Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Social Network

The Social Network
Directed by David Fincher
Released October 1, 2010

Those unfamiliar with or actionably against the notion of Facebook shouldn’t fear that they will feel out of touch with or disinterested in this film. Stars Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake, director David Fincher, and writer Aaron Sorkin acknowledge that they have barely ever used the social networking site, and less famous star Andrew Garfield admits that he used to be a typical user but has since broken free. This isn’t a film that tries to be clever by mimicking the workings of the site in its storytelling; instead, it’s a brilliant portrait of a whole host of high-achieving everymen with a competitive interest in creating the next big thing.

Left to right: moderator Todd McCarthy, writer Aaron Sorkin, Star Jesse Eisenberg, director David Fincher, stars Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake at a Q & A for the film

Sorkin, the creator of “The West Wing,” has, more than anyone else, left his distinct imprint on this film. The first scene includes purely dialogue and apparently consisted of nine pages acted out in a mere four and a half minutes, using Eisenberg and future Americanized “Girl with the Dragon Tatttoo” star Rooney Mara spouting off Sorkin dialogue in signature speedy fashion. The film doesn’t proceed forward at an alarmingly or even recognizably quick pace, but so much plot is impressively packed into a mere two hours that encompasses 160 script pages.

The cast, like the script, is entirely excellent. Eisenberg’s nebbishy, nervous attitude makes him the perfect person to play the pompous yet likeable Mark Zuckerberg. Timberlake is actually terrific as Napster founder Sean Parker, and Garfield, who will soon be just as well known as his costars when he stars in the “Spider-Man” film reboot, is simply fantastic as the moral center of the film, Zuckerberg’s partner, Eduardo Saverin. The smaller roles are also shrewdly cast, starting with Mara in the film’s opening scene as Zuckerberg’s girlfriend and highlighted by Armie Hammer as twin rowers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. Most astutely, they all work successfully with Sorkin’s script and respond well to Fincher’s direction, crafting an extremely on-the-ball and memorable ensemble.

“The Social Network” is a movie that’s rousingly entertaining, witty, and undeniably enjoyable. Its story is filled with despicable characters, all of whom don’t seem to comprehend their self-absorbedness, and it’s that very obliviousness to the way others perceive them that makes the experience such a blast. The film simultaneously follows Zuckerberg as he is sued separately by former friend Saverin and the Winklevoss wonder twins while chronicling Zuckerberg’s creation of Facebook, and it’s incredibly revealing to see the depositions occur while being privy to as much as can be speculated about what really happened in the run-up to the lawsuits. It may not be an authorized biography or the straight truth, but it would be near impossible for the real story to be as fantastically written or spectacularly presented as this.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NYFF Spotlight: My Joy

I have the distinct pleasure this year of covering a few of the films that are being shown at the New York Film Festival. Most of these films do not yet have U.S. release dates, and therefore this can be considered a preview review.

My Joy
Directed by Sergei Loznitsa
NYFF Public Screening: September 30th at 9:00pm

"My Joy" is a cold, severe exploration of the depths of human life in contemporary Russia. Its start is reminiscent of the slow, contemplative pacing of recent Romanian film "Police, Adjective." As trucker Georgi goes from place to place with his unidentified cargo, the film pauses to linger on his surroundings and pick up briefly on interactions between the people living in the places he passes. It becomes difficult to pinpoint the protagonist of the story once it changes course so much to focus on other characters and other despicable events. By the end of the 127-minute compilation of horrible behavior, it's hard to feel any sort of joy. It's an incredibly burdensome experience to travel through Russia through such a pessimistic realist point of view. Addressing questions about the title's origin, director Sergei Loznitsa explained that the title came from a segment that he ultimately did not include in the film, and his translator started laughing when he noted that the "short scene" had been about forty minutes long. That's a quip made much more relevant after having seen the film and the extremely delicate, patient pacing present in its awfully long two-plus hours. The film, like the far better "Police, Adjective," does boast some stirring scenes, as well as a few terrifying moments notable for their shock value and content. As a whole, however, the film is an absolutely depressing, demoralizing journey, and to come out on the other side with anything but a dismal outlook on life is truly difficult. For its aesthetic and production values, the film should be commended, and for its plotting and execution, it's a tougher call.


Monday, September 27, 2010

NYFF Spotlight: Of Gods and Men

I have the distinct pleasure this year of covering a few of the films that are being shown at the New York Film Festival. Most of these films do not yet have U.S. release dates, and therefore this can be considered a preview review.

Of Gods and Men
Directed by Xavier Beauvois
Remaining NYFF Public Screenings: September 27th at 9:00pm

This year's official Oscar submission from France for Best Foreign Language Film has a good shot right out of the gate, considering the fact that France has earned six nominations in the past ten years in the category. It just so happens that Xavier Beauvois' moving film based on the true story of monks in Algeria in the 1990s is deserving of comparison with such excellent films as “Amelie” and “A Prophet.” It's a film that centers on Brother Christian, a forward-thinking Christian monk who took a special interest in learning about Islam while his monastery provided health care and comfort to the local populace. Brother Christian's desire to understand the people served by his monastery is complicated by the threat of violent extremists seeking to exploit the resources of the monastery while terrorizing the monks and citizens. Beauvois and Etienne Comar do a remarkable job of adapting the story from various actual accounts of events, such as daily journals kept by the monks, and filling in the rest with a mix of extrapolations and outright fiction designed to enhance the effect of the film. Beauvois sees his film, like the work of Brother Christian, as a champion of the potential for religious pluralism and peaceful multicultural coexistence. What's most powerful about “Of Gods and Men” is the brilliant casting of the monks, led by the extremely skilled Lambert Wilson as Brother Christian, in a role that demands much patience and compassion of him, which he handles marvelously. As a team, the monks function wondrously, and their performances are affecting and ultimately heartbreaking. This is a film that deserves much praise for its complex themes and its impressive production values. It's a memorable movie with a lasting impact.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Movie with Abe: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go
Directed by Mark Romanek
Released September 15, 2010

"Never Let Me Go," not to be confused with vampire movie remake "Let Me In," is a film that takes its title from a song but also manages to extract a deeper dual meaning. It's half dystopian vision, half love triangle, and the mixture of the two isn't always smooth, but it's certainly intriguing and intoxicating. At its heart, it's a story about three innocent people who can only possibly glimpse a tiny portion of the world in their short time spent in it.

"Never Let Me Go" handles its material far more adeptly than the similarly-themed brainless 2004 film "The Island" starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, wisely choosing to focus on the complexities of romance and morality rather than mindless violence and explosions (additionally, this one is based on a novel, while the other was a Michael Bay movie). This film also smartly keeps its characters and its audience in the dark regarding the preciseness of what's going on, almost never directly acknowledging that the characters have a full grasp on what is happening to them and why they exist. It's a bold and effective decision that creates a thought-provoking filmic experience.

The tone of "Never Let Me Go" is a melancholy, tragic one, reminiscent of "Atonement." The comparison doesn't come to mind only because of the presence of Keira Knightley in both projects; rather it has to do with the sense of time passing remarkably quickly without having the chance to experience much of the world due to immature childhood decisions. It's a film that relies heavily on its sparse events to fuel further contemplation, and therefore isn't an entirely satisfying movie during the 103 minutes of its runtime.

Two young actresses who have proven themselves quite talented in recent years, Knightley and Carey Mulligan, are at the head of the cast and deliver mediocre performances that aren't poor but also aren't their best. Sally Hawkins ("Happy-Go-Lucky") has a memorable small part, but the greatest turn here comes from the fantastic Andrew Garfield, soon to be seen in "The Social Network" and then as the new Spider-Man, as the eternally boyish and innocent Tommy, who runs around well past his adolescence as if he were still a young child. He embodies what is most powerful about this film: what it is to live a life without knowing what experiences one is missing out on and how someone like that tempers his or her curiosity to have a fulfilling existence.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Town

The Town
Directed by Ben Affleck
Release September 17, 2010

The title “The Town” refers to Charlestown, a neighborhood of Boston where the residents speak in thick Boston accents and seem to own nothing but paraphernalia supporting all their favorite sports teams. It also happens, as the opening titles of the film explain, that Charlestown is home to a staggering amount of bank robbers. Four childhood friends almost have no choice but to enter the family business, and the neighborhood is so infused with criminals that the bank robbers take a woman hostage who just happens to live only four blocks away from their own home.

A film that uses such a coincidence-based device also takes certain liberties in presuming the state of affairs in Charlestown, that the FBI is constantly on the tail of these bank robbers, knowing full well their identities but unable to prove their complicity with actionable evidence. It's a trope familiar from something like "The Sopranos," which predictably leads to plenty of stonewalling and tough talk from the thieves. The dialogue is extraordinarily dull and tired, and it's hard to develop sympathy or affection for any of these characters, and none of them are despicable enough to garner awe and admiration, with the possible exception of Jermey Renner's bad boy, who milks a few laughs throughout the course of the film.

“The Town” doesn’t possess the same energy, darkness, and quality as Affleck’s directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” did. Most of the performances are so unhinged and unpolished, especially that of Jon Hamm as a frustration- and threat-prone FBI agent, that the spectacularly groomed and composed Don Draper would surely fire him on the spot if the two ever met. Talented actors like Renner, star of last year’s Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker,” are relegated to unfettered anger and comic relief, while further evidence is displayed that Blake Lively isn’t a terribly great actress. And Affleck, well, he might be better served to stay behind the camera, despite his impressive tragic performance in “Hollywoodland.”

Fortunately, the film manages to pick up in its second half, leaving behind overlong speeches and cheap dialogue to focus on intense action, which the film proves early on is its greatest asset. It features chase sequences that are, while not quite the caliber of something seen in the Bourne trilogy or a Daniel Craig James Bond film, still pretty damn exciting and well-done. The film's clever ending is indicative of a much smarter film than this average, overindulgent heist movie.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Freebie

The Freebie
Directed by Katie Aselton
Released September 17, 2010

The tagline for this new film, “A One Night Experiment in Infidelity,” is somewhat misleading. Its subtle playfulness makes it seem like a cheery comedy about a couple that decides to try something new for a change. In reality, the film is a relatively serious and stark drama about a couple that makes a decision that the search for sexual fulfillment needs to be conducted outside their marriage. With grainy cinematography and no extensively-prepared backgrounds or visual effects, this is a plain and simple story of two people and a snapshot from their lives, exposed in the open for audiences to see.

It’s hard to find a film as intimate as “The Freebie,” which for most of its run time centers exclusively on its two main players, Darren (Dax Shepard) and Annie (Katie Aselton). A quiet evening in bed together results in Darren’s suggestion to “race,” which turns out to be a mad dash to the finish line with twin crossword puzzle books rather than some other, more physically exerting adventure. Their ensuing discussion about their lack of sexual activity in their marriage comes up naturally as conversations between spouses tend to, and the hatching of the idea is organic and credible.

From there, “The Freebie” dives deep as it follows the alternating wonder and agony with which both Darren and Annie attempt to decide who their one-time partners will be and whether it’s ultimately a good idea for their marriage. Much of the process is without dialogue, and it’s the lack of talking that demonstrates just how difficult and potentially problematic this idea may be. The film starts with a sense of humor and quickly turns serious as its characters began to ponder just what they’ve gotten themselves into with their decision.

This movie has an incredibly small cast which mostly features Shepard and Aselton in scenes together. Shepard isn’t entirely capable of playing a completely complex character, but just like in his starring role in the television series “Parenthood,” Shepard is exactly the right choice for the part and performs commendably enough. Aselton, who also wrote and directed the film, is the real find here as the less talkative and boisterous member of the couple. Together, the two are funny, compelling, believable, and extremely watchable. The performances are strong, and so is the plot: this isn’t a movie where one factor has to be better than the other; instead, they’re both equally great.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Down Terrace

Welcome 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 recenty seen. Please chime in with comments on what you think of the trailer and how you think the movie is going to be.

Down Terrace - Opening October 8, 2010

And for something extremely independent! I saw this trailer in theatres before another film a bit ago (maybe “The American”) and had completely forgotten about it until I was searching on YouTube and Apple Trailers for something to write about for this week’s Tuesday Top Trailer. My analysis may be colored somewhat by the critics quoted in the trailer, but this looks to me like “Animal Kingdom” meets “Looking for Eric,” as in a cross between two movies that I and few others have seen. For those unaware of the reference, the former is a brutal, moving drama about a crime family and the latter is an oddly optimistic dramedy about a man having a midlife crisis. For the purposes of describing this movie, the seemingly never-ending parade of uncles and cousins through the door emphasizes the fact that this really is a family affair, which should presumably make any deadly decisions even more drastic and powerful. The first half of this trailer is purely comic, and then it turns incredibly serious, only to end with a horrible and hilarious shot of someone pushing an old lady in front of a car. It reminds me of how cable series “Damages” and “In Plain Sight” both had dueling promos that advertised them as comedies and dramas, alternately, even though they were for the same shows. This film likely has a tone all its own, and I’m quite intrigued. I’m sure it will be a lot of fun and quite unique – what do you think?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Movie You Aught To See: Red Dragon

Regardless of whether the decade ended already ended in 2009 or will end at the close of the current year, the 2000s were a wonderful period of cinema with many treasures that deserve to be remembered. Check in at Movies with Abe on Mondays for Movies You Aught to See, a look back at memorable movies from the aughts. They are posted in no particular order, and if you have a great film from the 2000s that you think merits consideration, leave a note in the comments!

Red Dragon
Directed by Brett Ratner
Released October 4, 2002

It’s hard to top “The Silence of the Lambs.” Since that film is from the 1990s and already has all the praise it needs (and still deserves, of course), it’s worth spotlighting another entry in the saga that didn’t get such a warm and fuzzy reception. This prequel and remake of Michael Mann’s 1986 film “Manhunter” may not have the old-fashioned look and feel of the Oscar-winning Hannibal Lecter film, but it’s still a superb movie that serves as a prime example of what a thriller should be. It boasts a tremendous cast of famous actors, including Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Mary-Louise Parker, all of whom turn in excellent performances as Hannibal Lecter appears in another film where he’s not actually the primary villain! It’s a marked improvement over 2001’s “Hannibal,” which was hypnotic and captivating but utterly senseless by the end. A thrilling score by Danny Elfman and the return of Anthony Hopkins to his inimitable role enhance the feel of the film, and not having Clarice Starling around isn’t nearly as much as a negative as it might seem. If you’ve never seen this one, give it a chance; it’s a chilling, fantastic film.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Movie with Abe: Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson
Released September 17, 2010

Edward Norton is an astonishing actor, and it has been a number of years since he has delivered a truly exceptional performance. In past years, he was incredible in films such as “Primal Fear,” “American History X,” “Fight Club,” and “25th Hour.” He is no stranger to playing characters with multiple personalities, and therefore it should not come as a surprise that his portrayal of two twin brothers in the same film is one of his most extraordinary yet.

In “Leaves of Grass,” the new film from actor-director Tim Blake Nelson that is finally being released in theatres after being postponed from April, Norton takes on two different people, brothers whose paths have diverged since being close as children. One is a philosophy professor at a prestigious university in the northeast, and the other is a drug dealer in his native town in Oklahoma. Bill is a distinguished intellectual who has tried to erase any hint of his Midwest accent and has found himself quite comfortable in high society. Brady is just as good at what he does, even though his profession is hardly as respectable, especially in the eyes of the more illustrious brother who seems to have forgotten his hometown.

Norton feels so comfortable on the screen when he first appears as the kind-hearted and friendly Bill. When Brady shows up, he is a wholly different personality who possesses an amazing ability to talk and make people listen, even if he really is saying nothing at all. The two characters feel like completely separate people, and they seem to have a bond even though they are portrayed by the same actor. This is easily one of the best multi-character performances by an actor, and it is great to see Norton back in form after regrettable choices like “The Incredible Hulk.” Norton is capable of so much more than a one-note role, and this is exactly what he should be doing with his talent. This film is also the perfect vehicle to showcase his abilities.

“Leaves of Grass” is eerily reminiscent of last year’s Best Picture nominee from the Coen brothers, “A Serious Man.” It has the same foreboding nature and feeling of things having gone horribly wrong despite a lighthearted and comic start. There are funny moments and entertaining speeches, but it seems like it is never safe to laugh because danger might be lurking just around the corner. Watching the film, you feel like Bill, the urbanized brother, returning to a now unfamiliar place with only drug dealers to guide the way. It is an unsettling but equally rewarding experience that shrewdly mixes humor with horror in the most gripping of ways.

It is no mystery that Tim Blake Nelson’s film feels like it comes straight of the oeuvre of the Coen brothers since one of Nelson’s signature film roles is that of Delmar in their 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” In “Leaves of Grass,” which Nelson also scripted, the characters are considerably wacky and exaggerated, yet they all seem to possess a certain wisdom about the way the universe works, and it is fascinating to get inside their heads. It is a film that is both unnerving and satisfying at the same time, and whichever emotion turns out to be stronger, it is indisputably a fulfilling experience.


Please note: a version of this review was published in the Washington Square News back in April.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Movie with Abe: Catfish

Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Released September 17, 2010

This film has been shrouded in mystery during the run-up to its theatrical premiere and amid the many preview screenings held around the country. I’m always unsure of how much to tell people about this movie’s plot, and it’s certainly a difficult subject to write about without spoiling any of the alleged documentary’s surprising revelations. Yet it’s still worth trying, since, real or not, this film is likely to be talked about by many, if only for a brief time, especially with the nearly concurrent release of another suspected faux-documentary “I’m Still Here.” Do documentaries these days just not need to be verifiably true anymore? That’s hardly the only question presented by this twist-filled film.

The premise of making a movie like “Catfish” is definitely intriguing, and filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman were right to jump on the opportunity to document Ariel’s brother Nev’s Internet relationship with two young girls and their mother in Michigan. It’s a story that’s probably not entirely unique to Nev, though this specific instance is definitely much crazier than your average tale of someone meeting someone else online. While social change can often be the impetus for making a documentary, sometimes chronicling an enticing, genuinely interesting story can be the recipe for a compelling documentary.

“Catfish” boldly bills itself in its trailer as “Not based on a true story. Not inspired by true events. Just. True.” While many reasons to doubt that assertion have been compiled by numerous sources, it’s not completely relevant to the film’s quality. Without addressing the film’s conclusion, it’s possible to dock the film points either way. If the film does in fact represent reality, the way the conclusion is filmed isn’t terribly impressive or well put-together (the first half of the film is much stronger). If the film’s events are mostly fabricated, the creativity of the so-called documentaries doesn’t speak very well for itself since a wilder finale could have been concocted. In either scenario, the film doesn’t live up to the hype.

“Catfish” is the kind of movie that is best watched with an audience so that every minor realization and major revelation can be experienced to its fullest extent. It’s also best seen with others because it will be more enjoyable considering its pedestrian nature. Nothing about “Catfish,” and certainly not its title, randomly chosen from a peculiar and irreverent story told by one of the film’s subjects, suggests that this is a quality film. It may look at an interesting topic, but the merits here are purely subject-based.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Movie with Abe: Easy A

Easy A
Directed by Will Gluck
Released September 17, 2010

“The Scarlet Letter” is fairly standard required reading all across the country. As the vocal protagonist of director Will Gluck’s new film points out, most people don’t actually read it. The meaning of the red letter A shouldn’t be lost on most, however, and mirroring Hester Prynne’s experience with a modern-day high school fable about an unpopular girl trying to help out her unpopular, unattractive guy friends by pretending to sleep with them is an absolutely brilliant move that proves relatable and entertaining thanks to its plucky lead character and her utter detestation (and repeated acknowledgment) of the way life in high school works.

Much of the success in “Easy A” is due to lead actress Emma Stone. After a breakout role in “Superbad,” she pursued supporting avenues, both dryly dramatic (“Paper Man”) and dryly comedic (“Zombieland”), and now she’s finally landed herself a starring role. She’s more than up for the task, using her uniquely low and sarcastic voice to vent Olive’s frustrations about the world and her misery in high school. The film is initially structured around a video blog being created by Olive, and though the segments seem to become alternately less and more frequent as the film goes on, Stone’s helpful narration helps the movie stay coherent and avoid becoming disjointedly segmented.

Stone leads a diverse ensemble, some of whom stammer in the background to little effect, like Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, and Cam Gigandet, while others are vital parts of the film’s winning comic tone, such as Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, and Alyson Michalka (now cheerleading on the CW’s “Hellcats”). Newly un-retired actress Amanda Bynes seems to have found her calling playing an airheaded religious fanatic, and though it’s hardly a difficult role to play, she fits the bill as directed. The film does fall prey to the fact that it is a high school movie and therefore seems to need to adhere to some unfortunate and uncreative plot-related clichés, but as a whole it’s a productive effort that offers a good number of laughs and plenty more amused smiles.

High school movies in the 1980s may have simply been about living life in high school, but these days, there’s often an additional element that helps to serve as a parallel from the past to current events. In this case, it’s extraordinarily effective, and with the exception of some occasional texting, there’s little about this film that solidifies it as being in the present day as opposed to anytime in the past twenty or thirty years. Olive’s own frequent references to how 1980s high school movies aren’t like real life only serve to further drive home the point that this movie, though considerably spunkier than some of its inspirations, is just as much a definitive high school movie as those 1980s classics are.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Movie with Abe: I’m Still Here

I’m Still Here
Directed by Casey Affleck
Released September 10, 2010

As a premise, the recent life of Joaquin Phoenix, Oscar-nominated-actor turned failed rapper and caveman, seems like a fascinating choice for a documentary film. The poster of the sunglasses-sporting, unkempt, grizzled star makes the idea seem even more compelling, especially since much of Phoenix’s transformation happened in the public eye thanks to a much-mocked appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” Unfortunately, the discrepancy between what this movie could have been and what it turned out to be is extremely large and highly disappointing.

“I’m Still Here,” which is subtitled “The Lost Years of Joaquin Phoenix,” purports to examine the “ramifications of a life spent in the public eye.” The barrage of news clips presented in the film indicate that yes, Phoenix is a public figure, but show nothing more about how that attention caused his breakdown. With the exception of two short clips showing a young Phoenix diving into a waterfall in Panama and performing on television with his siblings, there is absolutely no background to document what Phoenix was like before his decision to effect a career change. In fact, there’s no coherent explanation whatsoever from Phoenix or anyone else about why he chose to let his acting career go and give rap a try.

Without any context for his sudden and radical decision, all of Phoenix’s actions seem like nothing more than the ravings of a madman. It certainly doesn’t help that he exhibits little talent for rap music and even less ability to deliver his rhymes in front of an audience. Nearly everything Phoenix does in this film is entirely appalling and despicable, as he mistreats his assistants and provides no reason for anyone to feel bad before him. After all the prostitutes, cocaine, and heavy drinking with which Phoenix engages during the film’s run time, there’s no sympathy left for the once-sane actor when he finally has his inevitable meltdown.

The most curious problem with “I’m Still Here” is its lack of both a point and a point of view. The film touts its incredible access to Phoenix’s daily life, but that’s only due to the fact that first-time director Casey Affleck is his real-life best friend. Affleck’s random decision to chronicle Phoenix’s post-acting career is just that: a chronicle without any additional notes or creative interpretations. It’s merely a stark, unsettling, and utterly unproductive lensing of all of Phoenix’s misdeeds and questionable acts over a certain span of time. Affleck appears to have gained some personal closure when he indulges in a lengthy closing sequence set to orchestra music of a still-unclean Phoenix wading deeper and deeper into a river, but the film has achieved no such redemption. As his best friend, Affleck is trying to be objective and capture the facts as they are, but this is one case where a bit of subjectivity and some analysis are in dire need.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Movie with Abe: The American

The American
Directed by Anton Corbijn
Released September 1, 2010

In real life, it’s highly unlikely that famed bachelor George Clooney actually has trouble finding a woman to seduce or enjoying a vast array of close friends. Yet Clooney has made it an art of portraying someone who may not be entirely unlikeable but still lives a life of solitude, most notably in his most recent Oscar-nominated turns in “Syriana,” “Michael Clayton,” and “Up in the Air.” Now, he’s playing the same archetype as a loner assassin hiding out in Rome after narrowly escaping a hit in Sweden in this quiet, contemplative, and subtly engaging thriller.

Even if Clooney seems too good-looking and amiable to portray a man with no human connections, he plays the part extremely well. The frequently grinning con man from “Ocean’s Eleven” is nowhere to be found in this paranoid, twitchy spy wary of making friends for fear of being betrayed. The film’s title has little meaning other than as an identifier for others for Clooney’s character, alternately known as Jack and Edward. He speaks decent Italian, especially with street vendors or restaurateurs, and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb as many American tourists in foreign countries do. Apart from his sensibilities, he could just as well be another other nationality; still a stranger in a foreign land.

Those seeking a fast-paced action movie should look elsewhere. Audience members won’t be sitting on the edge of their seats but rather shifting around nervously throughout the film, aware that at any moment someone could be tailing Clooney’s hero or that a gunshot could come from any vantage point. Amid the ever-present forebodingness, however, there comes an excellent opportunity to get to know the man with two names (a moniker that could effectively serve to differentiate him from Clint Eastwood’s similarly friendless vigilante The Man with No Name). As the film progresses, his motivations become clearer and the inescapability of his lifestyle is cemented.

“The American” has a tight-knit cast of primary players. Paolo Bonacelli is the excitable voice of good and reason as the neighborly Father Benedetto, and provides many of the film’s lighter moments. Thekla Reuten, who stood out in Showtime’s miniseries “Sleeper Cell” and 2008’s sleeper hit “In Bruges,” goes toe to toe with Clooney’s expert as a mysterious contact meeting him for an operation. The most impressive and refreshingly talented find in the cast is the enchanting Roman native Violante Placido, who plays the biggest temptress for the lonely Edward, as prostitute Clara. Her allure threatens to distract him from his life of solitude and safety, and it’s their chemistry that serves as the film’s emotional trigger. “The American” might best be described as part romance, part drama, part thriller, and an all-around solid film.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Black Swan

Welcome 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 recenty seen. Please chime in with comments on what you think of the trailer and how you think the movie is going to be.

Black Swan - Opening December 1, 2010

There’s much to say about this film based both on the trailer and on the people involved. This is the fifth feature film from Darren Aronofsky after “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Fountain,” and “The Wrestler” (I’ve seen them all – have you?). In his most recent Oscar-nominated venture, Aronofsky took a bit of a break from his fantasy-heavy, seriously trippy tendencies and made a story about one normal character. Now, he’s focusing his latest project on a few main characters in a story that seems plausible enough at the start and then takes a turn for the intense and potentially supernatural. Either way, it looks nightmarish in a good way, especially considering the talent in front of the camera. Natalie Portman hasn’t had much of a chance to demonstrate her acting abilities recently aside from two films in 2004 – “Garden State” and “Closer” – and now this lead role might be just what she needs to be taken seriously as an adult actress. After her turn in “V for Vendetta,” I have no doubt that she’s well-suited to this part. Vincent Cassel is an extremely underrated actor, and giving him a dramatic part is a phenomenal idea. And then there’s Mila Kunis, who pleasantly surprised me with her mature performance in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” but has yet to prove her worth in drama. This movie seems interesting at the start and then becomes crazy and scary, but hopefully it will be more like “The Fountain,” which was dazzling and enrapturing even if it didn’t make complete sense, as opposed to his previous two films, which lost me midway through. What makes me most excited for this film, actually, is the music. The tones at the end of the trailer were awesome, and I was thrilled to find that my suspicion was correct: Aronofsky is using his regular composer, Clint Mansell, for this film. If you doubt Mansell’s amazing abilities, look (or rather, listen) no further than the mesmerizing scores for “The Fountain” and “Requiem for a Dream.” I’m looking forward to this film – are you?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday Movie You Aught to See: United 93

Regardless of whether the decade ended already ended in 2009 or will end at the close of the current year, the 2000s were a wonderful period of cinema with many treasures that deserve to be remembered. Check in at Movies with Abe on Mondays for Movies You Aught to See, a look back at memorable movies from the aughts. They are posted in no particular order, and if you have a great film from the 2000s that you think merits consideration, leave a note in the comments!

United 93
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Released April 28, 2006

As the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks passed this weekend, it felt appropriate to recognize a film that solemnly pays tribute to the people who lost their lives trying to fight back aboard one of the hijacked flights. While some still found it to be too soon, opening less than five years after the attacks, “United 93” presented a straightforward, respectful dramatization of what is known to have occurred and what may have occurred aboard the flight and on the ground. Unlike Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center,” released at around the same time, this one wasn’t flashy and didn’t feature any big stars. It’s one of the most tragic and moving films made in recent years, and the fact that it’s based on a true story makes it all the more saddening and powerful. The final minutes are absolutely devastating and incredibly well-done.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Movie with Abe: Heartbreaker

Directed by Pascal Chaumeil
Released September 10, 2010

Every once in a while, there comes a film so marvelously entertaining that its appeal is irresistible. The trailer’s sales pitch goes as such: “if your daughter can’t admit she’s with the wrong guy, it’s time to hire the heartbreaker.” That tagline sums up the film perfectly, in terms of both tone and plot. This French film, dubbed “L’Arnacoeur” in its native country, is a highly amusing and entirely accessible comedy that easily ranks as one of the year’s best and most enjoyable films thus far.

There’s a sense of freedom and adventure in “Heartbreaker” that makes it seem like professional seducer Alex Lippi and his partners-in-crime Mélanie and Marc possess infinite and unlimited resources to accomplish their various missions. That’s not the case, of course, since the extensiveness of the operations are running them dry, but that doesn’t mean Alex is willing to cut back on his means, and he’ll make up for anything he doesn’t physically have with magnetic energy and personality. A hilarious montage towards the start of the film demonstrates Alex’s prowess and the ease with which women fall head over heels for his charm.

Lead actor Romain Duris has incredible charisma, but his excellent performance shouldn’t be misread as the film’s sole virtue. Instead, Duris simply sets a glowing example for the rest of the cast. Vanessa Paradis (famous as Johnny Depp’s girlfriend) is a perfect match for Alex as Juliette, his toughest challenge: a strong-willed woman who seems impervious to any of his cheap (or expensive) tricks. Her prickly attitude ensures that Alex’s attempted seduction will not be a simple task. The most lovely aspect of “L’Arnacoeur” is Julie Ferrier as assistant Mélanie, who blends into the background as often as possible in whatever guise – maid, clerk, etc. – is most appropriate. After her similarly chameleonic turn earlier this year in “Micmacs,” Ferrier is definitely in the running for the hardest working supporting player of the year.

As a backdrop to the superb cast, not limited to the above players thanks to handy turns by François Damiens as Marc, Andrew Lincoln as Juliette’s beau-to-be, and Héléna Noguerra as Juliette’s promiscuous former best friend Sophie, there lies a great film with a spot-on wit. There’s a terrific sense of what’s enough and what’s too much, and the film is therefore at times a genuinely good movie and at others a gloriously over-the-top guilty pleasure. The balance between the two is exceptional, and it’s hard not to be swayed and wowed by the extent of Alex’s efforts and the magnificent result that is this wonderful comedy.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Romantics

The Romantics
Directed by Galt Niederhoffer
Released September 10, 2010

There are many possibilities for disaster when it comes to a wedding. Look no further than two new releases from just the past two weeks: “White Wedding” and “Heartbreaker.” This film gathers together seven best friends for the wedding of Lila (Anna Paquin) and Tom (Josh Duhamel). The trouble is, Laura (Katie Holmes) dated Tom for four years and the attraction hasn’t entirely gone away on either end. An uncomfortable rehearsal dinner and a long night of actual searching (for the groom) and soul searching (for all) ensues in this indie starring a few big names.

“The Romantics,” adapted by director Galt Niederhoffer from her novel of the same name, is the kind of story that might better be staged as play, full of dramatic speeches and intimate conversations that would be more effective without an outdoor backdrop or the need for a large number of extras. Katie Holmes and Josh Duhamel would likely not be the first choices for a stage production, but fortunately there’s plenty of talent on hand representing the other four friends, made up of two couples, one married, the other not. Two theatre veterans with few film credits – Jeremy Strong and Rebecca Lawrence – are wisely cast opposite two more experienced cinematic stars – Adam Brody of “The O.C.” and Malin Akerman of “Watchmen” – to create a compelling supporting dynamic for the film.

As a film, “The Romantics” does proceed forward from an initial vantage point of distance from the characters to a deeply personal knowledge of all of them, whether it’s Lila spending the night before her wedding alone, hoping everything will go alright, or the two couples deciding to mix and match their members when forming search parties for the missing Tom. Almost the entire film takes place between the afternoon prior to the rehearsal dinner and sunrise the next morning, and that span of time is an appropriate period over which to intimately get to know these characters. “The Romantics” is not a film that offers definitive conclusions for the arcs of its many characters, but instead presents vignettes and snippets from their lives from which infinite possibilities could arise.

At times, “The Romantics” is just as devastatingly awkward as “Rachel Getting Married” but hardly as moving. To its credit, however, it is fully engaging and raises a number of interesting questions about life and love through these characters. The quality of the ensemble is heavily tipped in favor of the supporting players rather than the leads, making this a film that doesn’t have as much to offer on the surface but deserves further reconsideration based on the stronger parts of its somewhat less than completely satisfying whole.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Movie with Abe: Flipped

Directed by Rob Reiner
Released August 27, 2010

Rob Reiner is an extremely versatile director who has successfully made legal thrillers (“A Few Good Men”), all-out thrillers (“Misery”), fantasy adventures (“The Princess Bride”), mockumentaries (“This Is Spinal Tap”), and most importantly, romantic comedies. His most iconic entry is “When Harry Met Sally,” another fantastic one is “The American President,” and then there’s his most recent flop, the multi-generational riff on “The Graduate,” the 2005 film “Rumor Has It…” Fortunately, Reiner is back on his game, adapting “Flipped,” the 2001 novel of the same name by Wendelin Van Draanen into a heartwarming and entirely entertaining comedy.

Trying to posit granddaughters and grandmothers on the same romantic plane really didn’t work well in “Rumor Has It,” so Reiner has wisely settled on just one generation now. It’s hardly like his past films, however, since the protagonists and budding lovebirds in this film are only in the eighth grade. This clever romance pits two young neighbors against each other by presenting conflicting viewpoints of their never quite on romance, perceived very differently by each of them. The “flipped” perceptions of reality aren’t black and white, and showcasing events in a way that doesn’t make either party seem completely crazy helps enhance the reality of the situation. While shy Bryce doesn’t actually like chatty Juli, it’s not hard to comprehend how the lovestruck Juli might misinterpret his actions to believe that she’s all he ever thinks about.

The film plays perfectly on the sentiments and tendencies of young boys and young girls, and the progression of Bryce and Juli from second graders to eighth graders offers amusing opportunities for change and development. The film is also set in the 1960s, which allows for heavy stereotyping and broadly-defined traits of the families (Juli’s clan, for example, is rather poor). A host of talented actors, most familiar from memorable television roles, including Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Rebecca De Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller, and Kevin Weisman, leads the cast, but they aren’t the real stars. Fifteen-year-old Callan McAuliffe, in his first feature film role, is just right as Bryce, often seen sporting a clueless, blank stare that demonstrates just how in over his head he is with Juli. The real star of the film is the magnificent Madeline Carroll, who at fourteen acts much older than her age but still delivers a convincing and winning portrayal of a thirteen-year-old girl. The two young leads have an excellent backdrop for their breakout roles, in this film that’s uncomfortable at times and absolutely hilarious at others. The trajectory of arcs is spot-on, and this is one delightful, terrific movie.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Movie with Abe: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Directed by Edgar Wright
Released August 13, 2010

Even if Michael Cera always plays the same role in every one of his films, he seems to be making some fantastic decisions. He knows how to play a certain part, and playing it over and over and over again isn’t a problem if the material is fresh and entertaining each time. This film can be seen as a sort of culmination of the character and personality that he has been crafting over the past three or so years: a shy, awkward hero who unwittingly becomes the subject of a forceful girl’s affection and is the victim of plenty of unexpected problems, both big and small. In this particular venture, Cera has to take one the seven evils exes of his latest crush, the alluring and brilliantly-named Ramona Flowers.

Cera gets to play a hero type often, even if his motivations and actions don’t come from the purest of places. In this film, however, Cera is literally the good guy, matched against seven deadly opponents in this bizarre hybrid world of video game rules and comic book sensibilities. Superpowers are simply part of the equation, and the characters in the film make nothing of their existence and don’t mention them as anything strange. Cera’s Scott Pilgrim rises to the challenge of fighting his foes because it’s the only sensible response. He even goes so far as to reference his own familiarity and infatuation with video games by repeatedly citing an uninteresting fact about the origin of the name Pac-Man.

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is full of laughs and jokes, but the best part about it is its cleverness. Wit isn’t all that’s needed to make a fun film, and the way that written announcements of knockouts or points pop up on the screen during fights (and at other times) is innovative and entertaining. Unlike a film like “Zombieland,” where the titles pop up on screen for a while and then gradually fade away as the film goes on, these amusing captions continue to appear throughout the film’s entire run. Fortunately, like “Zombieland,” this film remains hilarious and engaging throughout its entire run, thanks to its fun writing but also due to its talented cast.

In terms of fresh new female faces, look no further than Michael Cera’s co-star. After starring alongside Ellen Page in “Juno,” Emma Stone in “Superbad,” Kat Dennings in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” and Portia Doubleday in “Youth in Revolt” in their breakout roles, Cera now gets to play the main part opposite the lovely and intoxicating Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose enchanting mysteriousness and ever-changing hair color is reminiscent of Kate Winslet’s Clementine from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The two films are actually somewhat similar in terms of their sequencing. This one isn’t grounded in logic, however, and instead plays out more like an amalgam of a video game and a comic book. It’s a winning combination, and even if the story loses a bit of coherence later in the game, stick with it and it will eventually make sense. This awesome ride is worth it.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Home Video with Abe: The Lottery

The Lottery
Directed by Madeleine Sackler
Released May 7, 2010

2010 has been a strong year for documentaries. Arriving on DVD last week is “The Lottery,” a documentary about the charter school lottery system that originally opened in theatres back in May on the same day as “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” This film tackles a subject extremely similar to that of “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary opening later this month whose trailer is being shown on many screens before current films right now. “The Lottery” selects as its focus Harlem and picks a small group of children to follow through the process of deciding to enter the lottery and eagerly awaiting the results. What ensues is a dramatic and poignant exploration of why the system works the way it does and a spotlight on those who could (but don’t necessarily) benefit from the opportunity this lottery offers.

As documentaries go, this is pretty by-the-book. It’s an exposé tackling both the problems that exist that caused a lottery system like this to be created and the issues of the lottery system itself. The background research is extensive and the presentation is highly educational, introducing students and their families along the way in order to fill in holes about the details of the lottery and the charter school system. Footage from public space hearings and interviews with potential lottery benefactors are interspersed to weave a compelling narrative that sheds light on the entire situation. It’s a moving and inspiring documentary that’s equally hopeful and depressing, and is an important film for anyone with a vested interest in education. Check out the trailer above for a preview. “The Lottery” is now available on DVD.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Movie with Abe: White Wedding

White Wedding
Directed by Jann Turner
Released September 3, 2010

A man needs to get to his wedding, which is happening in just a few days, and numerous hijinks occur that may delay him. Will he make it in time? This premise is hardly new, and even surfaced just last summer in the form of a wild night in Vegas and a missing groom in “The Hangover.” The characters in “White Wedding” do carry a cooler filled with alcohol and a glass in their trunk, but it’s only for relieving the occasional stress. Driving through South Africa from Johannesburg to Cape Town is the plight faced by groom Elvis, and he has plenty of wild nights even before he drinks so much that he blacks out.

“White Wedding,” this year’s official entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film from South Africa, shouldn’t be mistaken for a movie about a partier. While his name might indicate otherwise, Elvis is a mild-mannered, kindly guy just looking to get to Cape Town in time to marry the love of his life. A series of mishaps based on good-intentioned acts and deeds of kindness lead to trouble on the way to his wedding for Elvis, and it’s only reasonable that the groom-to-be starts to lose it a little. His journey is made even more rocky and unpredictable by the presence of his player friend, Tumi, and a hitchhiking British tourist, Rose.

The deserted and difficult-to-navigate landscape of South Africa is the setting for the film’s adventure, and it’s a fantastic backdrop for both the solace of traveling hours and hours without a clue of where to go and for the company that develops on the way, be it the unexpected camaraderie between Tumi and Rose (and not between Rose and Elvis at all) or a dangerous run-in with a bunch of racist Afrikaaners. It’s an entertaining series of mishaps and misfortunes made enjoyable by the presence of likable characters, and the interspersing of scenes of Elvis’ bride-to-be Ayanda not-so-calmly awaiting his arrival help to heighten the importance of his voyage being a success.

The cast is energetic and talented, and Kenneth Nkosi (Elvis) and Zandile Msutwana (Ayanda) play one of the more believable cinematic couples in a long time. Rapulana Seiphemo (Tumi) is a great wingman, and the film’s numerous other players are just as skilled. The real star, and the film’s greatest delight, is Jodie Whittaker as vacationer turned hitchhiker Rose. It’s a pleasure to see Whittaker, who broke out opposite Peter O’Toole in “Venus” back in 2006, back on the screen in such a fun, film-stealing role. Her presence and difference from the Afrikaners helps to strongly define South African culture. This road movie is a wondrous export that would certainly deserve an Oscar nomination for representing its country.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Movie with Abe: My Dog Tulip

My Dog Tulip
Directed by Paul & Sandra Fierlinger
Released September 1, 2010

Animation is a vehicle through which stories can be told in a manner uninhibited by traditional limitations on what can be filmed and shown in reality. There’s an intriguing contradiction that comes from effective animation where a tale can be so enhanced by the art yet so simplistic in appearance due to subtle colors and uncomplicated drawings. That’s exactly the feeling present in “My Dog Tulip,” a fairly straightforward story about a man and his dog, two best friends who spent the best years of their lives together. It’s a lonely tale that’s made meaningful by the deep friendship between man and dog.

For those who aren’t dog lovers, “My Dog Tulip” may not resonate quite as strongly. Yet there’s something universally relatable about the film that wasn’t present in something like the inexplicably over-praised “Wendy and Lucy.” What’s most effective here is the way that protagonist J.R. Ackerley, who speaks nearly all of the lines in the film, cares for his dog and vicariously lives his otherwise unexciting life by interpreting her thoughts and desires. Little mention is made of Ackerley’s life apart from Tulip, and Tulip’s existence prior to being adopted by Ackerley is summed up neatly in the film’s opening minutes and forgotten about for the rest of its run time.

The animation in “My Dog Tulip” is energetic and creative, frequently indulging Ackerley’s musings on what Tulip might be thinking with entertaining images of a half-dog, half-woman version of Tulip prancing around and thinking out loud. Ackerley, as the narrator, talks throughout the entire film, and sometimes his mouth moves almost without being seen, because he continues to narrate even when he’s part of the very scene about which he’s already moved on to recapping and interpreting. Someone made a brilliant choice in selecting Christopher Plummer – an eighty-year-old actor who only last year appeared in no less than four major films “Up,” “9,” “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” and “The Last Station” – as the voice of Ackerley. The way he regales the audience with tales of his romance with Tulip is utterly enchanting and hypnotic.

Unfortunately, the film’s story-related content isn’t nearly as engaging. The dynamic is understandable and endearing, but the actual events are hardly interesting. The film drags for a while as Ackerley tries to find a perfect mate for Tulip and comes up against numerous obstacles in his search. The film has occasional moments of brilliance that evoke a stronger sense of passion and excitement than the film does as a whole. For those looking to reminiscence about the bond between dog and man, this may be just the right film, and for others it may not be quite as enticing.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Movie with Abe: A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop

A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Released September 3, 2010

Remaking a Coen brothers film (their first, no less) is no easy task. This effort is comparable to transposing “Infernal Affairs,” which was made in Hong Kong, to a Western setting and recreating it as the enormously successful “The Departed.” It takes a talented director and a dedicated team of actors to successfully re-envision an idea in a new filmic climate. It’s rare that American movies are remade in other countries and actually make it back over to the United States, but this one has done just that. The combination of a talented, versatile director, a sharp cast, and a crew committed to stunning visuals and colors works enormously well to create a worthwhile adaptation that stands on its own.

Zhang Yimou has directed a number of films, including “Curse of the Golden Flower,” “House of Flying Daggers,” and “Hero,” that have received international acclaim and had success in the United States. His latest film feels much like his past works, with an important difference: this is a rich examination of a few characters without the backdrop of a legion of soldiers or other populace. A band of police officers arrives from time to time, but their number is no more than a dozen, and therefore this remains an intimate, personal experience. The film’s clever title accounts for a few of the main characters, and also underlines the importance of both the gun and the noodle shop.

“A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop” centers on a noodle shop owner who hires a corrupt cop to off his cheating wife and the noodle shop employee with whom she has been having an affair. It’s that straightforward premise that, like any Coen brothers movie, quickly takes a leap from the safe and the simple to the terribly troublesome and darkly dangerous. Most of the film takes place at night, when one character or another could well be the only one awake at that time, free to manipulate the world around them as they see fit.

Yimou’s film is built on suspense, and in proper tribute to the Coen brothers, it’s an equally funny and unnerving experience. The comedy stems both from the ridiculousness of the characters themselves and the comic nature of how little each of them actually knows about the events that are transpiring. The audience only has a bit more information, and it’s that discrepancy that makes this a frantically engaging and compelling experience. There’s little true intelligence to be found in this film, and that’s it’s most brilliant asset.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thursday Theatre Review: AMC Loews 19th St East 6

Weekly to a new feature here at Movies with Abe, Thursday Theatre Review. As a resident of one of the world’s foremost movie capitals, I’ve been to a number of movie theatres in New York City and have developed preferences. There’s no perfect theatre, but there are a few things that can make or break a movie-going experience. In no particular order, this is a guide to movie theatres in Manhattan.

AMC Loews 19th St East 6

Location: This theatre is just north of Union Square at the intersection of 19th St and Broadway, with very little around it besides furniture and luggage stores. Its proximity to Union Square is really all that’s important, so it’s pretty decently accessible.

Pricing: Standard tickets are $13 (surcharge for 3-D and IMAX). Like other AMC theatres, all showtimes before noon, seven days a week, are only $6. Pre-purchased discount passes, which are either $6.50 or $8, depending on how new the film is, are also accepted.

Film selection: Usually pretty good. There are sometimes independent offerings, and I’ve seen movies like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Fountain” here. Sometimes movies are also playing after they’ve left most theatres, like “A Serious Man” was after a couple of months. The negative is that, if a movie is playing at the Regal Union Square, it won’t be playing at this AMC. Additionally, the selection is usually almost the same as that of the AMC Loews Village 7. Currently showing: “Dinner for Schmucks,” “Eat Pray Love,” “Lottery Ticket,” and “Salt,” and “Step Up 3-D.”

Drawbacks: The $6 before noon feature isn’t so helpful because this theatre often doesn’t have any showtimes before noon on weekends! Also, it has only six auditoriums, so there are never too many movies playing there.

Bonus features: None, really.

Worth the trip? If the showtimes are convenient. When I lived on 16th & Union Square West, this theatre was remarkably close but I hardly ever went there because it just didn’t have the right movies playing. It’s a fine theatre, but it doesn’t offer anything particularly unique.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Deadlocked Duel of 2002

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Deadlocked Duel is the fourth in a series of projects looking back at the past eight years of the Oscars, dating back to the first ceremony I watched and closely followed.

Each year after the Oscar nominations are announced, there’s at least one category where two nominees end up in a heated battle for the award right up until Oscar night, dividing predictors and keeping Oscar watchers anxiously in suspense. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most intense of those battles each year, in any category.

The Deadlocked Duel of 2002:

Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York) vs. Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt)

**Note for those who are paying attention: I did in fact skip 2003 since there really wasn’t a duel that occurred aside from everything vs. “The Return of the King.” I chose to move on to this year because it was much more interesting. If you disagree, please say so in the comments.

The background: Day-Lewis was an accomplished actor who had made fewer than fifteen films in his twenty-year career, and had won an Oscar for his 1989 performance in “My Left Foot,” receiving a second nod in 1993 for “In the Name of the Father.” His previous film was 1997’s “The Boxer.” Nicholson was a three-time champ, winning in 1975, 1983, and 1997, with eleven nominations total. Day-Lewis had created one of the most intense, memorable characters of his career, while Nicholson was finally playing his age.

Why it was just the two of them: Both Michael Caine and Nicolas Cage were Oscar winners already as well. Caine’s film didn’t garner much attention aside from his performance, and all the buzz for “Adaptation” was for costars Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Adrien Brody was a relative newcomer with his first major lead role.

Setting the stage: Nicholson started off strong when he won the Golden Globe at a ceremony where his film was up for five awards, including Best Picture (it also took home Best Screenplay). Day-Lewis’ movie was honored for Martin Scorsese’s direction and U2’s song. Day-Lewis then took the lead, winning the BAFTA and the SAG. When Oscar nominations were announced, Nicholson and costar Kathy Bates earned their film’s only nominations, while “Gangs of New York” scored ten nominations.

Oscar night: In one of the biggest upsets in recent Oscar history, Adrien Brody, who had previously won two critics’ awards and nothing else, scored the win. He was so excited that he even made out with Halle Berry on stage. Brody accomplished an incredible feat: a first-time nominee beating out four Oscar winners. “The Pianist” also scored major upsets for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, and some believe that it came close to winning Best Picture as well.

Consolation prize for the loser: None at the time. Bates lost too, and “Gangs of New York” lost all nine of its other bids. Day-Lewis would have the chance to take home his second Oscar five years later without any real competition for “There Will Be Blood,” and Nicholson has managed to have some great roles in films like “Something’s Gotta Give” and “The Departed.”

Other notable duels: Meryl Streep (Adaptation) vs. Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) for Best Supporting Actress

That’s a wrap for the Deadlocked Duel series, and possibly even the Wednesday Oscar Retrospective, for now at least. Stay tuned on future Wednesdays for reviews, and at some point soon (based on releases each week), a return of the Wednesday Oscar Watch.