Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stranger Than Fiction: Between Two Worlds

Between Two Worlds
Directed by Alan Snitow & Deborah Kaufman
Showing June 30 at 6pm & 8pm

video


Showing tonight at the IFC Center as part of the Stranger Than Fiction documentary series is "Between Two Worlds," an examination of the value of dissent and unpopular speech among members of the Jewish community when it comes to positions on Israel. Filmmakers Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman begin with the unrest caused by the screening of a film about pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting in Gaza, at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. This invocation, coupled with other subsequent references, is intended to turn commonly-accepted conflicts on their heads. What's discomforting about the way Snitow and Kaufman present their thesis is that, in stressing the importance of having those with less popular beliefs be heard, they risk doing exactly what one interviewee towards the start of the film argues that "Rachel" does, quoting Natan Sharansky: "demonization, double standards, and delegitimization." In the aim of fair play, Snitow and Kaufman ignore just what the "louder side" stresses so much, which is that, while questions should be asked and investigations should occur, placing all blame on Israel without holding other countries, governments, and groups accountable for their actions in the same or similar conflicts isn't right. It goes beyond any political stance - the filmmakers here are not presenting the balanced picture they intend to, instead slanting to one side by featuring it much more prominently because it feels more revolutionary and progressive. There are moments at which "Between Two Worlds" rings very true, but its failure to be just as discerning with its subjects as those it attempts to condemn is disappointing. I do always advocate seeing something for yourself before judging it, so in that sense it's worth a look, but it's just as incomplete and irresponsible as it is informative.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: Five to Ten for 2009

Welcome back to weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. Five to Ten is the fifth 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.

On the heels of the Academy’s announcement that this coming year will feature anywhere from five to ten films in the Best Picture list, I thought to look back at the most recent decade to determine what number of films would have ultimately earned a slot in the top category. Obviously, this is all guesswork and designed, above anything, to be fun. In the new system, films will need to earn at least 5% of the first-place votes. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments!

Five to Ten for 2009

The actual lineup: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air

The locks: There’s no question that the five films nominated for Best Director - Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and Up in the Air would have made the list.

The close-to-certains: It was popular and beloved enough to have received enough top votes, and therefore Up would likely have managed a spot on the list.

The less likelies: None

The victims: Four very different films might have suffered an unfortunate fate here. The Blind Side was very much a “popular vote” inclusion, and probably wouldn’t have made the list since next to no one predicted it and stole a spot many thought would have been occupied by “Star Trek” or “Invictus.” District 9, as a sci-fi film that wasn’t “Avatar,” would have been sidelined and saved for the technical categories. An Education, a British indie darling, definitely didn’t accumulate the #1 votes that it would have needed in this new system. Ditto A Serious Man, a film that many loved but likely wouldn’t have gained enough traction to merit a spot without ten slots.

And the nominees could have been… Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up, Up in the Air

Does it change the winner? No. This was always a two-man battle between “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker,” and not one of the four films that wouldn’t have been included influenced the victory either way.

Which lineup is better? As a big fan of all but the abysmal “The Blind Side,” I’d be tempted to say that the ten-strong list is great, though I didn’t care all that much for “Precious” either. That said, I do think that when something like “The Blind Side” gets a Best Picture nod, things are getting too liberal, and therefore maybe a tighter bunch of nominees is a better idea.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: A Dangerous Method

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.

A Dangerous Method – Opening TBD



Now this looks like a good film. I’ve seen three David Cronenberg films, two of them more of his mainstream, “Eastern Promises” and “A History of Violence,” and one of his more eccentric, offbeat pictures, “Spider.” I liked the first two and I’m not sure how I felt about the third, so this rather normative drama about a rather abnormal subject should be extremely interesting. I’m especially thrilled to see these actors getting great parts. Viggo Mortensen tends to be smartly selective about the roles he takes, and Sigmund Freud is quite a role. Michael Fassbender looks superb as Carl Jung, and I’m excited to see him take one another complex character after "Fish Tank" and "Inglourious Basterds." Keira Knightley is also going for a more serious, tragic role again after “Atonement,” and it looks like she’s going to be terrific. Vincent Cassel in a supporting role – see “Elizabeth” and “Eastern Promises” – is never a bad thing either. This story seems furiously intriguing, and it looks like it’s going to be a strong, enthralling thriller. There’s no official release date yet, at least not one I could find, but I imagine it will be out towards the end of the calendar year. I’m very much looking forward to it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Movie with Abe: Super 8


Super 8
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Released June 10, 2011

Nearly thirty years ago, in 1982, Steven Spielberg made one of the most beloved films of the late twentieth century, "E.T." It managed to capture a spirit of imagination and blend a plot about curious kids with a sci-fi storyline. Comparisons of this Spielberg-produced film from the fantasy genius of the new generation, J.J. Abrams, to this classic film are hardly undeserved. There's a sense of nostalgia present in "Super 8," a fun, captivating tale about some rather strange and disturbing occurrences as seen through the eyes of a small group of child filmmakers.

"Super 8" succeeds marvelously at showcasing youthful sensibilities about the way the world works and how that plays out when the children are almost entirely unsupervised. Summer in the 1970s presents a great backdrop for this particular story, as Charles is able to enlist his friends to spend most of their free time helping to make his movie. Left to their own devices, the kids are privy to plenty of adventures, including but not limited to a jaw-dropping train wreck and an escalating alien-related disaster in their small town of Lilian, Ohio.

What's most impressive about "Super 8" is the way that it portrays the unknown. At times, it feels like a horror movie where a character is suddenly attacked by a mysterious monster after a few moments of spooky suspense. At others, it's a simple film where a child's view of the world might as well be the truth. "Super 8" deserves commendation for not feeling the need to mark the inevitable unveiling of its monster's face with some kind of grand, sweeping musical cue or terror. Instead, there's a smart balance between fear and awe, especially when it comes to brave, curious lead character Joe Lamb.

Aside from an enthralling and energizing story that never lets up for the entirety of its run time, "Super 8" also boasts some great child performances, ranging from humorous, such as Gabirel Basso's vomit-prone Martin and Riley Griffiths' Charles, to competent and believably mature, like Joel Courtney's Joe and especially promising young actress Elle Fanning's Alice. They look, act, and feel like kids, lending superb credibility to a film occasionally filled with corny dialogue and an old-fashioned story. Ultimately, it's a heartwarming, perfectly competent and wonderful ode to childhood fantasy suitable for all ages and a strong instance of exactly what his kind of film should look like.

B+

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Movie with Abe: Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Released June 24, 2011

There are some films that market themselves easily. “She doesn’t give an ‘F’” is a superb tagline that goes just right with the poster image of Cameron Diaz sitting huddled behind her desk with an apple on top of it marked “Eat Me!” What that conjures up is a picture of a vulgar comedy in the style of Judd Apatow films featuring an instructor with truly unconventional and suspect methods who somehow still manages to get her students to learn.

Instead, “Bad Teacher” presents Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), a lazy, shopping-addicted woman with no interest in putting any effort at all into her job. It’s entirely impossible to believe that anyone would entrust young minds to her bad influence, and that’s the point from which the film starts off, decidedly creating an exaggeration of a realistic poor teacher. The film takes its cues from that beginning, crafting its other characters with just as much excess. While that does lead to the occasional chuckle, this is the kind of film that could have been more subtly creative and, as a result, much more effective.

Hiding behind the fa├žade of this R-rated comedy is a perfectly simplistic, extremely generic story of a pretty girl vying for a cute guy. The twists and turns are completely obvious and highly unsurprising, and the gross-out humor, what little there is of it, seems deliberately inserted in unnecessary spots just for shock effect. Its usage makes for considerably inconsistent characters, particularly nerdy nice guy Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). Other characters, such as teachers Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) and Lynn Davies (Phyllis Smith), serve little purpose aside from popping up conveniently to utter forced commentary on what’s happening at that point in the story.

Diaz’s part doesn’t exactly demand much of her, and she puts minimal effort into playing the cosmetically-obsessed, children-hating Halsey. Diaz, like her character, seems lazy, doing nothing to enhance an otherwise lackluster and unoriginal film (the script performs similarly). Credit is due most to Lucy Punch, who plays Halsey’s number one rival Amy Squirrel, and John Michael Higgins, who portrays Principal Wally Snur, who commit entirely to their zany characters. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the rest of the ensemble or the film itself. Like director Jake Kasdan’s last film, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” this is a film that could have been much, much better and instead falls flat.

C

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. Absent a wealth of new film reviews during the weekend, I’d like to start providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in NYC as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

Cars 2 (recommended): This Pixar sequel is just as fun as the first, though those who didn’t enjoy the 2006 original probably won’t care for this bigger, louder, showier film which incorporates some spy adventure into the familiar car-racing storyline. As tends to be the case with Pixar films, it’s just as fun for the parents as it is for the kids. Read my review from yesterday.

Bad Teacher (mixed bag): Despite a clever poster, this comedy isn’t creative and doesn’t offer all too many laughs. Cameron Diaz isn’t putting together too much effort, and the film is lazy when it should be trying much harder. Supporting stars Lucy Punch and John Michael Higgins provide some laughs, but the film is a disappointment. Review coming tomorrow.

New to DVD

The Adjustment Bureau (recommended): The latest Philip K. Dick short story to be adapted into film is a fun, energetic thriller with wonderful performances from Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. It’s equal parts fantasy and love story, and both parts are just as effective. Science fiction predilection not required for enjoyment.

Cedar Rapids (recommended): I ranked this independent comedy as my sixth favorite film of 2011 so far. Ed Helms makes his transition from a small screen office to the big screen with this winning and surprisingly sentimental film that features fun performances from the likes of Anne Heche and John C. Reilly.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Movie with Abe: Cars 2

Cars 2
Directed by John Lasseter & Brad Lewis
Released June 24, 2011

Today, Pixar releases a feature in early summer for the sixth year in a row. That’s quite a precedent, and this also marks only the second sequel that Pixar has ever attempted. The first, “Toy Story 2,” was a roaring success, and paved the war for a third film in the series, which picked up an Oscar last year. The original “Cars” was popular but not entirely embraced, and the sequel represents a considerable gamble on the part of the pretty much flop-free Pixar. Yet the second “Cars” brings in new ideas, new characters, and new energy to create an experience that it’s inarguably enthralling and pretty damn terrific at that.

In many ways, it’s a typical sequel that builds upon its base and aims for a much grander universe. The first “Cars” film was a simple story of two very different cars coming to terms with their similarities and helping to build back up an ailing town. The sequel is much less focused on the small town of Radiator Springs, and while it does contain a scene or two set at home, this is an international experience. That’s not to say that it betrays the qualities that made the first film so good, but rather that it evolves along with its characters, destined for fame and greatness, just as its hero car racer Lightning McQueen is.

Inserted into “Cars 2,” against the backdrop of an international racing competition, is an entirely new spy plotline, featuring “Harry Brown” costars Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer in much lighter fare as MI-6 agents Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell. Both play their parts extremely well and add considerable entertainment to what could be considering a shark-jumping addition to an already heartwarming and competent story. The action that comes with their presence is entirely invigorating and exciting, and occasionally as high-octane as something out of James Bond.

Above all, “Cars” succeeds at smartly knowing what elements of human behavior and culture to incorporate comically into its car characters. John Turturro’s Italian race car Francesco Bernoulli is a perfect instance of this, exhibiting plenty of stereotypical Italian traits with full vigor. This is exactly what makes Pixar films so great, serving simultaneously as a blast for kids and providing plenty of subtler, hilarious references that adults can appreciate. Even Mater’s klutz-like actions that occasionally serve as plot crutches are excusable since this film is so highly enjoyable.

B+

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday Token Themes

Welcome a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I’m a hugely enthusiastic fan of film scores, and music is far too often an element of cinema that goes unrecognized. Therefore I present a platform for a look – or rather, a listen – to some fantastic film scores. I’ll be selecting a composer and one or more of their film scores for your listening pleasure, embedded from YouTube.

This week’s featured composer is Michael Giacchino, a New Jersey native whose most famous collaborations are with J.J. Abrams and Pixar directors. Giacchino replaces Randy Newman for tomorrow’s sequel to “Cars,” where he contributes an energetic, smooth score for the international adventures of these cars, well exemplified by “Towkyo Takeout.” His composition for “Up” won him the Oscar two years ago, and “Married Life” is the best representation of that. Probably the most exciting and invigorating of his Pixar themes is that to “Ratatouille,” and “End Creditouilles” is nothing short of a delight. His dramatic underscores for “Alias” and “Lost” are fantastic, and it’s fun to see him follow the shows’ creator to film. The scores sound entertainingly similar, but as with someone like Hans Zimmer, they’re diverse enough to work wonders in their respective projects. Two of our entries below are from Abrams-directed films. Check out a compilation of some of the best tracks from the 2009 “Star Trek” reboot, as well as “Bridge Battle” from “Mission Impossible III,” both equally thrilling action accompaniment.

Cars 2 (2011)



Up (2009)



Star Trek (2009)



Ratatouille (2007)



Mission Impossible III (2006)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: Five to Ten for 2010

Welcome back to weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. Five to Ten is the fifth 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.

On the heels of the Academy’s announcement that this coming year will feature anywhere from five to ten films in the Best Picture list, I thought to look back at the most recent decade to determine what number of films would have ultimately earned a slot in the top category. Obviously, this is all guesswork and designed, above anything, to be fun. In the new system, films will need to earn at least 5% of the first-place votes. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments!

Five to Ten for 2010


The actual lineup: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone

The locks: Champ The King’s Speech would have had no problem making the list, and the same goes for The Social Network, The Fighter, and Black Swan, all of which earned more than enough accolades in other categories to cement their status.

The close-to-certains: There’s no reason to suspect that True Grit wouldn’t have made the list, especially given its ten-nomination total. Ditto Inception, which got snubbed in the Best Director field but showed up in enough early places to presume that the omission of Christopher Nolan was a fluke.

The less likelies: As an animated film, Toy Story 3 starts off with a distinct disadvantage. In a ten-wide field, it made sense, but would enough people rank it as their top choice? The Kids Are All Right may also not have appealed to as many to earn it their number one vote.

The victims: It was cited as one of the top independent films of the year, but Winter’s Bone was probably too dark and tiny to register on voters’ radar above other films. And I highly doubt that 127 Hours could overcome the negative press it got about its faint-inducing scene to score a place here.

And the nominees could have been… Seven. “Toy Story 3” is loveable enough that it makes it in, along with “Inception” and the films nominated for Best Director.


Does it change the winner? No. It’s not as if the three films that would have been left off drew votes away from “The Social Network.”

Which lineup is better? Personally, I’d toss aside “Black Swan” and “True Grit” and ensure that at least “127 Hours” and “Winter’s Bone” made the cut. That said, “The Kids Are All Right” was probably the more important 2010 film of the three that would have been left off, so I’d say that the seven-full lineup isn’t so bad as a representation of the year 2010 in cinema.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Our Idiot Brother

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.

Our Idiot Brother – Opening August 26, 2011



A friend mentioned her anticipation of this film to me over the weekend, inspiring me to search out the trailer. I’ve chosen to include the second trailer for the film rather than the first since, though the first did make the film look good, the second seems to paint a fuller picture of the film, especially when it comes to the roles of the women in the cast. Paul Rudd is usually the straight man in this kind of movie, and a few scenes of him as a stoned surfer in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” indicated that the could rise to the challenge when tasked with carrying the broader material himself. What hooked me was his sedate nature when asked by a uniformed police officer for drugs (in the first trailer), a general easygoing attitude that seems motivated by stupidity but not defined by it. This looks like the kind of film that could be dumb throughout and somehow simultaneously heartwarming, and that sounds quite enjoyable to me. I like the diverse casting of the sisters, who will be played by Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel, and Elizabeth Banks, who have all proven quite talented in previous projects and should be fun to see as members of one big dysfunctional family unit. I’m particularly excited by Rashida Jones’ part, which looks to be considerably more enthusiastic than the type of character she usually portrays. It’s always good to see both Steve Coogan and Adam Scott as well. The cross-pollination between the tomato and onion sounds absolutely hilarious, and this looks like a real blast.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Movie on the Mind: American Beauty

Welcome to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe: Monday Movie on the Mind. I’ll be kicking off each week with a clip or trailer from a film that happens to be on my mind, designed as a retrospective look at some well-known, forgotten, or underappreciated classic from movie history, be it antique or current. Chime in with your thoughts about the film or any other movies that you might be thinking of this week!

American Beauty
Directed by Sam Mendes
Released October 1, 1999

I had the pleasure recently of re-watching what I consider to be my favorite film, the 1999 Oscar winner for Best Picture, “American Beauty.” At this point, I’ve attended a talk with director Sam Mendes and participated in roundtables with writer Alan Ball and stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening for subsequent films, permitting me to appreciate their talents all the more. This brilliant film is so carefully constructed and skillfully acted that it’s hard to find anything wrong with it. To learn that this is a film from a first-time director and a first-time filmmaker is absolutely amazing. More than that, though, it’s evident in just about every scene the high level at which the actors, especially Spacey, Bening, and Chris Cooper are performing. Each line of dialogue is uttered with such precision and care that nothing goes unnoticed or unemphasized, making the entirety of the film fully relevant and fascinating. Joining the veteran actors listed above are (at the time) young newcomers Wes Bentley, Thora Birch, and Mena Suvari, all of whom are excellent. It’s hard to find just one clip to represent this film, and therefore I’m pleased to have found five. The first is the film’s theatrical trailer, which does a terrific job of capturing the movie’s sedated feel and its sharp edge. The second is when Spacey’s Lester Burnham first lays eyes on Suvari’s Angela Hayes and instantly falls for her while he’s supposed to be watching his daughter’s cheerleading performance. Next up we have two fabulous scenes capturing the banter between Bening’s Carolyn Burnham and her husband Lester, one in the bedroom and the other in front of their daughter at dinner (how Bening didn’t win an Oscar is a mystery). Finally, enjoy that classic plastic bag scene, emblematic of what this movie is all about and why it’s so good every single time.









Sunday, June 19, 2011

Giveaway Winner!

Thank you to those who entered the second Movies With Abe giveaway. Among the most creative answers were the Joker from “The Dark Knight,” making the pencil disappear, and Grant McCune, the special effects wizard who brought “Star Wars” to us. Utilizing a random number generator (seriously!), the winner is Arielle, who cited Eisenheim (Edward Norton) from “The Illusionist” as her favorite magician, naming the orange trick as his most impressive feat. Arielle gets a copy of the film on DVD, a signed copy of the soundtrack, a signed poster, and two decks of playing cards from the film. Expect more giveaways in the future here at Movies With Abe, and thanks again for playing! There will be plenty of movie reviews in the coming weeks, as well as the continuation of weekly features and the start of a brand new one. Check back daily for new content here at Movies With Abe.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. Absent a wealth of new film reviews during the weekend, I’d like to start providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in NYC as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

Jig (recommended): This documentary, now playing at the Quad Cinema, reminded me of “Make Believe,” the magic movie featured in my giveaway, in that it’s a typical but perfectly enthralling competition film. This one is about Irish dancing, which is quite an interesting field, and if you’re into documentaries or Irish dancing (or both), go for it.

I was thisclose to seeing Green Lantern at a press screening on Wednesday night, but it didn’t pan out, so I now have no plans to see it. Read my capsule review from yesterday. I really want to see Page One: Inside the New York Times, and I hope to get to that soon.

New to DVD

Hall Pass (mixed bag): This foul comedy has a dirty mind but not the same appeal of other movies like “Knocked Up” or “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” mostly because it can’t find a fine line between excessively vulgar and overly sappy. Not the worst way to spend two hours, I suppose, with a few laughs still included.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Harry Brown (recommended): This violent film features a powerhouse performance from veteran actor Michael Caine, and it’s both an impressive and frightening dystopian picture and a strong character piece. Not for the faint of heart, of course, but definitely a film that should have received more recognition and praise than it did.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Movie with Abe: Jig (Capsule Review)

Jig
Directed by Sue Bourne
Released June 17, 2011



On the heels of “Make Believe,” the magic documentary I posted about last Friday, which has related items that I will be giving away if you enter by tonight, we have another documentary arriving at the Quad Cinema about a less spotlighted area of heavy competition, this time Irish dancing. This British film is a perfectly run of the mill chronicle of highly-motivated children exercising their very specific passions. It’s rare to see such an art form featured, and so interesting how those involved don’t seem fazed by the fact that the rest of the world isn’t much clued in to its existence and, more relevantly, popularity. It’s appropriately invested in its protagonists, following them through the many, many rounds of competition. The sequences of dancing are among the film’s most endearing moments, but ultimately, this is a film, and a fun enough one at that, about people.

B

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday Token Themes

Welcome a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I’m a hugely enthusiastic fan of film scores, and music is far too often an element of cinema that goes unrecognized. Therefore I present a platform for a look – or rather, a listen – to some fantastic film scores. I’ll be selecting a composer and one or more of their film scores for your listening pleasure, embedded from YouTube.

This week’s featured composer is John Ottman, an American who has never been nominated for an Oscar but really should have for the first chronological piece featured in this post. Before we get to that, of course, it’s worth highlighting two of Ottman’s most recent accomplishments. First, we have the very playful, stylized credits theme for “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Next up, we have the thrilling suite for “X2: X-Men United,” one of the better superhero sequels out there. And then we have “The Usual Suspects,” which may well be the greatest mystery thriller out there. I’ve included two pieces of the soundtrack. The first is the main theme, a more pensive, eerie introduction to the five main characters and this peculiar situation that has arisen at the docks. The second is “Payback,” a more action-oriented score that takes my mind immediately back to the image of a stone-faced Stephen Baldwin brandishing a gun while standing in an elevator.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)



X2: X-Men United (2003)



The Usual Suspects (1995)



Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday Westerns: Blazing Saddles

Welcome to the final edition of a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. In an effort to provide a look back at older films and a desire to highlight a specific genre, I have been spotlighting a Western film each week, combining films from a course I took while at NYU called Myth of the Last Western and other films I have seen and do see.

Blazing Saddles
Directed by Mel Brooks
Released February 7, 1974

I’m thrilled to bring this series to a close with one of the more unconventional Westerns there is – another comedy, this one from master parody artist Mel Brooks. It’s an absolutely brilliant, totally inspired riff on the traditional aspects of a Western, with plenty of full-blown hilarity thrown in. Characters encounter bands in the middle of the desert, and that’s just the tipping point of the mockery. This film’s splendor is perfectly captured in the clip embedded below, which finds the redneck residents of a town eagerly awaiting their arrival of a new sheriff, only to discover, in horror, that he is black. Cleavon Little, who is terrific in the lead role as Bart, manages the scene so well as he, facing a number of loaded guns, takes himself hostage and succeeds in saving himself by tricking the townspeople into letting him get taken away. Little is just one of the great parts of the film, joined by Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, and Madeline Kahn as the aptly-named Lili Von Shtupp. Brooks injects just enough smart Jewish humor into the film, like an Indian chief speaking Yiddish, that it goes so far above and beyond what a Western parody needs to do that it becomes instantly unforgettable and immensely watchable over and over again. The Oscar-nominated theme song is just as magnificent. See it if you haven’t already, and watch the purposely politically incorrect clip below to get a taste. "Excuse me while I whip this out..."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Opening August 5, 2011



I’m coming at this prequel entirely blind. I’ve never seen any of the films related to the famous apes and planets, and I didn’t have any interest at all in seeing this one. Yet the trailer, which showed before "X-Men: First Class" this past weekend, surprised me, and I find myself considerably more intrigued than I might have expected. This looks like a pretty fun movie, with a good mix of scientific mumbo-jumbo and full-on action involving those awesome apes. I really like the casting of Andy Serkis, best known for playing Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, as Caesar the main ape, and the shot in the trailer of him looking like he’s finally getting really smart is incredibly cool. Brian Cox makes for a great nemesis for these rising apes, and I’m pleased to see people like David Oyelowo, James Franco, and Freida Pinto in the cast as well. Ultimately, though, this is movie about human evolution, and it looks like an action-packed blast. Revolution stories are always the most interesting parts of big sagas like this, and positioning humans as, in part, the bad guys is a decently thrilling idea. I’m not trying to say this is going to be a terrific film, but I do think that it could be a good bit of summer fun.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Movie with Abe: X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Released June 3, 2011

Rebooting superhero franchises, it seems, is all the rage these days. Two years ago, the world of “Star Trek” was redefined with young actors playing all the parts and a return to the beginning of the story. Batman and Superman both got jump-started again several years ago, and a new “Spider-Man” is coming up soon, as all of the other Marvel characters also get their own origin stories as the “Avengers” film looms ever closer. This new take on the X-Men throws away most of what filmgoers – and certainly fans of the original comic book series – know about the team of mutant heroes.

Starting fresh is paramount in “X-Men: First Class,” as the team of young misfits consists of entirely different members than were seen in the first movie version from 2000. It’s a bold, risky effort, and it doesn’t entirely pay off. While a return to the 1960s and an exploration of the friendship between a hair-sporting, walking Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr does read truer to the actual 1963 comic book debut, little about the other characters is familiar. Instead of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, and Angel, a not-yet-blue Beast is joined by Angel Salvadore (Tempest in the comic books – not just a female version of Warren Worthington), Darwin, Mystique, Banshee, and Havok. Those first two, as well as one of the major villains, didn’t even appear in the comic series until this past decade, and the others definitely weren’t around when the team was founded.

Like “Star Trek,” this film imagines a universe not too different from the one fans might be familiar with, changing just a few small events and relationships, keeping the broader picture the same. Yet building towards a recognizable ending with different blocks can feel disjointed, and that’s the case here. There are far too many references to Xavier’s eventual baldness, and plenty of other in-jokes – only a few of them truly clever – referencing what those who have seen the other films know to be true. This can’t be considered much of a departure if those involved are only half willing to break free.

Aside from those expectations set for this specific set of characters, the film doesn’t stand up entirely on its own. There are several moments of exciting action, but they come far too infrequently. The film’s brightest moments come when its young heroes learn and practice how to harness their abilities, evolving from innocent teenagers into mature and powerful adults. The rest of the time, however, these super-powered kids simply stand around and watch as others around them fall, helpless to do anything about it. Ideally, casting two of the most talented international actors of this generation as the leads is a smart idea, but James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, good as they usually are, can’t hold a candle to Shakespearean actors like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. In terms of both the actors and the film, the idea is the same: it can only be so satisfying to ride a bike with training wheels once you’ve experienced the real thing.

B-

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Top Ten Movies of 2011 (So Far)

We’re not quite at the halfway point of the year yet, but five and a half months in, Movies with Abe has already screened almost 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 2011 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. Expect this list to be plenty transformed by the end of the year.



1. In a Better World
2. Turn Me On Goddamit
3. When We Leave
4. Win Win
5. Peep World
6. Cedar Rapids
7. Romantics Anonymous
8. Fast Five
9. Certified Copy
10. Terri (review coming July 1)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. Absent a wealth of new film reviews during the weekend, I’d like to start providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in NYC as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

Apologies from a slacker this week – I’ve seen a few things coming out later this month, but no hot new releases for June 10th. I’m hoping to see Super 8 as part of a double-feature with “X-Men: First Class” on Sunday, so look for a review next week if I’m successful. I’ve heard terrific things about The Trip, out at IFC and Lincoln Plaza. You can probably guess my feelings on Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer. Enough said.

New to DVD

Another Year (highly recommended): I’m constantly amazed by the work Mike Leigh does and how he does it. This simple drama is an affecting, entertaining portrait of some everyday people and another year in their lives. The pacing may not be for everyone, but if this sounds like your kind of thing, you won’t be disappointed.

The Company Men (recommended): This job-loss drama was a pleasant surprise, featuring three strong plotlines involving Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones. It may not a highly original film, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not effective or moving.

True Grit (mixed bag): This was one of the Best Picture nominees from this past year that didn’t do it for me. It should have been great, but there’s something about it that just didn’t work. I also know that I’m relatively alone in that, and most loved it. Hailee Steinfeld delivers a fine breakout performance, and Matt Damon is terrific.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Movies with Abe Giveaway!


I am absolutely thrilled to present to you the second-ever Movies with Abe giveaway! This time we actually have a prize pack, which includes items related to the new documentary "Make Believe," an entertaining film that chronicles the adventures of five up-and-coming young magicians from all around the world. This engaging and fun movie played at the Cinema Village back in May, and it's being released on DVD later this summer. I have several prizes to give out, which will either go to one lucky winner or be divided up among several winners, based on the number of entries received in the comments. Among the prizes are a signed copy of the soundtrack, a signed full-size poster, two decks of cards from the film, and a screener DVD copy of the film for you to see before it officially comes out! What you need to do below is name your favorite movie magician and his or her best trick. Answers can be as creative as you like. Winners will be determined via random number generator, and only appropriate answers will be counted. The contest officially ends Friday, June 17th at 6pm EST. Post your response in the comments below (one per person, please) and spread the word! Check out the trailer for the film below. If you're reading this and would like to sponsor a contest or giveaway on Movies with Abe, please e-mail me.

video

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thursday Token Themes

Welcome a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I’m a hugely enthusiastic fan of film scores, and music is far too often an element of cinema that goes unrecognized. Therefore I present a platform for a look – or rather, a listen – to some fantastic film scores. I’ll be selecting a composer and one or more of their film scores for your listening pleasure, embedded from YouTube.

This week’s featured composer is Alberto Iglesias. The Spain native has quite a diverse resume, including a good number of Pedro Almodovar films, most of which have fun, inventive, and quirky scores. From newest to oldest Pedro collaborations, enjoy themes from “Broken Embraces,” “Volver,” and “Talk to Her.” Iglesias has also contributed to some other international productions, including Steven Soderbergh’s two-part epic “Che” and the two films that earned him Oscar nominations. “The Kite Runner” has a very memorable, somewhat odd and excitable opening, while “The Constant Gardener” is more stylized and somber.

Broken Embraces (2009)



Che (2009)



The Kite Runner (2007)



Volver (2006)



The Constant Gardener (2005)



Talk to Her (2002)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Opening December 21, 2011



This first video glimpse of the highly anticipated remake of the Swedish trilogy that hit American theatres last year is hardly a letdown. This has always seemed, and now seems even more so, like the kind of remake that could actually be a hit. This trailer looks stylized in a wholly different way than the Swedish films were, and that’s really exciting. It could be a shot-for-shot remake, but I imagine it’s going to be far more creative than that, and just as thrilling and chilling. I’m beyond intrigued to see how Rooney Mara is in the role after she broke out with just a few short scenes in last year’s “The Social Network.” David Fincher hasn’t made a movie that wasn’t fascinating in its own right, and while I’m not personally one for “Zodiac” or “The Game,” the rest of his feature filmography (which I’ve seen in its entirety) speaks for itself, particularly with “The Social Network,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Fight Club,” and “Seven.” Marketing it as the “feel bad movie of Christmas” is interesting, and that seems to underline the rather dark-looking tone of this one, adapting an already dark story. Rounding out the cast with people like Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgard, and Christopher Plummer all sounds good, but part of the fun for those of us not intimately familiar with Swedish stars was not recognizing anyone. I don’t think it should be a problem here, and I’m very much looking forward to this, especially since the first film is by far the most exciting and cool of the trilogy.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie with Abe: Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids
Directed by Paul Feig
Released May 13, 2011

Expectations can play a big part in the enjoyment of a movie. Those going into this late spring comedy anticipating laughs as plentiful as can be found in “The Hangover” with an appropriate relatability for those of the female gender may be disappointed. Those looking for little more than a fun, fully entertaining comedy should find themselves entirely engaged and actually laughing more than they might have thought. It may be hardly revolutionary, but “Bridesmaids” is, quite honestly, a blast, thanks to a strong handling of familiar plotlines and a terrific cast.

Advertisements for the film made it seem like an ensemble movie, and that it is, but the prominence of Kristen Wiig as Annie isn’t accurately conveyed. Wiig has mainly played supporting, scene-stealing roles in films and on “Saturday Night Live,” usually recognizable by her standard weird facial expressions. Yet here she’s playing someone completely different, still prone to sarcastic rolls of the eyes and outburst, but a believable human being and a decent romantic comedy hero. While Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is the one getting married, this is really Annie’s story. Fortunately, her story contains plenty of colorful characters.

The best surprise in “Bridesmaids” comes in the form of Rose Byrne, who hasn’t been doing all that much on “Damages” over its first few seasons. Here, she’s completely in her element as the vain, friend-stealing Helen, perfectly establishing a detestable diva and effortlessly effecting a rivalry with Annie. Neither Wendi McLendon-Covey nor Ellie Kemper has all that much to do, but they make the most of their brief appearances. Melissa McCarthy has a far more central role, most comparable to that of Zach Galifianakis in “The Hangover,” positioning her as the film’s driving comic force. While the ladies are great, it’s worth praising the supporting men as well. Chris O’Dowd is a pleasure as a cop quickly won over by Annie’s distinctive charms, while Jon Hamm oozes chauvinism and despicable behavior brilliantly as one of her more impolite suitors.

What really works about “Bridesmaids” is that its script and its cast know not to take things too far. While the film does contain predictable drunken scenes and ill-to-the-stomach scenes, they’re passed over and never referred back to once they’re done, so that the film can move past them and get back to real life. That said, Wiig in particular is committed to giving her scenes her all and milking jokes as long as they’re still fresh, as she does aboard an airplane and while trying to win back a spurned companion. The film isn’t daring or original, but that’s not what it’s supposed to be. There are several laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of other chucklers to be found throughout the film’s two hour and five minute runtime, and it’s a fun ride all the way through.

B+

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Movie with Abe: Mr. Nice

Mr. Nice
Directed by Bernard Rose
Released June 3, 2011

When drugs are in the mix, it’s important to be very careful. Namely, most films which involve drugs inevitably feature a wholly unnecessary scene where the main character hallucinates his or her way into nonsense and manages to distract the film from any sense of purpose or direction for at least a few minutes (Ashton Kutcher’s entire part in “Bobby” is an example of this). When a movie is about a drug dealer and smuggler, however, the story is entirely different, and starting off with a scene like that can lead to some rather pleasant and affirming surprises, as it does in this entertaining and engaging caper based on the true story of Howard Marks.

It helps considerably that Marks, a drug smuggler who trafficked in multiple countries on multiple continents, is an extremely interesting character with a thrilling story. Those behind the film, however, don’t let the real-life person carry all the weight, and instead infuse the film with plenty of creativity and energy of its own. The film begins with a clever artistic twist while explaining the childhood of Marks and how he developed into his adult self. The casting of Rhys Ifans, most memorable from films such as “Notting Hill” and “The Replacements,” is extraordinarily smart since the rather goofy actor can properly and believably convey an acute joy at his unlawful behavior, tempered by a seeming lack of concern with whatever anyone else thinks of him. The most unforgettable member of the cast is David Thewlis, who plays Provisional IRA member Jim McCann, a definitive loose cannon with a crazy look always visible in his eyes.

Though the cast, which also includes Chloe Sevigny, Christian McKay, Crispin Glover, Jack Huston, and Luis Tosar, is amusing, this is ultimately a story about people, and its characters are very appealing, if for the complexity and madness of their thoughts and actions rather than their personalities. Marks’ journey from lonely intellectual to top-tier drug smuggler is a fascinating one, and the film manages to realize his story in a compelling, full, and fun way. It occasionally feels like a blend between the zaniness of “The Informant!” and the cat-and-mouse antics of “Catch Me If You Can.” At times, it’s certainly over-the-top, but ultimately, it proves to be an entertaining, enlightening experience that offers a peek into the mind of someone who chose lawlessness and being a chameleon to having a normal existence.

B

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. Absent a wealth of new film reviews during the weekend, I’d like to start providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in NYC as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in NYC

Beautiful Boy (recommended): This hard-hitting drama is definitely not for everyone, much like last year’s “Rabbit Hole.” Strong performances from Michael Sheen and Maria Bello help to make it a powerful, occasionally uneven film that peaks at certain points. Read my review from yesterday and see it at the Angelika or Lincoln Plaza.

Mr. Nice (recommended): This light-hearted drama is a caper film about a real-life drug smuggler who got away with a whole lot. Rhys Ifans is fun in the lead role, but mainly it’s just a great story that does get a little silly sometimes but ultimately entertains. My review will be up tomorrow. Now playing at the Cinema Village.

I can’t believe I haven’t seen X-Men: First Class yet, but I’m so excited. I won’t be able to see it this weekend either, but I can’t wait. I think Beginners looks great, and I’ve heard great things about Submarine.

New to DVD

Biutiful (recommended) is one of the gut-wrenching international movies nominated for Best Foreign Film this past year. Many praised Javier Bardem’s performance and said the film was slow or too depressing, but pay no attention to that: this is a very good film, and if you can handle the heartbreak, rent it.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Animal Kingdom (recommended) was one of my top ten films of last year, and it’s definitely the least seen of all the Oscar-nominated fare from 2010. Jacki Weaver, who earned a Best Supporting Actress nod, is great, but the entire cast is top-notch and this is one excellent, terrifying film. Definitely check it out!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Movie with Abe: Beautiful Boy


Beautiful Boy
Directed by Shawn Ku
Released June 3, 2011

Dealing with death is never an easy thing, and when the circumstances are complicated, it can be even more difficult. Kate (Maria Bello) and Bill (Michael Sheen), a couple already on the verge of divorce, are confronted with a particularly awful scenario when they hear that there has been a school shooting that claimed numerous lives at their son’s college. In one wrenching scene early in the film, Kate and Bill are informed that their son is dead, but learn an even more horrible truth: that he was the gunman.

A film like “Beautiful Boy” is evidently extremely complex. There needs to be a delicate balance struck to ensure that it is not too depressing and also not inappropriately melodramatic or insensitive. There needs to be a sense of hope present without artificially infusing it into a clearly tragic and devastating story. Framing it with a title like “Beautiful Boy” indicates the complicated nature of the feelings expressed and buried by Kate and Bill as they struggle to accept this horrific turn of events.

The gravity and emotional weight of the story is something that “Beautiful Boy” accomplishes well. At no point does the story feel contrived or forced. Especially in the way that they are unable to articulate their emotions, their pain feels real, and it’s difficult to watch them suffer with the loss they’ve experienced and the dread of knowing that they are the ones being blamed for the loss of many other lives.

At the core of “Beautiful Boy” are the two actors who portray the members of a strained couple who lives are completely torn apart by their son’s killing spree. Sheen dons an American accent and a stiff exterior to play Bill, Kate’s emotionally distant husband who has fully lost interest in maintaining their marriage. Maria Bello, no stranger to playing broken wives, as she has done before in films like “A History of Violence,” channels fury and resentment as Kate, a distraught mother unwilling to accept what the son she raised has done. The film, like many of this genre, has its high points and definitely peaks at one or two moments, remaining relatively slow the rest of the time. It’s not nearly as effective as something like “21 Grams” or “Rabbit Hole,” but it’s still a powerful portrait of what the inexplicable and unfathomable can do to two people and how it can bring them back together.

B

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thursday Token Themes

Welcome a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I’m a hugely enthusiastic fan of film scores, and music is far too often an element of cinema that goes unrecognized. Therefore I present a platform for a look – or rather, a listen – to some fantastic film scores. I’ll be selecting a composer and one or more of their film scores for your listening pleasure, embedded from YouTube.

This week’s featured composer is Craig Armstrong, who hails from Scotland. I chose Armstrong because of one particular score, which is the last listed in this post, only to discover that he has written some terrific music, albeit not usually for top-notch films. The main theme to “The Incredible Hulk” is exciting and full of adrenaline, and the same is true of “Storm” from “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” His soundtrack for “World Trade Center” is far more melancholy, and appropriately so, as evidenced by the piano theme. You (and I) may not recall the score to “Ray” since the other music was far more prominent, but “Della’s Theme” is still a great piece. The violin solo theme to the Robert Redford starrer “The Clearing,” which really was a disappointing film, is top-notch. And then we come to the Portuguese love theme from “Love Actually,” which captures the wondrous spirit of that film, perfectly subtle and solemn at times and then bursting with excitement and love at others.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)



Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)



World Trade Center (2006)



Ray (2004)



The Clearing (2004)



Love Actually (2003)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wednesday Westerns: The Frisco Kid

Welcome a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. In an effort to provide a look back at older films and a desire to highlight a specific genre, I will be spotlighting a Western film each week, combining films from a course I took while at NYU called Myth of the Last Western and other films I have seen and do see. If you have a Western you’d like to write about, please let me know and feel free to submit a guest spot for future weeks!

The Frisco Kid
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Released July 13, 1979

After looking at some of the more classic, traditional Westerns, let’s shift for a week or two to the more comic, obvious mockeries of the genre. “The Frisco Kid” is one of those movies that seems infinitely funnier the first time around at a young age than when looked at again with a more critical eye and a few more years of experience digesting cinema. It brings together two actors who did a whole lot in the 1970s, Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford. Wilder is the more evidently comic choice, zany as always in the role of Avram, a Polish Rabbi whose efforts to reach his new synagogue in San Francisco are delayed by a treacherous and hilarious journey through the West. Ford, two years after Han Solo and two years before Indiana Jones, fits in considerably better with the West, and predictably has little patience for Avram’s inability to comprehend the way things work in the good old United States of America. There’s plenty of Jewish humor which works well, and even if the movie is too silly for its own good, it’s definitely a blast. It devolves considerably towards it end, but it’s still a fun ride. For me, the most memorable scene involves Avram accidentally encouraging a monk to break a lifelong vow of silence when he thanks him and elicits a “you’re welcome” in response. There just isn’t anything else out there like this, except of course next week’s entry, which you’ll have to come back and read to find out what it is, though I imagine you can guess.