Friday, July 31, 2015

Movie with Abe: The End of the Tour

The End of the Tour
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Released July 31, 2015

A few short words in a film’s title can say a lot. “The End of the Tour” gives its subject matter a certain finality, referencing not just the tour itself but the fact that it has ended or will soon end. It begins at a future point at which reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) learns via a casual phone call from a friend that author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) has died. This saddening news causes Lipsky to flash back to a time twelve years earlier when he convinced his boss to send him to Illinois to join Wallace at the end of a book tour, an unforgettable experience whose moments of conversation serve as the framework for this film.

Lipsky is introduced as a character in his own right, also the author of a successful novel though hardly receiving the same kind of accolades and worship as Wallace. Unsure of what he will encounter, Lipsky brings a copy of his own book along once he pesters his editor enough to send him on a fact-finding mission to interview the man and discover his story. Wallace is at first guarded, mostly a facet of his personality and the manner in which he speaks, and on a number of occasions remarks that he should write a book about Lipsky writing about him.

That analytical nature is central to this film, which consists mostly of scenes of Lipsky and Wallace talking, the former always at the ready with his tape recorder to hear Wallace expound on some aspect of his life which might be mind-numbingly boring if described by a less fascinating figure. The effect of Wallace’s dialogue is all the more impactful because we know how the story ends and that this tour is but a distant memory in the mind of present-day Lipsky.

Eisenberg plays the same kind of character he always plays here, stepping back a bit from his nebbishy, awkward archetype to allow Segel to take center stage. The comedian, known best for his portrayal of Marshall on “How I Met Your Mother,” dives deep into the role of Wallace, getting to know him and nailing his mannerisms and affect. Ultimately, it is clearly Eisenberg and Segel on screen, but Segel’s take on Wallace is well worth a watch in this intriguing if not entirely satisfying remembrance of one mysterious magnetic man gone too soon.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Movie with Abe: Two Step

Two Step
Directed by Alex R. Johnson
Released July 31, 2015

Money always complicates things. Coming into a large sum without any prior knowledge of its existence can produce highly different reactions in people, especially considering their history with money and what it means to them. Some embrace it with humility, almost unsure of what to do and how it could change their lives, while others don’t even stop to appreciate what has happened and merely move on to selfish motives. In the new dramatic thriller “Two Step,” two such drastically different people learn are faced with such a situation and interact in a disturbing and violent manner.

James (Skyy Moore) is a not a particularly motivated person, but he does have a kind heart. After being expelled from college, James heads home to the only family he has, his grandmother, who passes away soon after his arrival. His budding friendship with her old friend Dot (Beth Broderick) doesn’t distract him from the discovery that his grandmother was an unwilling participant in a money scam conducted by Webb (James Landry Hebert), who, even from within prison, calls people with older names and pretends to be their grandchildren in desperate need of money. James’ interest in making things right only leads Webb closer to him, with disastrous results.

At first, these are two separate stories, with Webb being released from prison only to learn that he owes more than he thought he did to some very angry people, and James dealing with the directionless nature of his life after his grandmother dies. Webb’s story is much darker, filled with instances of brutality and aggression, while James’ seems far more optimistic, especially as the bright and enthusiastic Dot enters his life. Dot’s role as a dance instructor provides the framework for the title of this film, a difficult interaction that proves excessively worrisome as it becomes ore complicated.

The allure of this film, according to critics who adore it, is that it is a stylized thriller true to its Southern origins. Its slow burn build does have the potential to make its finish even stronger, but the film never quite reaches a point of true satisfaction where everything that leads up to the explosion of its events feels like it has been given a proper payoff. It is unabashedly and unapologetically grim and unsettling, but that is not enough to make for a solid and memorable movie experience all on its own.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Movie with Abe: The Breakup Girl

The Breakup Girl
Directed by Stacy Sherman
Released July 10, 2015 on VOD

When a movie’s title names its central character based on a specific incident, it’s usually a reflection of the catalytic event that sparks the story and, by the end of the movie, might even prove to be irrelevant. In the case of “The Breakup Girl,” its protagonist, Claire (Shannon Woodward) gets hit with the devastating and completely unforeseen end of her relationship and must deal with the subsequent overwhelming attention from her family as the 29-year-old tries to get her life together. The announcement from her father that he has cancer can’t come at a worse time, as this breakup girl tries to cope and graduate to being identified as something more than a work-in-progress.

Woodward is an actress who showed great promise in her role as the daughter of two con artists on FX’s short-lived “The Riches,” and then stuck around “Raising Hope” for the duration of its run as an intelligent but unmotivated love interest. Her role here is much more akin to the latter part, as Claire stresses over turning twenty-nine and not having accomplished anything she has hoped for, something which her two sisters, Sharon (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Kendra (India Menuez), and overbearing mother Joan (Mary Kay Place) remind her of constantly. Only her father (Ray Wise) seems happy to see her where she is, though his aloof attitude, which defines his outlook on his illness, makes it clear that she is her father’s son, unable to take like as seriously as it sometimes needs to be taken.

The sisters here are all remarkably different. Claire is stuck in place, not having done much and not set to do much in the future. Kendra’s career is just starting out, and though her theatric interests aren’t to everyone’s tastes, she is young and aspiring enough to get away with it. Sharon has achieved considerable success and worries about such things as what modification to make next on her house while her husband Steve (Joe Lo Truglio) yearns to make an emotional connection with his distant wife. These characters anchor a story that’s mildly engaging and interesting.

Woodward is a fine lead, and it would be great to see her get parts like this again in the future. Place and Wise are well-cast, and Truglio, who is usually used for exaggerated comic relief, shines in a role that doesn’t necessarily even ask as much of him as he gives. Timm Sharp, who was a major player on HBO’s “Enlightened,” has a small part that could have used more screen time and development. This movie as a whole is a moderately inviting look at a short snippet of one young woman’s life that might well be worthwhile but never quite catches fire and sparks the way its title suggests it could.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Movie with Abe: Jackie and Ryan

Jackie and Ryan
Directed by Ami Canaan Mann
Released July 3, 2015

There’s something about music that makes romance inevitable. A scene in the 1975 Robert Altman film “Nashville” comes to mind in which multiple women smile during a performance by Keith Carradine’s Tom Frank because they think that he is singing specifically to them that illustrates the power of music to connect people. When it’s just two people bonding through a shared passion and talent for music, it’s considerably less complicated, but it can still involve complicated people facing their own struggles while trying to find love with each other, which is the premise of the new drama “Jackie and Ryan.”

Ryan (Ben Barnes) is a familiar character, described most easily as a drifter, hopping trains to travel around the country, playing his guitar for money wherever he goes. He arrives in Ogden, Utah, checking in on the woman his friend has impregnated and her young child. He springs into action when he witnesses Jackie (Katherine Heigl) being injured in a minor car accident, and driving her back home leads to a dinner with her disapproving mother and bright-eyed young daughter, and the start of something much bigger than a chance meeting.

A love for music is a major part of what brings Jackie and Ryan together. Jackie is in the midst of a miserable custody battle, with her rich New York husband trying to take her daughter away from her. Jackie struggles to find work, interviewing for positions that are unfunded and couldn’t have possibly worked out, with local people gushing over her past as a famous musician, a distant memory that can’t help to support her in her current state. Jackie is at a place far removed from a former success, whereas her new friend is just at the start of what could well be a fruitful career.

The setup here isn’t something new – there have been a number of films, especially in recent years, about romances beginning as a result of a musical connection of some sort. Its Utah setting enables the story to be blanketed in a calm snow, which is nice, and its characters, save for Jackie’s vicious offscreen ex, are all pleasant and sweet-natured. Heigl, famous for her TV work on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and Barnes, who played Prince Caspian in the Chronicles of Narnia films, are decent, able leads who help this relatively endearing story come to life.