Friday, June 19, 2015

Movie with Abe: Manglehorn

Directed by David Gordon Green
Released June 19, 2015

Movies always risk inheriting the conditions of their main characters, which can include their outlook on life, their demeanors, and the energy they put into the things they do. While this can be effective, it can also be cripplingly uninviting. In “Manglehorn,” the title character lives his life in a way that is far from put-together, with little taking him from moment to the next. The film adopts that same approach, which is inherently problematic since it proves to be far from engaging.

Al Pacino has been acting for decades, earning Oscar nominations more than forty years ago for early roles in films like “The Godfather” and “Dog Day Afternoon” and finally winning twenty-three years ago for a career-topping performance in “Scent of a Woman.” Since then, Pacino has made his mark mostly in TV movies on HBO, portraying a dying gay man, Dr. Kavorkian, and Phil Spector. His films have been less commendable, and the image of Pacino sitting with a cat in his lap and a tired expression on his face on this film’s poster doesn’t recommend its quality above the usual level of Pacino’s projects lately.

“Manglehorn” begins with little dialogue, letting the loneliness of Manglehorn’s life sink in. The local locksmith cares for his cast, who he learns requires surgery, the way that many care about other people. He laments to those around him, particularly his unreceptive adult son (Chris Messina), about how he lost the love of his life, who happens not to have been his ex-wife but instead the woman he wishes he had pursued. It’s easy to see that Mangelhorn has regrets and that he wishes his life was different, but there’s not enough here to form a complete story that serves as interesting enough in its own right.

There’s a certain look that has shown up in Pacino’s eyes in some of his more eccentric performances of late signifying a certain zaniness and commitment to character. While the poster for this film could have indicated that it would be appropriate here, Manglehorn is spared that kind of mannerism. His story may not be exciting, but at least the lead performance is appropriately muted and not over-the-top where it easily could have been. Pacino’s latest film is a decent but unengaging look at getting older and looking back on life that hardly ranks as a must-see.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Movie with Abe: The Face of an Angel

The Face of an Angel
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Released June 19, 2015

When an event occurs and receives major press coverage, the news ends up spreading and more people around the country and world become aware that it has happened. After some time, the story compounds itself and those reporting on it often become a part of it. “The Face of an Angel” uses different names but tells the story of Amanda Knox, an American exchange student arrested and wrongly convicted for the murder of her British roommate while studying in Italy. Knox’s alter ego Jessica Fuller (Genevieve Gaunt) is not the star of this film, however. For their roles in the story, a top journalist and visiting filmmaker become the subjects of this cinematic account of the media sensation.

Thomas (Daniel Bruhl) is a renowned filmmaker looking for his next big project following an ugly public divorce in Hollywood. He arrives in Italy and connects with Simone (Kate Beckinsale), a freelancer who has extensively covered the case. His interest in Jessica and her story only grows over the course of the film as he uncovers inconsistencies and surprises that suggest that not all the facts are known and that there is deep darkness hidden beneath the surface. His dedication to making a film that tells the truth is met with trepidation by his backers, who want a movie audiences can get behind and where they don’t need to work out its ending for themselves.

Seeing this story from the twice-removed perspective of a filmmaker hearing about it from a journalist who has covered the event is meant to add both mystery and depth, and while the former is achieved, the latter is not since it lacks the necessary pull to compel viewers to watch attentively. The film is like Thomas’ planned film, not eager to divulge facts or explain what actually happened, but instead to present things as they are, intriguing, suspicious, and uncertain.

German-raised Bruhl is experimenting with English-speaking roles with various success, triumphing in “Rush” and in most other instances failing to get worthwhile parts that permit him to use his talents. Thomas is prickly and devoid of many positive qualities, making him a difficult stand-in for the audience on this investigative journey. Beckinsale made for a compelling reporter in “Nothing but the Truth,” and adds little here. Director Michael Winterbottom, who has helmed projects as diverse as “The Look of Love,” “The Killer Inside Me,” and “A Mighty Heart,” has made a film that should be interesting but unfortunately takes the wrong approach to entice its audience.


Saturday, June 13, 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

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (highly recommended): It’s difficult to convey just how awesomely creative and engaging this film, which took home both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, where I tried to see it but didn’t get in, is. The child and adult actors are equally excellent, and it’s hard to match this film’s wondrous style and dialogue. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square, AMC 34th St, and Regal Union Square. Read my review from yesterday.

New to DVD

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (highly recommended): This Israeli film very deservedly earned a Golden Globe nomination last year 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.

Rich Hill (recommended): This documentary, which took home the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, is an honest, involving portrait of three young boys facing tough circumstances but proudly talking about their lives to an interested camera.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (mixed bag): The story of the 1980s abduction of beer magnate Freddy Heineken by a group of criminals is an inherently fascinating tale, but it doesn’t translate to gripping cinema that way that it should despite a strong cast including Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthinton, Ryan Kwanten, and Anthony Hopkins.

Nightcrawler (recommended): Jake Gyllenhaal, who earned Golden Globe and SAG nominations for his performance, is terrific as a creepy budding video journalist with a fascination for the more grotesque side of Los Angeles. It’s an unsettling and haunting film that is equally captivating and hard to shake.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Movie with Abe: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Released June 12, 2015

Whether a story is simple or complex in its innate nature, there are many ways to tell it and to transform it into something of considerably more or less depth. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is about a boy finishing up high school and the circumstances that send him on a particular path, and starting with its lengthy title, this film takes anything but a conventional approach. The self-identified protagonist, Greg (Thomas Mann), Earl (RJ Cyler), and the dying girl, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), are players in a wildly entertaining and engaging story that turns out to be far more electric and fascinating than its premise might suggest.

Greg begins by introducing himself as the film’s narrator, setting the stage for what could be a perfectly standard story in which he is a floater in the school who can easily latch on to any social group because he has no close ties with any of them. Almost immediately, however, the film’s imaginative style takes hold, as Greg is prone to picturing what happens in his real life in more abstract ways, including the use of Claymation to illustrate such things as the hold that attractive girls have on unsuspecting teenage boys by showing a chipmunk being trampled by a moose. Greg also exercises his creativity by making friends with his coworker and friend Earl, parodying well-known films with absurd variations such as “2:48pm Cowboy” and “A Sockwork Orange.” Greg is forced to take his life a bit more seriously when his mom makes him spend time with Rachel, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia, and a wonderful and unexpected bond of friendship begins to form.

Guiding Greg through his final year of college is a commitment to every aspect of his life, not just with Earl and Rachel, both inarguably terrific characters in their own right. The casting of the adults is particularly commendable, choosing excellent actors with mostly television backgrounds to fill important roles that might seem insignificant if put into less capable hands. Connie Britton and Nick Offerman are Greg’s parents, his mother concerned only about his bright future and his father living in his own world, populated most strongly by excessively odd foods. Jon Bernthal is the maniacal, inspirational teacher who allows Greg and Earl to spend most of their time in his office watching classic films. Molly Shannon is Rachel’s mother who shamelessly flirts with Greg every time he comes over, a glass of wine permanently grasped in her hand. The adult actors are matched by the four young protagonists. Katherine C. Hughes’ “hot girl” Madison is far more sophisticated than she might seem, even if her role can be boiled down to a moose stepping on an unsuspecting chipmunk in the wild. The charming Cooke is wonderful as Rachel, mature well beyond her years but still unwaveringly human and real. The hilariously deadpan Cyler, who plays Earl, finds a way to deliver every line as if it’s the signature moment of the movie. And then there’s Mann, who holds it all together with a lead performance that recognizes that he may not be the most prominent player in his own story.

The inventiveness of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is not consistent in its format, which may prove frustrating for some viewers. When the frame tilts as a young Greg and young Earl walk down the street, it seems like that might be a device used again during the film, yet it’s not. Fortunately, there are so many moments of blistering creativity throughout that repeating styles is not necessary. The film is not immune to conventional drama either, as some scenes are presented in a more normative cinematic format with the expected staging and accompanying music. The sum of its parts are more than worth the price of admission, and this film is a deeply involving, engaging, and entertaining ride all the way through its gut punch of a finale, easily ranking as one of the best films of the year.


Saturday, June 6, 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 – it’s not the time of year where I see too many movies, but I’ll have a few to review over the next few weeks.

New to DVD

Camp X-Ray (recommended): Kristen Stewart got serious in this Sundance 2014 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 on Netflix Instant Streaming

Fishtail (mixed bag): I’m not even sure what to say about this sixty-one-minute documentary that I saw at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, which focuses on a ranch in Montana. What I remember most is watching a cow give birth, which aside from being just peculiar is hardly the most enthralling thing to watch.

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.