Saturday, July 31, 2010

Movie with Abe: Salt

Salt
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Released July 23, 2010

Action movies often don’t emphasize story. Sometimes it’s not important at all, and other times it’s just not the priority of a big studio production to make sense and tie all of its threads together. Effort would be better spent on crafting cool action scenes and presenting its characters in various states of undress. While it’s possibly to have both awesome action and sensible storylines, it’s extremely rare. One friend describes Angelina Jolie’s not-as-loud-as-you’d-think blockbuster “Salt” as a poor man’s “Bourne Identity.” That line of thinking is on the right track since Jolie’s CIA agent Evelyn Salt seems like a pale rip-off of Jason Bourne, but the criticism is much too kind. “Salt” is easily one of the worst, most miserable movies of the year so far.

It’s not that there wasn’t potential for “Salt.” Some movies start out without anything going for them, and their failures are less regrettable since there wasn’t much hope from the beginning. Yet “Salt” has a major movie star who has effectively anchored popcorn flicks like the “Tomb Raider” films and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” She was unbelievably sleek and totally perfect for her role as Fox in 2008’s fast-paced “Wanted.” Now she’s back with another ridiculous name, and somehow, like Austin Powers, she’s lost all of her mojo. It’s a flat performance from an Oscar-winning actress who got nominated again for her great turn two years ago in Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” but that’s not the most lamentable part. Her long, lanky arms and foolish goth-dyed hair make her an awkward spy who doesn’t handle any of her fight scenes well at all. The mystery is that she’s done this before – and done it well, so why does she flop this time?

Perhaps the script and setup are more to blame here than the bizarrely incompetent Jolie. This is like a bee’s hive for spy clich├ęs, and the movie nearly drowns in them. It’s hard to take any government agency seriously that lapses on security so much that it escorts a prisoner without handcuffs and leaves another in an interrogation room with a cell phone. Fear not; these aren’t major spoilers. They’re simply devastatingly mind-numbing plot holes that come near the start of the film. By an hour in, the film has lost any trace of sense, inserting a number of twists that can’t be explained away by anything approaching logic. The 100-minute mark brings an all-too-delayed, even more preposterous and incomprehensible conclusion that should put audiences out of their misery. The action scenes are boring and tired, so there’s really nothing worth checking out in this whole movie. Originally, Tom Cruise was supposed to play the part of Salt before being replaced by Jolie. Even if Cruise isn’t the best actor in the business, he had the good sense to focus on and perform commendably in great action scenes in his film from this summer, the far superior “Knight and Day.” It’s a real shame that he didn’t leave any of the fun behind for the person who took over for him.

F

Friday, July 30, 2010

Movie with Abe: Get Low

Get Low
Directed by Aaron Schneider
Released July 30, 2010

The life of a hermit is one of solitude and independence. Yet living a life away from others can often encourage the spread of rumors related to why one secludes himself from society. It’s not uncommon that the assertions going around town are actually true. In the case of Felix Bush, a resident of 1930s Tennessee, many stories, both false and true, were circulated about him. In a far less conventional turn of events, Bush decided he wanted to throw a funeral party where everyone could come and share all of the horrible stories they had heard about him – before he died. It’s that concept which gets “Get Low” going and establishes it as a singularly quirky and irreverent film.

Duvall, Black, and Murray star in the film

Veteran actor Robert Duvall, who stars as Bush, is one of the main reasons to see the film. Duvall rejects the comparison of Bush to his first screen role, Boo Radley, explaining that Radley “kept to himself because he was a little off in the head” whereas Felix chose to live this way. On set, Duvall commanded a level of respect similar to the level of intimidation compelled by Bush. Costar Bill Murray, who plays funeral home director Frank Quinn, says that “we were all in it to serve Bobby” (Duvall). Murray’s comedic roots help him craft an oddly sardonic and unusual character in Quinn, who jumps at the chance to plan a funeral party for Bush, thinking much more about the money than the strange nature of things. Respected actors Duvall and Murray are joined by Sissy Spacek in the cast as an old flame of Bush’s who seems to be the only character with any sort of intimate knowledge of him.

Duvall discusses the film

Among the award-winning cast is a surprise standout rookie, Lucas Black. The Alabama native, whose previous credits include lead roles in the film version “Friday Night Lights” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” plays Quinn’s young assistant Buddy, who questions whether honoring Bush’s request is right. Director Aaron Schneider describes Buddy as the “moral cornerstone of the movie,” adding that Bush immediately likes him whereas he doesn’t take the same shine to Quinn or any other character in the film. Black is a particularly good choice for the part because, as Schneider explains, “there’s nothing non-south about Lucas Black, who has a crazy twang even for a Southern accent.” Murray says his accent is so thick that even his mother can’t understand him. Just as the young actor performs commendably amidst far more experienced actors, Buddy too has to play with the adults and sticks out as extremely memorable and relatable.

Murray and Spacek discuss the film

Black isn’t the only one working with more seasoned professionals. This is Schneider’s first feature film, though he won an Oscar for his 2003 short film “Two Soldiers.” In his feature debut, he smartly handles his talented cast and creates a compelling movie that’s alternately desolate and funny. As its premise indicates, this is a peculiar tale, and as such the film doesn’t flow entirely smoothly. The strength of the main actors, particularly 79-year-old Duvall and 27-year-old Black, elevates this to resounding experience with a decidedly unique outlook on life.

B

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday Theatre Review: AMC Empire 25

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

AMC Empire 25


Location: Couldn’t get any better. This is right in the heart of Times Square, and it’s even right across from another multiplex! At the corner of 42nd St and 8th Ave, you can make a day of it and stop by Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and Cold Stone Creamery right down the street.

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

Film selection: Very diverse. Currently, you can find all the big movies like “Dinner for Schmucks,” “Inception,” and “Twilight: Eclipse,” moderately independent flicks like “The Kids Are All Right,” and even some great smaller indies like “Countdown to Zero” and “The Dry Land.” If you can’t find your movie playing there, it’s likely because it’s across the street at the Regal E-Walk Stadium. It’s hard to beat 25 theatres, though.

Drawbacks: None, really. It’s a busy theatre, however, so there are chances of the film you want to see being sold out.

Bonus features: There are escalators to get from floor to floor, and even an elevator that’s sometimes in use! Also, since it’s so big you’re not overly scrutinized in terms of a bag you might be bringing in – I once ordered a hamburger, had it delivered to the theatre, and brought it in with me. For the record, I’m not advocating bringing in anything prohibited; just food.

Worth the trip? Yep. It’s a gigantic theatre that doesn’t have many negative attributes. It might be crowded, but it’s popular for a reason.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Deadlocked Duel of 2008

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

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

The Deadlocked Duel of 2008:

Sean Penn (Milk) vs. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) for Best Actor

The background: The recent winner vs. the comeback kid. Rourke’s role as an aging wrestler struggling to regain his once-held fame was a perfect metaphor for Rourke’s career as an actor, initially strong but ultimately unsustainable. Penn, on the other hand, had four previous Oscar nominations and one win, for 2003’s “Mystic River.” His part was exactly the kind of challenging and serious work he had done in the past, playing real-life gay politician Harvey Milk.

Why it was just the two of them: Frank Langella was the only other sure thing, for his performance as Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon.” While the film fared reasonably well in terms of nominations with almost every awards guild, it hardly took home any actual trophies (IMDB lists it as having won eleven out of fifty-five nominations). There wasn’t quite enough buzz for the film. Richard Jenkins didn’t emerge as a contender for “The Visitor” until his SAG nod, and some (notably me) weren’t sure that Brad Pitt would even get nominated in the end for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He did, but he didn’t have a shot at winning.

Setting the stage: Initially, Rourke came out ahead at the Golden Globes, where he beat Penn. Both films had been shut out of the Best Picture race, and “The Wrestler” had earned three nominations (Bruce Springsteen also won for Best Song). “Milk,” on the other hand, landed only one nod, for Penn. In subsequent awards races, it became clear that “Milk” was going to do better after it got DGA, PGA, and WGA nods. Penn took home the SAG Award, putting him pretty much even with Rourke. When Oscar nominations were announced, “Milk” got eight, including one for Best Picture, while only Rourke and costar Marisa Tomei represented “The Wrestler,” which mystifyingly got shut out of the Best Song race.

Oscar night: Since Penn had been rewarded only five years earlier, it seemed to some (including me) that it was time to give the award to someone else. That wasn’t the case however, as Penn won the prize, sending Rourke and “The Wrestler” home empty-handed. “Milk” also won the Best Original Screenplay award.

Consolation prize for the loser: The rejuvenation of Rourke’s career, starting with his role as villain Ivan Vanko in this year’s “Iron Man 2.”

Other notable duels: “The Class” vs. “Waltz with Bashir” for Best Foreign Film (victor: third nominee “Departures”), Kate Winslet (The Reader) vs. Meryl Streep (Doubt) for Best Actress

Come back next week for a look at the Deadlocked Duel of 2007. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

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.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Opening September 24, 2010



I caught this trailer online thanks to Awards Daily and found myself extremely entertained. Before watching it, I read that it was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the married couple behind the Oscar-nominated 2006 drama “Half Nelson” starring Ryan Gosling. Worth noting about that film is that it’s an immensely serious and powerful film and demonstrates an extraordinary performance from 17-year-old Shareeka Epps. That bodes well for this film, which stars 17-year-old Keir Gilchrist as a mental hospital patient. This is clearly much lighter fare, but given Boden and Fleck’s deft handling of disturbing and troubling material in their earlier film, it should be no problem to produce a meaningful and apparently hilarious dramedy. The first thing about the trailer that stands out is Zach Galifianakis as a fellow patient who initially poses as a doctor and strikes up a conversation with Gilchrist’s Craig. Galifianakis was the breakout star of last summer’s comedy smash “The Hangover,” and this looks like a pitch-perfect role for him. He’s not the only one, since Jeremy Davis appears momentarily as another patient who looks like he hasn’t even changed out of his Daniel Faraday wardrobe from “Lost.” With a cast like this, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” could be the best film with a six-word title about a mental hospital since “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Throw in Emma Roberts as Craig’s patient love interest and Lauren Graham as his mom and this has the makings of a truly great ensemble. This reminds me a lot of “Charlie Bartlett,” which was a really fun film, and I think this could be a big hit of the fall. Do you agree?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Movie You Aught to See: Collateral

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!

Collateral
Directed by Michael Mann
Released August 6, 2004



This thrill ride from director Michael Mann boasts many fantastic attributes, including thundering, stylish action music (particularly “Ready Steady Go,” also used in the above trailer), aerial cinematography, and an extremely interesting and engaging plot. Tom Cruise is at his very best as a gray-haired, deeply committed assassin who chooses Oscar-nominated Jamie Foxx as the cab driver to ferry him from kill to kill. Like “Speed,” the film never lets up. Once the action gets started, it doesn’t stop until the end of the movie. This one deserves special mention because it was one of my very first press screenings, back when I was interning with critic Bob Tremblay at the Metrowest Daily News.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Double Movie with Abe: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo & The Girl Who Played with Fire


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev
Released March 19, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
Released July 9, 2010

The first chapter of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy is now on DVD and still playing in select theatres, and the second film is out in many theatres now. The third chapter should be on the way to U.S. cinemas in October, and if the first two films are any indication, it’s going to be a blast. An American remake is even on the docket for 2012, helmed by David Fincher and possibly (though probably not) starring Carey Mulligan. Many New Yorkers can be seen reading the books on the subway every morning. Lisbeth Salander has officially made it over to the United States, and anyone who hasn’t seen the girl with the dragon tattoo in action should head to the theatre straight away.

A quick disclaimer: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played with Fire” are not for the faint of heart. Physical violence and disturbing sexual content are rampant throughout both films, and those who are squeamish will want to steer clear and opt for a more peaceful movie. Yet for those willing to take the leap, extraordinary rewards await. Lisbeth Salander is one of the coolest characters in a long time to grace the screen, seeking her revenge and getting her business done in an entirely unique way. Her partnership with disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist makes for an unbeatable team of unconventional investigators determined to serve justice and expose criminals for who they are.

There are few boundaries not knocked down in the first two films chronicling Lisbeth and Blomkvist’s exploits to investigate a decades-old murder and a major sex trafficking ring. The unfettered nature of the character and the films help make them extremely strong and compelling, and give the films a decided edge over regular American fare of the same sort (not that there really exists anything of the same sort). With nothing held back, both films are fierce thrill rides that make their lengthy run times (152 and 129 minutes, respectively) feel not a moment too long. While they’re both great films, the first is perhaps more exciting simply because it’s the first glimpse of Lisbeth and this treacherous and frightening world in which she lives and operates.

Less than halfway through the first film, Lisbeth Salander is already a classic screen character, where the unpredictability of her actions is what makes her so legendary and fantastic. Her uncanny resolve and resourcefulness are supreme assets that aid her in bringing down the bad guys. While there’s no real comparison to her, the rest of the characters are also marvelously fleshed-out and layered, and neither film limits its perspective to only that of Lisbeth and Blomkvist, opting instead for a cleverly selective omniscient point of view. Getting information in pieces from multiple standpoints makes for two fun, energetic thrillers that build the excitement level and don’t let it die down until the closing moments. Bring on part three.

Both: B+

Friday, July 23, 2010

Movie with Abe: Life During Wartime


Life During Wartime
Directed by Todd Solondz
Released July 23, 2010

Some movies are so quirky and off-putting from the get-go that audience members may be tempted to disregard them completely without giving them an appropriate chance to prove their worth. There’s often a reward to be found for sticking through the experience, usually in the form of getting to truly know select characters through intense and deep exploration, even if plot is sacrificed. Sometimes the payoff isn’t worth it, however, and other times, it’s hard to determine exactly what’s been accomplished and what’s still up in the air. “Life During Wartime” falls into the latter category, acting as an intriguing and altogether eccentric portrait of several intersecting and intertwining lives.

This film begins from radically different starting points for its characters, and the diverse arcs explored serve to both contradict and complement each other interestingly. Two pedophiles search for acceptance as one embarks on a new relationship and the other is freed from prison, and both encounter the ghosts of their pasts as they try to move forward and begin anew. One woman meets a new man and is overcome by how normal and simple he is, while her son prepares to become a man as his Bar Mitzvah approaches.

On the surface, the film might seem like an overly scripted, often awkward picture of deplorable characters. But there are tremendous subtleties likely lost on many audience members, particularly related to music choices. While the instrumentals of the classic “Fiddler on the Roof” song “Matchmaker” may be fairly symbolically obvious to most, the repeated playing of part of the Hebrew prayer “Avinu Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King) is more cleverly indicative of additional themes. The audible lyrics, as translated in the Siddur Sim Shalom prayer book, are “treat us with justice and righteousness, and deliver us.” Picking up on the deeper meanings helps to lend the film increased credibility. It deals with unpleasant concepts but, to its credit, nothing objectionable or disturbing apart from the uncomfortable dialogue is presented on screen to make viewers squirm.

“Life During Wartime” solicits extremely impressive performances from some of its supporting players, who hone in on their characters in their most intimate and private moments. Both Michael K. Williams and Ciarin Hinds play broken pedophiles whose impulses and misdeeds are known to the world around them, and their portrayals are equally meaningful and heartbreaking. The high-pitched and bizarre Shirley Henderson turns in a dazzling and hypnotic performance as the hapless, self-destructive Joy, and her peculiar singularity is what keeps the film together. The always-great Allison Janney is particularly adept at enunciating the script’s very specific and more often than not strange dialogue. Like the film itself, the performances are idiosyncratic and odd, with echoes of “A Serious Man” in (mostly) positive ways. Overall, it’s not nearly as complete or comfortable an experience, provoking thoughts but not necessarily coherent ones.

B

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thursday Theatre Review: Regal Union Square Stadium 14

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

Regal Union Square Stadium 14


Location: The name is a giveaway. At 850 Broadway on the corner of 13th St, this is about as prime a location as you can get. It’s a block away from the L, N, Q, R, 4, 5, and 6 subways and only doors away from a number of restaurants and stores.

Pricing: Tickets are $13.00 each. Premiere Supersaver (new films) and VIP Supersaver (films that have been out for at least 12 days) tickets can be used, but a cautionary tale: with the NYC surcharge that the theatre charges, they both end up being the same price, $9.50.

Film selection: This isn’t your typical Regal theatre. It’s one of the Cinema Art multiplexes, where you’ll regularly find a number of select independent films along with your blockbusters. I’ve seen everything from “Seraphim Falls” to “The Ghost Writer” to “Gran Torino” at this theatre. On July 2nd, the theatre was showing “The Last Airbender,” “Twilight: Eclipse,” “Grown Ups,” “Knight and Day,” “The A-Team,” “The Karate Kid,” and indie film “Cyrus.”

Drawbacks: It’s a popular theatre, and if you’re using a Supersaver pass and need to purchase your tickets at the box office instead of at a ticket machine, the line can get pretty long. Also, don’t rely on fifteen minutes of padding provided by previews – I’ve been surprised more than once by the film starting after only a preview or two.

Bonus features: It’s part of the Regal Cinemas theatre chain, so even though you may have to pay $8.50 for popcorn, use your Regal Cinema Crown Club card and earn rewards like crazy. I’ve received at least multiple free popcorns, drinks, and even tickets over the course of twenty-something (an estimate) visits.

Worth the trip? Yes. It has all the big movies and a few independent ones as well. It’s the theatre with the most screens in the downtown area, and it’s in a really great location. Some might even say that it makes downtown feel like midtown, since this is the largest movie house south of 30th St.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Deadlocked Duel of 2009

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

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

The Deadlocked Duel of 2009


Avatar” vs. “The Hurt Locker” for Best Picture & Best Director

The background: The juggernaut vs. the little film that could. “The Hurt Locker” was made for $11 million, and raked in less than $13 million over the course of its theatrical run starting in June 2009. “Avatar” had a budget well over $200 million and took home $77 million in its opening weekend alone. “Avatar” didn’t even open until three days after both films earned Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director.

Why it was just the two of them: At the Golden Globes, the two films contended against “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious,” and “Up in the Air.” All three took home one award apiece: Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique) and Best Screenplay, respectively. They all had some consolation prize to take home, even though “Precious” eventually bested “Up in the Air” in the Best Screenplay race, sending the former home empty-handed. Some speculated that Quentin Tarantino’s violent film could upset for Best Picture, but in a field with ten nominees, there can only be so many frontrunners. Most importantly, however, directors Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) and James Cameron (“Avatar”) had previously been married, and this was the ultimate faceoff to see which ex-spouse would win.

Setting the stage:Avatar” won twin Golden Globes, for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director, earning Cameron his second trophy (he won for “Titanic” twelve years earlier). Despite his film earning hundreds of millions of dollars to become the highest-grossing movie of all time, there was some public backlash against the film. Cameron’s smugness certainly didn’t help, whereas the fact that Bigelow would be the first woman ever to win the Best Director prize. “The Hurt Locker” steamrolled ahead, winning the DGA, PGA, and WGA awards.

Oscar night: Some thought that the two films would split the top two prizes, one winning Best Picture, the other getting Best Director. In that scenario, Bigelow would likely win and “Avatar” would take home Best Picture. As it turned out, “The Hurt Locker” was the film to beat, winning both Best Picture and Best Director and even snatching Best Original Screenplay away from “Inglourious Basterds” and taking home a total of six awards out of its nine nominations. “Avatar” won three technical awards.

Consolation prize for the loser:Avatar” swept the Saturn Awards for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, winning all ten of its bids, including all four of the acting categories!

Other notable duels: “A Prophet” vs. “The White Ribbon” for Best Foreign Film (victor: third nominee “The Secret in their Eyes”)

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

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Movie with Abe: Inception

Inception
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Released July 16, 2010

Messing with the mind is a dangerous business. That’s doubly true for director Christopher Nolan’s latest film, “Inception,” which tinkers not only with the psyches of its characters but also pushes the mental capabilities of its audience to comprehend its extremely layered and complex plot. A major part of the experience of watching the film is deciphering its many mysteries and piecing together the pieces to form a cohesive and coherent whole, and there’s a feeling of satisfaction that comes with the eventual realization that the puzzle has been solved and the movie might actually make some sense, provided a viewer is up to and capable of completing the task.

Disregarding his two enormously popular Batman entries, “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan is known for films that take much of their run time to fully comprehend exactly what’s going on. That’s certainly true of Nolan’s breakout, Oscar-nominated 2001 film “Memento,” and also of his 2006 magician movie “The Prestige.” Unlike with M. Night Shyamalan’s films, audiences haven’t grown tired of the big reveals. Nolan’s newest film take things to a whole new level, compounding and confounding ideas in a way that initially seems impenetrable but slowly unravels to become more accessible. Nolan, who wrote and directed the film, goes for the fantastical and weaves an extraordinarily intricate and excessively engaging story to be deciphered by his audience.

“Inception” succeeds in many ways, and perhaps its best asset is its pacing. The 148-minute film doesn’t waste time building up and developing its plot; instead it features its main character on the run in a frantic and thrilling chase scene and then dives right in to the core story of the film. It’s a risky gamble that pays off, unless viewers are so dizzy and upset with their lack of comprehension. By the time the action really kicks into gear, however, things actually start making sense, and understanding what’s going on is just as exciting and fun as not having a clue.

The film is ultimately an extremely smart and well-developed science fiction film that invests just as much in characters as it does in story. An entertaining and impressive team of people are assembled to help Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb plan his expedition into a target’s mind to infiltrate his dreams. This colorful bunch includes a host of talented actors, including DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Ken Watanabe. Acting is hardly important in this film, yet having good actors on hand is always a positive. Cillian Murphy and Michael Caine are also present in crucial supporting roles, and the strong performances enhance the film considerably.

What makes “Inception” worthwhile in the end is the thrill ride on which it takes viewers for two and a half hours. Assembling it, both creatively and visually, must have been quite a feat, and taking it back apart as the audience gets a chance to unpack is equally mesmerizing and frustrating. The action will have science fiction fanatics and everyday moviegoers alike enthralled, and the effects and cinematography are dazzling. This is one very slick adventure ride that may have audiences scratching their heads but definitely won’t have them checking their watches.

B+

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Welcome to the Rileys

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.

Welcome to the Rileys – Opening November 5, 2010



The trailer for this harrowing drama was featured on the IMDB home page last week and caught my eye. It showcases two powerhouse television stars that have turned in outstanding lead performances on HBO shows. James Gandolfini starred as the patriarch of “The Sopranos” for almost a decade while Melissa Leo is just starting out as a hard-working lawyer in New Orleans on “Treme.” Kristen Stewart rounds out the cast as a troubled young girl who Gandolfini’s mourning father meets during a trip to New Orleans. It seems that Stewart still hasn’t learned how to keep her arms by her sides since the first shot of her in the trailer has her executing her signature move, running her fingers through her hair. Stewart may be whipped into shape by her costars here, however, considering how up for the task they are. Leo buckled down and immersed herself in a difficult role in “Frozen River” two years, earning a very deserved Oscar nomination for her efforts. Gandolfini played a conflicted, depressed man on “The Sopranos,” and he has three Emmys to show for it. While Stewart may spend most of her time these days dating vampires on screen, this should hopefully be a more promising role than March’s “The Yellow Handkerchief.” Even if Stewart doesn’t do a great job, this seems like a moving, enriching story. The trailer starts to give away too much, but the good thing about that is that I want to see the film to find out what hasn’t been given away already. November is along time away, but that time in the fall is just when some of the truly good Oscar contenders start coming out, so it’s possible that Gandolfini and Leo, and most likely not Stewart, will end up on that list if this film is a success. I’m looking forward to it – how about you?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Movie You Aught to See: Children of Men

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!

Children of Men
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Released December 25, 2006



This staggering vision of a dystopian future is terrifying and absolutely brilliant. A devastatingly serious opening paves the way for increasingly more severe and powerful scenes shot astonishingly by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Not only is it a marvelous film, it’s also a though-provoking experience based on an extraordinarily inventive premise. It’s an excellent instance of anticipating the near future that doesn’t seem too far from possibility yet still presents itself as utterly chilling. Featuring amazing performances all around from the likes of Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, it’s easily one of the best science fiction adaptations ever brought to the big screen.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Movie with Abe: Kisses


Kisses
Directed by Lance Daly
Released July 16, 2010

There are many different types of children’s movies. Much like the expression “you can’t pick your nose, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose,” there are movies made for children, movies made about children, but rarely movies made for children by children. There’s still a distinction when it comes to the audience of a film, however, which is often made much clearer by the MPAA rating a film receives. Though the 72-minute import from Ireland didn’t get an official rating, “Kisses” is certainly an instance of a film about children but most definitely not for children.

“Kisses” finds its two preteen protagonists, Dylan and Kylie, each living in miserable homes where foul language and, more seriously, physical abuse are regular occurrences. The film opens in black and white to mirror the children’s melancholy, and circumstances quickly arise that force the two next-door neighbors to flee their all-too-familiar street and run away from the punishments that await them. As Dylan and Kylie hop aboard a boat headed for destinations unknown, the film suddenly bursts into color, indicating a change in worldview on the part of these two young people who have never experienced anything besides the awful state of their home lives.

“Kisses” is a fantasy movie in many respects, allow its main characters to break free of the confines of their dead-end lives and escape to see the world. Their journey is magical and at the same time wonderfully simplistic: the kids blow their money on ice cream and roller shoes. Their adventure is enchanting and the film never loses sight of the fact that these kids are just kids. While the events of the film, which include encounters with pedophiles, would be any parent’s nightmare, the parents in this film are really the nightmare, and it’s the emotional connection formed by these young leads that is ultimately rewarding.

At the heart of “Kisses” are its two extremely young stars, who perform even more commendably than their characters do when faced with a difficult task usually assigned to adults. Shane Curry and Kelly O’Neill, both in their debut film roles, are extraordinarily impressive and make it easy to forget that there are no adults present with their impressive and real performances. This is quiet, subtle, and lovely film that thrusts two children from abusive homes into the real world and affords them an alternately moving, frightening, touching, and bittersweet chance to a live a life not their own. This is just the latest in a series of impressive films coming out of Ireland, following “The Eclipse” and “Ondine.” This one may not seem as substantive on the surface or have any award-winning actors in its cast, but it’s still just as wonderful.

B+

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thursday Theatre Review: Quad Cinema

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

Quad Cinema

Location: At 34 West 13th St in between 5th and 6th Ave, it’s a short, uneventful walk Union Square as well as the B, D, F, and M trains at 14th St and 6th Ave. While it’s literally nestled right next to New School and NYU dorms, it’s easy to miss and not really near much of anything, though the theatre’s website does offer a list of local attractions.

Pricing: A definitive advantage of this theatre: tickets are only $11.00 while most theatres in the city are now up to $13.00.

Film selection: This theatre seems to specialize in second-run showings of independent and foreign films, releasing them considerably after they have come out in major theatres. It’s not only that, however, since it gets a few of its own films to premiere exclusively, like “The Last New Yorker” earlier this year. I also saw the Russian film “The Italian” and the Israeli Oscar nominee “Beaufort” there. Currently, “Great Directors” is the token first-run film, while April and May releases “Please Give,” “Mother and Child,” and “Letters from Juliet” are still showing, as is June release “Wild Grass.”

Drawbacks: The location isn’t terribly exciting, even if it’s not too inconvenient, and the theatres are pretty small.

Bonus features: Not that come to mind.

Worth the trip? If you missed a major independent film, then yes. I haven’t personally ever needed to take advantage of that, but I have liked the movies I’ve seen there quite a bit. If you’re looking to save a few bucks and aren’t concerned about seeing a film on opening weekend, this is your destination.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Movie with Abe: Knight and Day

Knight and Day
Directed by James Mangold
Released June 23, 2010

What could be better than a light, entertaining summer action blockbuster? Aside from a smart breakout independent drama, pretty much nothing. This film doesn’t waste time on silly things like character development, plot, common sense, or continuity since none of that is truly important to what it’s trying to be. It knows exactly what it is, and it excels at being just that. For one critic horribly dismayed by the awfulness of “The Last Airbender” one Sunday morning, a successive showing of “Knight and Day” was just the remedy needed that delivered action, laughs, smiles, and a genuinely great time for 109 minutes.

It’s wonderful to be able to say that everything in “Knight and Day” works great. The action scenes build on each other, and they’re fast-paced, non-stop, and a whole lot of fun. It’s sort of like a mix of “Mission Impossible” and “Speed” that makes a bit more sense than the former and isn’t quite as substantive of the latter. Even more refreshing is the fact that the film’s two stars are doing exactly what they should be doing with their careers right now.

After some choice critical and box-office successes in the 80s, 90s, and 00s, Tom Cruise hasn’t quite done well for himself in the past with some wild behavior and film roles in duds like “Lions for Lambs” and “Valkyrie” over the past couple of years. An amalgam of the roles he played in “Mission Impossible” and “Collateral,” Roy Miller is a perfect return to form for Cruise. He has exactly the right mannerisms, charisma, and comic timing to pull off this action hero-villain part and to do it with a permanent smile.

Cameron Diaz, who tried serious acting a number of years ago and ended up with a few Golden Globe nominations to show for it (“Being John Malkovich,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Gangs of New York”), feels right at home as the blissfully unaware June Havens, who first meets Roy at an airport and finds her life thrown for a loop as a result of their interactions. Diaz is sweet, funny, and most importantly, willing to let herself be swept up in this adventure while asking remarkably few questions about the situation. It’s a model mindset for the audience, and letting go of all worldly concerns and getting immersed in the thrill of “Knight and Day” is just the recipe for an equally fun and forgettable summer movie.

B+

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Surprise Inclusion of 2002

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 2002:

Pedro Almodovar (Talk to Her) for Best Director

Why it wasn’t going to happen: Despite working prolifically for over twenty years, Almodovar’s success at the Oscars had been relegated to the Best Foreign Film Category. His 1988 film “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” earned a nomination, and his 1999 film “All About My Mother” took home the award. From 1996 on, the “lone director” nominee at the Oscars had been a veteran filmmaker like Milos Forman, Peter Weir, and David Lynch or the director of an English-language film rather than a foreign director. The directing field was also quite crowded, with the helmers of the five Best Picture frontrunners as well as directors like Spike Jonze and Alexander Payne.

How it happened: The time had come for this great Spanish director to be recognized. “Talk to Her” wasn’t submitted by Spain in the Best Foreign Film category, so voters presumably wanted to honor his latest work in some other way. “Talk to Her” also earned a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, along with Mexican film “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Almodovar managed oust “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson from the Best Director field (though he would return the following year and win), and he also win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, cementing his status on IMDB as an Oscar winner since their records give credit for Best Foreign Film honors to the film’s origin country.

Was it deserved? Absolutely. “Talk to Her” is a brilliant and beautiful film, among the best of 2002. Almodovar’s direction is magnificent, and he’s proven that in his two most recent films. It’s a good thing that Almodovar did earn his directing nod and writing win, however, since “Volver” got snubbed in the Best Foreign Film category despite earning a Best Actress nomination for Penelope Cruz and “Broken Embraces,” my fifth favorite film of 2009, didn’t earn a single mention.

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 Deadlocked Duel of 2009 to start.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Movie with Abe: Winter’s Bone


Winter’s Bone
Directed by Debra Granik
Released June 11, 2010

Summer is a great time to come across independent gems which roll out slowly in extremely limited release before expanding to more markets once they garner critical praise and begin to pick up year-end accolades. The past few years have produced great films by female directors, including “Frozen River” from Courtney Hunt and “The Hurt Locker” from Kathryn Bigelow. This summer features just as fortuitous a find: “Winter’s Bone” from director Debra Granik, who previously made “Down to the Bone,” which was actress Vera Farmiga’s breakout film. Following a select openings in a number of cities, this surprising gem is rolling out in theatres cross the country all this month.

“Winter’s Bone” begs comparison to “Frozen River” for a number of reasons. Both are set in the dead of winter but released in the summer, which makes the experience of seeing them all the more powerful. Both Ray in “Frozen River” and Ree in “Winter’s Bone” are de facto single parents, struggling to raise their children while barely having any more resources than they do. Ree has it even harder, since they aren’t even her children, but rather her siblings. Her very ill mother and absent criminal father have left her in charge, and Ree has to act much older than her age simply because of the situation in which she’s been put. When she learns that her home will be seized if her recently released convict father does not show up for his court date, she begins a bold and fearsome search for him.

The most impressive aspect of “Winter’s Bone,” like “Frozen River” before it, is its fierce breakout lead female performance. Nineteen-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, whose resume up until this point includes little more than “The Bill Engvall Show,” turns in a masterful performance as the brave and outwardly callous Ree. It’s one of the instances where having an actress actually play her age (roughly) proves to be an exceptional decision. While she is the unquestionable discovery of the film, there are a number of fine, powerful supporting turns to be found in it. John Hawkes, most recently seen on “Lost” and “Eastbound & Down” is completely unrecognizable and terrifying as Ree’s uncle Teardrop, and former Cromartie Terminator Garret Dillahunt does a commendable job of crafting an uncertain and unsettling portrait of the law in rural Missouri.

“Winter’s Bone” is a film with remarkably few characters that exists within a very narrow universe. Making that small world feel realistic is a difficult task, yet Granik, Lawrence, and crew succeed with ease. The movie is suspenseful but not excessively so, and more unnerving and disturbing than anything else. This is a prime example of a bleak movie that still manages to be extraordinarily effective. If subsequent summers continue to produce films like this and showcase emerging talent like Lawrence, the future of independent cinema of the next decade looks bright.

B+

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: The Social Network

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 Social Network – Opening October 1, 2010



Even before this teaser trailer debuted a couple of weeks ago, this movie had a lot going for it. It’s certainly a popular subject, since likely everyone in the entire universe knows what Facebook is, and if they haven’t heard of creator Mark Zuckerberg, they will have after this movie comes out. The talent behind the film is impressive, spearheaded by David Fincher, directing his eighth feature film after “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Zodiac,” “Panic Room,” “Fight Club,” “The Game,” “Se7en,” and “Alien3” (I’m excited to report that I’ve seen them all). If it’s possible, the screenwriter’s identity is even more thrilling. Aaron Sorkin was the creator of “The West Wing” and was responsible for the incredibly quick, smart, and clever dialogue on that show. The content of the trailer, however, is what’s particularly impressive. It’s a definitive teaser, without actually providing a real look at the style, look, or scenes of the film. Instead, we get a blurry image of Zuckerberg slowly coming into focus as a number of intensely memorable quotes are spoken. It’s much more dramatic than you’d ever expect, but that’s what makes it so intriguing. I had worried that it might be too gimmicky, trying to mimic familiar Facebook memes. Instead, it’s anything but. This is an origin story about characters, and from the looks of it, it’s going to be fascinating. I got chills watching the trailer the first time, and I’ve seen it as a least several times since then, with the same result every time. The most memorable exchange is Zuckerberg’s response to the question “Do I have your full attention?” – a resounding and indignant “No.” Jesse Eisenberg seems like a great choice to play Zuckerberg, and I think it will be a star-making role for the already-impressive performer, who broke out in 2002 with “Roger Dodger” and “The Emperor’s Club” and has continued to deliver great turns films like “The Squid and the Whale” and “Zombieland.” As the sole star of this movie, I think he can do great things. I can’t wait for this; what do you think?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Released July 2, 2010

If bending the elements seems mind-blowing, comprehending just how awful this movie is will be unfathomable. This failure of a film is unbearably boring and mysteriously incapable of delivering in any possible way. It’s even more puzzling when its high-profile director and apparently excellent source material are taken into account. Yet somehow, “The Last Airbender,” which was originally titled “Avatar: The Last Airbender” but renamed to avoid confusion (and possibly copyright infringement) with another recent big-budget sci-fi extravaganza, doesn’t have anything to offer that could make anyone perceive it as a remotely good movie.

For all of the criticism he has received, M. Night Shyamalan knows how to do certain things. The director of “The Sixth Sense” quickly earned contempt from many after delivering twist ending after twist ending in follow-up films “Unbreakable,” “Signs,” “The Village,” “Lady in the Water,” and “The Happening.” While some might disagree when it comes to his more recent films, Shyamalan is extraordinarily capable of creating suspense and crafting a frightening and foreboding mood for all of his movies. One thing that Shyamalan excels at is working with child actors. Look no further than the Oscar-nominated turn by Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense” and the performance by future Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin in “Signs.”

Yet “The Last Airbender” possesses none of that. It boasts perhaps the worst acting by every single member of the ensemble, most of who seem like they’re almost deliberately trying to make their lines sound hopelessly silly. This is the first time Shyamalan is adapting someone else’s material in a film that he directs, but he penned the screenplay to the film version of “Stuart Little” in 1999 and that movie is actually quite viewable by adults. Arguing that “The Last Airbender” is a film for kids doesn’t excuse its abysmal writing and the horrendous performances turned in by each and every member of the cast. The movie is rated PG, but a child wouldn’t need a guardian to make a better movie than this.

So if this film isn’t about performances or writing, then what it is about? That would be the special effects. The problem is that they are just as terrible as the rest of the film. Paying an extra $3-$5 to see the film in 3-D will give audiences the chance to see the opening credits jump off the screen and nothing else. Bending air and fire should be amazingly cool to watch. Here, it’s just boring. Any hope that a major action scene might be swiftly on the way is quickly dashed after each successive disappointing fight or battle scene. Ending the film smack dab in the middle of the action serves to infuriate frustrated viewers rather than to entice them for another installment. This Avatar is hopeless to save this movie. Where’s Jake Sully when you need him?

F

Monday Movie You Aught to See: Minority Report

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!

Minority Report
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Released June 21, 2002


Leave to it to a great director like Steven Spielberg to make one of the best science fiction films of the decade. This adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story combines looks at the fascinating notion of pre-crime, where murderers can be arrested before they ever commit a crime. This is an extremely complex and well thought-out telling of a truly intriguing story. The visuals are incredible, combining dazzling visual effects and darker backgrounds to set the appropriate mood. This is one of Tom Cruise’s strongest performance, but the real standout is Samantha Morton as one of the future-seeing pre-cogs. Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow, Tim Blake Nelson, and Neal McDonough can also all be found in great supporting roles. Who said that sci-fi films were supposed to have good acting? This one is a real find, and it’s one of the coolest thrill rides the last decade has produced.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Released July 9, 2010

It’s hard to find a family comedy that’s truly a good, memorable movie. Fortunately, the summer usually provides one or two, and this summer’s first great comedy is here with “The Kids Are All Right,” the new film from director Lisa Cholodenko about a lesbian couple whose two teenage children decide it’s time they met the sperm donor their mothers used to give birth to them. What ensues isn’t a lewd romp stuffed full of cheap lesbian jokes, but rather a heartfelt and touching movie about less traditional relationships and how they can still function just as well.

Without a doubt, the best asset of “The Kids Are All Right” is the smart casting that went into molding this family unit. At the forefront of the family are Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as lesbian moms Nic and Jules. Both are wonderful actresses who have a long list of accomplishments on their resumes, and this film should be swiftly added to the already impressive collections. Bening is playing a version of the kind of role she played in “American Beauty” and this May’s “Mother and Child,” a stubborn, controlling woman who just doesn’t quite know how to let her emotions show through. It’s a part that Bening knows how to play well, but here she adds a delightful comedic touch aided by a fantastic chemistry with Moore, who lets herself looser than she’s ever been without going too far. The two make a marvelous couple and a formidable team.

This is a great case of kids actually being played by kids, as the young actors who portray Nic and Jules’ children are only a couple of years older than the ages they actually play. Josh Hutcherson does a decent job as son Laser, even if the part is the least fleshed-out of all the roles in the film. Mia Wasikowska continues to demonstrate her immense range, after breaking out in “In Treament” several years ago and turning in great performances in last year’s “That Evening Sun” and as the titular character in “Alice in Wonderland.” Mark Ruffalo rounds out the cast as Paul, the free spirit and newly present sperm donor who forges a surprising connection with his offspring. This is a textbook example of how ensemble casts should function without adding in too many supporting characters or favoring any one character over another.

The film that “The Kids Are All Right” begs the most comparison to is last year’s “It’s Complicated,” a free, fun comedy with a few big stars that doesn’t have an inflated ego but rather a nice, relaxed feel. Meryl Streep’s performance in the latter film seems like she’s playing herself, and while Bening and Moore are clearly playing characters not quite like themselves, the same welcoming, intimate feeling is present. “The Kids Are All Right” provides the opportunity to get up close and personal with the members of a family, and most importantly, to have a good time and enjoy some great laughs in the process.

B+

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thursday Theatre Review: Cinema Village

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

Cinema Village

Location: At 22 East 12th St, it’s right off of University Place in the direction of 5th Avenue. Two blocks south of Union Square, it’s right across from a falafel place and around the corner from a dozen affordable restaurants.

Pricing: That’s where this theatre shines above all others. Regularly priced tickets are $11.00, and this is the only theatre in New York City that features a 24/7 discount for students without the need for a previously-purchased pass. Student tickets are currently $8.00.

Film selection: Iffy. I’ve seen some great films that weren’t playing anywhere else here, like “Snow Cake” and Oscar-nominated documentaries “War/Dance” and “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” and also caught up on second-run movies like “Tell No One” long after they were gone from other theatres. Sometimes, you won’t have heard of a single movie playing there, like now: “Agora,” “Dogtooth,” “The Law,” “Mademoiselle Chambon,” and “Only When I Dance.” I’ll admit, I have heard of “Agora,” but that’s it. It’s a benefit that the theatre plays second-run movies, but “Little Miss Sunshine” was still playing even after it was released on DVD. Not one that needs to be seen on a big screen…

Drawbacks: …although you won’t find any big screens here. The largest of the three screens seats 156, and the smallest can only hold 67. During my showing of “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” some theatre employee kept walking up towards the screen (there’s a lot of space in between the seats and the screen) and it was very distracting.

Bonus features: The popcorn is good, and you can definitely see movies here that you will not see anywhere else. Also, this theatre is very often shot in movies, appearing most recently, to the best of my knowledge, in “Multiple Sarcasms,” so it’s fun to see it on screen during other films.

Worth the trip? If you want to see a specific film you read about online or if you’re a student with a small budget and a passion for independent film and want to be (potentially) pleasantly surprised. Otherwise, walk over one avenue to the Regal Union Square Stadium 14, which will be profiled in a few weeks.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Surprise Inclusion of 2003

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 2003:

Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) for Best Actress

Preface: 2003 should go on record as the signature year in the past decade that featured the most surprising nominations announcement and most boring awards distribution. “Cold Mountain,” Evan Rachel Wood, and Maria Bello were all snubbed, while Samantha Morton, Djimon Hounsou, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Marcia Gay Harden, and Fernando Meirelles all made it in. This was a tough choice, but it’s what I remember being the most surprising.

Why it wasn’t going to happen: “Whale Rider” was an indie from New Zealand that opened on nine screens in the U.S. in June and grossed only $20 million over the course of six months. The film earned a number of nominations and wins for Most Promising Filmmaker Niki Caro and Most Promising Performer Castle-Hughes, who was only thirteen years old at the time. Castle-Hughes was not among the nominees for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes, and the film didn’t earn any nominations either. When the SAG nominations were announced, Castle-Hughes was on the Best Supporting Actress list despite being the definitive and inarguable lead of the film. Even if Castle-Hughes had a long shot chance at a nomination, it would likely be in the wrong category.

How it happened: In 2003, only the winners in each of the Golden Globe Best Actress categories went on to earn Oscar nominations. SAG nominee Naomi Watts (“21 Grams”) joined Charlize Theron (“Monster”) and Diane Keaton (“Something’s Gotta Give”) in the Oscar lineup. SAG nominee Patricia Clarkson had to settle for just one supporting nomination for “Pieces of April” since the SAG-honored “The Station Agent” didn’t sway Oscar voters, freeing up a slot for “In America” star Samantha Morton. Strangely enough, Castle-Hughes earned a promotion and beat out similarly young Evan Rachel Woood, who at sixteen played the lead role in “Thirteen,” which voters clearly thought was supported amply by Holly Hunter as the teen’s mom. Castle-Hughes defied the odds and became the youngest Best Actress nominee in history.

Was it deserved? While Wood didn’t make it in, this is one of the rare cases where Oscar voters actually got it right and honored a deserving young actress in the right category. Her post-Oscar career may not have been too bright, featuring a lead role in the flop “The Nativity Story” and a pregnancy at age sixteen, but her performance in “Whale Rider” was an excellent, mature debut.

Come back next week for a look at the Surprise Inclusion of 2002. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments. Also, what do you want to see as the theme for the next Wednesday Oscar Retrospective series, beginning in two weeks?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Opening November 19, 2010 (Part 1) and July 15, 2011 (Part 2)



I don’t support taking multiple films in a series as one when it comes to year-end awards, but in terms of trailers, I encourage it. This trailer for the two-part filmic adaptation of the final book in the “Harry Potter” series offers up quite a bit of excitement related to both the film and the experience. I read all of the books, and made sure to finish the seventh book on the day it came out after having had the sixth one spoiled for me since I put it down in favor of AP English summer reading and never got around to finishing it in a timely fashion. I’ve seen the first film and bits and pieces of the third and fourth installments, but that’s it. Still, this trailer makes me feel absolutely comfortable going into these chapters without having seen the previous few, if not determined to do so. What I love most about this trailer is the brilliant advertising scheme. In addition to using catchphrases that (rightly) cement this as a monumental cinematic event, the division into two parts is also stressed perfectly. The title card of “Part 1 – November 2010” is followed by many thrilling images and quick scenes before “Part 2 – July 2011” appears on screen, assuring fans that there is a built-in anticipation period between the two when buzz is sure to be high. It’s practically guaranteeing a fantastic reception for both films. Hopefully the strategy will work better for this series than it did for the second and third “Matrix” films. Even if the first part isn’t a hit, the second part is the final chapter of a saga that has captured the attention of audiences worldwide for thirteen years now and is sure to become one of the highest-grossing films of all time. I recognize some of the scenes from the final book in the trailer, and having not seen the earlier movies, it looks like Ralph Fiennes makes for a great Voldemort (sorry, He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named!). I remember thinking when I was reading the final book that it would make for a terrific movie, and therefore the prospect of having two movies instead of one is even better. There will likely be another trailer, if not several, before the first part is released, but I am officially excited. Do you agree?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Monday Movie You Aught to See: Team America: World Police

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!

Team America: World Police
Directed by Trey Parker
Released October 15, 2004



In honor of the July 4th holiday this past weekend, it seemed only appropriate to include a heavily patriotic film for this week’s Monday Movie You Aught to See. While this may not be the first flick that comes to find in that category, it’s certainly a uniquely brilliant one. While so many aspects of its content may offend a good portion of the population, it’s a gut-bustingly (watch out for a lengthy vomiting scene) hilarious farce that features puppets finding terrorism, all in the name of protecting America. The soundtrack full of original songs is fantastic (“America, Fuck Yeah” and “Everyone’s Got Aids” are highlights), and it’s hard not to crack a smile even if you’re absolutely disgusted by what’s occurring on screen. Some might call it childish; others would deem it a masterpiece. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to deem it a masterpiece, but it’s definitely worth screening if you think you can stomach it. You’ll soon learn that freedom isn’t free, but these guys know how to work hard towards attaining it. The teaser trailer lists off the names of the many people who will hate this movie; check out instead the first few minutes of this surprisingly great film.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Movie with Abe: Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Released June 18, 2010

The last time I saw a movie after hearing nothing but positive reviews and actually agreed with them, it was “Avatar.” While many heaped praise on it, others lambasted its lengthy runtime and alleged racial implications. The crucial difference with the third installment of Pixar’s enormously successful franchise is that it’s nearly impossible not to like it. Case in point: the friend who accompanied me to a showing of the film last week hadn’t seen either of the first two films, citing a lack of affinity for animation. She couldn’t help from cracking up (and tearing up) during the film, proving once and for all that these toy stories are relevant to all of us at any age.

It’s been eleven years since the previous “Toy Story” installment was released, and that time gap is used extraordinarily well even within the film’s opening moments. A high-speed chase features all of the toys in character, and it’s revealed to be an imagined realization of Andy playing with his toys as a child. Just as time has passed in the real world, so it has in the universe of the film. Andy is off to college, and, through a series of mishaps, his formerly beloved toys end up stranded – at a day care, of all places. As in the past, Woody is the voice of reason who insists that it is their duty to return to faithfully serve Andy, while the other toys think they can find a new home in this glorious place where children will never grow tired of playing with them.

Like the first two movies, the third chapter of the “Toy Story” series is daringly clever in both concept and execution. At first, Woody’s seeming need to contradict the rest of the bunch seems excessive, but ultimately, this band of toys proves to be just as functional and endearing as ever. Most importantly for a successive chapter in any series, this one stands on its own without needing to have seen the first two movies (though I doubt many besides my friend find themselves in that situation). The opening ten to fifteen minutes provide all the background necessary to make this third adventure its own separate entry that can be filed with the others or taken all by itself.

More so than in most other films, it’s the collection of characters that really makes for a winning combination. A new set of toys is introduced at the day care, which most memorably includes teddy bear Lotso (Ned Beatty) and Barbie’s hilarious soul mate Ken (Michael Keaton). Those familiar characters from the first two films – Woody, Buzz, Slink, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Jessie, and everyone else – are all back, and they haven’t changed a bit. While many moviegoers have grown up considerably since they first came to know and love these characters, it’s a rare pleasure to be able to return to the nostalgic past and find that something is just the way you left it. In terms of this franchise, nothing’s ever been truer.

A

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thursday Theatre Review: Village East Cinema

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

Village East Cinema

Location: At 181 – 189 Second Avenue in between 11th and 12th St, it’s not the most accessible location, but it’s hardly a bad one. It’s about a ten- to fifteen-minute walk from Union Square, and it’s right next door to a great vegan/vegetarian/Kosher pizza place called Viva Herbal Pizzeria.

Pricing: Tickets have gone up to $13.00 a pop, but if you’re a student, head to the theatre anytime on Tuesday to receive a ticket and a free popcorn for only $7. City Cinemas Screen Saver Tickets are also accepted two weeks after a film has opened.

Film selection: An interesting combination of mainstream and independent fare. Many of the films from sister cinema Angelika Film Center spill over to the Village East Cinema after a couple of weeks, and some even premiere exclusively at the Village East Cinema. I once saw “Marie Antoinette” and “Borat” (on opening day) on the same day here. Currently, the assortment includes popular fare – “Toy Story 3” (in both 2-D and 3-D) and “Jonah Hex” – as well as indie films “City Island,” “Solitary Man,” and “Let It Rain.”

Drawbacks: The doors to most of the auditoriums are located right next to the screen, so if you’re late to the movie, everyone will see you come in. For those who make it on time, the visible air conditioning units hanging from the ceiling often don’t work too well. And unlike the Angelika Film Center, where I’ve used Screen Saver Tickets on opening day at least a dozen times, this theatre tends to be strict about the ten-day waiting period.

Bonus features: If you get lucky, you’ll have a completely different experience devoid of the negatives described above. One of the giant auditoriums used to be a Yiddish theater, and seeing a movie there is quite a treat. Even though I didn’t like “Becoming Jane,” seeing it in this auditorium was great.

Worth the trip? Depends. The selection can be hit or miss, but movies are often playing much longer at this theatre than they are at others, especially the independent ones. It’s not a bad schlep to the theatre and it’s a nice neighborhood that you might otherwise not find yourself visiting, and likely worthwhile to catch a good flick.