Friday, October 29, 2010

Movie with Abe: Monsters

Directed by Gareth Edwards
Released October 29, 2010

“Monsters” exists in a world set in the not so distant future, where technology isn’t much more advanced that it is now and society operates generally the same way, with one not so small difference. Giant alien monsters landed on Earth several years ago, and a giant chunk of territory between the United States and Mexico has been cordoned off by the government and designated as an infected zone. Though they come into contact as infrequently as possible, the idea of extraterrestrials existing just over a fence isn’t made to seem strange: this is just a truth about society in this film’s universe.

The film is immediately reminiscent of last year’s Best Picture nominee “District 9,” where humans and aliens live in semi-harmony separated only by fragile barriers, both physical and operational. In this case, however, the aliens don’t communicate with their fellow terrestrials, and instead they serve as the occasional cause of an enormously destructive – and usually deadly – rampage. When a wealthy businessman’s daughter is stranded in Mexico after an attack, a low-level employee of his is tasked with bringing her back home safely. Unsurprisingly, the journey is filled with plenty of obstacles, beginning with a greedy station master charging $5,000 for the last ferry ride north.

For a movie with a title like “Monsters,” this film doesn’t deliver as expected. The action scenes are few and far in between, and most of the film is taken up by banal conversation between Samantha (Whitney Able) and Andrew (Scott McNairy). It’s rare rather than the norm for the greatest active danger to be these lurking giant beings. While it’s supposed to be subtle, it’s considerably underwhelming, and the film hinges mostly on its most action-packed moments while providing all-too-extensive buildup to them. One important note is that this monster movie was made for a mere $15,000, which makes the technical achievements considerably more impressive than they might as first appear. Additionally, the action scenes are fairly terrifying and well-done.

What keeps “Monsters” from being a great film is the lack of urgency in its duller moments. It’s not necessarily that its characters shouldn’t be permitted some peace or that the monsters need to be appear more often, but instead that the time Samantha and Andrew spend together as they experience this grueling voyage would be better spent on more intelligent conversation than is present in the film. Sometimes, it feels like the original “Night of the Living Dead,” but in whatever way that is meant as a compliment, it also applies to the heinous and often laughable dialogue. It’s not a bad movie; it’s just that the script could have used a considerable overhaul that would have made it infinitely more interesting and engaging.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday Oscar Spotlight: Best Actor

It still feels too early to start ironing out real Oscar predictions, and therefore I’ve decided to take a brief look at the acting categories, one per week, throughout October and November. Many buzzed-about films have yet to be seen, and more may still emerge in the next two months. For now, here’s a brief rundown, sight unseen in some cases, of the likeliest contenders at this point. Please feel free to add your own thoughts as well as to point out any actors I may have missed in the comments section.

Two in a row?

Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)
Last year, Firth was the only mention his film got, whereas this time around it seems like this may be the film to beat in terms of traditional Oscar bait. He didn’t really have a shot last year, and now he’s at the front of the pack in a role about someone with a handicap in a period piece produced by Weinstein. He’s the frontrunner at this point.

Jeff Bridges (True Grit)
He finally won last year on his fifth nomination, thirty-eight years after he first earned a rod for “The Last Picture Show.” Now, he’s back in what should be a showy role in the Coen brothers’ remake of the 1969 John Wayne film. Two important notes: Wayne won the Oscar for this part, and the Coen brothers have helmed two Best Picture nominees (and one winner) in the past three years. While it’s highly unlikely that he’ll win again, he’s a good bet for a repeat nomination.

George Clooney (The American)
This film may have slipped under the radar, but Clooney has collected three nominations in the past five years. While his film probably won’t earn any other accolades, Clooney managed to win back in 2005 for “Syriana,” which earned only a screenplay nod in addition to his mention. He’s the unlikeliest of the bunch, yet he could still surprise.

Carried by their film?

Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is a great performance – that’s not really up for debate. But it may not be perceived as seriously as some of the older, more esteemed actors in this category, and the film may perform well without any of its players being recognized. Still, the film is so popular that Eisenberg should ride its wave to a nomination.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception)
This film was one of summer’s most popular flicks, and like the controversial “Sopranos” finale, its fans should speak louder than its detractors. DiCaprio’s role is hardly the strongest in the film (pick Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt instead), but DiCaprio is a three-time Oscar nominee who last made it in for a big action movie with a brain, “Blood Diamond.” Though it’s a long shot, it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility. He also has “Shutter Island,” which probably won’t earn any nominations.

Ben Affleck (The Town)
Though he won an Oscar for penning “Good Will Hunting” in 1997 and came close to being nominated for his performance in “Hollywoodland” in 2006, Affleck has never actually been nominated for an acting Oscar, and I suspect this won’t be his year. “The Town” earned strong reviews, but even if voters do like Affleck’s turn, it’s hardly Oscar-worthy.

The usual suspects (a.k.a. past nominees):

Robert Duvall (Get Low)
I discussed this six-time nominee’s chances in yesterday’s Wednesday Oscar Watch in his role as a hermit who wants to plan a funeral party for himself. Peter O’Toole made it in at age 74 for “Venus” a few years, but he was still Oscar-less, both then and now. The 79-year-old Duvall won way back in 1983, and that only means that he probably won’t win. He should be able to get nominated if the unseen contenders don’t perform or pick up buzz as expected. Right now it looks uncertain.

Paul Giamatti (Barney’s Version)
He came very close to nominations in 2003 (“American Splendor”) and 2004 (“Sideways”), and it was only in 2005 that he finally got nominated for “Cinderella Man.” He has yet to return since then, while other actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman have earned multiple nominations in the interim. This dramedy should provide the showy role Giamatti needs to re-enter the race, and his chances are mainly due to whether the film is received well in the lead-up to its one-week run in December in New York and Los Angeles.

Javier Bardem (Biutiful)
Bardem won his first Oscar for an English-language role, in the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men.” Now he’s back in his native language in his native language in Mexico’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film. Acting in another language, especially for a former Oscar winner, shouldn’t be too much of a detriment; it will all just depend on what kind of domestic competition he has to face.

Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)
Gosling was the underdog nominee in 2006 for “Half Nelson,” and now he’s the romantic lead opposite another former nominee, Michelle Williams. Apparently, the film has an NC-17 rating, which would likely prove problematic and serve as a detractor. Still, Gosling has been doing some terrific work over the past few years, and he’s definitely going to earn another nomination at some point.

Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter)
In a way, Wahlberg’s first Oscar nomination isn’t quite relevant, since it was for a brief, hilarious performance in a Best Picture winner. Now, he’s taking on a dramatic lead in a sports film that will likely invoke positive memories of Oscar movies “The Wrestler” and “Million Dollar Baby.” The film does look good, and Wahlberg is definitely an actor that Oscar voters like, so he’s a decent bet.

Michael Douglas (Solitary Man)
This film flew completely under the radar despite Douglas initially being touted as a contender, and it’s only because Douglas has been in the news lately that he might be able to score another nod. While a nomination shouldn’t be attributed only to his struggle with cancer, that and his peculiar placement in the supporting category for “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps” are the biggest factors in his favor. I don’t think it will ultimately amount to anything.

First-time possibilities:

James Franco (127 Hours)
Franco is the newbie with the best shot considering he’s been close to a nomination recently, with buzz for “Milk” and a Golden Globe nom for “Pineapple Express" in 2008, and the fact that he’s starring in what’s essentially a one-man show (I’m seeing it tonight) directed by Danny Boyle, who helmed 2008’s Best Picture “Slumdog Millionaire.” Unless his film tanks, which it won’t, he’s a shoo-in and probably Firth’s toughest competition.

Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole)
He earned a Golden Globe nomination for the Oscar-snubbed 2006 film “Thank You for Smoking” and hasn’t had a great role since, with the exception of the popular Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight.” Now, he’s back and opposite a two-time nominee from the early 2000s, Nicole Kidman, is this heartbreaking and serious drama about a couple dealing with a devastating loss (and directed by John Cameron Mitchell). A contender? Yes. A likely nominee? Probably not.

Stephen Dorff (Somewhere)
I know almost nothing about Dorff and have barely seen any of his movies, but having the lead role in Sofia Coppola’s film could change everything for him. Funnyman Bill Murray earned his first Oscar nomination for Coppola’s Oscar-winning “Lost in Translation,” and this film appears to be very similar in tone and theme. He’s a dark horse, and his chances will depend on how the film is received.

Come back next week for a look at Best Actress!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Watch

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

Note: this was not a good week for Oscar contenders, but fortunately June and July were very fruitful months.

Films released October 22, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2
If both “The Blair Witch Project” and the first installment of this horror-fest couldn’t must any major awards attention, I wouldn’t count on much for this flick.

Films released June & July 2010

Ondine (June 4)
It’s worth noting that this underseen gem is directed by Oscar-nominated director Neil Jordan, recognized way back in 1992 for “The Crying Game.” Unfortunately, this film didn’t make nearly enough of a splash (a pun for those who have seen the film) and likely won’t be remembered come Oscar time.

Winter’s Bone (June 11)
Technically, this was our first official bona-fide contender for Best Picture. With an expanded field of ten nominees, this bleak drama should be able to stage a comeback during the season in which its events take place, and I imagine that the film could place in Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress for young Jennifer Lawrence. None of them are guarantees, and director Debra Granik should have a much tougher time breaking into the Best Director race.

I Am Love (June 18)
Not submitted by Italy as the official entry for Best Foreign Film, this film won’t get nearly as much acclaim as those who have seen it think it deserves. If Tilda Swinton couldn’t get nominated for “Julia,” she won’t be nominated for this and will continue to have earned only one Oscar nod (and win) for her weakest performance. The cinematography, art direction, and score should be shoo-ins, but I’m tempted to sadly predict a shut-out.

The Killer Inside Me (June 18)
The Best Actor race isn’t too crowded, so 2007 supporting nominee Casey Affleck could sneak in for his creepy, quiet performance as a madman, but I suspect that this film’s brutal violence should keep viewers from checking off his name.

Toy Story 3 (June 18)
The first two films were shockingly unrewarded, earning a total of only four nominations and one special achievement win. The Animated Feature category might have disqualified this film had “Up” not broken that trend last year, and therefore I’m fairly certain that the most positively-received film of the year (until “The Social Network”) should earn a Best Picture nomination, as well as probable Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Song mentions.

Restrepo (June 25) and Smash His Camera (July 30)
I haven’t seen the former and was very impressed by the latter documentary, and even if I could miraculously see even close to all of the documentary contenders by the end of the year, I wouldn’t have the first clue about which ones would get nominated. I think it’s safe to say that the former film was more widely seen and praised, and therefore I’d put it on the shortlist to make the cut.

Despicable Me (July 9)
I missed this summer’s second-biggest animated film, but many people of all ages saw it, and I think it’s fair to consider it a safe bet to join (and lose to) “Toy Story 3” in the Best Animated Feature category.

The Kids Are All Right (July 9)
Many people think this independent family comedy will do very well at the Oscars, and while I’m not entirely sure, it makes sense that it could. Annette Bening seems primed to finally win an Oscar after losing out twice, in a similar situation to Kate Winslet two years ago for “The Reader.” The difference is that the film was more popular and well-reviewed, and therefore I’d say this film should score Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay nominations to go along with Bening’s nod. Mark Ruffalo could place (a look at the Best Supporting Actor category coming in a couple weeks), but I presume that Julianne Moore is out.

Inception (July 16)
There isn’t a person in this country who hasn’t heard of this film, and while it has its haters, it has its fans too, and a lot of them. This seems like a definitive lock for Best Picture, especially with ten slots now available, and Christopher Nolan fans can get excited about his best shot at a Best Director nomination. Marion Cotillard could earn a Best Supporting Actress nomination, and it’s important to remember that Leonardo DiCaprio got nominated for actioner “Blood Diamond” a few years back, though I would be appalled if he got a nomination for this performance. Otherwise, technical nominations, including Cinematography, Art Direction, Film Editing, Sound, Sound Editing, and probably Visual Effects are all but guaranteed. Best Original Screenplay? Only if voters aren’t still too confused.

Get Low (July 30)
This film didn’t really get too much buzz considering it stars six-time Oscar nominee Robert Duvall in the kind of role that earned Peter O’Toole a nomination a few years ago. The difference is that Duvall has won before (in 1983) and O’Toole hadn’t (and still hasn’t). Duvall is a respected veteran, and therefore if the Best Actor race doesn’t shape up (a closer look coming tomorrow), he could find himself looking at a seventh career nomination. Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek may garner votes, but I think Duvall will be the only thing honored about this film, if he is recognized at all.

Come back next week for a look at new releases from October 29th, as well as films from August & September!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

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

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – October 29, 2010

Realizing that the final chapter of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” saga opens in U.S. theatres this Friday, I hopped online to find the trailer, which I hadn’t yet seen. Having been preoccupied with business and countless other films, I’ve neglected to properly indicate and express my excitement for this film. I went out and saw the first film this summer almost immediately after seeing the trailer for the second film before another movie at the Angelika Film Center. Even with all the anticipation, it wasn’t a letdown. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” was also extremely exciting, and I have no doubt that it will be deeply enjoyable and satisfying. Unfortunately, with many other films to see and countless other things to do, I’m not just how soon I’ll be able to catch this one, so I present for your viewing pleasure the trailer, which like the previews for the first two films doesn’t really indicate what’s going on, instead offering brief flashes of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist in the midst of their latest adventures. For anyone who hasn’t seen either of the first two films, you have no excuse – the first film has been on DVD for a while, and the second one is being released today, conveniently enough. You’ll definitely want to catch this third film, because this is the last chance you’ll have to see Lisbeth Salander in action until Rooney Mara takes on the role in David Fincher’s 2012 American remake.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Movie You Aught to See: Lucky Number Slevin

Welcome back to Monday Movies You Aught to See! 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!

Lucky Number Slevin
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Released April 7, 2006

This week's Monday Movie You Aught to See was one of my most pleasantly surprising trips to the movies back in 2006. I've never been a fan of the unemotive Josh Hartnett, and I knew next to nothing about this flick. Fortunately, it turned out to be a wildly entertaining and spectacularly clever action comedy with a smart emphasis on the latter. Featuring Bruce Willis in his token role as a dryly sarcastic assassin, this film brilliantly casts all of its actors and crafts an extraordinarily fun film with an exciting and generally inventive premise. Harnett is also at his best as a slacker-seeming fish out of water thrust into the middle of an out-of-control situation. Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley are a hoot as rival gangsters, and this film definitely features the most marvelous and wonderful performance from a very chatty and charming Lucy Liu. The diverse cast is top-notch, and the script is also a lot of fun. The trailer embedded above is on the money in terms of hinting at the film's tone, and there's little more entertaining than this film's tongue-in-cheek title. Since this is one of those movies that I imagine most people haven't seen, I'd recommend it for a nice, laidback, enjoyable treat. Have you seen it?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Movie with Abe: Inhale

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur
Released October 22, 2010

At its start, it's unclear exactly what kind of movie “Inhale” is. Paul Stanton is a determined father hellbent on finding a way for his daughter to receive vital organs. Paul's search for a way to save his daughter's life takes him down to the most depraved parts of Mexico, and the film is purposely told out of order to demonstrate his transformation from high-powered lawyer with all the means in the world to desperate scavenger without a care for his own well-being. It's unclear whether this will be a heartfelt drama, an action movie, or anything else, and the film still has not made it clear by the end.

Some movies focus most on their stories, while others focus on the messages they carry. In this case, neither is chosen and both are explored, making this movie a very muddled experience. It's mainly a problem because neither is given enough attention, and therefore the Mexico-set search by Paul for organs is full of guns, intimidation, and mystery, emphasizing the terrible conditions of this non-United States entity and the differences in the way the law operates (or rather, doesn't). It's hardly as interesting in terms of both story and ethics, and far too much time is spent on distractions and obstacles that get in Paul's way.

“Inhale” is a lofty film that attempts to offer commentary on society, and its efforts to do so quickly become obvious and tired. It also serves to negatively impact the effectiveness of the story, and much more effort seems to have been poured into ironing out the film's social commentary than on its dialogue and character development. The casting of the lead roles definitely doesn't help matters much. Dermot Mulroney, best known as lackluster leading man in comedies like “The Wedding Date” and “My Best Friend's Wedding,” is supposed to look like a fish out of water as the wealthy white lawyer seeking out a doctor in the depths of Mexico. Yet he simply seems hopelessly lost and incapable of carrying this film all by himself. Diane Kruger, who delivered her best performance to date as Bridget von Hammersmark in “Inglourious Basterds,” doesn't contribute much as his wife in a one-note role. Basically, there are plenty of heavy-handed messages to take in in “Inhale,” but the the film as a whole will leave an uncertain, unsatisfying taste in your mouth.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Movie with Abe: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Directed by Woody Allen
Released September 22, 2010

Wonder why you might not have heard about the new film from Woody Allen? Consider it a blessing. While most agree that the earlier works of Allen, such as “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” are much better than the recent work he’s been churning out – with the possible exception of “Match Point” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” efforts such as “Scoop” and “Whatever Works” have been weak but not entirely worthless. His rather vaguely and obnoxiously titled new film bears some similarity in plot but little in structure and coherence to any of his previous films, even the newer ones.

While it’s fair to call most of Allen’s films ensemble pictures, there is usually at least one or two clear leading characters. That’s not entirely necessary to his film or any film, but it does help. The primary family unit in “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” includes an aging father who has fallen in love with and gotten engaged to a prostitute, a mess of a mother seeing comfort in a fortune teller, a daughter with a crush on her dark, tall boss, and a son-in-law with a medical degree, no talent for his chosen field of writing, and a major obsession with his attractive neighbor bathed in red across the way. There is no defined lead character, and every one of those plotlines lacks the requisite pizzazz to effectively steer, let alone carry, the film.

One trademark of Allen, arguably good or bad, is his use of the same actors over and over in his films. It used to be Mia Farrow and Dianne Wiest, and more recently, it has been Scarlett Johanssen. “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is full of Allen virgins, and while thinking outside of the box and trying new things should never be discouraged, the results here are not positive. All of the actors speak pretty much in their native accents, most notably Australian Naomi Watts and Brit Anna Friel (“Pushing Daisies”) and Indian Frieda Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”), and the dialogue just doesn’t come alive (not that it’s a clever script either). Thespians like Watts and Anthony Hopkins have proved themselves before and are displaying none of their talents, Antonio Banderas is miscast, Josh Brolin would be better off without any lines, and Pinto’s pale performance suggest that perhaps her big debut was merely a one-hit wonder.

Overall, the cast isn’t necessarily to blame. How much more can Allen say about infidelity and relationships? He has told a variation of the same story over and over again, and at a certain point there’s nothing left to explore or dramatize. The wells haven’t gone completely dry, but Allen needs to take a fresh approach that doesn’t simply involve transplanting his characters to a new city where they have exotic accents. Like a few of the more optimistically-inclined personalities in “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” Allen needs to get a fresh start, and start digging and crafting something in entirely new territory.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Movie with Abe: Knucklehead

Directed by Michael Watkins
Released October 22, 2010

Often in a movie that doesn’t really work, it’s not difficult to pinpoint one or two factors that have impeded it from achieving greatness, or even mediocrity, whichever the case may be. Then, there are a few cases where absolutely nothing works, and it’s hard to believe that anyone thought producing such a project would be a good idea. The award for the most fitting title for a failure of a film goes to “Knucklehead,” which applies not only to its moronic characters but also to all of the people behind the scenes involved in the making of this film.

Director Michael Watkins has extensive television experience as both a cinematographer and a director, and “Knucklehead” is one of his first feature films (the other, “Circle,” was released on DVD this summer and looks terrible). Watkins has also worked with star Mark Feuerstein before, and helped make the generally unimpressive and unenthusiastic performer come alive on “Royal Pains.” In this feature, however, the pairing isn’t anywhere near as productive (destructive would be a more accurate term). Feuerstein is back to his wooden self, and his casting as a wannabe boxing trainer is laughable. Tragically, that’s hardly the most lamentable casting choice in the film.

“Knucklehead” is a WWE Studios production. As a result, wrestler Paul Wight, known in the ring as Big Show, stars as a man-baby named Walter Kronk who grew up in an orphanage and was never adopted, so he still works there as a cook and goofy friend to the next generation of orphans. The 7-foot-tall Wight is purposely made up to look like he’s not tough before his radical transformation into a force to be reckoned with, or at least to be gawked at due to his height and sheer destructive power, used mostly by accident. Also regrettably spottable in the cast are Wendie Malick, Melora Hardin, also known as Jan on “The Office,” Dennis Farina, eternal anger-prone gangster, and Rebecca Creskoff, who is fantastic on “Hung” and shouldn’t tell anyone that she made this film.

It’s extraordinarily puzzling to discern just what audience this film is trying to attract. It’s full of fart jokes, childish dialogue, and stupid scenarios, yet it’s rated PG-13. Kronk’s journey to fighting superstardom includes a stop at an underground Hassidic boxing ring, a literal fight against a bear, and plenty of other mishaps and incoherent interactions. It’s a story that seems aimed at five-year-olds, yet parents are supposed to caution their children against going to see it if they’re under 13. If it isn’t clear from this review, parents should caution their children, their friends, and anyone they’ve ever met from seeing this film due entirely to its deplorable quality.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Movie with Abe: 11/4/08

Directed by Jeff Deutchman
Released October 20, 2010

It’s often not until years or even decades later that documentarians chronicle a major historical event. With considerable research, an accurate picture of important and monumental happenings can be painted, but it’s just not the same as being there in the moment to capture it. In some cases, having cameras rolling as events unfold can taint them in an unfortunate way, where people begin to act differently because they know they’re being filmed. Interviews can only do so much, and therefore getting in on the action, when reasonably possible, is a necessary facet of any great documentary. And in “11/4/08,” that’s exactly the point: to be present to capture history in the making.

To call Jeff Deutchman the director of “11/4/08” isn’t exactly appropriate. This film is a collaborative process that combines the work of a number of filmmakers around the globe, who took to the streets before and during the famed U.S. presidential election in 2008, where Barack Obama triumphed over John McCain. Having cameras filming this entire process does make sense, considering the international nature of Obama’s campaign and subsequent win. It was a sensational occurrence, and to not document it would almost seem irresponsible, and therefore Deutchman’s multi-filmmaker project is especially interesting.

The relevance of the titular date, and this film, in present-day 2010, not yet even two years later, shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Obama is less than halfway through this term, and politics aside, no one has forgotten about the night in question. I personally was coming into Union Square just after 11pm when Obama was announced as the winner, and I can still remember all the cheering and horn-honking that brought people together, excited about the fact that an African-American man had been elected president (and many New York liberals likely pleased that a Democrat was now going to be in the Oval Office). I’m not alone in my recollections, and everyone should have their own memorable stories about the night of November 4, 2008.

What makes “11/4/08” so unique and intriguing is that Deutchman doesn’t only want to include the experiences of the filmmakers collected in the film. While the movie screened all around the country on October 20th and will be released on Video on Demand on October 22nd, it’s not a finished project. The film’s official website invites further contributions to the collection of footage, to continue to build what it bills as a “participatory documentary.” It’s unclear what the finished version of the film will look like, or if such an expectation is even reasonable regarding the film ever being finished. In the same way that Obama’s election signaled a major change, perhaps the way this film was and still is being made indicates an equally monumental revolution in the way films can be created.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Watch

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

Films released October 15, 2010

Clint Eastwood is a force to be reckoned film – and some reports state that his newest film is one of his best. Of his last seven films, only “Gran Torino” got shut out of the Oscar race, and star Matt Damon was an Eastwood Oscar nominee last year for “Invictus.” This probably isn’t a film that will earn acting nominations, and therefore it has a chance as a Best Picture/Best Director nominee if it fares well and attracts fans.

This family/legal drama stars Hilary Swank, who, like Sally Field, has only ever been nominated for an Oscar twice and won both times. Her effort last year, “Amelia,” flopped, but it’s likely that this one will fare better. Swank may factor into the race, though hers is a competitive category. One actor who may have a better shot is not an Oscar nominee already – unlike Swank, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, and Juliette Lewis – but Sam Rockwell, whose performance as a wrongly imprisoned miscreant who spends more than a decade in jail may earn him his first nomination. I think it’s acting only for this film, and Rockwell is a frontrunner in his category at this point.

Films released March & April 2010

Alice in Wonderland (March 5)
This movie should have been a strong contender, but it faltered upon release, receiving generally negative reviews. I think it will probably be shut out, but it could garner technical nominations, for Art Direction and Costume Design.

Mother (March 12)
This Korean film doesn’t actually stand a chance, though Hye-ja Kim may garner some critics awards for her fierce leading performance.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (March 19)
Because this film is not eligible (or either of its sequels) in the Best Foreign Film category, it probably won’t make a splash at the Oscars, though it is incredibly popular. Some have speculated that Noomi Rapace could be a Best Actress contender; I think not. There could more feasibly, however, be a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination in the cards. It would be awesome if the film somehow managed to score a Best Picture nod, but I don’t see that happening.

Greenberg (March 19)
I never got to see this dramedy, so I can’t say too much about it. Will Ben Stiller ever earn an Oscar nomination? Probably not, and probably not for this either.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (April 16)
This documentary earned rave reviews, and I really do wish I had gotten the chance to see it. Can it crack the Best Documentary field? You tell me.

Harry Brown (April 30)
This violent British film stars six-time nominee Michael Caine, who earned his last Oscar bid for a film that earned no other Oscar traction, so maybe Caine will be remembered by the end of the year since the Best Actor field is looking pretty weak at this point.

Come back next week for a look at new releases from September 22nd, as well as films from June and July!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Somewhere

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

Somewhere - December 22, 2010

I’ve seen this trailer a few times before, and I saw it once again at the Angelika Film Center before “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” At first, I wasn’t so intrigued, but now, I find myself somewhat enchanted and mesmerized by it. It’s actually similar to another trailer that I saw over and over before every film I went to see in early fall 2006 at the Angelika, “Flannel Pajamas,” which also used very little dialogue (at four or five sentences, this trailer actually has a whole lot more) and an effective musical track to capture moments from two people’s lives. In that case, however, the trailer was much better than the film, which wasn’t bad but did feel like it was missing something. It’s hard to know exactly what this film will contain, since its vague title and flurry of images don’t indicate all too much. It feels so much like Coppola’s first big hit, “Lost in Translation,” which did well with Oscar nominations and turned a comedian – Bill Murray – into an Oscar-nominated actor. The casting of Stephen Dorff, an actor I am not at all familiar with, and Elle Fanning, who showed enormous promise in just a few scenes in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” is interesting, and hopefully the duo will do just as well together in their spoken roles as they do silently with expressions and exchanged glances in this stirring trailer. It’s a late December release, so we likely won’t see it for a while. Thoughts?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Movie with Abe: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Released October 8, 2010

Directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who helmed and wrote the stirring 2006 Ryan Gosling drama “Half Nelson,” are back with another impressive film. This time they're adapting a semi-autobiographical novel by Ned Vizzini, translating his brief experience in a mental institution into an entertaining and heartwarming film. The film jumps right into its storyline with a speedy introduction from main character Craig as his cry for help results in a mandated stay that begins to turn his life around as he meets people who might outwardly seem crazy but have something more to offer once he begins to get to know them.

Keir Gilchrist, whose credits up to this point are highlighted by his starring role on Showtime's “The United States of Tara,” is a talented young actor more than capable of carrying this comedy. His dry, witty narration works in concert with the tone of the film. He's surrounded by many showy performers, most notably the fantastic and funny Zach Galifianakis, perfectly cast as a fellow patient who quickly takes to Gilchrist's Craig. Emma Roberts, here playing Craig's spunky love interest, would be better suited taking on these roles in the future than getting lost in a mess like “Valentine's Day.” The entire ensemble, including such familiar faces as Jeremy Davis (“Lost”), Viola Davis (“Doubt”), and Lauren Graham, is in fine form, playing broken characters whose interactions are often touching and endearing.

Craig’s experience is not a normative one, and therefore it’s only fitting that the film should strive to match the peculiarity and wonder of this period of his life. The film is prone to imagined scenes where images and scenery come alive, and it feels more like an adventure than an ordinary drama. Its mental and visual tangents are reminiscent of a film like “The Science of Sleep,” where anything seems possible, even if it’s only in the mind of one character. Yet the film does stay firmly grounded in Craig’s perception of the world, allowing for nothing more than a peek into the psyches and worldviews of the other patients. That focus is important, and helps keep “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” on track and loyal to its title, so that it’s more than kind of a good story.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Movie with Abe: Down Terrace

Down Terrace
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Released October 15, 2010

Some films have large casts where learning the names of some of the more minor characters isn’t advisable or even possible. That’s often the case when it comes to gangster movies, as well as mob TV shows like the classic and universally-acclaimed “The Sopranos.” And then there’s “Down Terrace,” a quiet British film about a family deeply immersed in criminal activity that appears alarmingly peaceful at the start. It’s the kind of film which doesn’t take a sudden dive into violent territory; rather, it slowly and unsuspectingly immerses its viewers in the bizarre lifestyle of one seemingly normal British clan.

“Down Terrace” is a tiny little movie that lives in its own little world. At the start, Karl is released from prison and arrives home with his father Bill. From then on, hardly any of the film’s scenes take place outside their home. Multiple individuals stop over to say hello or to be interrogated regarding their complicity in informing to the police, and if any scenes do take place outdoors, they’re populated by only one or two people. This is a film about people with considerable reach and influence due to their mob ties, yet their world seems almost impossibly small.

That feeling of being quarantined works entirely in the film’s favor, providing an unparalleled opportunity to truly get to know these characters. In an unusual scenario, real-life father and son Robert and Robin Hill play Bill and Karl, affording an added dimension to their relationship only evident if the fact is known before watching the film. In reality, Karl likely isn’t a loose cannon prone to obsessive, violent outbursts, and Bill isn’t an unfriendly curmudgeon unwilling to recognize his son’s achievements. Yet that’s part of the brilliance of this inspired pairing, which gives them a fun opportunity to craft a fictional family.

“Down Terrace” fluctuates between quiet, almost mundane conversations and sudden, shocking expressions of hatred and violence. The subtle shift in gears is expertly done, and the film has a tone all its own. Some will find themselves hopelessly bored by the film’s tiptoe-like pacing, while others will be immersed in the unique experience. By its end, the extraordinarily-acted “Down Terrace” has become a fascinating social commentary with plenty of dry humor presented and compelling dynamics explored along the way. It’s an utterly worthwhile and decidedly incomparable crime comedy that wisely and bravely doesn’t allow itself to be put into any box.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Movie with Abe: Secretariat

Directed by Randall Wallace
Released October 8, 2010

This year’s feel-good dark horse (no pun intended) Oscar contender is being compared to “The Blind Side,” the sappy drama that won Sandra Bullock an Oscar last year. The comparison, which to many might be favorable on both ends, isn’t quite fair. While both movies follow strong-willed women with a passion for sports, there are important differences in the storytelling and execution of the plot that separate the two films, placing the feel-good period piece “Secretariat” a whole number of lengths ahead of “The Blind Side” in terms of effectiveness, filmic competence, and overall quality as a film.

“Secretariat” is based on a true story, and therefore the film’s plot may already be known to many viewers before entering the theatre. Yet the film still starts out with a pessimistic outlook on the future of the Chenery farm, now in a state of flux after the death of its more ardent caretaker. But almost instantly, the drive and the fervor of Penny Tweedy, nee Penny Chenery, becomes clear. Her appreciation of the need to honor her parents’ wishes and not to give up on their prized horses is inspiring, and though it alienates her husband, it’s evident that she’s doing something important to her and that will have an impact felt by people all across the country.

At times, “Secretariat” feels over-sentimentalized and cheesy, but it’s appropriated properly and can be attributed to the time period in which the film takes place. Most importantly, the film improves considerably over the course of its run time, as Penny gains more confidence and the public begins to rally around the figure of Secretariat. By the time the famed horse is ready to compete in significant, widely-watched races, it’s hard not to be on Secretariat’s side, cheering for him to race on ahead and leave the competition in the dust.

This isn’t a film that should be about performances, considering it’s the horse’s performance on which its success is most dependent, but it’s worth pointing out a few key cast members anyway. Diane Lane has earned much praise for her portrayal of the trailblazing Penny, alternately known as Penny Chenery and Penny Tweedy. It’s a fine performance that works well as the conduit for the film, but, as should have been the case with Bullock’s turn last year, it isn’t deserving of Oscar recognition. It’s great to see John Malkovich on screen, and his role as a malcontent, sarcastic Canadian trainer provides much of the film’s more entertaining moments. The supporting roles are well cast, and the ensemble includes Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, Dylan Walsh, Amanda Michalka, Nestor Sorrano, and most memorably, Nelsan Ellis of “True Blood” as Secretariat’s caretaker and Margo Martindale as the Chenery family assistant. Pay no attention to Kevin Connolly, who tries to escape his “Entourage” past by growing a silly mustache and failing miserably to appear in a dramatic film. Overall, “Secretariat” isn’t a great movie, but at times, it’s a stirring and compelling experience.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Movie with Abe: Conviction

Directed by Tony Goldwyn
Released October 15, 2010

Hilary Swank is one actress who is always up for immersing herself fully in a role, and that effort has netted her two Best Actress Oscars. Her most recent character, Amelia Earhart, bombed, and therefore Swank has suited up with a new finessed accent and transplanted herself to Boston to play Betty Anne Waters. In many ways, it’s a film-defining performance, since it’s Betty Anne’s drive that fuels her life and the lives of those around her. She doesn’t even think twice after devoting (or giving up, as her children suggest) her life to go to law school to fight to get her brother out of prison for a crime she knows he didn’t commit.

“Conviction” works better in concept than it does in execution. As a premise, Betty Anne’s resolve, and real-life struggle, to get her brother exonerated, is highly inspiring, and much effort is made to ensure that her dedication comes off in a saintly way. It’s not that Betty Anne’s intentions aren’t evidently notable, but rather that the film tries so desperately hard to make sure that comes across. As a result, the film is corny at times and overly dramatized at others, if not both at the same time.

Swank’s highly-prepared performance is indicative of the tone of the film, determined to overcome the odds even if there’s not one person standing by her side. It might be easier to get behind her energetic quest to vindicate her brother if both she and the film weren’t continually emphasizing her extreme efforts and trying to legitimize them at every turn. This is not a film lacking for Boston accents, as most of the actors clearly spent a great deal of time perfecting their dialects. The film’s comic relief is the long-absent Minnie Driver, who mysteriously offers her undying allegiance to Betty Anne despite receiving nothing (such as an occasionally thank you) in return, a fact the film never explains. The standout performer in the film is Sam Rockwell, who starts out as a cocky troublemaker and gradually becomes a pessimistic hardened criminal with absolutely no hope for the future. While Rockwell wouldn’t seem to be a good fit as a tough guy, his transformation is the most believable part of the film.

Betty Anne’s journey through law school to help out her brother was a lengthy one, yet this film picks select moments with gaps of years in between them to highlight what are likely the more interesting and meaningful moments of the experience. The smattering of scenes doesn’t feel cohesive, and there’s still a sense of wanting to know more about certain events and motivations. Even if all of the blanks weren’t able to be filled in when it comes to the true story, the film still feels incomplete and unfulfilling.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

MoMA Spotlight: Recent Films by Jay Rosenblatt

Beginning last night and every night for the next five days, you can view a collection of short films from director Jay Rosenblatt, made between 2001 and 2009, at the Museum of Modern Art. This stirring arrangement of effective narration, found footage, and interviews is harrowing and thought-provoking, in films ranging from three minutes to twenty-eight minutes long. The shorter films are more fleeting and present only a few quick ideas, while the longer entries have the chance to really develop their own tone and achieve a remarkable amount of analysis and contemplation in such a brief period of time. The most moving for me personally is “Phantom Limb,” made by Rosenblatt in 2005, which explores stages of grief through meaningful imagery and sorrowful narration. The editing is truly commendable in all of Rosenblatt’s films, and for the most part, are completely captivating and utterly devastating. Included in the program is a brief biography of the Anita Bryant, whose hateful anti-gay crusade stings all the more considering the recent wave of suicides around the country. “The Darkness of Day,” Rosenblatt’s latest film, takes suicide as its subject, and it’s a fascinating exploration of emotions, thoughts, and consequences. This program is highly recommended, and you can find out more information on the MOMA screenings this week here and on Rosenblatt’s films here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Watch: Inaugural 2010 Edition

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

Films released October 8, 2010

Secretariat (review coming soon)
After last year’s surprise inclusion of “The Blind Side” in the Best Picture race, it’s important not to underestimate this crowd pleaser. Also, keep in mind that “Seabiscuit” made it into the Best Picture race when there were only five slots, so there’s likely room for this film. Diane Lane has an outside shot at Best Actress, though I’m not sure she’ll go the distance. She is also already an Oscar nominee (for 2002’s “Unfaithful”) and therefore may not be perceived as overdue like Sandra Bullock was last year. Beyond that, the film may garner a few technical nominations, such as costume design or cinematography. At this point, a decent bet for Best Picture and a contender in the other three mentioned categories.

Inside Job
I haven’t had a chance to see this one yet but I imagine it will be a strong contender in the Best Documentary Category.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (review coming soon)
This fun flick from directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who made the Oscar-nominated “Half Nelson,” might have a shot in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for its winning script, but otherwise, it won’t factor into the race.

Films released January & February 2010

Fish Tank (January 15)
This tiny, fantastic film will likely have been all forgotten about by the time Oscar time rolls around (if it’s eligible in this calendar year at all – does anyone know). If by some chance critics groups choose to recognize lead actress Katie Jarvis, supporting actor Michael Fassbender, or director Andrea Arnold, it would be truly wonderful, though I’m extremely doubtful.

The Ghost Writer (February 19)
Roman Polanski’s film was actually quite received, and besides the fact that it may have faded completely from voters’ memories, it could have an outside shot at something like Best Adapted Screenplay. It came out way too early to have a chance at Best Picture, unless all of the big movies we’re waiting for in the next two months flop. Otherwise, don’t count on it.

Shutter Island (February 19)
This is an interesting contender. Every film (that would be three) that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have made together has been nominated for Best Picture, so maybe this one will too. It’s unlikely, especially considering DiCaprio had another, better-reviewed film later in the year that should be a lock (“Inception”). Still, in a field of ten, this film could make it. I’d posit that it’s all or nothing, so either a Best Picture nomination (plus a technical nod or two) or a shut-out.

The Art of the Steal (February 26)
I confess to knowing nothing about how the documentary category works, so therefore I assume that this film was eligible last year or just ineligible since it isn’t on any prediction lists I’ve found and I have to imagine that it would be a legitimate contender if it was. Does anyone know?

Come back next week for a look at new releases from September 15th, as well as films from March and April!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: The Way Back

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

The Way Back - Opening December 29, 2010

I wanted to make sure to catch this trailer online after hearing that this forthcoming film would be premiering at the last minute in Los Angeles on December 29th before opening wider in early 2011, therefore making it into the eligibility period for this year’s Oscars. And Oscar bait it is! Director Peter Weir has four previous nominations – “Master and Commander,” “The Truman Show,” “Dead Poets Society,” and “Witness” – three of which also ended up with Best Picture bids. The cast is impressive, led by Jim Sturgess of “Across the Universe” and “21,” Colin Farrell, and Saoirse Ronan, astonishing in both “Atonement” and “The Lovely Bones.” Don’t forget Ed Harris – a magnificent actor who has yet to win an Oscar and could finally do it this year if the film, along with his performance, is a hit. This is a true epic, the likes of which haven’t quite been mimicked recently, and therefore this could be a welcome film for general audiences and Oscar voters. Even though “Defiance” didn’t fare too well two years ago, this harrowing and breathtaking (at least as the shots in the trailer indicate) story very well may. The tagline, “The escape was just the beginning,” is strikingly similar to that of a silly 2005 FOX show that went on too long, but I have a feeling that this will be more structurally sound than “Prison Break,” and equally thrilling. The uber-late release date means that most of us, even those in New York City, may not see it until the new year, but I’m looking very forward to it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Movie You Aught to See: Vera Drake

Welcome back to Monday Movies You Aught to See! 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!

Vera Drake
Directed by Mike Leigh
Released October 22, 2004

I was reminded that I hadn’t yet included this excellent film in this series when I attended a press day decently with Mike Leigh and several stars of his new film “Another Year,” which opens in December and is truly terrific. Leigh likes to work with the same actors, and therefore all three thespians who have starring parts in “Another Year” – Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent, and Ruth Sheen – all appear in limited roles in “Vera Drake.” As a sixteen-year-old movie addict, I opted to see “Vera Drake” solo in a Florida movie theatre with countless septuagenarians while my grandmother took my younger siblings to go see “Hitch.” I was wowed by the sheer emotional power of this film and by the strength of the performances in it. Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton, who should have won the award over a decently deserving Hilary Swank for “Million Dollar Baby,” is absolutely incredible, and I was awed by the way that she smiled in every scene for the first half of the film and then never regained that same joy in her face for the rest of it. The way Leigh makes his films is fascinating, having all of his actors create their characters and then build a movie based on what their characters would say. The magnificent period piece got nominated for Best Director and, impressively enough, Best Original Screenplay, even though there was no physical script. Having an idea of how it was made makes it even more of an astounding experience, and while it’s hardly uplifting, it is a must-see.

Giveaway Winner!

In the first of hopefully many contests here at Movies with Abe, the random winner (thanks to is user JB, who selected this NSFW clip from "The Hangover" as his entry.

Thanks to all who entered, and I hope to have many future contests. If you have any prizes you'd like to give away, please e-mail me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Last Chance to Enter the Giveaway!

You can still win a copy of "Donnell Rawlings: From Ashy to Classy" on DVD, but time is running out! Enter the first-ever Movies with Abe giveaway by posting a comment on the original post, which you can find by scrolling down the home page or clicking here to be taken right to it. The contest ends tonight at 6pm EST, and a winner will be posted shortly afterward.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Movie with Abe: Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe
Directed by Stephen Frears
Released October 8, 2010

While its title would indicate otherwise, it’s actually somewhat difficult to pinpoint one sole protagonist of this story. There is the eternally faithful wife who provides moral and editorial support for her ever-philandering writer husband. There is the talkative American journalist attending a writer’s retreat in England. There is the newly attractive neighbor who returns to her parents’ home and jilts the caretaker who once rebuffed her before she got a nose job in favor of the airheaded celebrity rocker she interviews. And then there are the two hometown girls so bored and obsessed with the rocker that they spend most of their time stalking him and dreaming of ways to ruin his new girlfriend’s life.

The title, as it turns out, might be appropriate, since it’s the arrival of the beautiful Tamara Drewe to a quiet, peaceful countryside that sets most of the film’s plotlines in motion. Drewe’s presence makes pompous author Nicholas Hardiment think of little else other than lying in bed beside her. It gives musician Ben Sergeant a reason to abandon city life and caretaker Andy Cobb someone to lust after as he sees another man steal her away. And it gives bored teens Jody and Casey something to do with their lives other than throw eggs at the cars of unsuspecting drivers unlucky enough to pass through their town. And then there’s Tamara herself, whose allure shouldn’t be lost on any viewer.

The casting in “Tamara Drewe” is absolutely brilliant, and a large part of what makes it work. Gemma Arterton, last seen kidnapped for most of “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” is charming and seductive as Tamara, yet not quite likeable enough to garner too much sympathy. Roger Allam is purposefully and fantastically over-the-top as the self-obsessed Nicholas, and it’s a bold and enjoyable performance. “Mamma Mia” heartthrob Dominic Cooper lets himself go as Ben, in the most entertaining way, and James McAvoy lookalike Luke Evans is entirely endearing as the strong-willed Andy. Tamsin Greig is fierce and terrific as long-suffering wife Beth Hardiment, and it’s hard not to feel compassion for her. The real revelation is Jessica Barden, who joins equally talented young actress Charlotte Christie as the more excitable and foul-mouthed of the two young prep school girls who lust after Ben.

The film, at times, feels very much like a Coen Brothers production, finding its characters in miserable, comic situations that really aren’t all that funny when pondered extensively. Bizarre happenings occur for no reason, and the characters are forced to deal with events as they’ve fallen. The film seems to shift in tone to a far more dramatic voice as it reaches its conclusion, and its ending, while not necessarily satisfying, feels wholly appropriate to the relatively offbeat and marvelously interesting film that leads up to it.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

NYFF Spotlight: The Tempest

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.

The Tempest
Directed by Julie Taymor
No NYFF Public Screenings Left; To Be Released December 10, 2010

This adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s more famous plays will certainly garner much hoopla when its December theatrical release date approaches. Julie Taymor, director of “Across the Universe” and “Frida,” describes it as one of Shakespeare’s most visual works, and notes her own personal connection with the play, having first directed a stage production back in 1986. The most significant modification made in Taymor’s new film is that the traditionally male Prospero has become Prospera, portrayed by Dame Helen Mirren. The Oscar-winning star of “The Queen,” who commands most of her scenes just as fiercely as the sorcerer commands the winds of the storm, is hardly the only notable name in the cast. She is joined by Djimon Hounsou, Chris Cooper, David Strathairn, Alan Cumming, Alfred Molina, and Russell Brand. You read that last one correctly – unfettered comedian Brand sticks out like a sore thumb and seems to be doing his own goofy rift on the already somewhat comical material while the rest of the ensemble actually tries to create a compelling atmosphere. For Shakespeare fans, this reimagining of “The Tempest” may be a fulfilling experience, with proper thespians (for the most part) giving their shrewdly-written characters their all. Much of the film is constructed using greenscreen and bluescreen technology, and though it looks fine, it does give the film a general air of inauthenticity. “The Tempest” is a complex, dense play, and this new version doesn’t help much with unpacking any of its themes; rather, it presents them in a bright, flashy, distracting fashion.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NYFF Spotlight: We Are What We Are

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.

We Are What We Are
Directed by Jorge Michael Grau
NYFF Public Screenings: October 7th at 9:45pm, October 8th at 11pm

This export from Mexico begins with a suspicious man lurking around an outdoor mall who falls to the ground, dead, after only a few minutes, vomiting a black substance in the process. His autopsy reveals a human finger in his stomach, and no one but the coroner seems to care that there’s a cannibal roaming the streets. Of course, his newly abandoned family does, and his wife, daughter, and two sons begin a bitter power struggle to decide who will be the new breadwinner and bring home an orphan or a prostitute for dinner. The film is almost too cavalier about the fact that this family does little else but kidnap and eat people, and that nonchalance is alarming and frightening. Most of all, this is a creepy, disturbing film that should elicit only the most revolting reactions (and stomach lurches). There’s still an effort made to humanize the main characters, which makes their continued cannibalism and heartlessness all the more terrifying. The acting all around is of a much higher caliber than has come to be expected for a horror film, and this film could easily be mistaken for a dark, dreary, deadly drama. Its purposely poor lighting and general dismal outlook on life contributes greatly to its effect as a decently gripping, above-average Mexico-set horror story of a kind that doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Movies with Abe Giveaway!

I am excited to present the first-ever Movies with Abe giveaway (hopefully the first in a long line of exciting opportunities). From Image Entertainment, I have a copy of "Donnell Rawlings: From Ashy to Classy," which was released on DVD a few weeks ago. A bit about the film:

With his firm grasp of the outrageous, Donnell Rawlings (HBO's "The Wire") was born to make people laugh. He grabbed America’s funny bone on Chappelle's Show with characters like Ashy Larry and the phrase he coined the iconic phrase "I’m Rich Bitch!" Now Donnell goes even further, taking on the entire American culture with impersonations of everybody from Michael Jackson to Barack Obama, and bringing his audience to tears with his razor-sharp insights and fearless observations.

Additionally, you can watch a trailer for the film below. To enter this giveaway contest, leave a comment describing your favorite comedy performance in a film from the last five years. A winner will be selected using a random number generator, and that person will be the lucky owner of this brand-new DVD. One entry per person; contest ends this Sunday, October 10th, at 6pm EST. If you're reading this and would like to sponsor a contest or giveaway on Movies with Abe, please e-mail me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Movie with Abe: Douchebag

Directed by Drake Doremus
Released October 1, 2010

Talking titles, “Douchebag” doesn’t exactly recommend the character of its protagonist. From the first sight of Sam Nussbaum, fiancé of the beautiful Steph, it’s apparent that he has a big, unkempt beard, and that he strongly desires to be healthy and environmentally conscious. When Steph asks about Sam’s brother Tom and even goes so far as to have Sam call him to invite him to their wedding, Sam simply alludes to a falling out between them based on a shared pet. It’s only when Steph actually goes to pick Tom up and bring him home for the wedding that Sam’s true nature begins to become apparent.

Sam is someone who looks like a slob but talks like an intellectual (and a rather pompous one at that). He flirts with waitresses and even gets their numbers, attributing his actions to a proclivity which he’s already confessed to Steph when his brother becomes concerned. He explains that he is a vegetarian yet still takes a hearty bite into an extremely overstuffed hamburger, dryly asking his brother, “Haven’t you ever seen a vegetarian eat a hamburger before?” He quickly becomes preoccupied with his brother’s search for a long-lost love and jumps at the chance to take a lengthy road trip on the eve of his own wedding rather than get fitted for his tuxedo or help his fiancée with the wedding plans.

Sam is a character that initially seems harmless and gradually reveals just how much of a douchebag he really is. It’s through the character of Tom, his brother, that “Douchebag” establishes a moral center and a focal point for the logical, the reasonable, and the right. What’s exceptional about the way “Douchebag” follows its characters is that it narrows in on their lives with close camerawork and a script that feels improvised to just the right degree. “Douchebag” is full of comedy, most of it subtle and dialogue-based, as Sam’s actions become all the more despicable and Tom grapples with how to respond to his behavior. Andrew Dickler and Ben York Jones play off each other very well, crafting a believable brotherly dynamic, still just as childish when they are adults as they likely were when they were young. The lovely Marguerite Moreau is excellent as always as the unsuspecting and utterly joy-filled Steph, and this tiny ensemble is aided by the considerable contributions of Nicole Vicius, who plays a roller rink employee who just may be Tom’s childhood love. “Douchebag” is a very small independent film that makes the most of what it has and comes out the other end with a surprisingly endearing and funny story.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Movie with Abe: Leaving

Directed by Catherine Corsini
Released October 1, 2010

Any film that uses nothing more than an action verb as its title has to be about people in transition. In this case, it’s the story of a woman whose life is rather uneventful. She is happily married to a successful doctor and has two kids. Yet there’s something about spending her days doing little else but cooking for her family that has left her feeling unfulfilled, and she desires to start up practicing physiotherapy again. An initially insignificant construction project to create her new office quickly leads to a wild romance that manages to reinvigorate Suzanne’s life in a way that she never thought possible.

“Leaving” is a film primarily about a love affair that strikes its participants and begins to occur almost without their knowledge or consent. Ivan is the handyman hired to build Suzanne’s workspace, and the two immediately take a liking to each other. Suzanne’s husband, Samuel, seems so oblivious both to Suzanne’s unhappiness and to her attraction to the burly Ivan that it seems to partially excuse Suzanne’s extramarital behavior. Once Samuel does discover their indiscretion, he responds with a vengeful, controlling attitude, and by that point, Suzanne and Ivan may have amassed widespread audience support. Samuel is hardly a bad person, yet he just doesn’t seem capable of fulfilling or understanding Suzanne’s emotional needs.

What’s especially commendable about “Leaving” is that it devotes enormous attention to its three primary characters, filling in background for both of Suzanne’s partners so that viewers aren’t necessarily drawn to the man of mystery or to the rich husband. Enhancing the well-developed script are magnetic performances from its three lead players: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sergi Lopez, and Yvan Attal. British-born Thomas evokes passion and sympathy much like she did in 2008’s French film “I’ve Loved You So Long.” Spanish native Lopez, who played the brutal Vidal in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” ensures that Ivan is three-dimensional and not just an empty distraction for Suzanne. And Attal gives perhaps the most intriguing performance, making Samuel into a wronged man who reacts so viciously to his wife’s affair that it’s hard to decide whether or not he deserves compassion. The film is beautifully shot, and the cinematography in the outdoor and intimate scenes helps to make “Leaving” a powerful, beautiful experience. While it’s not necessarily an optimistic film, it’s a compelling, inspiring tale of two people yearning for happiness in a situation where it’s just barely beyond the realm of possibility.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Movie with Abe: Freakonomics: The Movie (Capsule Review)

Freakonomics: The Movie
Directed by Heidi Ewing, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Rachel Grady, Eugene Jarecki, &
Morgan Spurlock
Released October 1, 2010

It’s difficult to review a documentary made of up of vignettes, so I would like to present the trailer, embedded above, since it offers a perfect indication of the tone and style of the film, hinting just enough at its many subjects to intrigue viewers while still saving the good stuff for the full experience. Unlike other documentaries, it doesn’t center on only one topic, and instead covers a range of subjects as diverse as baby names, the housing market, testing incentives, and Sumo wrestling. Some are more compelling than others, and some don’t present entirely satisfactory or surprising conclusions. Yet as a whole, “Freakonomics: The Movie” is a massively entertaining experienced packed with mountains of knowledge and unexpected revelations and conclusions about everyday things that might not ordinarily pique enough interest to provoke further research. Names such as Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side,” “Casino Jack and the United States of Money”) and Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) are on the roster of directors stepping behind the camera to showcase their investigations, and it’s an inspiring, enjoyable compilation of interesting factoids that should delight any interested viewers.