away from home. When he meets Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an illegal immigrant, he begins occupying his time by taking care of a new younger sibling: the baby son that she cannot acknowledge she has for fear of his being taken from her. Living away from actual adult supervision gives Zain a new experience, one that leads him to conclude that his parents were never fit to have raised him.

This film, described as a “politically-charged fable,” is described in most summaries as being about a child who sues his parents for the crime of his being born. That is certainly a component of it but hardly its definitive trait, since it serves as a far deeper and more insightful exploration of what it means to have a family, as Zain and his many siblings share an extraordinarily close space each day and night. They do not attend school and, before being married off, Sahar works as an eleven-year-old each day at the small corner store run by the much older man who clearly harbors affection for her. Zain can see that this is wrong, and audiences will surely agree.

Lebanon was Oscar-nominated last year for its submitted foreign film, “The Insult,” which zeroed in on a conflict between two men from different cultures that exemplified a far larger national rift. Its submission this year is equaling compelling, portraying poverty and social issues in its native country in an extraordinary fashion. Its cast of non-professional actors is excellent, with Al Rafeea standing out for his passionate and believable performance as a child forced to act like an adult based on the role models he sees around him. This is not the kind of film that would be made in America, and it is an excellent import that should not be missed.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Movie with Abe: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman
Released December 14, 2018

Superhero movies are everywhere right now. If you watch a movie about one comic book legend, it’s more than likely that, after a couple of sequels, the franchise will be rebooted before long and told from a perspective that’s meant to be innovative but probably looks a whole lot like everything that came before it. It’s refreshing, therefore, to see something that feels truly new, taking into account all that’s already canon and expanding on it in a creative way that totally merits the idea of revisiting preexisting material and turning it into something that feels fresh and worthwhile.

Peter Parker (Chris Pine) is Spider-Man, though his stint doesn’t last long as he is killed by Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) after the villain opens a portal to other dimensions. Fortunately, teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider and learns from Peter what he must do in order to set the universe straight. With no training and little idea of how to use his powers, Miles is unexpectedly introduced to a number of alternate versions of Spider-Man transported from the other dimensions, including an older, glummer Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), who all team up to take down Kingpin and save the multiverse from certain implosion.

This film starts off on a productive note, skipping past the recreation of an origin story by having Peter just tell it as it is, bringing anyone who doesn’t know about Spider-Man up to speed, assuming that he doesn’t need to fill in unnecessary details. That device is humorously recreated throughout the film as each new version of Spider-Man first appears, explaining their slightly varied circumstances and what defines their world. It’s a great way of diving right into the action, allowing this film to bring them together without the need for starting from scratch, intent on focusing all on plot and intrigue, with many laughs brought in as a result of the differences between these heroes and the way that they operate.

Animation is undoubtedly the best framework within which to lens this story, since it features so many incredible eye-popping visuals and brings comic books to life with its amalgam of straightforward stories and panels dictating the characters’ words and actions. Standard visual effects in a live-action film wouldn’t have been able to convey nearly the same sense of adventure and wonder that comes from the spectacular animation. The voice cast, which also includes Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Kathryn Hahn, and Lily Tomlin, is uniformly excellent, with Johnson standing out in particular for his very funny take on a worn-out superhero. This animated film isn’t just for kids at all, bringing in some more complicated themes and ideas for an epic adventure that’s fantastically paced and fully captivating. Films with characters like Spider-Man often earn sequels, but this one is magnificent all on its own. More of the same would surely be worthwhile, but this film packs more than enough awesomeness into just one entry.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

SAG Nominees: Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture

My predictions: 1/5, picking only “Crazy Rich Asians
Who’s missing? The Favourite, Vice, Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk

I didn’t realize quite how badly I had done here. That said, there are some definite surprises. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the past few years where we got new contenders who hadn’t been honored in the top races at the Golden Globes, like “The Big Sick,” “Mudbound,” “Captain Fantastic,” “Hidden Figures,” “Beasts of No Nation,” “Straight Outta Compton,” and “Trumbo.” This year, all five were recognized there, though they’re not the ones you might think. “The Favourite” was highly expected to make the cut, and its omission is deeply troubling, and disappointing because it’s not just the three terrific women, and the same argument could be made for A Star is Born, which did manage to make the cut. The snub for “Vice” is problematic for that film though not damning, whereas this should be the end of the line, regrettably, for “Widows.” The absence of “If Beale Street Could Talk” is very disconcerting, signaling that support for the great film might not be as strong as it should be, though both “The Shape of Water” and “Call Me By Your Name” missed out here last year. Crazy Rich Asians getting in isn’t a big deal since it makes sense as a fun choice, and that doesn’t necessarily bolster its chances. Interestingly, it’s one of two films nominated without an individual cast representative, along with Black Panther, another good choice with lots of great players. I’m fine with the inclusion of BlacKkKlansman even if it wasn’t my favorite of the year. Rounding out the list is a less expected choice, Bohemian Rhapsody, that I’m behind since I liked it a lot more than most critics. It’s now a much stronger contender for the Best Picture Oscar given its placement here and at the Globes. The question is, like last year, will not all these films make the cut with the Oscars? On a less optimistic note, it’s worth reading Nathaniel’s deep dive into which ensemble players weren’t actually nominated over at The Film Experience.

Who will win? These are some competitive nominees – my guess is that Black Panther wins over the likelier frontrunner, “A Star is Born.”

SAG Nominees: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

My predictions: 3/5, missing Blunt and Robbie
Who’s missing? Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Claire Foy (First Man), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased)

Well, this is troubling. No one thought that there was any reason to fear King being omitted, especially after she joined Amy Adams (Vice) as a double nominee at the Golden Globes. But she’s nowhere to be found after winning a handful of critics’ prizes already, and her film didn’t make the cut in ensemble as I had hoped it would. Also forgotten is Foy, who I would have thought would have been nominated after back-to-back wins the past two years for her TV work. Now, I haven’t seen Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) in either of her nominated films, so I’m going to work up the courage to sit down and watch it within the next week so that I can comment on the validity of her placement here. Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots), on the other hand, didn’t impress me nearly as much as any of the other performers in this category. Their ensemble got snubbed, but at least Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) and Emma Stone (The Favourite), the third double nominee in this category, got in.

Who will win? Without King, who is the frontrunner? My movie is actually on Weisz.

SAG Nominees: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

My predictions: 5/5
Who’s missing? Sam Rockwell (Vice), Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

This category was the easiest one to predict, confirming what everyone expected about it. After his Golden Globe snub, Sam Elliott (A Star is Born) bumped Rockwell, whose film also missed out on an expected ensemble bid. The other four nominees were nominated at the Globes as well. Along with Elliott, Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman) is also nominated as part of his film’s ensemble. Timothee Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) is here on his own, while Mahershala Ali (Green Book) and Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) have one costar apiece joining them. This is very likely to be the Oscar list – another contender would have needed to show up somewhere by this point. Jordan, who earned a Critics’ Choice bid, is the only one with a real shot.

Who will win? We’ll see if there’s a frontrunner by then. My guess is it will be Ali.

SAG Nominees: Best Actress in a Leading Role

My predictions: 4/5, missing Blunt
Who’s missing? Viola Davis (Widows), Nicole Kidman (Destroyer), Rosamund Pike (A Private War), Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

Well, that’s it for Davis and her film. It’s missed too many places, and unlike others that have triumphed at the last minute, this one has been out for weeks. Instead, late-breaking buzz for Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns) has resulted in her being a double nominee. I’m seeing the film on opening night one week from tonight and look forward to sharing thoughts. Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) seems to be safe, as does Glenn Close (The Wife), and Olivia Colman (The Favourite) made the cut along with her two supporting costars despite an unfortunate snub for the ensemble. Rounding out the list is Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), representing one of four mentions for her film, keeping her as the frontrunner here, in my opinion. Barring a big surprise, this will be the Oscar list.

Who will win? I’m going with Gaga.

SAG Nominees: Best Actor in a Leading Role

My predictions: 4/5, missing Washington
Who’s missing? Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Robert Redford (The Old Man and the Gun), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns)

This category waited alphabetically for its final surprise, omitting, as I had predicted, critics’ favorite Hawke. He’s probably still in for the Oscar at the expense of someone no one thinks will be snubbed, like James Franco from last year. I wouldn’t count out unexpected inclusion John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), whose film seems to be going the distance and whose trajectory might mirror that of his father Denzel’s two years ago, albeit with support for his movie. He’s nominated along with the ensemble of his film, joining Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born) and, less expectedly, Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) in that distinction. The other two nominees didn’t achieve that distinction, despite many predicting it: Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) and Christian Bale (Vice), joined by one supporting player each. This list is mostly standard, with Washington gaining plenty of momentum on the way to the Oscars.

Who will win? Based on the ensemble nomination, I think Malek can do it over Bale.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Movie with Abe: Burning

Directed by Chang-dong Lee
Released November 9, 2018

Romance is not a standard thing. The way that it begins, evolves, and looks throughout the process is different based on the people involved. The notion of a “honeymoon period” describes early courtship and bliss that, later on in a relationship, might fade considerably when one or both people involved no longer believe they need to put forth the same effort. The trajectory is hardly set for any kind of romance, and there are unexpected intrusions and developments that might affect its course greatly, introducing new elements and thoughts that complicate what should be simple.

Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo), recently moved into the house vacated by his imprisoned father and long-absent mother, runs into his old classmate Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jun), who tells him that she is taking a trip to Africa and needs him to watch her cat while she is gone. When she returns and asks him to pick her up from the airport, he readily agrees, not aware that he is also picking up a wealthy man named Ben (Steven Yeun) who she has just met. Each time he tries to see Hae-mi, Ben is there, eliciting feelings both of jealousy and of fascination with this mystery man, who tells Jong-su that he secretly enjoys burning down abandoned greenhouses.

Jong-su is a writer and spends most of his time alone, tending to his family’s farm and sitting in a near-empty courtroom where his father faces his latest arraignment. The temper that has gotten his father into so much trouble is present in no form in his son, and Jong-su’s passiveness slowly begins to be replaced by a new kind of demeanor as Ben appears more and more when he meets the woman he loves, who seems entirely unaware that bringing two men on the same date is at best confusing and at worst manipulative and cruel. Ben’s relaxed attitude and luxurious possessions make him even more of an enigma, so effortlessly charming in a way that Jong-su could never be.

Yoo is an established actor in South Korea who delivers an appropriately subdued lead performance here, opposite an impressive and energizing debut from Jun. Korean-American actor Yeun, known for his work on “The Walking Dead,” has been winning deserved accolades for his disarming portrayal of Ben, who provides much of the film’s intrigue through the uncertain motivations of his suddenly omnipresent character. South Korea’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film is a strong film that remains immersive and interesting for the whole of its two hour and twenty-eight-minute runtime, intent on telling a story committed to following its characters wherever their unexpected interactions and actions might take them.


Movie with Abe: If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Released December 14, 2018

Being black in America can define a person’s daily experiences in a way that this reviewer could never hope to understand. The lack of diversity within Hollywood and the underrepresentation of black people in front of and behind the camera has been spotlighted lately, in a hopeful start towards progress. Films that tell uniquely black stories don’t always achieve prominence, but two years ago, Barry Jenkins made “Moonlight,” which ultimately won the Oscar for Best Picture. Jenkins’ follow-up is an equally passionate and moving film, one with a very different kind of story to tell.

Tish (Kiki Layne) and Alonzo Hunt (Stephan James), better known as Fonny, have known each other all their lives. Their friendship eventually turns into a romance, one that is interrupted just after they find an apartment together when Fonny is arrested for a rape that he did not commit. When Tish learns that she is pregnant, her parents, Sharon (Regina King) and Joseph (Colman Domingo), embrace the new life that will soon enter the world, doing everything they can to help prove Fonny’s innocence so that their children can be reunited to start a family of their own.

There is a marvelous intimacy that exists in this film. Every time Tish and Fonny look at each other, the multitude of experiences they have shared over their lives come flooding back and are conveyed through the passion they feel. The families that raised them also have an incredible chance to shine in an early scene that finds them discussing the news that will bring them together in more than friendship. These people all feel so real even though their interactions have a magical, dreamlike quality to them, representative of others like them but genuine and individual at the same time.

This film introduces itself with a quote from James Baldwin, who wrote the book of the same name on which this film is based, explaining the significance of its title. This works as a love story and as an embodiment of a culture that must so often fight for its very survival. Its vibrant costumes by Caroline Eselin, moving cinematography by James Laxton, and heartfelt musical score by Nicholas Britell add to a terrific ensemble led by Layne and James with considerable support from King, Domingo, and its other with players in small roles. This is an affecting and powerful film, one that truly invites audiences into its perspective of the world.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday Oscar Odds

With the Golden Globes announcing their nominations this past Thursday and the Critics Choice list coming out this morning, we’re starting to get a real picture of the Oscar race. I’ve seen so much more than I ever have at this point in the season, and I’m working up the courage to see the two horror films that are performing better than expected (at least by me) and making plans to see the few remaining films either in theaters or on DVD. SAG nominations are announced Wednesday, and then we get tons of shortlists for technical categories next Monday, before many more precursors in the new year. Here’s a look at what’s happened and what it might mean. I’m offering visual effects predictions from a twenty-wide shortlist before the narrowed ten-wide one is publicized next week.

I looked back over Critics Choice nominees from previous years to see whether they included new contenders not recognized at the Golden Globes and how much they diverged from the eventual Oscar list. Only “Phantom Thread” really burst forth at the Oscars without much notice ahead of time last year. Especially with last year when, statistically, no film could win Best Picture because of historical necessities that had not been met, it’s most important to remember that it doesn’t actually matter what happened previously. What does seem clear, sad as it is to me, is that “Widows” is not going to be a major player. It missed out entirely at the Globes, and the Critics Choice list only features it in ensemble (a decent get), editing, and action movie, with Viola Davis missing out in a seven-wide field. “First Man” seemed like it was fading with only two Globe bids but then rallied with ten this morning, including picture, director, actor, and screenplay, plus a healthy dominance of the technical races. “First Reformed,” which to date has racked up eight critics’ prizes for star Ethan Hawke, doesn’t appear to be getting into the top race, but Hawke made up for his Globe miss with a mention today, and the film also showed up in the screenplay race. While critics love it, it may have to settle for those two Oscar nominations.

Though it’s ineligible for Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes because it’s an international foreign language film, “Roma” still picked up director and screenplay bids, and it took home Best Picture prizes from critics’ groups in Philadelphia, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, and New York (online) yesterday, making it, in my mind, the firm frontrunner for Best Picture even if it has the Netflix affiliation and its non-English nature going against it. “Vice” is also showing up strongly, netting the most Globe bids and a healthy Critics Choice take too. The review embargo ends this week, so I’m curious to see whether its prospects will change once thoughts on the film are public. Adam McKay is picking up nominations as its director while Barry Jenkins keeps missing out for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” which is a shame. I’m personally waiting to see “Mary Poppins Returns,” which is doing very well across the board. New predictions below – comment with your thoughts!

Best Picture
Black Panther
The Favourite
Eighth Grade
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mary Poppins Returns
A Star is Born

Best Director
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
Adam McKay (Vice)

Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress
Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Timothee Chalamet (Beautiful Boy)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams (Vice)
Claire Foy (First Man)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Original Screenplay
Eighth Grade
The Favourite
First Reformed
Green Book

Best Adapted Screenplay
Black Panther
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star is Born

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Documentary
Of Fathers and Sons
On Her Shoulders
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best Foreign Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Black Panther
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Sunday, December 9, 2018

SAG Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Last year’s nominees: The Big Sick, Get Out, Lady Bird, Mudbound, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There are many contenders in this category, and the question is whether films that haven’t done well elsewhere can show up here. Crazy Rich Asians is a good possibility since it’s a fun ensemble piece, and Widows might also see an uptick in buzz with a mention here. Of the Best Picture frontrunners, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Favourite, and Vice seem likeliest, though Green Book, BlacKkKlansman or Black Panther could also show up. I’m not feeling A Star is Born being recognized here, but maybe that’s foolish on my part. Might Mary Poppins Returns make the cut too?

Current predictions:
Crazy Rich Asians
The Favourite
If Beale Street Could Talk

SAG Predictions: Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Last year’s nominees: Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Hong Chau (Downsizing), Holly Hunter (The Big Sick), Allison Janney (I, Tonya), Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)

This year’s Golden Globe lineup seems likely to repeat all the way through to Oscar. Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) is a lock, and both Emma Stone (The Favourite) and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) are looking good too. Claire Foy (First Man) has little support for her film, while Amy Adams (Vice) has plenty, and it’s just a question of if any of them will be unseated by the likes of Elizabeth Debicki (Widows), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased), Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots), or someone else.

Current predictions:
Amy Adams (Vice)
Claire Foy (First Man)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

SAG Predictions: Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Last year’s nominees: Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes), Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project), Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

It’s very possible that all five Golden Globe nominees will repeat here, but I’m not holding my breath on last year’s winner Sam Rockwell (Vice), who might be replaced by Sam Elliott (A Star is Born). Expect that Mahershala Ali (Green Book) and Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) will be here, and Timothee Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) and Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman) are both likely. This could be the place that a new contender emerges, and I think that it would mostly likely be Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns), if he’s placed in this category.

Current predictions:
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Timothee Chalamet (Beautiful Boy)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

SAG Predictions: Best Female Actor in a Leading Role

Last year’s nominees: Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)

The three frontrunners here are Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), Glenn Close (The Wife), and Olivia Colman (The Favourite). I think that Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is safe after scoring a Golden Globe nomination, and it’s just a question of who might join her. Drama nominees Nicole Kidman (Destroyer) and Rosamund Pike (A Private War) are possible, and the only real threat from the comedy categories is Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns). Other possibilities include Viola Davis (Widows), Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Kathryn Hahn (Private Life), and Saoirse Ronan (Mary, Queen of Scots). I’m going with Davis but I think it might also be Blunt or someone much more surprising.

Current predictions:
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Viola Davis (Widows)
Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

SAG Predictions: Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Last year’s nominees: Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

Let’s start with the sure things, of which there are three: Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), and Christian Bale (Vice), whose film seemed like it was peaking too late until it ended up being the top nominations getter at the Golden Globes. Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) should be safe, and it’s anybody’s guess for the last slot. Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) were all recognized in drama at the Golden Globes, while Robert Redford (The Old Man and the Gun) seems like a stronger threat than either John C. Reilly (Stan and Ollie) or Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns), who might also contend in supporting instead. Ethan Hawke (First Reformed) and Ryan Gosling (First Man) both missed out at the Globes but may well be able to score here, though I’m going to go out on a limb and predict Redford for a surprise mention.

Current predictions:
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)
Robert Redford (The Old Man and the Gun)

Saturday, December 8, 2018

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 and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.

Now Playing in Theatres

Among the high-profile releases this week is Mary, Queen of Scots, featuring last year’s Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as competing monarchs in a decent drama that’s nicely decorated. Ben is Back wasn’t the project that earned Golden Globe nominations for either Julia Roberts or Lucas Hedges, but both are good in this mediocre mother-son movie about addiction. Tyrel played at Sundance as a far more realistic and straightforward version of “Get Out” with a great central performance by Jason Mitchell. Karen Gillan made her directorial debut with The Party’s Just Beginning, and the poster featuring her character stuffing her face with French fries is a good indication of its intriguing nature as a first film. Another Tribeca selection, Back Roads also serves as the directorial debut of its star, Alex Pettyfer, though that product is far more unnerving and haunting, hardly suitable for all audiences. I’d also advise that those who don’t want to see mass shootings featured on screen steer clear of Vox Lux, which has been buzzed about because of a different kind of Natalie Portman performance, but it’s really a mess with many problems.

New to DVD

I didn’t actually see it, but my wife was able to catch the Slamdance Film Festival Opening Night selection, Pick of the Litter, last January and highly recommends this guide dog documentary to all interested parties. Another pick from Park City, which took home the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, is a worthwhile exploration of gay conversion therapy from writer-director Desiree Akhavan. Rounding out this week’s releases is Operation Finale, the suspenseful dramatization of the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, played by Ben Kingsley.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

I can’t speak highly enough about Breath, directed by and starring Simon Baker, featuring incredible water cinematography in its portrayal of two young surfers in Australia. Israel’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film this year is The Cakemaker, a sweet and unexpected love story. Yorgos Lanthimos is getting accolades right now for “The Favourite,” and anyone encountering him for the first time should check out his first English-language film, the cleverly twisted The Lobster. It was a Best Picture nominee nine years ago, and District 9, with its allegorical representation of apartheid through aliens and humans, remains a remarkable and innovative science fiction film.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Movie with Abe: Vox Lux

Vox Lux
Directed by Brady Corbet
Released December 7, 2018

When there are disturbing events happening in the world, it is common to see them reflected in movies and television. Even if art is not inspired directly by life, themes presented in fiction usually do find some source in fact. Replaying harrowing experiences on screen can be triggering, and the response to unsettling dramatizations is often that things have happened too recently and the wounds remain fresh. That concept can be taken a step further when tragedies are used in an exploitative manner, to tell a story that, without the invocation of an impactful formative plot development, wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.

Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is only thirteen when she survives a school shooting in Staten Island. Her method of mourning involves songwriting, which turns into an incredible musical career bolstered by her manager (Jude Law) and sends her all around the world with her sister Ellie (Stacy Martin). A decade and a half later, Celeste (Natalie Portman) is no longer recognizable, a pop star who has been irreversibly transformed by the world in which she lives, mother to a teenage daughter (also played by Cassidy) and barely able to stay sober and polite for even one performance.

The term “trigger warning” could well be applied to a good portion of this film, starting with its opening scene, in which the school shooting is shown in relatively graphic detail. Another such event occurs at the start of the film’s second act, prompting the adult Celeste to be peppered with questions about whether a terrorist attack in Europe might be connected to her music and her image. Conflating these two notions feels inappropriate, especially since this film seems to imagine a world in which mass shootings do not happen with the same saddening regularity that they do in contemporary America. They are so central to this film’s story that it can’t be digested or understood without wondering what the reason for their inclusion might have been, since there are more than enough other reasons for Celeste’s innocence to be corrupted and lost.

The tone of this film, which presents itself in several acts and with a puzzlingly existent narrator, Willem Dafoe, is all over the place, shifting from heartbreaking to intense and intimate to featuring a lavish concert that serves little purpose other than to see this pop star perform. Beginning with its entire credits sequence immediately after its opening scene is questionable and unexplained, as if demonstrating all that it plans to accomplish right at the start. Portman has received awards buzz for what certainly represents playing against type, but the result is often cringe-worthy. Cassidy, who for some reason portrays both the young Celeste and her daughter, delivered a far more compelling performance with less unsuccessful accent work in the equally unnerving yet somehow still more appealing “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Actor Brady Corbet serves as writer and director of this project in the latest step of his recent foray into filmmaking, and this problematic portrait represents a vexing misstep that doesn’t net nearly enough value to make up for its displeasing content.


Movie with Abe: Ben is Back

Ben is Back
Directed by Peter Hedges
Released December 7, 2018

Addiction can devastate relationships. When a person values getting high more than being with someone else, tensions are created that are rarely easy to resolve. Letting someone go while they get the help they need can be difficult, especially if the nature of the relationship is one where the primal instinct is to protect the one in need. When a parent sees their child is suffering, even if it is at their own hands, they will likely stop at nothing to do everything they can to rescue them from their miserable fate.

Holly (Julia Roberts) comes home on Christmas to find her son Ben (Lucas Hedges) has returned, allegedly released from rehab for twenty-four hours on the recommendation of his sponsor. Her older daughter Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and husband Neal (Courtney B. Vance) are concerned that Ben being home is dangerous both for them and his recovery, while her two younger children jump at the chance to see their big brother again. As Ben struggles with acclimating to being home, Holly monitors him closely, determined not to let her son slip and disappear forever from her life.

This is the second film featuring an exasperated parent dealing with a drug-addicted son to be released this year, following “Beautiful Boy” with Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. While this film is not based directly on a true story, it follows the same sort of pattern, with Holly channeling passion into her support for her son rather than the more logic-based approach of her spouse, who is not nearly as forgiving. Holly is a formidable character, one who is quick to anger, even more so when it involves the livelihood of her family, paired with a sympathetic teenager who is aware of just how unreliable his own words are.

Roberts, who made her TV debut with “Homecoming” last month, has a great vehicle here that allows her to deliver her strongest performance in a number of years, playing to her strengths and nailing her character’s energy. Hedges, who also stars in “Boy Erased,” continues to pick great roles, though it’s hard for him to match the level of his “Manchester by the Sea” breakthrough. Teaming with his real-life father, director Peter Hedges, results in a film that doesn’t offer much beyond what can be seen and assumed from watching its trailer, a decent but predictable narrative with good performances at its center.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Minute with Abe Returns!

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical

My predictions: 4/5, missing “Crazy Rich Asians
Who’s missing? Eighth Grade

This category doesn’t offer any surprises, with Crazy Rich Asians getting in over my prediction, “Eighth Grade,” with both films earning best actress bids. The other four nominees all earned multiple bids. Mary Poppins Returns, the only best picture nominee I haven’t yet seen, netted actor, actress, and score nominations. The Favourite saw its three actresses all nominated along with its screenplay. Green Book scored for its lead actor, supporting actor, director, and screenplay. And Vice, far from a sure thing given its unimpressive awards season start, topped them all with six nominations – director, screenplay, actor, supporting actor, and supporting actress. This is undoubtedly a diverse list.

Who will win? It could honestly be any of them, and I’ll actually go with Green Book at the moment with minimal certainty.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture – Drama

My predictions: 3/5, missing “Black Panther” and “Bohemian Rhapsody
Who’s missing? First Man, Widows, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, First Reformed

These nominees aren’t all that surprising, and it’s not as if “First Man” or “Widows” ever had much of a shot. Their Oscar hopes aren’t completely dashed, but they would have both needed to show up here to have a major chance. Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody both scored in a big way by showing up without any other unexpected nominations, just score and song bids for the former and a best actor mention for Rami Malek for the latter. The former is much likelier to earn a Best Picture Oscar bid, but maybe the latter is in the race too. I’m a fan of it even those most aren’t. BlacKkKlansman needed this nomination to cement its awards season status, and it got it along with a Best Director bid for Spike Lee and two acting nominations. If Beale Street Could Talk did well enough, earning screenplay and supporting actress mentions. And A Star is Born cleaned up pretty well, with directing, song, actor, and actress nominations. This is a good list to be sure.

Who will win? Based on other nominations and general popularity, A Star is Born still feels like the frontrunner.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Director – Motion Picture

My predictions: 3/5, missing Spike Lee and Adam McKay
Who’s missing? Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), Damien Chazelle (First Man), Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Rob Marshall (Mary Poppins Returns)

This category contains some great news for certain directors and very bad news for others. I didn’t expect Adam McKay (Vice) to peak this early, both because he didn’t get a Globe nomination before his eventual Oscar bid for “The Big Short” and because his film performed poorly with precursors. Ending up as the nominations leader here means that it is a firm frontrunner in a way it really wasn’t before. The same goes for Peter Farrelly (Green Book), whose inclusion as a comedy film director was far from guaranteed. Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) earned his first nomination in twenty-nine years and only his second overall, giving him a decent shot at Oscar for the first time. The news is worst for Lanthimos, whose omission is disconcerting, and Chazelle, who is now likely out of the race. Jenkins probably doesn’t have to worry as much, but he’s going to have some serious competition to get past the previously mentioned nominees. It's worth noting that there are no female directors here again, but I don't know if the contenders this year were as high-profile as Greta Gerwig last year, so we'll see if someone shows up later in the race. Alfonso Cuaron (Roma) and Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born) have nothing to worry about since their films did great and they’re far out ahead.

Who will win? I’m putting my money on Cuaron.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

My predictions: 3/5, missing “Roma” and “Vice
Who’s missing? BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, A Star is Born, First Reformed, Eighth Grade

From what I can tell, this is only the second time a foreign film has been nominated in this category in recent history, following “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” eleven years ago, which took home the Best Director prize. That’s likely to be the same way things go for Roma, which wasn’t eligible for the Best Motion Picture – Drama prize due to its being in Spanish and from Mexico. That wasn’t a guaranteed nomination, so it’s a plus for the film. That’s also true for Vice, which made up for its slow awards season start with the highest overall take for a film, earning six bids. The Favourite missed out in the director race but showed up here, which is good, while Green Book scored everywhere it really could have. Rounding out the race is If Beale Street Could Talk, which didn’t do tremendously but earned a very deserved mention in this category. None of the films that missed out are too surprising since they’ll likely show up when there are two categories to fill.

Who will win? Based on its haul, I’ll pick Vice over “The Favourite” for now.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Song

My predictions: 2/5, missing songs from “Black Panther,” “Dumplin,” and “A Private War
Who’s missing? Trip A Little Light Fantastic (Mary Poppins Returns), The Place Where Lost Things Go (Mary Poppins Returns), Always Remember Us This Way (A Star is Born), Flower of the Universe (A Wrinkle in Time), I Crumble (Vox Lux), I’ll Fight (RBG), Hearts Beat Loud (Hearts Beat Loud)

Interestingly, this category doesn’t contain a song from the forthcoming musical sequel that picked up a nomination in the score category instead. Shallow (A Star is Born) was the only real lock here, and the lack of a bid for another song from the movie is irrelevant since it’s the only song that will compete at the Oscars. Both Revelation (Boy Erased) and Requiem for a Private War (A Private War) accompany their leading stars, while All the Stars (Black Panther) is nominated alongside its score and the film in the top race. Rounding out the list is the inclusion of Girl in the Movies (Dumplin’), which can be found in the Netflix original debuting tomorrow on the streaming service. Stats on the nominated artists and singers coming in my winner predictions.

Who will win? I listened to all these songs to refresh my memory (and introduce myself to the one I hadn’t heard). “All the Stars” is an anthem all its own as compared with the more traditional and worthwhile themes from the other three. Nothing holds a candle, however, to Shallow, which makes me think it’s unbeatable.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Score

My predictions: 3/5, missing “Mary Poppins Returns” and “A Quiet Place”
Who’s missing? If Beale Street Could Talk, BlacKkKlansman, Widows, Incredibles 2

I’ve only seen two of these films so far. Emily Blunt’s movies scored twice, with Mary Poppins Returns earning a bid here instead of in the song race as expected along with three top-tier nominations, and A Quiet Place, which I’ve avoided seeing because I don’t like horror movies, netting its sole mention. First Man picked up one of its only two nominations in this category, while Black Panther scored here along with the song race and the top category. Isle of Dogs got in here along with the animated feature field. I’ll have commentary once I’ve listened to more of these scores aside from the terrific one from “First Man.”

Who will win? My guess now would actually be A Quiet Place, but that will probably change once I’ve listened to them.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Foreign Film

My predictions: 2/5, missing “Capernaum,” “Girl,” and “Never Look Away
Who’s missing? Cold War, Everybody Knows, Happy as Lazzaro, Burning, Border

I’m not too surprised by these nominees, though I did much worse than I thought I had here. Like with every category I made a switch to last minute, I swapped out an eventual nominee. I’m thrilled to see Capernaum, an excellent film that marks Lebanon’s first entry into this category. The biggest surprise, of course, is the omission of Poland’s “Cold War,” though I assume that won’t be the case come Oscar time. Germany’s very lengthy Never Look Away, made the cut, as did Japan’s Shoplifters and Mexico’s Roma, which scored director and screenplay bids also. The fifth nominee and the only one I haven’t seen is Girl from Belgium, which according to fellow critic Oliver Whitney, is very dangerous for the transgender community. I respect what Whitney has to say and will offer my take on the film when I’m able to see it.

Who will win? Without Poland competing, this seems like a very easy win for Roma.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Animated Film

My predictions: 4/5, missing “Mirai
Who’s missing? The Grinch

This lineup isn’t entirely unexpected, but I am pleasantly surprised to see Mirai included as the first Japanese Globe nominee in this category, in comparison to the five such films honored in the corresponding Oscar race. Like last year at this time, I’ve seen two nominees total, with the terrific Ralph Breaks the Internet being the other one. I’m seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse next week, and I should be able to watch both Incredibles 2 and Isle of Dogs soon given that they’re both already available on DVD.

Who will win? I think the frontrunner is Incredibles 2 but I’m not entirely sure.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

My predictions: 5/5
Who’s missing? Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased), Elizabeth Debicki (Widows), Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians)

This is my only fully accurate film category, and I’m pretty happy with the nominees. Claire Foy (First Man) managed to get in despite her film missing out in all the top races, which speaks to the nature of her performance. Both Amy Adams (Vice) and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) are double nominees, also recognized for their miniseries work. And, fortunately, both Emma Stone (The Favourite) and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) made the cut. This could well be the Oscar list – I don’t see any other contenders likely to knock the out right now, but of course we’ll have to see who else shows up as we get closer.

Who will win? She’s already won a bunch of precursors, and I think King will continue that sweep here.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

My predictions: 4/5, missing Rockwell
Who’s missing? Sam Elliott (A Star is Born), Russell Crowe (Boy Erased), Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

I’m genuinely surprised to see Sam Rockwell (Vice) included after seeing the film yesterday and finding his role to be very minor. I guess it’s hard not to honor last year’s winner, though he did get in at the expense of Elliott, whose film scored everywhere else it was expected to. Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman) wasn’t the only element of his film to get in, even though it was looking that way. Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) joins his costar Melissa McCarthy, while Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) got in all on his own. And then there’s Mahershala Ali (Green Book), whose film did very well overall.

Who will win? I feel like Ali is far enough ahead here.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical

My predictions: 5/5
Who’s missing? Lily James (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (All About Nina)

I’m excited to have gotten this entire category right, but there also weren’t any surprises. It’s great to see Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) make the cut, especially since her film didn’t end up in the top category. The same is true for Charlize Theron (Tully), an early performance that I worried might be forgotten. Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) is a great choice, as is Olivia Colman (The Favourite), whose film performed almost as well as expected. I have yet to see Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns), but I’m sure she’s terrific.

Who will win? Though Blunt may have fans, I think Colman still wins.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical

My predictions: 4/5, missing Reilly
Who’s missing? Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool 2), Lakeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You), Steve Coogan (Stan and Ollie)

I was scared off by a misconception that his film was considered a drama, but I think I would have predicted Coogan over costar John C. Reilly (Stan and Ollie) had I included one of them. Reilly is in a handful of films this year, so it’s good to see him honored for something. I’m particularly pleased that Robert Redford (The Old Man and the Gun) didn’t get snubbed since his film has been all but forgotten. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns) stars in the one film here I haven’t seen but look forward to given its positive reception. Christian Bale (Vice) and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) both have reason for celebration as their films did just as well as expected, if not better, across the board.

Who will win? It’s a competitive field, but I think Bale takes it.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

My predictions: 3/5, missing Kidman and Pike
Who’s missing? Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Viola Davis (Widows), Julia Roberts (Ben is Back), Natalie Portman (Vox Lux)

This category isn’t too surprising, though it would have been an easy place to reward Aparicio, who may now have to wait for the Oscars after her film scored an impressive four nominations. Contrary to popular worries, Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) made the cut, which helps to cement her Oscar potential. Rosamund Pike (A Private War) wasn’t as expected, and the same goes for Nicole Kidman (Destroyer), whose film I look forward to seeing next week. Glenn Close (The Wife) is still a very strong contender, facing off against Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), whose film is best represented among those in this category.

Who will win? I can’t see why Gaga wouldn’t win.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

My predictions: 3/5, missing Dafoe and Washington
Who’s missing? Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Ryan Gosling (First Man), Clint Eastwood (The Mule), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther)

I misheard this category for a second and was shocked to discover that Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) had been snubbed, but of course he wasn’t, and he even got a show of support for his film that critics definitely didn’t deliver. The big snub here is for Hawke, which I’m fine with because I didn’t like the film, but I am annoyed that I only put him in yesterday in favor of someone who did make the cut, John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), and whose film did very well. I suspect Hawke will still replace him come Oscar time. Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased) is another selection who might not make it to Oscar, but it’s good that the hard-working actor got in for one of his several films this year. Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) got in with no other support for his film, joining Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born), who also netted himself a nomination for Best Director.

Who will win? I have a feeling that Malek is far out ahead unless Cooper gets pulled along with his film.