Sunday, May 31, 2020

Movie with Abe: Working Man


Working Man
Directed by Robert Jury
Released March 27, 2020

People work for a living, to bring home money to provide for their families and themselves. Many would be happy to spend all their time relaxing if they had sufficient funds to live comfortably and not work regularly. There are those, however, for whom the act of going to work and punching a clock is absolutely crucial to their daily routine and mental stability, and who feel lost when, after many years of steady employment, that’s suddenly no longer there. Even if that comes at a natural point when retirement should occur, life just isn’t the same anymore, and adjustment to a new normal is extremely difficult.

Allery (Peter Gerety) goes in to his last day of work when his factory is closed, staying well past the half day everyone else works so that he can put in his usual hours. The next morning, he gets up, makes his lunch, and walks over to the empty factory, managing to enter the building and return to his station. He repeats this process each day, buying his own supplies to keep the machines and grounds clean, until he is discovered by his former employer. His neighbor and coworker Walter (Billy Brown) sees something in him and sets out to help him continue this off-book activity, much to the chagrin of Allery’s wife, Iola (Talia Shire), who can’t seem to get her husband to communicate what he’s feeling.

This film is about having a sense of purpose, something that extends to most of the residents of the Rust Belt town where Allery lives. Only he acts on it because he’s lost any taste for socializing, saying few words since the tragic death of his adult son. Others notice Allery and wonder whether he’s forgotten that his job no longer exists or that no one’s paying him to be there, failing to see that going to work and doing what he’s always done is what defines him. Walter, a recent transplant to the town where almost everyone has lived their entire lives, sees a dedication he admires in Allery, and Iola just wants her husband to know that they could have the chance to be happy together, if he just expressed that he wanted that.

Gerety is a veteran actor who is known most recently for his television roles in “Sneaky Pete” and “Ray Donovan.” Here, he displays a reserved, solitary attitude, one that comes through most strongly when he’s at work focused on his task, stopping and restarting work precisely on schedule. Brown, a familiar face from “How to Get Away with Murder,” and Shire, the Oscar-nominated star of films like “Rocky” and “The Godfather Part II,” complement his performance nicely as the two people who strive to understand him best. This is a simple, quiet film with an effective original score by David Gonzalez that drives its story. As many find themselves unexpectedly out of work or, at the very least, no longer going into work, this film’s impending DVD release and availability on streaming outlets makes it feel even more relevant and poignant.

B+

Friday, May 29, 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: Military Wives
New to DVD: Midnight Family, Redemption, Incitement, Wildlife
New to Netflix: Uncut Gems

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

10 Mesmerizing Musical Scores from the Last 10 Years

Welcome to this week’s Movies With Abe recommendations list! Two weeks ago, I spotlighted 25 Fantastic Foreign Films You Should Watch at Home Now, and last week was 10 Terrific Movies You’ve Never Heard Of (And Where to Stream Them For Free). Now, I’m looking not at films themselves but at their music. Here are some amazing scores that I always remember with a standout sample track embedded from YouTube. Happy listening!

*Note: I was disappointed when making this list to find that my final ten didn’t include any scores by female composers. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Oscar-winning work on “Joker” is a definite runner-up. From before this time range, I’d highly recommend the work of composers such as Rachel Portman (Never Let Me Go, The Duchess) and Anne Dudley (American History X).

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin)


The stunning filmmaker debut from Benh Zeitlin is pure magic, and this score – which he co-wrote with Romer – matches the tone of the film perfectly and serves to really make it what it is. Their work together on Zeitlin’s follow-up film, “Wendy” which was just released this year, is also truly wonderful.

First Man (Justin Hurwitz)


After his film-defining, Oscar-winning work on “La La Land,” Hurwitz reteamed with director Damien Chazelle to travel into space, capturing the unbelievable excitement and monumental impact of the trip.

Interstellar (Hans Zimmer)


Films set in the vastness of outer space are prone to terrific music, and Zimmer’s exceptional work here is one of the best examples. After collaborating previously with Christopher Nolan on films including “Inception,” Zimmer wrote this tremendous score that contrasts formidably with the silence of space to convey its unimaginable scope.

Shame (Harry Escott)


This marvelous score serves as a way of adding drama and anticipation to the antics of its protagonist, whose difficulty containing his sex addiction fuels this entire film. Moments that wouldn’t otherwise carry so much weight are enhanced considerably by this magnificent musical expression of an internal struggle.

Tangerines (Niaz Diasamidze)


It’s very possible that music in foreign language films is harder to identify (though “The Lives of Others,” “A Very Long Engagement,” and “Amelie” immediately come to mind), but I haven’t been able to forget the simple but stirring score since I first heard it, an effective and fitting ode to the conflict that exists within one home in this excellent Estonian film.

Rush (Hans Zimmer)


The only composer on this list twice is here this time for his equally triumphant and muted melody for the thrill that comes from being on the racetrack and the knowledge that there are other things that matter more in life. Marco Beltrami’s terrific theme for “Ford v Ferrari” is also strong, but this one goes a step further to make it a complicated and haunting driving force.

Moonrise Kingdom (Alexandre Desplat)


This is one incredible soundtrack that plays almost entirely throughout the film and directs its buoyant action with its upbeat notes and its self-awareness of its role as orchestrator of events. I’m still bitter that Desplat won his first Oscar for his subsequent collaboration with director Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” making this his only film with Anderson that inexplicably didn’t result in a nomination.

The Congress (Max Richter)


This track immediately conjures up the transformative nature of what this movie entails for its characters (and its narrative), digitizing an imprint of an actress so that her likeness can be used forever without having to worry about age or effort. This soundtrack to an uneven film is still a worthy follow-up to Richter’s masterful work in his first collaborationwith director Ari Folman, “Waltz with Bashir,” and his often-used beautiful “On the Nature of Daylight.”

A Most Violent Year (Alex Ebert)


This powerful anthem conveys some of its film’s grandeur, navigating its main character’s struggle between the allure of wealth and success and the purity of remaining a good businessman. Its starkness matches the effective cinematography and pacing of this underrated film. See also: Ebert’s Golden-Globe winning score from the previous year for “All Is Lost.”

Fast Color (Rob Simonsen)


The most recent entry on this list is a score that works in tandem with visuals to display the awe-inspiring nature of its protagonist’s powers, telling a story with sight and sound that supersedes any dialogue the film has. It’s a wondrous suite that energizes and astounds.

For more movie recommendations, visit MoviesWithAbe.com and subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Movie with Abe: Military Wives


Military Wives
Directed by Peter Cattaneo
Released May 22, 2020

Being in the military is an extraordinary commitment, one that takes people away from their families and sends them into places from which they may not return. Their time serving creates bonds that those who haven’t experienced it can’t possibly understand, and it may transform them in unrecognizable ways, if and when they return home safely. There is also an effect on those who know full well that their loved ones are constantly in harm’s way, and they need a support system both to help them cope with the absence of someone and to give them a community.

Lisa (Sharon Horgan) is the official representative for a group of British wives whose husbands have deployed to Afghanistan, taking over from Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas). Unimpressed by Lisa’s lack of action and belief that socializing will suffice to keep them busy, Kate refuses to give up the spotlight, and encourages them to choose an activity. When the group decides on singing to fill their time, Lisa and Kate clash over leadership, slowly steering a disorganized bunch of occasionally enthusiastic participants from a cringe-worthy chorus to a far more driven and presentable team ready and eager to sing in front of a large audience.

This film is inspired by the true story of the women who actually formed the Military Wives Choirs, and this dramatization does a great job of framing it in a comedic context. Setting it up as a rivalry between Kate’s traditional tendencies and Lisa’s more lackadaisical attitude is a strong recipe for an entertaining ride, one which features some solid singing in a somewhat expected narrative. These characters are effective stand-ins for a variety of audiences who can relate to the experiences and relationships portrayed on screen.

Horgan is an actress best known for her TV work on shows like “Catastrophe,” and here she points on a moderately serious front as Lisa, who would rather let things happen then force them. She’s well-paired with Thomas, a veteran actress known for much more dramatic work but also capable of excellent comedy, as in her Emmy-nominated guest appearance on “Fleabag.” The rest of the ensemble fits in nicely, and director Peter Cattaneo, a filmmaker whose sparse resume includes “The Full Monty,” skillfully guides them to create a product that is enjoyable without being too silly. This is a heartwarming and enjoyable film that feels just right as a tribute to those who remain at home and find unique ways to contribute to morale.

B+

Friday, May 22, 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: Buffaloed
New to Virtual Cinema: American Trial: The Eric Garner Story
New to DVD: Olympic Dreams, Downhill, Driveways, South Mountain
New to Netflix: United 93, Trumbo, Public Enemies
New to Amazon and Hulu: Rocketman
New to Hulu: Premature
New to Disney Plus: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

10 Terrific Movies You’ve Never Heard Of (And Where to Stream Them For Free)

Welcome to this week’s Movies With Abe recommendations list! Last week, I spotlighted 25 Fantastic Foreign Films You Should Watch at Home Now, and now it’s time for a look at ten films I really liked that never took off and that aren’t likely known to you. Best of all, they’re all available for free on select streaming services (as of May 2020). This is a great chance to get to know these superb titles – happy watching!


Forev

This delightful gem features Noël Wells from “Master of None” embarking on a spur-of-the-moment relationship and road trip with her next door neighbor, which is a wild and fully involving ride. Available on Amazon Prime with ads and on Tubi.


Coherence

In the realm of movies that deal with unexplained events and the eerie effects they have on people, this one does a superb job of subtly building suspense and an unnerving sense that reality is not what it seems. Available free on Amazon Prime, Tubi, Vudu, and Crackle.


The City of Your Final Destination

This strong character piece, the most recent directorial effort from Oscar winner James Ivory, is led by Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney and features a standout turn by Hiroyuki Sanda from “Westworld.” Why it didn’t make a splash is a real mystery and a shame. Available on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and Crackle.


Ms. Purple

Los Angeles feels like a truly foreign place in the world this movie creates, where its protagonist juggles taking care of her father and working at a karaoke bar. It’s a wondrous and surreal experience featuring fine acting and gorgeous cinematography and music. Available on Hulu.


Night Comes On

Actress Jordana Spiro steps behind the camera to make this intimate and extraordinary portrait of two young girls, one fresh out of prison and the other living in foster care, navigating complicated relationships with the father who killed their mother. Available on Amazon Prime.


Concussion

Not to be confused with the football movie starring Will Smith, this 2013 film finds Robin Weigert as a woman who abandons her comfortable, normal life to become a female prostitute after suffering a blow to the head. It’s a surprising and multi-faceted story that delivers on a premise that could have gone awry. Available on Netflix.


Princess Cyd

This wonderful film features exceptional performances from Jessie Pinnick and Rebecca Spence as a teenager and her aunt, respectively, who spend time living together and learn a lot about themselves in the process. Available on Hulu.


Romantics Anonymous

This unassuming French film is a lovely tale of people who should be together but are plagued by too much anxiety to be able to realize it. The ensemble is great and the film is a real treat. Available on Amazon Prime with ads and on Tubi and Vudu.


First Snow

This was one of the first films I saw during college in New York City with a limited release small enough to have a representative from the film there after the showing to ask my opinion. Guy Pearce and William Fichtner contribute to a nuanced and foreboding tale of destiny. Available on Amazon Prime and Tubi.


Handsome Harry

The cast in this film is simply extraordinary, led by Jamey Sheridan from “Homeland” as a man trying to piece together complex memories from his time as Marine. Steve Buscemi, John Savage, Aidan Quinn, Titus Welliver, and Campbell Scott are all excellent. Available on Amazon Prime, Tubi, and Vudu.

For more movie recommendations, visit www.MoviesWithAbe.com and subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Social Ones


The Social Ones
Directed by Laura Kosann
Released March 3, 2020

We live in an age of social media. People often learn about major events in the lives of those they know casually by reading about them online, and even close friends or family may end up seeing big news posted before they get a personal phone call or text about it. Online platforms aren’t just for important developments, and, particularly in times of quarantining and isolating at home, users turn to their apps to pass the time. The ritual act of scrolling and liking can become almost robotic, and when you really look at what the content generating so much traffic is, the lack of actual substance is astounding.

Mia (Laura Kosann) and Ava (Danielle Kosann) are sisters who work at the National Influencer magazine, which highlights social media stars with astronomically high follower counts. As they prepare for a major issue that will bring together some of the biggest stars, they assess how to balance their priorities and what it is they want people want to see. As each influencer is profiled, a social media therapist (Stephanie March) helps several of them confront their issues, and one Snapchat star (Colton Ryan) undergoes a crisis of conscience that causes him to revert back to a pre-technology form of existence.

This film is a mockumentary that aims to highlight the ridiculousness of these stand-ins for real-life influencers who, when given the chance to answer questions about what it is that they put out into the world, reveal the absence of any depth or real meaning. There’s also a great deal of humor to be found here, with the failure of internet celebrity to enable people to communicate properly in real life becoming painfully clear when one can only speak one-word answers or deliver a reply that lasts sixty seconds, a length dictated by their typical platform limits. Investigations into troll factories and attempts to unpack what those who live vicariously through their own online personas are amusing and even border on legitimately enlightening.

The best part of this film is that many of its jokes won’t go over as well with a younger audience that, like these onscreen characters, has only ever heard fabled stories of flashcards and floppy disks. The concept of a nostalgia disorder that causes influencers to seek out the last Blockbuster, buy DVD players, or put up band posters from the 1990s will most delight those at the intersection of generations who understand these references and still grasp the current reality of the dominance of social media in everyday life. Mia and Ava, played by real-life sisters and filmmakers Laura and Danielle Kossan, initially seem like stand-ins for the audience profiling the absurdity of all this. As the film progresses, however, it becomes clear that this film’s target audience has in part bought in to this digital culture, though they need to take a step back and roll their eyes at themselves every once in a while, which this film offers a great opportunity to do.

B+

Friday, May 15, 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: Alice, Blood and Money
New to DVD: Lost Transmissions, The Traitor, The Call of the Wild
New to Netflix: District 9
New to Amazon: Seberg
New to Disney Plus: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

25 Fantastic Foreign Films You Should Watch at Home Now

Movie theaters are closed and people are spending more time in their homes. It’s a perfect time to explore some exceptional recent cinema that is readily available. This list is not for those who fear subtitles, but anyone who embraces the chance to experience the best of what the international film industry has to offer. This is not a comprehensive ranking, merely 25 films that I still remember strongly, all from the past twenty years. There are also a few included already on this list, all from Israel, that shouldn’t be missed. Every one of the films below is available to rent for just a few dollars on Amazon Prime, and most can also be rented on other platforms including YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and iTunes (as of May 2020). Get ready for some truly quality cinema – click on each film title to read my full review.


In a Better World (Denmark)

This Oscar-winning film from director Susanne Bier explores how two young boys receive values from the very different examples set by their fathers. It’s a stunning, searing portrait of humanity that’s as compelling visually as it is thematically.


Waltz with Bashir (Israel)

This animated documentary film is fascinating in its format alone, but its content is equally astounding, as writer-director Ari Folman probes his own memories of what he saw and did in wartime and hasn’t come to terms with since that time.


Wild Tales (Argentina)

This series of unconnected segments is indeed wild, focusing on people unable to suppress their anger. Each part spotlights uncontrollably volatile individuals losing their patience with the world with such a marvelously precise lens.


The Lives of Others (Germany)

This exceptionally-titled drama centers on a man charged with surveilling others who develops an affinity for those he is watching, gleaning tremendous depth from unspoken moments and creating an entrancing thriller that doesn’t need large-scale action to drive it.


Broken Embraces (Spain)

A number of films from famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar could have been on this list, including “Volver,” “Julieta,” “The Skin I Live In,” and “Talk to Her.” But this underappreciated wonder deserves special mention for its formidable use of frequent muse Penelope Cruz in a vividly interesting narrative that is gorgeously decorated.


Dogtooth (Greece)

Before he broke through to American audiences with “The Lobster” and “The Favourite,” director Yorgos Lanthimos crafted this mind-bending portrait of parents who deliberately educate their children incorrectly to exert disturbing control over their lives.


Headhunters (Norway)

This comedy-turned-thriller about an unconventional criminal is riveting from start to finish, constantly uncovering a new surprise and keeping its audience in suspense. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones” also makes a strong villain.


A Very Long Engagement (France)

This gorgeous follow-up to the equally brilliant “Amélie” from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet stars Audrey Tautou as a woman who refuses to accept that her fiancé has been killed in war. It’s a lovely story enhanced by wondrous visuals and music.


Tangerines (Estonia)

This moving film makes a metaphor literal with a man who takes in two injured men on opposite sides of a war and insists that they cannot kill each other while in his house. It’s a quiet, sincere film anchored by a haunting score.


Of Gods and Men (France)

This profile of monks in Algeria in the 1990s interacting with their surrounding Muslim community and hostile forces unwelcoming to outside religious influence is a powerful look at faith and perseverance grounded in heartfelt performances.


Land of Mine (Denmark)

Another film with a bitingly fitting title, this drama follows German prisoners of war in the aftermath of World War II forced to search Danish beaches for mines planted by their fellow soldiers and serves as a searing and insightful examination of the fragility of life.


The Insult (Lebanon)

This film tackles a clash of cultures between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee and evolves into an indictment of hatred and the way prejudices pull us apart, transforming simple arguments into large-scale rivalries.


My Life as a Zucchini (France)

This seventy-minute stop-motion animated film is not for children but about children, setting itself in an orphanage and confronting issues such as abuse and negligence. It’s not for the easily unsettled, but it’s a formidable and mesmerizing approach to a difficult concept.


A Separation (Iran)

Best described as a gripping non-thriller, this film opens with a woman seeking a divorce in Iran but turns into so much more than that, honing in on a culture that doesn’t value equality and civil rights with complex characters and astounding performances.


After the Wedding (Denmark)

Recently remade in the United States with Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams starring, this far superior original features a devastating revelation that forces a man to confront what matters in his life and his responsibilities to those he doesn’t know.


Micmacs (France)

From director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose “A Very Long Engagement” appears earlier on this list, comes a film that abandons just one star to feature a fabulous ensemble of people having fun working to take down those who have mistreated others, decorated as usual with eye-popping colors and lavish visuals.


In Between (Israel)

This stylish film about three young Palestinian women insightfully navigates the complex differences that exist between them and in their society, fashioning strong characters in an involving and meaningful story.


A Christmas Tale (France)

This creative and delightful film defines the buoyant nature of French cinema with a superb cast including Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Devos, and Mathieu Amalric and a fanciful framing that makes its story inherently more fascinating than it might otherwise be.


Burning (South Korea)

One year before “Parasite” became the first foreign to win Best Picture – and to represent South Korea at the Oscars – this quiet, haunting film also looked at the secret lives people don’t display to others, presenting a mystery man whose seemingly devious actions are shrouded in intrigue.


Tell No One (France)

Conspiracy thrillers may be commonplace these days, but this sleek film has exactly the right pace to keep its audience fixated on the plot and all of its twists and turns as it slowly unravels and transforms into something unexpected.


The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina)

This contemplative film is one that makes excellent use of multiple time periods to weave its narrative together, presenting clues and crucial events at different moments to underscore their importance and meaning.


A Prophet (France)

Prison is a familiar setting for films, and this affecting drama probes the way in which those with limited criminal history or inclinations become criminals as a result of their incarceration, touching on cultural identity and the naivety of youth along the way.


The White Ribbon (Germany)

This unsettling picture of a rural village on the eve of World War I investigates the reason people are suspicious of each other and the impulses towards evil some feel, presented in stark black-and-white to emphasize its disturbing nature.


City of God (Brazil)

The original foreign film that broke through at the Oscars back in 2002 is a dazzling, sun-kissed glorification of the slums of Rio and the conflicts that emerge between achieving power and garnering true satisfaction.


Blue is the Warmest Color (France)

This three-hour NC-17 drama courted controversy for its excessive sex scenes, but there’s so much more to this passionate breakdown of an intimate relationship that portrays the power of attraction and the allure of the unknown.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy these films! For more recommendations and reviews, visit MoviesWithAbe.com.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Movie with Abe: Blood and Money


Blood and Money
Directed by John Barr
Released May 15, 2020

Many people start to panic when they realize they’re trapped somewhere in a place that feels too constricting and claustrophobic, and that there may be no way to escape. The opposite can also be true – that when such a vast, open space exists that makes determining where it ends and something else begins almost impossible, someone can be overwhelmed and become distraught about the possibility of surviving. Insert villainous elements and the allure of claiming a large cash prize into a place with few places to hide, and anyone involved is bound to be in for a tense experience.

Jim (Tom Berenger) is a retired veteran living in North Maine who has his routine. He frequents the same restaurant and talks to the same waitress, and spends a good deal of his time hunting. One day, his uneventful life gets a whole lot more interesting when he comes across a wounded woman next to a large amount of money. After she dies, he learns that a recent robbery nearby went awry, and that her accomplices are likely still out there and looking for what he’s taken from their hiding place. Facing his own deteriorating health, Jim must stay one step ahead of the criminals who will stop at nothing to get their money.

This film’s title itemizes the things that transform its protagonist’s tranquil existence into a fight for survival. Jim is presented as someone who has mastered the art of keeping to himself, not necessarily antisocial but having been through enough to decide how he wants to spend his time. His relationship with the only people he cares about – his family – isn’t exactly warm, and he lives in an area where, as the opening cards note, there are no towns or paved roads. Living an anonymous life presents its advantages, but also means that, if there are people after him, he has no one on his side but himself.

Berenger is an actor best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in “Platoon” and his Emmy-winning turn in the miniseries “Hatfields and McCoys.” This is a very solitary performance, one that mostly finds him traipsing through the snowy woods and squinting into the whiteness as he searches the landscape for his pursuers or takes aim with a gun. It’s an effective portrayal given what the role demands, and this film delivers on its premise, following a lonely man on a dangerous journey with the potential to either transform his legacy or end his life.

B-

Saturday, May 9, 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 DVD: The Jesus Rolls, Greed

Friday, May 8, 2020

Movie with Abe: Valley Girl


Valley Girl
Directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg
Released May 8, 2020

The way people behave and act is in many ways influenced by the environment in which they’re raised. Geographical location and economic situations can play very much into that, relating to the weather that dictates possible activities and the opportunities that are available and feasible during leisure time. Not everyone is a complete product of their surroundings, but there are some general types that are widely recognizable. One such persona is that of the valley girl, not necessarily unique to Southern California but identifiable by a manner of speaking and a tendency to come off as seeming rather airheaded and vain.

Reliving her glory days, Julie (Alicia Silverstone) sits her daughter (Camilla Morrone) down to tell her about the experiences she remembers during the 1980s. Teenage Julie (Jessica Rothe) loves shopping with her friends Karen (Chloe Bennet), Loryn (Ashleigh Murray), and Stacey (Jessie Ennis), and has the hottest boyfriend in school, Mickey (Logan Paul). Her carefully-manicured world is shaken when she meets Randy (Josh Whitehouse), a punk rocker from the Sunset Strip. Pulled in two different directions, Julie begins to explore the allure of a new adventure, much to the horror of all of her friends who can’t understand what she sees in Randy and everything he represents.

This is an update of the 1983 film of the same name, grounded in the present by the adult Julie trying to convey the spirit of the eighties to her daughter. It’s also a musical, which adds a whole new dimension to this story, conveying the thoughts and feelings of each of the characters in enthusiastically-crooned songs. Choreographer Mandy Moore, who worked on “La La Land,” stages magnificent dance numbers that make this experience very engaging and entertaining. The “Romeo and Juliet” origins of the story feel simultaneously relevant and appropriately dated, perfectly placed in this energetic film.

In addition to its great music, this film assembles a talented cast. Rothe is an engaging lead, and she’s well-supported by an ensemble that also includes Mae Whitman as one of Randy’s less-conforming friends and Judy Greer and Rob Huebel as Julie’s clueless parents. In a time where people can’t get together to obsess about prom or go to the mall, this film is a fun escape. While the experience of seeing it in a theater would be a welcome blast, the opportunity to stream it on digital or see it in a drive-in is also satisfactory.

B+

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Movie with Abe: Hope Gap


Hope Gap
Directed by William Nicholson
Released March 6, 2020

Marriage isn’t always easy. Two people often meet when they’re relatively young, fall in love, and plan to spend their lives together. There are many events and changes people can’t foresee, and imagining how things will be when bodies start getting older and new problems emerge is near impossible. Therapy and individual outlets for decompression can be helpful, but the rate of divorce still remains high since, in the end, many couples can’t work through their problems. Separations can be very painful, and it’s rare that both parties are on the same page about the outcome they want to achieve.

Grace (Annette Bening) and Edward (Bill Nighy) live a quiet, unexciting life, exchanging light conversation and occasionally participating in volatile fights that end with Grace exploding and Edward walking away. Edward encourages their son, Jamie (Josh O’Connor), to come visit, something he knows will make Grace happy. His motivations, however, aren’t to benefit her, but instead to make sure someone is there to comfort Grace after he announces that he has met someone else and he is leaving. Jamie is forced to play referee when Edward refuses to even speak with his wife, who is not at all happy with her husband’s unwillingness to fight for their marriage.

It’s no surprise that this film’s first incarnation was as a play, “The Retreat from Moscow,” staged in England in 1999 and written by William Nicholson, who directed and wrote this feature film adaptation, which features only its three main players in most of its scenes. The film’s title refers to a particular place that holds significance for Grace and Edward, reminding them of better times, but it’s just as much an idea as it is a physical space. The conversations – and especially the silence in between them – are what matter most in this analysis of the breakdown of a relationship. Grace is well aware that she and Edward have problems, but she would never think of leaving, which makes Edward’s decision to do so without even trying to fix what is broken all the more hurtful. Edward has clearly made up his mind, and Jamie is caught in the middle, aware that he needs to support his mother and that he can’t do anything to convince his father to talk to her.

The three leads are critical to the effectiveness of this film. Bening puts on a British accent to give Grace a reserved demeanor, far from shrill but empathic in the things she says and the poetry she frequently references. Nighy, often a dryly comedic actor, is deadly serious as someone who has extracted himself from a situation that his wife and son both still believe him to be in. O’Connor, a standout performer from season three of “The Crown,” balances the energies of his onscreen parents to create a willful adult who might know what he wants but is also certain of his inability to see it realized. This is a quiet, somber story that is made most powerful by the few things its characters do say and the weight each sentiment carries after so many years spent together.

B+

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Movie with Abe: How to Build a Girl


How to Build a Girl
Directed by Coky Giedroyc
Released May 8, 2020

There are people who don’t fit a particular mold and therefore find themselves ostracized from social groups and circles of friends. That can be troubling and isolating for some, while others embrace their uniqueness, celebrating what makes them different and marching, as the expression goes, to the beat of their own drum. When invited to share their perspective with a wide audience, the inclination can be strong to jump at the opportunity. How the world responds when they’re given insight into the mind of someone who can’t exactly be described as normative is a real question mark that can greatly affect the course of their career and life.

Sixteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) lives in the English city of Wolverhampton, writing hundreds of pages of intellectual stories whenever she is assigned a simple short report in class. When an opportunity to read her writing on-air goes awry, she applies for a job as a rock critic. Turned away initially because of her appearance and youth, Johanna makes an appeal to the staff for them to give her a chance. Determined to be a success and to shed her buttoned-up geek image, she transforms herself into something entirely new, dying her hair red, putting on a top hat, and embracing a whole new her to fiercely engage with the music world.

Feldstein is a popular American actress known for “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway and the recent film “Booksmart.” Putting on an accent here, she demonstrates a superb commitment to comedy in inhabiting the role of the spirited Johanna, who is humorously advised by a wall of pictures of her idols, which include Elizabeth Taylor, Sigmund Freud, Jo March, and Sylvia Plath. The casting of actors like Michael Sheen, Lucy Punch, and Gemma Arterton to fill those parts is a delight. In the supporting cast, Paddy Considine shines as Johanna’s aimless free spirit father, and Alfie Allen, a familiar face from “Game of Thrones,” is a great choice to play the famous musician who rattles Johanna and causes her to fall head over heels in what she believes is love.

The 1990s setting of this film is crucial to the feelings it evokes, costuming its characters and coloring its backgrounds to make Wolverhampton seem like the kind of place no one ever leaves, something Johanna dreads as her guaranteed go-nowhere future. Watching her take this trip, gradually tuning out the intellectual influences on her wall as she becomes more and more seduced by the allure of fame, sex, and partying is familiar and at the same time made all her own thanks to Feldstein’s performance and the story’s framing in the film. It’s a fun and worthwhile nostalgia trip back to a time and place that should feel relatable for many.

B+

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Movie with Abe: Arkansas


Arkansas
Directed by Clark Duke
Released May 5, 2020

A place doesn’t define the type of behavior that happens within its boundaries, but it can certainly have an influence. Different countries and regions of the world are noted for cultural traditions and oddities that those traveling from elsewhere might find truly appalling or even disturbing. Within one country, things still vary considerably based on geography, economic conditions, and density of population. In the United States, the Midwest and South don’t so closely resemble both coasts, and that’s especially true far from the big cities. When a transplant to a more populated area identifies their origins as somewhere like Arkansas, it’s a likely acknowledgment that the pace of life and attitude of the populace is quite different where they grew up.

Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (Clark Duke) are low-level workers in the drug world and are reassigned to work at a state park in Arkansas, reporting to the charismatic ranger in charge, Bright (John Malkovich). They split their time between giving directions to visitors, keeping up the grounds, and running errands for their boss. When their relatively quiet existence is disrupted by unfortunate events, Kyle and Swin struggle to stay alive and try to determine who they’re really working for, crossing paths with a mysterious woman known only as Her (Vivica A. Fox) and the drug-running kingpin Frog (Vince Vaughn), all while trying to keep the girlfriend Swin got against orders, Johnna (Eden Brolin), safe and far from the truth of what they actually do.

This film is based on the 2009 novel by John Brandon, and offers a look at what passes for organized crime in the south, which its narrator explains at the start is in truth not so organized. When Kyle and Swin first meet Bright, they peg him as legitimate law enforcement that they need to deal with to avoid any trouble. Their daily lives are from exciting, and as soon as things get interesting, that’s when they know they have a problem. There is little glamour to the work they do as underlings with no real sense of the big future, which is contrasted by flashbacks to the early rise of Frog through the ranks to become the man in charge. This film features a familiar world of rural crime, one that sees its characters come undone mostly through their own mistakes and their misguided belief that clarifying questions are a sign of weakness.

This film marks the directorial debut of Duke, an actor known for “The Office” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” who preserves his comedic sensibilities to make Swin a strange, affable protagonist who talks much more than he should. Hemsworth presents a very different front as the strong and silent type, eager to say little so that he can best assess every situation in which he finds himself. Malkovich is terrific as usual, milking each scene as much as he can, and Vaughn fits his part well too. This film’s plot isn’t particularly original, but its action plays out in an involving way that should hold the attention of its viewers. This specific trip to Arkansas is a dryly humorous and entertaining ride.

B

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Jesus Rolls


The Jesus Rolls
Directed by John Turturro
Released February 28, 2020

A sequel, prequel, or spinoff is inherently connected to the film that inspired it. Characters originally seen in one film will return in another, where they may have an amplified role or be given a meatier backstory. It may merely be the same universe that serves as a setting, with different players or even a separate time period to anchor a new chapter. Relying on expectations created by a first appearance can obviously boost ticket sales and audience anticipation, but it may also result in setting up the wrong idea for those watching to relive the same experience they had the first time they met a character.

Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) is released from prison and picked up by his best friend Peter (Bobby Cannavale). The two immediately begin a wild journey of theft and adventure, beginning by stealing a car from a hairdresser (Jon Hamm) and bringing along his shampooist Marie (Audrey Tautou) for the ride. They soon discover a passion that exists between the three of them and experiment on their romance, meeting other colorful characters along the way, including a mechanic (J.B. Smoove), a newly-released criminal (Susan Sarandon), and her mild-mannered son (Pete Davidson).

Those who come into this film excited after looking at the poster, which features Jesus licking a bowling ball, will be sorely disappointed. Connections to the original film, “The Big Lebowski,” which was released twenty-two years ago, are minimal, and Jesus “rolls,” but mostly in stolen cars, and only at the bowling alley in one short scene. Instead, this is a comedy about people who have no aim in life other than to be aimless, gaining delight from amusing themselves with mild criminal activities and petty robberies. It’s a road movie with characters who know they can’t run forever but want to have as much fun as possible along the way.

Jesus isn’t actually as over-the-top as he could be, and Turturro, who serves as writer and director of this spin-off that is also a remake of the 1974 French film “Going Places,” makes him into a decent protagonist who isn’t purely comedic. Cannavale is also more toned-down and likeable than usual, and Tautou, a French actress known for “Amélie” and “A Very Long Engagement,” is the one milking her scenes most for comedy as the sexually curious wild card accompanying these two men on their wandering saga. The film is styled and colored in a manner that evokes a different time, and this often outrageous trip feels wonderfully immersive. Despite mostly negative reviews, this film is actually quite an entertaining diversion, and may satisfy those who aren’t counting for a bowling match or a John Goodman cameo.

B

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Movie with Abe: Saint Frances


Saint Frances
Directed by Alex Thompson
Released February 28, 2020

Adulthood can be a trying time of transition for many. Especially in an age of omnipresent social media, the accomplishments of others are shared widely and frequently, putting pressure to have checked off boxes by a certain age, like having a successful career, getting married, and having one or more babies. Those who haven’t gotten there might feel personally satisfied, but then being asked questions from curious friends or prying parents can be irritating and unsettling. Taking stock of what someone has achieved in comparison to those around them is rarely a productive exercise, and it can lead to a true sense of being stuck.

Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) meets Jace (Max Lipchitz) at a party and immediately likes him because he, like her, works as a server at a restaurant. Recommended by a friend who is moving out of town, Bridget goes to meet Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu) and interview to be the nanny for their daughter Frances (Ramoda Edith Williams). Bridget quickly learns that Frances knows how to get what she wants, and the two slowly build a rapport as Bridget shows her that they can have fun together and Frances eases up on her troublemaking antics. When she’s not working, unsure of what she wants for her future, Bridget navigates developments in her relationship with Jace.

This film’s title is a reference to Bridget’s rejection of the faith in which she was raised, a fact she too quickly and casually admits when she first meets Maya and Annie and comments on their religious artwork. It’s also applicable to Frances and the way she conducts herself, telling Bridget to leave the stroller behind on a walk to the park and then insisting that she carry her once she gets tired. This film simultaneously charts Bridget’s journey towards understanding the value of family that she builds with Frances and the gentler of her two mothers, Maya, and her own failure to communicate what she needs and feels with someone who genuinely cares about her.

O’Sullivan, who serves as star and screenwriter, is a true breakout, playing Bridget as a genuine protagonist who doesn’t put much effort into what she does, including making sure to be on time for her nannying job, and who every so often gets called out for not reaching her potential. Williams is charming and hilarious, and the two complement each other superbly. The rest of the cast, particularly Lipchitz, contribute well, aiding this humor-filled story to feel truly relatable and poignant. It’s an enjoyable, inviting experience that features rich characters in a relatively ordinary setup that manages to find all the originality it needs.

B+

Friday, May 1, 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: Our Mothers, Bull, The Infiltrators
New to DVD: The Assistant, Only
New to Netflix: The Artist, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Django Unchained, Back to the Future, Back to the Future IIWilly Wonka and the Chocolate FactoryCharlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jarhead, Song of the Sea
New to Hulu: The Graduate, Goodfellas

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Movie with Abe: Bull


Bull
Directed by Annie Silverstein
Released May 1, 2020

A bond with an animal can have a truly transformative effect on a person. Those who act out and have trouble fitting in with society may behave completely differently when they’re with a pet, or, even more powerfully, an animal that they take care of and train for a particular purpose. A commitment to a sport or activity that requires cooperation and communication with something other than a human can ground and redirect the energy of someone who has a history of not playing well with others, and can reframe the way they approach every aspect of their life.

Kris (Amber Havard) is fourteen years old and living in Texas with her grandmother. Regular visits to see her mother in prison are not enough to prevent her from having plenty of anger to express, which manifests itself when she trashes the home of her curmudgeonly neighbor Abe (Rob Morgan). To make up for what she has done, Kris begins helping the aging bullfighter, first simply with tasks around the house and then learning from him at the rodeo. As the allure of a new passion calls, Kris finds that it isn’t so easy to rid herself of the pervasive influences that still remain in her old life.

This film is a quiet, intimate drama, one that features two equally lonely, malcontent people who are at opposite points in their lives. Abe’s glory days are behind him, and he knows that his body is longer in the same condition his mind is, prohibiting him from fully appreciating and enjoying his time. Kris is well aware of the circumstances that landed her mother in prison and that the groups she runs with and the situation she is in may well send her down that same path. Their connection allows them both to experience something they didn’t expect and that wouldn’t be possible without the perspectives and energies that they bring.

Actress Amber Havard makes an astounding debut as this troubled teenage protagonist, and she’s well-matched by Morgan, a familiar face from films like “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “Just Mercy” and the TV series “This Is Us.” Together, they anchor a moderately familiar story made to feel fresh in this strong first feature film from director Annie Silverstein. After a premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and a cancelled showing at this year’s SXSW, this worthwhile drama will be available tomorrow on VOD.

B+

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Other Story


The Other Story
Directed by Avi Nesher
Released June 28, 2019

Religion can be a source of comfort for people, giving them faith in a higher power and a belief that good deeds count for something since there is indeed someone watching over in judgment. It can also be extremely stifling, forcing those who don’t fit into a box to adhere to standards that suppress their individuality and prevent them from being able to thrive. Putting pressure on them to conform only serves to create more resentment, and there are those raised away from observant religion who find it later, which in turn can create friction with family members and friends who don’t understand or agree with their newfound perspective.

Yonatan (Yuval Segal) arrives in Israel from America after being summoned by his ex-wife Tali (Maya Dagan) and his father Shlomo (Sasson Gabai). The reason for his visit is the impending marriage of his daughter Anat (Joy Rieger) to popular musician Shahar (Nathan Goshen) following the rock star couple’s recent transition to very observant Judaism. As Yonatan gets to know the daughter he abandoned long ago, he begins to help his therapist father with two of his clients, Rami (Maayan Blum), a husband concerned about how his wife, Sari (Avigail Harari), who was raised religious, is involving their young son in the pagan rituals she is attending.

While religion plays a major role in the lives of Anat and Sari, this film doesn’t actually deal much with observance. The concern expressed by Tali and Shlomo about Anat’s wedding has less to do with their disagreements about piousness and how it changes a person and more to do with their lack of faith in Shlomo having actually changed from the former drug user’s bad influences. Rami can’t understand what his wife is doing with a pagan group in Jerusalem, and the fact that it is open only to women and children creates yet another barrier. Yonatan, who has alienated everyone he left behind, arrives and is able to analyze both situations objectively, uninterested in immersing himself in either of the religious worlds and instead trying to understand the people involved rather than only their ideologies.

This film reunites director Avi Nesher with the star of his previous film, “Past Life” (read my interview with him here), Rieger, who serves as the dramatic anchor of this multifaceted story. Dagan steals most of her scenes with a fiery energy, and it’s fun to see Gabai, a seasoned actor from films like “The Band’s Visit” and “Gett: The Trial of Vivianne Amsalem,” in a supporting turn that finds him providing comic relief. This film is involving and unusual in the threads it weaves together, building a thought-provoking experience that explores the intersection of different personalities and cultures.

B+

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Movie with Abe: Our Mothers


Our Mothers
Directed by César Díaz
Released May 1, 2020

At some point in their lives, everyone loses someone. That process is a painful one, and it can be made even more difficult by complicating circumstances either before or after death. Saying goodbye and providing a loved one with a proper resting place is very important to most people, and our present global situation is making that impossible for many mourners. When paying respects and burying someone are prevented not by a goal of safety but instead the suppression of dissent and the covering up of misdeeds and killings, closure may truly never be achieved for those left only to remember the people they once knew.

Ernesto (Armando Espitia) works as an anthropologist in Guatemala in 2018, receiving and investigating the stories of people who either know or suspect that their family members were murdered during the decades-long civil war that plagued his country. Ernesto is kind and generous in the way he interacts with those who come forward, but he is shaken by one account from a woman who shows him a picture of a guerilla soldier he believes is his father. Determined both to help this woman and to find answers about his own past, Ernesto presses to uncover the truth, even if it means going around the legal guidelines he otherwise always follows.

This film serves as a formidable reminder that many countries around the world are reckoning with a widely-experienced national trauma in their recent history. This deeply personal story inspired by the oral tradition of real-life women in Guatemalan villages serves as an excellent and powerful counterpoint to the Spanish documentary "The Silence of Others," which shows subversive efforts to grapple with what was lost during a dictatorship that its citizens have collectively agreed to forget. This film succeeds in bringing the horrors committed during the Guatemalan civil war to a wider audience and amplifying the voices of those who have vowed to keep the memories of those they have lost alive.

Actors Espitia and Emma Dib, who plays Ernesto's mother, anchor this story well, and the casting of non-actors from Guatemalan villages proves particularly poignant in creating an authentic narrative that pays tribute to so many who died in this universal story of unresolved anguish. Debut director César Díaz crafts a heartfelt and compelling film, which runs just seventy-eight minutes and was originally intended as a documentary, shining a spotlight on an unbelievably common situation that has left so many wondering about the fate of those who disappeared or were taken from them years earlier. After a successful premiere at last year's Cannes Film Festival, this Belgian-Guatemalan film will be available beginning later this week to watch at home via Virtual Cinema by supporting a local theater.

B+

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Assistant


The Assistant
Directed by Kitty Green
Released January 31, 2020

Almost everyone has worked a job they hated at some point in their life. There are various reasons for this, including unclear expectations, a high salary, a need for money, or, the most alluring of all, the chance to make important contacts that can lead to a better position. That last motivator is true most in the entertainment industry, where starting as a low-level employee is universally proclaimed as the best way to work your way up in the business. That mentality, however, brings with it an enormous potential for abuse and manipulation, with those in power often feeling entitled to treat their underlings in an extremely unacceptable manner.

Jane (Julia Garner) is picked up early in the morning from her Queens apartment and driven to Tribeca in New York City, where she begins powering up computers and making coffee. It’s still dark by the time other employees arrive, and as the day goes on, Jane finds herself doing everyone’s dirty work, including tasks others give to her because they know that the executive assistant won’t fight them on it. As she endures a seemingly never-ending day that includes multiple vicious phone calls from her angry boss, Jane becomes particularly concerned about the arrival of a young woman (Kristine Froseth) from Idaho with a suitcase in tow who has been hired as a new assistant and put up in a hotel by her boss.

The events and environment of this film will surely remind many audience members of how they were treated, saw others treated, or, in some cases, treated others in a given job. This is not an action-packed film or even one that offers those watching any sort of satisfaction regarding its Harvey Weinsteinesque villain. Its monotony feels deliberate, to make it clear that Jane’s circumstance is inescapable, and what’s worse is that this is by no means an extraordinary day aside from the fact that she notices something problematic that she decides she cannot abide.

Garner, who won an Emmy last year for her work on “Ozark,” turns in a subtle performance as Jane, who is the ideal employee in many ways because she never speaks up for herself and rarely fights when others assign her jobs she shouldn’t be doing. This film resonates not only because of what its protagonist has to do but the disappointing apathy with which others respond. Keeping the object of much of her misery off-screen reveals just how powerful the silence of others can be in this unsettling and thought-provoking snippet of one person’s representative experience.

B+