Saturday, November 30, 2013

Golden Globe Musings: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Argo
Django Unchained
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty


The Golden Globes consolidate screenwriting to just one race, grouping together both original and adapted screenplays. It’s usually made up of Best Motion Picture – Drama nominees and sometimes a truly odd choice like “The Ides of March,” “It’s Complicated,” or “Love Actually.” Last year’s nominees were actually all pretty expected. In the lead this year are 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, Gravity, American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, August: Osage County, The Butler, Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, and The Wolf of Wall Street, among others, I’m sure.

Current predictions:
American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
The Butler
Saving Mr. Banks
12 Years a Slave

Friday, November 29, 2013

Golden Globe Musings: Best Director – Motion Picture


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Ben Affleck (Argo)
Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)

This category often mixes films nominated in the top drama and comedy categories and occasionally throws in a director whose film isn’t recognized in one of those races. Leading the way are Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity). After that, there are a handful of contenders will may place: J.C. Chandor (All is Lost), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), Lee Daniels (The Butler), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Ron Howard (Rush), John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks), and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street).

Current predictions:
Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)
Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Golden Globe Musings: Best Foreign Language Film


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Amour (Austria)
The Intouchables (France)
Kon-Tiki (Norway)
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Rust and Bone (France)

This category also bears some noticeable differences from the corresponding Oscar race, in that countries don’t have to pick just one movie to submit, and foreign-language films produced in the United States are eligible too. I haven’t had the chance to see any of these yet, but I’m sure I will in the coming months. The frontrunner not eligible for the Oscar is Blue is the Warmest Color (France), and it will likely be joined by The Past (Iran), The Hunt (Denmark), and The Lunchbox (India). Also in the running are The Rocket (Australia), The Grandmaster (Hong Kong), and Wadjda (Saudi Arabia), as well as forty-one other eligible contenders.

Current predictions:
Blue is the Warmest Color (France)
The Grandmaster (Hong Kong)
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Lunchbox (India)
The Past (Iran)

Golden Globe Musings: Best Animated Feature Film


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Brave
Frankenweenie
Hotel Transylvania
Rise of the Guardians
Wreck-It Ralph


I’ll be honest – I’m very behind on my animated films this year. I’ll soon be catching up with all the contenders, a good number of which are on DVD, but for now, I’ll take a shot at what looks to be this year’s slate. A handful of sequels, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Despicable Me 2, and The Smurfs 2, as well as Free Birds, might contend and knock some of the below predicted nominees off the list. Offer your thoughts in the comments if you’ve seen some of these films.

Current predictions:
Epic
Frozen
Monsters University
Planes
Turbo

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Amy Adams (The Master)
Sally Field (Lincoln)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy)

This category always has a bona fide frontunner, and this year, that’s Oprah Winfrey (The Butler). Another good bet is newcomer Lupita Nyongo (12 Years a Slave). Next up are two recent Globe (and Oscar) winners, Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) and Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station), both of whom face different hurdles to getting nominations. June Squibb (Nebraska) is a good bet if her film goes over well with voters. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis) could end up here if their films prove popular enough, and Margo Martindale (August: Osage Country) might also place if costar Julia Roberts (August: Osage Country) shows up in the lead race instead. I’m sure there will be someone unexpected like Nicole Kidman in “The Paperboy” last year, but I’m not yet sure who that will be.

Current predictions:
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Lupita Nyongo (12 Years a Slave)
June Squibb (Nebraska)
Oprah Winfrey (The Butler)

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Last year, this category was overwhelming filled with veteran nominees, and that’s not the case this year. Instead, watch out for recently-honored actors with just one or two nominations to their name. Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) seems like a solid bet, and Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Jeremy Renner (American Hustle), and Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) are right behind him vying for a spot, if their films succeed and their ensembles doesn’t prove to be too crowded. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) and Daniel Bruhl (Rush) might earn their first nominations for strong turns opposite equally strong leading actors. George Clooney (Gravity) and James Gandolfini (Enough Said) are better bets to be recognized in the lead races, but could also end up here. Harrison Ford (42) is one veteran that Globe voters might go for, and another highly-respected actor should have no trouble being recognized, especially because of his other big film role this year, Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks).
Current predictions:
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks)
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Jeremy Renner (American Hustle)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Emily Blunt (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen)
Judi Dench (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Maggie Smith (Quartet)
Meryl Streep (Hope Springs)

I’m not sure what to make of this category, and a lot of it depends on category placement. A number of actresses I thought might have placed here are competing in the drama race instead, and a few of the contenders here, such as Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon) and Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), could easily end up classified as supporting. The frontrunner in this race is Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), and I’m not sure who will be able to take her down. Julie Delpy (Before Midnight) is a good bet because her trilogy is so revered, and its final installment earned very positive mentions. Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) is possible, but I’m not sure the film will remembered, and the same is true of Lake Bell (In a World…). The rest of the contenders I see are all talented actresses in less-than-impressive films: Sandra Bullock (The Heat), Melissa McCarthy (The Heat), and Michelle Pfeiffer (The Family). I feel much more confident about my newest fifth nominee: Amy Adams (American Hustle), whose film just made the switch from drama to comedy.

Current predictions:
Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)
Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Jack Black (Bernie)
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
Ewan McGregor (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen)
Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson)

This category is going to be an interesting one, with a number of high-profile contenders. Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) are likely to lead the field because their films should have strong Oscar buzz. Unless his film feels like it’s in the wrong category or peaks too late, Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) should be here too. Next up is Joaquin Phoenix (Her), who was last here in 2005 for “Walk the Line.” After that, it’s anybody’s game. Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) or Adam Scott (A.C.O.D.) might score their first nominations. Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight) could finally be recognized for the final installment of a trilogy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), a two-time nominee in the past five years in this race, will be here if voters aren’t put off by his film. I think the last spot is going to go to a sentimental choice, the late James Gandolfini (Enough Said), unless he ends up in the supporting race. As of very recently, Christian Bale (American Hustle) is now a contender in this race too.

Current predictions:
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
James Gandolfini (Enough Said)
Joaquin Phoenix (Her)
Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)
Helen Mirren (Hitchcock)
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)

This category seems like it might be locked up, but that doesn’t account for a Rachel Weisz or a Halle Berry, someone who might have been a contender if the film landed bigger but then ends up being recognized anyway. Though they all could have been considered comedies (I know this may spark debate – I’m merely suggesting that some might have though to submit them as such), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), and Judi Dench (Philomena) are all competing in this race. Sure to join them is Sandra Bullock (Gravity). Bérénice Bejo (The Past) might earn a second nomination for a foreign-language performance, and, if it makes a big enough splash, Kate Winslet (Labor Day) could show up too. I originally had Amy Adams predicted for “American Hustle,” but the word from Gold Derby is that the film will now be considered a comedy, so I’m subbing in Bejo.

Current predictions:
Bérénice Bejo (The Past)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Richard Gere (Arbitrage)
John Hawkes (The Sessions)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Denzel Washington (Flight)

This is a very competitive category, with a slew of big-name actors vying for just five slots. The two sure things are Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), both of whom will also have their films nominated. Right behind them are Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Robert Redford (All is Lost), whose performances should catapult them even if their films don’t follow. Beyond that, there are a few others, like Forest Whitaker (The Butler), and George Clooney (Gravity), who could be swept along with their films, which are likely to be nominated for the top award. The underdog in this race is young actor and breakout star Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), who is likelier to pop up later on in the race with SAG or the Oscars. Update: Christian Bale will now contend in the comedy race for “American Hustle.”

Current predictions:
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Robert Redford (All is Lost)
Forest Whitaker (The Butler)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Movie with Abe: Nebraska

Nebraska
Directed by Alexander Payne
Released November 15, 2013

Director Alexander Payne has a distinguished resume, and his projects are very diverse. “Election,” “About Schmidt,” “Sideways,” and “The Descendants” could all be considered dramas or comedies, each dealing with serious issues, such as old age and adultery, and taking a light-hearted approach to its characters and their interactions. His latest work fits that bill well, a humor-filled story about an old man with a fading memory who sets off to claim a prize he believes he has won. “Nebraska” is a perfect entry in the Payne cannon, an occasionally funny, occasionally contemplative comedic drama.

Bruce Dern stars as Woody, a resident of Billings, Montana who receives a letter in the mail telling him he was won one million dollars, and that he must come to Lincoln, Nebraska to get his winnings. When his wife Kate (June Squibb) refuses to drive him, Woody sets out on foot to walk there. After he sees how important this trip is to his father, David (Will Forte) agrees to drive him to Nebraska, and their trip, with several unplanned stops along the way, is how this film comes together.

There are many layers to “Nebraska.” David’s relationship with his live-in girlfriend has fallen apart, and he works at a retail store selling electronics. His brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) is the more successful one, earning a living as a TV news anchor. Though Woody and Kate’s relationship at present involves much complaining and arguing that might be expected of two octogenarians, it is clearly established that Woody was an alcoholic while his sons were growing up, and there are far more serious grievances to be addressed in the family.

Yet when Woody and David are forced to stay over with family in Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska, something incredible happens. As Woody walks around town to see if all he remembers is still there, he becomes a celebrity. Small-town folk are amazed by the fact that he hit it big, and, for once, he is the center of attention for a good reason. Under all that happiness and support, there also emerges a greed and feeling of entitlement from those who knew Woody when he was less fortunate, and the fact that the money is in all likelihood not real remains in the background as a foreboding promise of Woody’s inevitable decline.

In its best moments, “Nebraska” is an unexpectedly hilarious and heartwarming film about a different kind of family dynamic. Forte and Odenkirk are known for their TV roles, on “Saturday Night Live” and “Breaking Bad,” respectively, and here, they do exactly what is asked of them, portraying straight men to their far quirkier family members. Squibb is loud, unapologetically judgmental, and very funny as the uncensored Kate, and Dern hands in a magnificently focused performance as a man unable to grasp the smaller moments in his current life but absolutely aware of more overarching concepts. Payne’s choice to shoot his film in black-and-white helps bring out the simplicity of the film and its world, spotlighting Middle America and the idea rather than the logic of becoming a millionaire. “Nebraska” takes a fresh and funny approach to telling a fulfilling familiar story of old age and accomplishment.

B+

Saturday, November 23, 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

Nothing to report this week, but I am hoping to catch up on a lot of new, Oscar-worthy releases after Thanksgiving.


New to DVD

All is Bright (anti-recommended): There isn’t much merit to this depressing “comedy,” the story of a man recently released from prison who sells Christmas trees with his friend to try to make a living. Paul Giammati and Paul Rudd are both great actors, but this is far from their best work.

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.

Crystal Fairy (recommended): This bizarre comedy from the Sundance Film Festival is half road trip half drug trip, as Gaby Hoffman’s peculiar Crystal Fairy tags along with Michael Cera’s Jamie and his friends on their journey through Chile in search of a hallucinogenic cactus. While it has some trouble staying grounded, it’s intoxicating the rest of the time.

Paranoia (mixed bag): This hi-tech summer flick is just that: something flashy that tries to be exciting and innovative but misses the mark. Liam Hemsworth has the makings of a movie star, while Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford aren’t trying anymore. A decent popcorn film but far from anything original.


Now On Demand / Netflix Instant Streaming

The American (recommended): This sleek 2010 thriller starring George Clooney was one of the most underrated films of its year, an involving portrait of a man cut off from society and embedded so deeply in his secretive mission and life. Clooney is strong in a quiet but powerful lead performance.

The Joneses (recommended): This 2010 drama presents a fabricated family whose sole purpose is to sell products by living them, and it’s a fascinating and fun concept executed very well. David Duchovny and Demi Moore are great as Mr. and Mrs. Jones, and the whole cast is on in this deceptively dark and mysterious movie.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Movie with Abe: All is Bright

All is Bright
Directed by Phil Morrison
Released September 10, 2013 / November 19, 2013 (DVD)

Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd are both well-known actors who tend to play the same kind of role on a regular basis. The two Pauls have extremely different styles, however, and it’s strange to see them both in the same movie. Giamatti, in movies like “American Splendor” and “Sideways,” portrays gruff individuals who gradually develop a sense of humor but have to work hard to be endearing because of their prickly, sarcastic exteriors. Rudd, on the other hand, is much more aloof and affable, more difficult to be taken seriously, though ultimately charming, in films like “I Love You, Man” and “Our Idiot Brother.” Together, their archetypal characters make for an eccentric and odd pair.

“All is Bright” follows Dennis (Giamatti) shortly after his release from prison as he struggles to make a living and earn back the respect of his ex-wife and daughter, whose mother told her that he had died when he went to prison. It doesn’t take long for Dennis to hook up with his old friend and his ex-wife’s new partner, Rene (Rudd) and start selling Christmas trees in New York. Predictably, business is not booming, and earning enough money to survive proves to be quite difficult, which does little to lift up Dennis’ dismal spirits.

“All is Bright” is a type of Christmas movie, released theatrically in September and on DVD in November, and those off-season dates mirror the film’s inability to capture the holiday spirit. There isn’t much optimism to be found in the film, and it’s not particularly entertaining to watch these two characters sit around and mope. Rene is giddy but with little reason, and his energy quickly becomes tiring, especially because Dennis is so draining. Dennis’ friendship with a dental secretary, played by Sally Hawkins, comes close to being redeeming, but she’s far from sunny herself.

“All is Bright” tries to be a tongue-in-cheek, dry comedy with a dramatic interior, centered on Dennis’ love for his family. Yet neither Dennis nor Rene proves to be a suitably engaging protagonist, and it makes it hard to connect with both of them and with the film’s plotline. These actors have put their talents to excellent use in the past, and it would be nice to see them return to more complex and enjoyable projects in the future. This miserable, unenthusiastic dramatic comedy doesn’t cut it.

C-

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to the latest edition of a seasonal weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe. It’s a bit early to be able to accurately predict the eventual Oscar nominees, but around this time, plenty of likely contenders are being released. I’ll be looking every Wednesday at the awards chances for all of the films released the previous week. Additionally, to make up for lost time, I’ll also be taking a look at the films released earlier in the year, one month at a time. Chime in with your thoughts on the Oscar chances for these films in the comments section. Also, if I’ve missed any films from the previous months, please say so!

Films released November 15th, 2013


Nebraska: I haven’t yet seen this film, but the word is that Bruce Dern is a serious contender for Best Actor. The film comes from director Alexander Payne, who has a great track record with Oscar, with even his less honored films, “Election” and “About Schmidt,” still earning Oscar love, and his bigger hits, “Sideways” and “The Descendants,” netting Best Picture nominations. This film might be more likely to be relegated to its lead actor and its screenplay being recognized, but I’ll have more to say after I have the chance to see it.


Films released September 2013


Enough Said (September 18)
This charming comedy from director Nicole Holofcener seems a good bet for Golden Globe recognition. That will probably be it for lead actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but her costar, the late James Gandolfini, has a strong shot at earning a posthumous nomination for his performance in the supporting actor category. It would be nice to see its screenplay honored as well, but I’m not sure that’s likely.

Don Jon (September 27)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is doing well for himself these days, and his feature directorial debut will probably earn him a third Golden Globe nomination for acting. If the film goes over well with Oscar voters, it might have a slight chance at some love in minor categories, and it’s going to provide a boost for another Globe-honored, Oscar-snubbed performer: Scarlett Johansson, who might also be in the running for “Her.”

Rush (September 27)
Ron Howard has made two movies that have earned Oscar love: 2001’s Best Picture winner “A Beautiful Mind” and 2008’s “Frost/Nixon.” This grand story of two racers could put him back in the running a third time because it’s easy to like, and stars Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl might also have a shot at nominations for their focused and compelling performances. This should be a lock for Best Cinematography, and a few other technical nominations are probable too.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Noah

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.

Noah – Opening March 28, 2014


There’s nothing quite like a biblical epic. Almost everyone who spent even a few years in Sunday school, no matter what religion or demonization, knows the story of Noah, who was chosen to survive, along with many animals, when the world was deemed deserving of being destroyed. This isn’t a cutesy two-by-two story, however, instead a dark, seemingly violent film about the despicable nature of humanity and the great threat posed to Noah and his family before the flood. After many questioned his casting as Javert in last year’s Oscar-nominated “Les Miserables,” Russell Crowe looks like a much better fit for this patriarchal role, plenty experienced with Ridley Scott at the helm in “Gladiator” and “Robin Hood,” among others. Here, he’s paired with director Darren Aronofsky, who has quite an eclectic resume. After quieter dramas “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler,” Aronofsky returns to grander territory like that of the awesome “The Fountain” with this blockbuster tale. Crowe is reunited with his “A Beautiful Mind” costar Jennifer Connelly, with the couple once again playing husband and wife, and joined by Emma Watson, who has been taking terrific parts since wrapping the Harry Potter series, in a role that is hardly as biblically inspired. Anthony Hopkins once again takes on the role of the harbinger of things to come with a booming voice, and hopefully this action tale can remember what it’s based on and not lose sight of that in the aim of becoming a big-budget blockbuster. It hardly demands to be seen, but this could be an extremely packed and exciting ride if done right.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: The Garden of Eden

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


The Garden of Eden
Directed by Ran Tal
Screening November 16 at 7pm, November 17 at 3pm, and November 19 at 8:30pm

This involving documentary centers on a park that appeals to Israelis of all walks of life, called Gan HaShlosha National Park by Jews and the Sahne by Arabs. This film doesn’t try to take sides or pit people against each other. Instead, it puts them right alongside one another, with lingering shots of all of the different visitors to the park, sitting and standing, some wearing religious garb, Jewish or Muslim, and others without shirts ready to go swimming. This device, used multiple times throughout the film, is very effective. Combined with personal testimonies about immigration stories and experiences, this is certainly one of this festival’s most well-rounded entries.

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Mom, Dad, I’m Muslim

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


Mom, Dad, I’m Muslim
Directed by Anat Tel Mendelvich
Screening November 16 at 5:45pm and November 18 at 8:30pm

It’s one thing to be involved in an intercultural relationship in Israel, where one party is Jewish and the other is Muslim. It’s another thing altogether to be a Muslim convert born a Jew, who has to contend with trying to understand and feel comfortable in her own faith while having difficulties explaining her new traditions to her family. This film and its protagonist, Maor, internalize the conflict that exists in her country and makes it a personal struggle for self-acceptance. Though those in her old community hope that her unmarried status means that there’s still hope for her return to the faith, Maor’s journey is ultimate a positive one with an optimistic message.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: The Lesson

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


The Lesson
Directed by Anat Zuria
Screening November 18 at 6:30pm and November 19 at 6:30pm

This documentary takes an innovative approach to telling its story, as the Egyptian-born Layla practices for her driving test with driving instructor Nimar. During their lessons, Nimar guides the sexagenarian in the art of driving but learns an equal amount from her about her life and the complicated history of her emigration and her family. Layla is an electric main character, and Nimar prods her with just the right questions. As it goes on, “The Lesson” moves away from its initial setting, and while it remains thought-provoking, it’s never quite as engaging as when Layla is sitting in her car, focused on the road and lost in thought about some part of her past.

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: It’s Better to Jump

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


It’s Better to Jump
Directed by Gina Angelone, Mouna Stewart, and Patrick Alexander Stewart
Screening November 19 at 6:30pm and November 20 at 8:30pm

It’s evident that most of the film shown throughout this festival present a distinctly Palestinian point of view, one which does not paint Israel and its history in the best light. Yet this is the one that does the conflicted country a true disservice. It begins as a warm portrait of the rich city of Akko and the dazzling visual of its inhabitants jumping off its seawall. But it quickly descends into something else altogether, a vicious and incessant attack on the way that Palestinians have been treated by their supposed Israeli invaders. While all the other films showcased strive to find a better way to get along, this one gets bogged down in demonization and fails to tell its story in a compelling manner as a result.

Saturday, November 16, 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

This week, I’m covering the Other Israel Film Festival. Check out reviews of a handful of the films from this week, and stay tuned tomorrow and Monday for more. Of this week’s new theatrical releases, I’ll be checking out Nebraska when I have the chance.


New to DVD

Prince Avalanche (recommended): This Sundance release is a perfectly entertaining if directionless 80s movie about two men, one driven by determination and the other by laziness, featuring fun performances from Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.


Now On Demand / Netflix Instant Streaming

The Lifeguard (mixed bag): Kristen Bell stars in this lukewarm story about a young woman with a terrific New York City job who moves home to work as a lifeguard. Kristen Bell can’t save this entertaining but aimless entry from Sundance.

Only God Forgives (anti-recommended): Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s first film since “Drive” pairs him with Ryan Gosling again, but the result is far less impressive, a stylized showcase of ultra-violence that doesn’t have much of a point other than to provide visually disturbing images.

Skyfall (recommended): The twenty-third James Bond film marks the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, and it’s quite the celebration. The film kicks into high gear from its opening moments, thanks to a scenery-chewing villainous turn from Javier Bardem and a commitment to action and explosions throughout. Any Bond fan will love it, and others will enjoy it too.

What Maisie Knew (recommended): This emotional story of a young girl whose divorced parents spend so much time fighting and putting each other down that they ignore her is a hard-hitting and powerful tale, with great performances all around and a sunny resolve despite its disheartening premise.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Dove’s Cry

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


Dove’s Cry
Directed by Ganit Ilouz
Screening November 16 at 5pm, November 17 at 5pm, and November 18 at 6:30pm

At the beginning of this festival, a Palestinian-born ballroom dancer brought his passion back to multiple cultures in Jaffa. In this stirring documentary, Hadeel, a young Arab teacher, is involved in a program called “Let’s Talk” in which she teaches Arabic to a sixth-grade Jewish class in Hod HaSharon. The concept behind the program is exceptional, and Hadeel’s attitude is optimistic, encouraging her students to learn from her and taking just as much in from them. Predictably, there are hurdles along the way, particularly Hadeel’s defense of her refusal to sing the national anthem, but in the end this is a positive and heartwarming story about a truly wonderful effort to educate and break down boundaries.

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: The Fading Valley

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


The Fading Valley
Directed by Irit Gal
Screening November 15 at 9pm and November 17 at 7pm

This documentary about the Jordan Valley is a stern indictment of the actions of Israeli settlers, showcasing the barren land and lack of running water that exists for Palestinian farmers. Those highlighted have the chance to air their grievances and to describe the great injustices they blame the Israeli settlers for doing to them. Regardless of who actually deserves blame, the film’s best asset is the unfiltered dialogue it features, offering a very real and human look at what these people think and how they live. The words spoken are dramatically supported by shots of the surrounding landscapes and the overall lack of resources and productivity present in the region.

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Good Garbage

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


Good Garbage
Directed by Shosh Shlam and Ada Ushpiz
Screening November 16 at 9pm and November 17 at 3pm

This documentary, which will be presented by Michael Moore at the festival, gets its title from the evaluation of treasure found at the Hebron Hills garbage dump by Palestinian residents of the city of Yatta. It’s jarring to see people living off garbage in a picture of real life rather than some far-off dystopia, and this succeeds mostly as a showcase of the lengths people will go to in order to survive and to attempt to put together a living. Its message is strong, but its events and personalities aren’t always as captivating as its larger idea.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Under the Same Sun

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


Under the Same Sun
Directed by Sameh Zoabi
Screening November 15 at 7pm and November 16 at 9:15pm

This imagined idea of Israeli-Palestinian business cooperation against impossible odds is an example of such collaborative behavior, produced by an Israeli and directed by a Palestinian. The conflict is made tangible and real by the fact that business partners Nizar, a Palestinian, and Shaul, an Israeli, meet on the side of the road near checkpoints because neither is comfortable or able to cross into where the other lives. They discuss their plans for sustainable energy for Israelis and Palestinians alike are kept top-secret, and when news of their partnership inevitably leaks, good friends turn against them, showing equal disdain from relatives and acquaintances on both sides. Its concept may be overly simplistic, but the overarching notion here is one of working together despite differences for the common good.

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Arabani

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


Arabani
Directed by Adi Adwan
Screening November 15 at 10:30am, November 16 at 7:15pm, and November 17 at 5pm

This film is one of only three narrative features being showcased at this year’s festival, but it has a more impressive distinction as the first feature film from a Druze filmmaker. It’s interesting just how universal a story it is considering it has to do with a very insular religion not open to anyone who was not born into it. It’s hardly an inspiring story of intercultural compatibility and acceptance, but its portrayal of the struggle of a Druze man who returns home with his two children after his marriage to a Jewish Israeli woman ends is extremely compelling and very worthwhile.

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Dancing in Jaffa

The 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York City November 14th-21st, and Movies With Abe is proud to offer you a spotlight on some of the films being presented. Visit the festival website for a complete schedule of screenings for the films.


Dancing in Jaffa
Directed by Hilla Medalia
Screening November 14 at 7pm, November 16 at 8pm, and November 17 at 6:30pm

This opening night selection is a fitting light-hearted choice to start this year’s showcase of Arab and Palestinian films presented by the JCC in Manhattan. This documentary approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of Pierre Dulaine, the son of a Palestinian mother and an Irish father who returns to his hometown of Jaffa to teach children his passion, ballroom dancing. Working with Jewish and Arab schools enables him to work to break down prejudices and stereotypes through a different discipline. Dulaine is undeniably eccentric, and his energy for shifting focus away from cultural and political incongruities to something altogether removed is positive and hopeful.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to the latest edition of a seasonal weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe. It’s a bit early to be able to accurately predict the eventual Oscar nominees, but around this time, plenty of likely contenders are being released. I’ll be looking every Wednesday at the awards chances for all of the films released the previous week. Additionally, to make up for lost time, I’ll also be taking a look at the films released earlier in the year, one month at a time. Chime in with your thoughts on the Oscar chances for these films in the comments section. Also, if I’ve missed any films from the previous months, please say so!

Films released November 8th, 2013


About Time
This is the third film directed by Richard Curtis, whose last two efforts, “Pirate Radio” and “Love Actually,” didn’t end up scoring any Oscar attention, despite two Golden Globe nominations for the latter. Curtis’ screenplay for “Four Weddings and a Funeral” did earn him an Oscar nomination back in 1994, but I doubt that this fantasy film will be received quite as warmly by Oscar voters.

The Book Thief
Holocaust movies are always worth considering for Oscars, though I suspect that this one will go the route of “Sarah’s Key,” another recent adaptation of a popular book dealing with children surviving during the Holocaust. Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush and nominee Emily Watson are in the cast, which could help, but I think this one is a stretch for Best Adapted Screenplay, and unlikely to show up anywhere else.

Thor: The Dark World
Marvel movies have a complicated relationship with Oscar. Only Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Avengers all together have been able to permeate the technical categories. The first “Thor” received nominations from visual effects and costume designers guilds, but no Oscar love, and I presume that the second film will follow suit.

Films released August 2013


The Spectacular Now (August 2)
This Sundance hit is an extreme longshot for its two young stars. Miles Teller’s performance as a cocky alcoholic high school student is terrific, and he would need a huge boost to get nominated. The same is true of Shailene Woodley, who netted a Golden Globe nomination but nothing more for her performance in “The Descendants.” They’ll definitely have their supporters, but I don’t think it will be enough to get them recognized.

Elysium (August 9)
This sci-fi drama wasn’t as well-reviewed as director Neill Blomkamp’s first film, “District 9,” but it’s always worthwhile to consider the chances of the follow-up to a breakout hit like that which scored a Best Picture nomination and three other bids. Technical awards are possible, but this one definitely won’t make the top races.

The Butler (August 16)
Lee Daniels hit it big with “Precious” in 2009, and now he’s back with a well-received decades-spanning epic with plenty of Oscar buzz. Forest Whitaker won an Oscar in 2006 for a much showier performance, but he could be back for his subtler turn. Oprah Winfrey is a much better bet, set to earn her second-ever nomination, and her first in 28 years. The film is a possibility for Best Picture and Best Director, and more likely to be honored for its screenplay and a few technical elements.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday Top Trailer: The Wolf of Wall Street

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 Wolf of Wall Street – Opening December 25, 2013


Watching the second trailer for this film, which explains a lot more of the storyline than the first did, inspired me to go back and watch the fast, furious preview that initially came out which features a quick montage of extreme moments. This looks almost as lavish as Leonardo DiCaprio’s other film from this year, “The Great Gatsby,” but in a very different way. Martin Scorsese has worked with DiCaprio four times in the past, most recently “Shutter Island” in 2010, and, once again, he has a tremendous role for him. Playing an eccentric stockbroker who climbs his way to the top is perfect for DiCaprio, who turned in a mesmerizingly over-the-top performance in “Django Unchained” last year which prepares him well for this part. Jonah Hill, who has a great scene at the start of the trailer and another terrific line about the money taped to a woman in front of him, looks like he’ll have a fantastic follow-up role to the “Moneyball” turn that earned him an Oscar nomination, and Matthew McConaughey is having a banner year with “Mud,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and this film. This film has been on my radar recently because it was announced that it will officially compete in this year’s Oscar race, with a December 25th release date, and will be classified a comedy for the Golden Globes, which makes DiCaprio a frontrunner and should enable a Martin Scorsese film to earn a Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical nomination for the first time in thirty-six years, when “New York, New York” was recognized.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Movie with Abe: It’s Me, It’s Me

It’s Me, It’s Me
Directed by Satoshi Miki
Released November 8, 2013

Reality is a tricky thing, and sometimes it’s possible for it to be manipulated in unexpected ways. It’s often difficult to discern what is real and what is simply in the mind of a film’s protagonist, but that doesn’t necessarily make the events any less compelling. “It’s Me, It’s Me,” the intriguing Japanese film which debuted in the United States this weekend, follows Hitoshi (Kayuza Kamenashi), a lowly employee in an electronics store who dreams of being a professional photographer, who suddenly finds himself in over his head as he literally runs into other versions of himself at every turn.

The way in which “It’s Me, It’s Me” unfurls its storyline is not without its peculiarities, and Hitoshi demonstrates himself to be an individualized soul early on in the film. His relationship with his mother is hardly healthy, and she insists that he not call her mother because of her age. His work situation is far from ideal, and he falls head over heels for a married customer who immediately catches his eye, just as his domineering and irritating boss sets his sights on her too. Hitoshi’s problems soon spiral out of control as he must deal with his new external manifestations of his personality, and struggle to stay alive and in a sensible frame of mind.

“It’s Me, It’s Me” feels like a very stylized film, vastly unrecognizable from a typical American independent movie. The science-fiction nature of Hitoshi’s cloning is not addressed, and it actually results from a cell phone scam that Hitoshi perpetrates, and the karma he receives is in the form of the identity he tried to steal assuming his identity instead. While the prospects of Hitoshi’s multiplication are appealing, it’s hard to get attached to the film when it doesn’t value logic or try to offer any kind of explanation for its utterly bizarre events.

C+

Saturday, November 9, 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

Best Man Down (mixed bag): This film about the death of a best man during a couple’s wedding doesn’t know whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama, and as a result falls short on both fronts. Actors Justin Long, Jess Weixler, and Tyler Labine all disappoint in an all-around unfulfilling movie. Now playing and available on demand. Read my review from yesterday.

It’s Me, It’s Me (mixed bag): It’s hard to know just what to make of this lively Japanese film about a young man who finds new versions of himself appearing on a regular basis. It has its moments where its spark is visible, and others where it seems to have no idea where it’s headed. Now playing at the Cinema Village. My review will be up tomorrow.


New to DVD

Hava Nagila: The Movie (mixed bag): This light documentary about the classic Jewish song might have been endearing if it had bothered to take its subject matter seriously. Instead, it only occasionally gets interesting because it considers its topic to be a big joke.

Lovelace (mixed bag): This biopic isn’t nearly as compelling as another Sundance entry that will be out later this year that looks and sounds very much the same, “The Look of Love.” Amanda Seyfriend turns in a decent performance as the infamous star of “Deep Throat” in a film that never quite captures the spirit of its subject matter and involved characters.


Now On Demand / Netflix Instant Streaming

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.

Flight (recommended): Denzel Washington earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his performance as an alcoholic pilot whose addiction becomes problematic after he miraculously lands a plane hit with severe weather. This involving, layered film features the best action sequence of last year, and a pretty terrific script to boot.

Olympus Has Fallen (anti-recommended): This brainless blockbuster is an excessively violent attempt to play out on screen the ridiculousness of one commando trying to take down an entire army of North Korean terrorists who invade the White House and take the President hostage.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Movie with Abe: Best Man Down

Best Man Down
Directed by Ted Koland
Released November 8, 2013

Wedding movies come in all shapes and sizes. Some are comedies, and others are dramas, some with happy endings and others with devastating finales. On the lighter side, there are films with Julia Roberts like “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Runaway Bride,” and on the heavier side, serious projects like “Rachel Getting Married” or “Melancholia.” A film with a title like “Best Man Down” seems like it would be a comedy, especially considering it stars Justin Long and eternal comic relief Tyler Labine. That’s not the case, however, and instead “Best Man Down” is a weird hybrid that doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be.

As Scott (Long) and Kristin (Jess Weixler) prepare to get married, Scott’s best man Lumpy (Labine) is the life of the party, drawing plenty of attention away from the rest of the wedding with his distracting and highly irresponsible behavior. Labine seems perfect for this role, after stealing scenes in a supporting role on ABC’s “Invasion” and then appearing on short-lived shows much more appropriate for his talents, “Reaper” and “Sons of Tucson.” Labine’s guaranteed demise isn’t terribly fulfilling, and once the best man is down, the film takes a turn for the depressing as Scott and Kristin postpone their honeymoon to track down Ramsey (Addison Timlin), a friend of Lumpy’s whose home situation is far from satisfactory.

“Best Man Down” suffers from a sincere lack of focus and direction, as its two lackluster protagonists begin a search for a character whose connection to Ramsey isn’t initially clear. Ramsey has an unsupportive, absent mother (Frances O’Connor) and a dangerous stepfather figure (Evan Jones), and, prior to his death, Lumpy was the only thing in her life keeping her spirits up. Scott and Kristin, however, aren’t all that much better, since they do not resemble a couple ready to spend the rest of their lives together. Once Scott prioritizes his late friend over their honeymoon, things only got worse, and there seems to be no silver lining in sight.

Long, who is entertaining in the Mac/PC commercials and has been great in film like “Accepted,” and Weixler, who currently stars as eccentric investigator Robin on “The Good Wife,” should be a great pair together. But here they have absolutely no chemistry, and it’s impossible to connect with either of their characters as individuals and as a couple. Labine, committed as he may be, also doesn’t offer too much, and it’s hard to tell whether his character is supposed to be truly funny. The young Timlin is the film’s strongest player, but her role is underdeveloped. This concept might have worked with better writing and a more productive and positive plot.

C

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Movie with Abe: The Counselor

The Counselor
Directed by Ridley Scott
Released October 25, 2013

It’s usually possible to discern a good deal about a film’s plot from its title. That’s not always the case, but it then becomes the responsibility of the film to explain itself, making clear at least somewhat what it is about. In the case of “The Counselor,” it’s almost as if no description should be required, considering it comes from Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott, acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy, and stars the likes of Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. It seems that no one felt it necessary to go further than that, and this film is a haphazard mess that doesn’t lead anywhere coherent.

What is clear about “The Counselor,” which stars Fassbender as the unnamed title character, who is a lawyer in El Paso who also dabbles in drug trafficking, is that it exists in a culture of violence and depravity. The Counselor speaks to the eccentric Reiner (Bardem) and the cool Westray (Pitt) and hears from them about the horrific way in which people die when they cross the cartel, alternately as the subjects of snuff films or the unfortunate victims of a terrifying decapitation device. It doesn’t quite matter what any of the characters do, because their grisly fates are pretty much set from the outset of the film.

Screenwriter McCarthy is known for two novels that were recently adapted for the big screen, “No County for Old Men” and “The Road.” Both films present unlikely protagonists who must deal with brutal evil in their midst, and do so subtly and contemplatively, with sparing dialogue and poignant scenery shots. “The Counselor” is the opposite, featuring a deafening amount of dialogue and little else. Its desert visuals are appealing, but there’s so much talking that little is left to the imagination, a fact which is doubly true when the vicious murder tactics described in conversation are demonstrated on screen.

The members of the cast are each usually terrific, and a few of them apply their skills to these overstuffed roles. Pitt certainly knows how to talk, and this role gives him that opportunity, while Cruz is by far the film’s most charming and sympathetic character, the only true innocent in the entire bunch. Diaz and Bardem take an over-the-top approach to their excessively juicy parts, while Fassbender’s lackluster performance pales in comparison to the bravura of his “12 Years a Slave” turn. There is some style reminiscent of Scott here, but, more than anything, it’s a puzzling, unfulfilling attempt at telling a story that might be more enticing if it weren’t so despicable and off-putting.

C-

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday Oscar Watch

Welcome to the latest edition of a seasonal weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe. It’s a bit early to be able to accurately predict the eventual Oscar nominees, but around this time, plenty of likely contenders are being released. I’ll be looking every Wednesday at the awards chances for all of the films released the previous week. Additionally, to make up for lost time, I’ll also be taking a look at the films released earlier in the year, one month at a time. Chime in with your thoughts on the Oscar chances for these films in the comments section. Also, if I’ve missed any films from the previous months, please say so!

Films released November 1st, 2013


Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey was close to an Oscar nomination last year with a handful of strong supporting roles, and having one major part that screams Oscar is almost certain to earn him that recognition this year. Jared Leto may well deservedly latch on to that buzz for his transgender role that meshes well with McConaughey’s performance. The film might also be recognized for its screenplay, and a Best Picture nomination is always possible but unlikely.

Diana
On paper, two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts as Princess Diana probably seemed like pure gold. The film flopped, however, and so it’s all but dead in the water. Watts was the only element of her film to be honored last year, so I wouldn’t count her out altogether, especially in the Golden Globes race. Otherwise, this film will probably be forgotten.

Ender’s Game
This adaptation of the popular science fiction novel is a good bet to pop up in the technical races. I’d bet on a Best Visual Effects nomination, and maybe Best Sound and Best Sound Editing as well. Anything beyond that is a stretch.

Last Vegas
This film boasts powerful Oscar names – at least one win each for its four stars – and I assume that it might translate into Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical. Though Freeman and sometimes De Niro continue to turn in quality performances sometimes, this isn’t one of those cases, and this light comedy isn’t going to make Oscar waves.

Films released July 2013


The Way Way Back (July 5)
This winning comedy from Sundance is sure to please voters, and its best asset is its writer-director team, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Descendants” two years ago. I’d love to see Sam Rockwell honored for his hilarious supporting performance, but I doubt that will happen, and this may have to settle for some Golden Globe recognition.

Fruitvale Station (July 12)
This staggering drama from Sundance received excellent reviews, and the only worry is that it may have peaked too early. It could well be an underdog for Best Director Ryan Coogler, and might even merit a Best Picture nomination. If there’s any justice, rising star Michael B. Jordan will be nominated for Best Actor. The film might also earn mentions for its screenplay and for supporting actress Octavia Spencer, who won that trophy two years ago.

Blue Jasmine (July 26)
Woody Allen has a great relationship with Oscar, and though his last film, “To Rome with Love,” wasn’t a winner, his previous movie, “Midnight in Paris,” snagged a Best Picture nomination. Cate Blanchett has earned strong reviews for her layered performance, and she’s a sure thing. A writing nomination for Allen is also likely in order, and that’s probably it for this well-received but off-putting dark comedy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Movie with Abe: Diana

Diana
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Released November 1, 2013

There’s been a tendency in biopics recently to pick a very small portion of a public figure’s life and use it as the basis for a film that bears a title with that person’s name. “Lincoln” was about one vote, and “Hitchcock” was about making just one movie. This story of a few years of the world-famous Princess Diana’s life parallels the events portrayed in a similarly snapshot-centric film, “The Queen,” but shows them from the perspective of Diana, who lived her life in front of the press and struggled to find the peace and happiness she always wanted.

“Diana” is as much about its male lead as it is its female lead. Early on, Diana (Naomi Watts) meets heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews) and immediately falls in love with the dashing Pakistani doctor. The reason for the attraction is not clear – Watts and Andrews’ lack of chemistry certainly doesn’t explain it – and Diana explains later that she loved that he didn’t treat her as if she was anyone special. The couple is soon plagued by problems, including Diana’s divorce, Hasnat’s desire to stay out of the spotlight, and his mother’s disapproval of her. Simply put, this is a love story, not a biography.

What “Diana” lacks more than anything is context. There is very little description provided for who Diana was and the circumstances that led to her divorce. This reviewer was just nine years old when Diana was killed in a car crash, an event the film doesn’t even bother to address, presuming that its audience knows what happened. None of Diana’s interactions with the royal family are shown, which makes it hard to understand a large portion of her life. As a film, it feels incomplete, and as a piece of historical cinema, it comes up very short.

Watts is an extremely talented actress who has delivered exceptional performances in films like “Mulholland Drive” and “21 Grams.” This role doesn’t demand as much from her, and certainly less than her physically drenching Oscar-nominated part in “The Impossible” last year, and she responds adequately, crafting a half-compelling lead character who is sometimes sympathetic. Andrews was far more adept at playing a conflicted torturer on “Lost,” and romantic drama doesn’t suit him as well. At one point in the film, Diana explains that many thought of her as a “non-starter,” and that’s an excellent way to describe this film.

C

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Opening May 23, 2014


I had the chance to watch this trailer online a few days after it was released and I had already heard that people were incredibly excited. I have mixed feelings about both the trailer and the film, mainly because, while I liked the first two “X-Men” films, I wasn’t thrilled with “X-Men: First Class.” I’m not familiar with the Days of Future Past comic book storyline, so I don’t know exactly what it entails, and I would have been considerably more enthralled by an Age of Apocalypse film. Being that this is what we have, I think it’s worthwhile to try to get into it, and though the trailer includes more unspoken shots of drama and action than actually addresses the plot, it’s hard to know just what we’ll be in for. The most appealing part of it is the combination of the casts of both the recent reboot and the first three films from the 2000s. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were always a superb pair, and having them come face-to-face, at least at some point, with their younger selves in the form of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, seems like a terrific idea. Involving Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in both eras is also fantastic, and I’m hopeful that this will be just what it promises to be – an action spectacular with two magnificent casts side by side. It’s not coming out until May, so I’m sure we’ll get many more glimpses before then.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Movie with Abe: Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Released November 1, 2013

Matthew McConaughey has managed to transform his reputation recently from the go-to romantic comedy lead who doesn’t put in much effort mostly by choice to a serious actor making solid role selections. Parts in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Bernie,” “The Paperboy,” “Magic Mike,” and this year’s terrific “Mud” have helped to establish that, and this film all but seals the deal. A notably thinner and emaciated-looking McConaughey stars as real-life Texan Ron Woodroof, who is diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s and refuses to let the death sentence he receives dictate the rest of his life, taking a proactive approach to his unimaginable reality.

The film’s title refers to the organization Woodroof creates when he is told that he cannot receive the drugs he needs to in the United States and turns to importing non-approved drugs from Mexico and doling out plentiful portions of medication to those who buy in for membership. Woodroof getting there isn’t easy, however, and it’s the journey and his growth as a person that make this film worth watching. McConaughey, who may finally find Oscar recognition for this film after recent buzz for other roles, burrows himself completely into the role and creates a complex and electric main character.

The rest of the film is not quite as consistent. McConaughey has excellent support from costar Jared Leto, who is unrecognizable as Rayon, a transgender fellow HIV patient who forges an unlikely friendship with Woodruff as they begin a business partnership. Jennifer Garner, however, feels out of place as the occasionally flirtatious but otherwise personality-free doctor who Woodruff romances and who becomes sympathetic to his plight. Her character and some of the surrounding storyline doesn’t always fit, and it makes the film as a whole a less cohesive experience.

Even if “Dallas Buyers Club” doesn’t fully succeed in telling its story in an effectively cinematic fashion, it does tell an involving story, tracing its main character from his beginnings as a homophobic electrician to his new state of more tolerant, law-averting businessman. His thin, mustachioed appearance makes him a less than appealing protagonist at first, but the film works subtly to convince viewers otherwise, and to show that this bigoted playboy might have more to him than meets the eye. Ultimately, it’s more memorable as a performance showcase than as a film in its own right, but serves as a decent attempt at both.

B

Saturday, November 2, 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

Aftermath (recommended): This Polish drama about two Christian brothers pushing too hard to unearth the Jewish roots of their town was extremely controversial in its home country, and it proves just as interesting in its U.S. theatrical release. A very compelling and thought-provoking subject matter takes shape in an involving drama and decent thriller. Now playing at Lincoln Plaza and Cinema Village. Read my review from yesterday.

The Square (recommended): This Egyptian documentary, which director Jehane Noujaim had just finished when she brought it to the Sundance Film Festival back in January, is a terrific snapshot of the mood in Egypt and the spirit of revolution. As a chronicle of events, it’s not as complete, but it’s difficult not to get attached to the emotion involved. Now playing at Film Forum. Read my review from Sundance.


New to DVD

Monsters University (recommended): This Pixar product ranks in the better-than-expected category for sequels, an entirely enjoyable visit back to a world where monsters scaring children is a good thing. Though its premise isn’t as innovative as the original’s, it’s still a great time with plenty of laughs for all ages.


Now On Demand / Netflix Instant Streaming

This Is Not a Film (recommended): This Oscar-eligible documentary, released in theatres last February, is most interesting for the idea behind it: Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been banned from making films, so he presents this stream-of-consciousness construction on film instead. Occasionally riveting and more often less than rushed, this is worth a watch for those so inclined by the concept.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Movie with Abe: Aftermath


Aftermath
Directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Released November 1, 2013

It’s not hard to find a Holocaust movie in a given calendar year, especially since they often make Oscar waves. Many of those films are made in the United States, but there are also European countries producing self-reflective films, like Austria’s “The Counterfeiters” and Poland’s “In Darkness.” Most take place during the Holocaust itself, but others take a more retrospective approach. In Polish director Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s new film, “Aftermath,” the Holocaust is a long-repressed but pervading aspect of society which comes to the surface in a captivating and haunting story about what happens when people start asking questions no one wants answered.

The subject of “Aftermath,” while discussed in detail in interviews about the death threats that star Maciej Stuhr received for taking his role and the extremely controversial reception the film got in Poland, is not abundantly clear from the beginning of the film. Jozef (Stuhr) returns to Poland after a twenty-year stint in Chicago. Upon arriving home, he finds that his brother Franek (Ireneusz Czop) has been ostracized from the community for unknown reasons. Jozef soon learns that Franek has been salvaging and removing Jewish gravestones from sixty years earlier, and his inexplicable actions have caused his neighbors to turn against him.

“Aftermath” is best described as a thriller, one which is keenly aware of its genre status from the start, presenting intrigue and a foreboding feel even before anything appears to be wrong. The reception Jozef receives in Poland is a chilly one, and something seems off from the moment he arrives. What adds to the film’s status as a suspenseful drama is that it is grounded in a historical context, based on documented events if not one specific true story. That makes “Aftermath” all the more frightening and thought-provoking.

Reading about the Polish reaction to “Aftermath” makes it all the more appealing, though it should be judged on its own merits rather than for the response it creates (see “The Passion of the Christ” as another example far away on the spectrum). “Aftermath” is not a typical Holocaust movie, and its removed present-day setting helps make the horror all the more real. The tension builds as the film progresses, leading to a devastating revelation and an extremely memorable, poignant conclusion. “Aftermath” is an interesting and contemplative portrait of collective guilt and mob mentality, effective both as a teaching tool and as an engaging film.

B+