Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe (Mega Edition)

Welcome to the inaugural 2015 edition of a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. To play catch-up, this post will look at new releases in all of 2015 so far. 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

Above and Beyond (highly recommended): This documentary about the birth of the Israeli air force is an extremely enjoyable, inspiring, and fresh look at how one young country was able to defend itself from attacks on old sides with the help of American and other volunteers eager to fight to safeguard Israel. Hearing from the senior citizens who flew the planes is a particular treat. This one is no longer playing in Manhattan but it’s worth the trip out to Kew Gardens or Great Neck, or wherever you are when the film comes to you! Read my review from two weeks ago.

Cake (mixed bag): All the buzz for this film has been about Jennifer Aniston getting snubbed for an Oscar nomination after looking like a pretty good sure thing. Truth be told, she’s the best reason to see the film, delivering a mature and hardened performance that demonstrates considerable range for the actress usually known for comedies. The film isn’t nearly as strong, unfortunately. Currently playing at Quad Cinema. Read my review from a few weeks ago.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (highly recommended): This Israeli film very deservedly earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film. The third feature from sibling directors Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz is a staggering and enormously compelling account of one woman’s lengthy battle to earn a religious divorce from her husband. It’s very well-written, balancing humor and devastation terrifically with fantastic performances from all in the cast. This just opened at Lincoln Plaza. Read my review from yesterday.

Hits (mixed bag): There is something truly clever and insightfully hilarious about actor David Cross’ directorial debut, which I saw at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Matt Walsh and Meredith Hagner are great as a father and daughter whose worldview is decidedly skewed in this comedy that diverges a bit too much from any coherent direction. Now playing at the Village East Cinema. Read my review from Sundance last year.

Timbuktu (mixed bag): Mauritania’s first-ever Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film made the cut and earned itself a nomination, and most have reviewed this film with the utmost fervor and praise. It didn’t wow me, presenting what could have been a few interesting stories in a fashion that didn’t do them justice. It’s a fine start for a film industry but nowhere close to one of the best foreign films of the year. Now playing at Lincoln Plaza and Quad Cinema. Read my review from Thursday.

New to DVD

The Book of Life (recommended): This film didn’t ultimately make the cut with Oscar voters despite a Golden Globe nomination and recognition elsewhere, but I found it to be one of the most creative and enjoyable animated experiences of the year, thanks largely to its cultural specificity and a strong construction of its larger-than-life characters. This is not your typical animated film for so many reasons, and it’s definitely worth a look.

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

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

Force Majeure (mixed bag): Everyone I’ve spoken to loved this Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Film from Sweden, but I couldn’t see what was so great about it (story of the year with a few of the contenders). Setting a family story in a quiet French ski resort helps this film build its plot in an unsuspecting way, but its uncertain genre and uncomfortable conversations aren’t quite as impactful or entertaining as they’re supposed to be.

Gone Girl (mixed bag): Oscar voters resoundingly voiced their disapproval for this film by giving it just one nomination, for star Rosamund Pike, whose performance as Amazing Amy is undeniably great. Yet the film, for all its dark, brooding mystery, doesn’t achieve the effect it’s going for, instead inhabiting a cold and uninviting space that houses this bizarre and off-putting story.

The Judge (mixed bag): This film earned an Oscar nomination for Robert Duvall, and that’s about the only reason to see it, even if he’s delivered many better performances in the past. Robert Downey Jr. plays the same role he always plays with minimal effort, and Duvall stands out in a predictable and uncreative story about the law, father-son relationships, and coming home.

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.

Laggies (mixed bag): I wanted to like this dramedy with odd couple Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz as a twentysomething and a high schooler who inexplicably become friends. It’s that central logic that’s missing here in a peculiar but somewhat entertaining story. The reason to see this, of course, is Sam Rockwell, continuing his domination of comedies with his singular personality.

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

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

Rosewater (recommended): Jon Stewart’s directorial debut isn’t something you might expect from him, but it does dramatically spotlight the story of one journalist imprisoned in Iran. Its story and star Gael Garcia Bernal are its strongest assets.

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.

Winter in the Blood (recommended): This eccentric Native American story straddles the line between reality and imagination as its main character searches for tranquility and satisfaction with the help of scene stealer David Morse’s memorable Airplane Man.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Days and Nights (mixed bag): Christian Camargo, who played Rudy in season one of “Dexter,” steps behind the camera to write and direct his first film, this initially intriguing look at a miserable family dynamic one Memorial Day Weekend. The cast seems impressive, but the film is hardly a home run. Also available on DVD.

Enquiring Minds: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer (recommended): This documentary, which played at DOC NYC, is an involving and eye-opening chronicle of the origins of the National Enquirer, one of the most reviled publications in journalistic history that has a more complicated past than you might expect that is just as salacious as many of its stories are.

Gloria (recommended): Star Paulina Garcia is hands-down the best part about this past Chilean Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film. She delivers a dedicated, honest, humorous performance in a film that’s often as entertaining as she is but not consistently so.

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 “Mud,” and strong filmmaking all around.

Lilting (recommended): This British film from director Hong Khaou is an emotional exploration of loss featuring strong performances from Ben Wishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Naomi Christie, and Peter Bowles that has its especially impactful moments.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (highly recommended): I know I’m in the minority, but I absolutely loved this animated feature which stars Ty Burrell as the omnisciently talented Mr. Peabody, who has to contend with a troublesome yet sweet adopted son and all of the time-travel-involved hijinks he manages to get himself into. Great fun for the whole family!

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.

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