Friday, October 31, 2014

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem

I’m delighted to be returning for the fourth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 8th Annual Other Israel Film Festival will take place November 6th-13th, 2014.

East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem
Directed by Henrique Cymerman and Erez Miller
Screening November 8 at 8pm and November 9 at 6:30pm

This is the kind of film that defines what this festival should be about: the spirit of collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians that completely defines any conflict or clash of cultures. Its center is David Broza, a celebrated Israeli musician who achieves his dream of bringing together Israeli, Palestinian, and American musicians to record an album about the multicultural city of Jerusalem. For one American, it’s his first trip to Israel, and many breakthrough accomplishments are highlighted throughout the film, including Broza bringing music to a refugee camp inside Jerusalem. This documentary captures a spirit of collaboration that transcends differences, and the excitement felt by all parties involved is palpable. Hearing each participant talk about past experiences and surprising discoveries about the similarities between peoples is inspiring, and ultimately it all boils down to the power of a shared interest to break down boundaries.

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Transit

I’m delighted to be returning for the fourth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 8th Annual Other Israel Film Festival will take place November 6th-13th, 2014.

Directed by Hannah Espia
Screening November 7 at 9pm and November 8 at 6pm

This drama does the festival proud with a subject that doesn’t even touch Arab-Israeli relations and instead focuses on a wholly different population: Filipino immigrants. This film chooses a group of characters to be the focal points of its story, each permitted his or her own chapter to more fully fill in the grander vision of being a foreign worker in Israel. The film deals with Israel’s 2009 law permitting for the deportation of the children of foreign workers by showing it in action, contrasting life as an immigrant to Israel with the harsh reality of being back in the Philippines. In some ways, the film doesn’t cover much narrative ground since it retells the bulk of its story several times, but each chapter proves more enlightening and demonstrates the vitality of its characters even in unfortunate circumstances. Most of all, it highlights a section of Israeli society rarely documented.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Life Sentences

I’m delighted to be returning for the fourth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 8th Annual Other Israel Film Festival will take place November 6th-13th, 2014.

Life Sentences
Directed by Nurit Kedar and Yaron Shani
Screening November 6 at 7pm, November 8 at 7pm, and November 9 at 4pm

The opening night selection of the festival has a fittingly fascinating premise: an immigrant to Canada reflecting on his childhood as the son of a Jewish mother and an Arab father who was convicted of terrorism in the 1960s. After moving with his sister mother and sister to Canada following the arrest of his father, the subject of this documentary grows up feeling distinctly out of place in the Orthodox Jewish community and longing for a connection with the father he barely knew. As his sister is pulled into the Orthodox world and he drifts towards his Muslim family, it’s immensely interesting to see just what an effect his history has had on him. It’s a stark topic on which to start this festival, highlighting one of the most extreme situations of splintered identity based on two vastly different cultures. Its specific experience may not provide much guidance for the world at large, but its focus is certainly thought-provoking.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to the first 2014 edition of this returning 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 October 24th, 2014

This documentary, which premiered a few weeks ago at the New York Film Festival, has a buzzy subject going for it: Edward Snowden. Its chances are looking pretty good right now. The official list of eligible films for the Best Documentary Oscar race hasn’t come out yet, and even if this film appears on the narrowed-down list of fifteen later on, there’s no guarantee of it making the cut since even frontrunner status doesn’t mean much these days.

Films released May 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (March 2)
It looks like I didn’t even include the first film in this reboot series in my Wednesday Oscar Watch back in 2012, but nothing panned out for that film. The first two installments of the Tobey Maguire-led franchise did earn sound and visual effects bids. It’s not a particularly week year for those races, so I doubt this one will get enough votes to show up in any of those categories.

Ida (May 2)
This film, which was reviewed very favorably, is Poland’s official entry for Best Foreign Film. The country has received nine nominations over the years, most recently in 2011 for “In Darkness.” Given that this film was well-received and it’s already out on DVD for plenty of people to see, I’d say its chances are pretty strong.

Godzilla (May 16)
Keep this one in mind for the technical categories since its reviews were decent and this is the original monster movie remade, which could land it on some ballots.

X-Men Days of Future Past (May 23)
None of the X-Men movies to date have received any Oscar nominations, but it’s also worth noting a big superhero picture like this which could easily make an appearance in any of the expected categories: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing.

Maleficent (May 30)
This fantasy film has a better shot than many at Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, and Best Makeup/Hairstyling, though I doubt it would pop up in all three. Best Visual Effects is also a possibility.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Avengers: Age of Ultron

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.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Opening May 1, 2015

Simply put, I would be excited for this movie no matter what. I liked a handful of the individual series films that led up to the first big blockbuster, which I thought was a fantastic combination of elements that together worked enormously well for an unforgettable action piece. I am glad to see that this film’s plotline dwells purely on Earth, and tackles a villain who is inherently man-made. I was a big comic book fan as a kid, but I was most into X-Men and don’t know about the Avengers and their stories. Casting James Spader as the voice of an artificial intelligence being who becomes far too self-aware seems like a slam dunk, and I’m sure he’ll be a fantastic villain for the Avengers. This trailer was apparently viewed by over 34 million people within 24 hours of it being posted online last week, and there’s certainly much to talk about. Bringing all these characters together presents immense opportunities for character development and the addition of supporting players like Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who I believe will also appear in the next “X-Men” movie but can’t officially be considered the same characters because of which studios own the rights to the franchises. Potential tie-ins with the TV show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” also seem likely, and I think it’s exciting to live in a time when a mega-franchise like this is getting off the ground, with plenty of chances to tell exciting stories about cool superheroes that may not actually need rebooting for another decade or so.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Movie with Abe: St. Vincent

St. Vincent
Directed by Theodore Melfi
Released October 17, 2014

The meaning of a film’s title can be hard to discern, especially when it goes against what seems to be the truth. “St. Vincent,” which casts Bill Murray as a crotchety drunk very much in debt who watches his new single mother neighbor’s child only if she’ll pay him, seems to be sarcastic in nature since Vincent is anything but a saint. Yet this comedy packs a surprising dramatic punch that redefines its title, and the journey there is packed with humor and strong performances all around.

Shortly after destroying his own fence while carelessly backing his car into his driveway, Vincent angrily emerges from his home to find that a moving truck has hit a tree, causing a branch to fall on his old piece of junk car. Demanding payment for damages, Vincent takes no care to be nice to Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) or her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie’s work circumstances force events so that Vincent is the only option to take care of Oliver, and what begins as a one-sided relationship gradually transforms into something much more heartwarming, even if Vincent never exudes much warmth.

Casting Murray and McCarthy, award-winning stars for their comedy work, makes this film seem like something other than what it is. It is deeply funny, to be sure, but there is more to the film than the simplistic poster, which shows Murray with a halo over his head, McCarthy with a smile on her face, and Naomi Watts’ Russian prostitute half-smiling, indicates. Though broader versions of its characters have been seen before, this still feels like an original story, one that proves to be highly enjoyable and involving all the way from its uncertain start to its triumphant finish.

Murray has occasionally veered into more serious territory, and while this is unquestionably a comedy performance, it’s also one of his most intentional and impressive. McCarthy tones down her character to just the right decibel, allowing for other players, like Watts in a great atypical supporting role and Chris O’Dowd as Oliver’s priest teacher, to take the spotlight. The real revelation is eleven-year-old Lieberher in one of his first roles, at once a precocious but believable kid with a mesmerizing outlook on life. Oliver’s sense of optimism and forgiveness is what makes this film really work, bringing together a few odd couples for an affirming and hilarious ride.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Movie with Abe: Laggies

Directed by Lynn Shelton
Released October 24, 2014

There are two vastly different concepts about childhood in cinema that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The first is that kids rarely want to grow up, holding on to their younger years as fervently and passionately as Peter Pan. The second is that many performers, particularly actresses, play characters considerably younger than they are, which can make a high school movie seem hopelessly unrealistic. In “Laggies,” Keira Knightley gets to do the former while simulating the latter, taking advantage of what might be one last opportunity to avoid having to face being an adult.

Knightley, who is actually twenty-nine years old, plays Megan, a woman about that age. Megan is first seen twirling a sign outside of her father’s accounting office, using the easy gig as yet another delay tactic to push off figuring out what to do with her counseling degree. Her friends pretend to be much more sophisticated, tackling the ideas of marriage and family, but Megan sees their interests the way the film portrays them: vain and unimportant. A moment of crisis at a friend’s wedding inadvertently puts Megan in contact with a more familiar and recognizable crowd: a group of high schoolers with much less dramatic problems. Taking a brief vacation from her life, Megan befriends Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) and relives the glory days of having no responsibility.

The concept of “Laggies” requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief, since Knightley could pass for a college student, as many high schoolers note in the film, but it’s hard to believe that she’d have such an easy time fitting in. Annika’s father Craig (Sam Rockwell) interrogates her and points out the strangeness of her situation, and while it serves as good comedy fodder, the conversation doesn’t go much further, and Megan’s situation is accepted as reasonable and unremarkable. It makes for some good fun, but it’s hard to take this film seriously. Simultaneously, what passes for Megan’s adult life hardly seems authentic.

Like its main character’s attitude, this film is in no hurry to get anywhere or to make any important conclusions about life. The film’s dramatic developments are extremely predictable, and the script opts for entertaining lines rather than a fuller, more compelling story. Knightley, donning an American accent, is fine, and Moretz, who shows immense promise, isn’t challenged by her role. Rockwell, on the other hand, follows up “The Way, Way Back” with another on-the-ball, energetic performance that demonstrates that he’s well saved for dramatic comedies like this one. Director Lynn Shelton’s previous two films, “Touchy Feely” and the fantastic “Your Sister’s Sister,” were layered explorations of human emotion and interaction, and this enjoyable but unmemorable film just isn’t in the same league.


Saturday, October 25, 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 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

Low Down (mixed bag): Elle Fanning and John Hawkes are both great actors capable of playing a variety of characters, but this somber story of a drug-addicted musician and his daughter in the 1970s is hardly the best setting for their talents. Now playing at Landmark Sunshine. Read my review from Sundance.

White Bird in a Blizzard (recommended): Shailene Woodley is the real reason to see this occasionally fascinating, sometimes too peculiar film that has an interesting central premise but gets distracted when it heads in a less worthwhile overarching direction. Now playing at Landmark Sunshine. Read my review from earlier this month.

New to DVD

A Coffee in Berlin (recommended): This German hit is a highly enjoyable and interesting story of Niko, a young man without much motivation to make much of his life. The performances are great, and so is the story.

Siddarth (recommended): This drama, which I screened as part of the South Asian International Film Festival back in December, is a stirring and emotional story about a man who goes to great lengths and personal sacrifices to track down his missing son in India.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Metro Manila (recommended): This prize-winning film from the Sundance Film Festival comes from the Philippines, and is an enthralling chronicle of a simple farmer’s transformation into big city security guard with an immensely likeable protagonist.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday For Your Consideration: Earl Lynn Nelson

Welcome to a special edition of a seasonal weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Friday For Your Consideration. As every year nears to a close, there are a number of actors nominated for Golden Globes, Oscars, and countless other awards. There are so many spots and there are so many deserving contenders, yet some inevitably get left out. In the absence of a film to review, I’d like to spotlight someone from a film already released this year who is sure to be forgotten by the end of 2014.

Earl Lynn Nelson (Land Ho!)

Where you’ve seen him before: Nowhere! Nelson, who is now 72, is actually a practicing doctor in Kentucky. This is his third-ever film role. He previously appeared in two of writer-director Martha Stephens’ film. She serves as co-director for “Land Ho!”

Why he deserves it: He knocks every scene out of the park. From my review from Sundance, “the way in which he delivers all of his lines is with such comic intentionality, and he never misses the opportunity to make a blunt and unapologetic sexual reference.”

Standout scene: It’s hard to pick just one since he’s funny the whole way through, and an added bonus is that he succeeds in his sentimental moments with on-screen ex-brother-in-law Paul Eenhoorn.

Why he won’t get it: I can’t believe that enough people have seen this movie to be able to vote for Nelson. It’s not guaranteed that he’d end up in lead or supporting since his performance could be categorized either way, and I would be so pleasantly shocked if he made an entrance into the race.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Movie with Abe: Pride

Directed by Matthew Warchus
Released September 26, 2014

It’s not hard to rally around a good cause, and movies about such efforts have the potential to be truly great because they can both tell an energizing story and raise awareness about the featured cause. “Pride” manages to seize on a rare and fantastic case of two causes being joined together as one: the true story of a group of gay and lesbian activists in 1980s London who decided to adopt the concurrent national miners’ strike and raise money for it, forming the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Their tale is an inspiring and affirming one, and the film that depicts it is full of entertainment and positivity.

“Pride,” a film with a perfect name, introduces two diverse and eclectic groups of people who serve as its featured populations. A small gay bookstore owned by Jonathan (Dominic West) and Gethin (Andrew Scott) serves as the makeshift headquarters for the new movement conceived of and spearheaded by Mark (Ben Schnetzer) and Steph (Faye Marsay), and also frequented by Joe (George MacKay), a twenty-year-old culinary student who has yet to come out to anyone from his home life. In a small mining village in Wales, prominent citizens and council members Dai (Paddy Considine), Hefina (Imelda Staunton), and Cliff (Bill Nighy) are befuddled but pleased to discover that a group of young gays and lesbians has decided to champion their cause and collect donations directly for the families of their citizens.

The merging of these two communities is a truly wondrous thing to behold. Several of the activists tease Jonathan for being too flamboyant, but with Steph’s orange hair and everyone’s attire, they surely stand out among a group of traditional blue-collar families. Fortunately, Dai, Hefina, and Cliff see no reason to oppose their offer of friendship, but others don’t feel that way. Watching them win over even some of the most resistant members of the community is wonderful, and it’s a lot of fun to see the amusing and endearing relationships that are formed along the way.

“Pride” benefits from the advantage of having a terrific story to tell, but it also manages to do so in an involving and interesting way. Considine, Staunton, Nighy, and West are all experienced actors playing their roles to perfection, and they’re complemented well by new talents like MacKay, Schnezter, and Marsay. The entire ensemble works together to create a vastly enjoyable and resounding experience that sheds light on a surprising alliance created thirty years ago that has true resonance today.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to the first 2014 edition of this returning 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, two months 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 October 17th, 2014

All four of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s previous feature-length films have earned Oscar nominations. This film is a likely Best Picture contender, and expect Inarritu to be up for directing too as he was in 2006 for “Babel.” Michael Keaton is on track to get his first Oscar nomination, and I’d love to see Edward Norton or Emma Stone join him, but I think the cast may be too crowded for favorites to be chosen. Best Original Screenplay is a lock, Best Film Editing is likely, and Best Cinematography and Best Original Score (if the film is eligible) are possibilities too.

Camp X-Ray
This film didn’t go over as well as I expected it to given the reaction it got at Sundance (someone got up and shouted “Bravo! Bravo!” while clapping). That said, I could see Kristen Stewart showing up in the Best Actress – Drama race at the Golden Globes but not making it to the Oscars. It would be nice if Payman Maadi had a shot too, but there’s no chance of that happening.

War movies don’t always make the cut with Oscar voters, but sometimes they really do. I wouldn’t expect any acting nominations for Brad Pitt or Logan Lerman despite the quality of their performances, but this will likely show up in the Best Sound or Best Sound Editing categories. Could it be a Best Picture contender? I don’t think so, but it’s possible. If it is, look for it as a possibility in Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography, but doubtful anywhere else.

Films released March and April 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (March 7)
This animated film – which I liked a lot – should be up for Best Animated Feature, and I would be severely disappointed if it didn’t make the cut.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (March 7)
Wes Anderson’s latest film is a spoiler for Best Picture, but I think that it will likely go the way of Anderson’s previous film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” which should have been in for Best Picture but ended up with just a Best Original Screenplay bid. Who knows – Oscar voters could get creative and embrace Anderson’s distinctive weirdness!

Muppets Most Wanted (March 21)
The first film took home Best Original Song, and it appears that this sequel has a handful of original tunes that it could submit, any of which have a decent shot at earning a nomination.

Divergent (March 21)
The big popular teen movies don’t always make a mark – “The Hunger Games” series hasn’t scored anything and all eight Harry Potter movies scraped together twelve nominations among all of them – but it’s always possible that a movie like this will break into one of the technical categories just to remind voters that box office and audiences do matter.

Noah (March 28)
Don’t look at the Oscar records for Darren Aronofsky, Russell Crowe, or Jennifer Connelly to help you here. Instead, look out for this film in any of the following: Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Makeup, or Best Visual Effects.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4)
The first film in the series didn’t merit any mentions but then “The Avengers” snuck into Best Visual Effects. Can this well-received sequel score a bid in that race or either of the sound categories?

Joe (April 11)
It’s not going to happen, but I would be very happy to see Nicolas Cage, an actor who doesn’t usually try too hard these days, rewarded for a top-notch performance in this underseen film. Maybe I can start a campaign? He does have an Oscar win and two nominations under his belt, even if the last one was twelve years ago.

Rio 2 (April 11)
The first film missed out on a Best Animated Feature nomination – as I imagine this one will – but it did score a Best Original Song mention. Given that this sequel apparently has fresh songs in it, it’s worthwhile to watch out for it to make a return appearance.

Fading Gigolo (April 18)
This wasn’t actually directed by Woody Allen – he just stars in it - but John Turturro’s film did earn positive mentions and might score a Best Original Screenplay nomination or pop up at the Golden Globes.

Locke (April 25)
I’m not sure when Tom Hardy is going to earn his first Oscar nomination, but it can’t be far away. If enough people saw it, he could have a shot for his one-man show in this film that finds him driving and talking on a cell phone for an hour and a half. Not likely at all, but it would be a nice and well-deserved surprise.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Horrible Bosses 2

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.

Horrible Bosses 2 – Opening November 26, 2014

Sometimes my movie tastes don’t quite make sense, and “Horrible Bosses” is just one of those movies that I didn’t necessarily expect to like but then did even though it doesn’t jive with the much more serious awards fare that I tend to prefer. There was something undeniably funny about the first film and the combination of miserable employees and their horrible bosses that just worked, and I wasn’t sure whether they could replicate it again for a second go-round. Fortunately, the first film had plenty of funny moments that weren’t in the trailer, so let’s hope that that’s the case again here. Putting Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis together again to come up with another hairbrained scheme to take control of their lives seems like a terrific idea, and they’ve enlisted more than able talent to help them. Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, and Jamie Foxx are back in supporting roles that appear to be funny. Christoph Waltz gets to play some sort of CEO who is initially big on the trio’s new business but then decides to change his tune. And then there’s Chris Pine, who is effortlessly charismatic in the “Star Trek” series and any other film in which he stars, and who here seems to be having a blast, competing with the trio and then deciding to get in on his own kidnaping (purposeful misspelling) plot. This could be stupid, sure, but from the looks of it, this could actually be a solid and worthwhile sequel.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Movie with Abe: Fury

Directed by David Ayer
Released October 17, 2014

War is a frequent setting in film. There are many different aspects of military conflicts and international disputes that can be encompassed within a film. Some present the whole picture, including governmental negotiations and political happenings at the top level, while others opt for staying focused on the battlefield itself. “Fury” revisits what may well be the most cinema-adapted war, World War II, and confines itself to one particularly claustrophobic setting: the inside of a tank. The result is a deeply intense film that uses the harsh effects of war to get to know its characters and make their journey an emotional and powerful one.

“Fury” doesn’t bother to introduce its characters at the start of the film, instead letting them speak to each other in shorthand dialogue as a way of announcing their presence. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) leads a team that includes Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), and Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf). Their fifth member lies dead in the tank in the middle of a destroyed and abandoned field, and his replacement comes when the team arrives back at their camp in the form of Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a clerk typist thrown into the heart of war with neither the knowledge of how to fire a gun nor the ability to set his mind to the notion of killing, setting him up for a rough orientation with his gruff, hardened team and their charismatic leader.

At first, “Fury” seems like a generic war movie that is telling a specific story but isn’t meant to be individualistic. Gradually, that changes as Collier, driven equally by a desire to protect his men and a desire to kill Nazis, and Ellison, forced to grow up just hours after he enters a tank for the first time, are thrown into situations that test their humanity and reveal the instability of war and everyone that lies in its path. Collier’s visit, with Ellison in tow, to the home of two young German women in a town that has just been taken by Allied forces, proves to be the film’s most resounding non-battle scene, showing people in the midst of war giving a rare moment of relief and the brief chance to return to normalcy.

While war wages and the team is in the tank, the gore surrounding them is often gratuitous in a way that doesn’t feel entirely necessary, and the film succeeds most when it manages to capture a glimpse of human nature rather than just blood or exploding body parts. Pitt has played this kind of role before, and Bernthal, Pena, and LaBeouf are all respectable and competent choices for their parts. It’s Lerman, however, who first got his start on the WB’s short-lived “Jack and Bobby,” who delivers the most memorable and dynamic performance as the film’s empathetic figure. The film’s title refers to the name of the tank, but it’s also a fitting description of the reality and irreversibility of war as demonstrated in this solid and occasionally starring war movie.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Movie with Abe: Sleeping with the Fishes

Sleeping with the Fishes
Directed by Nicole Gomez Fisher
Released October 21, 2014 on DVD and VOD

Families with mixed heritage can be ripe for comedy material. Combining traditions often leads to confused customs and a bizarre outlook on the world. The title “Sleeping with the Fishes” immediately conjures up an Italian mob comedy, but that’s a misnomer. The Fishes are, in fact, a Latino-Jewish family thanks to the marriage of Estella (Priscilla Lopez) to Dr. Leonard Fish (Tibor Feldman). This story in particular follows their daughter Alexis (Gina Rodriguez), who is trying to put her very messy life back together with more than a bit of unrequested help from her mother and her sister Kayla (Ana Ortiz).

An imagined TV segment of “The $50,000 Clue” begins the film and demonstrates just how much Alexis is criticized by her mother, shown in her nightmare by Estella guessing “things that make her fat” or some variation of that in response to nearly everything her daughter says. The lack of glamor in Alexis’ life is made perfectly clear when she is seen in a Los Angeles burger restaurant dressing in costume as a supposed part of her event planning gig. At home, she accidentally switches between a phone call with her sister and a phone sex call that serves as her side job. Having to fly home to New York for a funeral is hardly worse than having to face the reality of her life.

Once Alexis arrives home, a very predictable series of events begins as Estella backs off on the idea of her daughter going back to dental school and instead gets her a gig planning a Bat Mitzvah for a friend. The odds are stacked against Alexis as she has precious little time to plan the event and a monster mother to work with who bears more than a passing resemblance to Estella in how she treats her daughter. Enter heaven-sent Dominic (Steven Strait), a kind and conveniently attractive guy who seems like the perfect romantic fit designed to contradict every condescending comment made by Estella about Alexis’ size or lack of makeup. From there, it’s not too difficult to see where the film will go and whether Alexis will succeed.

The concept behind Nicole Gomez Fisher’s directorial debut is a good one, but the script is drowning in Estella’s treatment of Alexis and her inability to say anything positive or complimentary about her daughter. The opportunity for jokes about either Latina or Jewish culture is lost, and precious few references are even made. Rodriguez, who is now starring in “Jane the Virgin,” and Ana Ortiz, one of the best parts of “Ugly Betty,” are both great, but this film doesn’t allow them much range. There are pieces of a great story here, but its focus gets in the way too much to be able to tell it.


Saturday, October 18, 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 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

Birdman (highly recommended): This film, which closed out the New York Film Festival, is a spectacular tale of an aging actor staging his comeback portrayed by an aging actor staging his comeback. Michael Keaton leads an incredible cast with no weak links in a marvelously inventive and engaging film. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and the Angelika. Read my review from NYFF.

Camp X-Ray (recommended): Kristen Stewart gets serious in this Sundance hit in which she plays a Guantanamo Bay guard who befriends a detainee, portrayed by Payman Maadi from “A Separation.” Maadi is terrific and Stewart performs ably enough in an uncomfortable film that is occasionally right on target. Now playing at IFC Center. Read my review from Sundance.

Listen Up Philip (highly recommended): Jason Schwartzman is the centerpiece of this New York Film Festival entry about a self-obsessed writer intent on alienating everyone in his life. The script is superb, and Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, and the rest of the cast are too. Now playing at Film Society Lincoln Center and IFC Center. Read my review from NYFF.

Rudderless (highly recommended): One of the best films at Sundance this year is also William H. Macy’s directorial debut, an energizing and powerful story about a father, played by Billy Crudup, who starts playing his son’s music in a band after his death in a school shooting. Now playing at AMC Empire and Village East Cinema. Read my review from Sundance.

The Young Ones (highly recommended): Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Elle Fanning are all great in this intriguing dystopian tale from Sundance that feels like both a western and a sci-fi film. Now playing at Village East Cinema. Read my review from Sundance.

New to DVD

Chinese Puzzle (highly recommended): This charming and creative movie stars Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile de France, and a few actors who aren’t from France. Its layered story works very well, and it’s a delightful blast all the way through.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

The Debt (recommended): This thriller from John Madden about an Israeli Mossad team assigned to capture a Nazi scientist isn’t as exciting as it should be, but its plot is definitely interesting. My favorite part of my review from August 2011: describing Jessica Chastain as a “rising star.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

NYFF Spotlight: Birdman

I had the distinct pleasure this year of covering a few of the films that were shown at the New York Film Festival, which took place September 26th-October 12th.

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Released October 17, 2014

There’s nothing quite as enticing as a comeback story. It’s even more appealing when one comeback story serves as another in its own right. “Birdman” follows Riggan Thomson, an acting actor known only for playing the title superhero in a film series decades earlier, as he prepares for the opening night of the dramatic play he has directed and in which he stars. Michael Keaton, who hasn’t done too much of note since playing Batman in the first two franchise films twenty years ago, stars as Riggan, embodying a character with whom he can undoubtedly relate. Though there are surely parallels to Keaton’s own life, Riggan’s story is considerably more fantastical, an inventive and mesmerizing journey filled with theatre, madness, sex, superheroes, and much more.

“Birdman” begins just before Riggan’s play is set to begin previews, and an accident on set forces Riggan to recast one of the roles in his four-person play. Lesley (Naomi Watts), who can’t wait for her Broadway debut, brings in her friend Mike (Edward Norton), who matches his lofty reputation with a wild unpredictable streak, to join Riggan and his costar Laura (Andrea Riseborough), with whom Riggan has entertained a romance. Pressure about the performance of the play are only enhanced by the presence of Riggan’s fresh-out-of-rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and the fact that he hears Birdman talking to him, telling him that he needs to take control of his life before he loses his grip entirely.

“Birdman” is a film that walks the line between reality and fantasy, and what’s terrific is that both are equally fascinating. Watching Mike derail the first rehearsal with a drunken diatribe directed towards the audience is just as alluring as seeing a frustrated Riggan throw and break nearly every item in his dressing room using Birdman’s telekinetic powers. At times it’s hard to distinguish between what’s real and what’s in Riggan’s head, and usually, it doesn’t even matter. This is a fiercely engaging and thought-provoking look at performance, celebrity, relationships, and honesty that exudes excellence in all of those areas.

The cast in “Birdman” is stellar all around, and it’s hard to pick a favorite from the supporting cast. Watts, Norton, and Riseborough all shine as actors playing actors, each contributing something different to their layered craft. Their roles may be small, but it’s important to recognize the work of Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s agent, Amy Ryan as his ex-wife, and Lindsay Duncan as a theatre critic. Emma Stone, who has been bumping up against serious roles for several years now, is magnificent as Riggan’s daughter, who oozes attitude but also seeks to find meaning in the midst of people pretending to be other people. And then there’s Keaton, who proves to be alternately frenetic and focused in just the right way, perfectly embodying an actor trying to show that he’s made something of his life. All of the actors embellish a strong, creative script and act to a rhythm completely in sync with Antonio Sanchez’ hypnotic jazz drum score, which sounds continuously throughout the film. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who has previously made films like “21 Grams,” “Babel,” and “Biutiful,” opts for something wholly different here and succeeds wildly.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

NYFF Spotlight: Foxcatcher

I had the distinct pleasure this year of covering a few of the films that were shown at the New York Film Festival, which took place September 26th-October 12th.

Directed by Bennett Miller
To Be Released November 14, 2014

When an actor undergoes a radical transformation for a part, that tends to be all that is talked about when people reference the film. In some cases, the film follows suit and presents an astonishing portrait of a complicated and mesmerizing individual, but, more often than not, it’s the performance or even just the act of becoming unrecognizable that earns praise. It’s impossible to argue that Steve Carell isn’t trying something completely new in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” as he plays an eccentric billionaire with a passion for wrestling, but the film that surrounds him isn’t quite as fascinating as he is.

This is the third feature film directed by Miller after “Moneyball” and “Capote.” Both those films featured very individual magnetic real-life protagonists and the intriguing circumstances that surrounded them. This film is no different, though its setting is far from the world of baseball or true crime. Instead, Carell’s John E. du Pont obsesses over the world of wrestling and sets his focus on Olympic medal-winning brothers Dave and Mark Schultz. John zeroes in on Mark (Channing Tatum), the less connected of the two, and approaches him to come live on his vast property and be a part of his championship team, while Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who is married with two children, takes considerably more convincing. Through it all, it is clear that John has extraordinary delusions of grandeur about both his abilities and his connections with people, supported by the appeasement of others who dare not speak against him for fear of retribution from the financial heavyweight.

There is a certain discomfort that pervades “Foxcatcher” as Mark spends more time with John and he reveals more of his own self-perceptions, putting on an extreme act when in sight of his disapproving elderly mother (Vanessa Redgrave). Something is obviously off, a sentiment supported by silent gazes from John at Mark when he seems like he might not be performing to expectations or Dave when he threatens to steal the spotlight of the father figure role John believes he has earned. What should be a gradual progression of foreboding is far from subtle, and the film feels unbalanced and eternally both in the middle of its story and ready to be done telling it.

This film is ultimately about three people: John, Mark, and Dave. Actresses Redgrave and Sienna Miller have minor parts that hardly required such big names, and the film is carried by the odd trio of Carell, Tatum, and Ruffalo. Carell demonstrates that he is more than capable of trying a new genre and what ranks as a dynamic and interesting performance. Tatum and Ruffalo are both solid fits to play the wrestling brothers, each equally committed to their craft. Their determination and level of engagement represent what the entire film should feel like: a love of the sport and the way in which it envelops their lives. The film has its moments but doesn’t feel nearly as passionate as its characters.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday Oscar Watch with Abe

Welcome to the first 2014 edition of this returning 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, two months 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 October 3rd-10th, 2014

Gone Girl
This box office hit has proven divisive, but I think that it could still manage a Best Picture mention. Director David Fincher missed out on the top two races last time, for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but scored with his two previous films in both categories, so he’s a serious contender to return for Best Director and Best Picture. The film’s screenplay seems like a solid bet, and a few technical categories like Best Film Editing aren’t out of the question either. This won’t be Ben Affleck’s shot to earn his first acting nomination, but I think Rosamund Pike has a strong chance as a potential Best Actress nominee.

This film was a hit at Sundance and the New York Film Festival and is going to earn more buzz as more people see it. Miles Teller was a longshot contender last year for “The Spectacular Now,” and he has a much better shot now for his involved performance. The film seems like a very possible Best Picture nominee, and Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (though it’s based on a short film) could follow suit. Its best chance, however, is for the first career nomination for supporting actor J.K. Simmons, who delivers a fierce and fearsome turn as a tyrannical music instructor.

Films released January and February 2014

Gloria (January 17)
Chile’s official submission for Best Foreign Film from last year didn’t pan out, and though I’m not exactly sure, I think that means the film is in contention in all other categories this year. That may have worked years ago for “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and “City of God” a decade ago, but I think that, despite her plethora of international mentions, star Paulina Garcia will manage only to siphon a few votes and not place high enough on enough ballots.

The Lego Movie (February 7)
This crowdpleaser is a lock in two categories – Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song, for the catchy and ridiculous “Everything is Awesome.” It could also factor into the Best Sound or Best Sound Editing race or elsewhere if it ends up being the definitive animated film of the year, which I’m not quite sure it will be by the end of 2014.

The Monuments Men (February 7)
Had this film been released in December as originally planned, it would have been at the forefront of Oscar voters’ minds when they were filling out their ballots. Instead, it came at a highly unmemorable time and didn’t receive the greatest mentions. George Clooney is still a formidable force, but I think this film will ultimately get nothing, but watch out for it to place in the Best Art Direction or Best Costume Design categories.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Focus

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.

Focus – Opening February 27, 2015

My first thought when I saw this trailer featured on the IMDB home page was that it was a remake of the 2001 film of the same name starring William H. Macy as a man mistaken for a Jew after he gets new glasses in 1940s New York. This is most definitely a different movie, and one that has the potential to be good, though I’m not sure how well it will deliver. I do think that Will Smith is a strong anchor of action films like “I Am Legend,” and I didn’t much care for him in the last thought-provoking drama he did, “Seven Pounds,” or in his Oscar-nominated role in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” for that matter. What this film seems to do is to get him back to his charismatic roots, if not quite his comedic ones, allowing him to play a con man skilled in the art of charming others into believing that he’s their best friend. More enticing than Smith is his costar Margot Robbie. I thought that the Australian native was absolutely terrific in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and ignored in favor of her more well-known male costars, and I would love to see what she can do with another role that emphasizes seduction but allows her to tone down her strong fake American accent. She and Smith are an intriguing pair, to be sure. I’m happy to see Gerald McRaney and Robert Taylor in the supporting cast since that constitutes a “Longmire” reunion, and I’m eager to see both of them in new roles. February isn’t usually a great time for movies but this looks like it could be decent if it manages to us its eclectic cast and fun premise to solid effect.

Monday, October 13, 2014

NYFF Spotlight: Listen Up Philip

I had the distinct pleasure this year of covering a few of the films that were shown at the New York Film Festival, which took place September 26th-October 12th.

Listen Up Philip
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Released October 17, 2014

Movies about writers have boundless opportunities to be clever. Sometimes that’s because those who write books tend to have negative feelings towards cinema in general, but the art of storytelling can also prove to be useful in terms of creativity. “Listen Up Philip” tells the story of Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman), a writer so obsessed with his craft that he disregards the rest of the world as insignificant and bothersome. As narrated by the fantastic Eric Bogosian, Philip’s story is an enthralling, hilarious, and memorable journey about more than just the man himself.

Schwartzman has a certain way about him that helps him portray overenthusiastic and eager characters such as a novelist detective in HBO’s brilliant “Bored to Death.” To play Philip, Schwartzman amps up the self-confidence and makes him a furious know-it-all, intent on dumping on others so that they will have the benefit of having heard his opinion while he praises his many merits. As he ignores his live-in girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), Philip befriends an older version of himself, esteemed novelist Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), who helps affirm his belief that he is entitled to be pompous and to tune out the rest of the world. Philip’s search for inspiration for his next book is interwoven with Ashley’s attempts to restart her life without the negative influence of Philip and Ike’s own issues dealing with worldly connections, namely his daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter), that bog him down from what he believes to be his true purpose in life.

“Listen Up Philip” is a very entertaining film, with each line spoken by Philip or by the narrator meant to land as bluntly and unapologetically as possible. Philip is first seen huffing and puffing about the man walking slowly in front of him, described as “never in a hurry” but always angry about the speed of others. Philip speaks with a certain intellectual flair that’s at first impressive and then just irksome, and Ike is the perfect match for him, spewing out judgmental decrees about every person and situation he encounters. But it’s not just the writers, since Ashley, Melanie, and Philip’s colleague Yvette (Josephine de La Baume) get to do their share of scathing speaking too. The script is fabulous, and it’s read enormously well by these fine actors. It’s great to see two actresses with roots in television – Moss and Ritter – demonstrating enormous potential for theatrical roles. This is definitely not a nice film since its characters rarely spare each other’s feelings, but it’s a wholly worthwhile and marvelously enjoyable experience.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her/Him

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her/Him
Directed by Ned Benson
Released October 10, 2014

One month ago, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” was released, starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy as separated spouses struggling to move on with their lives following a traumatic event. This weekend, audiences can now see the story in two parts, titled “Her” and “Him.” These two separate films, shown together in alternating order, provide considerably more insight into Eleanor (Chastain) and Conor (McAvoy) and a fuller picture of each spouse’s efforts to put her/his life back together. Most of all, this is a rare and unique opportunity to more completely examine two characters and how it’s possible to see a relationship from different perspectives.

What struck me most about the experience of sitting down for the full experience of this double feature, which clocks in at three hours and twenty-one minutes, is that I realized that I so rarely see films more than once. Sure, I’ve watched “Back to the Future” and “The Rock” and most of the “Star Wars” films countless times, but it’s been a while since I purposely saw a film twice, let alone in theatres (probably “The Departed” and “Children of Men” back in 2006). The experience of screening these two films just six weeks after seeing the other version was strange, since I knew I could recall the same events but couldn’t remember if they were exactly the same or slightly different. And that’s what makes watching “Them,” “Her,” and “Him” immensely worthwhile – seeing how Eleanor and Conor internalize situations, and to see whose memory ends up in the collective picture.

Starting with “Her” is definitely the wiser route since, as the film’s title suggests, Eleanor has the more prominent role, and thus more of the scenes in her chapter end up in “Them.” As a result, “Her” revisits the tragedy of Eleanor’s situation and the way in which she retreats from life to try to cope with it. “Him” presents Conor in many settings in which he was not seen before, giving him a more complex relationship with his father and coworkers and a life of his own not tied entirely to Eleanor and the way he feels about her. That certain scenes play out with minor variations is not always consequential but does have a deeper meaning. It’s best evidenced in one scene where Eleanor hears Conor tell her that he loves her, to which she responds “I know.” In Conor’s version, the roles are reversed. These two wounded people hear things the way that they need to, and it’s indicative of a more widespread ability to experience moments in a way that makes sense and is bearable. It’s a fascinating insight into human nature that serves as these films’ most sparkling accomplishment.

Whether this story needed to be told as three separate movies isn’t clear, but given that writer-director Ned Benson has opted to make it that way, it’s worth a look. Those who felt lost or dissatisfied with “Them” won’t find the answers they were looking for in “Her” or “Him,” but those who found “Them” to be a powerful, mesmerizing experience will definitely want to come back again – twice – to more fully grasp these characters and their journeys.

Both: B+

Saturday, October 11, 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: Her/Him (recommended): The two-movie version of this story, which originally opened a month ago, is a strong companion piece for those who were entranced and wanted to know more about its characters. Now playing in alternating order at the Paris Theatre. My full review will be up tomorrow.

Kill the Messenger (recommended): Jeremy Renner is superb as a journalist set on seeing his story about CIA involvement in cocaine distribution in the United States through in this energizing and strong drama. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square, AMC 34th St, and AMC Kips Bay. Read my review from yesterday.

One Chance (recommended): James Corden is the true star of this charming film about a young man who just wanted to sing opera. The opera is great, but the story and the acting are too, which is a treat. Now playing at Village East Cinema. Read my review from Wednesday.

Whiplash (recommended): Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are both terrific in this hit from the Sundance Film Festival and the New York Film Festival as a determined drumming student and his tyrannical instructor, respectively. Now playing at City Cinemas 123, Lincoln Plaza, and Regal Union Square. Read my review from Sundance.

New to DVD

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. A very compelling and thought-provoking subject matter takes shape in an involving drama and decent thriller.

The Grand Seduction (highly recommended): This enormously enjoyable film features the odd couple of Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch as a motivated resident of a wilting harbor and the doctor he tries to lure there to help it thrive again. It's a delight from start to finish.

Obvious Child (recommended): This comedy, which played at the Sundance Film Festival this year, is most notable for giving comedian Jenny Slate a lead role, playing a part perfect for her. The film around her isn’t always as strong, but she’s great and should have a bright and funny future.

Tasting Menu (recommended): This food movie isn’t all about its appetizing dishes, but instead offers up a handful of fun and involving storylines that, for the most part, come together in a positive and enjoyable format.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

In a World… (recommended): Actress Lake Bell steps behind the camera for this fully entertaining cinematic realization of the profession of voiceover artists. It’s an enjoyable if inconsequential movie with some sincerely funny moments.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Movie with Abe: Kill the Messenger

Kill the Messenger
Directed by Michael Cuesta
Released October 10, 2014

There are many ways to tell a compelling story using journalism, and what’s just as great is that the way in which such a story is researched, printed, and dispelled can make for an equally engaging film. Though not nearly as well-known as Woodward and Bernstein, Gary Webb unraveled a story just as monumental, if not more so, which is brought to life in director Michael Cuesta’s new film “Kill the Messenger,” a powerful story of one man set on exposing the truth, no matter what anyone tried to throw at him.

Webb (Jeremy Renner) is introduced as a stable, popular reporter for the San Jose Mercury News with a supportive family and a pretty ideal life. He has a penchant for truly investing himself in his work, much to the chagrin of his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), and occasionally causes headaches for his editor (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). All that is compounded and taken to a new level when one phone call and mistakenly leaked government document propel Gary to the forefront of an incredible and unbelievable web of corruption involving the CIA. Though everyone he meets tells him to back off, Webb is set on pushing further and making sure that the story comes out and the world learns the truth.

A trailer for this film made it look like an action thriller with plenty of violence and shady activities. It’s far from an accurate representation since, aside from an encounter with militant forces in Nicaragua and an unknown figure lurking by Webb’s car one night, the way in which Webb’s credibility is attacked is of a far less hands-on nature. Watching Gary press on and seeing him so overwhelmed with frustration for the way his perseverance is being picked apart are equally interesting, and make for a very involving drama.

Renner burst onto the scene in “The Hurt Locker” and has since appeared in showy roles in films like “The Town” and “American Hustle.” Here, he’s full of confidence and humanity, never questioning the fact that what he’s doing is the right and necessary thing to do. Winstead, DeWitt, Oliver Platt, Barry Pepper, Andy Garcia, and Tim Blake Nelson contribute to a strong ensemble that together represents those who like Webb but can’t ultimately get behind his approach to the situation. The film is full of well-placed humor, and its real-life basis helps bring it home on an effective and haunting note. Its title is purely metaphorical, and it’s a terrific and fitting description of Webb’s situation as portrayed in this solid film.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Movie with Abe: White Bird in a Blizzard

White Bird in a Blizzard
Directed by Gregg Araki
Released October 10, 2014

In cinema, absent parents can make for very influential childhoods. Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley) reveals right away at the start of Gregg Araki’s new film that her mother Eve (Eva Green) vanished one day when she was a teenager. Kat’s story, which begins earlier with some flashbacks but springs forward from that moment, uses the memories she has of her mother to explain who Kat is and how she became that person both because of and in spite of her mother. Kat is certainly a strong character, but there’s something about this film’s overarching tone that doesn’t quite fit its admittedly compelling content.

Before she disappears, it’s not as if Eve is a normal mother. One scene illustrates the fact that she always wished for a dog rather than a daughter, as evidenced by the way that she treated a young Kat. Her hatred for her husband Brock (Christopher Meloni) is worn on her face, and he seems like nothing more than a poor sap who can’t muster up the confidence to stand up to a condescending, rude spouse who has given up on making their marriage romantic or even pleasant. Brock is peculiar too, and it’s not just his 80s hairstyle that makes him seem off-kilter.

Kat, on the other hand, is a perfectly ordinary teenager, one full of spunk, rebellious attitudes, and hormones. Her friendship with Gabourey Sidibe’s Beth and Mark Indelicato’s Mickey cements her as one of the misfits at school, bonded together as they criticize all those around them, including Kat’s neighbor and boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), who doesn’t demonstrate much intelligence in their many interactions. Kat is a magnetic central character, unapologetic for the way she thinks and acts, literally expressed in sessions with a therapist (Angela Bassett) and in the way she speaks to both her parents.

Woodley has had a banner year with “Divergent” and “The Fault in our Stars,” and should be known to filmgoers for her breakout performances in “The Descendants” and “The Spectacular Now.” Here, she ditches her good girl nature and adds on a fantastic layer of snark to play a less angelic but equally watchable protagonist. Meloni and Green are both capable of playing strange when they need do, and Sidibe, Indelicato, and Thomas Jane, as a hunk cop who begins a relationship with Kat, are standouts from the ensemble. This cast helps make a worthwhile and interesting film, though its title, which references dreams that Kat has about what happened to her mother, isn’t fitting for a decent few chapters encased within a less stable novel.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Movie with Abe: One Chance

One Chance
Directed by David Frankel
Released October 10, 2014

It’s always nice to see a feel-good movie every once in a while. It’s easy to appreciate an underdog story, and “One Chance” definitely fits that bill. The story of Paul Potts (James Corden), an unfortunately-named cell phone salesman who dreams of doing nothing but singing opera, is an enjoyable and affirming tale of endurance and perseverance against all odds. Its big finish may not be a surprise, particularly because it actually happened, but it’s still fun to watch Paul overcome years of bullying and people thinking he couldn’t accomplish anything to become an astonishing singing talent.

Paul begins narrating his story amicably, demonstrating his lifelong love for singing by showcasing him in his church choir at a young age. That image is contrasted by the sight of him running away from a group of cruel classmates intent on making his life miserable and punishing him for his particular interests. As Paul grows up and becomes a teenager, not much has changed: he still sings with his church choir and still faces off against the same bullies who torment him day after day. Paul’s life begins to turn around when his unambitious boss Braddon (Mackenzie Crook) makes an uninvited contribution to his love life, shepherding the girlfriend he has only texted with to his door, in the form of the adorable Julz (Alexandra Roach).

From that point, Paul has another purpose in life, though singing and fulfilling his dream does always take center stage. A more than pleasant relationship with Julz ensures that, even at his lowest moments after obstacles thrown him to the ground, Paul is not alone. And when it’s time for that inevitable comeback, it’s impossible not to cheer at Paul’s utter surprise at his own success, modest and simply happy to be given the opportunity to perform and do what he loves most.

Corden is a fantastic choice to portray Paul as a likeable hero who looks down on no one. Corden, a BAFTA- and Tony-winning actor, is next slated to take over Craig Ferguson’s late night talk show when he retires, a fitting role for a truly charming personality. Roach is a delight, and Crook, odd as ever, is superb as Braddon, adding much comedy to the story. Julie Walters and Colm Meaney are wonderful in small but important roles as Paul’s parents. It’s hard not to like this film, and though it may not be cinema at its most magnificent, it’s a surefire crowdpleaser.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Exodus: Gods and Kings

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.

Exodus: Gods and Kings – Opening December 12, 2014

I never got around to seeing the biblical epic from a renowned Oscar-nominated director staring more than one Oscar-winning actor that opened earlier this year, “Noah.” I will say that, based on trailers alone, this one looks like the better and ultimately much more exciting choice. Ridley Scott has made some movies recently that have not been terrific, like “The Counselor,” but he’s also proven himself to be an action master, most notably with his Best Picture winner “Gladiator.” While he lent star Russell Crowe to Darren Aronofsky for that other movie this year, he did enlist someone else who has proven prolific and more than capable of assuming the action lead, and that’s Christian Bale. Casting him as Moses and Joel Edgerton, who has appeared in everything from “Attack of the Clones” to “Animal Kingdom” to “Warrior,” as his brother/nemesis Rhamses (the spelling can never be the same in two places) seems like an excellent choice since the two are action stars but also have proven acting chops. Throw in Emmy winner Aaron Paul and Oscar winner Ben Kingsley, plus Sigourney Weaver, Jon Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn, and Hiam Abbas in the supporting cast and you have a definitively eclectic ensemble. “The Prince of Egypt” was a roaring success sixteen years ago, and this film is taking a remarkably different approach, namely in what looks like an extremely dramatic and thrilling interpretation of the plagues. The exodus from Egypt is a story ripe to be told as an action movie, and I think Scott is just the one to do it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Movie with Abe: Gone Girl

Gone Girl
Directed by David Fincher
Released October 3, 2014

More than one person I’ve spoken to has associated “Gone Girl” with another Ben Affleck film with a similar title, “Gone Baby Gone.” To be fair, both films have to do with an Affleck brother searching for a missing female, the circumstances of whose disappearance turn out to be far more complicated and sinister than initially expected. In the case of the 2007 film, Ben was behind the camera for the first time and his brother Casey was the star. Now, the elder Affleck steps in front of the camera to play the lead of David Fincher’s film adapted by Gillian Flynn from her 2012 novel. Unfortunately, “Gone Baby Gone” is the far superior film.

Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, who becomes a major figure in the news media when his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing. It is clear from how Nick speaks to his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), that he does not hold Amy in high regard, and when her parents show up to try to bring national attention to her disappearance, Nick’s lack of emotion stands out and makes him the prime suspect. It is also obvious that a number of things about Amy’s disappearance and the events that led up to it don’t add up, and the film slowly unfurls the truth, sprinkling bits of information as it goes on to create a fuller picture of the Dunne marriage at its core.

“Gone Girl” should probably be classified as a drama, since though it is layered with mystery and intrigue, nothing happens quickly or suddenly. Fincher is no stranger to long films, and here he has the chance to really flesh out the details once again. When a game-changing revelation is made, it is presented bluntly and not forcefully, merely another detail of the story to be factored in. At times, that style works to the film’s advantage, but more often than not it makes it hard to take at face value since its twists seem too monumental to be simply stated and showcased. The story itself is particularly grim and unpleasant, though I doubt that Flynn’s novel, which I have not read, is any easier to digest.

Affleck has a certain charisma that makes him a great leading man, but it’s not in a role like this. He gives his all to the film’s weightier moments but phones in the rest of his performance. Pike, an actress who has stood out in supporting roles in films like “Made in Dagenham", commits to and delivers in the role of Amy, a far more complex person than the ideal wife on the missing poster. Neil Patrick Harris is a strange choice to play a suspicious ex-boyfriend of Amy’s, while an equally odd choice, Tyler Perry, proves to be just the right fit as the lawyer who eagerly accepts the challenge of defending Nick. The real standout of the cast is Coon from “The Leftovers” as Margo, energetically infusing unfiltered commentary and sass into a character who could have been forgettable had the performance not been as fiery or impassioned. The story as a whole can best be described as oft-putting, and some elements translate to the screen better than others. Overall, it’s an experience that verges on suspenseful and compelling but isn’t nearly even enough to achieve that effect.


Saturday, October 4, 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 Supreme Price (recommended): This documentary about Kudirat Abiola, who took over as president of Nigeria when her husband was imprisoned by the military and was assassinated in 1996, is an interesting and worthwhile chronicle of a country where free elections and women’s rights have never been guaranteed. Now playing at the Quad Cinema. Read my review from yesterday.

New to DVD

Chef (mixed bag): This appetizing dramedy from director-star Jon Favreau should be a lot of fun, but there’s something about the recipe that just doesn’t feel completely natural or believable. It’s hardly terrible, but it could have been much better.

Cold in July (highly recommended): This Sundance thriller is a dark, brooding showcase for Michael C. Hall to define his post-“Dexter” career with a role as a mullet-wearing Texan drawn into a disturbing but immensely watchable world. Not for the faint of heart.

Hellion (highly recommended): This film, which played at the Sundance Film Festival this past year, is a deeply engaging and strong story of a young boy headed down the wrong track, with superb child performances from Josh Wiggins and Deke Garner and a supporting turn from Aaron Paul.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Supreme Price (Capsule Review)

The Supreme Price
Directed by Joanna Lipper
Released October 3, 2014

The assassination of a political leader is a topic ripe for documentary filmmaking. That’s doubly true when the leader in question is a woman serving as president in her husband’s absence for an African county. “The Supreme Price” tells the story of Kudirat Abiola, whose husband was elected to be the leader of Nigeria in a historic free election in 1993, as recounted by one of her daughters, Hafsat, who was attending Harvard at the time of her mother’s assassination. This eye-opening and comprehensive documentary is a strong and involving look at how one country has managed to transform within itself while still being confined by its inescapable history.

“The Supreme Price” tells the story of one nation, but wisely chooses to approach it from a global perspective. Those interviewed, including Hafsat and one of her siblings, speak English fluently and have a greater sense of what the world is like. The entire film is in English, with subtitles provided only when one interview subject’s accent is particularly thick. In this case, what those questioned say and the history the film chronicles are equally interesting, which make for an important, convincing, and timely documentary.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

NYFF Spotlight: Heaven Knows What

I have the distinct pleasure this year of covering a few of the films that are being shown at the New York Film Festival, which takes place September 26th-October 12th.

Heaven Knows What
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Screening October 2 at 9pm and October 5 at 8pm

It’s important that a protagonist in any drama – or film of any kind, for that matter – overcome some sort of obstacle. Starting from a low point makes the achievement of anything all the more attainable, and it also makes the person striving to reach a high point all the more likely to fall and regress afterwards. It’s hard to get worse than being a heroin addict deeply in love with someone who hates you, living on the streets of New York City, and that’s where the bleak and depressing “Heaven Knows What” begins. While it’s certainly possible to sympathize with its main character, Harley, this is not a pleasant or inviting experience.

Harley (Arielle Holmes) seems to live her life only to please Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). When she betrays him by sleeping with another man, he shuns her to the point of extreme agony. She does nothing but try to atone for her sins, and he treats her horribly. When she says that she’ll kill herself as the ultimate expression of repentance, he doesn’t try to stop her, and even refuses to ride in the ambulance with her after she makes the first cut and he decides that she shouldn’t really go. From that point, Harley begins a bold process of partial recovery, still determined not to disappoint the man she loves though he clearly doesn’t reciprocate her feelings.

Harley’s journey is a harrowing and disturbing one, as she spends most of her time on the street. Her habits are enabled by her friend and drug dealer Mike (Buddy Duress), who demands hard work and product movement from her but is often too caught up in his own drug-infused world to follow up on his conversations. Though she gets high on a regular basis, Harley seems remarkably down-to-earth, haunted by her place in life despite her potential for so much more. There are moments of hope in her story, but they’re fleeting and hard to find.

Harley’s story becomes infinitely more impactful when the end credits reveal that the film is based on actress Arielle Holmes’ memoirs. The directors revealed that they met Holmes while she was apprenticing in New York City’s diamond district while still homeless. It’s an enormously interesting and mesmerizing thing to see her portray a version of herself on screen, and Duress mirrors her performance with an equally committed and watchable turn as the very chatty and speech-prone Mike. But the film as a whole is a miserable and difficult thing to endure, not nearly powerful enough to merit its brutal and grim nature.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NYFF Spotlight: La Sapienza

I have the distinct pleasure this year of covering a few of the films that are being shown at the New York Film Festival, which takes place September 26th-October 12th.

La Sapienza
Directed by Eugène Green

Europe and architecture are a natural pair. Every country on the continent has a rich and lengthy history, especially compared to the relatively young United States, and Europeans have a different appreciation for their many monuments, landmarks, churches, and other preserved works of art. “La Sapienza” is a film that embraces that connection, focusing on Alexandre (Fabrizio Rongione), an architect whose field-specific knowledge and skills dwarf his social abilities and interest in conversing with just about anyone. His pretentious, steely nature sets this film up as a gradually accessible and endearing look at art, architecture, and friendship.

Alexandre and Aliénor (Christelle Prot Landman) are first introduced as a couple who might as well be divorced; sitting silently at a fancy restaurant dinner and barely looking at each other. While Aliénor expresses enthusiasm and energy, Alexandre is hardly concerned with such pleasantries. Fortunately, a work-inspired trip from France to Italy proves just the right thing, as a chance meeting with architecture student Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) and his sister Lavinia (Arianna Nastro) permits them the chance to bond with younger, more idealistic versions of themselves and get to experience a bit of the lust for life that they have both lost over the years.

“La Sapienza” is a true European film, one where its characters switch freely between French and Italian, as Lavinia delights at the opportunity to practice her French with Aliénor and Alexandre utilizes his perfect Italian as he begrudgingly converses with his eager young protégé. That fluency served as an asset rather than an expression of overconfidence, as it helps both odd couples soak in the culture of their locale. Alexandre’s return to the birthplace of his most respected architectural idol with Goffredo is warmly complemented by Aliénor attempts to help Lavinia overcome her difficulty leaving the house and being without her brother.

There are plenty of humorous moments in “La Sapienza,” many of which arise from the shortness of sentences uttered by Alexandre and his complete unwillingness to open up to anyone. Contrasting his behavior with Goffredo’s optimism and excitement makes for great entertainment, and a fine companion piece to the more pleasant but equally compelling relationship between Aliénor and Lavinia. The film takes a surprisingly religious turn towards it end, but what happens up until then is filled with cleverness, drama, and all the makings of a perfectly charming story.