Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Passion of Augustine

The Passion of Augustine
Directed by Léa Pool
Released August 15 on VOD

Stories that take place in convents aren’t usually the most optimistic or positive. Some darker tales over the past few decades have made such settings seem unsettling, but it’s good to know that there are plenty of more inspirational films that don’t involve torture, death, or haunting. No matter what goes on inside the walls of the convent, it’s likely that things happen at a different pace or in a different way than they do in the outside world. Preserving things the way they are can be a struggle no matter when or where in history.

Mother Augustine (Céline Bonnier) works at a convent school in Quebec in the 1960s, far from city life. The convent specializes in music education, enabling all who attend the opportunity to learn, including her niece, who is hardly the most well-behaved or manageable of students. Changes in society around the convent, coming from both the religious body of the Vatican and the political entity of the province of Quebec, threaten everything that Augustine has worked for, indicating that the convent may soon be headed for a new type of existence that doesn’t offer nearly the same cultural values it has been known for up until that point.

“The Passion of Augustine” tells a story that’s somewhat familiar about an outlier in an institution not known for its desire to embrace change or to think outside the box, and of course it’s a new kind of change which seems to be reactionary that serves as the thing that she precisely fights against. The school itself is already evolved to an impressive level, and seeing the way in which the students at the convent embrace music as a way to spread their message and raise awareness of what they are trying to preserve is endearing.

This film has won a number of awards, particularly for its acting, at film festivals and in Canada since its debut in Montreal back in March 2015. Now, more than two years later, it comes to VOD on a number of platforms in the United States. It is a well-made drama that utilizes music to great effect, with no added sexual content or violence and a relatively simple, straightforward narrative that speaks for itself definitely worth watching for those who find its premise and content appealing and who are interested in hearing some music passionately performed.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Movie with Abe: Kidnap

Directed by Luis Prieto
Released August 4, 2017

The revenge thriller has become a popular genre, with many films declaring that their featured villains have messed with the wrong person. There are variations of this, of course, especially in terms of how severe the initial offending act was. Such films that deal with the abduction and/or murder of a child can have an added sense of fury from the parent who seeks to avenge, and usually that kind of premise leads down an increasingly violent and dark road. This setup can also represent a serious misfire, best described as an idea that never needed to come to fruition.

Karla (Halle Berry) is introduced as a hard-working woman who puts in plenty of effort to her waitressing job, staying late to cover an absent coworker’s shift when she just wants to take the day to be with her son Frankie (Sage Correa). A call from her divorce attorney at a park takes her away from Frankie for just a minute, and in that time, he gets grabbed by a vicious couple with unknown aims. Determined not to lose him, she jumps into her minivan and begins a nearly film-long pursuit of the vehicle that serves as her only hope of saving her son.

This film is essentially just one long car chase, but not one that operates all that quickly. Confusing camera angles beg the question of exactly how physics play into this particular pursuit, and there are frequent pan-out shots that seem to show the cars moving extremely slowly, which is the opposite of thrilling. This film feels like a poor imitation of “Speed,” and at times its music even seems to mimic the theme of that much, much better movie. It’s hard to figure out exactly what the point of this film is as it tries its hardest to feel relevant and invigorating.

Berry is an Oscar-winning actress who hasn’t been making all that many films lately and hasn’t made something of note in a number of years. This role is hardly a return to form for her, but that’s probably equally the fault of the terrible writing, which finds her narrating a good portion of the film’s developments as she verbalizes her inner struggle. The kidnappers are just as poorly conceived, and even less appealingly, this film is a stressful experience that creates an environment of discomfort and angst for no good reason. Its title isn’t even in a coherent form, representing the frantic and unnecessary nature of this slow-burn, off-putting vehicular tour of Louisiana roads.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Movie with Abe: Some Freaks

Some Freaks
Directed by Ian MacAllister McDonald
Released August 4, 2017

There are a number of films and television shows that exist which seek to reclaim the traditional definition of “freak” or “misfit.” Often these productions tackle the subject from a comic lens, portraying those who couldn’t possibly be seen as normal or like others around them as the heroes because of just how endearing they are despite the circumstances thrown at them, in addition to whatever personality trait or physical quality makes them an outcast from society. The new film “Some Freaks” shows that it can be equally effective, if not even more so, to show the resilience of those who can never be popular in a dramatic yet lightly entertaining way.

Things are not pleasant in high school for Matt (Thomas Mann) and Jill (Lily Mae Harrington). Matt, who wears an eye patch due to the fact that he’s missing one eye, is chased around school as bullies try to steal the patch and demand to see what’s underneath. Jill is perceived as overweight and not trying at all to conform to any sense of normalcy with other aspects of her appearance, and when one unkind girl accidentally knocks her books down in the hallway, she declines to insult Jill because she deems it too easy. Thanks in part to their mutual friend Elmo (Ely Henry), they meet and realize how much they like each other.

Watching the relationship between Matt and Jill bloom is enormously interesting, and what defines it – and the problems they encounter later – is that neither of them can fathom a world in which someone doesn’t see their outsiderness right away. They see any form of genuine compliment or legitimate question as a practical joke just waiting to play itself out, and push many people away as a result. When college comes around, neither of them is ready for the real world or, more importantly, how they change as they adapt to it and find what works for them.

This is a sweet story, one that isn’t obsessed with a neat finish or happy ending and succeeds very well as a result. Director Ian MacAllister McDonald has earned numerous accolades from small film festivals for this film, and rightly so. Mann presents a portrait of a teenager almost unwilling to be happy, while Harrington, a true find who got her start on “The Glee Project,” is a revelation as Jill, making her a layered, dynamic protagonist hardly ready for the challenges of the world. This small film is a resounding hit, one that should be seen much more widely than it’s likely to be.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Movie with Abe: Dunkirk

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Released July 21, 2017

Christopher Nolan has made a number of epic films throughout the past two decades. “Memento,” an immensely cleverly-constructed head trip, was his first big hit, and following that, he rose to prominence for his dark Batman trilogy. His past six films, of which “Interstellar” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are the clear favorites of this reviewer, have all existed in the realm of science fiction and fantasy, leading many to expect the same from him going forward. His latest project is a typically well-crafted work of art, this time grounded in history and capable of capturing the imagination without the aid of any fantastical elements.

“Dunkirk” opens with a legion of soldiers trapped on the beach of Dunkirk, France in the middle of World War II. Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) stands at the end of the dock looking out to the sea for any hope of rescue, which seems less and less likely as fire hits the beach and the boats attempting to ferry the soldiers back the short distance to England. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), the owner of a small boat, heeds the command to donate his vessel to the service of his country, though he insists on piloting it to Dunkirk himself with his son and his young friend in tow. And in the air, pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) begins the hourlong journey to Dunkirk to provide whatever support he can to his army.

Nolan has established himself as more than capable of turning a moment into an eternity in the best possible way. Like “Memento,” this film is not structured in a clear linear fashion, which serves to enhance the feeling of the time since it seems like escape from Dunkirk will never come. There is a magnificent power that comes from watching hundreds of soldiers bend down at exactly the same way to avoid an aerial assault that they believe will begin immediately and then rise back up at the same time when the moment has passed. The entire experience here is captivating from start to finish, fully engaging and involving the whole time.

What “Dunkirk” proves is that Nolan doesn’t need space or super powers to create an impactful and effective film. He also manages to tell this visceral war story in just an hour and forty-seven minutes, his shortest film since his little-seen debut, “Following.” Some of his regulars, like Hardy and Murphy, serve their purpose well in the cast, and the enlistment of the likes of Branagh and Rylance is a boon to his ensemble. The cinematography, film editing, and sound editing all shine in this harrowing war film that doesn’t feel gratuitous at all and is not easy to forget.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Movie with Abe: Opening Night

Opening Night
Directed by Isaac Rentz
Released August 1, 2017 (DVD)

Things rarely go as planned, especially in the world of live theater. The same act can be rehearsed over and over again, but until you’re in the moment, it’s impossible to know what minute aspect of a person’s temperament or the surrounding environment will prove unpredictable and derail an opening number or dramatic scene meant to have a very different impact than the one it ends up having. The first time a practiced production goes public, it’s even more likely that things will go awry, and only time can tell how it will all play out and whether, in the end, it all works out.

“Opening Night” follows production manager Nick (Topher Grace) as he prepares to launch a nostalgia-filled musical epic starring J.C. Chasez, the onetime ‘N Sync star, who plays himself. He’s distracted by the fact that he’s still in love with his ex-girlfriend, Chloe (Alona Tal), who just happens to be the understudy for Chasez’s has-been costar Brooke (Anne Heche), who doesn’t seem to be in the right emotional shape to headline a big production. Throw in dueling divas (Taye Diggs and Lesli Margherita), a fire-breathing executive (Rob Riggle), and plenty of unpredictable drama, and that leaves Nick scrambling to try to make sure that, against all odds, opening night doesn’t turn into a complete failure.

The DVD cover presents its characters looking quizzically at the camera, with Riggle seemingly screaming, above the tagline, “The show goes the f#&k on.” That’s hardly the most encouraging recommendation, but fear not – this film is far better than that would indicate. While it’s hardly masterpiece theater, this is an enjoyable, relatively engaging look at a bunch of characters who might be thinly overdrawn but still serve their purpose as elements of entertainment in this wild ride that isn’t quite as wild as its cover suggests.

Grace is the right person for this lead role, not the one to make jokes but instead to observe all the ridiculousness that occurs around him. Smartly, those who have altogether too much energy to play nice with the rest of the cast, namely Riggle and Paul Scheer, are relegated to minor roles while Heche and Tal, both endearing talents, get more screentime. Diggs is having fun with his part opposite Margherita, and Chasez, to his credit, does a good job of parodying himself. This is not a must-rent musical comedy, but it’s more fun than I think anyone going into it would expect.