Friday, September 25, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to Theaters: Kajillionaire, The Last Shift
New to Virtual Cinemas: Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, The Artist’s Wife, LX 2048
New to DVD: Babyteeth
New to Amazon and Hulu: Judy

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Movie with Abe: LX 2048

LX 2048
Directed by Guy Moshe
Released September 25, 2020 (Virtual Cinema and VOD)

Most people spend a staggering amount of time in front of computer screens, and that has only increased recently as many employees must work from home and do so by joining meetings by video. What can result is a need to unplug and disconnect in order to ensure contact with the real world, regardless of the benefits or relaxing entertainment that may be available during other hours on those same devices. As technology continues to evolve and become more creative, the notion that users would be able to immerse themselves in a virtual simulation that feels authentic enough to make them never want to believe becomes all the more possible.

In 2048, the ozone layer has decayed to such a toxic level that it is unhealthy for any human to be outside during the day. Virtual reality provides the opportunity to go about every normal activity from anywhere without any risk to life. One man, Adam Bird (James D’Arcy), chooses to acknowledge his surroundings, journeying to a physical office each day with full protective gear and raising three real children. He resists the prominently-prescribed medication to combat depression, knowing that will numb what he feels, but must face his own mortality when he receives news that he may not have long to live. Aware that he, like most people after death in this time, will be replaced by a clone that will be superior in all ways, Adam must decide what life and identity actually mean to him.

This film has a number of concepts that it navigates, some of which are increasingly relevant now. While the state of the worldwide pandemic has instituted lockdowns, it hasn’t led to a determination that the outside air can’t be breathed, forcing people to retreat inwards as the only means of safeguarding themselves. What this advanced virtual reality technology offers is something that many in this current moment would surely welcome: a chance to feel as if life is happening exactly as you want it to, just as viscerally and three-dimensionally as if it was real. It’s understandable that such an allure would evidently lead to addiction and, as films like “Inception” have tackled, a problematic refusal to accept that what you are experiencing is not actually your true existence.

The ideas explored here are inherently more fascinating than their execution, which largely plays out as one man’s personal journey to hold on to his sense of self and to confront the inevitability of his own demise. The conversations portrayed are compelling, discussing whether clones should be considered sentient and why someone who knows that they are dying would want to leave behind a certifiably better version of themselves to be with their loved ones. This film feels like the perfect example of an illustration of science fiction concepts in action to be looked at in context with other films, more potent for analysis than as a standalone project.

B

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Artist’s Wife

The Artist’s Wife
Directed by Tom Dolby
Released September 25, 2020 (Theaters and VOD)

The knowledge that memory will decay rarely makes its inevitability any easier. When a person is told that they are starting to forget things or act in a manner that indicates a decline, the usual response is to insist that abilities still exist and cognitive function can be maintained. Those who watch their loved ones go through the process of losing memory experience a different kind of pain, grounded in the reality of what they know to be true as they witness someone they care about starting to see the world and often even them in a less familiar way.

Richard (Bruce Dern) is a renowned artist whose considerable talent is matched by his often crude and uncompromising exterior. His wife Claire (Lena Olin) has supported him for years, and she stands by him when he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which slowly begins showing itself in his behavior. Claire has the added burden of ensuring that the paintings he has not yet done are finished by his impending show as she struggles to take care of him when he refuses to confront what is happening. She sees reaching out to his estranged daughter Angela (Juliet Rylance) as one opportunity to help him, but clear signs of deterioration are not enough to overcome past damage done to their relationship.

This film immediately conjures up similar projects like “The Wife,” about a spouse who lives in the shadow of her famous husband, and “Away from Her,” about the marriage between a husband and his wife, who moves into a nursing home after her Alzheimer’s disease progresses. This film features a woman who is well aware of the stubborn, egotistical man she has married, and understands that those personality traits will only make this process more difficult. She also has her own history as an artist that she gave up in part to appease a partner who wasn’t capable of sharing the limelight, which adds another dimension to the transforming dynamic that requires unpacking.

Olin, an Oscar-nominated actress who has been working steadily for the past few decades, finds a fabulous leading role here that makes excellent use of her screen presence. She conveys the toll of living in someone else’s shadow and the stirring possibility of freedom that a new existence brings with it, coupled with the guilt of not wanting to abandon someone who does need help. Her layered performance opposite Dern’s gruff portrayal is effective, as is the standout supporting turn from Rylance. This film, like others that deal with this subject, is tough to watch at times but serves as a worthwhile and intimate snapshot of an identity exploration for one person brought on by the gradual disappearance of another.

B+

Friday, September 18, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to Virtual Cinemas: Softie, Blackbird, The Dark Divide, God of the Piano, The Nest
New to DVD: Weathering with You, Tommaso
New to Netflix: Raising Victor Vargas, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
New to Hulu: Babyteeth, The Good Shepherd

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Movie with Abe: God of the Piano

God of the Piano
Directed by Itay Tal
Released September 18, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

All parents have expectations of their children, but the way in which they express them and react when they likely don’t materialize into reality can vary. A family of doctors, lawyers, or some other profession will no doubt have a path paved towards the eventual attainment of that career which a child may or may not follow, depending on their desire to conform or to blaze their own trail. Parents may not take no for an answer, directing what their offspring do by consistently prioritizing it and barring them from participating in activities that could serve as a distraction or pique other interests.

Anat (Naama Preis) is a concert pianist so devoted to her craft that she finishes performing even after her water breaks. The news that her baby has been born deaf is crushing, and she takes unconscionable steps to ensure that her child will be able to follow in her footsteps. As Idan (Andy Levi) grows up, he develops incredible musical skills that rival Anat’s but still seem to fail to impress her accomplished father, Arieh (Ze'ev Shimshoni), who reserves the praise he withholds from Anat and Idan for her brother, Dror (Alon Openhaim). Anat’s will to have her son succeed and prove her own worth stand at odds with the priorities of her husband, Hanan (Ron Bitterman), as she seeks out approval from a celebrity pianist (Shimon Mimran) who seems more interested in a relationship with her than in helping her son.

This film’s entire premise is one that requires considerable suspension of disbelief and may prove difficult to accept for some viewers. Yet, regardless of what specific events are portrayed, the central theme of this film is that some parents will go to incredible lengths to create a mold of themselves in their children, ignoring morality for the sake of what they believe will be happiness. Unsurprisingly, that approach leads to considerable resentment and a constant yearning for something better, and, in this case, Anat’s controlling nature towards her son contradicts the supportive space she always wished her father had created for her, shaping Idan to feel similarly towards her as she does towards Arieh.

Preis tackles a difficult role with a careful precision, presenting a stoic and uncompromising front as Anat engages with those who believe her to be inferior. It’s nearly impossible to like Anat, but there’s still something appealing and relatable about her that helps to humanize the character and make her decisions minimally understandable. Levi, in his film debut, is compelling in his general compliance, indicating only moderate resistance to the control his mother wields over his life. Shimshoni, Bitterman, and Mimran enhance the supporting cast as extensions of Anat’s story. This film, which runs eighty minutes, is not always pleasant and probes a problematic relationship, but what it explores is deeply thought-provoking and far more applicable to many real-life experiences than might initially seem apparent.

B

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Dark Divide

The Dark Divide
Directed by Tom Putnam
Released September 18, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

There are a number of reasons that people take on challenging assignments. In some cases, they may have no choice and are required to do so by an employer or because they know that no one else will do it. In others, it involves a personal penance of sorts or a need to isolate from the world and focus on something that will prove truly immersive. Making a solitary journey that involves tremendous physical labor and emotional strength is not easy, and the notion of undertaking something of that magnitude can be quite daunting and intimidating.

Robert Pyle (David Cross) is a renowned butterfly expert always on the verge of writing his next book. His dying wife Thea (Debra Messing), who creates illustrations to accompany his work, is not content with him simply sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike. Robert sets out with a Guggenheim Fellowship and an optimistic attitude for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, ready to traverse its vast space to find and study a new butterfly species. Locals balk at his lack of experience camping and surviving in the outdoors, but he is determined to make it through and come out reinvigorated.

This film is immediately reminiscent of recent films like “Wild” and “The Way,” which find characters taking on long, laborious treks to connect with themselves and those that they have lost. This film has a more upbeat, adventurous spirit, one that finds Robert gleefully unprepared for much of what he meets, far more prepared to lecture someone on their problematic behavior than to outrun any of the animals he might encounter on his journey. Based on the true story of Robert’s 1995 expedition and his subsequent book, “Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide,” this film emphasizes the human side of Robert’s exploration, offering lower stakes than similar projects which might see their protagonists fighting for their lives against the terrifying natural forces conjured up by this film’s title, the name for the area Robert sets out to chart.

Cross is an actor primarily known for comedy, but he is definitely a strong and effective choice to play Robert, whose social skills do not match his scientific expertise. His style of speaking and mannerisms help make Robert a gradually endearing character whose behavior doesn’t always evoke sympathy and who audiences can relate to as someone in way over his head in his desire to achieve a theoretically manageable task in a wildly unpredictable environment. Cross carries the film in conjunction with its soaring imagery, presenting beauty that makes the best case for the film’s quieter moments as its most potent. Though this film doesn’t feel wildly original, its story is told and showcased in a sufficient and mostly engaging manner.

B

Monday, September 14, 2020

Movie with Abe: Blackbird

Blackbird
Directed by Roger Michell
Released September 18, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

Most people aren’t able to control the way that they leave this world. Death is usually something that can’t be foreseen, or at least not predicted to an exact moment or a circumstance that feels right. Accidents and disasters occur to cut life short, and illness takes many at a young age. There may be a progression that permits someone to notice the way in which their quality of life is changing. This can in turn prompt them, in certain situations, to make arrangements to be able to choose when it is that they want to die, rather than waiting for the inevitable.

Lily (Susan Sarandon) is suffering from ALS and has decided that she no longer wants to live knowing that her body will deteriorate as a result of her disease. Before she ends her life, she wants to spend one last weekend with her family at her beach house with her doting husband Paul (Sam Neill). That includes her straight-laced older daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet), her impossibly dull son-in-law Michael (Rainn Wilson), and their free-spirited son Jonathan (Anson Boon), her younger, more rebellious daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) and her girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), and her lifelong best friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan). Lily may be ready to say goodbye, but there are a host of complicated sentiments that emerge in different ways over the course of the weekend.

This film is brimming with talent, led by the dependable Sarandon, whose qualifications for this role, which she plays with ease, are well-established. Winslet in particular is almost unrecognizable as the uptight Jennifer, who believes she can control everything around her, something that stands in direct opposition to the freewheeling and less stable Anna, played by the always passionate Wasikowska. Wilson does well with a bit of drama, which isn’t his usual genre, while Neill and Duncan are strong in quieter roles. Taylor-Klaus and Boon stand out in parts that don’t seem central to the story but are memorable as a result of the actors’ energy.

This film’s subject is of particularly interest to me not as a film critic but as the spouse of someone who works in the end-of-life space and frequently teaches on physician-assisted death. This film makes clear that it is not legal for Lily to take a prescription that will induce death where she lives, but, thanks in part to Paul being a doctor, she has been able to procure one that she knows will enable her a painless and finite end. Lily exhibits a true satisfaction knowing that she has arranged a way to go out on her own terms, a decision that does not sit well with any of her family members, even if they disagree about why it is that they don’t like it and how it is at odds with the values she has taught them. This remake of the 2014 Danish film “Silent Heart,” which I have not seen, manages to be both sobering and entertaining, tackling a taboo subject with gravitas.

B+

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Movie with Abe: Softie

Softie
Directed by Sam Soko
Released September 18, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

The decision to run for political office is not one made lightly and without an understanding of the implications of both the campaign process and the responsibilities of the position if election proves successful. Committing to proving competence to prospective voters requires time and dedication, and events and functions may overlap with or detract from the ability to be with family or friends. In a country with a stable democratic government system, all that is required, but when corruption runs rampant and lawlessness leads to fatal consequences, an intent to inspire change can be met with dangerous opposition.

Boniface Mwangi, better known as Softie, is a photojournalist in Kenya. Tired of the violence he sees around him and the way that politicians, including the president, refuse to do anything to actually address much-needed reforms, he decides to become a candidate for a regional election. Getting local residents, who have become accustomed to his opponents and predecessors handing out money in order to attain their votes, to consider him worthy on his merits is an enormous uphill battle. Reports of colleagues and election officials being murdered threaten to derail Boniface’s optimism, and very real death threats force his family to leave the country while he continues his campaign, determined to forge ahead to achieve true progress.

There has been a recent spotlight in documentary films like “Surge,” “Knock Down the House,” and “Running with Beto” on a number of progressive Americans eager to become lawmakers and facing nearly impossible odds. Those stories are absolutely worth telling, but the stakes just don’t compare to what Boniface must endure merely to have the chance to begin chipping away at established traditions of bribery and malignant complacency. Boniface knows that he puts his family at risk by stepping into the public eye, and he has no way to ensure their safety other than keeping them far from him in the United States, something that is not emotionally tenable.

There is a realness to this film that comes across from its opening moments, with footage of violence in Kenya and the history of its government serving to underscore the seriousness of Boniface’s undertaking. Nothing about what he is doing is glamorized or framed in an overly optimistic manner, and interviews with his wife, Njeri, are particularly enlightening because of the supportive but extremely cautious attitude she conveys as she watches with trepidation every new obstacle that emerges. This film is a strong and stirring look at a world many of its viewers could never truly imagine and one man within it set on making it better.

B+

Saturday, September 12, 2020

TIFF Spotlight: Akilla’s Escape

Akilla’s Escape
Directed by Charles Officer
TIFF Screening Schedule

It's not easy to escape your past, and an involvement in criminal activity makes it even more difficult. Geographic areas and socioeconomic factors contribute to the establishment of gangs and other groups that are distinguished based on any number of affiliations, including the defense of territory and the distribution of goods. There is a notion that people work their way up from the lowest on the totem pole to a position of power, if they decide or are given the opportunity to choose whether they would like to remain involved or use what they’ve learned to forge a different path in life.

In 1995 Brooklyn, Akilla Brown (Thamela Mpumlwana) is fifteen years old and being interrogated by police for what he knows about his father and the Garrison Army that protects him. Twenty-five years later, in the present day, Akilla (Saul Williams) is on the verge of a career change after the drug operation he runs with Benji (Colm Feore) is set to become legalized, something he sees no appeal in running. When he walks in on a robbery in progress, Akilla thinks fast and ends up subduing one of the thieves, Sheppard (also Mpumlwana). Charged by his associates with finding out who hired him, Akilla sees a startling mirror image of himself in the Jamaican boy in way over his head whose future will inevitably be shaped by his actions as a teenager.

This film opens very strongly and memorably with a montage of headlines and news footage charting nationwide events in Jamaica over the past few decades interspersed with Akilla dancing to an upbeat and distinct melody. The events it portrays are relatively stark, with Akilla faced with the reality of a gun in his face and almost certain death so many years after being just a small cog in a much larger machine during his youth. There is a full-circle narrative that builds as Akilla comes to understand both his role as a young member of a gang and a far higher-ranking leader who isn’t any more invulnerable to bullets.

As the adult Akilla, Williams displays a detached resolve, aware of his limitations of his own power and the necessity of what he must do to remain alive and in business. Playing two roles, Mpumlwana is quietly effective, subtly distinguishing the characters from each other while highlighting their similarities. This film has its own beat, one that elevates a familiar story given its own unique feel thanks to its spotlight on the Jamaican heritage of its protagonists and its worthwhile cinematic representation of inescapable cycles of violence.

B+

Friday, September 11, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to Virtual Cinemas: Buoyancy
New to Netflix: Waiting for Superman
New to Hulu: Prisoners

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Movie with Abe: Buoyancy

Buoyancy
Directed by Rodd Rathjen
Released September 11, 2020

Many people dream of a better life and are told that it can be easily found in another place. The saying “the grass is greener on the other side” stems from the notion that what one person doesn’t have looks or sounds more appealing. Traveling to a city or country that is described as a paradise or haven for happiness from somewhere else that doesn’t feel like that is rarely easy, and as many who try unfortunately learn, there is quite often a high price to pay for freedom and luxuries that should be universally available.

Chakra (Sarm Heng) works in the rice fields in Cambodia, unable to understand why his parents chose to have more children than they are adequately able to support. Frustrated and inspired by stories of success in Thailand, Chakra sets out to go there. With no money to pay for his passage, he is forced to work aboard a Thai fishing boat to pay off his debt, which he is told will take just one month. As the days go by, Chakra witnesses the brutal treatment and murder of other Cambodian and Burmese men by the tyrannical boat captain, Rom Ran (Thanawut Ketsaro), who takes a liking to Chakra when he sees the survival instincts the fourteen-year-old boy possesses in an unimaginable and truly inescapable situation.

There are so many stories to be told about the perils of illegal immigration all across the world. In this case, Chakra isn’t fleeing persecution or violence but instead poverty, and he naively believes, like countless others, that he will be released from his indentured servitude when the agreed-upon term of service is done. What Chakra sees aboard the boat is horrific, but there is also a sense of sincere isolation that comes from its constant movement at sea, far both from the home he left and the land he so desperately wants to reach. Even if he manages not to get thrown overboard or beaten by his cruel captors, Chakra is still physically trapped in the middle of an ocean.

This film was Australia’s official selection for Best International Feature for last year’s Oscar race, a strong portrait of human trafficking that doesn’t shy away from harsh visuals and irreversibly scarring events. Heng delivers a remarkably impressive breakout turn as Chakra, conveying a yearning for something more while he feels powerless to avoid his fate. Ketsaro portrays a compelling villain who seeks not only to dehumanize Chakra but also to corrupt him and turn him into a worthy successor. This film is affecting, unpleasant, and important, shining a critical representative spotlight on the plight of many real victims of human trafficking.

B+

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Movie with Abe: Surge

Surge
Directed by Hannah Rosenzweig and Wendy Sachs
Released September 8, 2020 (SHOxBET)

It’s a tempestuous time for politics in the United States, with parties becoming increasingly at odds and divided on almost all issues. Many career politicians who have held office for a number of years face new challengers set on upending what they see as a problematic endorsement of the status quo, and many of those candidates are women. They face an uphill battle to defeat those who have become ingrained in their communities and to combat the societal tendency to picture presidents, senators and representatives as one thing above all else: a man.

This documentary follows three candidates running for Congress in 2018, all facing a slate of Democratic primary opponents seeking to take on the Republican in office. Jana Lynne Sanchez is running to represent Texas US House District 6, which has been red for over three decades. Liz Watson is running for Indiana US House District 9, a particularly conservative area of the state. Lauren Underwood is a running for Illinois US House District 14. All three women are determined to make their mark, rallying supporters to ride a blue wave and flip their districts so that they can act on the issues that are important to them and help make Congress a bit more diverse.

This film, which is premiering on SHOxBet, the new partnership platform between Showtime and BET, follows the success of Netflix’s “Knock Down the House,” which spotlights four female Congressional candidates in that same primary election, all of whom belong to the more progressive wing of the party. Sanchez, Watson, and Underwood all bring a passion that involves liberal sentiments but places them more in line with traditional Democratic platforms that still prove controversial for where they reside. Underwood in particular receives the endorsement of President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden, promoting her as a face for change and leading to her becoming the youngest Black woman in Congress at age thirty-two.

Films like this and last year’s “Running with Beto” are simultaneously exciting and depressing, since they include such fervent positive energy that inevitably leads to disappointment. Chronicling unsuccessful campaigns is still very worthwhile especially since those who didn’t end up winning their elections still made significant progress in working to turn their districts blue and signaling a real chance to continue that swing in the upcoming 2020 election. The big question that is asked multiple times in this film – is this a moment or a movement – is best answered by the spirit captured here, which is that defeat doesn’t mean the end of progress. This documentary can be seen as a sharp and energizing call to a future where its subjects won’t be seen as anything close to revolutionary because of what’s been achieved.

B+

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Movie with Abe: First One In

First One In
Directed by Gina O’Brien
Released September 8, 2020 (VOD)

In today’s vastly interconnected society, it’s easy for one social media faux pas to go viral and completely ruin someone’s life. Usually, a misstep or error in judgment is rather sizeable in nature, leaving little to interpretation or at least not much that anyone who has seen damning footage wants to hear. Some are able to use notoriety to their advantage to achieve a new degree of fame, while others shy away from the limelight and retreat from public spaces to avoid harassment. Building a new reputation may be possible, but it’s unlikely that past actions can ever be truly forgotten.

Madi Cooke (Kat Foster) is a contestant on a reality show and finds herself dismissed after accidentally killing an endangered animal on camera. Shunned by protesters outside her home and fired from her job, Madi puts on a disguise and adopts a new last name to interview with a wildly popular real estate kingpin, Bobbi Mason (Georgia King). Bobbi’s determination to continue winning her local tennis tournament prompts Madi to train vigorously to become the best player and most ideal candidate for the job, meeting pro Fernando (Josh Segarra) and teammates Jane (Catherine Curtin), Ceecee (Emy Coligado), Preeti (Aneesh Sheth), and Valentina (Karina Arroyave), along with her former best friend Ollie (Alana O’Brien), who is well aware of the person she really is and is trying to hide from her new circle.

Much of this film’s premise is exaggerated, though real-life celebrities have been called out for less significant transgressions. Madi’s disguise is a small step up from Clark Kent taking off his glasses so that no one will recognize him as Superman, but that’s not where this film’s heart lies. Instead, it follows a woman trying to remain afloat who immerses herself in something new, which in turn gives her a supportive community and an outlet for her to attempt to make peace with an embattled world that wants her to remain eternally unforgiven.

Foster is best known for roles in TV shows like “Til Death” and “Weeds” and does a decent job as a moderately enthusiastic lead here. King, a standout player from “Eastbound and Down,” is the best reason to see this film, leaning into the excessive zaniness of her role. “Orange is the New Black” stars Curtin and Arroyave are standouts in the supporting cast, which functions well enough. This film is ultimately light entertainment more than anything enduring, aware of what it is and sufficiently able to embrace that approach.

B-

Friday, September 4, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to Virtual Cinemas: Healing from Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation
New to DVD: Irresistible
New to Netflix: Back to the Future, Back to the Future II, Back to the Future III, Glory, Grease, Red Dragon, Wildlife
New to Hulu: The Impossible, The Terminator, Wanted

Friday, August 28, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to Theaters: The Personal History of David Copperfield
New to Virtual Cinema: The Garden Left Behind, #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump
New to DVD: Yes, God, Yes, The Tobacconist, The Burnt Orange Heresy
New to Netflix: Lingua Franca, Blaze, Night Comes On
New to Netflix and Hulu: Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Personal History of David Copperfield


The Personal History of David Copperfield
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Released August 28, 2020

There are many novels that are widely read and then adapted for the screen. It’s rare to find just one film or television version of an extremely popular book, and there may be multiple opinions on which is considered definitive or most well-regarded. A slightly new approach is required to generate interest in a new iteration, tackling the story from a different angle or changing characters to more accurately reflect either the time in which they were supposed to live or a transformed era in which the audience will watch them. Such updates are likeliest to please those looking for a fresh perspective, and winning over fans of the classic is more difficult.

David Copperfield (Ranveer Jaiswal, and later Dev Patel) is raised by his mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) after the death of his father and finds himself sent away to work in a factory when his discipline-oriented stepfather (Darren Boyd) and his cruel aunt (Gwendoline Christie) enter his life. In the course of his childhood, he lives in an upside-down boat by the water with his housekeeper Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper), the kindly creditor-dodging Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi), and his aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton) and her eccentric cousin Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie). When he is finally on his own and facing a successful future that includes two love interests (Clark and Rosalind Eleazar), David reflects back on the people and experiences that have gotten him to a place to be able to write it all down in a book.

This reviewer doesn’t have vivid recollections of reading Charles Dickens’ 1850 novel David Copperfield, but imagines it must have happened at some point. What is apparent going into this film is that those expecting typical fare from director Armando Iannucci and writer Simon Blackwell, who have previously collaborated on “In the Loop” and “Veep,” among other projects, will be sorely disappointed. Unlike “The Death of Stalin,” Iannucci’s previous film, this film is not an outright parody or one that utilizes any of his regular players – including Capaldi, Laurie, and actress Nikki Amuka-Bird, to recite off litanies of foul language. Instead, it’s best compared to Todd Haynes and “Wonderstruck,” a clear departure from the type of cinema he’s best known for that is mostly family-friendly and focuses effectively on the fantastical.

This film is colorful and full of imagination, frequently transitioning between scenes in a way that literally jumps off the screen and merges memory with what’s actually happening in the moment. There isn’t much consistency in the devices and styles used, but there are enough standout supporting performances, particularly from Laurie and Swinton, to keep audiences engaged. The set decoration and costumes are its best assets, presenting a story that’s often more visually enthralling than it is thematically. This may just be the exception to the rule – a “modern take” that will probably appeal more to fans of the classic than viewers unfamiliar with it.

B

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Movie with Abe: #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump


#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump
Directed by Dan Partland
Released August 28, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

Every politician has detractors, and some have more than others. Policies are critiqued and past actions are examined in painstaking detail by opponents to make the case for why someone shouldn’t be elected or reelected to a particular office. A public figure with a history of making inflammatory or controversial statements has understandably put more out into the world that can be dissected, and society has unfortunately evolved past a point where saying even just a few problematic things can end a career, due in part to a larger failure of those with the potential to effect change to speak up and push back against what they see and hear.

Since he announced his candidacy and was elected in 2016, Donald Trump has transformed the American presidency, lashing out at critics on Twitter and giving anyone he doesn’t like derogatory nicknames. He takes every opportunity to divide the American people rather than finding ways to unify them, something that the Duty to Warn Coalition, a group led by mental health professionals, believes is just one reason that he is psychologically unfit to serve. An array of experts and high-profile figures who have interacted closely with Trump break down the many behaviors he exhibits that they see as proof that he is a malignant narcissist with an incredibly concerning amount of unchecked power.

This film isn’t merely a hit job on a man who will surely decry and dismiss it as such. The doctors interviewed discuss the Goldwater rule, established after a series of attacks on a 1964 presidential candidate, and how its passage has been used to ensure that mental health professionals cannot make diagnoses without actually seeing and evaluating a patient in person. They argue that someone can lie when asked directly, and observing their behavior, particularly as it’s so widely documented and recorded, is infinitely more informative and critical.

It can be argued that there are those with an axe to grind against Trump who eagerly participated in this film, but it’s precisely the discord between the range of subjects interviewed that makes its analysis so effective. George Conway, husband to one of Trump’s top advisors who has made no secret of his disdain for the president, is the first person to speak, detailing what he initially thought of Trump and how he no longer identifies as a Republican. Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as communicators director lasted a whopping eleven days, explains how Trump sees the world and emphasizes that he doesn’t think he is a racist. Conflicting points of view about what Trump truly believes and what he adopts to further his agendas enhance the depth and value of this documentary, which always takes care to back up claims – like comparisons to authoritarian leaders – with video clips of something Trump actually did or said and pointed analysis by experts with substantial qualifications.

It’s certainly difficult, and likely impossible, to separate preexisting personal perspectives from a film like this. For this unabashedly liberal reviewer, this film appeals because it serves, in part, as confirmation bias. Yet it’s equally hard to imagine that, if those who would never even consider watching a film titled “Unfit” with Trump’s name in it actually sat through the thorough eighty-three minutes of carefully-prepared arguments and evidence, they wouldn’t come out of the experience at least minimally convinced that, politics aside, having a man like Trump in the Oval Office is a serious concern. If that can’t be accomplished, this film at least serves as a fully engaging, entertainingly-assembled thesis that always stops short of overreaching or making grand statements with nothing to support them. Its primary interviewees have pledged not to stay silent, and for those willing to hear it, this documentary is both alarming and essential.

B+

Monday, August 24, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Garden Left Behind


The Garden Left Behind
Directed by Flavio Alves
Released August 28, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

Identifying as part of a minority in any population is a choice that people rarely make for themselves. While there are those who loudly proclaim a lack of adherence to what is seen as normative, most that look or feel different do little to draw attention to the attributes that separate them, instead trying to blend in and ruffle few feathers. Remaining invisible isn’t always possible, and the prevalence of hatred and bigotry means that even a low profile and a determination not to engage with incisive behavior can’t definitively protect someone seen as a type of other.

Tina (Carlie Guevara) works as a rideshare driver in New York City, transporting a variety of people around to make money and take care of her grandmother, Eliana (Miriam Cruz). She has a driver’s license that still says Antonio and endures frequent taunts from those who physically identify her as trans, motivating her to proceed with surgery, a process that requires frequent interviews and which her long-term boyfriend Jason (Alex Kruz) doesn’t seem to support. A local convenience store clerk, Chris (Anthony Abdo), frequently sees Tina and navigates his own journey with intolerance as repeatedly demonstrated by his ignorant friends.

Some of this film’s content is extremely disturbing, like when Tina is seen walking and minding her own business and becomes the subject of cruel verbal insults and threats of physical violence. Tina never invites any unwanted attention, but she is also determined to live her life and be who she wants to be. She converses cordially and enthusiastically with her passengers, and knows that her grandmother can’t quite understand how she needs to express herself. Her true friends are deeply loyal and on her side, and she conveys a sincere joy when she meets with a stoic doctor (Ed Asner) and begins to imagine a future in which she feels completely at home in her own body.

This marks the tremendous debut of Guevara, who brings a warm and radiant energy to a character whose experiences are often difficult and heart-wrenching. She drives this film, which includes a rich and authentic cast of transgender and Latinx performers conveying complicated existences. There is a sense of wonder that endures even in dark, depressing times in this film, showcasing people who cannot control what others think of them but can only chart their own paths forward and strive to find happiness. This film is a moving tribute to those who have searched for that fulfillment and haven’t necessarily been able to find it because someone else decided they didn’t deserve it.

B+

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Movie with Abe: Lingua Franca


Lingua Franca
Directed by Isabel Sandoval
Released August 26, 2020 (Netflix)

Privilege exists in a society in a way that often isn’t apparent or even discernable to those who have it. Passing through places without being questioned is a luxury that only feels that way when it’s clear that others aren’t able to do so, and there are additional freedoms to move and travel without stressing too much about the validity of identification and everything on it being up to date. Someone who hasn’t been forced to monitor their actions may not apply themselves as much to a particular task or job because the consequences, for them, can never be all that severe.

Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) works as a caregiver for the elderly Olga (Lynn Cohen) in Brighton Beach. Olivia struggles through the process of becoming a legal resident of the United States, trying to secure a marriage to obtain her green card while balancing the additional obstacles of being a trans woman. Olga’s grandson, Alex (Eamon Farren), has a terrible reputation with his family after multiple messes, and he gets a new chance at a slaughterhouse job with his uncle that might help him repair those fractured relationships. His unexpected interest in Olivia serves as yet another distraction to his uneasy road back toward stability.

This film made its momentous debut at last year’s Venice Film Festival as the first film directed by and starring an openly trans woman of color. It simultaneously tackles multiple subjects that feel deeply relevant and timely, examining the inequality that is rarely even acknowledged because its absence is so unimaginable for those who have never had to question what it is they don’t have. It may be seen as a political film calling for the rights of trans and undocumented people, but at its heart it is a story of human existence at the intersection of societal discrimination.

Sandoval, a Filipino filmmaker based in the United States known for her two previous feature films, “Señorita” and “Apparition,” delivers an extraordinarily quiet and unassuming performance, one that demonstrates Olivia’s purposeful attempts not to raise eyebrows or draw unwanted attention while at the same time affirming her knowledge of caregiving and the validity of her opinions. Farren is far less controlled and much more prone to explosive outbursts, underlining this film’s poignant capturing of the divide between those for whom expression of self has consequences and those for whom it does not. This subtly powerful film is effective in its unambitious aim to present a solemn examination of the way in which people from different worlds see and influence each other.

B+

Friday, August 21, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD and Virtual Cinema: The August Virgin, Desert One, Tesla
New to DVD: Military Wives, Guest of Honour, Sometimes Always Never, The Outpost
New to Netflix: Safety Not Guaranteed, Les Miserables

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Movie with Abe: Tesla


Tesla
Directed by Michael Almereyda
Released August 21, 2020

Tesla is one of the most popular car brands today, seen both as a symbol of luxury and as the future of automotive travel using electric vehicles. It’s a world-famous name that has almost taken on the standing of a Xerox, Kleenex, or Band-Aid in its universality. Its roots, however, are in a man whose avant-garde worldview was not embraced nearly as favorably as that of Elon Musk. Nikola Tesla was a visionary inventor who, at the end of the nineteenth century, was putting forward ideas that placed him in direct contact with some of his time’s most well-known entrepreneurs and giants, pitching revolutionary concepts that struck many as absurd or impossible.

Tesla (Ethan Hawke) begins his career in America working for Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan), though Edison’s low valuation of his skills leads to a break in their business relationship. Tesla then partners with George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan), one of Edison’s key rivals who advocates an alternative approach to electric currents. Not one to bother himself with social interactions, Tesla attracts interest nonetheless from Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), the daughter of banker J.P. Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz), who frames and narrates much of his story, which continually emphasizes how much more Tesla might have been able to accomplish had his peers fully recognized his true brilliance.

Director Michael Almereyda has shown a keen interest in technology and its potential uses and abuses with his previous two films, “Marjorie Prime” and “Experimenter.” Here, he spotlights a subject that many will surely want to learn about, but chooses to do it in a peculiar way, having Anne, who died in 1952, discuss the number of Google results that pop up when she searches for the key players in this film. That emphasis on anachronism is surely meant to invoke Tesla’s role as a misunderstood futurist, capable of knowing so much more about what mankind could accomplish than anyone in his lifetime. Other cinematic devices like still photographic backdrops behind moving actors make this an inarguably experimental but equally disorienting experience, one that seems to best capture the way many of its protagonist’s notions were received by a baffled public.

Tesla was featured heavily in another recent film, “The Current War: Director’s Cut,” which opened in theaters last October after a lengthy production delay due to its initial status as a Weinstein Company project. It’s hard not to compare the two, and while that film, which makes Tesla a supporting player to the main battle between Edison and Westinghouse, was much more conventional, it also presented the story in a more engaging and accessible format. In that film, Tesla stands out as a fascinating character worthy of more attention, thanks largely to actor Nicholas Hoult’s performance, but here, Hawke’s rendition makes him the least interesting part of his own showcase. MacLachlan and Hewson are far more engaging, though it’s not entirely clear why Anne is the one chosen to tell this story. Perhaps in a century this film will be seen positively and as ahead of its time, but at this present moment, it does a better job capturing the irreverent, unappealing nature of its namesake than communicating his brilliance.

C+

Monday, August 17, 2020

Movie with Abe: The August Virgin


The August Virgin
Directed by Jonás Trueba
Released August 21, 2020

Summer is a time that, for many, involves relaxation and a chance to unwind from the pressures of the rest of the year. Temperatures are typically warmer, which means that formal wear may be less needed in workplaces, and it’s when most with means choose to make their exodus from their normal homes to vacation in other areas. Those who either aren’t able to do so or have nowhere in particular to go are often left behind in places that become sparsely populated. This can feel lonely or isolating but can also open up the many opportunities that can easily get lost when muted or hidden by the presence of crowds.

Eva (Itsaso Arana) makes a bold decision to stay in Madrid, a place that is known to be unbearably hot during the summer, for the month of August. She finds a perfectly reasonable apartment and begins to wander the streets, meeting a number of interesting people as festive celebrations take place for Saint’s Days. She reconnects with an old friend who has recently had a baby, an ex-boyfriend who hasn’t moved on, and a few new faces who represent something other than what she’s known and encountered in her life thus far.

Eva is a protagonist who doesn’t know exactly what she wants but is aware that she hasn’t yet found it. On the eve of her thirty-third birthday, Eva is still exploring, and remaining in a city that empties out and leaves only those who have chosen to stay or don’t have the luxury of choosing to go somewhere else opens her eyes to a variety of perspectives and activities. This film meters her journey with title cards declaring the date, marking time as it passes slowly but transformatively, imbuing Eva with new experiences and a small sample of what each person she spends moments with sees in the world.

Arana serves as co-writer with director Jonás Trueba in addition to her starring role, one that truly guides and encapsulates this film. Arana bears a physical resemblance to Zooey Deschanel and Anna Friel and her screen presence feels like a wondrous combination of the way the two of them act, reserved and shy but beaming with youthful curiosity just waiting to be unleashed in a safe and inviting setting. She drives a film that is bursting with color and musical energy, embracing its sun-soaked setting and capturing the spirit of an eye-opening and sensational summer season.

B+

Friday, August 14, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD and Virtual Cinema: The Bay of Silence
New to DVD: Mickey and the Bear, CRSHD, How to Build a Girl, Sonja – The White Swan, A White, White Day
New to Netflix: Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Nightcrawler
New to Amazon: Arkansas
New to Apple TV Plus: Boys State

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Movie with Abe: Boys State


Boys State
Directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss
Released August 14, 2020 (Apple TV Plus)

There are rules set in the United States that require candidates for office to be of a certain age in order to run. In most cases, a person is allowed to vote before they can actually be elected. The presumption is that some degree of maturity is needed to effectively govern, and that even if voters are empowered to choose who can lead them, they may not be ready to be considered themselves. At a time when the two major contenders for President are over seventy years old, the voice of the youth and first-time voters becomes even more important.

Boys State is a program of the American Legion that meets each summer to give high school juniors the opportunity to participate in mock campaigns to elect state officials and a governor. Past participants have included Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and many other notable names. Divided into two parties, Nationalist and Federalist, the attendees at the Texas Boys State in 2018 select candidates and begin campaigns, drawing on issues that they know will attract and antagonize voters to build a platform and simulate the democratic process that they will soon participate in after returning home and turning eighteen.

This documentary offers an extremely informative and enlightening look at how a simulation of politics in play can mirror the real world. All the attendees are enthusiastic enough about government and issues to choose to apply and participate in the program, and while they’re assigned parties and positions to assume, they bring with them a knowledge of how politicians actually behave and take cues from them. Candidates advocate positions like castrating rapists instead of punishing the would-be children of rape victims with abortions and say deliberately inflammatory things to provoke a response and improve their odds of election.

Where this film really succeeds is in its interviews with the participants, in which they convey plenty about their psyches and the effect being part of this political process, even a mock version, has on them. Talks of voting on secession derail the otherwise serious proceedings, and those who opt to be over-the-top analyze how that behavior is received. There’s an acknowledgment that they are all seventeen-year-olds, and therefore not all that much should be expected of them, yet there is also a gravity to personal attacks that feel more charged than any potentially harmless campaigning. This film doesn’t provide an easy, catch-all answer to how to fix a problematic political system but instead showcases a regularly-run experiment to model the way people are elected in the United States, with a good deal to teach to anyone watching and open to new perspectives.

B+

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Bay of Silence


The Bay of Silence
Directed by Paula van der Oest
Released August 14, 2020

Relationships evolve over time, and the level of intimacy also changes as people spend time together. When two people are just with each other and thinking of no one else, they may feel extremely connected and bound to one another in a way that simply isn’t possible when anyone else is around. Couples may interact differently even one-on-one with others nearby or watching them, and that can affect their dynamic and the way that their relationship works. Raising a family together also has a transformative impact, and there is much that partners can learn about one another by seeing the way that they speak to and treat young children.

Will (Claes Bang) and Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko) have a romantic start to their relationship surrounded by the beauty of Europe. After they are married and raising three children, including a newborn baby, Will is startled by Rosalind’s erratic behavior. She seems unable to ground herself in reality, and when she takes the children and disappears, Will becomes very concerned. Through his panicked search for her, Will realizes there is plenty that he doesn’t know about his wife, and frequent interactions with her former stepfather, Milton (Brian Cox), do little to put his mind at ease about problematic indicators that should have earlier told him something was wrong.

This is a film grounded in memory, one that finds its protagonists referencing poignant and pivotal moments in their lives to direct them in their next steps. Will recalls the bliss and attraction he first felt when he met Rosalind, and seems plagued that perhaps he was too enamored to really get to know the person she was. Rosalind is lost in grief after a traumatic incident, and struggles to latch on to the things she still has, namely her husband and her children. This film is equally about her own unraveling and the unraveling of the stability of what Will thought was a strong and enduring marriage, one whose cracks begin to show when he learns that the way his wife is acting is nothing new. That process is less than compelling, losing potency with each new revelation.

Bang is an actor best known for films like “The Square” and “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” and here he once again plays a man who gradually surmises that he knows much less about what is going on than he initially believes. Kurylenko, famous for “Quantum of Solace,” delves into the character of Rosalind, embracing her sense of being out of place and unable to readjust to stability. Cox, currently chewing television scenery on “Succession,” is cast in an expected role that allows him to do more of the same. This film begins with an intriguing premise, but like “Heresy,” doesn’t satisfactorily find clarity or fulfillment. Positioned as a thriller, this film feels more like a meandering and directionless drama.

C+

Friday, August 7, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD: A Thousand Cuts, Spinster, I Used to Go Here, Made in Italy, Out Stealing Horses
New to DVD: Dirt Music, Swallow
New to Netflix: An Education, Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
New to Amazon: Inception, Rain Man
New to Hulu: Up in the Air
New to HBO Max: An American Pickle

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Movie with Abe: Spinster


Spinster
Directed by Andrea Dorfman
Released August 7, 2020

Society heaps expectations upon people that are, at best, unhelpful generalizations, and, at worst, potentially truly harmful. The family unit has been redefined consistently throughout history, and while it might still be most common for a male and female parent to be married before they have children, it’s far from the only option people take today. Being in a defined romantic relationship isn’t for everyone, and it’s not the only way that they can decide to be a parent, if that’s even what they want. The term “spinster” has deeply negative connotations, imparting judgment on a woman whose prospects for having a spouse or children, whether or not she wants them, seem to have long passed.

Gaby (Chelsea Peretti) works as a caterer, though the food she makes for her clients is often much more pleasing to them than the responses she gives when they offer unsolicited commentary on her personal life. After the boyfriend she lives with moves out on her thirty-ninth birthday, Gaby finds herself confronting increasing pressure from those around her to just find someone and settle down, which makes her more resolute that she should be able to chart her own path. An attempt by her brother Alex (David Rossetti) to become a stand-up comic gives her a chance to spend time with one person who doesn’t have any opinions about how she should live her life: her niece Adele (Nadia Tonen).

This film’s plot summary is immediately reminiscent of past films like “Saint Frances” or “Family” that have seen a protagonist accustomed to living a directionless life open up their perspective thanks to the influence of a precocious child. Yet this feels wonderfully different and fresh, since Gaby doesn’t have a problem with kids but instead embraces the opportunity to just hang out with a fellow human being who doesn’t feel the need to give her advice or challenge why she does something. Their developing friendship is affirming, and helps to ground Gaby, who doesn’t hold back when she feels that others, including a chauvinistic dinner party guest of her sister (Susan Kent), think they have a right to tell her what she should be doing.

Peretti is an actress best known for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and here she brings a formidable sardonic energy to the role of Gaby, flying under the radar most of the time until she gets provoked by someone else. Tonen, Rossetti, and Kent offer solid support, but this is ultimately a movie that depends entirely upon Peretti’s charm and comic timing. This film can be seen as a willful reclaiming of its title, allowing its protagonist to steer her own story. It’s a humor-filled journey that doesn’t feel overly predictable and provides endearing entertainment along the way.

B+

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Movie with Abe: A Thousand Cuts


A Thousand Cuts
Directed by Ramona S. Diaz
Released August 7, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

The phrase “Democracy dies in darkness” is the current slogan of The Washington Post, and it carries a good deal of weight. The implication that it is possible to transform a free society into a totalitarian one if there is no one there to expose wrongdoing is frightening, and, given history, it’s not at all unrealistic. Documenting the actions that threaten liberties is increasingly essential in an age where technology presents not only the opportunity to share news widely but also an ability to manipulate and disseminate disinformation. It becomes exponentially more vital when powerful leaders go to great lengths to demonize journalism as an enemy.

Maria Ressa runs Rappler, a news website in the Philippines, and is celebrated globally as an important journalist, named the 2018 Time Magazine Person of the Year. In her home country, Ressa documents the rise of Rodrigo Duterte, who ascends from a mayoral position to being elected president in 2016. Duterte’s declared war on drugs, which extols violence and results in mass extrajudicial killings, is the biggest promise of his campaign. When his authority is threatened by the coverage he receives, he turns his propaganda machine on Rappler and the press, demonizing them so that any negative stories about him can be seen as an illicit and politically motivated challenge to his authority.

Duterte’s explicit and unapologetic promises to kill drug dealers were profiled in the very strong and disturbing Oscar documentary short finalist “The Nightcrawlers,” and this film digs deeper into how Duterte uses public opinion and social media to his advantage. His surrogates, who express publicly that they have been told to run for particular offices by the president, accuse anyone who doesn’t applaud wildly for the war on drugs of being addicts, and trolls descend on Rappler’s offices to protest and prove that they are indeed real people. The use of the term “presstitutes” is traced to twenty-six fake social media accounts that then influence three million people, showing the fearsome power of clickbait. Ressa is arrested for a cybercrime law she allegedly violated after it was passed, setting a terrifying precedent for applying laws retroactively, thereby putting any political opponents of Duterte’s at severe risk of incarceration or worse.

This film documents what’s going on in the Philippines, including the late addition of footage from Ressa’s case from this June, but it carries an immensely important call to action for the world. Ressa speaks at a forum in the United States about the similarities between the two countries’ presidents, describing them as macho, populist leaders who have used anger and fear to divide their people. The notion, as explored in this film, that what happens in the United States is tested first in other countries with less stable governments, is deeply worrisome, and the parallels are obvious in videos of Duterte unabashedly making jokes about his penis and women smelling like fish to an adoring, laughing crowd. What this documentary exposes and shows to the world isn’t being hidden, but the implications it brings are cause for extreme concern. Work like Ressa’s and films like this are absolutely critical to the survival of a free society.

B+

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Movie with Abe: I Used to Go Here


I Used to Go Here
Directed by Kris Rey
Released August 7, 2020

People’s lives don’t always pan out the way they expect. The prediction that those growing up now will have multiple careers in fields that don’t even exist yet only further reduces the likelihood that knowing what you want to do when you grow up means that’s what you’ll end up doing. Having a passion, however, can be enduring, and those who have a firm sense of what they’re best at may indeed persevere and pursue their dreams. What success looks like isn’t set, and achieving what you set out to do may not be as emotionally fulfilling or financially productive as it always seemed like it would.

Kate (Gillian Jacobs) is thirty-five years old and has just published a novel. A cover she doesn’t love seems like a negligible bump, but a cancellation of the book tour that was supposed to help create the sales her publisher tells her aren’t materializing makes her feel like a failure. An unexpected invitation from her college professor David (Jemaine Clement) to do a reading at her alma mater provides her with a chance to feel relevant and accomplished. The return to a part of her past brings with it a longing for simpler times and a gradual recognition that what she always wanted may not actually bring her the happiness she so desires.

Kate is a relatively solitary character, one who attends the baby shower of her friend Laura (Zoe Chao) and is told to pose with her book in front of her belly alongside three pregnant women in a photo. She calls Laura in a moment of boredom but otherwise expresses no connection to friends or family, and as a result latches on to the current residents of her old home, who all happen to be aspiring writers. She encounters old classmates whose lives are very different now, and revisits elements of her college experience that seem potentially irresponsible but likely inconsequential. It’s a way to get to know her without really understanding who she is first, since even she doesn’t appear to truly know.

This film was originally slated to have its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival this past March. It is a recognizably independent venture, one that values spotlighted performer turns over cinematic style, finding poignancy in simple conversations and uncomplicated storylines. Jacobs is a decent fit for the lead role, imbuing Kate with minimal energy and an uncensored personality. Clement plays what may well be the most normative role of his career, and Josh Wiggins, who made his debut in “Hellion” and returned to Sundance with “Walking Out” several years ago, is a standout from the supporting cast as a student who befriends Kate. This film is reminiscent of “The Lifeguard,” another portrait of an unmotivated young woman who seeks solace in what she might consider the best years of her lives. It’s entertaining and likeable enough, and, like its protagonist, not entirely fascinating or memorable.

B

Monday, August 3, 2020

Movie with Abe: An American Pickle


An American Pickle
Directed by Brandon Trost
Released August 6, 2020 (HBO Max)

A tremendous amount can change in a short period of time. Technological innovations, new discoveries, and political change can make one decade almost unrecognizable from the one that came before it. It’s not usually easy for those accustomed to one way of life to eagerly adopt to new concepts, and that’s evident in the way that many senior citizens today utilize smartphones and computers that look nothing like what they knew during their childhood. There’s a way to approach progress and feel open to it without leaving the past behind, but that’s often a struggle, particularly if the new normal feels like it’s being presented as a replacement of what came before it.

Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) works as a ditch-digger in Europe in 1919, where he meets his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook). Their blissful wedding is interrupted by a Cossack massacre of their town, leading them to immigrate to the United States, where they dream of luxuries like drinking seltzer while Herschel tries to make ends meet killing rats in a pickle factory. When he falls into a giant vat and is sealed in, he is preserved in the brine until someone stumbles upon the abandoned factory one hundred years later. He meets his only living relative, his great-grandson Ben (also Rogen), who eagerly shows him what the twenty-first century has to offer. Their different approaches to religion and hard work lead to a rift that causes the two Greenbaums to compete for success and victory at any cost.

This film’s concept is decidedly fantastical, presuming that a person could literally be pickled and emerge completely unaged and the same after a century. Deciding that the premise can be believed sets up a decently stirring and thought-provoking examination of values and the appreciation of small wonders. Given that Rogen is a comedian and this film is written by Simon Rich, creator of “Man Seeking Woman” and “Miracle Workers,” drama isn’t the goal. This experience is best compared to an Adam Sandler movie like “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” one that sometimes reaches the level of smart parody but gives in too much to the impulse for slapstick humor. Its mimicry of the Eastern European lifestyle through Herschel feels authentic, though its presentation of certain elements of Herschel’s personality, like his Judaism, come off as disappointingly selective and surface-level.

Rogen is doing double duty here as the two Greenbaums, and he’s certainly having a good time. He does a spectacular job of not breaking character as Herschel, who sets out to start a successful pickle business despite having no knowledge of the existence of health codes or social media platforms. Ben, in comparison, is much less engaging, tampered down by Rogen to make him feel substantially different. There are plenty of laughs to be found in this journey, though this film resounds more when it abandons silliness for substance, which does happen on occasion throughout its ninety-minute runtime.

B-

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Movie with Abe: Made in Italy


Made in Italy
Directed by James D’Arcy
Released August 7, 2020 (VOD)

Children often perceive the world to be boundless, which can make certain events and places feel infinitely grander and more impactful than they objectively are. They assign significance and meaning to formative moments that, when reflected back upon or revisited, may hardly seem so influential. There’s also an element of time that causes places and people to age, rarely still in the condition they once were when someone goes back to somewhere special. What something or someone meant to an adult may not be diminished even if confronting it at a later point in life adds entirely new clarifying context.

Jack (Micheál Richardson) is desperate to retain his job as director of an art gallery owned by his wife’s family after she serves him with divorce papers, and needs cash quick to buy it before she sells it to someone else. He travels with his father, Robert (Liam Neeson), to the Tuscany country house that belonged to his late mother. Finding it in terrible condition, Jack sets out to make a sale, forging a friendship with a local restaurateur, Natalia (Valeria Bilello), who helps to show him the delights of living far from the city. The experience also opens his eyes to who his distant father really is and what’s underneath the laissez-faire attitude that has shaped his parenting style.

Neither son nor father comes off as the most socially apt individual, with Jack clinging to a relationship that is clearly no longer viable and Robert paying so little attention to his one-night stands that he doesn’t even remember their names. Neither is looking to connect with the other, and Jack maintains the illusion that his marriage is perfectly healthy as he pushes his father to put some effort into updating a property whose charm isn’t nearly as present as Robert maintains. The renovation process is just as much about how they relate to each other as it is about the home they’re trying to sell.

What makes this film a delight is the casting of well-known actor Neeson’s real-life son, Richardson, in one of his first major film roles. The two do a superb job of making their characters seem like they have reasons to resent each other, and they’re well-supported by Bilello, who makes Natalia a worthwhile part of the story when she might otherwise not have been. This film marks the feature directorial debut of actor James D’Arcy, known for “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” and “Broadchurch,” who also serves as screenwriter. While its plot may not be wholly original or groundbreaking, the film as a whole is sincerely watchable as light entertainment mixed in with some decent drama.

B

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Movie with Abe: Out Stealing Horses


Out Stealing Horses
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Released August 7, 2020 (VOD)

Formative moments in a person’s childhood often don’t resonate as quite so significant until much later in that person’s life when all of their effects and consequences can be more clearly seen and analyzed. It’s a frequent cinematic device to begin a story with a lonesome adult character reflecting back upon how they have reached the space they inhabit at that moment in time, with long-suppressed memories and notions bubbling to the surface as the result of a catalytic conversation or reunion, ready to lend even more meaning to that which set them on this particular path.

In 1999, Trond (Stellan Skarsgård) moves to a quiet country home in Norway. When he meets his neighbor (Bjørn Floberg), he is surprised to recognize him as Lars, a childhood friend he hasn’t seen for years. As the two begin spending more time together, Trond begins to remember the events that, half a century earlier, left a permanent mark on him. As he tries to move forward with his life, Trond is unable to escape the haunting experiences that come flooding back to him, buried for many years under other more pleasant thoughts yet still inescapably influential.

This is a film that slowly unfurls its mystery, finding Trond living in isolation and surrounded by the overwhelming white of snow. The flashbacks to his younger years are more vibrant, filled with people who bring out a certain energy in him. The two time periods seem so different not only because of the technology featured, but also because of the mindset with which Trond approaches the world. What takes place between those scenes long ago and the present charts a melancholy and often tragic path, one that guides the film’s tone, which is far from optimistic.

Skarsgård is a recognizable international presence, most recently seen on HBO in “Chernobyl.” He commands a certain subtle gravitas when seen on screen, and he’s supported well by a cast that portrays the younger characters and the adults in their lives. This film, which was Norway’s submission for the Best International Feature Oscar last year, is haunting in its look at a lost life that could have been, but any true sense of urgency is lost in this presentation, which plays out as if in slow motion. It’s an intense and powerful story enhanced by the performances within it, but it doesn’t feel as rich or rewarding as other recent foreign films that begin from similarly nostalgic points of mystery.

B

Friday, July 31, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD: Summerland
New to DVD: Light from Light, The Infiltrators
New to Hulu: Bull

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Movie with Abe: Summerland


Summerland
Directed by Jessica Swale
Released July 31, 2020 (VOD)

It’s often said that you can’t choose the family you’re born into but you can choose the family you live with. For some, that may mean reacting to a negative upbringing by surrounding themselves with loving and warm people. For others, it can result in not trusting anyone and living a solitary existence, never getting close for fear of being hurt. People choose not to start families for a variety of reasons, which includes the notion that someone wouldn’t be a good parent. It’s impossible to know, however, until a person actually becomes a parent and gets to experience it for themselves.

Alice (Gemma Arterton) is a writer in a small cliffside Southern England town during World War II who keeps to herself and has earned a reputation for being crotchety, frequently tormented by young pranksters eager to play a joke on the recluse. Alice is startled when she is informed that she will now be responsible for housing a young evacuee, Frank (Lucas Bond), a duty assumed by many locals during the war. Separated from his parents, both actively in danger in London, Frank forms a friendship with Edie (Dixie Egerickx), a fellow student at school, and tries to build a rapport with the woman counting down the hours until Mr. Sullivan (Tom Courtenay) can find him a new temporary home.

One common interest that Alice and Frank are able to find is the subject of Alice’s research for her latest book, which deals with Summerland, a pagan concept of heaven. Its imaginative nature appeals to Frank, and though she doesn’t want to have to explain what she’s doing to anyone, Alice seems somewhat pleased to not have someone outright reject her ideas for once. As Frank wrestles with the uncertainty of knowing what will happen to his parents, Alice is haunted by memories of the one relationship (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) she did allow herself to have. Their experiences are separate but equally compelling, particularly in how they come together as, despite Alice’s efforts, a bond does begin to form between the two of them.

Arterton has turned in terrific performances in films like “Tamara Drewe,” “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” “Their Finest,” and “Vita and Virginia.” Here, she’s full of aggressive personality, determined to be left alone when the world has other plans of her. She and the young Bond are wonderful together, and he truly is an incredible discovery. Mbatha-Raw, Courtenay, Penelope Wilton, and the rest of the ensemble contribute to a film whose story is legitimately interesting and captivating, traveling a beautifully-decorated road to acceptance and happiness.

B+