Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Inherent Vice

Welcome back 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.

Inherent Vice – Opening December 12, 2014

I would have wanted to see this film based on its director and cast alone, and now that I’ve seen a trailer, I’m pretty much equally excited and perplexed. This film is premiering at the New York Film Festival, and I’d love to attend the press and industry screening if it wasn’t scheduled during Yom Kippur. Paul Thomas Anderson is a director who doesn’t make movies too often and puts enormous care and effort into every project he takes on, and therefore it’s worth anticipating this next feature. I’m personally a big fan of “Magnolia,” and though I had some issues with “Punch Drunk Love” and “There Will Be Blood,” there are plenty of things I can appreciate about both. Anderson’s previous collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master," was an enormously successful one, and this is sure to produce another zany, immensely watchable performance from the once-crazy actor. This film is all about the costumes and time period, something Andreson has done to rave reviews in the past with “Boogie Nights.” He’s enlisted a formidable cast, including Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, and Michael K. Williams. This looks like a film that could easily get lost in its own depraved world over the course of 148 minutes, but I imagine that it’s going to be a mesmerizing experience throughout anyway. Let’s hope it’s a good mix and that the scenery and casting choices are equaled by a compelling story and fine acting all around.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Movie with Abe: Chef

Directed by Jon Favreau
Released May 30, 2014 / DVD September 30, 2014

There’s something about food movies that make them undeniably appealing. It’s easy to salivate over food preparation of any kind, whether the ingredients or complete dishes themselves are actually enticing. A movie with a title like “Chef” is sure to indulge in the delight of good cooking and good eating, and what’s left is ensuring the presence of a solid story. This film may have an enjoyable plot, but despite an enviable cast, there’s something about the acting and dialogue that just doesn’t make it a home run.

Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a popular chef at a major restaurant hastily prepping for a visit from an important food critic. Caught up in the busy nature of his work, Carl has trouble bonding with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony), much to the chagrin of the ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) who enthusiastically supports his career. When his boss (Dustin Hoffman) refuses to allow him to prepare an adventurous menu, mandating instead that he stick to the basics, Carl gets panned, and he does not take the review in stride, setting off a chain reaction that forces him to think about what is actually going to make the eternal chef happy.

Favreau is an actor with plenty of experience behind the camera, helming the first two “Iron Man” films as well as the odd trio of “Made,” “Elf,” and “Cowboys and Aliens.” Here, he picks a harmless comedy, one that promises a happy ending and plenty of fun on the way there. While Favreau sometimes gets cast in the right roles, like Daniel Bateman in “The Replacements” or Pete, the Ultimate Fighting Champion, on “Friends,” this is not the right part for him. He doesn’t imbue Carl with the right gusto or enthusiasm for cooking, and as a result Carl’s lines feel insincere.

That problem extends to the rest of the cast as well. Talents like Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, and Oliver Platt are used to minimal effect in bland supporting roles that offer them few opportunities to chew scenery. John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale are ready to show their energy as members of Carl’s kitchen staff but their roles are written rather thinly. Robert Downey, Jr. ends up being the only cast member to truly fulfill his potential, but his character feels wholly out of place. Just as unsatisfactorily, this film already knows where it wants to go and isn’t interested in presenting conflict or the idea that maybe things won’t work out on its journey. It may be appetizing to watch, but this film could have been much, much better.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Movie with Abe: Days and Nights

Days and Nights
Directed by Christian Camargo
Released September 26, 2014

It’s always interesting when an actor decides to step behind the camera to tell a story for his or her perspective. When it’s a big name like Kevin Costner or George Clooney, the buzz is much louder, but that doesn’t mean that lesser known performers deserve less press. Christian Camargo, who will be known to most audiences for his role as Rudy in the first season of “Dexter,” has managed to assemble quite a formidable and diverse cast for his directorial debut, a theoretically intriguing look at one complicated family dynamic that doesn’t quite translate to the big screen in the way it should.

As is often the case, the actor-turned-director in question casts himself in a major role that is far from the showiest part in the cast. Camargo plays Peter, who accompanies his actress girlfriend Elizabeth (Allison Janney) to her vacation home on Memorial Day. There, he dines, talks, and argues with an intense cast of characters, portrayed by actors from around the world, including Jean Reno, Michael Nyqvist, Ben Wishaw, Katie Holmes, William Hurt, and Cherry Jones. If this sounds a lot like “August: Osage County,” that it is, with a similar level of intrigue and the same unsatisfying format: so much family and personal drama thrown around to no discernable end.

The film starts out with a certain hook – its 1980s setting – throwing in a few unmistakable references to its signature decade, and slowly introducing each of its characters in a way that explains just who they are and what their motivations for doing what they do are. As they come together, it becomes clearer that these people can’t hope to get along, and that what they bring to the table, both literally and figuratively, suggests permanent issues that will force their family apart.

The members of this cast have starred in many impactful and well-known films, and have collected a handful of Emmys and one Oscar among them. Each actor plays an archetype familiar to him or her, be it Janney’s eccentric chatterbox, Hurt’s philosophy-prone old soul, or Wishaw’s misfit trying to convince those around him to think differently. They may be well-equipped to play these parts, but that doesn’t mean the parts are worthwhile or complex. This collection of characters should be interesting, but this story isn’t organized or inviting enough to prove memorable.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

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 Theatres

Days and Nights (mixed bag): Christian Camargo, who played Rudy in season one of “Dexter,” steps behind the camera to write and direct his first film, this initially intriguing look at a miserable family dynamic one Memorial Day Weekend. The cast seems impressive, but the film is hardly a home run. Now playing at IFC Center. My review will be up tomorrow.

Lilting (recommended): This British film from director Hong Khaou is an emotional exploration of loss featuring strong performances from Ben Wishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Naomi Christie, and Peter Bowles that has its especially impactful moments. Now playing at Village East Cinemas. Read my review from Sundance.

The Little Bedroom (recommended): Michel Bouquet and Florence Loiret Caille star in this affecting French drama as an elderly man abandoned by his family and his caretaker who takes a personal interest in ensuring his wellbeing. It’s a strong story with two great central performances. Now playing at Cinema Village. Read my review from Friday.

Two Night Stand (recommended): Analeigh Tipton and Miles Teller have a blast playing opposite each other as a mismatched pair force to endure more time together an ill-fated one night stand. It’s fun, but not always as hilarious and terrific as it could be. Now playing at AMC Village 7. Read my review from Thursday.

New to DVD

Nothing to report this week!

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Alfie (recommended): Jude Law is the electric center of this 2004 drama with a sterling soundtrack, positioning its title character as the ultimate womanizer who may or may not have a heart of gold. It didn’t earn too many positive mentions, but it is a fun film with some strong dramatic moments.

The Double (recommended): This Sundance feature from director Richard Ayoade is a dark but extremely intriguing dystopian tale of an anonymous worker whose exact double enters his life only to wreak havoc on it. Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska are just the right brand of off-kilter for the film’s tone, but it’s not as good as the similarly-themed “Enemy” with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Little Bedroom

The Little Bedroom
Directed by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Raymond
Released September 26, 2014

There’s something about the relationship between people of very different ages that seems to make for good cinema, and good storytelling in general. It makes sense, since people have a diverse range of life experiences depending on what they’ve been through and how far they’ve come. The latest such film to successfully explore the relationship between two people, one a young woman and the other an old man, is “The Little Bedroom,” a French production from directing duo Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Raymond in their narrative feature film debut.

Edmond (Michel Bouquet) is a man with a distant relationship to his adult son, who feels that his father neglected him as a child and therefore does not deserve much attention in his old age. Rose (Florence Loiret Caille) is his caretaker, who treats him like a person and expresses an attachment to him that her employers deem to be inappropriate and unacceptable. Not one to be dumped and left in a retirement home, Edmond is not pleased about his situation following a decline in health, and Rose takes the initiative to ensure that he isn’t left alone and to his own devices.

These two characters are both magnetic figures whose loneliness can be seen in their faces and in the way that they interact with other people. Their scenes together do not exude warmth, but their connection is shown through the small moments in which they interact and both take simple pleasures in doing ordinary things in specific ways. Both do not want to be taken at face value and want to be seen by those around them as more than just an old man and a nurse, and they may well be the only ones who see the other in that light.

Bouquet, now 88, doesn’t make Edmond into any person to like, portraying him as crotchety and rarely grateful for the things that someone like Rose who does actually see him gives him. The complexity of his performance makes Edmond more subtly and gradually endearing, a positive fixture for the obviously sympathetic Rose, who herself is somewhat prickly. Caille does a great job of playing opposite Bouquet, and the two help to make this film about friendship and affection an engaging and enlivening one. Though it takes a strange turn in its final act, “The Little Bedroom” is an affirming and positive look at an unusual friendship.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Movie with Abe: Two Night Stand

Two Night Stand
Directed by Max Nichols
Released September 26, 2014

It’s interesting to see what young actors do with their careers. Some start off with an astonishing breakthrough at an early age that then sets them up for failure or obscurity since their successive roles can’t possibly match what came beforehand. And some begin in their early twenties, when it’s possible to see their talent and what it will become but where they’re not limited by one particular part. Two actors, Analeigh Tipton and Miles Teller, fit that bill, and their latest collaboration is an example of two talented people delivering perfectly adequate and entertaining performances in this average, enjoyable comedy.

Tipton got her big start in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” as a babysitter in love with her boss and followed that up with supporting roles in “Hung,” “Damsels in Distress,” and “Warm Bodies.” She usually plays the cutesy, shy girl who may not always fit in with the rest of the crowd because of her bubbliness. Teller had an important part in “Rabbit Hole” but really broke out with “The Spectacular Now,” and should receive similarly strong reviews for his follow-up performance in the forthcoming Sundance hit “Whiplash.” Here, Tipton’s dark comedy and Teller’s light drama backgrounds converge for an old-fashioned R-rated comedy about sex.

The concept here is all in the title: a one-night stand stretched out into an unexpected second evening. In this case, Megan (Tipton) finds herself unable to flee from the unfortunate aftermath of her night spent at the home of Alec (Teller) due to the immense snowstorm that has welded Alec’s building door shut. Their evening wasn’t terrible, but the morning after ends on a sour, bitter note, paving the way for an awkward day of trying to get along.

At times, “Two Night Stand” reaches its potential, allowing its characters to alternately bicker with each other or share a romantic moment. It’s fun to see Tipton and Teller having a great time playing off of each other and letting their characters reduce each other to their worst qualities for optimal entertainment. As a whole, however, the film doesn’t embrace its R rating or go far enough, abandoning notions or subplots when they could easily go much further. Some moments are more awkward or forced then they should be, but this film isn’t expecting much. It’s just two bright young actors having a fun time exploring a concept that isn’t meant to be groundbreaking or fantastic.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Movie with Abe: Boyhood

Directed by Richard Linklater
Released July 11, 2014

Sometimes a movie is all about how it’s made and less about its content. The question is always whether the film can live up to its premise, to accomplish its ambitious format aims and manage to tell a compelling story at the same time. Richard Linklater, no stranger to innovative projects, from the “Before Sunrise” trilogy to “A Scanner Darkly,” set out to do something remarkable in 2002: to follow the growth of one boy and his family over the course of twelve years. His finished product is a lengthy and formidable look at exactly what its title describes, a rare opportunity to truly get to know a character and its universe.

Ellar Coltrane, seven years old at the start of filming and now twenty, stars as Mason, a young boy with an active imagination and energy that doesn’t quite translate to academic excellence. His sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), is the intellectual of the family, not too enamored with her brother’s outlook on life. Patricia Arquette is their single mother who struggles to ensure that they have a fitting life, while Ethan Hawke’s absentee father stops by every once in a while with a shiny new toy and the promise of fleeting happiness.

Like “One Day” several years ago, “Boyhood” checks in on its characters at a certain time each year. While not always the same point in each calendar cycle, it’s a definitive snapshot of what is going on in the life of Mason and his family at that moment in time, usually indicated by a signature new haircut or look on the part of Mason or Samantha. That device works well and manages not to be campy or forced, instead highlighting the important developments and changes in his life over the course of these formative twelve years.

This film, unlike any other, grows with its performers. It was impossible to know what Coltrane would be like as a teenage actor when he was first cast, and this was a huge gamble. What it underlines is that life is unpredictable, and watching these characters deal with unexpected challenges is immensely interesting. Who knows what lies ahead for the young Coltrane and Linklater, but these debut performances, which are really more than just a single performance, are very strong. Arquette and Hawke do their part to craft complex characters who have to change over time without the advantage of their physical appearances providing cues. After two hours and forty-two minutes, it’s hard to forget the impact of this sizeable and grand journey.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Congress

The Congress
Directed by Ari Folman
Released July 19, 2014

When a director knocks it out of the park, it’s understandable that his successive project will be met with high expectations. “Waltz with Bashir” was a formidable achievement on the part of Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, transcending genre as an animated documentary in which its subject, the director itself, recalled his memories of the Lebanon War in the most profound and affecting fashion. His follow-up film is hardly a documentary but does include a considerable amount of animation, an impossibly intriguing concept realized as a compelling but often frantic and jumbled piece of cinema.

In a universe that clearly isn’t meant to be ours, Robin Wright plays a version of herself, an eternally difficult actress who hasn’t achieved a dramatic career comeback with her role in Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and is instead remembered for parts from her heyday like “Forrest Gump” and “The Princess Bride.” Because her career has tanked, her agent (Harvey Keitel) comes to her with an offer – the opportunity to be digitized, which includes an agreement that she never act again while the studio uses her computer-captured images to manufacture performances that keep her the same age forever.

This dark parody of Hollywood manages to unmask some of the harsher truths about fame and celebrity, and it’s hard not to be drawn in by the drama of some of the film’s more contemplative moments in this futuristic film. Where the film takes a wholly startling turn is when an older Wright attends an “animated futurist congress,” at which point the film becomes animated. It’s a strange but not completely unexpected device, and it renders the film a strange, detached feel that’s partially effective but also a bit difficult to connect to and grasp. It’s both captivating and perplexing, an odd combination that’s only somewhat satisfying.

“The Congress” succeeds most in its music, as Folman once again teams with composer Max Richter, who has written a mesmerizing and powerful score that underlines the permanent gravity of material decisions. Richter’s soundtrack achieves the effect that Folman’s film is going for and only half meets. Wright delivers an appropriately self-reflective performance, and she’s ably supported by a very well-cast Danny Huston as the studio executive who wants to digitize her and Kodi Smit-McPhee as her son. There are moments where “The Congress” seems to be a great film, and as a whole it manages to be, at the very least, one of the most interesting films of the year.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Drop

The Drop
Directed by Michael R. Roskam
Released September 12, 2014

Sometimes a film recommends itself based on the merits of the person who wrote it. Boston native Dennis Lehane penned three novels which were then put on the big screen – “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “Shutter Island.” For the first time, Lehane has adapted his own work, this time a short story set in New York City, with similar themes, about people eternally entrenched in crime just trying to get on the right track. Unfortunately, Lehane’s latest effort and this film as a whole is a severe disappointment, offering just a glimmer of the grandeur of his previous work.

In “The Drop,” Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is a mild-mannered bartender at Cousin Marv’s, a bar owned by his cousin, appropriately named Marv (James Gandolfini), who years earlier was forced to hand over ownership of the bar to the local mob because of increased debt. One night, the bar is held up, and the small amount of money taken begins to haunt Bob and Marv. At the same time, Bob meets Nadia (Noomi Rapace) when he finds a wounded dog in her trash can and adopts it, though its previos abusive owner isn’t so willing to part with it. These plot points have the making of a good story, but instead of taking off and being original, it remains flat, forced, and fully uncreative.

The cast of “The Drop” is just as promising as its writer, and it’s a shame that they can’t live up to expectations either. Tom Hardy is a fabulous actor who first broke out as the eccentric protagonist of “Bronson” and has since appeared in “Inception,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” and more. Here, he masks his British accent with a thick New York drawl, which has the effect of rendering him bland, making him one-note and absent of any energy or personality. Gandolfini, who is no stranger to such roles, gives his final performance in a part that doesn’t give him much to work with and doesn’t compare to his charming nature in “Enough Said” or his most classic performance as Tony Soprano. Rapace, who has been cast in a number of English-language films since “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” probably wasn’t the right choice to play a character whose presence doesn’t ever really make sense in this story.

A theoretically intriguing beginning doesn’t lead to much in this film, and, what’s worse, the film takes a somewhat unexpected turn in its third act that leads to a convoluted and far from satisfactory finale that doesn’t track with everything that leads up to it. The film’s title is only half-appropriate, and this feels like a fleeting excerpt from a man’s life that likely has much more interesting other parts. This is not the finest work from this writer or these actors, and it’s a crime entry hardly worthy of comparison to other films of the same genre.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

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 Theatres

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (highly recommended): Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy star in this moving, involving story about a couple struggling to get back to a sense of normalcy after their lives are rocked by an unthinkable event. Both performers are incredible, and the film is extremely powerful. Now playing at Landmark Sunshine and the Paris Theatre. Read my review from Friday.

The Drop (anti-recommended): Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini star in this grim and relatively pointless adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s latest work which is far from worthy of comparison to his previous efforts, “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “Shutter Island.” Now playing in limited release. My review will be up tomorrow.

The Green Prince (mixed bag): This documentary from Sundance has a fascinating premise – the son of a top Hamas official turned to spy for Israel – but its narrow focus on the son and his handler doesn’t offer a complete perspective that a more comprehensive showcase might have. Now playing at Lincoln Plaza. Read my review from Sundance.

Life’s a Breeze (mixed bag): This harmless Irish film stars Fionnula Flanagan as a matriarch whose adult children clean out her apartment unaware that she has hidden her life savings in it. The search that follows is entertaining and enjoyable if not terribly memorable. Now playing at Quad Cinema. Read my review from Friday.

New to DVD

God’s Pocket (mixed bag): John Slattery is great on “Mad Men,” but his directorial debut, which screened at Sundance this year, leaves much to be desired. Its talented cast, including the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eddie Marsan, Richard Jenkins, and Christina Hendricks, has done better, and don’t do much with this half-interesting premise.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Beginners (highly recommended): This tremendously entertaining and creative film features fabulous performances from Ewan McGregor, Mélanie Laurent, and Christopher Plummer, who took home an Oscar for the part. Though he got all the attention, the film as a whole truly is terrific.

Defiance (recommended): This story of survival about Jews living in the woods in Russia during the Holocaust is a strong film from director Edward Zwick with great performances from Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Mark Feuerstein, and others. Definitely worthwhile for those interested in the subject.

The Duchess (anti-recommended): This 2008 regal film starring Keira Knightley earned an Oscar for its costumes, which was deserved, but little else about it is all that appealing. Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes have been much better in other projects, and the only noteworthy thing about it was the promising start of Hayley Atwell’s international career.

Just a Sigh (recommended): I was thrilled to see this film, which I watched almost a year ago when it was playing at Tribeca, on the marquee at Lincoln Plaza. It’s an engaging and well-told story with a great lead role for French actress Emmanuelle Devos.

The Moment (mixed bag): Jennifer Jason Leigh stars in this drama about a war photographer trying to get a grip on what happened to her missing boyfriend following an injury in the field. Its story is relatively intriguing, and it has its strong moments.

One Day (recommended): This romantic drama follows one couple for one day a year over the course of twenty years. That novel approach presents its advantages and its complications. The movie features great performances from Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, and ultimately proves to be quite moving.

A Single Man (highly recommended): The best film of 2009 is a masterful art movie from director Tom Ford with a magnificent lead performance from Colin Firth. The scenery is nothing short of incredible, and every piece of this film is fully fascinating.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Directed by Ned Benson
Released September 12, 2014

Don't let this film's title fool you. It's not about someone going missing, being lost or kidnapped, or anything like that. It's nowhere near as dark as the similarly-titled "The Disappearance of Alice Creed," and has very little to do with the Beatles. It does, however, showcase the distancing between two people, as Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) separates herself from her husband, Conor (James McAvoy), effectively disappearing from his life. That process is a mesmerizing, highly emotional one, wonderfully told in this affecting and immensely human film.

This story begins from a point of complete joy and bliss, as Conor reveals to Eleanor in the middle of a date that he cannot pay for dinner. She responds by casually taking off her shoes and walking out of the restaurant. When he runs after her as he is pursued by an angry waiter, the two reunite in the park and share an intimate and passionate moment. That ecstasy and closeness is contrasted greatly by the loneliness visible on almost every successive moment as Conor tries to find his way back to the elusive woman he used to call his wife following a tragic event whose nature is revealed midway through the film.

“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” splits its time between its two protagonists, showcasing their individual lives as Eleanor reconnects with her family in Connecticut, portrayed by Jess Weixler, Isabelle Huppert, and William Hurt, and Conor runs his New York City restaurant with the help of Bill Hader’s chef and confidante. We see mostly what they are like apart rather than together, which makes the moments they do share on screen absolutely electric. This story, “Them,” will be released as two separate films, “Him” and “Her,” next month, designed to showcase their relationship from each perspective. After this start, those entries should be very worthwhile.

It’s difficult to describe the range of emotions captured and channeled by this film’s two stars. Both are actors whose entrance into cinema was defined by suddenly being everywhere, taking on a number of diverse high-profile roles within the first few years of making it big. Chastain, who earned Oscar nominations for being perky in “The Help” and determined in “Zero Dark Thirty” here delivers a focused and passionate performance as a woman who needs desperately to disconnect from her world in order to find some sort of peace. McAvoy, who has been the romantic lead in “Atonement” and other films and is no stranger to being pushed away by the woman he loves, is genuine, affable, and dedicated, never losing faith in the romance he longs to reignite. Watching these two on screen is an incredible journey, and the film is at its best when their paths do intersect. It’s an experience that’s at times devastating, inspiring, heart-wrenching, beautiful, and unforgettable.


Movie with Abe: Life’s a Breeze

Life’s a Breeze
Directed by Lance Daly
Released September 19, 2014

The latest Irish film to make its way to the United States, which premiered in its home country over a year ago, is “Life’s a Breeze,” the entertaining tale of an older woman (Fionnula Flanagan) whose family decides to clean out her house as a surprise for her, unaware that she has hidden almost a million euro inside what they thought to be trash. What ensues is an epic search by family and random devotees of the cause defined by a shared sense of camaraderie and hope. It may not be the most empathic or memorable film, but it sure is a lot of fun.

Flanagan is an actress who isn’t known for playing the warmest of characters. Her big American breakout in “The Others” was certainly creepy, and the mothers she played on “Brotherhood” and “Lost” were far from gentle. Her recent role in another Irish coproduction, “Tasting Menu,” was a bit lighter than usual, but it’s clear that she doesn’t tend to play warm and fuzzy. That works to this film’s advantage, since having a loveable old lady at its center wouldn’t be productive. Instead, Flanagan’s Nan is unimpressed even before she realizes her family threw out all her money, and though she is somewhat pleasant, she’s hardly a personality around which people can truly rally.

As a result, the energy of the film comes from the idea of a woman who saved all her money over the years and didn’t trust enough in the banks to take care of it, instead opting to hide it in her furniture so that she would know where it was. Upon realizing what they did, her family sets out to help her locate it again, uniting in a way that has far more substance than their shared effort to rid her of what they believe to be the possessions of a hoarder.

The true heart of “Life’s a Breeze” is Emma (Kelly Thornton), Nan’s granddaughter. She sees her grandmother in a different light than the rest of her family does, having known her only as the person she currently is. The connection between the two of them is a great one, and it, more than the search itself, keeps the film going. Writer-director Lance Daly, who previously made “Kisses,” has created another enjoyable film that manages to exist in its own universe where anything is possible if its protagonists put their minds to it.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Movies with Abe Got Married!

Sorry for the lack of updates recently, but I’ve been off to doing something much more important – getting married! Fear not, however, since movies were still very much on my mind. Each table at the reception had a movie poster like the ones shown in the picture above, with a whole range of wedding movies including “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Fill the Void,” “American Wedding,” “Rachel Getting Married,” and “Monster-in-Law” represented. I had originally such miserable offerings as “Melancholia” and “Margot at the Wedding” as well but then thought they were far too bleak. Movie songs such as “Falling Slowly” from “Once” and the theme from “Forrest Gump” were played during the meal. It was a fun and wonderful festivity and a great vacation.

Now, of course, I’m back, and there’s plenty coming up! I’ve seen a number of September 26th theatrical releases which I’ll be reviewing next week. Before then, however, you can look forward to coverage of the New York Film Festival. I’ll be attending select press screenings over the next few weeks. Oscar season isn’t too far away, so stick around for reviews, predictions, and much more!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

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 Theatres

May in the Summer (recommended): This was the very first film I saw at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2013. Cherien Dabis impresses as writer, director, producer, and star of this entertaining and involving story about a Jordanian-American bride struggling culturally and personally to plan her wedding in her home country. Now playing at the Laemmle Royal in LA. Read my review from Sundance.

Rocks in My Pockets (recommended): It’s definitely not for kids, but this animated film from Latvian writer-director Signe Baumane is a strong and ferociously interesting look at depression and family history, very adept at telling its story with just a narrator and no dialogue. Definitely an interesting experience. Now playing at the IFC Center. Read my review from Thursday.

New to DVD

Night Moves (mixed bag): Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard star as three ecoterrorists planning something big together in this slow-moving film that never really gets anywhere or achieves a satisfying finish.

Whitewash (mixed bag): Thomas Haden Church stars in this intriguing but uninvolving tale of a drunk snowplow driver who accidentally hits a stranger in the middle of a storm. It’s a worthwhile concept, but the execution here is slow-paced and less than inviting.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

All is Lost (recommended): Robert Redford missed out on an Oscar nomination for his solo performance in this story of a shipwrecked man fighting to stay alive, and while it’s a strong performance, the movie isn’t nearly as enthralling or immense as it’s been made out to be. Still a worthwhile if isolating journey.

Hugo (recommended): This Best Picture nominee and winner of five Oscars is a gorgeous cinematic experience with a certain enthusiasm for the movies. It has its magical moments, and its only real flaw is trying to be too fantastical at times. Definitely a worthwhile view, and HD couldn’t hurt.

Le Week-End (recommended): Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan star in this entertaining film about a couple celebrating their thirtieth anniversary with a weekend trip to Paris. Both performers are great, and the story around them is solidly interesting if occasionally uncomfortable.

Your Sister’s Sister (highly recommended): This terrific Tribeca entry from this past year features Mark Duplass as a depressed man caught between two half-sisters, wonderfully played by Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt, during a weekend away at a cabin in this superb and entertaining dramedy.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Movie with Abe: Rocks in My Pockets

Rocks in My Pockets
Directed by Signe Baumane
Released September 3, 2014

Animated movies aren't always for children. Some are good for all audiences and can be appreciated by children and adults alike, while others skew towards an older, more sophisticated audience. It's abundantly clear in the opening moments of this new animated feature that "Rocks in My Pockets" is most definitely an experience for adults, a harrowing and often brutal examination of depression and suicidal tendencies in writer-director Signe Baumane's extended family. Fortunately, this tale is a fervently interesting and extremely well-executed one, consistently engaging and thought- provoking.

This is a film that doesn't belong to a very populous genre to begin with as a mature animated production, and its style sets it apart in an even more unique class. Baumane narrates the entire film, putting on an accent or an extra intonation whenever she has to speak words of dialogue attributed to someone with a voice other than a standard calm feminine one. The lack of conversation or characters seen actually speaking to one another forces the film to use images to tell the part of its story usually left to the actors' lines.

Baumane's straightforward storytelling, which includes a strong Latvian accent, is accompanied by a marvelous display of creativity onscreen. Some events play out just as they're explained or described, but most are embellished in a way that serves to highlight the feelings and emotions behind each development, sentence, or thought. At times, it's equally amusing and horrifying to watch as visual depictions of strength, stress, happiness, hope, and other often intangible concepts are shown to tremendous effect. Constructing this film must have been an extraordinary thing, and it's clear that much effort was put into each frame.

In addition to its strong use of animation to tell its story, "Rocks in My Pockets," which boasts a clever and fitting title, does a magnificent job of personalizing its saga as a different protagonist emerges in each chapter. Baumane introduces her family members one by one as the drama revolves around each one of them, and it's easy to get pulled into their stories. The film hardly leaves its viewer with a positive, inspired feeling given its serious subject matter, but it’s very easy throughout to be drawn in and difficult to shake. Overall, this intensive experience is a thorough and compelling look at depression and endurance through a fascinatingly creative lens.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Bird People

Welcome back 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.

Bird People – Opening September 12, 2014

This trailer is reminiscent of two films I recently wrote about for this feature. The first, “Birdman,” is because of its title, though I think this film has more to do with actual birds given how many times the animals appear in the trailer. The second, “The Guest,” also stars a TV actor who made a famed exit from his plum weekly role and is out to prove competence in cinema. Josh Charles is a seasoned actor who has had two regular TV gigs before “The Good Wife,” for which he was recently nominated for an Emmy. He was in the first season of “In Treatment” opposite Embeth Davidtz and Gabriel Byrne, and before that, he was the star of Aaron Sorkin’s first television effort, “Sports Night.” Now, he gets to calm down a bit from his fiery law partner role and detach from society. I’m eager to see him play a nice guy since I think his character was very charged with anger and passion throughout the last cycle of episodes of “The Good Wife.” Charles’ Gary Newman is only half of this film’s story, and it’s very interesting to see who his costar is. I was impressed by Anais Demoustier in “Elles” a few years ago when she played a likeable prostitute, and this looks like a fantastic part for her. I’m still not really sure what this film is about, but its trailer and its IMDB description - An American arrives in Paris, checks into a hotel, turns off his cell phone and starts his life anew – look mighty appealing.