Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Surprise Inclusion of 2012

Welcome to a returning weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Surprise Inclusion was the third in a series of projects looking back at the past eight years of the Oscars, dating back to the first ceremony I watched and closely followed. With the 2013 Oscar season wrapped, it’s time to take a look back at the past two years.

Each year, the Oscar nominations announcement presents several shocking names and films. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most surprising inclusion of all (in any category). It has nothing to do with personal opinion but rather with what was considered a surprise at the time compared with what most people were predicting. Once again, this is a film/director/actor whose nomination was unexpected.

The Surprise Inclusion of 2012


Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) for Best Director

Why it wasn’t going to happen: It’s obvious that an argument would have been made in any year to include then thirty-year-old director Benh Zeitlin in an Oscar lineup, but that doesn’t mean it was actually going to happen. Zeitlin netted a few precursor mentions for his directing efforts, but the shutout his film received from the Golden Globes and SAG, it wasn’t even looking secure that it would be one of the ten possible Best Picture nominees. Without the “lone director” slot in existence anymore, Zeitlin’s chances seemed even slimmer.

How it happened: I’ve written much on how the lineup turned out the way it did – most recently in my Big Snub of 2012 post about Ben Affleck being omitted. But what got Zeitlin in particular here is that he was a fresh young director helming his debut feature, which is a movie you could really love. Starting out strong at Sundance helped, and being released by Fox Searchlight was also a plus. Mostly, Oscar voters just threw this whole category for a loop, one which Zeitlin rode along with his film to a four-nomination haul. Voting for Michel Haneke wasn’t enough; this was a way to honor an American filmmaker.

Was it deserved: Absolutely. This was my favorite film of 2012, hands-down, and Zeitlin was an enormous part of it. When people talk about directorial vision and auteurship, this is what they mean. This was an astounding start for a filmmaker, and it’s one of the times Oscar voters actually got it right. If only he had won…

Come back next week for a look at The Deadlocked Duel of 2012. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments. There a few contenders for this one, so chime in if you have a pick!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Cinemanovels

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.

Cinemanovels: Opening TBD


I came upon this trailer while I browsing the IMDB trailer gallery, and I’ll admit I went for it simply because of the cast. Actress Lauren Lee Smith was a star of “Mutant X,” later had a regular gig on “CSI,” and currently stars in CTV’s “The Listener.” But I’ll always remember her as Dana’s sweet-natured sous-chef girlfriend Lara on “The L Word.” In this film, she appears alongside her old costar Jennifer Beals, but in a much more prominent and inarguably leading role. The title is intriguing enough, reminiscent of something like “Deconstructing Harry” in which film is looked from a different angle than usual, as a way to portray and understand life. I’m not sure this film is meant to be quite as structurally complex, but there is an intentionality about how the trailer is cut together, introducing Smith’s Grace through her interactions with others and through her relationship with her famous father, explored by a posthumous retrospective of the films he made. It’s exciting to me when actresses like Smith, who spend most of their careers in the background enhancing projects without receiving top billing or their own emphasized storylines, get tapped for lead roles like this. I haven’t seen any of director Terry Miles’ previous work, but I suspect that he or someone else saw Smith and realized the potential that she has. This indie movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and was purchased a few months ago by Monterey Media for a slated summer release, according to Deadline.com. I’d be very interested to see what this looks like, and to see Smith have the opportunity to own a creative film like this.

Saturday, April 26, 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 NYC

Locke (recommended): Director Steven Knight and actor Tom Hardy achieve a brilliant success in unconventional cinema in this 85-minute car ride, which screened at Sundance this year and features only a terrific Hardy on screen as a man whose life is falling apart over the phone as he drives home from work. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and the Angelika. Read my review from Sundance.

Walking with the Enemy (mixed bag): This drama is based on a true story about a Hungarian Jew who stole a Nazi uniform to help save his people. Its premise is undeniably compelling, but this is hardly an iconic film worthy of comparison to those that tell agonizingly heartfelt and moving stories of the Holocaust. Now playing at Regal E-Walk and Regal Union Squre. Read my interview with star Jonas Armstrong for Shockya.

New to DVD

Nothing of note this week!


Now on Netflix

Don Jon (highly recommended): Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is an enjoyable, layered comedy about a player, portrayed by Gordon-Levitt himself, entranced by what he thinks is love when he meets a beautiful woman. Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson are terrific in this smart, fun movie.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Interview with Abe: Walking with the Enemy


Opening today in theatres is the new film "Walking with the Enemy," which tells the true story of a Hungarian Jew who dressed up as a Nazi during the Holocaust to save other Jews. For more on the film, check out my interview with lead star Jonas Armstrong over at Shockya. Follow this link to read the interview.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Movie with Abe: Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr. Peabody and Sherman
Directed by Rob Minkoff
Released March 7, 2014

The biggest challenge of any remake is to be able to fondly recall memories of the source material while creating a wholly new product that can be digested and comprehended all on its own. That’s especially true when the original is old enough that many of the viewers of the new project won’t have any frame of reference from which to know these characters. Fortunately, “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” the early March release from DreamWorks Animation, is a thoroughly enjoyable and successful movie that functions perfectly well all on its own.

Based on characters of the same name from the 1960s series “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” this film follows the story of Mr. Peabody, a genius talking dog with glasses and a red bow tie, who adopts bright-eyed young Sherman, a boy who lives for the excitement of his father’s stories and, more importantly, their shared adventures using the WABAC, a time machine created by Mr. Peabody to better enrich his and Sherman’s lives through literally experiencing the past. Mr. Peabody’s friends from throughout time include Leonardo DaVinci and George Washington. Understandably, Sherman’s life is considerably different from that of many of his peers, and the first day of school represents a major challenge in terms of fitting in with the rest of the class.

“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” makes a likely deliberate and enormously positive choice: to follow just one isolated plotline and stick to it for the duration of the film. Sherman’s first day at school goes horribly, ending in him biting a bully, Penny, and leading to the threat of Mr. Peabody losing custody of Sherman. The fast-thinking Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents over to smooth over the situation, and of course a clueless Sherman decides that the only way to get Penny to like him is to show her the WABAC, resulting in a time-hopping journey with plenty of twists and turns along the way. This is just one chapter of their story, and had the box office for the film been better, this could easily have been the first of several such films.

As always in animation, voices are key. Ty Burrell of “Modern Family” is a wonderful choice to portray Mr. Peabody, giving him a fantastic air of pretentiousness and enthusiasm. Max Charles and Burrell’s TV daughter Ariel Winter imbue Sherman and Penny with appropriate zeal and childishness. From among the supporting cast, Allison Janney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Stephen Colbert, and Leslie Mann enhance an entertaining ensemble. This animated film achieves that crucial accomplishment of being just as worthwhile and appealing for adults as for kids, and it ends up being a fully engaging and very fun ride.

B+

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Talking Tribeca: App

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


App
Directed by Alexander Berman
Festival Screenings

You might think that last year’s Best Picture nominee “Her” cornered the market on human relationships with artificial intelligence consciousnesses. Fortunately, this Tribeca short, screening as part of the “Handle with Care” program, has a new take to offer. It’s an entertaining, light-hearted story about geeky Paul (Braden Lynch), who panics after he discovers that the server on which he has all the data stored for his groundbreaking app will be shut off because of his failure to pay his bill and heads to a bar to try to convince an investor to give him the capital he needs right away. A challenge by the disinterested investor results in Paul using his app designed to create romantic capability to woo the prettiest girl in the bar, Zoe (Sara Sanderson). This isn’t a complex tale, but it clever and inventive, and more than anything, a cute story about two very different people who might just have more in common than they think.

See it or skip it? See it! It’s playing with other shorts I haven’t seen, but this one is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Talking Tribeca: Fishtail

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


Fishtail
Directed by Andrew Renzi
Festival Screenings

It’s not often you have the chance to see a calf being born on screen. “Fishtail,” the sixty-one-minute documentary from director Andrew Renzi, is not a typical film. Described as “a portrait of the modern cowboy,” it follows a family on a ranch in Montana during calving season. Plot is far from central to the film, which can be seen as a meditation on landscapes and art. A peculiar score serves as the soundtrack, and Harry Dean Stanton narrates the film. There is certainly something to be said for a film that manages to make watching two ranchers herd cattle in preparation for calving. It’s good that the film lasts just one hour, especially since its subjects are less characters than purposeful players in its story. Its setting creates food for thought, and its appeal comes from the way in which its visuals are captured.

See it or skip it? It’s hardly a must-see, especially if you aren’t keen on seeing a cow give birth.

Talking Tribeca: Intramural

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


Intramural
Directed by Andrew Disney
Festival Screenings

Every once in a while, there’s a film at a film festival that just doesn’t feel like it belongs there. “Intramural,” best described as a (slightly) more mature version of “Dodgeball,” is not the kind of film one would expect to encounter alongside top-tier independent cinema. Jake Lacy, who was terrific as the dim-witted Casey on ABC’s short-lived “Better With You,” stars as straight man Caleb, who reunites his intramural college football team as a way of reinvigorating his life when he unwittingly gets engaged to maniacal control freak Vicky (Kate McKinnon). There are some moments of coherent and clever parody in the film, like when a doctor runs onto the field after an injury in a lab coat proclaiming “I’m a doctor” and each time stoned announcers Bill (D.C. Pierson) and Dan (Jay Pharoah) narrate a game to no one in particular. The rest of the film is pure, excessive stupidity, and it’s hard to negotiate the two very different sides of the film. Unfortunately, the less intelligent side is victorious.

See it or skip it? Not over anything else. This is far from the best that Tribeca has to offer.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Talking Tribeca: Human Capital

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


Human Capital
Directed by Paolo Virzi
Festival Screenings

Stories told in chapters can often be irritating, and the creative format can merely be a mask for a subpar narrative. Yet that’s far from the case in “Human Capital,” the Italian film from Paolo Virzi screening at Tribeca, which hones in on three equally lonely and misunderstood people, one at a time. The overeager Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) has no self-awareness, and his attempt to cash in big on a hedge fund find him furiously scrambling to come up for air. The idealistic Carla (Valeria Tedeschi) is completely invisible to her businessman husband and finds her artistic desires sidelined in favor of profitability. Dino’s daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli), who links the two characters due to her relationship with Carla’s son Massimiliano, exists in a different universe from her friends at school, unconcerned with their interests and much more willing to accept other viewpoints. All three stories are equally compelling, and when woven together make for an enticing film that feels fresh each time new information is added.

See it or skip it? See it if you’re okay with subtitles and like this kind of structure.

Talking Tribeca: Five Star

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


Five Star
Directed by Keith Miller
Festival Screenings

Whereas “Starred Up” is a prison movie that takes place entirely within the walls of a prison, the similarly-titled “Five Star” is one that takes place entirely on the outside. Primo (James “Primo” Grant) is an ex-con struggling to make a living for his family, balancing bouncer gigs and a drug business. The large, intimidating Primo is joined onscreen by John (John Diaz), a braces-sporting teenager inspired to become more of a tough guy after the death of the father with whom he has no relationship. Primo is a picture of the future and John of the past, two people much more linked than it might initially seem, each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Director Keith Miller’s second feature film is a stark, gritty depiction of life as it is, with no flair or showy cinematic techniques. Primo and John play characters with their own names, and at times it seems like they aren’t even acting. The film isn’t always furiously interesting, but by its end, it’s difficult to forget.

See it or skip it? See it if it sounds appealing – it might surprise you.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Talking Tribeca: Life Partners

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


Life Partners
Directed by Susanna Fogel
Festival Screenings

It’s a treat to find a festival film that stars recognizable actors who haven’t necessarily done very indie-friendly work in the past in a project that’s actually great. Leighton Meester of “Gossip Girl” and Gillian Jacobs of “Community” star as Sasha and Paige, two lifelong best friends united by their misfortune in love. That all changes, of course, when Paige meets Tim (Adam Brody) and begins what appears to be a serious relationship. Charting the ups and downs of that romance and of all of Sasha’s more fleeting partnerships is quite entertaining, and what could have been a throwaway buddy comedy is a much smarter and more mature film than one might expect. Meester, Jacobs, and Brody use their TV backgrounds to create human, flawed characters who might be exaggerated but are definitely relatable. This can’t be described as an art film and might not fit everyone’s definition of a worthy Tribeca entry, but it’s a perfectly decent and enjoyable movie.

See it or skip it? See it if you’re looking for something light that’s actually memorable and pretty funny to boot.

Talking Tribeca: Zero Motivation

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


Zero Motivation
Directed by Talya Levie
Festival Screenings

This film isn’t exactly a progressive or productive portrait of either the Israeli army or women in the military. Set at a desert base, it follows the day-to-day boredom and superficiality of the female soldiers who serve as secretaries to the lone female commander who has understandable trouble earning respect from her male counterparts and superiors. It is, however, a very entertaining and enjoyable comedy, one which won’t advance any societal issues but still serves as a strong and fun film. Its two stars, Nelly Tagar and Dana Ivgy, are particularly terrific as Daffi, whose sole responsibility is shredding paper and who dreams of transferring to Tel Aviv, and Zohar, who can’t be bothered to do anything productive and causes more harm than anything else in her efforts to respond cleverly to orders she is given, respectively. Their energy corresponds perfectly to the film’s overall feel, a portrait of the mundane nature of doing something you couldn’t have any less interest in doing.

See it or skip it? See it! It’s far from the most serious movie you’ll see at the festival, but it’s an enjoyable dark comedy.

Saturday, April 19, 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 NYC

A Promise (mixed bag): This forbidden romance drama starring Richard Madden of “Game of Thrones” and Rebecca Hall is a very typical film of its genre, offering little in the way of originality or cinematic qualities. Now playing at the IFC Center. Read my review from yesterday.

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 playing at the Quad Cinema. Read my review from yesterday.


New to DVD

Philomena (recommended): Judi Dench deserved her Best Actress nomination for her endearing performance as an older woman who tries to find the son she had to give up for adoption decades earlier, but her film isn’t exactly a worthy Best Picture nominee. It’s a fine light-hearted ride with a few memorable high points.


Now on Netflix

The Family (mixed bag): This mobster comedy from French director Luc Besson casts Robert De Niro as a mobster in living in the Witness Protection Program in France with his family. It’s far from ambitious but does provide an entertaining if unfulfilling experience.

Scoop (mixed bag): This 2006 film was Woody Allen’s follow-up to the terrific “Match Point.” Allen’s shift back to comedy wasn’t so seamless, and Scarlett Johansson’s performance wasn’t nearly as compelling. This is far from one of Allen’s best efforts, but it’s still relatively enjoyable.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Movie with Abe: Tasting Menu


Tasting Menu
Directed by Roger Gual
Released April 18, 2014

Food movies belong to a very specific genre. It’s hard not to find a film like “Big Night” appetizing, and part of the delight of watching the film is being able to imagine just how delicious all the food on screen would taste in real life. The new film “Tasting Menu” is inarguably a food movie, one that showcases its clever culinary inventions but utilizes them more as centerpieces for a grander web of stories and that finds a colorful cast of characters gathered together for the much-anticipated closing night of a legendary restaurant.

“Tasting Menu” follows a number of different plotlines, starting centrally from the focal point of chef Mar (Vicenta N’Dongo) and manager Max (Andrew Tarbet) preparing for an unforgettable evening of meticulously-prepared dishes served to a select slate of guests who have had reservations for months. Among the attendees are famed writer Rachel (Claudia Bassols) and her ex-husband Marc (Jan Cornet), a mysterious food connoisseur (Stephen Rea), a chatty translator (Marta TornĂ©) representing two competing Japanese businessman, and a widowed Countess (Fionnula Flanagan). As each course is served, more is revealed about each person in the restaurant and the ways in which their stories are connected.

“Tasting Menu” begins as a staged, carefully choreographed production set to the meter of the dinner and its many components. As it progresses, however, some of the plotlines begin to converge, and at a certain point, everything comes together in a surprising and not entirely logical way. Yet it’s the ride that’s most entertaining here, and watching all of its players interact, even if it might not be totally believable, is a treat. The food is fancy and its preparation is magnificent, and it provides the perfect setting for this fleeting but fun series of interconnected stories.

The cast in “Tasting Menu” is a big part of its success, the crucial ingredients of a terrific recipe. In what can be considered the leading roles, N’Dongo and Tarbet stick to the background and portray professional people doing their best to deliver a final performance. Both Bassols and Cornet are charming and make the most of their screen time, and the rest of the cast contributes just what’s needed, with TornĂ© especially delighting in her scenes. This film might be odd at times, but overall, it’s quite a delight. Its title is appropriate – it’s a solid sampling of what could be many larger stories, compressed down into one multifaceted and entertaining night.

B+

Movie with Abe: A Promise


A Promise
Directed by Patrice Leconte
Released April 18, 2014

Forbidden romance is a popular subject for movies. In many cases, such stories are set in the past, where certain cultural and societal tendencies make the circumstances of such an impossible union all the more dramatic. “A Promise” is a textbook case of two people destined not to be together despite their strong feelings for each other. Based on the novella “Journey into the Past,” published three decades after author Stefan Zweig’s death, this is an old-fashioned, extremely familiar story of love and longing.

“A Promise” begins with bright, hard-working young Friedrich Zietz (Richard Madden) accepting a job working for the wealthy and respected owner of a steel factory, Karl Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman), in 1912 Germany. Karl quickly promotes Friedrich to be his private secretary, and, before long, Friedrich is asked to live in Karl’s home to be able to fulfill his duties to the greatest possible degree. Turning his back on a far less important but equally forbidden fling, Richard soon meets Karl’s wife Lotte (Rebecca Hall), a much younger woman with energy and a passion for life. World War I breaks out, and events conspire to keep their inevitable love from being spoken or truly progressing, yet it is clear that both hold their feelings for one another close to their hearts.

There is little to this film and its plot that feels original, and the details of its setting – the early 1900s, Germany, a factory – do little to distinguish it from other similar movies. Its story takes place mostly indoors and involves just the three main players, and, as a result, there are few visual or technical opportunities for the film to use the time period or its surroundings to stand out. When it does venture outside, there’s a glimpse of the universe that exists apart from just these characters, and a sense of what a fuller film could have looked like had it not been so isolated on its three primary personalities.

The idea of spending so much time getting to know Friedrich, Karl, and Lotte is to demonstrate that the way that Karl and Friedrich felt about each other overwhelmed anything else that was going in their world. Madden, familiar to most for his role as Robb Stark on “Game of Thrones,” is muted and relatively shy, allowing his expressions and his imagination to tell of Friedrich’s longing for Lotte. Hall, whose career took off a few years ago, is better suited to dry comedic roles that allow her to do more than simply pine for two different men. Rickman is hardly putting in his best efforts, though it’s not as if the part asks much of him. This love triangle doesn’t feel like it’s alive, trapped instead in the past. Its story has its emotional points, but they don’t add up to a moving or memorable whole.

C

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Talking Tribeca: Of Many

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


Of Many
Directed by Linda Mills
Festival Screenings

This Tribeca documentary has special relevance for me since it focuses on the strong friendship between Rabbi Yehuda Sarna and Imam Khalid Latif, the university chaplains at New York University. As a student at NYU, I was never involved in interfaith programming, but do remember when I attended a celebration of Israel’s Independence Day in Washington Square Park with the Jewish community. When protestors showed up shouting “Free Palestine,” I remember some of the Jewish students were upset because the people protesting were Muslim community members they knew from interfaith trips. They had been able to forge such incredible connections despite the differences of their beliefs, but now they were confronting them on a level impossible to ignore. This documentary is about two people working together to ensure that people from different backgrounds are able to connect and come to understand each other even if they can’t agree on anything. Both Rabbi Sarna and Imam Latif are calm, unassuming men who don’t give off an aura of self-importance or intimidation. In just 33 minutes, Mills and executive producer Chelsea Clinton show how an intimate friendship can lead to something more. At a screening hosted at NYU last week, Rabbi Sarna and Imam Latif affirmed that by standing side-by-side to answer questions about the film, repeatedly emphasizing the mission of their interfaith project and the film, to open up understanding and tolerance of beliefs not your own.

See it or skip it? See it! It’s playing with other shorts I haven’t seen, but this one is both interesting and inspiring.

Talking Tribeca: Starred Up

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


Starred Up
Directed by David Mackenzie
Festival Screenings

Prison is the setting for a number of films at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, and this film embraces its surroundings completely. Jack O’Connell stars as Eric, a violent young offender whose first day in jail finds him clashing physically with guards and inmates alike. One of his new neighbors happens to be his father, Neville, portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn, who was more than memorable in “Animal Kingdom,” another story of a criminal family. O’Connell and Mendelsohn are both terrific, anchoring a captivating, brutal tale of two men who know they’re never getting out of prison and respond to that truth in very different ways. O’Connell in particular plays Eric as a young rabblerouser entertaining himself by causing chaos, unconcerned with what the consequences may be. Rupert Friend, currently starring on “Homeland,” also appears as a psychotherapist who sees potential in Eric to change. This is not an easy film but a very well-made one.

See it or skip it? See it if you’re okay with an upsetting storyline and disturbing visuals.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Talking Tribeca: Brides

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.


Brides
Directed by Tinatin Kajrishvili
Festival Screenings

One of several Tribeca movies frorm this year involving prison, this Georgian film takes a different approach from the rest. Nutsa (Mari Kitia) is one of the first to come forward to request the opportunity to be married to the father of her two children when the law changes to permit visitations by spouses to those in prison. Her relationship with Goga (George Maskharashvili) is revealed through the few moments that they get to share together. Neither Nutsa nor Goga display too many endearing qualities, yet it’s clear that both have been affected deeply by their circumstances. One particularly moving extended scene finds Nutsa and Goga taking advantage of a new privilege to spend twenty-fours together in a small house on the prison grounds, imitating what life might be like if Goga wasn’t serving a decade-long sentence. That scene is just one of the many unexpectedly intimate, powerful moments in this strong and involving film.

See it or skip it? See it! It’s a solid and thought-provoking drama.

Saturday, April 12, 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 NYC

Dancing in Jaffa (recommended): The opening night selection from the 7th Annual Other Israel Film Festival is a balanced, harmless look at what happens when Arab and Jewish children come together to do nothing but dance in Israel. Now playing at the IFC Center and the JCC in Manhattan. Read my review from the Other Israel Film Festival.

Joe (highly recommended): Nicolas Cage is better than he’s been in a decade as the title character in this dark and involving story, which also features a superb performance from Tye Sheridan, one of the breakout stars of last year’s “Mud,” and strong filmmaking all around. Now playing at AMC Empire and City Cinemas 123. Read my review from yesterday.


New to DVD

August: Osage County (mixed bag): This adaptation of the popular play features an astounding cast, led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, but it’s not nearly as satisfying or even as it should be. Margo Martindale is the standout player, and it’s the subtler background performances in this loud film that make it most worthwhile.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Movie with Abe: Joe

Joe
Directed by David Gordon Green
Released April 11, 2014

Once upon a time, Nicolas Cage was an Oscar-winning actor. His performance in 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas” as a suicidal alcoholic earned him the coveted trophy, and he contended again for his terrific dual role in 2002’s “Adaptation.” Since then, Cage’s acting has taken a backseat to his horrendous hairstyle in most of his films. He has not selected particularly challenging roles, most often opting for brainless action flicks. Fortunately, his latest film, “Joe,” showcases what is easily his best performance in a decade, enabling him to tackle a complex character as part of a deeply involving story.

Cage stars as the title character, an ex-con who drives his truck full of workers out every day into the woods to tag trees to be killed and cut down in advance of development construction. Joe takes care of his people, demanding that they work hard but treating them fairly. His newest and brightest employee comes in the form of Gary (Tye Sheridan), an excitable young boy who also brings along the burden of his alcoholic deadbeat father Wade (Gary Poulter). Joe clearly likes and respects Gary, and forms a relationship with the kid who is making the best of a truly miserable situation.

“Joe” follows in the style of films like “Mud” and “Winter’s Bone” which begin from a relatively stable, calm point and gradually transform into something dark and unsettling. That process is managed excellently by director David Gordon Green, whose previous credits include “Prince Avalanche” and “Pineapple Express.” The script by Gary Hawkins, based on the 1991 novel by Larry Brown, is purposefully sparse in dialogue and weaves an extremely compelling narrative. Its plot is gripping and takes its audience on an engaging and powerful ride.

Most of all, “Joe” is driven by its performance. Cage draws out Joe’s self-destructive nature, emphasizing his temper as an enemy just as great as the man who wishes to get revenge on him for a condescending slap Joe delivered at a bar. Cage demonstrates that he is still a great actor, and just needs roles like this to show off his talent. Just as impressive is seventeen-year-old Sheridan, who appeared previously in “Mud” and “The Tree of Life.” This is another mature role and performance from a young actor with a very bright future ahead of him. Sheridan’s sunny nature contrasts Cage’s reserved demeanor perfectly, making them a terrific pair in this rewarding, seriously worthwhile film.

B+

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Surprise Inclusion of 2013

Welcome to a returning weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Surprise Inclusion was the third in a series of projects looking back at the past eight years of the Oscars, dating back to the first ceremony I watched and closely followed. With the 2013 Oscar season wrapped, it’s time to take a look back at the past two years.

Each year, the Oscar nominations announcement presents several shocking names and films. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most surprising inclusion of all (in any category). It has nothing to do with personal opinion but rather with what was considered a surprise at the time compared with what most people were predicting. Once again, this is a film/director/actor whose nomination was unexpected.

The Surprise Inclusion of 2013


Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) for Best Supporting Actor

Why it wasn’t going to happen: A few years ago, no one would have said that Jonah Hill would ever be a two-time Oscar nominee. His comedic start in films like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” didn’t indicate any talent that might be termed even remotely dramatic. Somehow, in 2011, he rode the “Moneyball” buzz to an Oscar nomination for his mature but entertaining performance. His performance looked great in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but once awards season was underway, Hill was rarely anywhere to be found even when his leading costar, Leonardo DiCaprio, was nominated.

How it happened: In 2011, Hill earned both a Golden Globe and SAG nomination, making him seem like a sure thing for an Oscar nod. Usually, those two do add up to the third, but DiCaprio found himself with Globe and SAG mentions in 2011 for “J. Edgar” only to be snubbed by Oscar. Daniel Bruhl, star of “Rush,” experienced the same thing in 2013, leaving one spot open, while Globe nominee Bradley Cooper edged out SAG’s fifth choice, James Gandolfini. Hill found himself the benefactor of that newly-open slot.

Was it deserved: To a degree. Bruhl’s performance is certainly a much more involved, accomplished one, and it was a shame to see his film shut out completely. The same is true of Gandolfini and “Enough Said.” But there is something impressive about the way that Hill burrows himself completely into this despicable role and makes his worm-like character such a delight to watch. It may not be Oscar-worthy, but it does deserve some commendation.

Come back next week for a look at The Surprise Inclusion of 2012. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments. There a few contenders for this one, so chime in if you have a pick!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Begin Again

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.

Begin Again – Opening July 4, 2014


I saw the poster for this film last week after I had already selected the trailer that I was going to write about, and a quick visit to IMDB put it front and center for me this week. Since his breakout hit “Once” in 2007, director John Carney has made two small Irish films, and he’s back with a bigger American film that looks like a blast. Had I watched the trailer without knowing that Carney was its writer and director, I would have presumed that it was something entirely different, at least for its first half, mainly because of the insertion of “Ex” into each of the main characters’ classifications which seems much more appropriate for blockbusters and big studio films. Yet the second half of the trailer reveals a sweeter, more artsy side to the film, which involves two people making music together and bonding that way. This looks like a very enjoyable ride due to its plot alone, but it’s also worth noting the talent involved. I loved seeing Mark Ruffalo play a crazy, endearing guy in “Infinitely Polar Bear” at Sundance, and this looks like the perfect follow-up (though this one may actually have come first). Keira Knightley has done some great things recently, and this is a new arena for which she seems well-suited. Hailee Steinfeld continues to choose strong roles in her days as a young actress, and it’s nice to see a good mix of actual actors like Catherine Keener and real-life musicians like CeeLo Green and Adam Levine in the supporting cast, as well as Mos Def, who straddles that line. A summer release seems perfect for this movie, which embraces the (city) outdoors and should hopefully prove to be a winning and magnetic experience.

Saturday, April 5, 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 NYC

Alan Partridge (mixed bag): Steve Coogan is the main reason to see this bizarre story of an eccentric radio host who ends up as a go between the police and a fired radio host who takes the station hostage. The tone is inconsistent, but the film has its moments. Now playing at the Angelika. Read my review from Thursday.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (recommended): The latest entry in the Marvel movie franchise isn’t as strong overall as the first installment featuring this particular superhero, but it’s still an action-packed blast that doesn’t let up. Now playing in wide release. Read my review from yesterday.

Dom Hemingway (mixed bag): Jude Law is loud and unapologetic as a criminal released from jail who isn’t keen on keeping up appearances because he feels he’s owed. There are intriguing, involving scenes in this otherwise messy film. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and the Angelika. Read my review from Wednesday.

New to DVD

Nothing notable this week, sadly!


Now Available on Netflix

For a Few Dollars More (highly recommended): This classic 1967 Sergio Leone film, which I saw in a class in college called The Myth of the Last Western, is an incredible ride starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. While “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is often considered Leone’s best, this one is truly a terrific time.

Lars and the Real Girl (recommended): The concept of Ryan Gosling having a relationship with an inanimate sex doll is somewhat appealing, and this film is relatively fun, especially due to supporting performances from Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider as those who seek to care for the well-meaning Lars.

Orgasm, Inc. (recommended): Its controversial title aside, this documentary is actually a wealth of information, analyzing and unpacking the way that the pharmaceutical industry works. It’s not overly serious, and that fun nature is what works best about it.

Roger Dodger (recommended): This 2002 film is a great intersection of two talents – Campbell Scott and a teenage Jeese Eisenberg – in an enthralling story of a player uncle who tries to show his nephew what life is really about.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Movie with Abe: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Released April 4, 2014

Until recently, it seemed impossible to make a good Captain America movie. Something about the all-American hero just didn’t translate from the comic book pages to the big screen, and any efforts to do so were laughably abysmal. The 2011 reboot starring Chris Evans changed that completely, offering an enormously compelling story of this super soldier in the 1940s taking on Nazi Germany and the enemy Hydra, and now for his second installment, Captain America is back in the present day to take on a far more internal foe in this enjoyable blockbuster.

Evans’ Captain America is much like many of the current members of the Avengers, possessing the winning charm of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and the sarcastic wit of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. Evans’ Steve Rogers is far less assuming, however, and tends not to hog the spotlight despite the grand nature of his position in both American history and its present. It’s a good thing, too, since another Avenger, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, doesn’t even get her own movie, and instead has to share his. Fortunately, the two make a great, attractive pair, and putting them together is a dependable choice that pays off well.

The plot of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is much more tied to the organization of S.H.I.E.L.D. than all of the other films currently being put out by the Marvel franchise. That means the full participation of Samuel L. Jackson in the role of Director Nick Fury, which is never a bad thing. The film also enlists Robert Redford as a powerful political player and Anthony Mackie as a new ally for Captain America and Black Widow as they go on the run following a major attack on S.H.I.E.L.D.

One thing that inarguably works about “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is its ability to transition into action at a moment’s notice, with all characters on deck and ready to burst into hand-to-hand combat or something more intense. Captain America’s powers, and those of his opponents in this film, are fun to watch, and Black Widow is also a great action star. The film’s storyline is ambitious and not always logical, but ultimately this is a relatively solid standalone entry that doesn’t lean too heavily on its previous or subsequent chapters. It may not have the cohesive and history-defying gravitas of the first film, but it’s still a blast that proves that Marvel should continue making movies.

B

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Movie with Abe: Alan Partridge


Alan Partridge
Directed by Declan Lowney
Released April 4, 2014

Sometimes, it’s hard to decide how to approach a film. Its plot may be easy to describe, but its tone and overall themes can be much more difficult to unpack. That’s certainly the case with “Alan Partridge,” the indescribable new film from prolific Irish director Declan Lowney written by a team of writers whose past credits include “Borat” and “In the Loop.” Steve Coogan, who was also involved with the script, stars as an eccentric radio host who spends the majority of the film whose title bears his name acting as a negotiator for Pat, a laid-off host at his station and the police handling the hostage situation Pat has created.

It’s never quite clear just who Alan Partridge is, and the film offers many possible answers, all of which add together up to a peculiar whole. At the start of the film, the radio station is being bought up by a bigger company, which spells uncertainty for the future of some of its more senior employees. A nervous Pat encourages Alan to make an appeal for him to be kept on, but Alan, in the midst of talking up Pat, realizes that it’s either him or Pat, and throws him under the bus. Pat is unaware that Alan is the one who sealed his fate, which is the only reason that Alan ends up being positioned as Pat’s one friend and possible ally when he takes the station by storm.

There is an obvious darkness to the events of “Alan Partridge,” as the sound of gunfire and the sight of scared hostages trapped by a man holding a gun conjure up fearsome memories of recent real-life events. Yet this film treats the subject with occasional seriousness, but more often by looking at it through the very singular eyes of Alan. Because his career is based on his voice and his sense of humor, Alan treats it as such. The hostages, the police, and the public are his listeners, and his situation is his platform. Fortunately, Alan taking center stage means Steve Coogan taking center stage, which is never a bad thing.

Coogan starred in last year’s “The Look of Love” as the British equivalent of Hugh Hefner, and here he gets to be less charismatic and more awkward, but equally theatrical. He’s well-matched by Colm Meaney of “Hell on Wheels” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” as the maniacal but focused Pat. It’s really a two-man show, and it’s often as if the rest of the characters don’t exist. There are moments where Alan’s imagination gets the best of him, and there’s a glimpse of what this film could have been if it wasn’t so grounded in being literal, an approach that doesn’t work perfectly given the nature of the material.

B-

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Movie with Abe: Dom Hemingway


Dom Hemingway
Directed by Richard Shepard
Released April 2, 2014

How a movie begins can be very telling of what the entire film will be like. “Dom Hemingway” opens with Jude Law’s title character speaking to the camera, boasting of his sexual prowess while in prison, introducing himself by his reputation. When Dom is released shortly thereafter following his twelve-year stint, he sets out on a rampage to let those who wronged him know that he won’t take it laying down, and has some trouble treating those who are still his friends as anything but, which makes his future look increasingly less promising. Like Dom, this film is a loud, aggressive experience more often excessive than entertaining.

Law is a prolific actor who, throughout his career, has had the chance to play a variety of roles. Among his most memorable are the noble nice guys of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Cold Mountain,” with a few bad boys like his characters in “Alfie” and “Sleuth” mixed in. Here, he gets a rare opportunity to be a truly despicable person, one who thinks only of himself, values money and vengeance over everything, and displays few positive qualities. Law gives it his all, matching his out-of-style facial hair with equally prickly fury.

However polarizing and off-putting Dom may be, there’s no denying that he is a fascinating cinematic character. His boldness and temper make him a magnetic protagonist, one whose post-prison days are made immensely watchable by the extreme nature of his words and actions. Unsurprisingly, his story contains other people with questionable moral characteristics, and the intersection of all these players make for one out-of-control ride that can’t possibly head anywhere productive or sunny for the one and only Dom Hemingway by film’s end.

Joining Law in the cast are a few notable actors who help to strengthen the film with focused performances. Richard E. Grant controls his every facial tic and mannerism as Dickie, Dom’s one true friend who never manages to stick up for himself in the way that he should. Demian Bichir is an eccentric and terrific villain in Mr. Fontaine, the mob boss who hosts his loyal underling following his release from prison. Above all, Kerry Condon steals the film as the one truly kind-hearted character in the film, the sweet Melody, who Dom meets at Mr. Fontaine’s and seems completely immune to the terrible things that happen around her. The film as a whole doesn’t benefit from that same optimism, and as a result it’s an odd and overly boisterous outing that doesn’t feel entirely cohesive and certainly isn’t pleasant.

C+

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: Sex Tape

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.

Sex Tape – Opening July 25, 2014


I can’t say that this red-band trailer oozes quality, but it does look like a lot of fun. Of director Jake Kasdan’s five feature films, I’ve seen four, all but “The Zero Effect.” I wasn’t a fan of “Bad Teacher” and certainly not “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” but I did enjoy the surprising cleverness of “The TV Set” and “Orange County.” What’s more promising about this one is its cast, led by two performers with vastly different backgrounds who both appeared in “Bad Teacher.” Cameron Diaz was a movie star in the 1990s who later moved on to more complex roles and is now heading back to her comedic roots. Jason Segel became famous because of “How I Met Your Mother,” and R-rated comedies enable him to let his inner child out in a more hilariously profane way. I’m optimistic about this movie because of a film with a somewhat related premise, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” that was infinitely better than it should have been. This is part of the genre that includes “Knocked Up,” a mature movie about an immature subject that straddles the line between tastefully appropriate and anything but. Ellie Kemper, Rob Corddry, and Rob Lowe are all major players in the supporting cast, sure signs of this being at the very least a fun experience to make. I don’t imagine it will be the funniest movie of the summer, but based on the stars and the recent history of this type of film, I think it will be better than many expect.