Thursday, June 24, 2021

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Kiss Me Kosher

Kiss Me Kosher
Directed by Shirel Peleg
Screening Information

Meeting a partner’s parents for the first time is often a stressful experience for many reasons. Even under the best of circumstances, there can still be issues to overcome, especially something that has already been dealt with by a couple but might be reopened when family members come into the picture. A true connection between two people might be enough to weather the potential conflicts that emerge, but they can also do serious damage to that bond. Two partners from completely different worlds can still find happiness, but it’s often a rocky and difficult road to get there.

German Maria Müller (Luise Wolfram) arrives in Israel to see her girlfriend Shira Shalev (Moran Rosenblatt) and accidentally proposes to her, a decision she hadn’t yet arrived at for a relatively young relationship. Shira being a lesbian isn’t an issue for her family, which includes her videographer brother Liam (Eyal Shikratzi), soldier sister Ella (Aviv Pinkas), overbearing mother Ora (Irit Kaplan), and American father Ron (John Carroll Lynch), but the fact that Luise is German poses a bigger problem, particularly with her Holocaust survivor grandmother Berta (Rivka Michaeli), who is involved in a controversial flirtatious romance of her own with an Arab neighbor, Ibrahim (Salim Dau).

This film, originally released as “Kiss Me Before It Blows Up,” is a comedy above all else, heightening its scenarios so that the odds are really stacked against Shira and Maria at all times. Within moments of arriving, Maria meets the first of a revolving door of Shira’s omnipresent exes, and Liam’s eagerness to make a documentary about their love highlights unfortunate truths that are better not said. Luise’s wholehearted attempts to learn Hebrew and blend in with her newfound culture aren’t always received well, and Shira is far more casual about the noteworthiness of their differences that might serve as an impediment to their strength as a couple.

This film is full of fun performances, led by Rosenblatt, a familiar face from “Wedding Doll” and “Red Cow,” and Wolfram, who certainly stands out from the rest of the cast physically but matches them in talent. Kaplan and Michaeli are particularly entertaining in supporting roles, and Dau, recently seen in “Oslo,” is an endearing delight. There are moments in which this film ventures too far into absurdity, particularly in its portrayal of Ron, who speaks absolutely no Hebrew and doesn’t feel at all fleshed out as a character, and the eagerness with which people spew half-considered reductive statements. But, overall, it’s enjoyable and a perfectly decent and memorable piece of entertainment.

B

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Movie with Abe: F9: The Fast Saga

F9: The Fast Saga
Directed by Justin Lin
Released June 25, 2021

One of the key aspects of a franchise is dependability. Like diners at a chain restaurant, audiences want to know what they’re getting before they buy a ticket, and that, even if it’s nothing new or revolutionary, it’s worth another trip to the theater. When a movie series arrives at its ninth installment, when its title is shortened enough to only include one word of its original’s moniker, it’s hard to imagine that audiences don’t know just what it is that they’re signing up for and expect to see. To think that a ninth film could be just as entertaining and enthralling as any that came before it is a stretch, but this blockbuster sequel delivers tremendously.

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have settled into domestic life far from the chaos of the world that brought them together, but they can’t sit on the sidelines when Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) show up looking for their help in tracking down a missing Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). An international adventure ensures, bringing back old enemies and other ghosts, including Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s estranged brother, and Cipher (Charlize Theron), along with a new power-hungry villain, Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen).

Plot details almost don’t matter in this movie, because audiences show up for the car racing and the action. This film adds an equally alluring and absurd new device, which is electromagnets that each member of the team uses frequently to catch their pursuers and targets off-guard by jolting any metal on or near them across the road or room. It’s a fun concept that becomes even more frequent as the film progresses, and even if it might not make all that much sense, that’s never been the idea here. Those eagerly awaiting a handful of gravity-contradicting stunts will also not be disappointed.

After two decades of movies, this franchise knows what audience expectations are and is fully aware of how to take it to literal and figurative new heights, never skipping a beat and providing constant entertainment along the way. Any downtime is brief and fleeting, and the oversentimentality that comes off as corny serves sufficiently to fill the gap between action sequences that are startling and seemingly impossible. There isn’t even time to process the craziness of certain twists or plot developments since this film just goes there and fully delivers. The cast includes plenty of comic relief and some truly enjoyable dynamics. Two hours and twenty-five minutes has never gone by so quickly, and while it’s satisfying enough in its own right, it absolutely makes an argument for more and more of this superbly successful formula.

B+

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: 7 Days

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

7 Days
Directed by Roshan Sethi
Viewpoints – Screening Information

Many cultures facilitate arranged marriages as a way of matching up those that families believe will be good for each other. This tends to have a negative connotation since the assumption is that the betrothed have no say in who they will marry, and a chance at modern happiness may be missed in favor of the preservation of what some see as an antiquated tradition. In some cases, one member of a potential couple may be all for the existing system, while the other is absolutely not in favor of it. In drama, the result is usually miserable, but in comedy, it can be gold.

On March 20th, 2020, just as the pandemic is beginning, Ravi (Karan Soni) and Rita (Geraldine Viswanathan) meet and go on a date set up by their parents. Ravi has a clear idea of what he wants from his future wife, and Rita seems like the perfect match. But when Ravi’s car rental gets cancelled and he’s forced to stay with Rita, he quickly discovers that she’s nothing like the perfect Indian-American woman she pretends to be. Forced to spend time together in close quarters, two initially very incompatible people slowly build a friendship that confronts their differences and embraces their similarities.

This is, like so many others, a film that takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s merely a subplot that serves as the catalytic event for these two to have no choice but to get to know each other. Many opportunities for humor about masks or protocols are avoided in favor of the truly worthwhile moments, and there’s more than enough comedy to be milked simply from the way the two of them interact with each other and the world.

Soni and Viswanathan have worked together before, playing two of the only intelligent characters on TBS’ anthology series “Miracle Workers,” and it’s great fun to see them take on completely different roles here. Their performances are purposefully subdued so that their personalities come alive, and it’s remarkably entertaining to listen to their banter. This film starts with stereotypes but doesn’t stop there, and both Ravi and Rita feel like they could really exist. Its plot could follow any number of predictable trajectories, but at every turn, the script, co-written by Soni and debut director Roshan Sethi, instead chooses to enhance its content with enticing and immensely entertaining developments. This film is funny and heartwarming, a fantastic ode to love under the unlikeliest of circumstances.

B+

Interview with Abe: Jena Malone

As part of my Tribeca coverage, it was great to be able to speak with actress Jena Malone about playing a complicated mother in “Lorelei.” Check out my great conversation with her at Cinema Daily US.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: The God Committee

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

The God Committee
Directed by Austin Stark
2020 Official Selection – Screening Information

Organ donation is a process that, in many cases, takes one loss of life that has already happened and turns it into an opportunity to prolong another life. It can be a rewarding and truly transformative act, and so many people benefit from the receipt of a desperately-needed component. But there are also limitations and complications that make the use of a particular organ for one intended recipient more complicated, including the geographical possibility of utilizing it in time and the physical condition of the new host. Another important factor, depending on available information, may be whether the recipient’s historical behavior makes them likely to misuse that which they have been given and ultimately lead to its rejection.

Dr. Andre Boxer (Kelsey Grammer) is a respected doctor at a New York City hospital who also serves on its heart transplant committee, which is run by Dr. Valerie Gilroy (Janeane Garofalo). On the first day that she is selected to join the committee, Dr. Jordan Taylor (Julia Stiles) faces a complex case, where a powerful and influential man (Dan Hedaya) has offered a large donation to the hospital, alleging that it is not contingent on his son being selected for an available heart following an accident. Father Dunbar (Colman Domingo) sits with the committee as a supposedly neutral representative of the would-be donor as they deliberate over what the right choice is.

This film is based on the play of the same name by Mark St. Germain. Its theatrical roots speak to the inherently dramatic nature of people sitting in a room and discussing the value of someone’s life as it compares to another and based on factors that they can’t know are entirely true. As a film, it’s not as clearly compelling, especially because it jumps back and forth frequently between moments in time, including several years in the future after whatever consequential decision comes at the end of the film has already been made. It’s a device that doesn’t aid the storytelling but instead distracts from it, diluting the urgency and distracting audiences by pushing them to guess what may have happened rather than remain intently focused on it.

While both Grammer and Stiles are skilled actors who have, in the past, delivered strong performances as characters with questionable morals, neither of them are memorable in these parts. There isn’t enough character development to make them as interesting as that which they are discussing, and the addition of charismatic scene-stealers like Garofalo and Domingo doesn’t help much since they’re just as unexplored. This is a case where a television series with the opportunity to actually flesh out its protagonists and invest in them as much as in the drama they face might have been a better fit, since the premise is intriguing but not satisfyingly investigated here.

B-

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: The Death of My Two Fathers

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

The Death of My Two Fathers
Directed by Sol Guy
Viewpoints – Screening Information

It isn’t always possible to get to know someone after they’re gone. Children of any age are often left with unanswered questions when they lose a parent, whether it’s something of extreme consequence that they never knew or only later learned, or something far less significant, like a subject of preference they didn’t think to discuss. In rare cases, there is an archive available that allows for the living to establish a new connection with the deceased, hearing directly from them in a way that will likely speak much louder and more emphatically upon review than it would have at the time of its creation.

Sol Guy is a father of two who lost his own father to kidney cancer two decades ago. He knows that his father, William, recorded six VHS tapes recounting the many experiences he had in his own life so that his children would know who he was. Twenty years later, Sol is finally ready to watch them, and to do so with his own family, which leads to the examination of his own life. Along the way, he also explores how he relates to his mother, his stepfather, and the family members he either fell out of touch with or didn’t even know existed.

This is a highly contemplative film, one that invites audiences along for a trip inspired by curiosity and tinged with pain and longing. As he addresses the camera, William is straightforward and open, but there’s no opportunity for Sol to talk to him and ask him follow-up questions, or comment on how something he says makes him feel. Instead, that’s saved for his reflections to a new camera that are part of this film, a deeply meaningful and heartwarming process of documenting how he responds to what his father did, creating a new version of that as he does so.

This film is reminiscent in many ways of last year’s “Time” in part because of the format on which much of it is filmed, but also in the nostalgia for a different path that serves as the catalyst for its compilation. Sol knows that he cannot control or change the events that happened which resulted in his father making the tapes and no longer being in his life when he was fifteen, and this is his best and only hope of getting to know him now and transmitting his legacy to his grandchildren. It’s an extraordinary and personal journey, one that speaks to the universality of loss and the individuality of this one man.

B+

Interview with Abe: Essie Davis

As part of my Tribeca coverage, it was great to be able to speak with actress Essie Davis about her powerhouse turn in “The Justice of Bunny King.” Check out my great conversation with her at Cinema Daily US. Read my review of the film here.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: Roadrunner

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

The documentary “Roadrunner” presents a fascinating window into the life of chef Anthony Bourdain. I reviewed the film for Cinema Daily US - head over there to read my review.

Tribeca with Abe: The Price of Freedom

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

The Price of Freedom
Directed by Judd Ehrlich
Spotlight Documentary – Screening Information

It’s unlikely that there is anyone living in the United States without a stance on gun control. Those who believe it is too easy for someone to get a gun without being properly vetted and see the horrifyingly high number of mass shootings that occur every year tend to be in favor of creating obstacles and checks to ensure that only certain people can even own guns, while those who see other causes such as mental illness or inadequate security champion their rights to bear arms and not to have the government tell them what they can and can’t carry. This documentary takes a distinct and unyielding position on the issue but does so with a surprising amount of access to both sides of the debate.

The main focus here is on the National Rifle Association, which over the course of the past few decades has taken an increasingly offensive stance on ensuring that their membership stands in the way of any attempts to pass legislation that would make it more difficult for anyone to acquire a gun. The roots of the “good guy with a gun” concept are explored, as is the relationship that presidents like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump have had with the gun lobby as it has transformed into an even bigger beast intent on defending its constituents’ alleged rights to be armed as they see fit.

This is absolutely a hot-button issue that will only continue to intensify as minimal action is taken on the government level to create any lasting change. Parents who lost children in school shootings in Sandy Hook and Parkland, names that are all too instantly recognizable to most Americans, convey their devastation that what they have experienced will happen to other parents because nothing is being done, and footage of an Obama press conference shows him vividly angry that his reform efforts were blocked by Republicans in Congress. It’s easy to understand the damage that can be caused by the widespread availability of weaponry and the complete lack of appropriate vetting of potential owners.

While that may be true for the average liberal voter, who is likely to be the audience of this film, that’s certainly not how everyone in the country feels. This film smartly enlists NRA representatives and other conservatives who likely see their participation as a platform to broadcast their defense of their civil liberties and freedoms. Yet this film doesn’t enable their opinions to be anything other than context for the way in which the NRA has systematically campaigned to ensure that guns will not be restricted. It’s both fascinating and infuriating, and it’s effective because even those who speak about their contrary viewpoints don’t try to hide or mask what they’re doing. This is an extremely uphill battle, and for it to be won, this film should be seen by as many people as possible to understand what is meant by the tasteless and unfeeling expression “the price of freedom.”

B+

Friday, June 18, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: Werewolves Within

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Werewolves Within
Directed by Josh Ruben
Spotlight Narrative - Screening Information

The concept of a werewolf is one of a layered villain, someone who may not know the threat that they pose since they transform from man to beast at night, likely unable to control their actions and the destruction they might yield as a result. The fact that it’s not easy to identify who might be a werewolf or to prove that a suspect is in fact guilty of that dual identity can put townspeople on edge, rushing to vilify those who may not be liked and to stop them before they can wreak havoc. It’s a subject particularly well-suited to horror, but also effective in a more comedic parody setting.

Overeager park ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) transfers to a new post and meets mailwoman Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), who clues him in to the eccentric personalities in town. When a storm hits and a dog is found dead, the locals begin to turn on each other. Stuck inside an inn, everyone is a suspect, and emotions run high as each person feeds into their own preconceived notions about the others and jumps to conclusions that tend to be woefully incorrect.

This adaptation of a popular VR game makes for a great movie, immediately establishing itself as winning thanks to the humorous banter that builds between Finn and Cecily. Richardson and Vayntrub are both talents equally capable of cracking jokes and playing the straight man, and they’re surrounded by a truly terrific ensemble. Among the cast are Michaela Watkins, Michael Chernus, Catherine Curtin, Cheyenne Jackson, Harvey Guillén, Sarah Burns, and Glenn Fleshler, all of whom contribute tremendously to the wild insanity of this film.

In a film and television world that’s all too populated by werewolves and zombies, this film doesn’t reinvent the genre but does manage to breathe fresh life into it by keeping audiences engaged with a decently involving mystery and plenty of comedy along the way. In this struggle for survival, it’s fun to see that those who are likely most equipped to make it out alive are able to confront and acknowledge the absurdity of their situation and how focused others remain on ridiculous and important things in the face of certain grisly death. If most of the characters in a movie are going to die anyway, isn’t it more fun if they get to make fun of each other along the way? This entertaining ride certainly makes a strong case for yes.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: Building a Bridge

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Building a Bridge
Directed by Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post
Viewpoints – Screening Information

There is a feeling many people have that the faith they were raised in is incompatible with who they are, and that to attempt a return to religion won’t be successful because they are not welcome. There is good reason for this given that biblical texts tend to be discriminatory and outdated, and while modern interpretations cast a wider and more inviting net, traditional readings are often quite exclusionary. This notion can be incredibly painful for members of the LGBTQ+ community who have been told over and over that there is no place for them within Christianity – or other religions, for that matter – and find open-minded preachers and churches to be all too rare.

Father James Martin is an exception to the rule, a man whose devoutness drove him to make a controversial decision to endorse extending the hand of friendship to the LGBTQ+ community. His book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity was not received well by many of his peers, but the choice to meet people where they are and accept them has made a huge difference to the many who were cast aside by parents and communities because of their identities.

This documentary has an affable, energetic protagonist, one fully aware of the uphill battle he faces to confront a powerful and vocal group within the church that calls him a heretic and seeks to discredit him for what they see as blasphemous teachings. He supports Pope Francis’ example of not judging LGBTQ+ people who seek to have a relationship with Christianity, and continues with his mission despite all the naysayers who say that all he stands for is incongruent with a true religion vision.

This film showcases the outreach by Father Martin, but also allows those who fight fervently against what he stands for to speak. The way that their opinions are presented and expressed doesn’t overshadow his work or threaten to give them a platform that could encourage audiences that perhaps this is a two-sided issue where their opinion could be regarded as anywhere near as valid or acceptable as Father Martin’s. His ability to respond and hold fast to his beliefs that bringing in any member of the community who wants to be a part of it is only made stronger by their lack of desire to consider what he says or does. At some point in the future, this story should be so common that this documentary need not exist, but for now, it’s an important and spirited message that change like this absolutely must be happening.

B+

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: A Crime on the Bayou, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, 12 Mighty Orphans, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard
New to DVD: Eat Wheaties, Voyagers, French Exit
New to Hulu: The Outside Story, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson

Video Review: The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

I was thrilled to be able to participate in a video review with fellow critic Matthew Schuchman for Cinema Daily US as part of the site's Above the Line vs Below the Line series. Check out our discussion of the film “The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard,” now playing in theaters, below:


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: Queen of Glory

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Queen of Glory
Directed by Nana Mensah
US Narrative Competition – Screening Information

The bond a child has with their parent isn’t consistent across all relationships. Those raised with kindness may in turn distribute that to the world, though not everyone responds well to nurturing and love. But there are also dynamics that aren’t necessarily negative or volatile but do come with their degree of baggage, and it’s often not until something serious happens and creates a breakdown of normal activities that the true strength and endurance of a connection is tested. In some cases, that may only begin to be explored after a parent’s death.

Sarah (Nana Mensah) is a scientist and doctoral student at Columbia University who is set on leaving New York City to move to Ohio with her married boyfriend, who is constantly telling her that he’s ready to separate from his wife. Her plans are disrupted when her mother dies, and she is the one who needs to plan the funeral as her father, who lives in Ghana, arrives to pay his respects and leave all the work to her. She also learns that she has inherited the Christian bookstore in the Bronx that her mother owned, which introduces her to Pitt (Meeko), the ex-con who reveres her mother and keeps up the store.

This film depicts Sarah as an assimilated American woman who hasn’t spent much time in the Ghanaian culture that meant a great deal to her mother and whose traditions dictate what the funeral must look like. She receives considerable input and instruction from members of her extended family and the Ghanaian-American community, and also interacts with a Russian friend and her family whose customs and bedside manner look very different. Sarah isn’t any one thing, and the circumstances in which she finds herself force to her to have many identities at once, none of which seem to go together and find a common support system, certainly not from her hapless and noncommittal boyfriend.

Mensah makes her debut behind the camera as writer and director of her first feature, immersing herself in this character’s world and conveying her experience in an accessible and relatable manner. While there are elements of her culture that are unique and distinct, and on full display in a positive and meaningful way during this film, there is also a universality to what she goes through, which is the reconciliation of heritage and secularism for someone who doesn’t feel as if she’s rebelled against her upbringing but also has chosen to engage with at her own comfort. It’s a film that touches on familial relationships and individuality, weaving an engaging narrative with a rich, dynamic character as its center.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: With/In

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

With/In Vol 1 and Vol 2
Various Directors
Movies PlusScreening Information

The pandemic has had an incredible effect on every industry, and that’s absolutely true of film and television, which in most cases had to shut down production for more than a year. While that has produced many delays of highly-anticipated projects and put actors and crew members out of work, it has also given birth to an unexpected creativity. Those with energy, ideas, and even a little bit of technology have been able make media that speaks to what’s brewing in their minds and showcases just some of what they’ve been experiencing during an increased period of time away from others.

This is a two-volume anthology collection comprised of shorts written and directed by actors and filmmakers. The subjects and styles vary greatly, though they all make distinct reference to what’s happening in the world around them and how things are definitely not normal. Among the standouts are a comedy about a one-night stand that turns into bathroom quarantine, two children driven crazy by their father’s obsession over strangers touching his fence, and two friends checking in virtually with each other every week.

What’s most fun about these shorts and differentiates them from some of the other pandemic filmmaking that’s emerged is that they mostly include families. It’s a delight to recognize married actors, like Alessandro Nivola and Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Marvel and Bill Camp, Morgan Spector and Rebecca Hall, Debra Winger and Arliss Howard, and Julianne Nicholson and Jonathan Cake, playing together on screen. When they include their children, the enjoyment level is only increased, and it’s nice to see that increased time together has only led to enhanced cooperation and productivity, at least in the finished product.

Like any anthology, the overall quality hinges on the strength of each specific short. The first volume includes just four films and runs 73 minutes, while the second includes nine and lasts 123 minutes. There isn’t any consistency to the lengths or themes, which makes for an uneven experience but one that has its high points. There are also performers who are clearly talented, like Carla Gugino and Adrianne Palicki, in truly strange and odd segments. Some take advantage of pandemic trends and turn them into waking nightmares, be it a loss of connectivity or an overindulgence in sourdough. The result is ultimately intriguing and occasionally involving, but it might have been more resounding with more purposeful structure and sequencing.

B

Tribeca with Abe: The Novice

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

The Novice
Directed by Lauren Hadaway
US Narrative Competition – Screening Information

Competitive sports can drive people to extraordinary lengths as they do everything in their power to excel, pushing themselves to dangerous limits in pursuit of success. Motivations for being the best can vary, and may be influenced by the experiences people have had growing up at home or in an educational or social setting. They can also be driven by a dependence on scholarship or fame as their only pathway to a prosperous future, and the decisions made as a result of such pressure can be disastrous and irreversible.

Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) begins her freshman year at college and joins the rowing team. Though she has no training, she is determined to become the top performer, meticulously training and working herself to the bone to beat out any of her fellow novices. Working harder than even her coach (Jonathan Cherry) advises, Alex closes herself off from the rest of the world to focus on winning, revealing a tremendous passion and resilience that will allow her to put everything else, including a burgeoning relationship with her TA, Dani (Dilone), second to triumphing over anyone who would dare stand in her way.

This film showcases the dark side of the pressure to succeed that inflicts so much pain and misery on those who work too hard and end up hurting themselves in the process. Part of that comes from the treatment of newcomers that often turns into harassment and hazing, which can only further deepen a need to show proof of talent and an ability to “toughen up” when pushed and tormented. Added to the way that Alex cannot accept anything short of perfection, it makes for a very volatile recipe that threatens not only Alex’s livelihood but that of those around her who may be adversely affected by her reckless choices.

Fuhrman, whose breakout role in “Orphan” came at a very young age, is formidable in this part, completely conveying the isolating passion that Alex feels and how she simply isn’t able to turn off that part of her, unwilling to listen to anyone who tells her that she’s done enough or that she’s going too far. Her performance alone is sufficient as a reason to see this film, which feeds off her energy and takes audiences on an involving, chilling ride that, like Alex, doesn’t let up even when it feels like it’s getting to be too much. It’s both a cautionary tale and a strong character study, one that travels a disturbing path in a film that feels both larger-than-life and all too realistic.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: All My Friends Hate Me

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

All My Friends Hate Me
Directed by Andrew Gaynord
International Narrative Competition – Screening Information

It’s often nice to reconnect with old friends after a period of time spent apart. The reason for a gap in get-togethers may be purely due to uncontrollable life factors like geography, work, and building a family, and reunions can be sweet opportunities to bask in nostalgia and remember the good old times. But people do inevitably change over the course of any period of time, and reencountering one another can be awkward if worldviews and interests no longer add up, and if some have matured while others have remained the same.

Pete (Tom Stourton) is going away for his birthday to celebrate with his friends from university who he hasn’t seen in a number of years. His girlfriend Sonia (Charly Clive) is coming to join them, but the festivities begin with just Pete and his former classmates gathered together at the large country home of his buddy George (Joshua McGuire). The unexpected presence of someone Pete doesn’t know, Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), puts Pete on edge when he starts to believe that Harry has it out for him, first making jokes at his expense and then contributing greatly to a growing sense Pete has that something is very wrong.

This film is billed as a horror-comedy, and that’s because it presents a situation which at first seems perfectly harmless. Pete is getting to see those he likes a lot for the first time in ages, but of course he’s doing it at a giant mansion with many mysterious rooms that takes him plenty of time to find on his solo trip out there. Where the terror – or at least the very unsettling mood – seeps in is in Pete’s increasing isolation, inviting only the audience along for his frightening descent into madness, made to seem like he is the one who is seeing or assuming things when, as this film’s title suggests, all his friends don’t appear to like him very much at all.

Even if this wasn’t a psychological horror movie, it would be one that succeeds well at capturing the discomfort of not being seen. Pete’s friends plan activities for him that reflect a complete lack of understanding of what he would want to do, and then blame him when he doesn’t seem excited or grateful enough that they’ve been lavishly orchestrated. That element of the film should be most relatable to audiences, and the unnerving journey it takes culminates in a clever finish that only further cements the loneliness Pete feels that the audience gets to experience through him. It’s not an easy ride, but one that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.

B

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: Do Not Hesitate

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Do Not Hesitate
Directed by Shariff Korver
International Narrative Competition – Screening Information

There is a concept that what happens while someone is away from home can stay there and not have an impact on their everyday life back home. It’s a notion that’s utilized in comedy when people make drunken decisions that they regret and would rather not follow them permanently, but also one that can be applied in a much more serious context. Being in a different mindset or mode may also affect behavior and can lead to irreversible actions that can’t even be truly understood by those who haven’t experienced it, and that’s certainly true of a warzone.

In the Middle East, Erik (Joes Brauers) is a soldier in the Dutch military in a convoy that breaks down in the middle of the desert. One of his fellow soldiers accidentally shoots a goat thinking that it is an advancing enemy, and the local owner of the goat, a fourteen-year-old boy (Omar Alwan), comes looking for compensation. When Erik’s supervising officer leaves to find an outpost, he is left in charge with Roy (Spencer Bogaert) and Thomas (Tobias Kersloot), out alone in an unknown and treacherous landscape, and watched constantly by the boy who won’t leave without getting what he believes they now owe him.

The premise of this film doesn’t suggest a positive outcome, and real-life stories of very problematic and violent interactions between supposed peacekeeping presences in Middle Eastern countries and the local population foreshadow a miserable trajectory. While this film is definitely grim in certain respects, Erik does do his best to treat the boy as a human being (not that it should be a high bar by any measure), trying to communicate with him despite not speaking his language and to do more than merely give him American currency as a way to make up for the taking of his livelihood.

There are strong performances featured in this film, particularly from Brauers and Alwan. The other two primary members of the ensemble, Bogaert and Kersloot, emphatically illustrate the ways in which boredom and immaturity can lead to consequential and disturbing moves with lasting reverberations. This film has a distinct point of view that manages to bring its audience into the environment inhabited by its characters, and while it’s certainly intriguing, the ultimate course of the film isn’t quite as vivid or inviting as its premise or early stops along its journey, still interesting but also unsettling and unfulfilling.

B

Tribeca with Abe: On the Divide

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

On the Divide
Directed by Leah Galant and Maya Cueva
Documentary Competition – Screening Information

It’s not easy to relate to someone else’s point of view, especially if it stands in stark opposition to what one person believes. There are key conflicts in how people from the same neighborhoods, religions, and other communities see the world, and the increasingly polarized, politicized nature of society makes it difficult to even try to find common ground on controversial subjects. What might help is an understanding that the passion those on one side of an issue feel can be just as strong as what those on the other side feel, a concept explored in this eye-opening look at the city of McAllen, Texas.

McAllen is located on the US-Mexico border in Texas, and is home to Whole Woman’s Health, the only abortion clinic in the area. Denisse, who has four children, is one of several volunteers who serves as an escort for the women who come to seek services, while Rey serves as a security guard for the clinic despite his strong religious beliefs. There to protest the alleged killing going on within and counsel the women who try to enter is Mercedes, a former gang member who was since turned to Christianity, following the leadership of church organizers intent on saving every baby in their city.

Though it’s tempting to take a clear point of view, which most audiences watching this film likely will given that it spotlights the last remaining abortion clinic in a deeply conservative region, this film does a remarkable job of giving equal time to those on both sides of this divide. Some might argue that equal time shouldn’t be doled out, especially given the considerable resources of the church as compared with the clinic, but this film, more than anything, seeks to understand why these people are so driven to do what they do. The purchase of a building three doors down from the clinic as a home for a new pro-life crisis pregnancy center is devastating for those who operate and support the clinic, but the church members believe they are doing God’s work, just as determined to provide what they deem an essential service.

This film is most poignant when it gets to hear directly from its subjects, letting them expound on what they have been through in the course of their lives and why they believe what they do. It’s a good example of keeping an issue local, not making it about how political leadership in southern Texas affects the entire country. If it wasn’t already apparent, the deep conservative bent of the area is definitely on display, and this film succeeds at showing everyone’s humanity even if its investigation of the pronounced separation may not be able to change any minds of those who actually live there.

B+

Interview with Abe: Catch the Fair One

As part of my Tribeca coverage, I got to interview boxer-turned-actress Kali Reis and director Josef Kubota Wladyka about their film “Catch the Fair One,” for Cinema Daily US. Watch the conversation below!


Tribeca with Abe: No Man of God

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Luke Kirby stars as Ted Bundy opposite Elijah Wood's FBI profiler in “No Man of God.” I reviewed the film for Cinema Daily US - head over there to read my review.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Movie with Abe: Eat Wheaties!

Eat Wheaties
Directed by Scott Abramovitch
Released April 30, 2021

Not everyone is able to see how they’re perceived by the world. It’s also possible that people put too much weight into what others think, and allow their lives to be guided by societal pressures and a need to be liked and admired. Whether it’s good or bad, there are certain things that are defined as normal behavior, and those who do not practice them are often judged, mocked, or shunned by an unaccepting public. Typically, such individuals do mean well, and taking the time to get to know them can offer a very worthwhile and important new perspective.

Sid Straw (Tony Hale) is an overeager man without any real friends who gets put in charge of his college reunion. Told by his co-chair that he needs to have an online presence, he signs up for Facebook, where he comes upon a fan page for his old classmate, actress Elizabeth Banks. Unaware that his messages to her aren’t private, he begins writing a series of notes about his life to her, signing each one with the token line he accredits to her, “Eat Wheaties!” As the reunion approaches, Sid’s life spirals out of control as he learns the harsh truth about the unforgiving nature of a world unwilling to accept those who don’t conform.

This film boasts an outstanding cast, ensuring that no scene is absent a familiar face to join the affable Hale. Among the highlights are David Walton as Sid’s sympathetic brother and Elisha Cuthbert as his wife, who really detests Sid, Paul Walter Hauser as a lawyer sympathetic to Sid’s experience, Sarah Burns as a prospective love interest, and Danielle Brooks as a waitress at Sid’s go-to restaurant. The ensemble helps to make this an entertaining experience, even if it’s one that involves many cringe-worthy moments where Ted’s questionable decisions and actions are made even worse by the harsh response they receive from those within and outside his orbit.

There is a tremendous amount of heart to be found under the surface layer of this film, which doesn’t paint Sid in a great light and shows the depressing journey he takes from being perfectly content to watching his life fall apart. Fortunately, his story isn’t one that travels only downwards, and it’s fun and affirming to see him fight for himself, even if he still isn’t able to fully grasp what it is that he didn’t do right. As a call for acceptance, this film works well, and it’s good to have this lighthearted opportunity to root for the underdog.

B

Interview with Abe: Luke Wilson and Vinessa Shaw

As part of my Tribeca coverage, I got to speak to a few of the talented people involved in the new film “12 Mighty Orphans,” which also opens this Friday, for Cinema Daily US. Here's Martin Sheen and director Ty Roberts:


Interview with Abe: Robert Duvall

As part of my Tribeca coverage, I got to speak to a few of the talented people involved in the new film “12 Mighty Orphans,” which also opens this Friday, for Cinema Daily US. Here's Martin Sheen and director Ty Roberts:


Interview with Abe: Martin Sheen & Ty Roberts

As part of my Tribeca coverage, I got to speak to a few of the talented people involved in the new film “12 Mighty Orphans,” which also opens this Friday, for Cinema Daily US. Here's Martin Sheen and director Ty Roberts:


Monday, June 14, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: No Future

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

No Future
Directed by Mark Smoot and Andrew Irvine
2020 Official Selection: Features – Screening Information

The loss of a friend or loved one leaves a hole and a longing which may be extremely difficult to fill. Acquaintances who knew the same person may turn to each other for comfort, forming a new kind of relationship in the process based on shared grief and a mutual understanding of what the other is feeling. In some cases, that may be enduring and lasting, while others will be impulsive and run counter to existing dynamics and established patterns. Immersion into something that conflicts with a person’s routine and life, however instantly therapeutic, may ultimately prove damaging and problematic.

Will (Charlie Heaton) is a recovering addict and on a decent track, attending meetings frequently and maintaining a healthy relationship with Becca (Rosa Salazar). When an old friend overdoses and dies, Charlie is brought back into an all-too-familiar world, and finds a fellow griever in the form of his friend’s mother, Claire (Catherine Keener). The chance to reencounter someone from her son’s life injects a feeling of warmth and comfort into Claire’s deep sorrow, and she and Will establish an unexpected connection as they struggle to move forward with their lives in the absence of a shared loved one.

This is a relatively grim film, one that doesn’t find many opportunities for joy. What Will and Claire provide for each other is solace and nostalgia, and the fact that their relationship turns sexual speaks to a fulfillment they both need rather than either of them standing in for a best friend or child, respectively. While Claire has few people to surround her, Will’s newfound bond with Claire pulls him away from Becca, threatening one constant source of stability as he wanders back towards a place where he was dependent not on people but on substances to keep himself alert and alive.

This film features two very strong performances that make its characters feel three-dimensional and sympathetic, conveying the experiences they have had to audiences who may not have been through the same loss and utter devastation. Heaton, a more comedic ensemble player in “Stranger Things,” gives a fine dramatic turn here, while Keener, an established actress with many notable credits, taps into the desperation for a connection and some link to her deceased child that comes through emotionally and compellingly. This film’s bleak title offers a fair preview of its contents, which probe interesting territory and, like the characters, aren’t able to find an enduring way of crawling out of the misery.

B

Tribeca with Abe: Wild Men

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Wild Men
Directed by Thomas Daneskov
International Narrative Competition – Screening Information

People deal with uncertainty and dissatisfaction in different ways. Those who are able to recognize the roots of their problems or concerns may want to address what isn’t working for them and try to proactively find a fix. Others may seek comfort in immersing themselves in something that looks nothing like their normal life, whether or not it’s a sustainable long-term plan. It’s not usually easy to make a dramatic change permanent, and the exploratory period may also bring with it a series of irreversible actions that make it impossible to revert back to a previous state.

Martin (Rasmus Bjerg) is having a midlife crisis of sorts. His uncertainty about his place in the world has sent him into the Norwegian forest dressed as a Neanderthal, not entirely disconnected from civilization thanks to his cell phone charger but hardly properly equipped for human interaction. A trip to a convenience store without his wallet precipitates a run-in with a criminal named Musa (Zaki Youssef) on the run from authorities and his own vindictive accomplices. The two join forces as they head to a community where Martin hopes to find kindred spirits and Musa hopes to find a ticket far away from his precarious situation.

This film is inherently comedic, mainly because Martin’s personality doesn’t match his startling getup, and much of what he says indicates a desire to live off the land but conveys far too much knowledge about modernity and material concerns. His dynamic with Musa is entertaining, especially because what’s not said between the two of them leads to humorous misunderstandings and a very confused law enforcement search for the pair, made even less competent due to a lack of effort and intelligence from those in (cold) pursuit.

This film takes an interesting journey between genres, starting out as a screwball comedy and then turning into more of a twisted thriller as its story goes off the rails. It’s an entertaining journey to be sure, one made even more enjoyable by Bjerg’s lead performance. He manages to portray Martin’s very specific enthusiasm in a way that makes him believable as a man who overinvests in certain fantasies but also does also possess a good amount of street smarts that don’t serve him as well when he can’t see the full picture of his life. This film’s thematic pivot leaves a puzzling taste as it ends, but its humor drives it well for the majority of its runtime, basking in its peculiarity and putting it to enjoyable use.

B

Tribeca with Abe: Accepted

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

The documentary “Accepted” spotlights an innovative, questionable approach to education. I reviewed the film for Cinema Daily US - head over there to read my review.

Tribeca with Abe: Italian Studies

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Italian Studies
Directed by Adam Leon
Spotlight Narrative – Screening Information

The idea of forgetting one’s identity is hard to imagine, because so much of who a person is ties in to the things they do. To remember how to eat or how to speak but not to know one’s name is a contradiction of sorts, yet memory loss and amnesia are often unpredictable and inconsistent. What someone in that situation may be drawn to do and how they hunt for information about who they are may have no relevance at all to their true identity and what they used to do for work or pleasure, but it often serves as the only data available to begin that search.

A woman (Vanessa Kirby), who later finds out that her name is Alina, wanders around New York City, unsure of who she is and trying to remember anything she can about herself. A chance run-in with a teenager named Simon (Simon Brickner) seeking someone to help him meet a credit card minimum to buy hot dogs leads her down a rabbit hole of discovery in which she shifts her quest for knowledge about herself to anything she can learn about him and the company he keeps. As she begins to gain a sense of who she is, her boldness and lack of certainty become distinctly incompatible for the people she encounters.

Just as Alina can’t quite tell how much of what she’s gleaning about herself is true, this film doesn’t distinguish between what actually happens to her and what she may be misremembering or imagining. That results in a somewhat chaotic, free-floating state, one that invites plenty of confusion which is never properly sorted and clarified. It enables Alina to become a more inherently interesting character, but even though she remains magnetic, the film around her feels disjointed and directionless, almost content to allow her to emerge with no better sense of herself.

Kirby has proven her ability to command films that aren’t as formidable as she is with last year’s “Pieces of a Woman” and “The World to Come.” The same is true here, and she makes the most of a character who feels thinly written in a way that isn’t just purposely done to make her more mysterious. Mystery isn’t enough to drive a story if it’s not headed anywhere, and though this film runs only seventy-nine short minutes, it feels like an aimless eternity. There are a handful of moments of intrigue, but the fact that they lead nowhere fulfilling is even more of a disappointment.

C+

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: Roaring 20s

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Roaring 20s
Directed by Elisabeth Vogler
International Narrative Competition – Screening Information

It’s difficult to know exactly what the world will be like when society truly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The increased availability of vaccines and steady decline in number of cases in many parts of the developed world have helped to begin the transition back to normalcy, but the habits formed and activities affected during this time will surely have a lasting impact that will forever change the way certain things are done. What can be assessed at the moment is what the world looks like now, and how that snapshot foretells what might be to come for some near or distant future.

This film presents one continuous take inviting audiences to experience Paris, jumping from conversation to conversation as people move about the streets of the city. They discuss things as important as love or identity, and stop to ask for a cigarette or the best station to exit the metro to reach a desired destination. Most segments feature two people talking to each other with a degree of familiarity that offers a window into who they are after just a few minutes of dialogue, and others offer precious little information and serve merely as the conduit from one unbroken scene to another.

This film is a mesmerizing, involving delight, one that has no lead but instead stops to spend time and truly be with each of its characters, regardless of how short their appearances may be or how insignificant they may seem. For the duration of their time onscreen, they are the only focus, until the camera pans to someone else and the story travels with them to wherever they’re going. It’s a device that has been used before and plays out exceptionally well here, just as effective when words are merely being exchanged as when music kicks in and the true power of being alive can be felt.

While this film was shot last summer during the pandemic, it doesn’t stop much to dwell on that as being the defining aspect of each ensemble player’s existence. In fact, the first time characters don masks, as they descend into the metro, it’s an unspoken and almost insignificant transition that speaks to the way in which, for the most part, people persevere and adapt without losing themselves along the way. This concept could be set at any time in any city, but there’s something so wonderful specific and grounded about it that makes it both a marvelous and creative movie and a moving and lasting time capsule.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: Perfume de Gardenias

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Perfume de Gardenias
Directed by Macha Colón
Viewpoints – Screening Information

The loss of a life partner creates obvious changes in a person’s routine. The effects are felt even more if a relationship has been longstanding and become the only remembered way of existence. What someone chooses to do to fill their time may be only a slight modification of what they did before, or it can involve a more drastic and recognizable shift designed to amplify distraction and provide a venue for activity and energy. In some cases, it may also relate directly to the absence of that partner, brought about by their departure and selected due to newfound availability.

Isabel (Luz Maria Rondon) has lived her whole life in Puerto Rico, and cares dutifully for her husband. When he dies, she must plan the funeral, and, in her grief, manages to create a beautiful presentation for the service. Toña (Sharon Riley), a devout religious woman in the community, takes note of her talents and enlists Isabel to join her crew of elderly women who step in to plan the most aesthetically-pleasing arrangements when people die. As Isabel finds most of her time taken up with this public service, she learns unexpected things about what the group does and their work in her neighborhood.

This film stands out in that it doesn’t feature any younger characters aside from Isabel’s adult daughter, with whom she has a less than perfect relationship. Isabel is the film’s stoic and very calm protagonist, rarely registering much emotion and instead going along with her involuntary enlistment in Toña’s crew, where all are subservient to her and forced to do whatever it is that she commands. Her motivations aren’t entirely clear other than that she wants to be considered in high regard, and Isabel isn’t someone who bothers to ask questions to get to the root of what’s going on since she just hasn’t taken much agency in her life, instead following those around her and blending in.

This is a subdued and slow-moving story, one that includes few quick cuts and instead dwells on the lonely monotony that Isabel experiences both as she cares for her husband at the beginning of the film and once she has considerably less to occupy her time. Toña is a much bolder and louder character, one who invigorates the film with a blast of ferocious, controlling energy, pushing it closer to dark, unsettling drama than its otherwise passive and neutral plot has been up until that point. It’s ultimately an odd, somewhat eerie experience, one that manages to be intriguing but not entirely fulfilling.

B

Tribeca with Abe: The Justice of Bunny King

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

The Justice of Bunny King
Directed by Gaysorn Thavat
Viewpoints – Screening Information

A trait that is typically shared between parents from all walks of life is a fierce defense of their children’s safety and wellbeing. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re immune from doing wrong or actually harming them, but when they see that their offspring are threatened or may be taken away from them, they will do everything possible not to lose them. In many cases, it may be too late, and even if parents and children want to be together, questionable responsibility and cyclical patterns can stand in the way of a happy ending and a chance to rewind and reset a relationship.

Bunny King (Essie Davis) has been separated from her children by family services as a result of her past actions and repeated behavior. To earn money, she cleans the windshields of cars driving by and invests considerable effort in trying to find a new place for her family to live despite constant obstacles that stop her in her tracks before she’s even walked in to look at a home. Seeing an opportunity, she realizes she must take certain steps in order to achieve the reunion she’s so desperately awaited, which also involves her niece Tonya (Thomasin McKenzie), who has a fractured relationship with her own parents that draws her to her aunt.

The title character is an instantly memorable personality, one who seeks to atone for her actions but not to apologize for who she is, determined to be in her children’s lives even and especially if she’s told by authorities when she can and cannot see them. She knows that she may not be a perfect mother but still needs to have that role for them, and each time she is restricted from doing so or replaced in some way, she becomes more intent on regaining it.

Davis’ lead performance drives this film, and it’s a fantastically layered portrayal, one that doesn’t dismiss or excuse her character flaws that make it difficult to assess whether she would in fact be a reliable guardian for her children. McKenzie, a young actress known for mature performances in films like “Leave No Trace” and “Jojo Rabbit,” is typically strong here, and the two have great onscreen chemistry. This film from feature debut director Gaysorn Thavat is set in New Zealand but could easily take place anywhere, and the poignancy of its story and its performances should be able to be felt equally by audiences from all around the world.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: All These Sons

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

All These Sons
Directed by Bing Liu and Joshua Altman
Documentary Competition – Screening Information

The number of deaths by gun violence in the United States is truly startling, and the solution to the problem isn’t as simple as some may think. Those likeliest to be either the perpetrators or the victims aren’t random, and there are many root causes that both fuel violence and increase the potential for confrontation. In many locations deemed “urban” and “unsafe,” an excessive police presence designed to keep violence in check may instead proliferate it, worsening a problem for which it is in fact not the solution, and a sincere system review is needed to bring about lasting change.

This documentary follows community programs designed to help young men escape a cycle of violence that too often engulfs the population of the South Side and West Side in Chicago. Two organizations, The Inner-City Muslim Action Network and MAAFA Redemption Project, allow Chicagoans to indulge in creative pursuits and work their way back to positively contributing to society if they have already gone down a road that has put their life on a certain path. Those whose actions during their teenage years marred the next few decades of their lives serve as role models and mentors to the next generation that hopes to avoid the same fate.

This film comes from Bing Liu and Joshua Altman, who previously collaborated on the documentary “Minding the Gap.” Like that film, the examination of a group of people succeeds tremendously due to its intimate feel and its sincere desire to get to know the individuals it is profiling. This is about Chicago and the way systemic racism leads to systemic violence in America, but it is also about Shamont, Zay, and Charles, three very real and specific people who are confronting their own struggles and issues, fully aware of what their futures could look like and the work they must do to cement the version they want to see of their lives.

This film isn’t a catch-call solution to the epidemic of gun violence in America, but it’s a striking and important first step. The investment in youth and the acknowledgment that they are just as likely to be the victims as they are the perpetrators is a resounding call to action, one that doesn’t excuse violent acts but seeks to take active measures to build communities that are not over-policed and can chart a new course for their citizens. Projects like the ones showcased are affirming and uplifting, and this film does them a strong service by amplifying their existence.

B+

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: India Sweets and Spices

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

India Sweets and Spices
Directed by Geeta Malik
Spotlight Narrative – Screening Information

Every culture has defining elements that make it distinct from others and at the same time very universal. Those who grow up with a positive relationship to their heritage and community are likely to remain close to them, while anyone who has a negative experience may choose to rebel and abandon what they used to know in favor of something more welcoming or encouraging. Completely separating from family or friends may not be possible, and those living in two worlds may feel pulled apart by expectations from home that clash with what their daily lives look like and what they’re determined to accomplish with their legacies.

Alia (Sophia Ali) has had a transformative first year at UCLA, and coming back to her Indian-American community in New Jersey shocks her back into a life and culture that looks nothing like her college experience. She upsets the delicate balance of things by inviting the new local shopkeepers whose son Varun (Rish Shah) she finds attractive and whose spot on the social hierarchy doesn’t match that of her upscale family to a lavish party. When an unexpected connection between Varun’s mother Bhairavi (Deepti Gupta) and Alia’s mother Sheila (Manisha Koirala) is revealed, Alia begins to question how much of her identity is based on principles and attitudes that are out of touch with modernity.

This film presents an entertaining story within this cultural framework, showcasing its protagonist as the young upstart whose immersion in secular American woke life prompts her to question everything she knows and take active steps to dismantle learned habits within her community. It’s a marvelous instance of stereotypes turned on their heads, used to create the outline of characters but then enhanced by gradually unveiled depth that explains the masks people put on to try to fit in and seem normal.

Ali is fantastic as Alia, so bitingly sarcastic and eager to take charge of a life that she hasn’t always felt was hers and which she has found for herself after having left home to experience the real world. Gupta, who I had the privilege to interview about the film, and Koirala deliver strong performances as contrasting examples of Indian-American mothers who hold by different values, and the rest of the ensemble mainly supports the comedy aspects of this film. It’s one that affirms Indian-American identity as valid and distinct and will also remind many from different cultures about their own clashes with what they’ve always been taught, bringing centuries of customs into a modern and evolved world.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: Souad

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Souad
Directed by Ayten Amin
International Narrative Competition – Screening Information

The way people present themselves to the world around them is influenced by many factors. Peer pressure can have impactful and unfortunate results, and it may not even stem from direct action or words from others but from what someone places upon themselves due to their perception of their status or worth. Social media profiles rarely reflect reality accurately or completely, and those who seem happiest and most popular may be harboring secrets with potentially dangerous implications, especially if who they are and how they want to express themselves is incongruent with their culture and community.

Souad (Bassant Ahmed) lives in Zagazig, Egypt. She spends a good chunk of her day online, pining after glamorous stories others post and messaging with her boyfriend Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem), who lives in Alexandria, while finishing up university. What she tells her friends and random strangers on the bus, however, indicates a different truth, one that finds her emulating a more fantastical lifestyle and bolstering Ahmed’s identity, transforming him from an influencer and content creator to a respected military officer. What Souad doesn’t share with anyone, including her younger sister Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh), reveals much more about who she wants to be and the dangers of secrecy and over-exaggeration.

Living almost entirely through social media profiles is a concerning enough phenomenon in the United States, and this film explores how it’s just as prevalent in other countries. Modesty standards and religious influences further complicate the situation, as what Souad wants to express can’t be done around certain friends and family members, leading her to further mask what is really going on in her life and keep those closest to her in the dark. It’s a cautionary tale that will surely be frightening and unsettling to parents of teenage children who see all too well the possible negative consequences of modern technology.

Ahmed delivers a strong breakthrough performance as Souad, bubbly and energetic in some surroundings and more reserved and melancholy in others. It’s a very universal turn in that who she is can be applied to so many young adults, regardless of where they live in the world, but also one that’s informed by the cultural norms of modern Egyptian society. This film both defies and delivers on expectations, demonstrating the reach of social media and the yearning for connection – and acceptance – that so motivates people to do things that wouldn’t ordinarily make sense or seem safe. The finished product is an unnerving and memorable portrait of youth, vigor, and a harsh and often unforgiving world.

B+

Friday, June 11, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: As of Yet

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

As of Yet
Directed by Chanel James and Taylor Garron
Viewpoints – Screening Information

The pandemic has been a time fraught with anxiety for most, unsure of whether they would remain safe and, more recently, tentative about returning to normal life. During the worst of it, however, an end was most definitely not in sight, and the notion of continuing protocols forever and never seeing anyone in person became almost too much to bear. Anyone who started a new relationship during the pandemic deserves particular credit since navigating a romance of any sort is difficult enough in a virus-free world, and beginning something with the barrier of social distancing presents a considerably increased challenge.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Naomi (Taylor Garron) has been playing it safe. She hasn’t gone anywhere and has maintained relationships via FaceTime and Zoom. With her roommate (Eva Victor) in Florida with family, Naomi has starting chatting with a guy she met online and is considering arranging their very first in-person date. As she connects with friends and family for regularly-scheduled check-ins, Naomi ponders the safety of such a decision and the intersection of many societal factors that have affected how she operates and has changed her thinking over the course of quarantine.

This film is the latest in a series of projects filmed during the pandemic that is expressly about life in the pandemic, and it mimics the style of “Language Lessons” and “Coastal Elites,” among others, in that all of its scenes are seen through a camera or computer screen. That device might seem irritating or tiring for those who feel they have spent too long sitting on Zoom over the past year, but it’s actually a marvelous way to get to know Naomi and to see her at her most unguarded, freely conversing with everyone because their physical distance makes it easier to be open and honest, even if that leads to uncomfortable moments and realizations.

Garron, who serves as writer and co-director for the film, is phenomenal, making Naomi seem simultaneously relatable and highly specific, walking through the world with pointed opinions about race, romance, and relationships. Nothing is lost from her performance being directed at a screen rather than at others next to her, and that actually adds tremendously to the experience. Whether isolated filmmaking like this will continue after the pandemic is a mystery, but this film offers a snapshot of this moment in time with an entertaining, witty script and a compelling story woven together from selected scenes that add up to a formidable whole.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: Mark, Mary and Some Other People

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Mark, Mary and Some Other People
Directed by Hannah Marks
US Narrative Competition – Screening Information

Two people almost never want exactly the same thing. That’s one of the reasons that a relationship involves compromise and trying to achieve a shared vision of what happiness looks like. There may be times where those two ideals are closer to each other than they are far apart, and that won’t necessarily remain consistent or stable for the course of a relationship. If they are too incompatible, it may not be possible for continue, though the willingness of both parties to work through an impasse and try to find a solution, under some circumstances, can stave off a potential breakup.

Mark (Ben Rosenfield) and Mary (Hayley Law) reconnect in a drug store after meeting in college and get married within a year. Things are going smoothly, but Mary realizes that she may be interested in “ethical non-monogamy,” suggesting that she and Mark set up ground rules for an open relationship in which they both see each other people. Though Mark is initially resistant to the idea, he warms to it as he sees that Mary needs to explore this, and the two begin a series of confrontations designed to strengthen the bond they have but which will inevitably present obstacles to the stability of that connection.

The complexity of adding another member into a two-person dynamic has been explored many times in film and television in projects like “The Freebie” and “You Me Her.” As tends to be the case, it’s a suggestion that comes from only one half of the couple, which of course previews difficulty later when it takes an unexpected course from which there is no easy return. Fortunately, this foray into the subject is more than worthwhile, in part because Mark and Mary are established as an intensely interesting and entertaining couple long before Mary’s game changer is ever formulated.

The success of this film is due in large part to the vibrant, inviting nature of the performances from Rosenfield and Law, whose casual vibes work wonders opposite each other. The supporting cast of friends who comment on and judge their decisions is also great, and writer-director Hannah Marks, herself an actress from terrific projects such as “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” knows how to utilize them all best. This film is funny, romantic, frustrating, and altogether immensely enjoyable, revisiting a topic that’s been showcased in the past, but rarely in such a fantastic and effective way.

B+