Monday, September 30, 2013

Movies with Abe Giveaway!

Less than six weeks after I had the chance to give out a Blu-ray combo pack of “Olympus Has Fallen,” I’m thrilled to present another Movies with Abe giveaway! This one is for the summer comedy “This Is the End,” which stars Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robison, and Danny McBride as themselves. Those who haven’t seen this wild, out-of-this-world film may enjoy it, but even more impressive is this spectacular prize.

One lucky winner will receive a fully stocked survival kit courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Included you’ll find a Blu-ray combo pack, a First Aid Kit, Sunscreen, Waterproof Pouch, 10 in 1 Survival Card and a Multi-Functional Flashlight and Radio packed in customized carry case. Additionally, enjoy a Milky Way bar, Cinnamon Crunch Cereal box, jar of Nutella, bottled water, and duct tape.

To win this super survival kit, pictured below, pick one of the six stars of this film and tell me which of their previous film roles you think is the funniest. Entrants must be over 18 and reside in the U.S. A winner be will selected on Monday, October 7th, so get your submission in by 8pm. Thanks for playing, and get ready to experience “This Is the End” on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres 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

Morning (mixed bag): This bleak drama is the feature directorial debut from actor Leland Orser, who previously made a short about the same subject matter, parents grieving after the death of their young child. While its aim is emotional, its characters are difficult to connect to and the movie never reaches a relatable or cathartic point. Now playing at AMC Village 7. Read my review from yesterday.

The Paw Project (recommended): This documentary looks at the practice of declawing cats and the movement to stop it from being allowed. Filmmaker Dr. Jennifer Conrad makes her case in an informative and compelling look at something that is recommended by many veterinarians and the push to make it illegal by others. Now playing at IFC Center. Read my review from Wednesday.

New to DVD

Fill the Void (highly recommended): One of the most powerful and memorable films from the Sundance Film Festival was this highly specific but universally applicable story about a Hasidic Jewish woman in Tel Aviv dealing with a tragic event and its unexpected implications. Those familiar with customs and traditions will find it extremely meaningful, and those unfamiliar should find it very effective as well.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Side Effects (recommended): Steven Soderbergh’s latest film stars Rooney Mara as a depressed wife adversely affected by the medication prescribed to her by Jude Law’s psychiatrist. Through many half-plausible twists and unexpected turns, this film turns into something wholly different than what it is when it begins.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Movie with Abe: Morning

Directed by Leland Orser
Released September 27, 2013

Loss can be dealt with in film in many different ways. Often the impact of someone no longer being there can be felt even more if that person is first portrayed as being alive, and only gradually, or suddenly, do they disappear from the world. In some cases, it can be just as effective to start one they’re already gone. Actor Leland Orser takes that approach in his feature film debut, directing an expanded version of his 2007 short, which showcases two devastated parents grieving the loss of their child.

Not much is said during “Morning,” and certainly not much in its opening few minutes. Orser and Jeanne Tripplehorn portray Mark and Alice, who have trouble coping with each other. Mark sits at home unable to complete any simple task, while Alice ventures out into the world, interacting frequently with people who have no idea about what she has gone through and say unknowingly insensitive things which only send her further over the edge. This is a staggering and disheartening portrait of grief, one which never offers a glimmer of hope, instead delving into its characters’ pain and the utter misery they feel.

It is difficult to get into “Morning” because it starts from such a low point and proceeds as if viewers comprehend and sympathize with its characters. While that is not an unreasonable assumption, Mark and Alice are never shown in their normal states, actually happy with one another and living life to its full potential, ignorant of the tragedy that will eventually affect them. The film’s material is relatively inaccessible because its characters are not relatable, seen only at their worst and never portrayed as anything but miserable.

Orser and Tripplehorn are both talented actors who have appeared recently on television. In their roles here, they commit to making these characters feel genuine and raw, but it’s still hard to connect to them. In small parts, Laura Linney, Kyle Chandler, Jason Ritter, Elliott Gould, and Julie White contribute to the ensemble as various individuals who come into contact with Alice as she wanders around her world trying to deal with her loss while Mark wallows at home. The significance of the subject matter here should not be understated, but this is not an effective treatment of it, unable to evoke the kind of emotion and reaction its content should.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Movie with Abe: The Paw Project (Capsule Review)

The Paw Project
Directed by Jennifer Conrad
Released September 27, 2013

Opening tomorrow at the IFC Center is “The Paw Project,” an hourlong documentary that tells what its press release describes as a “David and Goliath story” about efforts to stop cat declawing in Southern California. This strong nonfiction film takes equal time to explain the historical facts behind the practice of declawing and to advocate for its cause, serving as both narrative and exposé. To learn that veterinarians advocate for the removal of a cat’s claws in order to make the animal less of a threat to humans when it actually does irreversible harm to the health of the animal is devastating, and the passion of Dr. Jennifer Conrad, who serves as director, producer, writer, and star, is infectious. Chronicling the progress of her movement, the Paw Project, in outlawing the practice in West Hollywood and framing it within the context of the same struggles being won in other California cities and European countries helps to make the cause an inviting and worthwhile one. This documentary is informative and, like any good nonfiction film, makes a stirring call to action to effect change.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres 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

C.O.G. (mixed bag): This adaptation of a David Sedaris story about a man who goes to Oregon to work on an apple farm is unwelcoming and bland. Jonathan Groff stars as the lost title character whose life journey doesn’t take him anywhere interesting. Now playing at the Village East Cinema and Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center. Read my review from Thursday.

Enough Said (recommended): This charming comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini is a wonderful follow-up to “Please Give” from director Nicole Holofcener, recounting the genuinely funny tale of a second-round romance. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and the Angelika. Read my review from Wednesday.

A Single Shot (mixed bag): This moody thriller starring Sam Rockwell is a lonely, unfulfilling film about a hunter who accidentally shoots a woman and then has to deal with the consequences when he covers it up. Its setting is bleak and its premise is even bleaker, and it’s not easy to get attached to this unsettling film. Now playing at AMC Empire. Read my review from yesterday.

New to DVD

The East (highly recommended): This thriller from director Zal Batmanglij is a competent and engaging story about an operative who goes undercover with an ecoterrorist group. It functions both as a great film and a compelling social argument. Alexander Skarsgaard and Ellen Page are particularly well-cast.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

The Kids Are All Right (recommended): This 2010 Best Picture nominee, which features Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as lesbian moms and Mark Ruffalo as their surrogate, is thoroughly entertaining and spectacularly uses all of its players. Its themes may not be for everyone, but it’s extremely competent and enjoyable.

Nine (recommended): Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the Broadway musical is an occasionally enthralling but ultimately disjointed extravaganza. Key scenes and numbers involving Marion Cotillard and Penelope Cruz populate an uneven but still somewhat worthwhile film.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Movie with Abe: A Single Shot

A Single Shot
Directed by David M. Rosenthal
Released September 20, 2013

Some actors have different personas based on the kinds of films in which they appear. Sam Rockwell has floated between comedy and drama recently. In his less serious roles, such as “The Way, Way Back” and “Choke,” he has excelled as a vibrant, funny individual whose lackadaisical alternately charms and repels those around him. In his dramatic performances, such as “Moon” and “Conviction,” he usually portrays a less appealing, more introverted loner. In the case of the new thriller “A Single Shot,” the latter is truer than ever, and it’s difficult to latch on to Rockwell’s lead performance and the film as a whole.

Rockwell stars as John Moon, a disgruntled West Virginian hunter who lives alone after his wife (Kelly Reilly) left him and took their young child with her. John’s life is filled with unscrupulous people, like the shady town lawyer (William H. Macy) he hires and the ex-con boyfriend of his wife’s babysitter (Joe Anderson). His life takes a turn for the worse when, in the middle of an illegal off-season hunt for deer, he accidentally shoots and kills a young woman, and makes the irreversible mistake of taking the big bag of money he finds near her body.

From that point early on in the film, “A Single Shot” turns into a moody, paranoid movie where John is constantly crossing paths with people that may or may not be out to get him. His gruff exterior helps up only to the extent that he doesn’t open himself up to kindness, and therefore doesn’t easily fall prey to anyone who might want to lure him in. The methods of his new enemies, however, match his own style, and there is a certain brutality to the pursuit that is disturbing to watch and extremely unsettling in particular moments.

Rockwell’s performance is committed but far from appealing. His face hidden beneath an unkempt beard, Rockwell is not always recognizable, but it adds little to his character for him to be so antisocial. The other actors in the cast, such as Reilly, Ted Levine, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Wright, and Melissa Leo, have had much better roles in the past, though Macy is both compelling and creepy as John’s new lawyer. It’s difficult to connect to any part of “A Single Shot” and easy to be put off by its content and the unfortunate trajectory of its main character.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Movie with Abe: C.O.G.

Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Released September 20, 2013

Having an acronym in a film's title seems to indicate that the film in question is about a number of things that necessitate truncating to be appropriately described. That's not the case with "C.O.G.,” the new film based on a David Sedaris story, which follows a young man named Samuel who gives up his worldly possessions to go work on an apple farm in Oregon to better experience other parts of life. Samuel’s soul-searching is aimless at best, as is the film as a whole.

The title is invoked early in the film, when Samuel walks by a man named John (Denis O'Hare), who is promoting Christianity on the street, shortly after arriving into town. The acronym's meaning is not difficult to deduce, but its unveiling, which comes late in the film, is done in a way that makes it seem cathartic. Unsurprisingly, Samuel’s Yale sweater and intellectual attitude do not make him popular among the working class, and Samuel soon must turn to the proselytizer to help him find a certain type of salvation.

Jonathan Groff has made a name for himself on Broadway, but will also be familiar to television audiences for his roles on "Glee" and "Boss." Those parts recommend him well to play Samuel, who is first seen being unfriendly and miserable on his endless bus ride to Oregon. There's something to be said for the transformation Samuel undergoes over the course of the film, but Groff still isn't entirely likeable. The more compelling performances come from O'Hare as the temperamental John, who wields his Christian knowledge as a weapon and has considerable trouble controlling his temper, and Corey Stoll as a new friend of Samuel’s with ulterior motives.

This is not a warm or inviting film, and it’s difficult to acclimate to and sympathize with the characters. Sedaris is an author known for his humor, but there is little to laugh about here. Unsure whether it means to be a road movie or a more introspective look at one man grounded temporarily in one place, “C.O.G.” never quite knows what it wants to be and how it wants to execute it. There are moments at which the achievement of some greater purpose or the ascension to a next level seems imminent, but “C.O.G.” just never gets there, stuck in wanting to be an affecting drama without possessing any of the necessary elements.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Movie with Abe: Enough Said

Enough Said
Directed by Nicole Holofcener
Released September 18, 2013

It’s rare to find a romantic comedy starring two fifty-year-old actors. It’s even rarer that neither has a background in that genre, with one known for her talents in television comedy as a loud woman prone to social pratfalls and misfortune, and the other famous for his portrayal of a television mobster. It’s no surprise that such a brave and rewarding film would come from director Nicole Holofcener, who demotes her regular collaborator Catherine Keener to a supporting role and promotes Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini to charming starring roles.

Louis-Dreyfus stars as Eva, a divorced masseuse with a college-bound daughter, who meets Albert (Gandolfini), a divorced man with a college-bound daughter, at a party and begins dating him. As their romance progresses, Eva also gets to know Marianne (Keener), who happens to be Albert’s ex-wife, and has the unwelcome opportunity to learn everything she never wanted to know about Albert’s annoying habits before she even noticed them herself. The connection between Albert and Marianne is obvious from the start, but its purpose here is not to be a clever plot twist, but instead to showcase a story about falling in love with someone whispering bad things about your boyfriend in your ear the whole time.

Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini have a wonderful chemistry, both eager to be flirtatious but never entirely capable of saying exactly the right thing. Louis-Dreyfus tones down her token physical comedy to play Eva, who often rolls her eyes at the irritating habits of her massage clients but is ultimately a serious if sarcastic character. Gandolfini, who passed away at age fifty-one in June, is extremely endearing as the bearded, joke-cracking television history curator who acknowledges his own flaws and insecurities as he begins a relationship with Eva.

The story here is hardly as multi-dimensional as those in Holofcener’s two most recent films, “Please Give” and “Friends with Money,” since all of the supporting plotlines are inherently related to Eva and Albert. Among them, Toni Collette gets a rare opportunity to use her native Australian accent in a purely comedic turn as Eva’s best friend. But the focus on Eva and Albert works to the film’s advantage, since this is a fresh and very funny take on romance the second time around. It’s an affirming story about second chances and a great opportunity to see Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini, in one of his final roles, in a whole new light.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Neighbors

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.

Neighbors – Opening May 9, 2014

There are plenty of trailers these days out for big Oscar movies coming this fall and winter, and I’ll be sure to get to those soon. But there are also a few for other films coming out in 2014 that are starting to be advertised now. Among them is red-band trailer for “Neighbors,” which comes from Nicholas Stoller, the director of “The Five-Year Engagement” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” I’m particularly interested in a positive cinematic interaction with Seth Rogen since I think that he’s extremely funny – “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” being the best examples of his talents – and I was so very disappointed in the mess that was “This Is the End.” Here, he’s paired with Rose Byrne, who was so serious for five years on “Damages” but showed that she can be funny in “Bridesmaids,” and who, for once, gets to use her native Australian accent. What’s most entertaining about this setup is that, like “Superbad,” is positions Rogen to be one of the older generation who has to contend with what is essentially a younger version of himself, as played by Zac Efron, James Franco, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It’s a great reteaming of comedic talents of different ages, and having them go to war looks like a blast. The scenes included in the trailer are a bit over-the-top, and as long as it doesn’t get too crazy, this could easily be the best movie in a few years starring players from the extended Judd Apatow universe.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Movie with Abe: Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine
Directed by Woody Allen
Released August 23, 2013

Woody Allen movies are easy to identify, if only by their token opening credit sequences and the jovial music that accompanies them. After exhausting his affinity for the physical setting of New York, last visited in 2009’s “Whatever Works,” Allen has been traveling the globe with his movies, stopping in London, Paris, Rome, and now back to the United States to see San Francisco. His characters feel familiar, as does his story, but this is a much darker and bleaker tale than usual for Allen, less appealing and inviting than his previous fare.

Cate Blanchett, a newcomer to Allen’s filmic universe, stars as the title character, who suffered a severe mental breakdown following the revelation of the illegal embezzlement actions of her cheating husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). After losing all of her finances, Jasmine is forced to adjust to her new life living with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whose handyman husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) has been replaced by a new boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who comes just as short of meeting Jasmine’s standards. Not one to express gratitude often, Jasmine also falls prey to her inability to see reality clearly and thus begins to pursue computer classes in the hopes of next earning an interior design degree online.

From the first moment Jasmine appears, seen chatting endlessly with a woman seated next to her on a plane about her long and luxurious life, it is abundantly clear that she is trapped in her own head, and little anyone says can knock any sense of the greater world into her. The story of her downfall is told through frequent flashbacks, as mentions of key names and places trigger traumatic memories of Hal’s lies and each event that led up to his imprisonment. As a result, it’s hard to connect to the events of the continuing present, since the film seems to place just as much value on past events as its main character does.

Blanchett has always been one to immerse herself fully in roles, and there’s no denying her spectacular commitment to playing a person suffering from enormous emotional distress. Hawkins is fun but not quite right for her role, and Clay proves to be an especially odd choice. In minor roles, Louis C.K. and Peter Sarsgaard shine as atypically nice guys who romance the sisters. Allen has come so far from when he used to star in his films, no longer including a comic element and focusing instead on the misery of others with no one around to point out how fatalistically funny it all is. Thirty-six years ago, a young Alvy Singer didn’t see the point of doing homework because the universe was expanding. Now, Allen doesn’t seem to be optimistic about anything, and his latest film is considerably less enjoyable because of that.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres 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

The Family (mixed bag): This mobster comedy from French director Luc Besson casts Robert De Niro as a mobster in living in the Witness Protection Program in France with his family. It’s far from ambitious but does provide an entertaining if unfulfilling. experience. Now playing in wide release. Read my review and my interview with the cast over at Shockya.

New to DVD

Love Is All You Need (recommended): I was very excited to see Danish director Susanne Bier’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning “In a Better World,” and though this half-English drama is much less devastating and serious than her last work, it has its moments and features a compelling cast of characters and actors.

Star Trek Into Darkness (recommended): This blockbuster sequel is just about as exciting and fun as its immediate predecessor, and a sure sign that this rebooted franchise is more than capable of sustaining itself. Benedict Cumberbatch and Alice Eve prove fine additions to an already functional and massively enjoyable ensemble.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres 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

Touchy Feely (mixed bag): This offbeat comedy pairs director Lynn Shelton with star Rosemarie Dewitt, but it’s hardly as affecting or entertaining as their previous collaboration, “Your Sister’s Sister.” An initially intriguing premise doesn’t lead anywhere particularly interesting or productive. Now playing at Cinema Village. Read my review from Sundance.

New to DVD

Blancanieves (recommended): This involving silent black-and-white drama captures a similar energy to “The Artist” by retelling the famous story of Snow White in a way that feels much fresher than recent cinematic and television interpretations. Maribel Verdu, Sofia Oria, and Daniel Gimenez Cacho deliver superb performances.

The English Teacher (recommended): This light-hearted comedy featuring Julianne Moore as an English teacher who tries to mount a high school production of the play written by her former student is far from memorable, but it is perfectly enjoyable for the length of its 90-minute runtime.

The Iceman (highly recommended): Michael Shannon delivers a tremendous, formidable performance as a real-life hitman who kept his day job from his wife and children. Shannon is electric, but the film is equally rich and captivating, making for one powerhouse cinematic experience. It’s violent but well worth it.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

50 First Dates (recommended): This 2004 Adam Sandler comedy is actually one of his more even efforts, tackling the idea of short-term memory loss in a way much less gruesome than “Memento,” and allowing him to romance Drew Barrymore again after their first pairing in “The Wedding Singer.” Its protagonist might quickly forget it, but it’s still fun.

There Will Be Blood (mixed bag): I’m not as keen on this highly-revered 2007 film that won Daniel Day-Lewis an Oscar for Best Actor. His performance is undeniably brilliant, and the film is compelling at times, but it’s nowhere near as even as his other efforts like “Boogie Nights” and “The Master.”