Monday, November 30, 2009

Golden Globe Musings: Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
BURN AFTER READING
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
IN BRUGES
MAMMA MIA!
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

This year’s pool:
The surefire bet in this category is musical Nine, which should do well here even if its flounders later in the awards derby this season. The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man should net them a third consecutive Best Picture nomination after “Burn After Reading” and “No Country for Old Men.” The rest of the field is very murky. Julie & Julia is probably a good crowd-pleaser to take a slot, and Meryl Streep’s other film It’s Complicated is a fine traditional romantic comedy to fill a space. Summer hits The Hangover and 500 Days of Summer are vying for the spot that could represent thinking outside the box, but I can’t imagine either of them actually making it in. Other films like Away We Go and The Proposal don’t seem any more likely, so I’ll opt for a film that is being touted only for its lead performance: The Informant!. We’ll see what happens – I imagine there will be a big surprise here, and hopefully a good one.

Predicted nominees:
THE INFORMANT!
IT’S COMPLICATED
JULIE & JULIA
NINE
A SERIOUS MAN

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Golden Globe Musings: Best Motion Picture – Drama

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
FROST/NIXON
THE READER
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

This year’s pool:
The critically-lauded Precious is probably a lock, and it’s the only one that’s definitely going to make it in. If it’s a drama then Up in the Air is almost certainly in, and Clint Eastwood’s Invictus should be a hit. After that, it gets a bit more crowded. The Hurt Locker and either The Last Station or The Lovely Bones would nicely complete the theoretical ballot, but there are many other contenders to consider. An Education may garner attention for more than just its lead actress, while the artsy A Single Man could also impress voters. Nods for The Road and Avatar will really depend upon reception of those films, whereas Inglorious Basterds is the definitive wild card that could really throw things for a loop.

Predicted nominees:
THE HURT LOCKER
INVICTUS
THE LOVELY BONES
PRECIOUS
UP IN THE AIR

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Golden Globe Musings: Best Director – Motion Picture

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
DAVID FINCHER, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
RON HOWARD, FROST/NIXON
STEPHEN DALDRY, THE READER
SAM MENDES, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
DANNY BOYLE, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

This year’s pool:
At the head of the pack in this race is six-time nominee Clint Eastwood (Invictus), who should make it in even if his film doesn’t open to critical acclaim (see: “Flags of our Fathers” in 2006). Other big names and past nominees include Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones), Jane Campion (Bright Star), Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man), Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds), and Rob Marshall (Nine). Possible newcomers are Lee Daniels (Precious), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Lone Scherfig (An Education), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), and Michael Hoffman (The Last Station). There’s always the chance of a wild card like James Cameron (Avatar), Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are), Terry Gilliam (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), or Tom Ford (A Single Man), but I think artful surprises like those are better saved for the Oscars. Someone like Nora Ephron (Julie & Julia) might even sneak through here.

Predicted nominees:
LEE DANIELS, PRECIOUS
CLINT EASTWOOD, INVICTUS
PETER JACKSON, THE LOVELY BONES
ROB MARSHALL, NINE
JOEL AND ETHAN COEN, A SERIOUS MAN

Golden Globe Musings: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
DOUBT
FROST/NIXON
THE READER
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

This year’s pool:
Last year, all five nominees were adaptations. The Globes don’t distinguish between original and adapted screenplays and lumps them together, and sometimes the winner doesn’t even get nominated in either Oscar category (“About Schmidt,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt”). Usually the contenders have corresponding Best Picture nods, but there’s usually one that’s not (“Doubt,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “Notes on a Scandal,” “Munich”). This year, the frontrunner is probably Precious, which is adapted from a novel and should garner mass acclaim if there isn’t a backlash. Once the Best Picture frontrunners become clear (as in when nominations are announced), this category is much easier to predict. Unfortunately, both are announced at the same time and therefore guesses must be made now. Up in the Air, Invictus, An Education, A Serious Man, A Single Man and The Lovely Bones, The Last Station probably have the best bet, whereas films like The Hurt Locker and Nine may not be recognized for their writing specifically. Inglorious Basterds might also pop up if voters are in a fun mood. Animated films just don’t get nominated in this category, so save Up for the Oscar list. I don’t trust the chances of 500 Days of Summer and have little faith in comedies like It’s Complicated and The Hangover to place here.

Predicted nominees:
AN EDUCATION
THE LAST STATION
INVICTUS
PRECIOUS
A SERIOUS MAN

Friday, November 27, 2009

Golden Globe Musings: Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
AMY ADAMS, DOUBT
PENELOPE CRUZ, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
VIOLA DAVIS, DOUBT
MARISA TOMEI, THE WRESTLER
KATE WINSLET, THE READER

This year’s pool:
Undoubtedly the one to beat in this race, and the only one sure to secure a slot, is Mo’Nique (Precious). Buzz about her costar Mariah Carey (Precious) seems silly to me, but it could certainly happen at the Globes, where Tom Cruise of all people was nominated for his preposterous cameo in “Tropic Thunder.” Two other films present multiple contenders, and I doubt either film will have more than one nominee. Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) are both unfamiliar to accolades, whereas the incredible lineup of Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, and Penelope Cruz (Nine) are very well-versed in acceptance speeches. Four-time nominee Julianne Moore (A Single Man) is a likely bet, while breakout French actress Melanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds) might be able to break through at this international awards ceremony. The contenders beyond that have slim hopes. Susan Sarandon and Rachel Weisz (The Lovely Bones) may have small roles in their films, but Sarandon might end up with a nod akin to Shirley MacLaine’s a few years ago for “In Her Shoes,” a salute to a respected actress who keeps turning in solid supporting work. Marion Cotillard (Public Enemies) and Patricia Clarkson (Whatever Works) saw their films released in the first half of the year, and both disappeared quite quickly, probably too fleetingly to have caught anyone’s attention. Samantha Morton (The Messenger) could have a chance if anyone sees her film, and in a perfect world, Kerry Condon (The Last Station) would be here if anyone notices her in her film. One last minute contender who could factor in is Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart) if the film is as strong as people say, but is she a lead?

Predicted nominees:
MARIAH CAREY, PRECIOUS
PENELOPE CRUZ, NINE
ANNA KENDRICK, UP IN THE AIR
JULIANNE MOORE, A SINGLE MAN
MO’NIQUE, PRECIOUS

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Golden Globe Musings: Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
TOM CRUISE, TROPIC THUNDER
ROBERT DOWNEY JR., TROPIC THUNDER
RALPH FIENNES, THE DUCHESS
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, DOUBT
HEATH LEDGER, THE DARK KNIGHT

This year’s pool:
Unless something goes horribly wrong, the incredible Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) should waltz his way to a nomination as the only sure thing in this category. Up next is Matt Damon (Invictus), who is rumored to be great in Clint Eastwood’s forthcoming biopic. Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones, Julie & Julia) has two films that could net him a nomination, and he probably has a better shot for the latter film here since the Globes tend to like comedies. Him being a double nominee just doesn’t seem likely, though it has happened in this category before – Dennis Hopper in 1986, with nods for both “Hoosiers” and “Blue Velvet” (the former resulted in an Oscar nomination). If voters remember who’s in the movie, Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) might place, but it’s unlikely. Several films have multiple contenders, like Alfred Molina and Peter Sarsgaard (An Education) and Christopher Plummer and Paul Giamatti (The Last Station). Past nominee Steve Martin (It’s Complicated) could end up here for his presumably fun performance in Nora Ephron’s movie, while Richard Kind (A Serious Man) could earn his first nomination after a career of steady work. Woody Harrelson (The Messenger) may also contend if anyone has seen his film. There’s some buzz for Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), though I can’t imagine that happening. I’d keep an eye out for young actor Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road), though I’m really not sure the film will be wholeheartedly embraced. People seem to really like Paul Schneider (Bright Star), and his nomination could be along the same lines as Ralph Fiennes' last year. This category will likely bring a big surprise or two, something along the lines of Tom Cruise’s nomination last year – maybe Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes)? After seeing the trailer, I'm inclined to think that Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles) is poised for an upset.

Predicted nominees:
MATT DAMON, INVICTUS
CHRISTIAN MCKAY, ME AND ORSON WELLES
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, THE LAST STATION
STANLEY TUCCI, JULIE & JULIA
CHRISTOPH WALTZ, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

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

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
REBECCA HALL, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
SALLY HAWKINS, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
FRANCES MCDORMAND, BURN AFTER READING
MERYL STREEP, MAMMA MIA!
EMMA THOMPSON, LAST CHANCE HARVEY

This year’s pool:
A double nominee last year is likely to be a double nominee again this year, with two very likely nods in the same category. It’s happened before, recently with Leonardo DiCaprio in 2006 for “Blood Diamond” and “The Departed” and Tim Robbins in 1992 for “Bob Roberts” and “The Player,” and Robbins even won for the latter performance. 23-time nominee Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia, It’s Complicated) has one critically-acclaimed impersonation from the summer already under her belt, and an upcoming role in a comedy from the familiar Nora Ephron which should net her another nod. Her costar in the first film, Amy Adams (Julie & Julia), might also turn up, and she even has a second movie (Sunshine Cleaning) that could earn her a nomination, though it’s unlikely. Sandra Bullock (The Proposal)’s latest movie is exactly the kind of film that won her two previous nominations. Rob Marshall’s musical could find a leading female in Marion Cotillard (Nine), but she might also end up being indistinguishable from the many other ladies and classified as supporting. Rising stars Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer) and Katherine Heigl (The Ugly Truth) have yet to make their mark with movie awards, but this could be their start. Michelle Pfeiffer (Cheri), who earned six straight nominations from 1988 to 1993, could see a comeback for her part in the relatively unseen summer period piece. A most recent nominee, Ellen Page (Whip It), could be back if voters don’t feel her performance is too similar (unless they consider that a good thing). If viewers are feeling independent, Rachel Weisz (The Brothers Bloom) and Maya Rudolph (Away We Go) could pop up, but don’t count on it.

Predicted nominees:
AMY ADAMS, JULIE & JULIA
SANDRA BULLOCK, THE PROPOSAL
MARION COTILLARD, NINE
MERYL STREEP, IT’S COMPLICATED
MERYL STREEP, JULIA & JULIA

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

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

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
JAVIER BARDEM, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
COLIN FARRELL, IN BRUGES
JAMES FRANCO, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
BRENDAN GLEESON, IN BRUGES
DUSTIN HOFFMAN, LAST CHANCE HARVEY


This year’s pool:
At the head of the pack is Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine), whose status as an esteemed actor should guarantee some success at the Golden Globes even if the film doesn’t do well elsewhere. Matt Damon (The Informant!) should pick up his third acting nomination for a fun performance, and look for him as a probable double nominee with an accompanying supporting nod for “Invictus.” Despite being an unknown actor, rave reviews should help catapult Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) to a nomination, provided it’s considered a comedy. If he’s considered a lead and his “Up in the Air” performance is categorized as drama, George Clooney (The Men Who Stare At Goats) might end up here for his sillier performance of the year. Beyond that, it’s hard to say who will fill the remaining slots. Summer hit stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer) and Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) could attract votes, but might be eclipsed by more seasoned actors like Alec Baldwin (It’s Complicated) and Robert DeNiro (Everybody’s Fine). Past nominees Sacha Baron Cohen (Bruno) and Adam Sandler (Funny People) could be lack for lackluster films from this year, and megastar Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes) might also receive votes. And Brad Pitt (Inglorious Basterds) could end up here if Quentin Tarantino’s caper makes voters laugh.

Predicted nominees:
ALEC BALDWIN, IT’S COMPLICATED
GEORGE CLOONEY, THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS
MATT DAMON, THE INFORMANT!
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, NINE
MICHAEL STUHLBARG, A SERIOUS MAN

Monday, November 23, 2009

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

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
ANNE HATHAWAY, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
ANGELINA JOLIE, CHANGELING
MERYL STREEP, DOUBT
KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS, I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG
KATE WINSLET, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD


This year’s pool:
The biggest lock in this category is Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), whose breakout role is exactly the kind of performance the Golden Globes will want to recognize. Next up is the charming young actress Carey Mulligan (An Education), though I think the film should be classified as a comedy. Rising star Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) is a likely contender if people remember her film. The 2006 victor in this category, Helen Mirren (The Last Station), should be back for another round. Another 2006 nominee, Penelope Cruz (Broken Embraces), has another Spanish-language performance in a movie from director Pedro Almodovar which might please voters. Her film tanked with critics, but Hilary Swank (Amelia) is a two-time winner, and past Globe favorite Jodie Foster made the list in 2007 for a poorly-received film (The Brave One). Two-time Best Comedy Actress nominee Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) is being touted as a contender, but I really don’t see it, and she has a much better shot in her familiar category this year. Though she’s in a tiny film, Tilda Swinton (Julia) is a past nominee in this category, for “The Deep End” in 2001, and she’s received mentions for her astonishing performance. Robin Wright Penn (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) could also stand out as the more experienced performer playing a multi-actor role. And then there’s the fifteen-year-old Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones), who was nominated in the supporting category for “Atonement” in 2007 and might be able to get a promotion as the lead in Peter Jackson’s forthcoming film if people notice her enough.

Predicted nominees:
ABBIE CORNISH, BRIGHT STAR
PENELOPE CRUZ, BROKEN EMBRACES
HELEN MIRREN, THE LAST STATION
CAREY MULLIGAN, AN EDUCATION
GABOUREY SIDIBE, PRECIOUS

Sunday, November 22, 2009

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

Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anyone important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
FRANK LANGELLA, FROST/NIXON
SEAN PENN, MILK
BRAD PITT, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
MICKEY ROURKE, THE WRESTLER


This year’s pool:
Two contenders seem to be firmly locked, Colin Firth (A Single Man) and Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), who has just stormed out of the gate as a serious candidate. The third surefire nominee is George Clooney (Up in the Air), and the only question is whether the film will be classified as a drama or a comedy. After that, things get a bit more uncertain. If Clint Eastwood’s new film is a hit, past winner Morgan Freeman (Invictus) should certainly end up here. A relatively unknown actor may get in if his films is popular enough – Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) – though he’ll have to beat out veteran actor Hal Holbrook (That Evening Sun). Also in the running are Johnny Depp (Public Enemies), Viggo Mortensen (The Road), James McAvoy (The Last Station), andSam Rockwell (Moon) and there’s always the possibility that Sharlto Copley (District 9) could break through. The wild card is Brad Pitt (Inglorious Basterds), whose film might be deemed a comedy.

Predicted nominees:
JEFF BRIDGES, CRAZY HEART
GEORGE CLOONEY, UP IN THE AIR
COLIN FIRTH, A SINGLE MAN
MORGAN FREEMAN, INVICTUS
JEREMY RENNER, THE HURT LOCKER

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Missing Person

The Missing Person
Directed by Noah Buschel
Released November 20, 2009

Private detectives aren’t known for their social skills. Part of what makes them so effective is the lack of any ties to family or friends, and an understood unscrupulousness which allows them to bend the law to their advantage. Yet there’s hardly ever been a private detective quite as unmotivated, distasteful, and lazy as John Rosow, the protagonist on the case in Noah Buschel’s new film “The Missing Person.”

Rosow appears at the start of the film lying on his bed, determined to stay there forever. The ringing of his phone interrupts his plan of eternal idleness, and he’s quickly roped into hopping aboard a train and following a mysterious man at the behest of a mysterious caller who seems to know a whole lot about him. He’s hardly in control of his life, but it’s not as if he really cares, exempting the fact that he’s required to actually get up and do something. Rosow’s profession is one of solitude, and therefore it’s no surprise that the few people he does meet along the way are just as crooked and deceitful as he is. The title might better be applied to Rosow himself, hopelessly missing from and dislodged from society, than to the man Rosow is charged with finding.

Behind the character of Rosow is actor Michael Shannon, who broke out last year with a surprise Oscar nomination for his small role in “Revolutionary Road.” That performance was filled with anger, resentment, and indignation which Shannon channeled into violent outbursts at Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Shannon doesn’t share the screen in this film with actors anywhere near as talented, with the exception of Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone,” “The Office”), who gives what’s most certainly the worst and most regrettable performance of her career in a poorly-written role. Shannon does imbue Rosow with the same characteristics as he in “Revolutionary Road,” but keeps them inside instead of lashing out at everyone he meets. The immense effort he puts in to conceal his thoughts and desires is visible on his face, and every pained expression and word takes Shannon what feels like minutes to convey. It’s a despicable exercise in overacting, and every time Shannon squints his eyes to prepare to utter another word, the smart thing to do is duck and run for cover.

Beyond its lead performer, who inhabits nearly every scene, it’s difficult to discuss why “The Missing Person” fails so flagrantly without giving away the major secret of the film. It’s not worth spoiling because moviegoers who do deign to see the film should at least have one good surprise in store for them. Simply put, it’s a gross mistreatment of a subject that should be altogether much more delicately-handled, and Rosow is hardly a fitting vehicle for the topic. This film wants to be something it’s not – a jaded film about love for New York and distaste for the rest of the world. The casting of restaurateur Artie Bucco from “The Sopranos” as a nostalgic New York-born cop Rosow encounters in Los Angeles is like being shaken repeatedly to get across the point that this he is the typical New Yorker. It’s like everything in “The Missing Person,” exaggerated and poorly executed. This is one case that really isn’t worth following.

F

Friday, November 20, 2009

Movie with Abe: Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces
Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Released November 20, 2009

Pedro Almodovar is a cinematic master. Films like “Volver” and “Talk to Her” exemplify an artful approach to moviemaking and delight in presenting fantastical takes on otherwise ordinary people that make them come magnificently alive. His latest film is a similarly breathtaking journey with colors that pop and performances that wow. Even more spectacular is the fact that Almodovar’s new film centers on a screenwriter who’s able to live two lives by harking back to the past and penning a new future for himself through which to live vicariously.

“Broken Embraces” is the story of blind author Harry Caine, who is working on a new script with the assistance of his manager Judit and her dutiful son Diego. Harry has a wild imagination, and his skill and experience help to make his conceived stories all the more intriguing and marvelous. It soon becomes clear that Harry has a far more interesting past behind him, one full of splendor and incredible personalities. The film is entirely intriguing and entertaining up until the point that Harry begins to recount tales of his former life to Diego, and the historical trip makes the film glisten and glow even more.

Harry’s secrets shouldn’t be spilled in any sort of detail, but what’s generally important and notable about them is that they involve making a film. The star of said film is Lena, portrayed by Almodovar regular Penelope Cruz. Almodovar clearly adores the vivacious Cruz, and her initial entrance frames her as nothing less than a queen. Every time she appears on screen, the camera stays on her and tracks her every move, equating the smallest flutter of her eyelashes as a thing of beauty. Almodovar loves Cruz, and he treats her with the utmost respect and lavishes her with screen time and elegant shots. It’s an extraordinarily effective way of enhancing her performance.

Cruz’s acting needs no enhancing, of course. She’s at her best in her native language, and this performance is easily as good as, if not better than, her astonishing turn in “Volver.” Lluis Homar is dry, sarcastic, funny, and ultimately terrifically sympathetic as Harry Caine, and Blanca Portillo stands out among the supporting cast as the eternally loyal and self-sacrificing Judit. Jose Luis Gomez commands the screen in his role as enormously successful businessman and producer Ernesto Martel, and the extreme reactions he displays on his stony face are remarkable. The cast as a whole works together in the most amazing way, and there’s not a weak link to be found.

Almodovar’s singular vision presents absorbing characters he clearly finds interesting, and the amount of emotion and personality he imbues them all with is splendid. Almodovar casts a magical spell over his stories and his characters that makes them impossible to resist and essential to follow. This film seems especially personal for the auteur, as Caine espouses a love for cinema and yearning to produce meaningful narratives and finished products. It’s an excellent way for Almodovar to become a true part of his work, and it’s clear that he has something incredibly worthwhile to share about a medium in which he’s so experienced and has so much to offer.

A-

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday Romantic Comedy Classic

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Thursday Romantic Comedy Classic. I’m taking a course called The Romantic Comedy where we’re charting the history and development of romantic comedies from the 1920s to the present. We’ll be watching some pretty iconic films, some of which I haven’t seen before. Each week, I’ll be providing a short review of one romantic comedy classic from the annals of history.

When Harry Met Sally
Directed by Rob Reiner
Released July 21, 1989

After several weeks of what might not be obviously classified as romantic comedies (“Victor Victoria” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”), we’ve arrived at one of the most celebrated romantic comedies of all time, akin to “Annie Hall” for what it unarguably contributed to the genre. The pairing of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan is what really makes it sparkle, and it’s strange to think that neither of them are doing much these days. Crystal’s last live-action film was “Analyze That” way back in 2002, while Meg Ryan hasn’t made a good film since “Kate and Leopold” in 2001 (but watch out for her newest film, “Serious Moonlight,” which is quite interesting, and look for a review the first weekend of December). In any case, forget the present and hark back to the wonder of 1989, when these two met, bickered, became friends, and considered becoming more than friends. There are so many magnificent moments in this film, and it’s Harry’s decided code of how things work and Sally’s outright rejection of those standards that makes it gel so wonderfully. Crystal is charming and hilarious, but this is also Ryan’s greatest role, setting the golden standard for romantic comedy leading ladies, including her future performances in “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.” Her famous scene in Katz’s Deli is perhaps the most memorable, but every minute of this film is purely delightful. Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby are fun in supporting roles, and the film’s repeated vignettes of older couples talking about how they got together is fantastic. Its setting in New York City and the chance encounters the Big Apple allows for are wondrous, and the multiple “first” meetings between Harry and Sally are all marvelous. There’s really little not to like in this terrific film that can easily be deemed the romantic comedy.

A

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to a new weekly 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. Until I begin my official predictions, I’ll be adding and removing contenders as their popularity, buzz, or reviews rise and fall. Chime in with your thoughts on the Oscar chances for these films in the comments section.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

This inventive film from director Wes Anderson, previously nominated for penning “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a strong contender in the Best Animated Feature category. The expansion of the field of nominees to five is helpful, but also problematic because there are more films (20) vying for a nomination. The Roald Dahl adaptation certainly stands out from the competition due to its stop-motion animation and impressive reviews, and I think it stands a great chance.

The Messenger
This independent drama has three talented performers in its cast who might be able to earn nominations. Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly thinks so, placing them as alternates for his predictions. Woody Harrelson, who also headlined “Zombieland” earlier this fall, was nominated for playing Larry Flynt in 1996. Ben Foster hasn’t yet earned much awards attention, but his role in “3:10 to Yuma” a few years ago earned him positive mentions and this could be his true breakout part. Samantha Morton is a two-time nominee, for “Sweet and Lowdown” and “In America,” and in the latter case she came out of nowhere at the very end of the race after predictors all but gave up on her chances. Ultimately, I think the film is too small, but in the emptier supporting categories, it may have a shot.

2012
This film definitely isn’t going to be winning any awards for its storyline or script, but the aesthetic elements are a different story. It’s not as if it will contend for art direction or cinematography, but it could be rewarded for its sound and sound editing. The best chance it has is for Best Visual Effects, which is what most of the production budget likely went into, but there are plenty of other films, like “Watchmen,” “Star Trek,” and “District 9” that could push it out.

Pirate Radio
This British film didn’t receive overwhelmingly supportive reviews, despite its prestigious cast, which includes past winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, past nominee Kenneth Branagh, and Golden Globe winner Bill Nighy. The first film from director Richard Curtis, “Love Actually,” didn’t score any Oscar nominations despite being receiving a Golden Globe mention for Best Screenplay, and this one doesn’t seem as popular. Writer-director Richard Curtis was nominated in 1994 for writing “Four Wedding and a Funeral,” but that film was also up for Best Picture, while this one just isn’t strong enough to make the cut.

Independent releases from this week like Uncertainty, Dare, and Women in Trouble won’t make it onto Oscar voters’ radar, and documentaries Oh My God, Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon, and William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe shouldn’t kick up much dirt either..

I’ll be skipping next week for Thanksgiving to make way for Golden Globe predictions, but be sure to come back the following Wednesday for a look at the next two Fridays’ theatrical releases and their Oscar chances. And remember to offer your thoughts on the chances for these films in the comments!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Nine

Welcome to a new 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.

Nine – Opening December 18, 2009



There are so many things that are intriguing and awesome about this trailer, and regardless of how good the film ends up being, this is undoubtedly one of the best trailers of the year. Having Daniel Day-Lewis star in another movie is easily an exciting enough reason for this film to be great, and his demeanor is perfect for this role. This is also the accomplished British actor’s sixth film in fifteen years, and every performance he turns in is more than thoroughly prepared and usually quite awe-inspiring (think “There Will Be Blood” and “Gangs of New York”). That’s not all this spectacular trailer has to offer. The sheer female talent paired with Day-Lewis is staggering. Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, and Sophia Loren – all Oscar winners and respected actresses capable of incredible performances and sure to sparkle on screen with Day-Lewis. The way each is introduced in the trailer is terrific, and they all seem to be treated equally importantly. The use of “Be Italian” to musically accompany the trailer is excellent, and gorgeous shots of Italy and what looks like the Amalfi Coast make this look like a visually astonishing experience. Brief snapshots of the show numbers are evocative of director Rob Marshall’s previous magnificent musical, “Chicago,” and returning to what Marshall does best is certainly a welcome concept. All in all, this looks like a more expansive, glossier production of Bob Fosse’s 1979 film “All That Jazz,” with talent up the wazoo and an incredible time to be had by all. Even if the film isn’t all that, there are so many elements that at least one should still be great, and having six Oscar winners in the cast is a pretty foolproof plan. And that’s not even considering the music.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Home Video: Observe and Report

Observe and Report
Directed by Jody Hill
Released April 10, 2009

Seth Rogen is the perfect person to play an over-the-top cop who’s on a bit of a false power trip. His best role, arguably, was as a mustached police officer in “Superbad,” which allowed him to be as silly as he could be and to take pleasure in abusing the power of the law and making fun of suspects and victims. Casting Rogen as a mall cop with an unfulfilled sense of purpose seems like a foolproof plan, especially since the man is great at wisecracks and just talking. The trouble is, the story of mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt is just plain terrible.

Rogen has shown that he’s able to do surprisingly mature comedy with past performances on TV’s “Undeclared” and the film “Knocked Up,” and that he can remain charming and hilarious. Ronnie Barnhardt doesn’t possess any desirable traits: he’s loud, rude, bad at his job, and hopelessly slow at picking up social cues. Watching Ronnie do anything is like watching a train wreck over and over again, and that’s doubly true for the other characters in the movie. Particularly regrettable are two talented actors who turn in despicably awful performances here. Michael Peña, so fantastic on “The Shield” and in “Crash,” is saddled with an effeminate accent and possibly the most regrettable role in movie history. Anna Faris, who excels at overplaying comedy, gives too much here as Ronnie’s not-quite love interest and it’s very unfortunate. Rogen, Peña, and Faris have done so much better in the past, and this is truly a sad turn of events.

This movie, as a whole, is just a blubbering mess. It’s childish, immature, and increasingly stupid. There’s not a laugh in the entire movie, and this is supposed to be a comedy, if nothing else. For a while, it seems like it’s going to eventually get better, but oh no, it’s really not. Rogen should be able to do well in this role, but this film is dreadfully written and made. There’s no bright spot to be found in “Observe and Report,” just steer clear and don’t think about observing this one.

F

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Scene Stealer: Olivia Thirlby

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Sunday Scene Stealer. Each week, I’ll be writing about an actor or actress who manages to deliver an impressive, film-enhancing performance with limited screen time. The performer will often have appeared in one or multiple new or recent films, though I may get nostalgic from time to time and hark back to a film from several years ago. Please chime in with your thoughts and comments on the abilities of this particular actor or actress and where you’ve seen their best performance, especially if you’ve had the opportunity to see any films I haven’t.

Olivia Thirlby

This lovely actress has graced the screen for mere minutes in two movies released in the past month. She was featured in Brett Ratner’s segment from “New York, I Love You” opposite Anton Yelchin and James Caan, and shared scenes with Lynn Collins in this past Friday’s release “Uncertainity.” The New York native first hit it big in mainstream hit “Juno” as the best friend of the pregnant superhero. Unlike the equally terrific Alia Shawkat, who portrayed Ellen Page’s best bud in “Whip It,” Thirlby’s character doesn’t yearn to break the rules. She’s a relatively good influence on her plucky teenage friend, yet she still manages to be memorable with a limited role. She’s positively charming and suggestively flirtatious at the same time. I can’t recall the specifics of her role in “Snow Angels,” but glancing back at my review, I see that I cited her as the “lone strong spot.” Thirlby greatly added to the romance as the love interest for the unenthusiastic Josh Peck in “The Wackness” last year, and it was terrific to see her finally get the kind of lead role she deserves. Thirlby’s two most recent performances have both been expectedly superb but equally fleeting. “Uncertainty” doesn’t give her much to do other than react to her sister’s decision to confide in her, but she still properly evokes a sense of family and helps tie down the otherwise free-wheeling lead characters to some sense of home. Her first appearance is actually on a television screen as her family huddles around to watch her performing in a play, and it’s a fantastic introduction. “New York, I Love You” gives her the chance to be alluring and artful as a girl in a wheelchair who gets the chance to go to a high school prom. Her sedated chemistry with Yelchin (“Star Trek,” “Charlie Bartlett”) is mesmerizing, and it’s easily the most affecting part of the whole movie. Thirlby also recurred on the TV series “Bored to Death” this past season as the ex-girlfriend of persistent private detective Jonathan. It’s the typical role for her that she plays so well – the unattainable and somewhat distant girl who just has some irresistible quality about her.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Movie with Abe: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Directed by Wes Anderson
Released November 13, 2009

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” comes from three very different minds. The source material is the 1970 children’s book by Roald Dahl, treasured author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, among others, whose creative vision produced numerous adored stories that transcend audience demographics. The co-screenwriter is Noah Baumbach, who specializes in harrowing portraits of dysfunctional families (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot at the Wedding”). The screenwriter and director is Wes Anderson, whose unbounded imagination has created colorful characters and scenarios in films like “The Darjeeling Limited” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.” The intersection of those three distinctive personalities makes for a wondrously intriguing and wildly imaginative product.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” exists in a fantasy world where animals speak with words and live in homes furnished just much like human households. Mr. Fox moves his family into a nice tree near the farms of three prominent industry titans, and his first visit to the dwelling is exactly like a realtor’s tour of a house on the market. This kind of humanlike behavior simply happens, and it’s never indicated that this is out of the ordinary, or that the animals are trying to mimic humans. This is simply how things work in this world, and entering this universe secures passage to a marvelous tale of family, friends, and adventure.

Mr. Fox, the title character, seeks first and foremost to protect and take care of his family, but finds himself distracted by his animal impulses to steal and scavenge. When his selfish stealing from the farmers gets the better of him and threatens to endanger the livelihood of his fellow animals, he steps up to try and burrow a way out of his figurative hole. His quest to redeem himself and save his community is filled with plenty of humor, but also a good deal of heart. Mr. Fox waxes philosophic more often than not, and the way he interacts with his dutiful deputy Badger, his son Ash, and his nephew Kristofferson convey much about the kind of father and friend he wants to be.

More importantly than adhering closely to genre in terms of being a comedy or a drama, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is an adventure movie. It’s remarkably entertaining and compelling the whole way through. There’s much to be explored within the realm of the animals and the humans, and the foxes’ penchant for digging comes in handy for discovering new directions for the story to take. The use of stop-motion animation makes this wonderful world come alive. The visuals are mesmerizing and the animation is magnificent. This film’s storytelling abilities are enhanced by the possibilities of animation, and Mr. Dahl’s classic story can be seen in a whole new stunning light rather than ruined by this big-screen adaptation. The voice cast, led by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray, is entirely fantastic. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a film for people of all ages, and maybe not just people. Check the local listings for your nearest foxhole – there’s bound to be a showing in the theater at the base of the oak tree in your backyard.

B+

Friday, November 13, 2009

Movie with Abe: Uncertainty

Uncertainty
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Released November 13, 2009

Both Manhattan and Brooklyn have their appeal. Manhattan is a hubbub of activity and a city that never sleeps. Brooklyn is the quieter, calmer escape with more of a sense of nature that still maintains its connective ties to the metropolis. Some prefer the fast-paced circus of Manhattan, while others commute home after their long day of work to the more peaceful borough of Brooklyn. It’s fitting, then, that a film which is essentially two films, one about each borough, should begin on the Brooklyn Bridge that serves as a literal connector between the two.

Standing on the gateway to two different worlds, a young couple, Bobby (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kate (Lynn Collins), flip a coin to decide where to spend July 4th, and promptly take off running in opposite directions. In Manhattan, Kate hails a cab and joins Bobby, who’s already inside. In Brooklyn, Bobby gets picked up by Kate in a minivan. The two realities are differentiated, besides their obvious settings, by the colors the characters wear. In Manhattan, Kate and Bobby wear yellow, and in Brooklyn, they wear green. Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel “liked the way the colors played off each other and their relation to a traffic light.” McGehee notes that the choices were “practically motivated – yellow pops out in Manhattan, and when you leave the city, you see the green of Brooklyn.” The colors are a helpful reminder of which story to follow, but the two tales are so starkly different in pacing that it’s easy to tell them apart.

Bobby and Kate’s day Manhattan finds them quickly on the run after they find a cell phone in the backseat of their cab and Bobby decides to take the task of finding its owner upon himself. What starts as a noble charitable deed turns into an intense chase around the city, where Bobby and Kate must constantly think one step ahead of their pursuers. Their action-packed race through Manhattan takes excellent advantage of what the city has to offer, utilizing the subway and areas like Union Square and Chinatown to the fullest effect to enhance the realist feel of the chase. Both McGehee and Siegel grew up in California but relocated to New York City six years ago, and it’s clear that these guys know the city well and how best to use it to craft a thrilling sort of scavenger hunt.

Bobby and Kate’s visit to Brooklyn is an altogether different experience. Instead of hopping around the city, they arrive at Kate’s family’s home and stay there. It’s a tranquil, more revelatory story which digs into the relationship between these two under normal circumstances rather than tracking them while they’re fighting for their lives. Kate driving a minivan immediately suggests that this trip will be toned down, and it’s a fair predictor. Bobby and Kate are given the opportunity to interact with and trust other people, sharing their thoughts and discussing their future. It’s a wonderful window into the grand scheme of things, whereas the Manhattan story focuses on dealing with just one major, pressing problem.

The reality is that these two stories are still about the same people. Their lives are the same up until they flip that coin. McGehee and Siegel think of the two portions of the films as hypothetical, with “both sides of the bridge as kinds of stories.” Showcasing this couple in these two contrasting lights allows the audience to learn a lot about them, and putting them side-by-side and interweaving their execution is a fascinating exercise. Siegel discusses how the script was written without dialogue, and that much of the conversations were improvised. “Where the dialogue would have been in the script, we wrote description of what people would have been saying to each other. We wanted to workshop the scenes with the actors we actually cast,” McGehee says. He describes the audition process as an improvisational one, and notes that Gordon-Levitt and Collins were both eager to try the improvisation.

As the center of the film, Gordon-Levitt (“500 Days of Summer,” “Miracle at St. Anna”) and Collins (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “True Blood”) do a commendable job evoking radically different sentiments in the two situations, and their pairing is a remarkable one. Few other actors have much screen time, but the always reliable Olivia Thirlby (“New York, I Love You,” “Juno”) stands out. Despite solid lead performances, this isn’t a movie about acting. It’s a film about a choice, and one that follows the splintering of a decision into two possible realities. It’s as if there’s something in it for everyone, and loving both stories isn’t necessary. They make up a cumulative experience and shouldn’t be taken apart. The deciding moment is crucial, and this film underlines just how unalike consequences of a choice can be.

B+

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday Romantic Comedy Classic

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Thursday Romantic Comedy Classic. I’m taking a course called The Romantic Comedy where we’re charting the history and development of romantic comedies from the 1920s to the present. We’ll be watching some pretty iconic films, some of which I haven’t seen before. Each week, I’ll be providing a short review of one romantic comedy classic from the annals of history.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Directed by Amy Heckerling
Released August 13, 1982

This film is certainly a comedy, but is it a romantic comedy? Upon a second viewing (I first saw this film years ago when I was much too young for most of the humor), it turns out that a big chunk of the storyline is devoted to the hapless dating life of Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh). This certainly isn’t a romantic comedy that triumphs romantic wish fulfillment, but there’s plenty of not-so-harmless flirtation between the characters. This film indisputably features several classic movie characters, in this world where everyone from high school works at the same local mall. Semi-professional scalper Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) is seedy and despicable but still manages to charm the ladies. Stacy’s primary suitor Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), a.k.a. Rat, always sports his mall movie theater usher tuxedo and is hopeless as a suave gentleman. Football star Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker, before he filled out or spoke much) hardly says a word but intimidates everyone he meets with an angry stare and his towering stature. Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) is probably the noblest character of the film, but still goes from hamburger joint job to hamburger joint job without any major life goals. And then there’s Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), who wanders out of a smoke-filled van and into Mr. Hand’s history classroom. Never has anyone worn such an irremovable grin while paying absolutely no attention to what the world around him thinks of him, and who else would have the gall to order a pizza to his classroom? That’s where Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) comes in, and he’s the perfect example of a high school teacher who expects much more out of his students than they’re ever going to give him. It’s a delightful, outrageous intersection of so many iconic personalities. It’s a very 80s movie that captures the style and sensibility of the decade. While director Amy Heckerling’s career didn’t really make it past “Clueless” in 1995 (“Loser” in 2000 didn’t do well, and her 2007 project “I Could Never Be Your Woman” never saw a release in the U.S.), screenwriter Cameron Crowe managed to do well for himself with mega-hits “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous.” Bit players Whitaker and Nicolas Cage (credited as Nicolas Coppola) went on to win Oscars, and then of course there’s Penn, who got really serious and is now a two-time Oscar winner. Penn was originally slated to star in the upcoming Three Stooges movie, but no longer. It seems like he’s sticking to more dramatic, Oscar-worthy fare. Who could have predicted that the eternally-stoned Spicoli could have gone on to such great things?

B+

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to a new weekly 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. Until I begin my official predictions, I’ll be adding and removing contenders as their popularity, buzz, or reviews rise and fall. Chime in with your thoughts on the Oscar chances for these films in the comments section.

Precious
This harrowing film is sure to attract Oscar attention; the only question is whether backlash will hurt it. The frank answer is probably not, and even if some voters are turned off by hype from Oprah and Tyler Perry that they feel isn’t deserved, the stars of the film are still likely to make it into their respective categories. The expansion of the Best Picture category to ten nominees makes this film a very strong contender to make it onto that list. Mo’Nique is probably a slam dunk in the Best Supporting Actress category, but buzz I’ve heard (and read in Entertainment Weekly) about Mariah Carey and Paula Patton is going too far. I realize that Best Supporting Actress is currently very up in the air, with Mo’Nique as the only solid contender, so I suppose anything is possible, but I still don’t think either of them can make it in. Gabourey Sidibe will probably make the cut, though she’ll have to beat out other breakout actresses like Abbie Cornish and Carey Mulligan and veterans like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep (unless these five actresses make up the list). First-time actress Jennifer Hudson beat out Cate Blanchett for “Dreamgirls” a few years ago even when support for her film dwindled, and this performance probably has just as much enthusiastic support, even if people aren’t wowed by the film.

That Evening Sun
This tiny indie with an extraordinarily limited theatrical release isn’t going to place in any category except perhaps one. Hal Holbrook earned his first Oscar nomination two years ago at age 82 for his brief performance in “Into the Wild.” That film didn’t do well at the Oscars, earning only one other nomination, and clearly the seasoned Holbrook is respected and well-liked. Therefore, he should be considered a legitimate contender for this film, and if he can manage to edge out some of the younger, more popular actors in the lead actor category. Melissa Leo did it last year for “Frozen River,” so maybe Holbrook’s got a shot. Also, in 2007, young actor Emile Hirsch was headed for an Oscar nomination for “Into the Wild,” but lost out to veteran Tommy Lee Jones on announcement day. “In the Valley of Elah” was a more well-known film, but they’re still something about rewarding an actor who’s been working in the industry for a while (see also: Richard Jenkins for “The Visitor”).

A Christmas Carol
Disney’s latest animated adventure isn’t receiving terribly positive reviews, and its early release date doesn’t give it much buzz to coast on for the Oscars. This might have a decent shot at the Best Animated Feature race if there weren’t so many other big films this year (“Up,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Coraline,” to name a few). In 2004, the similarly imaginative “The Polar Express” received 3 Oscar nods for didn’t make it in to the Best Animated Feature category. The November release, despite its confusing nature given the Christmas subject of the film, may not hurt it since early-in-the-year films have made it in before, but what’s troubling is that often smaller films eclipse larger ones (“Surf’s Up” over “The Simpsons Movie,” for instance). Even so, I don’t think this film has the support to take it very far, and maybe a technical nomination or a song nod, if there is one, is all that this movie should expect.

The Men Who Stare At Goats
This wacked-out film isn’t really Oscar material, but voters do love George Clooney, and past four-time nominee Jeff Bridges and two-time winner Kevin Spacey are also in the cast. Clooney’s Oscar buzz will be for “Up in the Air,” though if he’s considered a supporting actor in this movie, despite the fact that he’s not really, he might have a chance. I suspect his flashback haircut will do him in, and other performances will beat him out. Neither Bridges nor Spacey have the material to make it in, and this won’t be Ewan McGregor’s first shot at the Oscar race. It’s possible that voters may feel like laughing and nominate this in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, but I doubt it.

Supernatural thrillers The Box and The Fourth Kind haven’t been treated kindly by reviewers. Also out in theatres this week are non-starter indies like Collapse, Endgame, and Splinterheads.

Be sure to come back next Wednesday for a look at this Friday’s theatrical releases and their Oscar chances. And remember to offer your thoughts on the chances for these films in the comments!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Despicable Me

Welcome to a new 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.

Despicable Me – Opening July 9, 2010



I’ve seen this trailer a few times now, before the more family-friendly films I’ve been to lately, like “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” It’s hard to believe that anyone is already thinking about summer 2010 when the best movies of 2009 haven’t even been released yet. This trailer is more of a teaser that excerpts an actual scene from the movie to kick it off, and if nothing else, it looks intriguing. The title refers, presumably, to a character that is hardly seen in the trailer and is only referenced by his hunched shadow that appears at the end of the trailer and on the movie’s promotional poster. Summer is prime time to release animated films, and the past four years have seen monstrous successes in “Cars,” “Ratatouille,” “Wall-E,” and “Up,” all of which have had a better shot at standing out since there isn’t as much competition during the summer season. This looks like quite an imaginative effort, featuring major world landmarks and this despicable thief who is set on stealing them and replacing them with inflatable replicas. Stealing artifacts might be fun, and the trailer doesn’t indicate whether the focus is on the public search for this devious criminal or on his life. A quick reading of the summary suggests that the trailer is hardly informative, but it’s certainly intriguing. The lineup of voices sounds cool, and Steve Carrell as Gru, the thief in question, should make for a fun lead character. The voice of the tourist father at the start of the trailer can be identified as Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”), and the slate of other stars lending their voices – Jason Segel, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride, and Russell Brand – should make for amusing conversations. It’s sort of like “Saturday Night Live” for kids, and the uncertain plot should be interesting, if nothing else. The fact that this is already being promoted now means that it will have plenty of time to build excitement, and this will likely be a major animated film of the summer. But don’t forget about the other animated movie coming out next summer, being released just a few weeks earlier, which is sure to give it a run for its money: “Toy Story 3.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare At Goats
Directed by Grant Heslov
Released November 6, 2009

It’s an absolutely absurd premise – psychic spies who have the power to stop the beating heart of an animal with the mere power of their minds. “The Men Who Stare At Goats” is delightfully wacky in every possible way. It’s not a serious war movie, but it’s also not an overly slapstick comic parody. These soldiers are in a division of the United States Army, operating discreetly among the troops who use real physical weapons and actionable strategies to safeguard the people of their country. It’s a wondrous experiment that produces extraordinary results and works magnificently – in its first half.

George Clooney and Ewan McGregor are the perfect actors for the lead roles in this film. They’re both likeable, charming leading men capable of shifting smoothly from drama to comedy at a moment’s notice. This film requires more of the latter in its most subdued, deadpan sarcastic form. Clooney is effortlessly appealing and quite hilarious in the way that he utters ridiculous lines with such poised seriousness as Lyn Cassady, psychic spy. The “Star Wars” prequel trilogy star is a lot of fun, and all of Cassady’s loaded references to being Jedi warriors are entertaining and don’t feel too repetitive. McGregor manages his American accent quite well and serves as the film’s guiding heart, and his curiosity about the tales that Lyn has to spin serves as a way to incorporate the audience and voice their questions about the ridiculousness of everything Lyn says.

From the beginning, the film has a monstrously strong sense of humor which makes every scene, however far-fetched, immensely amusing and really funny. So many gimmicks and scenes work terrifically, and the film gets off to a great start. It’s when the screwball characters stop taking themselves seriously that the movie falters. Such a far-fetched premise is only sustainable if there’s at least one person who doesn’t think it’s too out-there. By the middle of the film, the troop of psychic spies, led by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), operate far too goofily and can’t get anything done. The film quickly becomes uninteresting and spirals out of control.

The film’s initial highlights come from the interactions between Lyn and Bob (McGregor) and the recounting of the history of this inspired project by both of them. Flashbacks detail the development of the program and the bizarre methods it uses, and it’s fun for a while. It quickly get bogged down, however, by the young Lyn’s Anton Chigurh haircut and the need to outdo the previous scene by making each one more and more ridiculous. The duo is really having the greatest time when they’re wandering the desert trying to find their way, and sticking to the past and trying to incorporate it into the continuing storyline becomes problematic. The film gets off to a strong start that instills good feelings and positive attitudes toward the men who stare at goats, but by the film’s end, things have derailed too much to be put back together, and there’s no way that this psychic unit, or this film, can really function.

B-

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Movie with Abe: Gentlemen Broncos

Gentlemen Broncos
Directed by Jared Hess
Released October 30, 2009

Sometimes it seems that the process of making a movie is infinitely better than the finished product. That’s almost certainly the case for the new film from Jared Hess, director of “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre.” To hear the cast and the hilarious Hess talk about it, the movie was a blast. There’s one incredible, film-stealing performance in “Gentlemen Broncos,” the story of a young sci-fi writer named Benjamin whose story is stolen by his idol, but otherwise it just doesn’t work, and hearing about it is far more fulfilling than actually viewing it.

Hess and producer Mike White, who also costars as Benjamin’s church-sponsored Guardian Angel, discuss how enjoyable it was to make Hess’ third project. Regarding “Gentlemen Broncos,” White, who previously collaborated with Hess on his second film, “Nacho Libre,” stresses that “had ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ not been a success, it might have been hard, since the script was just as bonkers as the movie.” Hess was thrilled with the reception of his first film, citing how “you make a film and hope that there are people out there who like you.” Audiences fell for the geeky Napoleon and voted for Pedro back in 2004. Now, Hess’ newest film is a bit smarter in concept but just as devastatingly not deft as this first.

There’s a theme of depravity that runs through “Gentlemen Broncos” and leaves no character unaffected. The hero figure is the sheepish Benjamin (Michael Angarano), who can’t seem to catch a break and continually gets stomped on by everyone he encounters. Benjamin’s mother Judith (Jennifer Coolidge) and his Guardian Angel (White) are kind-hearted enough who don’t possess a thread of intelligence. Benjamin’s writers’ camp buddies Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) and Lonnie (Hector Jimenez) don’t ever really seem to connect with him, and their superficial interactions and airy conversations make it clear that they’re off in their own weird world. Movies which involve one character continually getting crapped on can be effective, like two radically different examples, “Meet the Parents” and “A Serious Man,” but there’s a limit to the acceptable amount of continuous failure and disappointment that one character, not to mention one moviegoer, can endure.

And then there’s Jemaine Clement. The “Flight of the Conchords” bandmate portrays the eternally Bluetooth-sporting extremely cheesy sci-fi cult writer Ronald Chevalier, Benjamin’s idol. His character is relentlessly over-the-top and absolutely devoid of morals. Yet somehow the impossibly hilarious Clement takes every small moment and overdoes it to a magnificent level. As a result, he’s far and away the funniest part of a movie that just isn’t very funny. Fellow cast members all agree that he’s extraordinarily funny, and he shares that quality with Hess, whose directing style involves spot-on voice impressions of how the actors should deliver their lines. “For me, I have to perform and then tell them to copy me,” he says. White describes him as “the camp counselor you wish you had,” adding that he possesses a “paternalistic maturity.”

There’s no doubt that that Hess and Clement are hilarious, and the rest of the cast is having a ball. It’s as if the audience simply isn’t in on the joke. The awful sci-fi subplot of the film, split into three versions – Benjamin’s imagined visualization of his novel, Chevalier’s modified imagined visualization, and Tabatha and Lonnie’s low-budget filmed version – contains some dutiful references, but in the end it’s far too preposterous for its own good. Unlike classic, trashy, campy sci-fi like “Zardoz,” this story knows it’s bad, in all of its renderings, and that’s not a good thing. Similarly, the movie tries to play all of its characters too outlandishly, and the intersection of all those crazy personalities isn’t pretty. Clement is acting in a movie all his own, and that’s terrific, but as a whole, “Gentlemen Broncos” is just one big mess.

C-

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Movie with Abe: That Evening Sun

That Evening Sun
Directed by Scott Teems
Released November 6, 2009

In the first few minutes of “That Evening Sun,” Michael Penn’s beautiful score plays as Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) stares blankly ahead, watching his life go by as he is forced to deal with the mundane, repetitive nature of his existence in a retirement home. Not a word is spoken before Meecham decides to pack up and hit the road, determined to seek some sort of meaning in his life. Meecham is a solitary man, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to live out the rest of his life on someone else’s terms. Meecham returns to the only place he has ever known as home – his farm – intent on reclaiming his land and enjoying whatever time he has left doing what he loves best. He’s shocked and dismayed to find that, in the short time he’s been gone, someone else has taken over his property, and they’re about as eager to give it up as he is.

Meecham is one stubborn old man, and he makes a marvelous protagonist. His distinct distaste for the change and youth is comparable to that of Clint Eastwood’s prejudice-prone Walt Kowalski in “Gran Torino,” and he possesses the same ageless charisma. Holbrook (“Into the Wild”) is simply astonishing in his performance as Meecham, imbuing him with an unwavering, angry stare and a subtle smile just as recognizable as Kowalski’s signature disdainful growl. The 84-year-old Holbrook is fully on his game and creates a wonderfully sympathetic character out of the grumpy farmer. There’s one mesmerizing scene in which he sings “I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down” in a quiet, off-key manner that just demonstrates his love for his property and the life he’s always led. It’s a magnificently powerful moment that’s perfectly underplayed by the terrific Holbrook.

It’s particularly breathtaking to see the elder veteran actor onscreen opposite 19-year-old newcomer Mia Wasikowska (“In Treatment”), who lights up the screen every time she appears. The two represent radically different generations, and seeing their characters bond is wondrous. The very chance for two such diverse performers to share scenes is excellent. This is essentially the culmination of Holbrook’s career while Wasikowska is just starting out, and it’s as if Holbrook has given Wasikowska unspoken advice and transferred his age-earned knowledge about the craft to inspire Wasikowska to a bright and beautiful future. They’re not the only superb talent among the cast. Two TV actors, Carrie Preston (“True Blood”) and Walton Goggins (“The Shield”) enhance the film, in addition to a volatile, self-destructive performance from Ray McKinnon and reliable support from Barry Corbin as Meecham’s only real friend. It’s a small, tight-knit ensemble that functions amazingly to create an extraordinarily real feel for the film.

“That Evening Sun” is, in essence, a film about one person’s struggle to retain a sense of what is his, and in that respect it’s a very singular, personal journey. There are several major supporting characters, played by the aforementioned performers, but it’s really Meecham’s story. Less than ten people even utter dialogue at any point throughout the film, and the result is a revelatory chance to get to know Meecham and see how his whole life has shaped the way he acts in his final years. The settings are also few since Meecham literally decides to walk back to his farm, miles away, from his retirement home. The haunting score represents Meecham’s lifelong journey, and it’s wonderfully matched to the nostalgic tone of the film. “That Evening Sun” is a meaningful experience that captures a Southern sensibility and the soul of one man, and it’s a great, gorgeous film.

B+

Friday, November 6, 2009

Movie with Abe: Precious

Precious
Directed by Lee Daniels
Released November 6, 2009

When a story with a dark subject matter is adapted for the screen, it often incurs wild praise for bringing something to light. As disturbing as is it to watch physical and sexual abuse occur onscreen and to see how it affects the victim’s way of living, it’s equally difficult to visualize and bring such content and scenes to life. “Precious” deserves credit for traveling down dark paths and fleshing out an inspiring character through the miserable journey, but it’s hardly the film of the year. It’s one of those cases where the story is better than the movie, but those who are wowed and awed by the plot will likely fall in love with the film.

Breakout actress Gabourey Sidibe stars as 16-year-old Clareece Jones, who goes by the moniker of Precious. She is an underachieving student whose lack of effort and academic prowess is due mostly to the horrific abuse she receives from her mother Mary (Mo’Nique), who does nothing but sit around at home all day watching television and trying to collect welfare checks, and the fact that she’s pregnant with her second child by her father who raped her. Precious’ life is an exceedingly dreary one, and her enrollment at an alternative school begins to change her perception on education and enrich her appreciation of the world around her. Yet throughout her journey towards happiness, aided by her classmates and kindly teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), Precious is continually brought down by the uniformly negative criticism and violent nature of her mother and her miserable home life.

It’s easy to forget that Precious is only sixteen years old. Her face displays such a stoic weariness that hides eternal doubt based on the horribly critical parenting practiced by her mother, but sometimes Precious breaks into a childish smile or giggle that reminds the audience that this is a teenage girl who shouldn’t have experienced a tenth of what she has. The young Sidibe is quite talented, and this is very likely her role of a lifetime. Similarly, popular comedian Mo’Nique completely burrows herself in the despicable role of Mary, and she’s utterly terrifying and pitiful at every turn. It’s impossible to perceive the actresses in their scenes together since they’re both so fully in character, and the film is guided mostly by their impressive performances, both of which should herald Oscar attention.

Precious’ story is a harrowing one which stays mostly buried under a gloomy rock. It’s always bleak and never allows Precious the opportunity to enjoy true happiness without coming up against another obstacle. Nothing is sugar-coated, and everything is erred right out in the open, unambiguously. There’s something to be said for that, but as a film, there’s little that distinguishes it, aside from the performances. An attempt is made to flesh out Precious’ imagination and have her flash to pretended scenes of superstar MTV celebrity when she faces her darkest moments. It’s a decent effort, but the film might have been better not to try to create such an artificial escape. “Precious” is a good film certainly worth seeing, but it’s not a grandstanding filmmaking achievement. Strong performances and a compelling story enhance a film that’s merely average.

B

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday Romantic Comedy Classic

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Thursday Romantic Comedy Classic. I’m taking a course called The Romantic Comedy where we’re charting the history and development of romantic comedies from the 1920s to the present. We’ll be watching some pretty iconic films, some of which I haven’t seen before. Each week, I’ll be providing a short review of one romantic comedy classic from the annals of history.

Victor Victoria
Directed by Blake Edwards
Released March 19, 1982

Gender and sexuality comes into play more than ever before with romantic comedies when it comes to Blake Edwards’ adaptation of a 1933 German film. Julie Andrews stars as struggling singer Victoria, who hatches a plan with cabaret performer Toddy (Robert Preston) to assume the life of the world’s greatest male female impersonator in 1930s Paris. The whole film is one elaborate deception, and it’s a wildly entertaining ride, especially as a male patron, the shady businessman King Marchand (James Garner), falls for Victor, all the while still in disbelief that she’s actually a man. The layers of lies make for terrific fun as characters misconstrue and purposely represent situations to fool someone else into thinking they’re pulling off a big scam when their deception is actually even greater. The music, which won an Oscar for Best Adaptation Score for Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse, is wonderful, but what really makes this film so marvelously enjoyable is its stellar cast. The lovely Julie Andrews is mesmerizing as Victoria and Victor, and both her acting and her singing are absolutely astonishing. Robert Preston is charming and cool as her mentor and friend Toddy, and he delivers every line with extraordinary finesse and elaborate enunciation. It’s fantastic to see the befuddled James Garner gets so riled up every time he feels like someone’s pulling something over on him, and the delightful Lesley Ann Warren is hilarious as his spunky, over-the-top, entitled mistress. The cast works together excellently to produce a film that never drags or even fades for a moment. It’s greatly entertaining on a basic surface level, and examining it through a closer, more signifying lens makes it all the more brilliant.

B+

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Movie with Abe: New York, I Love You

New York, I Love You
Directed by many directors
Released October 16, 2009

This is the second film is a series of odes to the romance of famous cities worldwide, with future projects devoted to Jerusalem, Rio, and Shanghai all slated for 2011. The previous film, “Paris, Je T’Aime,” was a lovely look at the way Paris captures its visitors and residents with its singular allure. New York is indisputably one of the most iconic cities in the world and, as with Paris, countless films have been made professing and representing love for and in the Big Apple. What makes this any different from those? It’s terribly disjointed and lacks the cohesive feel of a city that contains every possible kind of person, which is exactly what this film shoots for and woefully fails to achieve.

Its Paris-based predecessor was divided into clear vignettes based on neighborhoods, each one helmed by a different director. The segmenting here isn’t marked at all, and as a result, one story flows carelessly into another, and the lack of definitive chapter openings and closings leaves most of the stories up in the air and unresolved. Some are barely developed (a photo left by Rachel Bilson for Hayden Christensen), while others don’t get very far (an affair between Drea de Matteo and Bradley Cooper). The vignettes are titled with only their director’s name, and therefore it’s hard to pick out what each one is about since they all blend together and rarely leave an impression.

The most effective segment actually comes from Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour,” “Red Dragon”), who guides Anton Yelchin and Olivia Thirlby in an inspired prom-night date that brings surprises for both of them, with a nice supporting turn from James Caan. Yvan Attal’s section brings out expectedly great performances in flirtatious strangers Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn. Two screen veterans, Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman, are welcome presences in Joshua Marston’s ode to old age in the city. Those three sets work better than the rest, but it’s still more about the actors and less about the impact of the movies as cinematic gold or tributes to New York City.

Shekhar Kapur (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”) showcases fine performances from screen legends Julie Christie and John Hurt, but his segment feels extraordinarily disconnected from the rest of the film. The interfaith interaction between usually outstanding actors Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan (“A Mighty Heart”, “Slumdog Millionaire”) comes off as more comical and less meaningful, and it’s a shame because it’s helmed by the talented Mira Nair (“Amelia”). Kapur and Nair, as well as Ratner, are the only big-name directors who worked on this project (Portman, who also directed her own segment, is famous for her onscreen work), and it’s a shame because a film about New York City should have attracted more prominence, especially from American filmmakers. It seems that Paris really just is more enchanting, given the more well-known American talent that contributed to “Paris, Je T’aime.” Based on how hard it is to distill concrete segmented stories from this film, it would appear that Paris is a more attractive city. Paris is a wonderful place, to be sure, but there’s nothing like New York City. You wouldn’t know it to look at this film.

C

Watch the Minute with Abe here.

Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to a new weekly 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. Until I begin my official predictions, I’ll be adding and removing contenders as their popularity, buzz, or reviews rise and fall. Chime in with your thoughts on the Oscar chances for these films in the comments section.

This week doesn’t look too promising, but here’s a quick rundown of what came out this week, and why all of it won’t end up with Oscar nominations. Next week definitely has some major contenders, so be here for that next Wednesday!

Michael Jackson’s This Is It
This look at the final months of Michael Jackson’s life has attracted much attention since before its release, and it opened to mostly favorable reviews. It’s an interesting case because it’s not eligible in the Best Documentary race, which has an eligibility period that ends in September, but it is eligible for Best Picture. Tom O’Neil has a post where an Oscar voter declares it a lock and says the reception at an Academy screening was more positive than it was for 2002’s Best Picture winner, “Chicago.” I have a hard time believing that this film can really make it that far, especially considering how “Fahrenheit 9/11” shot for the Best Picture race in 2004 and ended up getting shut out completely. I think this film will have faded into the back of most people’s memories by the time Oscar voting rolls around.

Skin
This small film about apartheid didn’t receive a wide release or overwhelmingly positive reviews. Its one chance at a nomination, which almost definitely won’t happen, is lead actress Sophie Okonedo, who is a previous nominee for “Hotel Rwanda” back in 2004. Her inclusion back then came as a bit of a surprise, but her film had stellar reviews and another acting nominee in Don Cheadle. All this film really has is a thumbs-up review from me.

The House of the Devil
Horror movies never get nominated for Oscars, with four notable exceptions: “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Exorcist,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “The Sixth Sense” (did I miss anything?). This one doesn’t really compare to any of those, but it’s worth noting that it has received an extremely positive reception, and that it’s being cited as a great throwback to classic 80s horror movies. Did those garner Oscar attention? No. Will this one? No. But it’s still got good buzz going for it.

Two films – “Boondock Saints” and “Napoleon Dynamite” – developed cult followings when they were first released but didn’t end up on Oscar shortlists. Their follow-ups, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, the sequel to the first film, and Gentlemen Broncos, Jared Hess’ latest attempt at making stupidity funny, have been universally maligned and should consider themselves lucky to escape Razzie attention. Don’t expect much for Labor Day or Waiting for Palladin either, if you’re one of the ten people who’s heard of either of them (and not part of the five who despised both).

Be sure to come back next Wednesday for a look at this Friday’s theatrical releases and their Oscar chances. And remember to offer your thoughts on the chances for these films in the comments!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Movie with Abe: Amelia

Amelia
Directed by Mira Nair
Released October 23, 2009

Telling the story of Amelia Earhart involves delving heavily into her life story and creating a compelling lead character in this well-known early aviatrix. The mesmerizing nature of flying in the 1920s and 1930s is another important component, something that movies like “Catch Me If You Can” have been able to do, to make flying seem incomparably cool and exciting when, in today’s society, hundreds of thousands of people fly all around the world every day. “Amelia” does both of these things very well, but there’s something missing that doesn’t quite allow the movie to get all the way off the ground.

Actress Hilary Swank has the unique ability to inspire devotees, especially if they’re members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, who will bestow her with accolades for her sporadic performances, and those who detest the very sight of her and protest any awarding of any of her screen appearances. Many have described her penchant for playing sexually ambiguous roles (her two Oscar wins were for playing a transgender male in “Boys Don’t Cry” and a tomboy female boxer in “Million Dollar Baby”) as perfectly suited for taking on the role of Amelia Earhart.

Her performance, however divisive, certainly is iconic, and even if Amelia isn’t meant to be well-liked, it’s an impressive immersion into a legendary personality. Her manner of speaking will annoy most, though it’s luckily not quite as unfortunate as Denzel Washington in “The Great Debaters,” and doesn’t come close to the miserable, film-ruining accents of Kirsten Dunst in “Elizabethtown” and Nicolas Cage in “Con Air.” The reason her deliberate pronunciation and Midwestern twang sticks out is that she’s the only one in the movie who clearly recognizes that she’s in a period piece, especially when accompanied by two actors who generally deliver essentially the same performance, regardless of setting. Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor contribute little, besides the smoldering looks they throw at Amelia, though their presence aids to shape the strong, confident woman-ahead-of-her-time Amelia becomes.

What’s missing in “Amelia” isn’t any one concrete element, but there’s no definitive point at which the film truly soars. The visual perception of flying is well-done and relatively astonishing, and when the film is in the air, it takes off and performs decently. Its most significant accomplishment is the lack of some falsified ending, and keeping the mystery of Amelia’s fate unsolved is a fitting tribute to her legacy. It’s hardly a bad film, and by no means deserves the unabashedly harsh and nearly universally negative reviews it’s received. It’s simply not a great film, but an intriguing historical portrait. It’s mildly unsatisfying and unfulfilling, but it certainly doesn’t deserve the beating it’s taking.

B-

Read about the making of “Amelia.”

Tuesday's Top Trailer: Up in the Air

Welcome to a new 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.

Up in the Air - Opening December 4, 2009



After hearing rave reviews about this film for a while, I finally saw this trailer for the first time before “New York, I Love You” this past Friday. Like last week’s highlighted film, “The Men Who Stare At Goats,” this one also features George Clooney, though in a more serious role. Clooney stars as a man who has racked up an extraordinary number of frequent-flyer miles, though it appears he’s a far more personable guy than Adam Sandler’s similarly-inspired protagonist in “Punch-Drunk Love.” This film looks like a general crowd-pleaser which should have no trouble becoming a major hit. It seems like a simple story that should be enhanced greatly by a great cast and a talented director. Clooney’s best performance, in my opinion, wasn’t his Oscar-recognized work in “Syriana” or “Michael Clayton,” but his more casual, charming, suave leading man in “Ocean’s Eleven.” Vera Farmiga has shown promise with roles in “The Departed” and “Nothing But The Truth,” and making her the romantic love interest should be a nice part for her to play. Newcomer Anna Kendrick is supposed to be pretty terrific as well, and it’s always great to see a young fresh face break out in this kind of film. Director Jason Reitman has delivered two stellar back-to-back hits with “Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno,” and it looks like good things come in threes. Basically, following Clooney’s Ryan Bingham around the world as he discovers himself sounds like fun. The voiceover narration by Clooney in the trailer is pitch-perfect, and really transmits a sense of what the film will be like without hearing a single voice other than Clooney’s. The trailers’ ending note, “Arriving Soon,” is a pleasant way to prepare for this fantastic landing that I’m very much anticipating.