Monday, March 1, 2021

Movie with Abe: Sun Children

Sun Children
Directed by Majid Majidi
Release TBD

When people are presented with opportunities, they have the choice to take them or not to, but it’s likely that even their worst option may not be all that bad. Those without that luxury are forced to develop other ways to survive and to find success, though every road to possibility may still be paved with obstacles and unforeseen detours that simply can’t be avoided. Working hard to achieve a big score that can provide an escape from poverty can be very appealing, especially to young, impressionable minds, a notion explored in Iran’s Oscar-shortlisted submission for Best International Feature.

Ali (Roohollah Zamani) is twelve years old and living in Tehran, where he is forced to work for Hashem (Ali Nasirian), a crime boss who gives him a formidable assignment: to tunnel under a school to the vast treasure buried underneath the adjacent cemetery. Along with his friends Abolfazl (Abolfazl Shirzad), Reza (Mani Ghafouri), and Mamad (Mohammad Mahdi Moursavifar), Ali enrolls in the Sun School, splitting his time between classes and intensive physical labor below the classrooms. Vice-Principal Rafie (Javad Ezati) connects with his new students, while the principal (Ali Ghabeshi) seems far more concerned with currying political favor to keep the school open and funded.

This film doesn’t offer too much backstory to explain Ali’s circumstances aside from a powerful opening dedication to the “152 million children forced into child labor and those who fight for their rights.” That’s a fitting introduction as any, and Ali is one who proves himself more than capable for a job that seems entirely impossible. He works for hours each day chipping away with tools in a confined space believing that what he is doing will bring him great success and fortune, following the orders of a man who likely never thinks much about him. It’s a powerful testament to youthful imagination and the way in which that can be applied with the influence of the wrong mentors.

There is extraordinary talent on display here, led by the incredible Zomani in his film debut that rightfully earned him accolades at the Venice Film Festival. He demonstrates a true humanity in Ali, a drive to succeed at something that is dishonest and potentially illegal but represents a chance to live a different kind of life. The rest of the ensemble, including Ezati, is similarly terrific, anchoring a film that may earn Iran its fourth-ever Oscar nomination for representing a facet of its society that may be recognizable by some of its cultural elements but speaks to important international truths present throughout the world.

B+

Movie with Abe: A Sun

A Sun
Directed by Mong-Hong Chung
Released January 24, 2020 (Netflix)

Family dynamics are usually complicated, and the expectations of parents are rarely met by their children. Whether that becomes a source for positivity because of unanticipated interests and impressive accomplishments depends on the attitude of the parents and the way in which the children present their successes. Other factors outside of any of their control can have irreversible influences, charting a course that looks very different from what they may have planned for or hoped. Taiwan’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature presents a stark portrait of consequences and family relations.

Chen Jian Ho (Chien-Ho Wu), better known as A-Ho, is arrested after he participates in an attack on Oden (Li-Tung Chang) in which his friend Radish (Kuan-Ting Liu) chops off Oden’s hand. When he is sent to prison, his mother Qin (Samantha Shu-Chin Ko) visits him and supports his pregnant girlfriend Yu (Apple Wu), while his father Wen (Yi-wen Chen) pretends he does not exist, which is difficult when the father (Chih-Ju Lin) of his victim harasses Wen for money as reparation for his son’s actions. When his older brother (Greg Han Hsu) kills himself, A-Ho must confront a new reality that finds him working multiple jobs to make ends meet and haunted by actions and relationships from his past.

This film starts off rather brutally, representing a tendency towards violence that is not indicative of any part of A-Ho’s personality. While Radish embodies a darker approach to life that he attempts to use to subvert him, A-Ho is generally helpful, unhappy at first not to be told about Yu’s pregnancy but able to make friends in prison and then do what he must to make money after he is released and still not acknowledged by his father. Wen’s job as a driving instructor adds additional layers to the values he instills in his family, giving frequent grandstanding speeches to his students that indicate a worldview predicated on hard work and fruitful rewards that he has not seen happen in his own life.

This film runs over two and a half hours, covering several chapters in A-Ho’s young adulthood. It likely didn’t need to be quite so long, but there is a quiet power to the moments in which A-Ho and Wen, in particular, reckon with their circumstances and find themselves unable to change them, no matter how determined they are to work hard and do what society expects of them. The performances are strong and add to a rich and thought-provoking exploration of how people contribute to their own destructive cycles, hopeless to change them but able to draw the good out of them in subtle and telling ways.

B+

Movie with Abe: I’m No Longer Here

I’m No Longer Here
Directed by Fernando Frias
Released May 27, 2020 (Netflix)

There are people who are able to thrive in any environment, traveling from town to town or jetting across the world and interacting with those around them as if they were in their own homes. Others need to feed off the energy of a familiar place in order to be comfortable, and they may become accustomed to their surroundings and be uninterested or unable to adjust to a new setting. When they aren’t the ones choosing to leave one place and be transplanted to another, acclimating can be made harder, since feelings of resentment and isolation only become greater in a new and unwelcoming place. Mexico’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature explores this concept through the experiences of its very particular protagonist.

Ulises (Daniel Garcia) is a seventeen-year-old in Monterrey, Mexico, who runs the Los Terkos gang, a group that believes strongly in the Kolombia way of life and frequently dances to a signature style of music. His unintended interactions with a dangerous criminal organization force him to cross the border into America to keep his family safe. When he arrives in New York, he finds a different world, one where he struggles to find work, which is made even more difficult by his not knowing English. Lin (Angelina Chen), whose uncle employs Ulises to clean his roof, takes an interest in getting to know Ulises and connect with him despite his desire to be left alone.

Ulises makes an immediate impression with his distinctive hair, which prompts comments from those he knows and those he doesn’t, and also leads to assumptions being made about his character and his productivity. Ulises adheres strongly to what he believes, but he’s hardly the most motivated worker, and there’s an added degree of aggression and impatience that only further complicates his inability to understand the language most of the people he interacts with speak when he comes to America. One scene finds him cursing out a well-meaning cop who simply asks him if he has a permit to play music while he is dancing and even tries to advise him on where to obtain one, presuming that it must be yet another person who has come to tell him that he is doing something wrong.

This film is presented through interspersed scenes from different moments in time, compiling Ulises’ story in a jumbled fashion that speaks to the chaos he feels in arriving to somewhere new where is regularly reminded of where he has left behind. Garcia makes a strong debut as Ulises, keeping him less than emotive until he has the chance to truly shine and become entranced by his dance. Chen, who has the largest supporting role, inhabits the genuine, caring curiosity of another that feels too prying for the private and introverted Ulises. This film, like its main character, has a specific style to it, one that makes its often slow-paced journey considerably more interesting and worthwhile.

B

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical

The competition:

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is directed by Jason Woliner, marking his directorial debut. Stars Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova are nominated for their performances. The first “Borat” film won Cohen a Globe and was nominated for this prize back in 2006.

Hamilton is directed by Thomas Kail, and I’m not sure this can be really be called a film. He won a Tony Award in 2016 for directing the stage production. Star Lin-Manuel Miranda is nominated for his performance.

Music is directed by Sia, marking her directorial debut. Star Kate Hudson is nominated for her performance. Sia does have two previous nominations, for songs from “Annie” and “Burlesque.”

Palm Springs is directed by Max Barbakow, marking his directorial debut. Star Andy Samberg is nominated for his performance.

The Prom is directed by Ryan Murphy, marking his third feature film. Star James Corden is nominated for his performance. Murphy’s first film, “Running with Scissors,” earned one Globe bid, while a number of his TV work, including “Nip/Tuck,” “Pose,” and “American Horror Story,” has been cited.

Additional notes: The winner of this award has gone on to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture ten times years in a row, triumphing there twice, in 2011 for “The Artist” and last year for “Green Book.” Despite a musical being nominated almost every year since, the last such film to win this prize was “Les Miserables” in 2012. Two sequels have been nominated in recent memory. “Toy Story 2” won while “Mary Poppins Returns” did not.
What should win? I didn’t like “Music” and wasn’t overly infatuated with “The Prom.” I enjoyed “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” and don’t think that “Hamilton” should be classified as a film, even though it is certainly good (I saw a stage production in LA and then the filmed version this past summer on Disney Plus). For me, it’s a no-brainer: “Palm Springs” is one of the best movies of the year.
What will win? I’d be overjoyed if someone “Palm Springs” managed to upset, but I think this is down to two possibilities. My bet is that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm triumphs over “Hamilton,” but it could just as easily go the other way.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Movie with Abe: Fatale

Fatale
Directed by Deon Taylor
Released December 18, 2020

Power can invite corruption. It’s not an inevitability, but the pull often emerges to utilize authority and means to be able to usurp and exert even more control over others than might already exist. Checks and balances put in place aren’t always effective, especially when deference is given to the judgment of someone making questionable or alarming choices. Cinema tends to add even more ability and immeasurable means to characters in their quest for domination, giving them all too much intelligence and time to exact their devious plans in an almost omniscient manner. That missing logic detracts considerably from this all-too-familiar and lackluster thriller.

Derrick Tyler (Michael Ealy) travels to Las Vegas for work and spends the night with a woman he meets at a bar. When he returns to the lavish, expensive home he shares with his wife, Tracie (Damaris Lewis), he is startled by an attempted home invasion. Even more surprising is the arrival of that same woman, who introduces herself as Detective Val Quinlan (Hilary Swank), who just happens to be investigating their case. As Derrick becomes more unnerved by his own security, he realizes that Val is intent on turning a one-night stand into something much more serious, and she isn’t going to let the fact that he is married stand in the way.

This premise feels like it has been explored many times before, though it’s not always with a successful Black businessman and a lonely white female cop going through her own bitter divorce. Those modifications don’t make it any more interesting, and the scenes in Derrick’s home feel gratuitous since he lives with so much excess that this film just doesn’t possess. Instead, it takes every opportunity to cast a broad net with thin and uncreative plotting that makes its story less than engaging. Derrick isn’t particularly sympathetic as a character, while Val has demons that make her situation moderately understandable, even if she seems problematically out of touch with reality.

Ealy and Swank are both strong actors who have turned in great performances throughout their careers. Unfortunately, these don’t count among those, in part because the material they’re given is unsophisticated but also because they don’t seem to be applying themselves all that much, nor is Swank a particularly logical fit for her role. This follow-up to director Deon Taylor’s last film, “Black and Blue,” is a meager improvement in terms of quality but contains too little believable content to be involving or worthwhile.

C-

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Motion Picture – Drama

The competition:

The Father is directed by Florian Zeller, marking his directorial debut. It also contends for its screenplay and for performances from stars Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman.

Mank is directed by David Fincher, marking his eleventh film. It is the nominations leader, with bids for directing, its screenplay, its score, and for performances from stars Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried.

Nomadland is directed by Chloé Zhao, marking her third film. It also contends for its directing, screenplay, and star Frances McDormand’s performance.

Promising Young Woman is directed by Emerald Fennell, marking her directorial debut. It also contends for its directing, screenplay, and star Carey Mulligan’s performance.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is directed by Aaron Sorkin, marking his second film. It also contends for its directing, screenplay, song, and for star Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance.

Additional notes: The winner of this award has gone on to win the Oscar for Best Picture only four times in the past fifteen years, and only three times in the entire history of the Globes, most recently in 1963, has the winner been snubbed altogether at the Oscars. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is the only film here nominated for its ensemble at the SAG Awards. Only “The Father” is not nominated for directing, while, for the first time in thirty years, all five of the films in this category also have their screenplays cited.
What should win? I liked all of these films. My top three movies of the year are “Promising Young Woman,” “Mank,” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” so I’d be thrilled to see any of them rewarded.
What will win? I think it could legitimately be any of these except for “The Father.” I’ll very cautiously pick The Trial of the Chicago 7 over “Nomadland” with “Promising Young Woman” as a serious risk to upset.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to Theaters: The Father, Cherry, Night of the Kings, The Killing of Two Lovers
New to Theaters and VOD: The Obituary of Tunde Johnson
New to Virtual Cinemas: Til Kingdom Come
New to DVD: Breaking Fast, Collective, The Croods: A New Age, The Last Vermeer
New to Hulu: The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Director – Motion Picture

The competition:

David Fincher (Mank) directs his eleventh film, which earned him his fourth nomination. He won this prize in 2010 for “The Social Network” and was also nominated in 2008 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and in 2014 for “Gone Girl.” His film is the nominations leader, contending for Best Motion Picture – Drama, its screenplay, its score, and stars Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried.

Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) directs her third film, which earned her two nominations, as she also contends for its screenplay. Her film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, its screenplay, and for star Frances McDormand’s performance.

Regina King (One Night in Miami) directs her first film. She has three previous nominations, for “American Crime” in 2016, “Seven Seconds” in 2018, and “If Beale Street Could Talk,” which won her the supporting actress trophy in 2018. Her film also contends for its performance from star Leslie Odom Jr. and its end credits song.

Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) directs her first film, which earned her two nominations, as she also contends for its screenplay. Her film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, its screenplay, and for star Carey Mulligan’s performance.

Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7) directs his second film, which earned him two nominations, as he also contends for its screenplay . He has an impressive seven previous nominations, all in the screenplay category, most recently in 2017 for “Molly’s Game.” He won in 2015 for “Steve Jobs” and in 2010 for “The Social Network.” The film is nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, a song, and star Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance.

Additional notes: The winner of this award has gone on to win the corresponding Oscar eight times out of the past fifteen years, with only Ben Affleck missing out on a nomination altogether. In all but two cases, the winner of this race has also won the corresponding top prize (drama, comedy, or foreign). This is the first time that more than one female director has been nominated in the same year. The last and only woman to win this prize was Barbra Streisand for “Yentl” in 1983. Only “One Night in Miami” is not nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama.
Who should win? This is an extremely strong list. I can appreciate the formidable work that Zhao and King are doing even though they’re not at the top of my picks for the year. I’d be happy with any of them winning, though I’d probably choose Fincher or Fennell.
Who will win? Based on her absolute domination of critics’ prizes, I think this goes to Zhao and would be legitimately surprised by anyone else.

Movie with Abe: Cherry

Cherry
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Released February 26, 2021

It’s expected that people will change over the course of their lives. New opportunities present themselves and unforeseen developments alter the perspective and potential which might have previously guided someone in the choices they made and actions they did. There is a point at which they may be headed down a path of no return, unable to prevent themselves from making clear mistakes with irreversible consequences. Following characters along an unpleasant journey has an appeal but can become less than invigorating when circumstances look particularly grim. Fortunately, that’s mostly not the case with this involving and creatively-told story of an extremely interesting protagonist.

Cherry (Tom Holland) is hopelessly infatuated with Emily (Ciara Bravo) when he first meets her when they are attending a local university together. Their whirlwind romance is upended when Emily announces her plans to move to Montreal and Cherry hastily enlists in the military. His time in a war zone as a medic profoundly affects him, and he returns home haunted by what he has experienced. His ensuing addiction to opioids becomes crippling, forcing him to turn to a life of crime, robbing banks to pay for the drugs he uses and the unstable life he leads.

This film feels like a true biopic, one that brings to the screen a version of the story of Nico Walker, who wrote the 2018 novel of the same name while he was in prison. It is presented in divided chapters whose titles summarize the events that occur within them, framing Cherry’s life in pieces, mostly related to Emily and his service as a soldier. There is a distinctly clever and inviting style that punctuates much of the narration and the presentation of plot points, something that doesn’t remain consistent throughout the film’s lengthy 140-minute runtime. There’s a jolt of energy necessary when it starts to feel like “American Sniper,” another worthwhile effort that occasionally got submerged in the excessive focus on details that don’t truly aid the effectiveness of the narrative.

Holland is a wildly popular actor best known for playing Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and here he reunites with Anthony and Joe Russo, who previously directed him in “Avengers: Endgame” and other films in the series. He’s most reminiscent of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his remarkable ability to snap to the material and deliver a controlled, magnetic performance of a generally affable and accomplished person undone by his circumstances. Opposite him, Bravo, whose career started as a child actress, matches him in passion and commitment. The two exist within a film that manages to be fascinating at its peak and is hindered only slightly by a tendency towards repetition and slow pacing. Overall, it’s a worthwhile investment that demonstrates both the kind of film that the Russo brothers can create without superheroes involved and the extraordinary talent of two young actors.

B

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

The competition:

The Father was written by Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton. This is the first nomination for director Zeller, while Hampton previously contended in this race in 2007 for “Atonement.” The film also contends for Best Motion Picture – Drama and stars Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman.

Mank was written by Jack Fincher, earning his first Globe nomination almost eighteen years after his death for writing a film directed by his son David. The film is the nominations leader, contending for Best Motion Picture – Drama, its director, its score, and stars Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried.

Nomadland was written by Chloé Zhao, who is also nominated this year for Best Director. This marks her first nomination. The film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama and star Frances McDormand.

Promising Young Woman was written by Emerald Fennell, who is also nominated this year for Best Director. This marks her first nomination. The film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama and star Carey Mulligan.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 was written by Aaron Sorkin, who is also nominated this year for Best Director. He has an impressive seven previous nominations in this category, most recently in 2017 for “Molly’s Game.” He won in 2015 for “Steve Jobs” and in 2010 for “The Social Network.” The film is nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, a song, and star Sacha Baron Cohen.

Additional notes: The winner of this category has gone on to win one of the two corresponding Oscar prizes nine times in the past fifteen years, and only once in that time has ended up being snubbed altogether. A Best Director nomination isn’t crucial here to a win, but it does help. This is the first time in thirty years that all five of these nominees have also been up for Best Motion Picture – Drama.
What should win? Though “The Father” is well-written, it’s not one of my top choices. The same goes for “Nomadland.” I very much appreciated both “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” but the most formidable script of this bunch is certainly “Promising Young Woman.”
What will win? This category feels uncertain, but I think Sorkin prevails for The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Animated Film

The competition:

The Croods: A New Age comes from DreamWorks Animation. The studio has been nominated nine times before, winning for “How to Train Your Dragon 2” in 2014. The first film was nominated for this prize in 2013. This is the first nomination for director Joel Crawford.

Onward comes from Pixar, a studio that has dominated this category with eight wins since its inception in 2006 and is also nominated this year for “Soul.” This is the first nomination for director Dan Scanlon.

Over the Moon comes from Netflix Animation, the streaming giant’s first nomination in this category. This is the first nomination for director Glen Keane.

Soul comes from Pixar, a studio that has dominated this category with eight wins since its inception in 2006 and is also nominated this year for “Onward.” Co-director Pete Docter has won on both of his previous nominations in this category, for “Up” and “Inside Out,” while co-director Kemp Powers, earning his first Globe nomination this year, also wrote “One Night in Miami,” which contends for three Globes.

Wolfwalkers comes from Cartoon Saloon, previously nominated for “The Breadwinner.” This is the first nomination for directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart.

Additional notes: Two out of nine previously nominated sequels have won this award, with three of them losing last year to an original film. This is the second time two Pixar films are nominated in the same year, and last time, one of them still won – “Inside Out.”
What should win: I hadn’t even remembered watching the original, but I liked “The Croods: A New Age” much more than I expected. Honestly, all of them were great. I think I’d be happiest with “Over the Moon” or “Wolfwalkers.”
What will win: I see this being Soul without much trouble.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Croods: A New Age

The Croods: A New Age
Directed by Joel Crawford
Released November 25, 2020

Cavemen are considered backwards and rudimentary, mainly because they existed early on in the evolutionary process before humanity discovered many ways to improve itself. Yet the notion that they have nothing to offer and were completely unintelligent because of how they did things is a judgmental and irresponsible conclusion, one that presumes there is nothing to be learned from the past. That concept can be easily applied to gentrification and other expectations of what it means to be sophisticated in the present. Such ideas are alluded to in an entertaining and fantastical manner in this sequel that improves substantially on its original.

The Croods are back and facing an unexpected challenge as their latest addition, Guy, brings them far from their comfort zone in his constant search for tomorrow. When he encounters two adults from his childhood, Phil and Hope Betterman, they introduce the Croods to their way of life, which looks very different and involves considerably more technology and industry than they know. Eep sees a threat in their daughter, Dawn, who grew up with Guy, while Grug and Ugga find themselves clashing with Phil and Dawn about their values and whether they can or should adjust to this new existence.

It’s easy to read into the storylines here and apply more meaning to them than children may digest, and that’s a good thing since the first film, which this reviewer honestly didn’t even remember having watched just over seven years ago, lacked in adult-friendly content to keep older audiences engaged. This film presents exactly what should be expected from an animated film aimed primarily at younger viewers, inserting fantasy elements into a story that does feel timeless even if a few of its specific plot points are exaggerated to make the experience all the more entrancing for fresh eyes easily wowed by monsters and seemingly superhuman abilities.

The best asset of this film, which does boast impressive animation, may be its voice cast. A number of the actors return from the first film, including Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, and the late Cloris Leachman in one of her final film roles. The newcomers are just as fantastic, with Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann complementing the other voice talent superbly as Phil and Hope. This film takes the next step after a thin caveman premise that didn’t serve its predecessor all that well, creating a visually appealing and relatively enjoyable universe that could feasibly produce its own perfectly decent sequels in the future.

B+

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Original Song

The competition:

Fight for You (Judas and the Black Messiah) was written by D’Mile, H.E.R., and Tiara Thomas. This is the first nomination for all three. This film is also nominated for supporting actor Daniel Kaluuya.

Io Si (Seen) (The Life Ahead) was written by Diane Warren, Niccolò Agliardi, and Laura Pausini. Warren has five previous nominations, winning on her most recent time a song from “Burlesque” a decade ago. This is the first nomination for Agliardi and Pausini. This film is also nominated for Best Foreign Film.

Speak Now (One Night in Miami) was written by Leslie Odom Jr. and Sam Ashworth. This is the first nomination for both, and Odom is also nominated for his performance in the film, which additionally contends for Best Director.

Hear My Voice (The Trial of the Chicago 7) was written by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste. This is the fourth nomination for Pemberton, who contended previously for the scores for “Motherless Brooklyn” in 2020 and “Steve Jobs” in 2015, and for a song from “Gold” in 2016. This is the first nomination for Celeste. This film is up for Best Motion Picture – Drama and three other awards.

Tigress and Tweed (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) was written by Andra Day and Raphael Saadiq. This is the first nomination for Day, who is also nominated for her performance in the film. Saadiq was previously nominated for a song from “Mudbound” in 2017.

Additional notes: Only “Tigress and Tweed” missed the fifteen-wide finalist list for the corresponding Oscar category. The winner of this award has gone on to win the Oscar seven times out of the past fifteen years, though six of the remaining times the winner wasn’t even nominated there. Cynthia Erivo, Mary J. Blige, and Bjork were nominated in 2019, 2017 and 2000, respectively, for acting and songwriting, and in all three cases, they lost, but Lady Gaga, who was nominated in 2018, did succeed in winning this award.
What should win? After listening to these five songs a number of times, my clear favorites are “Io Si” and “Speak Now.”
What will win? I’m going to pick Speak Now over “Io Si” but I’m not entirely confident about that choice..

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Original Score

The competition:

Mank was composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, marking their fourth nomination as well as their fourth nominated collaboration with director David Fincher after bids for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Gone Girl” and a win for “The Social Network.” The duo is also nominated in this category for “Soul.” Their film is the nominations leader.

The Midnight Sky was composed by Alexandre Desplat, who was nominated last year for “Little Women,” in 2018 for “Isle of Dogs,” and won in 2017 for “The Shape of Water.” He has eight other previous nominations, including another win, for “The Painted Veil” for 2006. This is the only nomination for his film. This is his fourth collaboration with director George Clooney.

News of the World was composed by James Newton Howard. He was previously nominated for “King Kong” in 2005 and for “Defiance” in 2008. His film has only additional nomination for supporting actress Helena Zengel. This is his first collaboration with director Paul Greengrass.

Soul was composed by Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. This is the first nomination for Batiste and the fifth for the other two, who also contend this year for “Mank.” This is the only nomination for his film. This is their first collaboration with directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers. This film is also nominated for Best Animated Film.

Tenet was composed by Ludwig Göransson, who was previously nominated for “Black Panther” in 2018. This is the only nomination for his film. This is his first collaboration with director Christopher Nolan.

Additional notes: The winner of this award has gone on to win the corresponding Oscar ten times in the past fifteen years, failing to receive a nomination just three times. All five of these scores made the fifteen-wide finalist list for this year’s Oscar category. The last time an animated film won this prize was way back in 1994 for “The Lion King.” Composers have been nominated for multiple projects in the same year before and have sometimes triumphed.
What should win? These are all great choices, and I’ve spent a lot of time listening to them after seeing the films. I do think that “Tenet” would get my vote since it’s just something else.
What will win? I don’t think it’s locked up, but I’ll bet on Tenet for now.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Foreign Language Film

The competition:
 
Another Round (Denmark) is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, marking his thirteenth feature film and third Golden Globe nomination after previous bids in this category in 1998 for “The Celebration” and in 2013 for “The Hunt.” As far as I can tell, Denmark has been nominated ten times in the past, winning in 1988 for “Pelle the Conqueror” and in 2010 for “In a Better World.” This film is on the Oscar shortlist as Denmark’s submission for Best International Feature.

La Llorona (Guatemala) is directed by Jayro Bustamante, marking his third film. This is the first Globe citation for Guatemala. This film is on the Oscar shortlist as Guatemala’s submission for Best International Feature.

The Life Ahead (Italy) is directed by Edoardo Ponti, marking his third film. As far as I can tell, Italy has thirty-five previous nominations and nine wins, most recently in 2013 for “The Great Beauty.” While this film is not was not selected as Italy’s submission for Best International Feature, it is on the corresponding shortlist for Best Original Song, which also serves as a second Globe nomination.

Minari (USA) is directed by Lee Isaac Chung, marking his fourth film. This is the sixth time that a film cited as being only from the USA has been nominated. None of them have won, though “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” billed as being from the USA and another country, did prevail in 2006 and 2007. This is the film’s only Globe nomination, though it is up for three SAG Awards.

Two of Us (France) is directed by Filippo Meneghetti, marking his feature debut. As best as I can tell, France has been nominated a whopping eighty-one times and has been credited with twelve wins. This film is on the Oscar shortlist as France’s submission for Best International Feature.

Additional notes: All three Oscar-eligible films are on the shortlist for the Oscar Best International Feature category. Last year, all three of the nominees here who were submitted at the Oscars ended up getting nominated there. The past two winners of this category, “Parasite” and “Roma,” won the corresponding Oscar, while the two before that, “In the Fade” and “Elle,” weren’t even nominated. Only seven winners in this category have gone on to win the corresponding Oscar in the past fifteen years.
What should win? These are all good choices. I would choose “Minari” over the rest.
What will win? This is the first time in a few years that there’s no set frontrunner, and even though Minari didn’t earn other bids here, I think it’s safe to say that it has the edge.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

The competition:

Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy) plays grandmother Mamaw Vance. She has thirteen previous acting nominations, winning in 2004 for “The Lion in Winter,” in 2007 for “Damages,” and in 2018 for “The Wife.” She is the lone representative from her film.

Olivia Colman (The Father) plays devoted daughter Anne. Colman is a double nominee this year and has won on all three of her past nominations: in 2019 for “The Crown,” for which she contends again, in 2018 for “The Favourite,” and in 2016 for “The Night Manager.”

Jodie Foster (The Mauritanian) plays lawyer Nancy Hollander. She has seven previous nominations, including two wins, for “The Accused” in 1988 and in 1991 for “The Silence of the Lambs,” in addition to having received the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2012. Her costar Tahar Rahim is also nominated this year.

Amanda Seyfried (Mank) plays actress Marion Davies. This is her first Globe nomination. Her film is the nominations leader.

Helena Zengel (News of the World) plays orphan Johanna Leonberger. This is the first Globe nomination for the twelve-year-old actress. Her film is also nominated for Best Original Score.

Additional notes: Close, Colman, and Zengel are also nominated for individual SAG Awards, while Close, Colman, and Seyfried are up for Critics Choice Awards, where Zengel is a nominee in the Young Actor/Actress category. Only four times in the entire history of this category has the winner gone on not to be nominated for an Oscar, and the most recent time was more than forty years ago. All but four times in the past fifteen years, the winner of this category has also won the Oscar, and several of those instances involved different nominees and category placements.
Who should win? None of these performances are at the top of my list, but I think I’d choose Seyfried.
Who will win? It’s hard to know with popular critics’ pick Maria Bakalova in a different category – probably Close?

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The competition:

Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7) plays defendant Abbie Hoffman. Cohen won a Globe in 2006 for the first “Borat” movie and is also nominated this year for his performance in the sequel, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Both films are nominated for in other categories and for the top prizes. This is third year in a row that Cohen has been a Globe nominee after TV bids for “Who Is America?” and “The Spy.”

Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) plays activist Fred Hampton. Kaluuya was previously nominated in 2017 for “Get Out.” His film also contends for Best Original Song.

Jared Leto (The Little Things) plays murder suspect Albert Sparma. He won this prize in 2013 for “Dallas Buyers Club.” He is the lone representative from his film.

Bill Murray (On the Rocks) plays eccentric father Felix Keene. He has six previous nominations, most recently earning two bids in 2014 and winning in 2003 for “Lost in Translation.” He is the lone representative from his film.

Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami) plays singer Sam Cooke. This is his first Globe nomination, and he also contends for a song from his film, which earned a third bid for Best Director. Odom also stars in two nominees for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical this year, “Hamilton” and “Music.”

Additional notes: All but Murray are nominated for individual SAG Awards, and all but Leto are up for Critics Choice Awards. Only once in the past forty years has the winner of this category gone on not to be nominated for an Oscar (Aaron Taylor-Johnson in 2016), and the victor here also claimed the Oscar all but four times in the past fifteen years.
Who should win? I’m not sure why Leto is here but the rest are all great choices.
Who will win? I really don’t know. It could be any of them except Murray, and I think Leto may actually take it, baffling as that might be to believe.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

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

The competition:

Maria Bakavola (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) plays Kazakh traveler Tutar Sagdiyev. This is her first Globe nomination. She is joined by costar Sacha Baron Cohen and her film contends for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Kate Hudson (Music) plays recovering addict Zu Gamble. She won a Globe twenty years ago for “Almost Famous.” Her film contends for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Michelle Pfeiffer (French Exit) plays heiress Frances Price. She has seven previous nominations, most recently for “The Wizard of Lies” in 2017, and won in 1989 for “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” She is the lone representative from her film.

Rosamund Pike (I Care a Lot) plays advocate-criminal Marla Grayson. She was previously nominated in 2018 for “A Private War” and in 2014 for “Gone Girl.” She is the lone representative from her film.

Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma.) plays matchmaker Emma Woodhouse. This is her first time being nominated for a Globe, and she also contends for her starring role in the limited series “The Queen’s Gambit.” She is the lone representative from her film.

Additional notes: Only Bakalova is nominated for a SAG Award and Critics Choice Award this year, in the supporting category. The winner of this award has gone on to be nominated for an Oscar all but three times in the past fifteen years, with five victors going on to win the Oscar.
Who should win? None of these actresses are on my own ballot, but I think I’d probably pick Pike or Bakalova.
Who will win? I think Bakalova should be clear to win here.

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

The competition:

Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) plays Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev. Cohen won this award in 2006 for the first “Borat” movie and is also nominated this year for his performance in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Both films are nominated for in other categories and for the top prizes. This is third year in a row that Cohen has been a Globe nominee after TV bids for “Who Is America?” and “The Spy.”

James Corden (The Prom) plays over-the-top actor Barry Glickman. This is Corden’s first nomination. His film contends for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) plays founding father Alexander Hamilton. He was nominated in this category two years ago for “Mary Poppins Returns” and in 2016 for a song from “Moana.” His filmed stage production is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Dev Patel (The Personal History of David Copperfield) plays the famed title character. He was previously nominated in 2016 for his performance in “Lion.” He is the only representative from his film.

Andy Samberg (Palm Springs) plays aimless day-experiencer Nyles. He won a Globe in 2013 for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” His film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Additional notes: None of these performances are nominated for SAG Awards. The winner of this category sometimes goes on to be nominated for an Oscar, and two victors – Jean Dujardin and Jamie Foxx – have actually won the Oscar. Two recent winners, Taron Egerton and James Franco, were ultimately not nominated for the Oscar, though in both cases, one man who lost to them did make the cut.
Who should win? I loved Samberg and it would be so great to see him win. Cohen is a fine choice too. Miranda does deserve awards but I’m not sold on this being a movie.
Who will win? I’m torn between Miranda and Cohen, opting tentatively for the latter.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

The competition:

Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) plays singer Ma Rainey. Davis won a Globe in 2016 for “Fences” and has four additional previous nominations, two for film and two for TV. She is joined this year by her late costar, Chadwick Boseman.

Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) plays singer Billie Holiday. This is her first Globe nomination, but she also contends this year for a song from her film.

Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman) plays grieving mother Martha Weiss. This is her first Globe nomination, and she is the only representative from her film.

Frances McDormand (Nomadland) plays traveler Fern. She won this prize in 2017 for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and has five additional previous nominations, along with an ensemble cast prize for “Short Cuts” in 1993. Her film is nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama and two other awards.

Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) plays revenge-seeker Cassie Thomas. She has one previous nomination, in this category in 2009 for “An Education.” Her film is nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama and two other awards.

Additional notes: Everyone but Day is also nominated for an individual SAG Award, and all of them were cited by the Critics Choice Association. The winner of this category has gone on to win the Oscar seven times in the past decade.
Who should win? These are all superb performances. While I’d be happy to see any of them rewarded, my clear choice is Mulligan.
Who will win? I thought for a while that it was definitely going to be McDormand, but I think I’m going to predict Mulligan.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

The competition:

Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) plays drummer Ruben Stone. He was nominated previously in 2016 for his TV role in “The Night Of.” He is the lone representative of his film.

Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) plays musician Levee Green. This is his first Golden Globe nomination, received posthumously after his death from cancer this past August. His costar Viola Davis is also nominated.

Anthony Hopkins (The Father) plays the dementia-stricken Anthony. The Oscar winner has never actually won a competitive Globe despite seven previous bids, including last year for “The Two Popes,” and was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award fifteen years ago. His film contends for Best Motion Picture – Drama and two other awards.

Gary Oldman (Mank) plays screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. He won this prize three years ago for “Darkest Hour.” His film is the nominations leader.

Tahar Rahim (The Mauritanian) plays detainee Mohamedou Ould Salahi. This is Rahim’s first Globe nomination, and he is joined by costar Jodie Foster.

Additional notes: All but Rahim are also received notes from SAG and the Critics Choice Association for these performances. The winner of this prize has gone on to win the Oscar every year since 2012.
Who should win? These are all very strong performances and any of them would deserve this win. I would choose Boseman, Ahmed, or Oldman.
Who will win? It could be Hopkins since his film obviously has support, but I think it’s likelier to be Ahmed or Boseman.

Movie with Abe: The United States vs. Billie Holiday

The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Directed by Lee Daniels
Released February 26, 2021 (Hulu)

Artists are typically remembered most for the works they create, recognized by future generations for their notable contributions to culture that can be concretely identified. The defining experiences they had may be known only to the more active and interested consumers since a life cannot be captured by one song or painting. Those with particularly complicated and compelling backgrounds make great subjects for biographies since, especially if they died untimely deaths, they may have a great deal more to share with the world than what is most commonly cited. This film tackles the very worthwhile topic of Billie Holiday with an unspectacularly standard approach.

Billie Holiday (Andra Day) is an acclaimed singer in the 1940s, delighting crowds with “All of Me” and other tunes from her repertoire. Her performances of another song, “Strange Fruit,” attract the attention of the FBI, endorsed by Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund), who do not want her singing about lynchings and target her drug use as a way of discrediting and ultimately imprisoning her. Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), the agent sent in to get close to her, comes to question his role in the suppression of a powerful Black voice as he gets to know this woman who has seen much in her years and doesn’t want to be told what she can and can’t communicate through art.

This film’s title explains its angle, which is to frame Holiday’s life as a constant struggle between her right to exist and share her music and the forces hellbent on censoring her so that they can pretend that white supremacy and deadly racism do not exist in America. While much of that narrative sadly remains true in current times, Holiday witnessing the brutality of lynchings in an era when such abhorrent behavior wasn’t even condemned explains its particular resonance to her. Holiday is also well aware that singing about it won’t make it stop or even create major change, but being silenced and told to behave does not sit right with her in any way.

Day delivers an enormously impressive performance in her first major film role, imbuing Holiday with a deep passion interwoven with anguish and conflict. She is paired well with Rhodes and a cast that includes Tyler James Williams and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as members of her touring ensemble. There are moving moments in the film, particularly when Holiday performs on stage, that stand out from a typical biopic about a protagonist made to seem paranoid by the people who are very much surveilling her every move. Its confrontation scenes feel constructed for dramatic purposes, detracting by pulling focus from an icon whose legacy deserves to be honored in its own right.

B

Friday, February 19, 2021

Movie with Abe: La Llorona

La Llorona
Directed by Jayro Bustamante
Released August 6, 2020 (Shudder)

Fear comes from many different sources. Supernatural elements that bring back the undead to haunt the living are surely frightening, and make up a good deal of the cinematic horror genre. The actions of real people in life, however, can be even more terrifying since it demonstrates the disturbing capacity to do evil when infinite better choices exist. Guatemala’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature explores the intersection between the two, when the brutality of one man’s life begins to catch up with him just as death hovers near and presents itself as a new and vicious threat.

Enrique (Julio Diaz) is a former general on trial for his role in ordering the torture and killing of many Mayans years earlier. His wife Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic) and his daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz) support him in public, and struggle at home with his deteriorating memory that finds him lost and confused each night, worried that someone has broken in. The protestors who gather outside his house only add to the stress, and the arrival of a new maid, Alma (María Mercedes Coroy), further indicates that there is real reason to worry that may not merely be a figment of Enrique’s imagination.

Billed as a horror film, this is really more of a psychological thriller, one that uses the idea that something inhuman or undead might be lurking nearby to augment an already worrisome existence. Those who survived the genocide carried out by Enrique and remember the unfeeling authority with which he commanded executions will never be able to forget what they have witnessed and what they remember, and, after that time should be a distant memory for Enrique, he is finally forced to confront his own vulnerability as power slips away from him and accountability approaches, ready to hold him responsible regardless of how long it has been since his crimes.

This film has earned accolades as the best foreign film of 2020 and is among the fifteen productions on the Oscar shortlist for Best International Feature. It does speak to a national sensibility in Guatemala about the activity portrayed in this film, and while Enrique is fictional, he is based on General Efraín Ríos Montt, the dictator whose conviction was overturned in 2013. This film draws tension and suspense from its quieter moments, allowing a large, supposedly secure house to become an even scarier setting than one in which helpless victims are rounded up by armed soldiers. Its use of the title La Llorona, to reference the tale of a weeping woman mourning her drowned children, gives it added emphasis, one that complements an unsettling and intriguing narrative whose ambiguity may fulfill some more than others.

B

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to Theaters and Hulu: Nomadland
New to Theaters: Jumbo
New to VOD: Supernova
New to DVD: Mayor, Softie, God of the Piano
New to Netflix: I Care a Lot, Monsoon
New to Hulu: The Shape of Water

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Movie with Abe: I Care a Lot

I Care a Lot
Directed by J Blakeson
Released February 19, 2021

The phrase “crime doesn’t pay” isn’t entirely accurate since, at the height of their operations, many people conducting illegal business will be making a considerable amount of money. The idea is that such fortune won’t always remain, and those who traffic in criminal enterprises are likely to meet others equally motivated by the allure of getting rich who will be happy to squash their competition to then take their share for themselves. Even if the spoils do not ultimately go to the victor, there is definitely collateral damage along the way, a concept mostly ignored by this darkly comedic caper film.

Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) works as a legal guardian, protecting the interests of older individuals deemed unfit to care for themselves by a court, or at least that’s what she claims to do. She has the game rigged, working with her business partner Fran (Eiza González), a doctor (Alicia Witt), and a nursing home administrator (Damian Young) to prey on vulnerable and unconnected elderly people she can steal from and ensure won’t have any power to stop her. Her latest target, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), seems like the perfect mark, until Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), a dangerous mobster, comes looking for the woman who it turns out does have people in her life that very much care about what happens to her.

This isn’t a film that addresses morality much, opening with a man (Macon Blair) desperate to be allowed to see his mother after Marla has cut off any access her has to her, a challenge Marla easily has dismissed and is congratulated for achieving. She delights in being a wildly successful con artist, and her response to being intimidated by Roman’s henchmen is to fight harder to rob Jennifer of any autonomy she has left. The many people hurt along the way by Marla seeking a win and to add to her overall net worth make it difficult to root for her, though Roman, a temperamental man who uses violence to achieve what he wants, is no more sympathetic.

Addressing ethics may not be paramount here, and separating the film from its message is possible. As a piece of entertainment, this film functions very well, treading an initially familiar plot structure before subverting expectations to keep audiences engaged. Pike, who earned a surprise Golden Globe nomination for her performance, is delightfully full of energy in a way she rarely is, and González makes her supporting character feel vital and necessary when she otherwise might not have been. They make a formidable and very watchable duo. Dinklage could play this part in his sleep, but that shouldn’t diminish his skill at being quietly intimidating and capable of making people much bigger than him cower. Overall, this is an enjoyable ride that should keep audiences invested and enthralled for its nearly two-hour runtime, even if they don’t feel great about hoping for a happy end for any of its characters.

B

Movie with Abe: Emma

Emma
Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Released March 6, 2020

Every generation has its share of snobs and gossips, those who would much rather be starting the conversations about everyone else than end up the subject of other people’s musings. In the present day, social media provides a particularly scathing outlet for anyone eager to keep on the latest all-important news to consume and spread information immediately and whenever they want. In the 1800s, on the other hand, keen observation and knowing the right people were far more crucial, and the lack of ever-available content meant that distracting from a scandalous story wasn’t easy, as entertainingly showcased in the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s famed 1815 novel.

Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) lives with her father Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) and always has her nose in someone else’s affairs. Her primary muse is the impressionable Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), who is initially pursued by Robert Martin (Connor Swindells). Emma inserts herself into the situation and positions Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor) as her ideal partner, while Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) expresses hesitation at her meddling and the elusive Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) remains a complicating factor in Emma’s far-from-innocent scheming.

Though it looks fresh and eye-popping thanks to the impressive technical work by costume designer Alexandra Byrne and production designer Kave Quinn, among others, this film isn’t a modern reinterpretation of a classic work. Unlike “The Great” or “Dickinson,” which insert anachronistic dialogue and storylines into the lives of people who lived centuries ago, this is a standard adaptation of its author’s work and merely a strong utilization of younger actors to play these parts and inject them with new life. Audiences typically opposed to this type of fare won’t find much to augment the experience, which does at times feel drawn-out due to a combination of its tame PG rating and its 124-minute runtime.

Overall, however, this perfectly ordinary cinematic realization of Austen’s writing is more than competent, matching its visuals with strong performances from up-and-coming talent well-known for other breakout projects. Taylor-Joy, a major star thanks to “The Queen’s Gambit,” is full of personality as Emma, and it’s great to see O’Connor, Flynn, and Turner in different roles than the ones in which this reviewer has previously encountered them. Nighy is a dry delight as always, and Goth is truly great. If nothing else, it’s reassuring to know that returning to the same material with a fresh eye for detail and style can be completely worthwhile, as is the case with this light and entertaining period piece.

B

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Interview with Abe: Mank

One of my top films of 2020 is “Mank,” now streaming on Netflix. I had the privilege to chat with Production Designer Donald Graham Burt and Costume Designer Trish Summerville, which was a wonderful opportunity to revisit their incredible work. Head over to Awards Watch to read the interview and check out my review of the film! 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Interview with Abe: Driveways

I had the pleasure of chatting with director Andrew Ahn about his wonderful film “Driveways,” which I saw at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is available on demand. Check out my great conversation with him at Awards Radar. Read my written review here and don't miss my Minute with Abe video review from Tribeca!

Monday, February 15, 2021

Interview with Abe: The Midnight Sky

One of the recently-announced Oscar finalists for Best Visual Effects is George Clooney's “The Midnight Sky,” now streaming on Netflix. I had the privilege to chat with production designer Jim Bissell and VFX supervisors Chris Lawrence and Matt Kasmir, which was a great and very technically enlightening conversation. Head over to Awards Watch to read the interview and check out my review of the film! 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Interview with Abe: Greyhound

One of last year's most impressive technical achievements was “Greyhound,” which is available to watch on Apple TV Plus. I had the privilege of chatting with director Aaron Schneider and participating in a press conference with a number of the artisans who worked on the film. Head over to Awards Radar to read both those pieces and check out my review of the film! 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to Theaters: Minari, The Mauritanian, French Exit, Land, The World to Come
New to Theaters and Digital: Breaking News in Yuba County
New to Theaters and HBO Max: Judas and the Black Messiah
New to VOD: Cowboys, Music
New to DVD: Wander Darkly
New to Tubi: Beast Beast

Friday, February 12, 2021

Movie with Abe: Breaking News in Yuba County

Breaking News in Yuba County
Directed by Tate Taylor
Released February 12, 2021 (Theaters and Digital)

The idea of becoming famous is something that appeals to many. Those who feel like no one really knows who they are, even among their friends and family, can see a theoretical validation in being recognized by people they’ve never even met, plucking them from obscurity to become the center of attention. That process may take a long time and a lot of work, if it’s even possible, and trying to take shortcuts usually involves collateral damage or fleeting acknowledgment that can disappear as quickly as it appeared. Loneliness is the catalyst for craziness in “Breaking News in Yuba County,” which quirkily demonstrates how one mistruth can spiral incredibly out of control.

Sue Buttons (Allison Janney) doesn’t feel seen. It’s her birthday, and no one noticed. When she goes to confront her husband, Karl (Matthew Modine), and demand a fancy dinner out, she discovers that he is having an affair. When she walks in on him having sex with Leah (Bridget Everett), he dies of an apparent heart attack. Rather than report it, she decides to use it as a way for people to finally notice her, claiming that it was a kidnapping. Little does she know that Karl was indeed involved with a ring of criminals led by Mr. Kim (Keong Sim) and his daughter Mina (Awkwafina). Sue’s invented story also brings in her reporter sister Nancy (Mila Kunis), Karl’s brother Petey (Jimmi Simpson), an impatient detective (Regina Hall), and a number of other characters from each of their worlds.

This film boasts a truly remarkable ensemble, which, in addition to the already-mentioned talent, includes Juliette Lewis, Wanda Sykes, Clifton Collins Jr., and Samira Wiley. None of the parts aside from Janney’s are so prominent, and as a result it feels like a true cast effort where each role is just as important to the whole, even if multiple characters at first feel tangential to the overall story. Everyone seems to be having a good time, well-cast for their parts though none of them are particularly challenging to play. At times it feels like they’re all in different unconnected vignettes, and that’s probably because the whole is considerably messier than the parts.

It might be most accurate to use director Tate Taylor’s two most prominent past films to illustrate where this one falls. The actors involved and their abilities is reminiscent of “The Help,” while the story structure looks more like “The Girl on the Train,” which is not a good thing. This film tends to go broad when it might have done better reining in its more eyebrow-raising moments, and it also includes a good deal of extreme violence that feels out of place and extraneous. That’s not to suggest that this film isn’t entertaining, which it is, but rather that its strong assembly of talent could presumably have been put to slightly better and more sophisticated use.

B-

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Released February 12, 2021 (Theaters)

There is an unfortunate tendency in the criminal justice system to apply the severity of an act to way a suspect deserves to be treated. Innocent until proven guilty means that an accusation shouldn’t be a sufficient on its own, and yet there are all too many instances of people, particularly those of color, being considered as if they have been convicted before a charge has even been filed. In the case of something even more extreme, like terrorism, the need to secure information regardless of complicity can be particularly dangerous, a theme explored in detail in Kevin Macdonald’s incisive look at a truly broken system.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) is arrested following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and held without charge. After numerous interrogations that allege his involvement in their planning, he arrives at Guantanamo Bay. While military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) prepares his case, defense attorneys Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) meet and see a kind-hearted man who harbors no ill will towards them and seeks only to prove his innocence.

This is the latest film to delve into the prominent and disturbing use of torture by American authorities, after “Taxi to the Dark Side,” “The Report,” and others. Its narrative starts from Slahi’s perspective as he voluntarily comes in for questioning and then finds all of his rights stripped away from him, before shifting to the legal battle that ensues with the lawyers on both sides investigating and discovering disturbing activity that, regardless of what Slahi may have done, should be deemed unacceptable and never merited. This film doesn’t contain as much upsetting visual material as something like “Zero Dark Thirty,” but still gets its point across about the unfairness and despicable nature of Slahi’s treatment. It should be impossible to walk away from this film believing that there was nothing done wrong by those holding and interrogating Slahi as a prisoner.

Rahim is a dependable actor who broke out in the Oscar-nominated “A Prophet” in 2009, and he delivers a lived-in, sympathetic performance that makes Slahi feel relatable and not yet resigned to the eventuality of his situation. Foster, Woodley, and Cumberbatch offer standard supporting turns that assist the story, but this film is really anchored by Rahim’s starring role. The fact that it is adapted from the real Slahi’s own memoir only adds to its relevance and impact. Director Kevin Macdonald, whose work on “One Day in September” and “The Last King of Scotland” has demonstrated his ability to handle the complicated intersection of good and evil, sensitively handles this material and brings it to the screen in compelling fashion that just can’t be ignored.

B+

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Movie with Abe: Music

One of the biggest surprises of this awards season was the inclusion of “Music,” in two major Golden Globe categories. I've written up my thoughts on that film, out on VOD this Friday, for The Film Experience. Head over there to read my review of this strange and somewhat problematic film.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Movie with Abe: The World to Come

The World to Come
Directed by Mona Fastvold
Released February 12, 2021 (Theaters)

People need different things in order to burrow out from devastation. Moving on after a tragic event can seem impossible, and doing so, at whatever point it may be pursuable, requires an acceptance that things have changed in some way and will not be the same going forward. The introduction of a new element or idea can be an important spark in resetting, though at some point that embodiment of life may either cease to be invigorating or disappear entirely, threatening that established stability once again. The layered title of “The World to Come,” a forbidden romance tale steeped in melancholy, suggests that looking forward to a better time is among the best ways to cope with heartbreak.

Abigail (Katherine Waterston) is reeling from the loss of her child, which has also caused her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck) to retreat within himself. The arrival one day of a new neighbor, Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), inspires a renewed sense of positivity and appreciation of her life. The two women become very close as they spend each day together, with Tallie’s energy and spirit serving to recharge and enthrall Abigail. Tallie’s husband Finney (Christopher Abbott) is considerably colder, and, unlike Dyer, who cannot figure out how to help his wife, he has no interest whatsoever in doing anything to affirm her happiness.

This film is narrated by Abigail as she dates journal entries that introduce the events of the film. Her summaries involve minimal enthusiasm, reflective of a change in mood only in description and not necessarily tone. She is deeply unhappy, grieving and lonely, and Tallie’s buoyancy and eagerness to find her own reasons to enjoy life are infectious. These two women might have been perfect for each other if they didn’t live in the 1850s, and the framing of this story all but ensures an unhappy ending since brief moments of joy are all that can lift Abigail up as she knows reality must eventually set in.

Director Mona Fastvold’s first film, “The Sleepwalker,” also made use of a four-person cast that also included Abbott. Her second feature employs four remarkably talented performers who all had other major projects in 2020, bringing them together for an only occasionally engaging ensemble effort. Both Waterston and Affleck have been much more interesting in other roles, and Abbott dependably plays despicable without much added dimension. Kirby, however, delivers a completely different turn from the resigned portrayal of another grieving mother in “Pieces of a Woman” that seems set to garner her an Oscar nomination, providing the best reason to see this film. Its style and pacing are slow and less than invigorating, presenting a narrative whose contents might be compelling but don’t prove to be all that worthwhile in this lackluster and depressing whole.

C+