Saturday, June 29, 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

Nothing exciting to report this week!


New to DVD

No (recommended): This Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Chile provides an in-depth look at the advertising campaign for a crucial vote at the end of the 1980s in Chile’s history. This subtle film is unassuming and manages to enthrall its viewers by slowly drawing them in to the passion and purity of those involved in its cause.


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

The Avengers (recommended): This mega-spectacular has to be exciting simply because it amasses such a terrific collection of superheroes. Its action-centered moments are stellar, and the character interaction is excellent too. A must-see for any Marvel comics or superhero fan, and the sequels are going to be superb as well.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Drinking Buddies

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.

Drinking Buddies – Opening July 25, 2013


This trailer caught my eye on the IMDB home page because of the cast, and I was far from disappointed by what I saw. I remember Olivia Wilde from her second TV role, which was on “The O.C.” as Alex, who dated both Seth and Marissa. Since then, Wilde starred on “House” for a few years and made a bunch of movies, and she’s rarely had a lead role like this which allows her to do what she does best: play it natural. Jake Johnson is an expert at that with just two years under his belt on “New Girl,” and Anna Kendrick fits that bill as well with memorable supporting roles in “Up in the Air” and “50/50,” among others. And then there’s Ron Livingston, a proven deadpan comedic talent in classic fare like “Office Space,” who has ventured into drama occasionally and here appears to have the most serious part. The concept of this film – work friendships interfering in personal relationships – is an excellent one, something that has been covered before plenty of times but still appeals as a topic. I think this cast is well-equipped to create a relatable, involving experience which produces both laughs and more lasting reactions. The film’s title is much smarter than it sounds, layered so as to reference its characters’ occupation and indicative of a film likely much less intelligent than what this seems to be.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Movie with Abe: Between Us


Between Us
Directed by Dan Mirvish
Released June 21, 2013

Marriage is a very frequent film subject. Almost every one of Woody Allen’s movies deals with adultery on some scale, and recent films such as Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” have dealt specifically with two couples and the way in which they interact over an isolated period of time. Like Polanski’s film, “Between Us” is an adaptation of a Broadway play. Though this cinematic retelling has its strengths, it ultimately feels very much like a play, with its characters engaged in brutally honest discussions with each other that might be more compelling if seen live on the stage.

“Between Us” splits its screen time between two different nights in which the film’s protagonist pairs, Grace (Julia Stiles) and Carlo (Taye Diggs), and Sharyl (Melissa George) and Joel (David Harbour), find themselves together. On one night, Grace and Carlo come to visit Sharyl and Joel on the way to their honeymoon, and on the other, Sharyl and Joel stop by unexpectedly to surprise Grace and Carlo. On both nights, the hosting partners are involved in an excruciatingly miserable and awkward fight, which reveals extreme problems hidden beneath the fa├žade of their happy marriage, and which lead to the unraveling of the other more outwardly stable relationship.

Where this film succeeds most is in its ability to let the conversation guide the story and the close-ups on the faces of its characters. Every look on Grace and Sharyl’s face says just as much as anything that Carlo and Joel might say, though the impact of their words should not be underestimated. Disjointed editing and a melodramatic score give the film a disconnected feel, which helps to underscore the gravity of the situation yet doesn’t fully succeed in reeling in the viewer. Much is showcased but little is actually confirmed, which makes this a brief, haunting look into the lives of these couples without a definitive or satisfying resolution.

Each member of the cast brings with him or her a particular demeanor which helps to create and embellish the characters. Stiles is quiet yet assertive, George is cold and judgmental with her every look, Diggs is disarmingly casual, and Harbour is deceptively energetic and transparent. Harbour is the inarguable standout, stepping out from the supporting cast of “The Newsroom” to deliver a commanding and impressive performance as a man fully shaped by his situation. Together, these four create a captivating and unnerving environment, one that draws in the viewer but refuses to provide a certain fate for its characters, instead trapping them forever between these two miserable nights.

B-

Saturday, June 22, 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

Bert and Arnie’s Guide to Friendship (recommended): This comedy about two men and the very different ways in which they approach relationships is simple at its start but ultimately evolves into an enjoyable film with entertaining characters at its center. Now playing at IndieScreen Cinema in Brooklyn. Read my review from Thursday.

Between Us (mixed bag): This drama from Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish, who generously sent me a copy of his film after I wrote about it in a Tuesday’s Top Trailer feature, feels very much like the format that its source material is based on: a play. Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, Melissa George, and David Harbour turn in strong performances in an intriguing if ultimately unfulfilling look at the ups and downs of marriage. My review will be up tomorrow.


New to DVD

Let My People Go! (recommended): This January theatrical release is a light, over-the-top look at the problems a gay French Jewish man encounters when he comes home from Finland and is forced to spend time with his family. Also available on Netflix Instant Streaming.

Quartet (recommended): This Golden Globe nominee for lead actress Maggie Smith’s performance is actually an extremely competent and worthwhile film, featuring superb performances from Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, and Michael Gambon as senior citizens in a home for retired musicians. Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut is an endearing hit.


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Super (anti-recommended): I can’t caution anyone against seeing this movie enough. It still ranks as my worst screened film of the year from a slate of over eighty films. It’s not even that it could have been so good with the talent of Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page involved, but more so that it’s absolutely horrendous.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Movie with Abe: Bert and Arnie’s Guide to Friendship

Bert and Arnie’s Guide to Friendship
Directed by Jeff Kaplan
Released June 18, 2013 (VOD) / June 21, 2013 (Theatrical)

Putting two names and the words “guide to friendship” in a movie title suggests an interesting kind of film. The structure of this new comedy presents its two protagonists, Bert (Matt Oberg) and Arnie (Stephen Schneider), as interview subjects against a stark white background, who discuss their careers and romantic lives, and, ultimately, each other. Their stories come together when Bert first meets Arnie after discovering that he is sleeping with Bert’s wife, yet that knowledge takes a very different role in how they act towards each other than one might expect. These dual narratives are both over-the-top and ridiculous, but, taken together, the story actually works, and it proves to be quite entertaining.

Bert is better known as B.W. Scheering, a buttoned-up intellectual author. Though Bert’s wife told him that Arnie Hubert was her cooking instructor, in truth, he is an analyst with a predilection for sleeping with married men’s wives. Arnie develops his own infatuation with his new boss, Sabrina (Anna Chlumsky), while Bert’s wife leaves him and he finds himself pursued by a highly motivated student, Faye (Cristin Milioti) and eternally at odds with his harshest (book) critic, Erica (Bree Sharp). Bert and Arnie’s relationship is based on the different approaches they take to the women in their lives, and their friendship is all about how those tactics and temperaments clash.

Both Bert and Arnie are extreme personalities and, at first, it’s difficult to sympathize with either one of them. As the film progresses, however, it becomes clear that Bert and Arnie might be a lot more like each other than they think. Their parallel stories work well together, and watching them intersect is enjoyable. Though they are far from universally known, leading men Oberg and Schneider both bring worthwhile talents to the table and to their roles. Chlumsky, who can currently be seen on “Veep,” plays against type as a self-assured, manipulative businesswoman, and she’s joined by the talented Sharp, whose cruel critic is one of the film’s best characters, and the eccentric Milioti, who is set to join the cast of “How I Met Your Mother” for its final season. This ensemble helps enhance a light and amusing comedy that uses its primary protagonists and their affinity for storytelling as a jumping off point for a look at men and women and how some people just need different things in their personal and love lives.

B

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Don Jon

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.

Don Jon – Opening September 27, 2013


This is probably the most notable of the high-profile films that I didn’t get a chance to see at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, back when it was still known as “Don Jon’s Addiction.” I had my first opportunity this past weekend to watch the trailer for this drama, and I’m definitely intrigued. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been working hard the past couple of years and developed a formidable reputation for himself, turning in solid genre work in films like “Looper” and “The Dark Knight Rises” while commanding dramatic comedies such as “50/50” and “500 Days of Summer.” Stepping behind the camera to write and direct the story of a man addicted to porn who finds his obsession bleeding into his new relationship is definitely appealing. This looks like an infinitely lighter and brighter version of “Shame” with an equally magnetic actor at its center. What’s most surprising about the trailer is that Scarlett Johansson appears to be putting effort into her performance, throwing on an accent and some enthusiasm to portray something other than the undeniably alluring yet inarguably uncreative archetype she has developed for herself. The film should have plenty to say on society and the nature of romance and relationships, but it looks like to be a stunning cinematic feat as well, embracing the transformative power of the moving image. This is sure to be one of the big films of the fall, and a positive step forward in the careers of its two stars.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Movie with Abe: This Is the End

This Is the End
Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Released June 12, 2013

It's always fun to see comedians having a genuinely good time together. Hence the appeal of the directorial debut of the writing team behind the truly hilarious "Superbad," which casts Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride as themselves. Mixing in what could be either judgment day or a zombie apocalypse only adds to the allure, since parody adds an additional layer of humor. Yet "This Is the End" is a magnificent miss, a brief glimpse of what could have been gone horribly, horribly wrong.

There is a tendency that actors known for portraying eccentric characters purposely underplay the cinematic interpretations of their true selves. Sometimes, that makes a funnyman seem excessively grumpy, which is the case here with Baruchel, whose visit to L.A. is the impetus for the film’s early events. Franco also parodies himself to an unlikeable end, making him excessively obnoxious and detestable rather than suave or charming. Rogen doesn’t do much of anything, making his performance flat, while Hill and Robinson put more effort into mildly memorable turns. The true star is Danny McBride, eternally committed to portraying despicable characters with absolutely zero shame and an admirable sense of self, the more off-putting the better.

It initially appears that “This Is the End” might suffer from a case of being too referential, with actors introducing and referring to themselves by their full names to remind the audience that they are indeed famous. By the time that the film’s cast is narrowed down to the above-named six, however, it feels like a wasted opportunity to have so many early cameos that are all too fleeting. That factor is compounded considerably by the fact that the film loses its grip on both reality and humor by its middle, and, by its end, it’s gone so far that its mediocre opening moments are a distant memory. Rogen and Goldberg are capable of turning what should be dumb comedy into intelligent humor, yet here it’s clear that a predilection for the juvenile and stupid got the best of them. What the film becomes is an unbearable, heinous mess that undercuts the film’s concept, making it unnecessary for these actors to have portrayed themselves since their self-portrayals have become so idiotic and regrettable. Some might enjoy the horror that this misguided comedy becomes, but those that enjoyed “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” will cringe at the thought of what this is compared to all that it could have been.

D-

Saturday, June 15, 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

Very little to report this week - I’ve been extremely busy lately and haven’t had the chance to see two very different films that are high on my list: Man of Steel and This is the End. I’m not sure I’ll have time for both this weekend, but I’m hoping to see at least one on Sunday night. Reviews will be forthcoming after that, and I’ll be seeing a few independent films in the coming weeks as well.


New to DVD

Dead Man’s Burden (mixed bag): Anyone who loves a good Western might enjoy this film, while those who aren’t fans of the genre likely won’t. A small cast, led by Clare Bowen of “Nashville,” and an even smaller universe make for a rather dull and unengaging story, without much creativity or appeal. Hardly essential viewing.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Nothing new on this front – check the archives for good bets.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Blue Jasmine

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.

Blue Jasmine – Opening July 26, 2013


I started watching this trailer knowing nothing about the film other than the names of a few of its stars, and I thought it seemed an awful lot like a Woody Allen story. Like his recent efforts, it’s the same general adventure in a new city, transplanted from New York with its characters feeling out of place and unhappy with their current lives. Of course there’s adultery afoot, and general life crises to be had. Allen is employing a star of his previous film, “To Rome with Love,” and otherwise utilizing a new and shockingly diverse cast. Cate Blanchett is a great choice for the lead, and I love that Sally Hawkins is around as well, playing an American for once and a far less peppy character than she tends to portray. “Boardwalk Empire” villains Bobby Cannavale and Michael Stuhlbarg are always great, as is Peter Sarsgaard, while Louis C.K. and particularly Andrew Dice Clay are interesting choices. The plot doesn’t look all that enticing, but I’d say that even the most mediocre of Woody Allen films is probably worth seeing. San Francisco is an attractive locale, and I think that it may prove a fun, if unfulfilling, fit for Allen. He’s become comfortable with mid-summer releases, and though I hardly believe that this one will be one of his greats, I’m sure it will be good summer entertainment.

Saturday, June 8, 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

Wish You Were Here (recommended): This affecting Australian drama, which follows a wife, her husband, and her sister struggling to cope after the disappearance of their friend during a vacation in Cambodia, features strong performances from actors usually seen sporting American accents – Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, and Antony Starr, as well as co-writer Felicity Price. Now playing at the Village East Cinema. Read my review from yesterday.


New to DVD

Warm Bodies (highly recommended): This hilarious comedy is a fantastic zombie movie parody that doubles as a zombie movie itself, featuring a top-notch lead performance from Nicholas Hoult and an excellent, extremely original script. Highly recommended for all audiences.


New on Netflix Instant Streaming

Backwards (recommended): This mediocre, harmless, family-friendly drama is light entertainment that’s actually much better than it should be, hardly complex or groundbreaking, featuring decent performances from stars Sarah Megan Thomas and James Van Deer Beek.

The Deep End (highly recommended): This 2001 drama, described by Entertainment Weekly as “soccer mom noir,” is one of my favorite lesser-known films, with a tour-de-force lead performance from Tilda Swinton as a mother who will do anything to protect her son. The film’s score and visuals help immensely, and this is one excellent, underrated thriller.

Last Night (mixed bag): This moody drama from the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival selection features Keira Knightley and action star Sam Worthington as partners both contemplating affairs. It’s a slow-paced, directionless film that isn’t necessarily bad but also doesn’t evoke the proper emotion and empathy for the characters that it should.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Movie with Abe: Wish You Were Here


Wish You Were Here
Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith

The phrase “Wish you were here” immediately conjures up images of postcards and tropical locations. That’s exactly what the serene opening scene of Kieran Darcy-Smith’s new film does, as Alice (Felicity Price) and Jeremy (Antony Starr) lie together on the beach in Cambodia discussing what makes them happiest. The ensuing scene, which features Alice’s husband Dave (Joel Edgerton) walking alone through a wasteland without much of his clothing, shifts the film’s tone abruptly to that of a haunting, intimate drama shrouded in uncertainty and mystery as Jeremy’s friends struggle to return to a sense of normalcy following his disappearance during their vacation.

This is the first feature film from Australian director Darcy-Smith, and his first writing collaboration with star Price. Their original screenplay centers on Alice and Dave’s return to Australia following their trip, and the worsening of their relationship as details of the night Jeremy disappeared come to light. Alice’s younger sister, Steph (Teresa Palmer), has an equally difficult time adjusting since she was romantically involved with Jeremy, and has a complicated relationship with both her sister and her husband. What ensues is an unsettling but deeply compelling look at these three people as they unravel in the face of a crisis, equal parts psychological study and plot-driven drama.

Price is likely a fresh face for American audiences, while the film’s other three stars are well-known stateside, but their real accents might prove more surprising. Edgerton has appeared recently in films like “The Great Gatsby” and “Zero Dark Thirty” boasting an American accent, as has Palmer, who broke out in “Warm Bodies” earlier this year. Starr, who hails from New Zealand, has found himself a staple TV role on Cinemax as the decidedly American main character on “Banshee.” It’s great to see these three actors at home in their element, equally capable in their original accents as in their international roles.

“Wish You Were Here” is in many ways a simple drama that achieves its emotional resonance by honing in on its characters, keeping its story uncomplex and instead exploring the dynamics that link its protagonists. Figuring out what actually happened to Jeremy is almost inconsequential because this film is much more about what happens after he goes missing, and how the absence of someone Alica, Dave, and even Steph hardly knew transforms their lives. It’s a thought-provoking, compelling film that makes the most of a basic but effective premise.

B+

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Movie with Abe: Fast and Furious 6

Fast and Furious 6
Directed by Justin Lin
Released May 24, 2013

To say that my enthusiasm for this film was high is an extraordinary understatement. Few blockbuster series achieve their high points with their fifth installments, and that’s reason enough to anticipate this movie. Understandably, this sixth entry can’t top the fifth, but it serves as an entirely exciting and invigorating thrill ride. For much of its runtime, it represents a departure from the focus on street racing and criminal activity that has encompassed most of the previous five films, and a successful venture into full-on action territory ripe for visiting again endlessly in film after film in the future.

While it wouldn’t have been a problem to cover the same familiar ground and frame the plot in the same way that the past five films have, it’s probably best that this series opted to reinvent itself and take a new approach to its marvelous cast of characters. The return of Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty, foreshadowed in the post-credits scene in “Fast Five,” is the obvious impetus for the gang to get back together, united under the legal auspices of Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) as he enlists Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew to take down the group of vehicle-wielding villains with whom Letty has joined forces.

What this series has always done best is create preposterous, high-octane situations in which something truly incredible occurs which serves both as impressive and ridiculous at the same time. There are several such moments in this movie, starting with Hobbs’ simple solution to trying to take down a car he is chasing: jump down onto its roof. These scenes exemplify why this kind of film should still exist, and, more than anything, it’s a superb argument for the continued practice of going to a movie theatre to share in a film viewing experience. Laughter and applause are appropriate and completely in keeping with the film’s style.

“Fast and Furious 6” is a film that both knows exactly what it wants to be and a film completely comfortable with trying new things. Its opening credits sequence visually reviews the major plot points from the first five films, offering a stylized and magnificent summary of these characters and the way in which they all connect. The action picks up in the film’s final act, capping an extremely exciting chapter in this saga. The film’s token post-credits scene, which actually comes before the credits, secures this franchise as eternally viable and capable of change, setting up an even more enticing seventh film that can’t come soon enough.

B+

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Between Us

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.

Between Us – Opening June 21, 2013


This trailer popped up on IMDB as I was searching for a feature to write about this week, and I think it’s a perfect choice. This is a trailer that functions much more as a teaser, revealing very little about its characters and how they are connected, but providing deeply suggestive and intriguing flashes that serve to indicate what could constitute the extreme complexities of the relationships depicted within it. This trailer touts its cast more than anything, and it’s a great and diverse list. Julia Stiles has proven herself versatile recently with ambitious TV roles, and Taye Diggs does strong work as well. David Harbour, a past Tony nominee, is superb in a small supporting role on “The Newsroom,” and Melissa George has turned in memorable performances in “Dark City” and “In Treatment,” among others. This film strikes me as a combination of “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Carnage,” bringing two adult couples together for one awkward and uncomfortable night where they will have to hash out their feelings for each other and the intermingled web of their sexual and romantic encounters. It might be too dreary for its own good, like “Last Night” was, but I think it has the potential to be truly engaging. Though I haven’t seen any of director Dan Mirvish’s shorts or previous feature films, it is worthwhile to note that he is a co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival, which demonstrates that he is all about independent cinema. This one could certainly be worthwhile.

Saturday, June 1, 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 East (highly recommended): This new 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 playing at Landmark Sunshine and AMC Lincoln Square. Read my review from yesterday.


New to DVD

Lore (recommended): This past year’s Australian Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film is a Holocaust movie from a different perspective, following the children of an arrested Nazi officer trying to safely pass through post-war Germany. It’s a miserable but generally effective and worthwhile film.


New on Netflix Instant Streaming

Peep World (highly recommended): This ensemble dramedy puts together a fine cast, including Michael C. Hall, Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Ben Schwartz, and Kate Mara, for a family reunion of epic proportions that feels fresh and funny and should have received a warmer reception upon its theatrical release back in March 2011.