Saturday, May 30, 2015

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

Heaven Knows What (mixed bag): Everyone seems to love this story about a homeless drug addict in New York City, but it really didn’t do it for me when I saw it at the New York Film Festival last fall. Actress Arielle Holmes, playing a version of herself, is compelling, but that’s about it. Now playing at Landmark Sunshine. Read my review from NYFF.

New to DVD

Nothing to report this week!

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

The Boxtrolls (recommended): I enjoyed this Oscar-nominated animated film much more than I expected to. It’s a sweet tale of underground trolls who live in boxes and face persecution from the cheese-loving humans above ground. Fun for all ages, and full of creativity.

Inglourious Basterds (highly recommended): Quentin Tarantino’s epic tale of Jewish Nazi hunters during World War II is a fascinatingly multi-faceted film with so many incredible elements and performances. It’s not for the faint of heart or squeamish, but a must-see for anyone else.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Surprise Inclusion of 2014

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. Here’s a look back at this most recent Oscar race.

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 2014

Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher) for Best Director

Why it wasn’t going to happen: While it initially seemed like this film would be a major Oscar contender in many categories, by the time Oscar season started, all the attention was on stars Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo and not on the film itself. A Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Drama wasn’t accompanied by a corresponding Best Director bid, and Miller didn’t score with the DGA either. Since the Best Picture field was expanded beyond five nominees, the “lone director slot” had ceased to become a thing, and therefore “Foxcatcher” not contending for Best Picture also detracted its chances to show up here.

How it happened: Miller was an Oscar nominee for his first film, “Capote,” and his next film, “Moneyball,” reaped a Best Picture bid even though he didn’t get one. Clearly Oscar voters like him even if they didn’t warm to his film, which earned only Best Original Screenplay and Best Makeup bids in addition to Miller and his two stars. Golden Globe-nominated director David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” was clearly despised by Oscar voters, knocking him out of contention, and fellow Globe honoree Ava DuVernay suffered from her film “Selma” being seen by precious few people. Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” peaked too late, though I think many were surprised to see Miller here over Oscar veteran Eastwood.

Was it deserved: I don’t think so. It’s an odd, chilling story, but there’s nothing about Miller’s style that really did it for me. Best Picture nominees “The Theory of Everything” or “Selma” would have been sounder selections, and even “Gone Girl” feels like a more sharply directed film than this slow burn of a dramatic thriller. It’s hardly the worst Oscar inclusion, but far from the best surprise one.

Come back next week for a look at The Deadlocked Duel of 2014. 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, May 26, 2015

Tuesday’s Top Trailer: The Intern

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.

The Intern – Opening September 25, 2015

Often, the job of a trailer is to whet the appetite of a potential viewer just enough to ensure that he or she will actually go see the film to find out what happens. In other cases, the end result is less of a surprise and spoiling it isn’t as big a deal. In the case of this particular trailer, however, it doesn’t even seem that there are any obstacles that need to be overcome. This trailer skips the comedy of the situation and goes straight for the schmaltz and sentimentality, which I think makes it seem more endearing than it otherwise might if more was left to be discovered during the actual theatrical experience. Nancy Meyers has served as writer-director for five films in the past – “It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “What Women Want,” and “The Parent Trap.” I never saw “The Holiday” or “What Women Want,” but the other three are all strongly enjoyable films that were better and more entertaining than I expected, even if they weren’t totally terrific (though I remember an aspiring actress being incredible in “The Parent Trap,” one who has since gone down an unfortunate path). This looks very much in line with those, a fun instance of Robert De Niro, who gave his best performance in decades three years ago in “Silver Linings Playbook,” acting his age. It’s likely that there’s more comedy about him being old and an intern than just the introductory “Where do you see yourself in ten years” quip at the start of the trailer, but this is ultimately a sweet story about De Niro’s Ben befriending CEO Jules Ostin, played by Anne Hathaway, who is nothing like her former boss from “The Devil Wears Prada.” A few recognizable TV faces, including Andrew Rannells from “Girls” and Adam DeVine from “Modern Family,” are in the supporting cast, and it looks like Rene Russo is there too to give Ben a more age-appropriate romance than Jules. I won’t rush to see this, but I’m sure it’s the kind of heartwarming simple comedy that should prove more than pleasant and maybe even very fun.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

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

Nothing to report this week!

New to DVD

American Sniper (recommended): Bradley Cooper successfully plays against type as a red-blooded Texan who enlists in the military to become a sniper and has predictable trouble in his home life after being abroad. Clint Eastwood’s latest film is powerful though hardly revolutionary.

Leviathan (recommended): Russia’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film, which won a Golden Globe and earned an Oscar nomination, is a bleak, depressing film about largely unlikeable people. Yet its storytelling is blunt and effective, and its lengthy runtime makes its universe difficult to escape.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

In the Bedroom (recommended): Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, and Marisa Tomei earned very well-deserved Oscar nominations for this affecting 2001 Best Picture contender about a domestic dispute and the effect it has on those involved. 2001 was a great year for movies, and this dramatic thriller was a memorable part of that.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

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

The Film Critic (recommended): This Argentinean comedy about a film critic – a fascinating subject, certainly – is an entertaining and enjoyable parody about a man whose life is movies and who can’t do anything to stop his life from turning into a movie. Now playing at Cinema Village and also available on iTunes. Read my review from yesterday.

Slow West (recommended): Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender star in this slow-moving but decent Western from the United Kingdom and New Zealand that should please fans of the genre as well as those who like the actors. Now playing at the Angelika. Read my review from Sundance.

New to DVD

The Sleepwalker (recommended): This Sundance feature from debut director Mona Fastvold is an intimate look at two couples and how they communicate and clash during one volatile weekend. Stephanie Ellis, as the eccentric and unpredictable Christine, is the film’s standout.

Still Alice (recommended): Julianne Moore won an Oscar for playing a mother and wife diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 50 in this affecting portrait of a woman and family coming apart. Moore is great, and the film, while upsetting, is very good too.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Dirty Girl (recommended): Juno Temple stars in this fun comedy that surpasses its title and manages to become a hybrid road movie and high school movie with its own personality and a handful of strong performances.

Fruitvale Station (highly recommended): This Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance 2013 deserved its prize. Michael B. Jordan, who will be familiar to TV audiences, delivers an outstanding performance as a doomed young father and ex-con living out the last day of his life in this extremely powerful dramatization of true events.

The Sixth Sense (highly recommended): I’m not a fan of horror films, but there’s no denying the quality of M. Night Shyamalan’s first big movie, which was the ultimate ghost story. I don’t think I could watch it again since I might still have nightmares, but it’s an excellent, mesmerizingly-structured film.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Movie with Abe: The Film Critic

The Film Critic
Directed by Hernán Guerschuny
Released May 15, 2015

What better movie for a film critic to review than one about a film critic? It’s always fascinating to see how those who spend their lives writing about movies are portrayed in front of the camera. Victor Tellez (Rafael Spregelburd) writes for a newspaper in Argentina and is well known for his rating of films by number of seats rather than stars. He has long since lost his sense of optimism towards the medium, and his fine tastes have only grown, as he describes the film’s narration, which, pretentiously, finds him thinking in French rather than his own native language.

Victor sits down in a screening room ready to skewer each film that he sees, no longer enchanted by the idea that something might impress him. He tires of clichés and values the quality of classics above all else. He is accosted in a restaurant by a young director whose first film he eviscerated, and his editor threatens to change one of his reviews to a much more favorable take to appease studio interests. All that changes, of course, when he finds the apartment of his dreams only to discover that an alluring young woman, Sofia (Dolores Fonzi), has beaten him to the punch and snagged it. Sofia begins to appear frequently in his life, constantly forcing him out of his comfort zone and beginning to make him look at the world in a positive way.

“The Film Critic” handles its events in appropriately cinematic fashion, underlining every filmic trope that comes along and allowing Victor to react in a way that illustrates just how a life lived through cinema reflects a certain attitude about how things will or won’t transpire. The film reaches its most entertaining points when Victor desperately protests against an overromanticized sentiment or some event that feels too forced, trying to control and critique it rather than acknowledge its inevitability. In one memorable scene, Victor cries out, “I’m trapped in a genre in which I don’t belong,” signifying just how self-aware he is of the unexpected path on which he is on, one that feels all too prewritten. Like all films that are over-the-top, this film takes some strange turns along the way, but overall it’s a humorous, smart parody of what happens when someone tries to take himself too seriously or let his work define him, and, most of all, a half-endearing tribute to a profession that’s all about enjoying movies.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Movie with Abe: Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold
Directed by Simon Curtis
Released April 10, 2015

A story of perseverance and commitment can often be just as inspiring as whatever it was that was set out to be achieved. Seeing justice served is a complicated matter, one that can take a long time and be emotionally and physically exhausting. Such a story is on display in “Woman in Gold,” which recounts one woman’s arduous fight to be reunited with a painting of her aunt taken from her family many years earlier, a simple request and desire turned into something much, much bigger and eventually involving the governments of two countries, both engaged in the determination of whether her claims hold water.

Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) sees an old friend at her sister’s funeral, and mentions to her that she would like to speak to a lawyer after looking through her sister’s belongings. Eager young Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), who has just gotten a job at a law firm after a failed attempt at going out on his own, arrives and seems unimpressed at her summary of the theft of the painting by the Nazis and its current residence in a major Austrian art museum. Randy can’t seem to shake it, however, and he soon begins pursuing her cause, something which exponentially becomes more majestic in nature.

“Woman in Gold” is a film that tells two stories at once, one set in 1998, as Maria and Randy fight to get the painting deemed her property, and one set during the Holocaust, as Nazi rule begins to overtake Vienna on the eve of Maria’s wedding to her darling husband Fritz (Max Irons). The elder Maria is a fiery, proper woman who constantly takes her lawyer to task for not taking himself seriously enough. Her younger self (Tatiana Maslany) is a sweet-natured idealist, one who values her family above everything. Watching what happens to Maria makes the importance of being reunited with just one of her relatives so much more poignant.

This film includes few surprises or unpredictable plot points, but it’s not meant to, being a dramatization of real-life events based on a book written about a monumental case involving reparations and international art. As far as sentimental, affirming films go, this is a strong and involving cinematic realization of an endearing story. Mirren and Reynolds fit their roles well, and Maslany, the dependable and talented star of “Orphan Black,” leads a solid cast of actors portraying Maria’s family. This film is a passionate and sustaining story that takes a worthwhile piece of history and turns it into an energizing, heartwarming film.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Movie with Abe: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Directed by Joss Whedon
Released May 1, 2015

Is there a more prominent and successful film franchise than the Marvel superhero universe? I don’t think so. It’s hard for expectations not to be high for a film that is a sequel to a film that was already a culmination and continuation of four separate film series and has since spawned two television series. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a loud blow-out blockbuster, one that takes full advantage of the diverse array of characters at its disposal. It may not be as good as the first film, but it’s still an enthralling, action-packed cinematic experience.

Topping an alien army invading New York is no easy feat, but that’s no problem for this film, which begins in the middle of the action with a Hydra takedown by the Avengers that goes awry thanks to the involvement of two enhanced siblings, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has the power of super speed, and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who can manipulate people’s minds and cause distressing, paralyzing dreams. Superpowered humans are far from their biggest worry, however, when Tony Stark’s latest technological invention becomes self-aware and turns into Ultron, a villain hell bent on destroying the Avengers in some distorted vision of achieving peace.

The idea of this kind of film is that everything builds to the Avengers taking on massive armies of enemies and teaming up to use their skills together to achieve impossible victory. Much of the time in between is spent making jokes about the team dynamics and its members’ different sensibilities, and some of that is even injected into the midst of more objectively serious moments. Its humor is an asset, and it’s what makes the many chapters of this adventure fun. Combining it with the overarching impending destruction of the world generally works well.

In all their attempts to save the world, it’s always unintentionally amusing to see the Avengers stress not letting one single person go unrescued, a perplexing thought in the grand scheme of things when the fate of the entire universe is at stake. The casting of James Spader as Ultron is spot on and a perfect usage of the oily actor, who commits to the role completely. The addition of new characters, particularly Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Vision (Paul Bettany), is strong, and, as usual with installments of franchises like this that aren’t entirely spectacular, this is an affirming signal of the longevity and livelihood of the Avengers as an enduring staple, returning to the big screen much sooner and more often than you might expect.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

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

The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (recommended): This film has a lengthy title and quite the story packed inside of it, an energizing and odd fantastic tale of a long life lived with much excitement and many experiences. Overall, it’s odd, but still worth a watch. Now playing at Landmark Sunshine. Read my review from Thursday.

Maggie (mixed bag): Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a devoted father intent on saving his daughter from certain transformation into a zombie in this independent drama. It’s a decent attempt at trying to turn this subject matter into strong storytelling, but ultimately it doesn’t manage to succeed in that regard. Now playing at AMC Empire and Village East Cinemas. Read my review from yesterday.

New to DVD

Appropriate Behavior (recommended): The great Desiree Akhavan, who guest-starred on “Girls” this season, makes her feature film debut as director, writer, and star of this entertaining first film about a Persian bisexual trying to navigate life.

Inherent Vice (mixed bag): Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature is a wild, wacky trip back to the 1970s ruled by ridiculousness and drugs, an occasionally satisfying but overall uneven story featuring fun performances from Joaquin Phoenix and a host of others.

Miss Julie (mixed bag): Jessica Chastain and Colin Farell star in this realization of the famed 1888 play that probably is better suited for the stage. Chastain is always good but this is hardly the film to see her in this year.

Mr. Turner (recommended): Mike Leigh’s latest film doesn’t much feel like one of his movies, but it’s still a relatively engaging if slow-moving story featuring a strong central performance from an actor not accustomed to lead roles, Timothy Spall.

Selma (recommended): This stirring civil rights film about one very important part of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for equality in the South in the 1960s comes at a very crucial time in American society. The film is good, to be sure, though it’s likely to be inflated by its current relevance.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

The Homesman (anti-recommended): Tommy Lee Jones’ second time behind the camera is about as bleak and uninviting as his first, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.” If watching his disgruntled drifter and Hilary Swank’s buttoned-up Midwesterner transport three crazy women across territorial lines sounds appealing, go ahead and check this one out.

Legally Blonde (recommended): This 2001 comedy was an early part of Reese Witherspoon’s career, but it’s also one of the defining roles that shows that she’s capable of great comedy and charisma. This winning comedy, like its main character Elle Woods, is much smarter than it initially seems.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Movie with Abe: Maggie

Directed by Henry Hobson
Released May 8, 2015

The zombie apocalypse is never a terribly pleasant event, but there are degrees to which its severity can play out on film. In most cases, it’s a violent affair, one plagued by terror, destruction, and a fair deal of flesh-eating. That’s not to suggest that it can’t also be told as a more sentimental story, something that “The Walking Dead” does on occasion, with the inevitability of one’s transformation into the walking undead a more dramatic, drawn-out process. That is the epitome of “Maggie,” an independent drama starring a typical choice for this kind of universe in an atypical role, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger and Breslin star in the film

Schwarzenegger stars as Wade, one of the more serious characters the actor has played, a devoted father who drives across a barren dystopian landscape searching desperately for his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin). Infected crops are identified as the cause of a major virus that is spreading quickly and has already reached Maggie. Signs of deterioration are clearly enumerated in pamphlets distributed at the hospital, and when an infected person reaches a certain point, they are swept up for what promises to be a brutal period of quarantine before their ultimate demise.

Schwarzenegger talks about the film

Knowing Schwarzenegger, he would only play someone who would never take no for an answer, and therefore it should come as no surprise that Wade is not eager to let his daughter go quietly and believes firmly that he can protect her in a way that no one else can. During a press conference in April, Schwarzenegger entertained the crowd of journalists with a humorous attitude towards a serious subject, praising the efforts of debut feature film director Henry Hobson is commanding the respect and commitment of the entire crew in crafting this unusual spin on the zombie film.

Star Joely Richardson with the director and Schwarzenegger

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival already sets this film apart from typical Schwarzenegger fare, expressing a level of intent and cinematic quality not often found in his action pieces of late. Yet despite that artistry, this still is not a fully compelling film, one whose premise doesn’t last long as it plods along a predictable course. Schwarzenegger is perfectly cast, which doesn’t necessarily translate to a great performance, and Breslin, an Oscar nominee for “Little Miss Sunshine” at age eleven, continues to display her impressive array of skills. This was never meant to be an acting showcase or a truly groundbreaking film, and it serves as decent entertainment even if it’s not the thoughtful drama it was intended to be.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Movie with Abe: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Directed by Felix Herngren
Released May 8, 2015

A title can say a lot with just one word, and when there are more than ten words included, it says something very interesting. It might suggest that there is much to be said by and inferred from the title, or merely that its lengthy, sprawling nature indicates that its story will possess similar traits. In the case of this odd fantastical adventure, that’s certainly the case, and a decagenarian taking a leave of absence from his nursing home turns into something much bigger and more unbelievable than just a senior citizen gone missing.

Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) is about to celebrate his hundredth birthday, and the relatively functional man decides that he isn’t content to sit around and grow old where he is. A subtle and unnoticed escape leads him on a grand and rather twisted path that reminds him of his colorful past, which is best described as a darker, (only) somewhat more realistic-seeming version of Forrest Gump’s experiences, painting him as an influential man with truly legendary and notable interactions over the course of his long life.

At first, it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction in both the present-day occurrences in Allan’s post-retirement life and the exaggerated stories retold from his past. The film moves at such a pace, not a quick one but rather a deliberate and irreversible one, that it is difficult to keep up with the fact that things have happened and won’t soon go back to the way they were before, both in terms of small consistencies or larger truths. Deaths, for instance, occur without much apparent consequence or designated significance, and there is a strange overarching sense that this all being taken far too lightly.

This is certainly an appealing and intriguing tale, one that doesn’t feel like other films since it is inarguably unique. Yet the same creativity that fuels it also makes it hard to get fully attached to since it takes some downright peculiar turns. The attitude with which supposedly serious events are handled is particularly perplexing and complex to break it down and help classify this film in a given genre. Still, it’s an interesting story to be sure, and a film that whose turn of events is extremely enthralling. This film has heart: even if Allan isn’t the sweetest elderly protagonist, he’s still an endearing central character to accompany on this last wild ride.