Friday, October 31, 2014

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem

I’m delighted to be returning for the fourth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 8th Annual Other Israel Film Festival will take place November 6th-13th, 2014.

East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem
Directed by Henrique Cymerman and Erez Miller
Screening November 8 at 8pm and November 9 at 6:30pm

This is the kind of film that defines what this festival should be about: the spirit of collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians that completely defines any conflict or clash of cultures. Its center is David Broza, a celebrated Israeli musician who achieves his dream of bringing together Israeli, Palestinian, and American musicians to record an album about the multicultural city of Jerusalem. For one American, it’s his first trip to Israel, and many breakthrough accomplishments are highlighted throughout the film, including Broza bringing music to a refugee camp inside Jerusalem. This documentary captures a spirit of collaboration that transcends differences, and the excitement felt by all parties involved is palpable. Hearing each participant talk about past experiences and surprising discoveries about the similarities between peoples is inspiring, and ultimately it all boils down to the power of a shared interest to break down boundaries.

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Transit

I’m delighted to be returning for the fourth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 8th Annual Other Israel Film Festival will take place November 6th-13th, 2014.

Directed by Hannah Espia
Screening November 7 at 9pm and November 8 at 6pm

This drama does the festival proud with a subject that doesn’t even touch Arab-Israeli relations and instead focuses on a wholly different population: Filipino immigrants. This film chooses a group of characters to be the focal points of its story, each permitted his or her own chapter to more fully fill in the grander vision of being a foreign worker in Israel. The film deals with Israel’s 2009 law permitting for the deportation of the children of foreign workers by showing it in action, contrasting life as an immigrant to Israel with the harsh reality of being back in the Philippines. In some ways, the film doesn’t cover much narrative ground since it retells the bulk of its story several times, but each chapter proves more enlightening and demonstrates the vitality of its characters even in unfortunate circumstances. Most of all, it highlights a section of Israeli society rarely documented.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Life Sentences

I’m delighted to be returning for the fourth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 8th Annual Other Israel Film Festival will take place November 6th-13th, 2014.

Life Sentences
Directed by Nurit Kedar and Yaron Shani
Screening November 6 at 7pm, November 8 at 7pm, and November 9 at 4pm

The opening night selection of the festival has a fittingly fascinating premise: an immigrant to Canada reflecting on his childhood as the son of a Jewish mother and an Arab father who was convicted of terrorism in the 1960s. After moving with his sister mother and sister to Canada following the arrest of his father, the subject of this documentary grows up feeling distinctly out of place in the Orthodox Jewish community and longing for a connection with the father he barely knew. As his sister is pulled into the Orthodox world and he drifts towards his Muslim family, it’s immensely interesting to see just what an effect his history has had on him. It’s a stark topic on which to start this festival, highlighting one of the most extreme situations of splintered identity based on two vastly different cultures. Its specific experience may not provide much guidance for the world at large, but its focus is certainly thought-provoking.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to the first 2014 edition of this returning feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe. It’s a bit early to be able to accurately predict the eventual Oscar nominees, but around this time, plenty of likely contenders are being released. I’ll be looking every Wednesday at the awards chances for all of the films released the previous week. Additionally, to make up for lost time, I’ll also be taking a look at the films released earlier in the year, one month at a time. Chime in with your thoughts on the Oscar chances for these films in the comments section. Also, if I’ve missed any films from the previous months, please say so!

Films released October 24th, 2014

This documentary, which premiered a few weeks ago at the New York Film Festival, has a buzzy subject going for it: Edward Snowden. Its chances are looking pretty good right now. The official list of eligible films for the Best Documentary Oscar race hasn’t come out yet, and even if this film appears on the narrowed-down list of fifteen later on, there’s no guarantee of it making the cut since even frontrunner status doesn’t mean much these days.

Films released May 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (March 2)
It looks like I didn’t even include the first film in this reboot series in my Wednesday Oscar Watch back in 2012, but nothing panned out for that film. The first two installments of the Tobey Maguire-led franchise did earn sound and visual effects bids. It’s not a particularly week year for those races, so I doubt this one will get enough votes to show up in any of those categories.

Ida (May 2)
This film, which was reviewed very favorably, is Poland’s official entry for Best Foreign Film. The country has received nine nominations over the years, most recently in 2011 for “In Darkness.” Given that this film was well-received and it’s already out on DVD for plenty of people to see, I’d say its chances are pretty strong.

Godzilla (May 16)
Keep this one in mind for the technical categories since its reviews were decent and this is the original monster movie remade, which could land it on some ballots.

X-Men Days of Future Past (May 23)
None of the X-Men movies to date have received any Oscar nominations, but it’s also worth noting a big superhero picture like this which could easily make an appearance in any of the expected categories: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing.

Maleficent (May 30)
This fantasy film has a better shot than many at Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, and Best Makeup/Hairstyling, though I doubt it would pop up in all three. Best Visual Effects is also a possibility.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Avengers: Age of Ultron

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

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Opening May 1, 2015

Simply put, I would be excited for this movie no matter what. I liked a handful of the individual series films that led up to the first big blockbuster, which I thought was a fantastic combination of elements that together worked enormously well for an unforgettable action piece. I am glad to see that this film’s plotline dwells purely on Earth, and tackles a villain who is inherently man-made. I was a big comic book fan as a kid, but I was most into X-Men and don’t know about the Avengers and their stories. Casting James Spader as the voice of an artificial intelligence being who becomes far too self-aware seems like a slam dunk, and I’m sure he’ll be a fantastic villain for the Avengers. This trailer was apparently viewed by over 34 million people within 24 hours of it being posted online last week, and there’s certainly much to talk about. Bringing all these characters together presents immense opportunities for character development and the addition of supporting players like Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who I believe will also appear in the next “X-Men” movie but can’t officially be considered the same characters because of which studios own the rights to the franchises. Potential tie-ins with the TV show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” also seem likely, and I think it’s exciting to live in a time when a mega-franchise like this is getting off the ground, with plenty of chances to tell exciting stories about cool superheroes that may not actually need rebooting for another decade or so.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Movie with Abe: St. Vincent

St. Vincent
Directed by Theodore Melfi
Released October 17, 2014

The meaning of a film’s title can be hard to discern, especially when it goes against what seems to be the truth. “St. Vincent,” which casts Bill Murray as a crotchety drunk very much in debt who watches his new single mother neighbor’s child only if she’ll pay him, seems to be sarcastic in nature since Vincent is anything but a saint. Yet this comedy packs a surprising dramatic punch that redefines its title, and the journey there is packed with humor and strong performances all around.

Shortly after destroying his own fence while carelessly backing his car into his driveway, Vincent angrily emerges from his home to find that a moving truck has hit a tree, causing a branch to fall on his old piece of junk car. Demanding payment for damages, Vincent takes no care to be nice to Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) or her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie’s work circumstances force events so that Vincent is the only option to take care of Oliver, and what begins as a one-sided relationship gradually transforms into something much more heartwarming, even if Vincent never exudes much warmth.

Casting Murray and McCarthy, award-winning stars for their comedy work, makes this film seem like something other than what it is. It is deeply funny, to be sure, but there is more to the film than the simplistic poster, which shows Murray with a halo over his head, McCarthy with a smile on her face, and Naomi Watts’ Russian prostitute half-smiling, indicates. Though broader versions of its characters have been seen before, this still feels like an original story, one that proves to be highly enjoyable and involving all the way from its uncertain start to its triumphant finish.

Murray has occasionally veered into more serious territory, and while this is unquestionably a comedy performance, it’s also one of his most intentional and impressive. McCarthy tones down her character to just the right decibel, allowing for other players, like Watts in a great atypical supporting role and Chris O’Dowd as Oliver’s priest teacher, to take the spotlight. The real revelation is eleven-year-old Lieberher in one of his first roles, at once a precocious but believable kid with a mesmerizing outlook on life. Oliver’s sense of optimism and forgiveness is what makes this film really work, bringing together a few odd couples for an affirming and hilarious ride.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Movie with Abe: Laggies

Directed by Lynn Shelton
Released October 24, 2014

There are two vastly different concepts about childhood in cinema that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The first is that kids rarely want to grow up, holding on to their younger years as fervently and passionately as Peter Pan. The second is that many performers, particularly actresses, play characters considerably younger than they are, which can make a high school movie seem hopelessly unrealistic. In “Laggies,” Keira Knightley gets to do the former while simulating the latter, taking advantage of what might be one last opportunity to avoid having to face being an adult.

Knightley, who is actually twenty-nine years old, plays Megan, a woman about that age. Megan is first seen twirling a sign outside of her father’s accounting office, using the easy gig as yet another delay tactic to push off figuring out what to do with her counseling degree. Her friends pretend to be much more sophisticated, tackling the ideas of marriage and family, but Megan sees their interests the way the film portrays them: vain and unimportant. A moment of crisis at a friend’s wedding inadvertently puts Megan in contact with a more familiar and recognizable crowd: a group of high schoolers with much less dramatic problems. Taking a brief vacation from her life, Megan befriends Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) and relives the glory days of having no responsibility.

The concept of “Laggies” requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief, since Knightley could pass for a college student, as many high schoolers note in the film, but it’s hard to believe that she’d have such an easy time fitting in. Annika’s father Craig (Sam Rockwell) interrogates her and points out the strangeness of her situation, and while it serves as good comedy fodder, the conversation doesn’t go much further, and Megan’s situation is accepted as reasonable and unremarkable. It makes for some good fun, but it’s hard to take this film seriously. Simultaneously, what passes for Megan’s adult life hardly seems authentic.

Like its main character’s attitude, this film is in no hurry to get anywhere or to make any important conclusions about life. The film’s dramatic developments are extremely predictable, and the script opts for entertaining lines rather than a fuller, more compelling story. Knightley, donning an American accent, is fine, and Moretz, who shows immense promise, isn’t challenged by her role. Rockwell, on the other hand, follows up “The Way, Way Back” with another on-the-ball, energetic performance that demonstrates that he’s well saved for dramatic comedies like this one. Director Lynn Shelton’s previous two films, “Touchy Feely” and the fantastic “Your Sister’s Sister,” were layered explorations of human emotion and interaction, and this enjoyable but unmemorable film just isn’t in the same league.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

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

Now Playing in Theatres

Low Down (mixed bag): Elle Fanning and John Hawkes are both great actors capable of playing a variety of characters, but this somber story of a drug-addicted musician and his daughter in the 1970s is hardly the best setting for their talents. Now playing at Landmark Sunshine. Read my review from Sundance.

White Bird in a Blizzard (recommended): Shailene Woodley is the real reason to see this occasionally fascinating, sometimes too peculiar film that has an interesting central premise but gets distracted when it heads in a less worthwhile overarching direction. Now playing at Landmark Sunshine. Read my review from earlier this month.

New to DVD

A Coffee in Berlin (recommended): This German hit is a highly enjoyable and interesting story of Niko, a young man without much motivation to make much of his life. The performances are great, and so is the story.

Siddarth (recommended): This drama, which I screened as part of the South Asian International Film Festival back in December, is a stirring and emotional story about a man who goes to great lengths and personal sacrifices to track down his missing son in India.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday For Your Consideration: Earl Lynn Nelson

Welcome to a special edition of a seasonal weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Friday For Your Consideration. As every year nears to a close, there are a number of actors nominated for Golden Globes, Oscars, and countless other awards. There are so many spots and there are so many deserving contenders, yet some inevitably get left out. In the absence of a film to review, I’d like to spotlight someone from a film already released this year who is sure to be forgotten by the end of 2014.

Earl Lynn Nelson (Land Ho!)

Where you’ve seen him before: Nowhere! Nelson, who is now 72, is actually a practicing doctor in Kentucky. This is his third-ever film role. He previously appeared in two of writer-director Martha Stephens’ film. She serves as co-director for “Land Ho!”

Why he deserves it: He knocks every scene out of the park. From my review from Sundance, “the way in which he delivers all of his lines is with such comic intentionality, and he never misses the opportunity to make a blunt and unapologetic sexual reference.”

Standout scene: It’s hard to pick just one since he’s funny the whole way through, and an added bonus is that he succeeds in his sentimental moments with on-screen ex-brother-in-law Paul Eenhoorn.

Why he won’t get it: I can’t believe that enough people have seen this movie to be able to vote for Nelson. It’s not guaranteed that he’d end up in lead or supporting since his performance could be categorized either way, and I would be so pleasantly shocked if he made an entrance into the race.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Movie with Abe: Pride

Directed by Matthew Warchus
Released September 26, 2014

It’s not hard to rally around a good cause, and movies about such efforts have the potential to be truly great because they can both tell an energizing story and raise awareness about the featured cause. “Pride” manages to seize on a rare and fantastic case of two causes being joined together as one: the true story of a group of gay and lesbian activists in 1980s London who decided to adopt the concurrent national miners’ strike and raise money for it, forming the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Their tale is an inspiring and affirming one, and the film that depicts it is full of entertainment and positivity.

“Pride,” a film with a perfect name, introduces two diverse and eclectic groups of people who serve as its featured populations. A small gay bookstore owned by Jonathan (Dominic West) and Gethin (Andrew Scott) serves as the makeshift headquarters for the new movement conceived of and spearheaded by Mark (Ben Schnetzer) and Steph (Faye Marsay), and also frequented by Joe (George MacKay), a twenty-year-old culinary student who has yet to come out to anyone from his home life. In a small mining village in Wales, prominent citizens and council members Dai (Paddy Considine), Hefina (Imelda Staunton), and Cliff (Bill Nighy) are befuddled but pleased to discover that a group of young gays and lesbians has decided to champion their cause and collect donations directly for the families of their citizens.

The merging of these two communities is a truly wondrous thing to behold. Several of the activists tease Jonathan for being too flamboyant, but with Steph’s orange hair and everyone’s attire, they surely stand out among a group of traditional blue-collar families. Fortunately, Dai, Hefina, and Cliff see no reason to oppose their offer of friendship, but others don’t feel that way. Watching them win over even some of the most resistant members of the community is wonderful, and it’s a lot of fun to see the amusing and endearing relationships that are formed along the way.

“Pride” benefits from the advantage of having a terrific story to tell, but it also manages to do so in an involving and interesting way. Considine, Staunton, Nighy, and West are all experienced actors playing their roles to perfection, and they’re complemented well by new talents like MacKay, Schnezter, and Marsay. The entire ensemble works together to create a vastly enjoyable and resounding experience that sheds light on a surprising alliance created thirty years ago that has true resonance today.