Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Movies You Aught to See: Narc

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!

Narc
Directed by Joe Carnahan
Released December 20, 2002



This dark thriller is both a deeply engaging mystery and an in-depth character study of two cops: one (Jason Patric) investigating another (Ray Liotta) for his role in the murder of an undercover police officer. Like “Rashomon,” it doesn’t stick to just one version of events, and presents multiple scenarios under which Liotta’s character might have been involved in the catalytic event of the film. What really stands out in this gritty police drama is an astonishing performance by an unrecognizable Liotta, buried under a thick beard and considerable weight gain as the intensely volatile, unstable, dangerous subject of Patric’s investigation.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Top Ten Movies of 2010 (So Far)

We’re not quite at the halfway point of the year yet, but five months in, Movies with Abe has already screened over sixty films and it’s about time for a top ten list. To help you keep track, here’s an official list of the top ten movies of 2010 so far. Click on titles to read reviews and related articles about each of the films, and share your thoughts in the comments if any of your favorite films from this year aren’t on the list.



1. Micmacs
2. The City of Your Final Destination
3. The Art of the Steal
4. A Prophet
5. Fish Tank
6. The Secret in their Eyes
7. Handsome Harry
8. The Ghost Writer
9. The Last New Yorker
10. The Joneses

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Father of My Children


The Father of My Children
Directed by Mia Hansen-Love
Released May 28, 2010

This is the kind of film where the title is telling. The story of a distraught movie producer facing financial ruin compounded by his continuous ill-advised investments wouldn’t inherently appear to be about a father of any children. That’s exactly the point, however, since Grégoire neglects his children by constantly overworking and devoting the kind of attention he should to his family to his work. When he’s with his kids and not busy taking a phone call, Grégoire does show them enormous love and enthusiasm. Only his wife and his eldest daughter comprehend the imbalance of where he spends the majority of his time, and his two young daughters run to embrace him every time he comes home after a long stretch away.

“The Father of My Children” is a movie just as much about a love of filmmaking as it is about a less than perfect family unit. Grégoire is clearly a film buff whose love for the art of cinema has driven him to his chosen profession. His eldest daughter also exhibits a passion for classic film that evidently stems from her father’s influence. Grégoire also delights in filling in background information for one of his younger daughters when she poses a question during a family vacation. It’s best to leave the major plot elements of the film undiscussed for fear of spoiling the film, but this is a marvelously effective, occasionally heartwarming and more often heart-wrenching drama.

At the core of “The Father of My Children” is a wonderful and intimate cast led by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing as workaholic Grégoire, who does a magnificent job of expressing the struggle between trying to devote himself to his job and to his family. It’s not until Grégoire has reached an unrecoverable point that he realizes quite what he’s gotten himself into, and that discovery is particularly difficult and well-executed. The members of his filmic family are equally compelling. Chiara Caselli is fierce and strong-willed as his wife Sylvia, and Louis-Do’s real-life daughter Alice impresses as his eldest and most perceptive child. Alice Gautier and Manelle Driss also perform commendably in their debut film roles as the youngest of Grégoire’s children. This is a personal story that stresses the importance of family, and the filmmaking is just as superb. After a clever and vivid opening sequence followed by Grégoire’s lengthy trek to make it home to his family, the film becomes less buoyant and more dramatic as it goes on but remains just as interesting and powerful.

B+

Friday, May 28, 2010

Movie with Abe: Micmacs

Micmacs
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Released May 28, 2010

Before the advent of cinema, the greatest tales told could be animated and enriched by a skilled oral storyteller. Now, movies can be enhanced by visual effects and sharp editing, but there’s much more to truly good filmmaking than that. One director who delights in bringing his characters to life and weaving a fanciful, memorable story is Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The creative mind behind the marvelous “Amelie” and “A Very Long Engagement” returns to deliver his first film in six years, minus his leading lady, Audrey Tautou, but instilled with the same energy, heart, and sense of wonder.

Actor Dany Boon stars as Bazil

Jeunet has his actors he likes to work with – he cites regular player Dominique Pinon, who has appeared in all of his feature films, as his favorite actor – but he’s not against welcoming in new performers to his troupe. Actor Dany Boon almost seems like he was born to play the lead in a Jeunet film, starring here as Bazil, a man who sets out to exact revenge against the men whose companies manufactured the mine that killed his father and the bullet that got lodged in his brain. This isn’t your typical revenge flick, however, since Bazil and his crew of hard-working, dedicated tinkers are just about the sweetest people you’ll ever encounter. They’re so wonderful, in fact, that the matriarch of this makeshift family demands that Bazil ask for their help once they catch on to Bazil’s plan, determined to assist him in his efforts.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet discusses the film

The fantastical “Micmacs” is littered with a fun and endearing cast led by Boon. André Dussolier and Nicolas Marié star as the two money-grubbing heads of the companies whose weapons have caused Bazil distress in his life, and they both combine greedy fury with the perfect comic sensibility for this kind of story. Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, Julie Ferrier, Omar Sy, Michel Crémadès, Marie-Julie Baup, and Pinon play the merry members of Bazil’s bunch, and they’re all magnificent. Jeunet discusses how each time he makes a film he tries to find a “family of interesting faces and characters, to open up a box of details and a band of silly people.” What really stands out in this film, like in Jeunet’s other works, is the detail and color with which every scene is created. The characters and backgrounds pop out, and it’s simply a mesmerizing visual experience. Jeunet says he has shot everything he loves in Paris, and says to fans, “if you like my film, welcome!” He talks about loving when a director’s style is recognizable, like that of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Stanley Kubrick, or Federico Fellini. Interestingly enough, Jeunet possesses probably the most distinct of styles, and he’s not against utilizing changing technology to further his creativity. If it had been possible, Jeunet would have loved to shoot his latest work in 3-D. While Jeunet may not produce another film for half a decade, but judging from how fantastic this one is, it’s certainly worth the wait.

A-

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thursday American Cinema Classic

Welcome to the final installment of Thursday American Cinema Classic. I was taking a course called American Cinema Since 1960 where we charted the history and development of American Cinema from the 1960s to the present. We’ve watched some pretty iconic films, some of which I hadn’t seen before. Now, here’s the final entry as the course comes to a close.

The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Released June 26, 2009



When this movie first came out in limited release (I wasn’t in the New York area and had to drive fifty minutes to Waltham to see it), the general public had never heard of it, but reviews were uniformly excellent. Now, almost a year later, most people still haven’t seen it, but everyone knows it as the little film that could that took down megahit “Avatar” and won the Oscar for Best Picture, in addition to having the first female director to win an Oscar. My original review of the film was an enormously positive one, and at the end of the year I ranked it the sixth best film of 2009. I stand by both at this point, and I highly encourage any readers who still have yet to see it to check it out soon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Surprise Inclusion of 2009

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Surprise Inclusion is the third 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, the Oscar nominations announcement presents several shocking names and films. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most surprising inclusion of all (in any category). It has nothing to do with personal opinion but rather with what was considered a surprise at the time compared with what most people were predicting. Once again, this is a film/director/actor whose nomination was unexpected.

The Surprise Inclusion of 2009:

Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart) for Best Supporting Actress

Why it wasn’t going to happen: “Crazy Heart” was all about star Jeff Bridges and his career-topping performance. The film wasn’t even on anyone’s radar until Fox Searchlight suddenly announced at the beginning of November that it would be released the following month. No one was quite sure whether Gyllenhaal should be classified a leading or supporting contender, and she also had another performance, in Sam Mendes’ “Away We Go” from the summer, eligible in the supporting category, though she surely had no shot at a nomination for that. Gyllenhaal’s name was thrown around early on, but by the time Oscar nomination day rolled around, few were predicting her (though Nathaniel of The Film Experience managed to call it the night before).

How it happened: The Golden Globe and SAG lineups shared four actresses in common – Penelope Cruz (Nine), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), and Mo’Nique (Precious). The fifth nominee at the Globes was Julianne Moore (A Single Man), and she likely lost out due to her limited screen time. SAG-nominated Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) probably split the vote with her costar Melanie Laurent. Since everyone was seeing “Crazy Heart” based on the positive buzz surrounding Bridges, it seems to make sense that they noticed Gyllenhaal as well. Additionally, Gyllenhaal had earned Golden Globe nominations and good reviews for her performances in “Secretary” and “Sherrybaby,” and some may have felt she was overdue for a nomination.

Was it deserved? Bridges’ performance is definitely the one that carries the film, and Gyllenhaal’s doesn’t even compare. It’s very much like Ethan Hawke earning a nomination in 2001 for supporting Denzel Washington in “Training Day,” something that doesn’t necessarily represent the work of the lesser performer but instead demonstrates how well the film worked. I’m not sure I agree with the recognition for this performance of Gyllenhaal’s (though she was a runner-up on my list for her turn in “Away We Go”), but she’s definitely an actress who should have at least one Oscar nomination by now.

Come back next week for a look at the Surprise Inclusion of 2008. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: The Adjustment Bureau

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

The Adjustment Bureau – Opening September 17, 2010



This trailer was recently released online, and it looks really cool. What starts off as an intoxicating meeting between two strangers quickly turns into a shadowy sci-fi thriller akin to “Dark City” where mysterious figures rearrange events and details about people’s lives to restore (their own sense of) order to the universe. It’s easily the kind of tale that can intrigue, enthrall, and then make completely no sense, but I discovered after watching the trailer that it’s based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, whose has had many of his works – “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “Impostor,” “Minority Report,” and “A Scanner Darkly” – brought to the screen. His stories are always fascinating, and this should make for some great sci-fi. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are wonderful actors to take on the lead roles, and they’ve both nailed their respective parts in the trailer – Damon as the man in search of the woman he can’t stop thinking about and Blunt as the one who enchanted him instantly but has yet to be found. Teaming up Terence Stamp and John Slattery as the Big Brother figures with their hats makes for an intimidating duo of villains. I’m eager to see this because it looks like a thriller that should work, though it could turn out like two failed adaptations of Dick concepts: “Paycheck” and “Next.” Still, I’m hoping this will be an excellent instance of smart sci-fi, and I can’t wait to see it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Movies You Aught to See: A Very Long Engagement

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!

A Very Long Engagement
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Released December 17, 2004



This is one of my favorite trailers of all time, and the film itself is also wonderful. The reunion of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the star of his masterpiece “Amélie” (which will likely appear on this list at some point soon), Audrey Tautou, makes for just as marvelous a drama as a comedy. This is a magnificent love story featuring astonishing cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, gorgeous music by Angelo Badalamenti, and terrific performances from the entire cast. Some of the scenes in this movie are just mesmerizing, and it’s hard to pick a favorite from among the many possibilities. While the film does boast an interesting story, it’s really the filmmaking here that dazzles.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Standout Performances: April

Welcome to a new semi-regular feature here at Movies with Abe. A lot of great performances from the first half of the year are forgotten by the time Oscar movies roll out and awards season comes around. This feature is designed to pay tribute to those actors and actresses who have demonstrated excellence in movies that likely will not be remembered at the end of the year. Maybe praise like this can help. Each edition of Sunday Standout Performances will look at a different month, referencing my reviews of the films mentioned. Here’s a look at the best performances from April.

Carey Mulligan (The Greatest)

“One of the most significant descriptors of ‘The Greatest’ is that it’s Carey Mulligan’s follow-up role to her Oscar-nominated breakout turn in ‘An Education.’ Mulligan showed enormous potential with her wondrous performance in last year’s British drama, and her subsequent role was obviously going to be spectacular, and it’s not a disappointment at all. She’s easily as good, if not better, as the girl who must struggle to be accepted by the family of a boy she loved but barely knew. It’s a majestically layered and tremendous performance that deserves to earn her another Oscar nomination.”

Anthony Hopkins & Laura Linney (The City of Your Final Destination)

“The cast is universally outstanding, featuring terrific breakout crossover performances from the likes of Hiroyuki Sanada (‘Lost’) and Alexandra Maria Lara (‘The Reader’). It’s a majestic return to form for veteran actors Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney, and a veritable sign that they should be working for years to come.”

The Cast of “Handsome Harry

“What sets ‘Handsome Harry’ apart from other films about the reunion of any given set of people is the extraordinarily talented cast it features that helps to define a generation. The members of Harry’s unit are a parade of veteran actors, each more talented than the previous performer. Jamey Sheridan, Steve Buscemi, John Savage, Aidan Quinn, Titus Welliver, and Campbell Scott make up one of the finest ensembles recently seen on screen. They all possess the same general sensibility and attitude towards the world, though each exhibits a fascinating variation on that worldview. Each of Harry’s visits is equally meaningful and powerful, and all of the interactions are superbly acted. Sheridan himself is a gifted performer who manages to be believable, relatable, and personable without stealing the show.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Movie with Abe: Daddy Longlegs


Daddy Longlegs
Directed by Ben & Joshua Safdie
Released May 14, 2010

The main character in “Daddy Longlegs” is a father of two by the name of Lenny who is seen romancing multiple women in the span of the film’s first few minutes and who, for reasons that become readily clear, is no longer involved with his children’s mother. He constantly ends up in impossible situations which are mostly a result of a combination of bad luck and rudeness on his part. Lenny is someone who puts himself first and has not learned how to think about others in the way that he should. He tries desperately to act like a best friend to his kids rather than a role model, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he encounters considerable difficulty in even taking care of them for a mere two weeks.

It’s incredibly tough to watch a parent fail so miserably in acting as he should to his children, and this film certainly piles on the disturbing elements to no seeming end. Lenny sends his nine- and seven-year-old sons to shop at a grocery store in Manhattan all by themselves and wakes them up abruptly early on a weekend morning for an impromptu trip with his one night stand and her boyfriend upstate. Lenny has no concept of how to behave and how to act with his children – he swears in front of them and even directly at their school principal – and he doesn’t even seem to be making an effort. Being stretched too thin isn’t an excuse for Lenny’s conduct since he never even tries to prioritize his children and do right by them.

This portrait of bad parenting might be compelling if the film had something significant to offer in terms of cinematic or moral value, but like Lenny, it puts all its cards on the table and doesn’t quite know what to do with them. This is a strictly narrative film with no filmic devices such as angles or music in sight. The extremely low budget for which the film was produced is not compensated for by any creativity or artistic expression on the part of the filmmakers. Instead, it’s an intimate look at one person’s failures and the continually worsening state of his life. Everything is on the surface, with no subjective interpretations left to be discovered. As the fast-talking and flustered Lenny, Ronald Bronstein shapes a somewhat sympathetic character, but any kind of warm feelings go out the door as it becomes clear that Lenny, just like the movie, has no redeeming qualities.

F

Friday, May 21, 2010

Movie Interview with Abe: Holy Rollers

Holy Rollers
Directed by Kevin Asch
Released May 21, 2010

From its title, you would expect this movie about Hasidic Jews smuggling in ecstasy from Europe to be a clever comedy. Instead, it’s an occasionally entertaining but otherwise serious drama chronicling one man’s self-exploration as he tries to break free of his own tight-knit community. While it is a film that relatively accurately represents Hasidic Jewry, its cast, writer, and director insist that this is a coming-of-age story that could be applied to any religion. It’s a story focused on faith, family, and culture, says director Kevin Asch, and these characters just happen to be Jewish.

Actors Justin Bartha and Jesse Eisenberg discuss the film

“Holy Rollers” stars actor Jesse Eisenberg (“Zombieland”) delivering pretty much the same neurotic performance he always gives as Sam Gold, the Hasid lured into the world of worldly possessions and drug smuggling by an already wayward neighbor played by Justin Bartha (“The Hangover”). These usually comedic performers don black suits, beards, and payis curls to do their best to disappear into their characters. Eisenberg and Bartha describe their upbringing as Reform Jews, celebrating more the ancestry and the traditions than the religion. Eisenberg explains that Hasidic Jews in mainstream movies are usually represented humorously, and it’s nice to see a film that takes them seriously. Eisenberg says that during his research for the film he was taken in by Chabad, a group that loves working with secular Jews. Looking into the religious community, the actors were surprised by how heterogeneous its members were, since most of the people they spoke to had their own feelings about their faith.

Actor Danny Abeckaser discusses the film

Actor Danny Abeckaser has a slightly different background and viewpoint from his fellow performers. Abeckaser, who plays Israeli drug dealer Jackie Solomon in the film, comes from a fairly religious Sephardic family that keeps the Sabbath. He wanted to tell a beautiful Jewish story that shows how everybody makes mistakes and gets forgiven. He notes how his character, one of the film’s arguable villains, still calls his mother to wish her a Shabbat Shalom before the Sabbath begins. As the person who started the project, Abeckaser says that they researched fifty different stories and declined to interview any of the real-life people on which the movie is based because this had to be a story told through the eyes of one kid rather than a drug movie.

Director Kevein Asch and writer Antonio Mancia discuss the film

Asch explains that, as a non-religious Jew, he has a connection to Hasidic Jews, but it’s a relatively foreign one. Writer Antonio Mancia, who is himself a member of the Mormon religion, describes how he worked to find common universal traits to all families and faiths. Mancia wanted to ensure that the film wasn’t judging anyone and to be specific about the practices rather than watering them down. He notes that most people involved in the film had positive religious experiences growing up, which made this even more of an intriguing project. In the research for the film, both Asch and Mancia point out that some Hasids were eager to talk to them, keener on clearing up something than having misrepresentations. Asch emphasizes his desire to tell a story “so fascinating in its concept and that it happened,” enough to “create something cinematic and not be forced to tell someone’s story.” Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age journey, in Asch’s words, and charting Sam’s route from strict, observant Hasid Jew to drug smuggler is quite an experience in itself. Abeckaser is unconcerned with the film being a drama rather than a comedy, and says that anything that will get people to the theater is a positive thing. So don’t head into this film expecting to laugh too much – instead, anticipate an in-depth character study and a surprisingly well-rounded snapshot of one orthodox religious community.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thursday American Cinema Classic

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Thursday American Cinema Classic. I’m taking a course called American Cinema Since 1960 where we’re charting the history and development of American Cinema from the 1960s to the present. We’ll be watching some pretty iconic films, some of which I haven’t seen before. Each week, I’ll be providing a short review of one contemporary classic from the annals of recent history.

The Matrix
Directed by Andy & Lana Wachowski
Released March 31, 1999



This universally-known film has been quite a cult phenomenon in the decade since it was released. The trailer provides a nice, dated look at what it was first like when this movie first came out and no one really knew exactly what the Matrix was. Now it’s a constantly-referenced and oft-parodied concept, with its slow-motion dodging bullets and leaping over buildings. This was the one that got it started though, and while the two sequels, released in 2003, weren’t received so favorably, this one was. It won all four of its Oscar nominations, taking home trophies for Best Film Editing, Sound, Sound Editing, and most importantly, Best Visual Effects. It’s tough to decide who has a cooler voice – Laurence Fishburne or Hugo Weaving – but they are both definitely awesome and this is the height of that. Even Keanu Reeves isn’t so bad, and this movie is definitely one fantastically awesome ride. The blue pill or the red pill? Take both and watch this movie, or at least watch the trailer to relive the excitement.

Come back next week for the final installment of Thursday American Cinema Classic!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Big Snub of 2002

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Big Snub is the second 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, the Oscar nominations announcement presents several notable omissions. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most shocking snub of all (in any category). It has nothing to do with personal opinion but rather with what seemed likely at the time and what most people were predicting. Once again, this is a film/director/actor who didn’t even earn a nomination.

The Big Snub of 2002:

Peter Jackson (The Two Towers) for Best Director

Why it was all set to happen: After earning an Oscar nod one year earlier for the first installment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Jackson was all set to reap another nomination for the second chapter. He was one of the six directors nominated for a Golden Globe, and made the cut when the list was trimmed to five for the Directors Guild of America. While, based on the trend established during the previous twenty years, there would likely be a “lone director” nominee, a director nominated when his (or her, in the case of Lena Wertmuller) film wasn’t for Best Picture, Jackson was probably safe and another director would be left off to make room for the other guy. The last time that a sequel was nominated for Best Picture, both it and its director won – “The Godfather: Part II” and Francis Ford Coppola in 1974.

Why it probably didn’t: Having been nominated the previous year probably worked against Jackson rather than for him. Knowing that the next chapter would be released the following year also contributed to his snub. Even if the third film wasn’t a hit, Jackson had still been recognized for “The Fellowship of the Ring” and other directors, particularly foreign filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, could be honored while Jackson sat the race out. Stephen Daldry had the “lone director” nominee two years earlier for “Billy Elliot,” and therefore he stayed in the race for “The Hours.” That left the three-way showdown between Roman Polanski (“The Pianist”), Martin Scorsese (“Gangs of New York), and Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), leaving no room for Jackson.

Who took its place: Pedro Almodovar (“Talk to Her”)

Consolation prize: Jackson is probably the luckiest victim of the Big Snub. “The Two Towers” still reaped six nominations, including one for Best Picture, and two wins. The following year, “The Return of the King” won all eleven categories in which it was nominated, and Jackson took home the Best Director prize.

Come back next week for the first installment of the next series of the Wednesday Oscar Retrospective! I’ll be taking a look at the surprise inclusion of 2009 to start.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: The American

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

The American – Opening September 1, 2010



This trailer came to my attention as a result of an e-mail I received on behalf of the film announcing the trailer’s release. I’m happy to have clicked the link, since this looks like a wonderfully contemplative spy thriller that should give George Clooney another terrific role, and likely another Oscar nomination, and make for a very engaging and intriguing movie. It reminded me instantly of a less crowded “Syriana,” with considerably less (or rather, no) facial hair on Clooney’s face, but still about the same search for identity and purpose that CIA Agent Bob Barnes faced. Unlike something like “The Bourne Identity,” this likely isn’t all about the action scenes. Rather, it’s an exploration of character and deception which should prove quite interesting. I am delighted to see Thekla Reuten, an AFT Award winner for her limited performance in “In Bruges,” in the cast, and focusing on only a few characters should enable the film and the audience the opportunity to really get to know the characters. The early September release shouldn’t discount it from being one of the first major Oscar contenders to hit theaters, and even if the film doesn’t go too far, I imagine that Clooney likely will, because his first two Oscar nominations were for roles very similar to this one. Also of note is that this is from director Anton Corbijn, who made the well-received 2007 film “Control” which I unfortunately missed. I have a feeling that this will be a great film. Do you agree?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Movies You Aught to See: I Heart Huckabees

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!

I Heart Huckabees
Directed by David O. Russell
Released October 22, 2004



This marvelously amusing comedy combines a brilliant script (just listen to all of the lines in the trailer), delightful original music by Jon Brion, and a stellar cast – including Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts – to make for one of the most enjoyable and puzzling films of the 2000s. It doesn’t really make much sense, but the notion of existential detectives and lines like “You can’t deal with my infinite nature” make for a magnificent experience. Even watching the trailer for the twentieth time makes me laugh out loud.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Movie with Abe: Looking for Eric


Looking for Eric
Directed by Ken Loach
Released May 14, 2010

“Looking for Eric” is the story of one man in search of inspiration. Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is a middle-aged postman bored with his life and approaching problematic times, and the only way he can seem to rectify his situation is to listen to the spiritual guidance provided by real-life footballer (in America, soccer player) Eric Cantona. Through his love of soccer and the imagined help of his favorite player, the elder Eric hopes to reinvigorate his ailing life and help guide both himself and his family back on the right path.

This is a very British film, featuring old Englishmen who sit in a bar for hours a day arguing about which soccer team is best. Fortunately, the cast here is thoroughly entertaining. One of the most memorable lines is one of Eric’s mates’ threats that he plans to put up an incriminating video on BlueTube. But the best part is that they don’t care if they aren’t up to date with current technology and other happenings. The disconnect from modern society that these men posses makes them all the more endearing, as they seek to preserve ideals of tranquility in an age full of young hotheads, drugs, and violence. Eric also has to contend with those kinds of problems at home when he learns that one of his adopted sons has gotten himself in over his head with a very dangerous man.

In that regard, “Looking from Eric” is able to flow from comical troubles in Eric’s life to deathly serious ones, portraying a range of conflicts that are not entirely indistinguishable from each other. The film excels in its comedic portrayal of Eric’s follies but also manages to succeed in showcasing the dramatic events in Eric’s life. Ultimately, however, the focus of the film and the star of the show is Eric Cantona. First seen running triumphantly down a soccer field in the midst of a thrilling game, he quickly becomes established as an extremely intuitive and philosophical mentor for Eric Bishop. Having Cantona portray himself is a wickedly brilliant idea, and the often incomprehensible Frenchman is hilarious in all of the guidance he gives the other Eric. The interaction of the two and the way in which Eric Bishop looks to Eric Cantona with such admiration and devotion makes this a heartwarming journey filled with plenty of comedy and drama that culminates in a thoroughly satisfying character transformation.

B+

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Movie with Abe: Happiness Runs


Happiness Runs
Directed by Adam Sherman
Released May 7, 2010

For a film about noticing imperfections in a supposedly utopian society, this movie sure possesses its share of them. It sets itself up as a portrait of one young man who fashions himself the lone voice of reason in a community so caught up in its free living and incestuous behavior that it has lost touch of reality, but in the pursuit of that story, it gets horribly derailed and doesn’t offer many worthwhile pit stops along the way. This is one case where the experience of watching the film feels like being part of the society it represents – somewhat intriguing as an idea, but ultimately unsustainable.

“Happiness Runs” focuses on the second generation of people immersed in the hippie lifestyle, those born on a commune whose parents have also had sex with one another and most of who have no real concept of the world outside their small and free community. Trying incredibly hard to make its characters seem excessively like hippies makes the film lose sight of its attempts to get to know its characters and the way that they see life through the lens of their limited experiences. The point is to showcase and represent a culture, but the specific story of young Victor that has been chosen as the film’s focal point is deeply problematic.

Victor is not a very strong character in any sense of the word, and the film suffers as a result as his incompetence as a protagonist. Instead of letting tensions subtly and smartly bubble to the surface, everything is put right out there in the open from the start by the dopey, whiny Victor. While it’s certainly not his fault, he is unable to find anyone who shares his viewpoints, and that makes him seem all the more out of place and incapable as a lead character. The dialogue is horrendous, and none of the unremarkable young actors portraying the generation of youth help to make it any less painful. The cartoonish, buffoonish adults in the film only make matters worse, as played by three otherwise talented actors not in good form here, Rutger Hauer, Andie MacDowell, and Mark Boone Junior.

Apart from the poorly-conceived and even more poorly developed characters, the film flops due to its abuse of filmic devices. Drug and alcohol use serve as an excuse not just for the bad behavior of the characters, but also for pointless, overlong tangents from the film’s narrative. The dream sequences experienced by Victor are the worst, since the escape from the earthly confines of the utopian community only means a switchover to unbounded inanity. The film gets even less logical as it goes on, when the characters begin taking ecstasy and doing even stupider things. The sky changes quickly from day to night and then back to day again overhead in the background, skipping through time frequently in order to push forward the increasingly senseless story. Just as utopian communities were an intriguing idea that didn’t work out well at all, this movie might have sounded like an interesting project, but the result isn’t worth visiting.

F

Movie with Abe: Multiple Sarcasms

Multiple Sarcasms
Directed by Brooks Branch
Released May 7, 2010

“Multiple Sarcasms” is the second film in as many years to feature actor Timothy Hutton sitting atop a toilet for a good portion of its run time. Unlike last year’s Meg Ryan vehicle “Serious Moonlight,” this time Hutton is not stuck in that position because he has been duct-taped to the toilet as a punishment for his adulterous actions and thoughts. Instead, he has marooned himself there as a way of dealing with a severe case of writer’s block and a mother of a midlife crisis, uncertain of how to be happy even though his beautiful wife and loving daughter should serve as all the happiness he needs. One man’s quest to find meaning in his life results in an intriguing if somewhat disjointed film.

Director Brooks Branch, making his directorial debut with this picture, admits that he himself has had “a million creative moments while on the toilet.” He stresses that Hutton’s character, Gabriel, is struggling because “your happiness doesn’t necessarily have to fit the world’s definition of what your happiness is.” Gabriel is caught between the wife who never quite appreciates him (Dana Delany), the best friend who supports him through it all (Mira Sorvino), and the daughter who is more mature than both of her parents (India Ennenga). Branch describes him as “in no man’s land, trying to find his path,” and cites that as the major reason for the film’s temporal setting: the late 1970s.

Watching the film is like traveling back in time to a New York from thirty years ago. Actress Dana Delany reminisces about growing up in the 1970s and how much films like “An Unmarried Woman” had an effect on her, and she loved how “Multiple Sarcasms” had a similar feel. Gabriel struts around in easily identifiable 1970s clothing, and Brooks describes 1979 as a time when “everyone looked like their yearbook photos, not knowing whether to be here or there.” Brooks emphasizes that the setting is crucial to the film, since a modern-day Gabriel would surely have a blog as a way of getting out his unfinished thoughts. Young India Ennenga, who at 15 has already found great success with a recurring role on HBO’s new series “Treme,” answers that she would have loved to live in the 1970s when asked about being the only cast member not to have actually been alive during the time when the film takes place.

One of the most intoxicating and thought-provoking aspects of “Multiple Sarcasms” is the play-within-a-movie that Gabriel strives to write throughout the film. He seeks to incorporate the women around him into his only slightly fictionalized world, and they are fully aware of his intentions to milk real moments for material. His daughter even yells at him at one point in the middle of a fight, forbidding him to insert the argument into his play. Brooks describes the extent to which the play was prepared and scripted, even though little of the finished product is actually retained in the final cut of the film. The film was written “in the tone of real life,” according to Brooks, and the play is a way of externalizing Gabriel’s thoughts and seeing how he perceives those around him. It is a chance to look at Gabriel twice, seeing how he acts and then how he interprets his actions and their effects on those he cares about, and those aspects of the play that do remain in the final cut are fervently interesting.

Relationships are complicated in “Multiple Sarcasms,” and it is not just the characters who have different takes on how two people should spend their lives. Mira Sorvino is married with three children and describes having a family as the biggest revolution in her life. She says she no longer cares about the business as much anymore and would not care as much if it went away since her family comes first. Delany, on the other hand, has never been married and candidly admits that it does not interest her. She believes that “it’s possible to have multiple soul mates in different parts of your life, and there are some people you just have mysterious chemistry with.” As a film, “Multiple Sarcasms” enables multiple points of view, and this is one film which posits interesting ideas through the lens of characters undergoing transformations and continuing to evolve in the course of one wild year at the end of the 1970s.

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

Friday, May 14, 2010

Movie with Abe: Robin Hood

Robin Hood
Directed by Ridley Scott
Released May 14, 2010

The legend of Robin Hood is one that, like the story of Alice of Wonderland, everyone has heard. The positive effects of a filmic collaboration between director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe are also familiar to most moviegoers, based on the Oscar-winning sword-and-sandals epic “Gladiator.” Merging those two well-known phenomena should make for a marvelously stirring and rousing film project, transforming a time-worn myth into an action extravaganza. Something doesn’t add up, however, and the latest cinematic presentation of Robin Hood paints him as neither a man in tights nor a prince of thieves.

While there are classic locations like Nottingham and iconic characters like Friar Tuck to stir up amusement and delight in even the most unlearned of Robin Hood scholars, they seem mostly present to provide some reassurance that this is in fact the tale of an outlaw hero to the people. Based on the plot of the film, that certainly does not seem to be the case. Quickly summarized, Crowe’s archer and dedicated follower of King Richard the Lionheart takes the name of a deceased knight in order to first gain fortune for himself and then honor his namesake’s dying wish to be made at peace with his father in Nottingham. The newly minted Robin Longstride charges into battle and vigorously rallies and defends the English people from the threat of invasion from outside forces and from within. He is an underdog with a majestic ability to unite people and on whose shoulders alone the fate on a whole nation seems to lie. In essence, it’s “Gladiator” done over again, but with no emperor and a large number of French people. As is usually the case, the first one was better.

As an action film, “Robin Hood” ranks somewhere between mediocre and less than satisfactory. Each of the several lengthy battle scenes is invigorating, but nothing serves to truly tie them together. The movie as a whole is a massive undertaking that, at almost two and a half hours, takes a good deal of energy to get through. Often, it’s purely uninteresting, and there’s nothing particularly new or exciting about either the storytelling or the filmmaking. Crowe seems to be delivering less interesting performances in each successive film, starting the previous decade off strong with magnificent turns in “Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind” and then dwindling to reserved and boring efforts in “American Gangster” and this film. Cate Blanchett’s Marion Loxley seems like she is supposed to be a very powerful woman who almost takes on a man’s role in the events of the film, but more of that likely has to do with the fact that Blanchett is a stunning actress capable of delivering a tour de force performance as the queen of England and audience members are supposed to know that. A fanciful tale of Robin Hood does not that make. This isn’t a fable, but rather a lackluster excuse to create many a battle scene without doing any justice to the character whose story it’s allegedly showcasing.

C+

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thursday American Cinema Classic

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Thursday American Cinema Classic. I’m taking a course called American Cinema Since 1960 where we’re charting the history and development of American Cinema from the 1960s to the present. We’ll be watching some pretty iconic films, some of which I haven’t seen before. Each week, I’ll be providing a short review of one contemporary classic from the annals of recent history.

Boyz n the Hood
Directed by John Singleton
Released July 12, 1991



This film earned twin Oscar nominations for writer-director John Singleton, who made history as both the youngest director ever nominated for an Oscar and the first African-American up for the award. The movie is engaging portrait of one young man who grows up in a harsh, violent world where a life can be taken for a reason as arbitrary as someone bumping into someone else. It has a definitive style and, while its story is reminiscent a number of other recent films, it’s important to remember that this was one of the first ones. Among the cast you’ll find a very young Cuba Gooding Jr, Morris Chestnut, Ice Cube, and Laurence Fishburne. The film features many scenes which could come off as corny if done the wrong way, but Singleton makes this a very intimate and personal experience. While the plot plays out pretty much exactly as you’d expect it, to, it’s no less powerful and compelling. Chronicling Tre’s childhood from when he first moved to South Central Los Angeles to when he grows up and tries to escape from his life there is an incredibly interesting and dynamic story that still resonates twenty years later.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Big Snub of 2003

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Big Snub is the second 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, the Oscar nominations announcement presents several notable omissions. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most shocking snub of all (in any category). It has nothing to do with personal opinion but rather with what seemed likely at the time and what most people were predicting. Once again, this is a film/director/actor who didn’t even earn a nomination.

The Big Snub of 2003:

Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen) for Best Actress

Why it was all set to happen: There were a number of snubs this year – like “Cold Mountain” and Maria Bello – but this one strikes me as the most surprising. Wood was a young actress (only sixteen years old when the film came out) who performed tremendously in a very difficult, disturbing role. She earned Golden Globe and SAG nominations for her hard work, and even managed to be classified as the leading actress while past Oscar winner Holly Hunter was rightly relegated to the supporting category. Wood was the only Globe nominee who made it over to the SAGs with winners Charlize Theron and Diane Keaton, cementing her as a frontrunner…

Why it probably didn’t: …but there were too many other contenders at play. SAG-nominated but Globe-snubbed Naomi Watts made it all the way to the Oscars, while Samantha Morton, who had early on been named as a potential nominee but lost steam as the race went on, took another slot for her performance in “In America.” The biggest surprise, which also served as a slap in the face to Wood, was to promote the definitive star of “Whale Rider,” Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was nominated for a SAG in the supporting category, to lead actress. With Theron and Keaton taking up the other two slots, there was no room for Wood. This situation is probably most similar to 2007 with Angelina Jolie, albeit minus the shock of a thirteen-year-old scoring a nom for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Also possibly hurting Wood was the fact that some guilds, like the Satellite Awards, recognized her and costar Nikki Reed together, as if they delivered only one performance.

Who took its place: Keisha Castle-Hughes & Samantha Morton

Consolation prize: Sadly, none. Hunter did earn a supporting actress nomination, but didn’t win. Wood hasn’t had a part anywhere near as good as “Thirteen” since, the closest being a starring role in “Across the Universe” and a guest spot on “True Blood.”

Come back next week for a look at the Big Snub of 2002. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments. This one’s a no-brainer, although I suppose it could be argued for two different people (one’s an actor, the other’s not).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Jonah Hex

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

Jonah Hex – Opening June 18, 2010



I caught this trailer online, and while I’m not sure this is a movie I’m going to love, the trailer does look pretty cool. I’m a Marvel man myself, so I’m not very familiar with all of the DC Comics characters. Jonah Hex seems like the Punisher or Ghost Rider, an anti-hero who had something very bad done to him and seeks revenge while actually protecting the good guys. He reminds me most of a gruffer version of Charles Bronson’s Harmonica from “Once Upon a Time in the West.” This seems like a great role for Josh Brolin, who had a chance to be a Western hero in “No Country for Old Men,” and now gets the chance to play a bit of an edgier character. John Malkovich is probably the best actor in the universe to play a villain, so his casting as Hex’s nemesis is a no-brainer. I’m not quite sure what Megan Fox is doing here since she’s not capable of acting, but things are blowing up just like in “Transformers,” and so she’ll likely be a pale imitation of Scarlett Johansson in “Iron Man 2,” at best. Will Arnett is in the film as well, which is a bit strange, along with Michael Fassbender, who was terrific in both “Inglourious Basterds” and “Fish Tank,” and therefore I hope he has a great role here. Mostly, this movie looks like a fun way of bringing back the Western by modernizing it with a comic book character at the helm, and I think it should be a fun ride. Are you looking forward to it?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Movies You Aught to See: Puccini for Beginners

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!

Puccini for Beginners
Directed by Maria Maggenti
Released February 2, 2007



This surprising gem is a wonderful tale of a lesbian named Allegra who meets both a man and a woman in New York City and begins dating both of them at the same time, unaware that they have both just recently broken up after having dated each other for years. The film is entirely enjoyable and showcases magnificent performances from Elizabeth Reaser (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Gretchen Mol (“The Notorious Bettie Page”), and Justin Kirk (“Weeds”) as the members of the love triangle, and also from supporting players Julianne Nicholson (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) and Tina Benko (“Brotherhood”). This is a fresh, delightful, funny story which weaves the remarkable coincidences possible in New York City into its plot and does a terrific job of crafting a memorable and magnetic film.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Movie with Abe: Casino Jack and the United States of Money


Casino Jack and the United States of Money
Directed by Alex Gibney
Released May 7, 2010

Political documentaries are often the most interesting kind of nonfiction films. There are so many motivations behind why politicians do what they do, and there often even exist multiple reasons behind any one act or decision. The life and resume of one Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist with extensive connections in Washington, is certainly an interesting standpoint from which to launch an investigation into the workings of politics and the potential misdeeds of a disturbingly large number of congressmen and senators.

While the title is certainly incendiary and catching, it seems a bit like picking just one arbitrary name out of a hat. Abramoff’s many wheelings and dealings are not limited to the isolated incident of the purchase of a casino cruise ship. As a referent to the infinite number of favors and financial transactions supervised, coordinated, and received by Abramoff, however, the United States of Money seems an extremely accurate term, with Abramoff serving as the card shark.

The film certainly digs deep into Abramoff’s history and surveys the whole chronology, bringing many players in, out, and back in along the way. There are an extraordinary number of chapter markers present to break up the film, some two minutes apart, and some twenty. It takes a long, detailed route to figure out just how Abramoff landed himself in jail, and the narrative seems to lose some of the threads along the way, eventually picking them up but not explaining their absence during the time in between. A thorough Internet investigation to mete out and clarify just who is who seems necessary at film’s end, which would seem to suggest that the film doesn’t quite do its job of presenting a clear portrait of the history. It’s still a fascinating discourse, and incredibly eye-opening for all the information it presents.

For a film about politics, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” does an impressive job of checking its biases at the door. It doesn’t presuppose or slant facts about Republicans versus Democrats or the other way around, and doesn’t excuse anyone’s bad behavior. Director Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar for the brutal and disturbing “Taxi to the Dark Side,” has crafted another startling expose with a starkly lighter tone. The narration sounds a bit like a less obnoxious version of Michael Moore, hitting just as hard but in a less brash manner. Inspiring additional research shouldn’t be seen as a negative attribute, and this film kicks it off by providing an extensive amount of revealing information.

B+

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Movie with Abe: Mother and Child

Mother and Child
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Released May 7, 2010

“Mother and Child” is a movie about three very domineering women, all of whom have experienced some kind of disconnect from motherhood. Karen (Annette Bening) gave birth to a daughter when she was fourteen years old and longs to get back in touch with her at the age of 51. Her daughter, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), distrusts and detests all women as a result of having been given up for adoption, and doesn’t exactly love men either. Lucy (Kerry Washington) wants desperately to be a mother, but is not able to conceive, and turns to an adoption agency to find a young mother-to-be who doesn’t want to keep her child.

Annette Bening stars as Karen

The three actresses who play these women have a tough time describing their feelings towards the characters they loved portraying. Bening says that Karen is just cranky, and that she wants to connect to people but is simply ill-equipped. Watts understands that Elizabeth is a powerful woman, but she wonders if she’s actually evil or just in a lot of pain. Washington explains how everything in Lucy’s life fits in a box, and that for all her life, she has gotten what she wants, but that’s no longer the case. Director Rodrigo Garcia, creator of HBO’s “In Treatment,” says that the women in his film are hurt, but he does not feel that difficult women are unattractive.

Naomi Watts stars as Elizabeth

Crafting a sympathetic film about three unlikable women is hard, but Garcia and his actresses have done just that. Washington emphasizes that this is a film “about three women who all undergo dramatic transformations of character because of relationships in their life.” Washington was especially pleased about the opportunity in this film for actresses to transform over the course of the film since that kind of role is usually given to a man. Garcia, no stranger to working with strong female characters, is deeply concerned with portraying these women dramatically, and he has achieved that well here.

Kerry Washington discusses the film

“Mother and Child” is a film that’s often funny, emotional, tragic, and heartwarming. Its fluctuation among a range of tones is part of what makes it such a dramatic and effective experience. A smartly-written script contributes to an engaging and heartening story. The performances by the leading ladies are top-notch, and all three actresses should cite this as among their best work. The supporting cast, which includes Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Smits, enhances the experience and helps all of the characters feel real. The film is not imperfect, but then again, neither are any of its characters.

B+

Friday, May 7, 2010

Movie with Abe: Iron Man 2


Iron Man 2
Directed by Jon Favreau
Released May 7, 2010

The sequel to one of the most exciting superhero movies in recent years certainly has a lot to live up to in terms of fulfilling audience expectations. The important thing to remember about sequels is that, while it’s rare that they’re ever actually as good as the first, they’re not actually supposed to be any better. If the second installment of a series sure to include many entries is anywhere near to the quality of the first, that should be considered a success. In this case, Tony Stark and Iron Man are back for more, and while it’s not quite as awesome as the first film, it comes pretty darn close.

The important major distinction between this and other superhero movies is that it seems so technologically hip and up-to-date. Re-imaginings of classic comic book heroes like Batman and Spider-Man have felt somewhat retro and old-fashioned, but that isn’t the case here by any measure. When Stark finds himself in a troublesome situation, he is handed a suitcase which drops to the ground and morphs out to become his Iron Man suit and bond to his body. Incredible moments like those make this film and its hero completely modern without losing any of its all-American superhero sensibility.

Another part of what “Iron Man 2” such an enthralling experience is its multiplicity of supporting characters and its effectiveness at handling all of them without making any of them seem too important or not important enough. The major villain is of course Ivan Vanko, played by Mickey Rourke, fresh off of his Oscar-nominated comeback in “The Wrestler.” Rourke is perfect for this role, and he’s not the only one in the ensemble who’s brilliantly cast. Sam Rockwell is seedy and unbearably obnoxious as arms expert and Stark rival Justin Hammer. Scarlett Johansson is alluring and more than capable of performing spectacularly in an action scene as new Stark secretary Natalie Rushman. The presence of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, is a fun supplementary reminder that all of the Marvel superheroes are soon going to team up (stick around after the end credits for a quick but important scene).

Bringing all of Marvel’s icons together is a fun idea, but Iron Man himself is more than enough to carry a movie. While the suited superhero is joined here by sidekick War Machine, also known as Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle, the real star of the show is Robert Downey Jr. The actor knows how to work a crowd, and he brings all that charisma to the role of Tony Stark, the biggest celebrity superhero in history. Even if Iron Man the classic character wasn’t such a public figure, Downey Jr. has helped to make him that way. Putting him at the masthead of this film enhances this action-packed extravaganza from an already thrilling superhero flick to an incessantly entertaining and entirely enjoyable movie.

B+

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thursday American Cinema Classic

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Thursday American Cinema Classic. I’m taking a course called American Cinema Since 1960 where we’re charting the history and development of American Cinema from the 1960s to the present. We’ll be watching some pretty iconic films, some of which I haven’t seen before. Each week, I’ll be providing a short review of one contemporary classic from the annals of recent history.

Roger & Me
Directed by Michael Moore
Released December 30, 1989



Michael Moore’s first film is also the first nonfiction feature screened in this course, and it’s interesting to see how much the Michael Moore of twenty years ago resembles the Michael Moore of today. Sure, he’s a little bit more nervous and certainly skinnier, but he still deigns to wreak as much havoc as possible, and refuses to dress up or even take off his baseball cap when trying to infiltrate an elitist social club. Moore also has a tendency to get sidetracked in telling his stories, like his unnecessary demonstration of a woman slaughtering a rabbit on camera to drive home his point that the plants being closed have had a detrimental effect on Flint, Michigan. There has also been discussion that Moore purposely altered the chronology of events as depicted in the film to heighten its dramatic effect, which isn’t much of a surprise but is still disappointing given how, like all of his films, it would be much stronger if it were all actually true. From this, it is clear Moore is a talented documentary filmmaker and an entertaining host to witness the destruction of the (allegedly) once-great city of Flint. Both “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko” (I have yet to see “Bowling for Columbine,” since I was too young when it was first came out) are far better documentaries, but this one is quite intriguing too. Check out the ridiculous trailer above.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Big Snub of 2004

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Big Snub is the second 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, the Oscar nominations announcement presents several notable omissions. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most shocking snub of all (in any category). It has nothing to do with personal opinion but rather with what seemed likely at the time and what most people were predicting. Once again, this is a film/director/actor who didn’t even earn a nomination.

The Big Snub of 2004:

Paul Giamatti (Sideways) for Best Actor

Why it was all set to happen: One year earlier, Giamatti earned positive reviews for his starring role in the little independent film that could, “American Splendor,” but only got as far as a National Board of Review Award for Best Breakthrough Performance by an Actor. This time around, Giamatti was the inarguable lead of a surefire Best Picture nominee and riding the wave of a genuinely liked and, as a plus, more widely seen film. He may not have been any competition for Jamie Foxx at the Golden Globes, but he made it to a SAG nomination along with the four eventual Oscar nominees – Foxx, Don Cheadle, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Johnny Depp. His chances for a nomination weren’t up for a debate – he was a lock.

Why it probably didn’t: This one is a bit of a mystery. Giamatti had everything going for him but ended up the surprise snub on nomination day simply because he was pushed out by a wild card. When actors direct popular movies that get nominated for Oscars, they often ride the hype of the film to a matching acting nod. It happened in 1990 with Kevin Costner, an actor who most sane people would never nominate for any kind of acting award save for a Razzie, for “Dances with Wolves.” Two years later, it happened again with Clint Eastwood for “Unforgiven.” It turns out the latter instance wasn’t a one-hit wonder, but would repeat again in 2004 for “Million Dollar Baby.” Giamatti was likely most vulnerable because his film was a comedy, and many probably considered supporting thespians Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen easier to accommodate in their respective categories.

Who took its place: Clint Eastwood

Consolation prize: Giamatti did earn an Oscar nod the following year for “Cinderella Man,” and even picked up the SAG Award for his performance. Additionally, he won a handful of prizes for his turn as John Adams in HBO’s miniseries.

Come back next week for a look at the Big Snub of 2003. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments. There a few contenders for this one, so chime in if you have a pick!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Robin Hood

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

Robin Hood – Opening May 14, 2010



This trailer has been circulating for a while now and I probably saw it several times, but since its release date is only a week and a half away, I’m now beginning to get fairly excited about it. This is a movie that in theory should be really good, but the potential possibilities for failure are high because of many pale imitations that have been released in recent years. The important factor to remember here is that director Ridley Scott, and his star Russell Crowe, made one of the original good ones – 2000’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, “Gladiator.” In many ways, this is a less grandstanding story, but it’s also a portrait of a famed outlaw and hero. Re-teaming Crowe with Scott is a great plan, and returning to their period action epic roots is also a relief, considering their recent efforts together – “Body of Lies,” “American Gangster,” and “A Good Year” – were decent but not terrific. Cate Blanchett is an awesome actress who has played action-centric females before in the “Lord of the Rings” movies, and her part here looks fantastic. Casting Mark Strong (“Sherlock Holmes,” “RocknRolla,” “Body of Lies”) as the villain is equally spectacular, and he looks like he’ll be a lot of fun here. This seems to be more of the Robin Hood origin story, referring to its hero as “Robin of the Hood,” and that should be a fun tale to tell. This trailer reminds me a lot of the Clive Owen vehicle “King Arthur,” which I enjoyed but no one else did. This one could flop like that one, but much more likely, it will be satisfying and impressively epic. Thoughts?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Movies You Aught to See: Me and You and Everyone We Know

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!

Me and You and Everyone We Know
Directed by Miranda July
Released June 17, 2005



The only feature film to date from director Miranda July is a singularly unique work, merging artistic storytelling with deep, complex characters. July is a revelation in front of and behind the camera, and this is easily the best performance John Hawkes (recently seen as Lennon on “Lost”) has ever delivered. This love story between a shoe salesman and an eccentric performance artist is utterly bizarre but incredibly fascinating. It will likely be difficult to find a film that incorporates a man setting his own hand on fire and a romance between a seven-year-old and a grown woman so extraordinarily. If nothing else, it’s certainly an astonishing experience that will either leave you loving it or hating it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Good Heart

The Good Heart
Directed by Dagur Kari
Released April 30, 2010

“The Good Heart” is a movie about two people who live in a world apart from everyone else. According to Jacques, a bartender who serves only regulars, a bar is a place for men only, because it provides a refuge from women. His apprentice and only friend is Lucas, a homeless boy he met while the two were in the hospital, recovering from a heart attack and a suicide attempt, respectively. Two loners come together and begin to understand how the other sees the world – they may not get very far in sharing the same ideals, but it is their interaction that serves as the moral, driving center of the entertaining “The Good Heart.”

This is director Dagur Kari’s third film, as well as the third primarily used language in his films. After making “Noi” in 2003 in Icelandic and “Dark Horse” in Danish in 2005, the prolific auteur is completing a trilogy of sorts, though he stresses that each of his films “have explored different themes.” He has been working on this film for at least five or six years, and claims that seventy percent came to him at the beginning and it took the remainder of that time for the other thirty percent to materialize. Kari especially enjoys making films “that are open and which can lead to new interpretations,” and he is always pleased to hear that someone has reacted to a film of his is an unexpected way. His latest movie features seemingly detestable characters, yet there is something extremely endearing about them.

Interestingly enough, “The Good Heart” was inspired by good sitcoms, according to its director. By definition, he says, “a sitcom character cannot develop and therefore exists only in a closed, clearly defined world with the same wonderful people.” Citing influences from “The Simpsons” to “Seinfeld,” Kari describes his intent to “merge comedy with art.” The problem with comedy, he explains, is that it is often too shallow, while artistic films often take themselves much too seriously. “The Good Heart” would hardly seem like a sitcom at first glance, but upon further investigation, the comedy is really its driving force. Jacques is a darkly comic character who never even tries to make friends, and Kari says that it was great fun to write lines for him since he is so “foul-mouthed and allows himself to be so rude all the time.” Such an irate and impolite character is reminiscent of a less obviously loveable Archie Bunker.

“The Good Heart” offered up the chance for actors Brian Cox and Paul Dano to re-team for the first time since the two collaborated in Dano’s debut feature, “L.I.E.” in 2001. Whereas Dano looked to Cox as a paternal figure during the filming of their first film together, he now considers him more like a friend because he has had the chance to grow up in the past decade. Nine years later, the two work together wonderfully in this film. Dano describes Cox’s opportunity to play Jacques as a “sick job,” while Kari calls it “liberating.” Both insist that Cox, who was originally slated to take part in the interview but was stranded in Europe due to a flight cancellation following the volcano eruption, is nowhere near as unfriendly or crass in real life as his character in the movie. Regardless of his real-life persona, Cox is terrific in a fearsome performance as Jacques.

A major part of “The Good Heart” is its setting in New York City. Kari says he chose the Big Apple because it was important that the film take place in an iconic metropolitan city, and New York is a city with which he “has a personal connection.” Dano’s character, Lucas, is homeless, a fact which is never explained, but New York City is a place where homelessness unfortunately serves as a tremendous and altogether too common problem. Dano explains that, as a New York native, homeless people really upset him when he was young and growing up in the city. Any person who has spent a good amount of time in New York City can relate to Dano’s experience, and it is unlikely that such a soul as Lucas has been encountered among the homeless on the street by your average New Yorker, which makes him all the more fascinating.

Ironically, only the film’s exteriors were filmed in New York, and most of the film’s scenes, including the interior of the bar, were shot in Iceland. Dano points out that “they know how to drink in Iceland,” attributing to the effect the fact that there were nearly twenty-four hours of sunlight in the country at the time the movie was filming, creating a never-ending day where even the middle of the night felt like the morning. Kari likens the bar to a main character of sorts, and says that he focused so intently on it because “writing is a lonely process,” and creating a setting in which you feel good helps greatly. This is a movie about a relationship formed mostly in a bar, and in it Kari has found two enticing and compelling characters and helped bring them to life.

B+

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Movie with Abe: Harry Brown

Harry Brown
Directed by Daniel Barber
Released April 30, 2010

In the first scene of director Daniel Barber’s feature film debut, two youths race through a decrepit slum of Britain and gun down a mother pushing her baby in a stroller in cold blood. That first act of senseless and grotesque violence sets a tone for the rest of the film as it only escalates further and more innocent people lose their lives as a result of the degrading condition of the youth culture. One man is unprepared to let the situation worsen or persist, however, and that man is Harry Brown, someone from another generation who cannot believe the state of things in the present.

Caine stars as Harry Brown

Star Michael Caine explains that he never saw the movie as a violent film, but instead a film against violence. As a native of the very area in which the film takes place, Caine is extremely aware of the real-life problem that has developed, and he hadn’t realized quite how dangerous it was to be back in his own hometown. He sees vigilante Harry Brown, who sets about to take a stand after his only friend is brutally murdered, as a warning to the government to do something about the young people they’ve left to rot, in his own words. He sees education as the solution, especially for the lower class, but in this fictional story, the only way to fix what’s broken is cold-blooded and cunningly-executed revenge.

Caine discusses the film

Caine is an accomplished veteran with an extensive repertoire of excellent performances over the past forty-five years. At seventy-seven years old, Caine still commands the screen, and it’s his performance that fully carries and embodies the film. It’s a performance reminiscent of that given by Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino” – a man unwilling to let the world around him deteriorate any further and who remains fiercely able and committed despite his age. As the foil to Caine’s vigilante ex-Marine, the lovely Emily Mortimer portrays a hard-headed but kind-hearted investigator resolutely dedicated to catching the vigilante and serving justice. The interactions of the two of them are mesmerizing, and they seem to share a certain rapport that none of the other people in the film, cop or criminal, possess. They are two people who witness the horrors around them and can’t understand how others continue to let them occur. “Harry Brown” is a furiously disturbing and difficult movie, but troubling as it may be, it’s an impressive, powerful, and worthwhile film.

B+