Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Movie with Abe: Brampton’s Own

Brampton’s Own
Directed by Michael Doneger
Released October 19, 2018

Regardless of where someone is from, there’s always a certain idea of “making it” that comes with getting out of that place and never looking back. Just as often, there are people who remain in one general area for the entirety of their lives, and for them, not as much changes. When one of the former type returns to the place that he or she has left behind, demonstrating success or at least progress towards it is important, and showing up without having accomplished much doesn’t lead to terribly positive interactions since any sense of superiority from having made it out of town is negated by the lack of anything to show for it.

Dustin (Alex Russell) is a minor league baseball player who spends every moment staying in shape so that he can finally get the call which will put him on a team and get him started on a series. As he approaches his thirtieth birthday, he realizes that a lot of time has passed waiting to get to that next step. Reluctantly, he returns back to his hometown of Brampton, where he finds his mother, Judy (Jean Smart), moving on with her life in a big way, and his high school girlfriend, Rachel (Rose McIver), in a new relationship that makes him question the choices he’s made and what could possibly come next for him.

This isn’t a new concept, and the fact that Dustin is obsessed with baseball is merely a variation on this format which involves someone who left coming back to find that no one is all too impressed with what he hasn’t made of himself in the time away. Billed as a “romantic drama,” this film takes predictable turns as Dustin eagerly reaches out to Rachel, not expecting her cold response based in no small part on the reason that their relationship ended in the first place, which was his laser-focused commitment to baseball above all else.

There’s some sweetness to be found in the brotherly relationship that Dustin develops with Cody (Carter Hastings), the much younger son of his mother’s new boyfriend, as he airs his frustrations with how no one understands how hard he’s tried to prepare for a productive life. Aside from that, much of this story seems tempered down, featuring some minimally colorful language but otherwise lacking much energy or true personality. McIver, who stars on “iZombie,” is always good, but this is among the most standard and uncreative of roles in the very same type of film.

C

Sunday, October 14, 2018

NYFF Spotlight: Roma

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 56th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 14th.

Roma
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Centerpiece Selection

There are a number of international directors whose careers have begun in their home countries before, as the phrase goes, “coming to Hollywood” and delivering more mainstream, and occasionally award-nominated, fare. Mexico native Alfonso Cuarón’s trajectory has been a bit different, with only the first and fourth of his seven feature films to date being in Spanish. He had his mainstream blockbuster, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” his follow-up genre hit, “Children of Men,” and the film that won him the Oscar for Best Director, “Gravity.” Now, with his eighth film, he is returning to his roots and to Mexico to tell the kind of story that for most directors comes at the beginning of their careers rather than at this point.


Yalitza Aparicio stars in the film

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) works as a maid in 1970 in the home of a wealthy Mexico City family. The patriarch, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), spends most of his time at the office and traveling for work, and whatever moments he does have he devotes instead to selfish interests, which drives the matriarch, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), crazy as she struggles to be a doting mother for her three children. While Cleo may not keep the house in the cleanest condition, her influence on the children is clear, and she serves as a crucial part of this family unit.


Alfonso Cuarón discusses the film

This is not the kind of film that often gets made in America, one that doesn’t have a specific plot hook other than that it follows a group of people over the course of a year in their lives. Cuarón’s work to date has been extremely diverse, but he always demonstrates an equal commitment to characters and to background details. The decision to shoot the film in black-and-white is an exceptional one, and the cinematography - by Cuarón himself - is mesmerizing, highlighting the mundanity of much of what the characters go through and the sparkling exceptions to that rule. The way in which Antonio’s car barely fits in the small alley next to their home and must be repositioned several times every time he pulls in and drives right over a staggering amount of dog feces left by Cleo is just one of the stunning images that helps to define this focused film.


Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira discuss the film

First-time actress Aparicio, who came to the New York Film Festival screening with an interpreter and received a tremendous and lengthy round of applause from the audience, is so subtly and simply effective as Cleo, a young woman who has never had much time to think about herself or what she might want if her circumstances were different yet continues to soldier on as events and realities dictate. Tavira portrays another form of self-sacrifice, exasperated beyond belief but never once contemplating taking the road her husband has to abandon his family. It’s great to see such powerful female performances featured in this film, which shows that Cuarón has drawn upon his more mainstream projects to create a deeply personal and fully captivating product.

B+

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.


Now Playing in Theatres

Beautiful Boy (mixed bag): Steve Carell stars as the father of a drug-addicted son, played by Timothée Chalamet, in this decent drama that doesn’t feel quite as urgent or authentic as it means to. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and the Angelika. Read my review from yesterday.

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer (anti-recommended): This questionably-named film spotlights the very disturbing case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who performed abortions that often resulted in live births which turned into murders. The film is poorly written and executed, and its purpose also up for debate. Now playing at AMC Kips Bay. Read my review from Thursday.



New to DVD

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (recommended): Joaquin Phoenix is well-cast by director Gus Van Sant in this story about paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan, who lived a wild life in the company of others, with Jonah Hill and Rooney Mara in key supporting roles. It’s a fun and entertaining ride.

Eighth Grade (highly recommended): This clever and unassuming comedy about a teenager whose social media presence indicates a far more self-assured personality than she actually posesses in public has won rave reviews from critics and anyone I know who’s seen it. Check it out and enjoy for yourself!


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

The Kindergarten Teacher (anti-recommended): Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as a teacher who gets way too attached to one of her five-year-old students who possesses an incredible talent for poetry. It’s hard to take this premise seriously, and the film suffers immensely as a result. Also playing theatrically at the IFC Center.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Movie with Abe: Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen
Released October 12, 2018

There is a special bond that can exist between a father and son which begins at birth and continues as both grow older. Naturally, the nature of that relationship changes over time, as a son transforms from a child into a teenager into a young adult, and a father might face a decline in health and physical ability as the years pass. In some cases, a son emulates his father – or another parent – and in others, he rebels specifically to challenge authority. That behavior may not even be intentional, since personality and environmental factors can contribute to the development of issues that may be too difficult for even a father to be able to resolve.

David Sheff (Steve Carell) is a journalist who goes to see a doctor not for a story he is a writing but one that he is living, as his son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) is suffering from crippling addiction to a number of drugs. David’s biggest struggle is reconciling the young boy (Jack Dylan Grazer) he raised and had such a close relationship with and the defiant teenager he sees who puts on a happy face but spends so much of his time drowning in ways to make himself feel good using a variety of drugs. As multiple rehab treatments fail, David wonders how much more he can take to try to save his son.

If nothing else, this is an intimate portrait of two people who feel completely isolated by their circumstances. Nic is a child of divorce, and though both of his parents have afforded him a great life, he has his own demons that have caused him to forego his potential for great accomplishments. David becomes so obsessed with finding a way to connect with and help his son that he can’t focus on anything, including his wife and two other children, convinced that he can fix the situation.

Carell has ventured into drama recently after making a name for himself in comedy, and while he’s certainly believable in this role, it’s not his most dynamic or authentic performance. Chalamet, fresh off an Oscar-nominated breakthrough in “Call Me By Your Name,” manages to convey the real pain of addiction in his turn, which serves as a decent follow-up for him and a positive step in his career, and Grazer, who starred in “Me, Myself, and I,” is a dead ringer for him and a very competent pick to play his younger self. While this true story is indeed powerful and heart-wrenching, this adaptation doesn’t feel quite as vibrant and engaging as it should, presenting an impossible situation in an unremarkable, straightforward manner.

B-

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Movie with Abe: Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer


Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer
Directed by Nick Searcy
Released October 12, 2018

A subtitle in the name of a film allows the creative forces behind it to add commentary and context to what they believe their subject to be. A person’s name or a specific location might not denote its significance in history, and that’s where an additional phrase or line of text can help to define what it means to those who find its story worth telling. In the case of this new film about a doctor who frequently performed abortions that went awry, the use of the word “biggest” and the term “serial killer” indicates a clear slant on how its subject’s indisputably disturbing behavior should be viewed.

Detective James Wood (Dean Cain) and Assistant District Attorney Lexy McGuire (Sarah Jane Morris) find themselves highly unsettled when they discover the office of Dr. Kermit Gosnell (Earl Billings), who, in his extremely unclean space, had unlicensed employees frequently assisting in the medication of pregnant women and the termination of their pregnancies, which in some cases involved the birth of live babies who immediately had their spinal cords severed. As Dr. Gosnell and his defense attorney Mike Cohan (Nick Searcy) argue that he was an ethical physician and that pro-choice advocates simply want to take him down, McGuire presses on with her prosecution of a man whose crimes she believes are truly heinous and unforgivable.

Both lawyers stress in their speeches to the jury that Gosnell’s office was far from the cleanest, and the level of service he provided was on par with what his patients expected. When McGuire first takes the case, she is explicitly instructed not to make it about abortion, since the outcome of the trial could be easily politicized on both sides. Gosnell is portrayed as an unfeeling monster, who plays the piano when police arrive to search the premises (it actually happened) and seems proud of the work he does that others obviously consider abhorrent. It’s not hard to figure out where the producers of this film stand, and Searcy’s hotheaded, vicious performance as his defense attorney is telling given that he cast himself in that role.

After watching this film, it was unsurprising to learn that Searcy, best known to TV audiences for his role as Art on “Justified,” is an outspoken conservative, as is star Cain, and interviews Searcy has done place blame on Hollywood for not being willing to go near this film because of its perceived political slant. Its subject material is off-putting to an extreme degree, and the purposeful omission of a disturbing image, advertised as available only on the film’s website during the end credits, reveals just how the film wishes to frame its story. Cinematically, it’s clunky and feels extremely dated, and the dialogue is especially tired. Gosnell may be a notable and infamous figure, but this version of his story is a lackluster and trite courtroom drama, bolstered by an over-the-top title meant to sensationalize something that probably never needed to be made into a film.

D

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Kindergarten Teacher


The Kindergarten Teacher
Directed by Sara Colangelo
Released October 12, 2018

The jobs that people have inform who they are, at least to some degree. How invested someone is in their work can affect the way that they interact with friends and family, in addition to shaping how many friends and how large a family, if any, they end up having. Spending too much time on work and not enough with loved ones or even just having personal time can be detrimental to a person’s growth and health, and, if truly unchecked, can even become dangerous and threaten a person’s livelihood.

Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a kindergarten teacher who loves what she does. The young children she spends each day with are far easier to deal with than her own teenage offspring, both of whom no longer seem to have time or any interest in even eating dinner as a family, though her husband Grant (Michael Chernus) is kind and supportive. As she receives negative feedback from her poetry teacher (Gael Garcia Bernal) and classmates, she spots an incredible talent for poetry from her student Jimmy (Parker Sevak), which she begins to nurture and in turn steal to pass off as her own.

There’s a fundamental narrative issue in this film, which is based on a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, which makes it difficult to watch and accept. Lisa is good at her job, and therefore the interest she takes in her student, which causes her to do extraordinarily inappropriate things such as program her cell phone number into Jimmy’s phone and have him sleep over at her house without getting parental permission, is something that she should be aware is not okay. More unbelievably, others notice that she is overly invested and say nothing despite clear red flags that should be reported. Lisa’s need for fulfillment from her poetry class shouldn’t lead to what she does in this film, but that’s far from the only stretch applied here.

Gyllenhaal is a talented and hard-working actress who, on paper, should make this character work. That said, the assumption that this character can be a real, dynamic personality is flawed since the premise of this film is insufficient. Chernus is wasted in a supporting role, as is Bernal, and Sevak is the only one who shows potential for future roles, not that this one demands much other than a recitation of poetry that a five-year-old couldn’t possibly write. This film is a misfire, one that probably couldn’t have gone in the right direction since its story just isn’t appealing or coherent.

C-

Sunday, October 7, 2018

NYFF Spotlight: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 56th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 14th.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen
Main Slate

The Coen Brothers have what some might call a unique touch. Their films are often uproariously funny, but usually also involve murder and mayhem. “No Country for Old Men” and “Fargo” are probably their biggest successes, though they’ve had other Best Picture Oscar nominees over the years. Their stories – and their characters – are peculiar, and almost always have a penchant for long-winded speeches that convey an intellect far beyond what might be expected. Not every effort by this duo is a success, and aiming too broadly for either comedy or drama without the knowledge of where to meet in the middle can produce an uneven result.


Tim Blake Nelson stars in the film

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is merely the first chapter of this six-part collection of unconnected stories. Tim Blake Nelson is a showy, singing cowboy in the first, James Franco is an unlucky robber in the second, Liam Neeson is a traveling entertainer in the third, Tom Waits is a prospector looking for gold in the fourth, Zoe Kazan is a young maiden in search of a better life in the fifth, and Tyne Daly is one of a few nervous passengers in a stagecoach in the sixth. Other well-known actors and breakout newcomers accompany them and appear in various roles throughout this assembly of predictably outlandish tales.


The Coen Brothers discuss the film

The Coen Brothers have never been afraid to try something new, and they expressed at the press conference at the New York Film Festival that they didn’t ever think they’d be able to get this project made. While it is an impressive undertaking emboldened by great costuming and art direction, it suffers from being disjointed and, at times, purposeless. The bigger issue is that its first segment is so spectacular and entertaining that everything that comes after can’t possibly compare. The other five are also more serious and unpleasant in nature, which the Coen Brothers have done well in the past but doesn’t work too well here, especially in the film’s third road show act segment.


Bill Heck, Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan, and the Coen Brothers discuss the film

Nelson, who plays the film’s title character, is the undeniable star of this film, and it’s a tremendous, hilarious performance that sets the film off to a superb start. In the film’s penultimate segment, Kazan, Bill Heck, and Grainger Hines enhance their material considerably with involved and engaging turns. The smallest role that proves truly unforgettable features the reliable Stephen Root as a bank teller not about to be robbed again in what serves as the film’s funniest moment aside from the entirety of its opening act. Whether this film needed to exist as it is with its parts together is up for debate, since the quality of its first segment really overshadows and dwarfs the far less worthwhile rest.

B-

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.


Now Playing in Theatres

Loving Pablo (mixed bag): Javier Bardem stars as Pablo Escobar and Penelope Cruz plays a journalist who falls for him in this lackluster adaptation that can’t possibly compare to the recent and far superior depiction of Escobar’s story in Netflix’s Narcos. Now playing at Village East Cinema. Read my review from yesterday.


Private Life (recommended): Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn star in this comedic drama from director Tamara Jenkins about infertility, which features a breakout performance from Kayli Carter and a worthwhile look at the struggle to build a family. Now playing at Landmark 57 West and the IFC Center. Also available on Netflix. Read my review from Sundance.



New to DVD

Breath (highly recommended): Simon Baker stars in and directs this visually incredible story of two young surfers on the Western coast of Australia in the 1970s who get to experience glimpses of adulthood through their interactions with a former professional surfer.

The Catcher Was a Spy (recommended): Paul Rudd stars as a real-life Jewish baseball player sent to assassinate a Nazi target. It’s a cool premise which works well enough as a film, even if it feels like this story is a bit too isolated from the real world.

Leave No Trace (highly recommended): Debra Granik helms this terrific film worthy of favorable comparison to her previous success, “Winter’s Bone,” featuring exceptional performances from Ben Foster and breakout star Thomasin McKenzie as a father and daughter set on living away from the world in the wilderness.

The 12th Man (recommended): This is a different kind of war epic, one that follows a single survivor of a failed subversive mission against the Nazis who has to outlast the harsh weather of Scandinavia and outrun a ruthless Nazi commander intent on finding him. It’s a decent if long showcase that features some intriguing moments.


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Anger Management (recommended): Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler were a decent pair for this decent enough comedy about people trying to deal with their anger, offering some laughs and relatively sufficient entertainment.

Billy Madison (mixed bag): Most true Adam Sandler fans love one of his earliest hits, which is far from his most intellectual work but easily one of the most quotable.

Blazing Saddles (highly recommended): It’s hard to find a classic comedy as exceptional – and exceptionally offensive – as this 1974 film from Mel Brooks, featuring a tremendous lead performance from Cleavon Little and so much of what has inspired modern-day comedy since.

Copycat (mixed bag): I’m a huge fan of serial killer thrillers when done right, but this 1995 effort starring Sigourney Weaver didn’t quite do it for me. There are some worthwhile moments but its disturbing nature isn’t quite worth the trip.

Mystic River (recommended): Sean Penn and Tim Robbins both won Oscars for their portrayal of Boston natives caught up in a miserable, unsettling situation that causes them both to question who they are.

Poseidon (recommended): I don’t remember much about this 2006 remake of the 1972 adventure film other than that it starred a young Emmy Rossum and was actually pretty entertaining, if admittedly and expectedly over-the-top.

The Shining (recommended): I had the distinct experience of watching this famed thriller at the Mohonk Mountain House, which wasn’t the basis for the film but easily could have been, and though I’m no fan of horror, I can admit that this film is unique and very worthwhile to anyone who wants to be taken for a wild and often terrifying ride.

V for Vendetta (recommended): This 2006 film about an antigovernment revolutionary feels like it came out forever ago, but I think it serves as an important archetype for a lot of similar films that have been made since, and it’s pretty worthwhile in its own right. The tagline is impossible to forget: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November.”

Friday, October 5, 2018

Movie with Abe: Loving Pablo


Loving Pablo
Directed by Fernando León de Aranoa
Released October 5, 2018

It often happens that two projects about the same subject are released around the same time. It’s rare for both to be equally successful, and usually it’s the one that comes out first which receives more positive reviews from audiences and critics alike. There are always differences between the two approaches, even if the story is extremely similar. Discerning their quality requires a step back to understand what the source material might be, what has been included and omitted, and what style is used to present it. Seeing one first doesn’t necessarily mean that a fresh take is what counts, as in some instances the later product really is inferior.

Virginia Vallejo (Penelope Cruz) is a famous television journalist invited to a party at the home of Colombian rising star and recent millionaire Pablo Escobar (Javier Bardem). Virginia becomes entranced with this gregarious and powerful man, who attempts a career in politics only to be told that the sins of his past are too great, leading him to become a villain in his country, even setting up his own mansion-like prison when it becomes clear that he has no choice but to appear to yield to the authority of both his and the American government, though, as Virginia begins to realize, he is still very much in control of his situation and everything around him.

Escobar, as portrayed by the immensely talented Wagner Moura, was the subject of the first two seasons of Netflix’s magnetic and excellent series “Narcos.” The use of archive footage is prevalent here as it is there, and Virginia, initially presented as a character in her own right, becomes just another narrator to tell Pablo’s story, which is undeniably fascinating. After a slow start, the terror grows for Virginia as she realizes what Pablo does and what he’s capable of when he’s angry, and the film gradually develops its own style as it goes along. Compared to Netflix’s undertaking, however, this effort is a pale imitation that doesn’t provide nearly as much intrigue or compelling drama.

The decision to shoot this film in English is puzzling at best, since director Fernando León de Aranoa and stars Cruz and Bardem are all native to Spain, and Spanish is the primary language of Colombia that all of its characters should speak, aside from when they are addressing American operatives, like Peter Sarsgaard’s DEA agent. It dilutes the story and the overall effectiveness of the film, one that’s often told better from afar through the voice of someone like Virginia. Cruz is strong, and while Bardem might seem like the perfect fit to play Pablo, this is hardly one of his more memorable or chilling performances despite the potential of the role. For those who want to see Pablo portrayed on screen, check out the superb “Narcos” over this mediocre film.

B-

Thursday, October 4, 2018

NYFF Spotlight: High Life

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 56th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 14th.

High Life
Directed by Claire Denis
Main Slate


Many classic films set in outer space can be easily identified by their directors, who left an indelible stylistic mark on their work that has come to define or at the very least inform their careers. Stanley Kubrick made “2001: A Space Odyssey,” George Lucas helmed “Star Wars,” Ridley Scott guided “Alien,” and James Cameron steered “Aliens.” More recently, established filmmakers not known for science fiction or extraterrestrial efforts have traveled to cinematic space, with Alfonso Cuaron as one prominent example taking home an Oscar for “Gravity.” Now, a director whose previous work has definitely been set firmly on Earth is traveling to new heights for an inarguably unique vision of what space could look like through her eyes.

Monte (Robert Pattinson) is a death row inmate who has accepted an innovative sentence, going into space to try to harness the power of a black hole. Aboard his quiet ship, he spends his days working on repairs and taking care of a baby before submitting nightly reports to refresh his life support. Through flashbacks, the full picture of his mission is revealed, with a convicted doctor (Juliette Binoche) conducting a side project of attempting to impregnate the female prisoners. Trapped together in a small space with no knowledge of if they’ll ever make it home, the group of violent criminals predictably begins to experience cabin fever before all hell breaks loose.

Listed on IMDB under adventure/drama/horror, this film is probably best described as a science-fiction psychological thriller. It appears to take some inspiration from the template of “Alien,” with internal strife and discord serving as just as much a catalyst for the doom as the very threatening possibility of death whenever a black hole nears. Starting with Monte operating the ship by himself while tending to an inexplicably present infant only increases the melancholy, draining feeling that this trip has gone horribly wrong. No fate that can befall the passengers of this ship will be good, but watching as past and present play out simultaneously is a tense and troubling experience.


Director Claire Denis and star Robert Pattison discuss the film at a press conference

Denis, whose extraordinarily different “Let the Sun Shine In” screened at last year’s New York Film Festival, makes a recognizable imprint on this film, focusing most on the characters and their coming undone. She also says that there is no way that people in could speak French, her straightforward explanation for why the film is in English rather than her native language. The presence of a “sex room” aboard the ship designed to help the prisoners alleviate some of their tension is a very peculiar addition that doesn’t feel as strange as it should thanks to Denis’ incorporation of it, and Binoche in particular helps to normalize it with her magnetic and haunting performance. Pattinson, who has transformed himself into a more serious actor over the past few years following an early tween “Twilight” craze, serves as a stable lead, one who anchors a story far out of Monte’s control with a frank acceptance of his situation. This film unapologetically frames and follows its own narrative to great effect, on its own individual, unsettling course the whole time.

B+

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.


Now Playing in Theatres

All About Nina (highly recommended): Mary Elizabeth Winstead is incredible as a stand-up comedian trying to make it in the industry and navigating her own complicated relationships along the way. It’s a fresh, honest, and funny look anchored by a tremendous performance. Now playing at AMC Empire and Regal Union Square. Read my review from Tribeca.


Monsters and Men (recommended): This may not be the most high-profile film about racism and police in America starring John David Washington, but it is a harrowing and effective look at one young African-American man facing excessive prosecution and an African-American cop caught between his loyalty to the department and the color of his skin. Now playing at AMC Empire, City Cinemas East 86th St, and the Angelika. Read my review from Sundance.


The Old Man and the Gun (recommended): Robert Redford gives a terrific lead performance as the charming, polite robber who gets away with most of his crimes because the criminal is nice to the people he holds up – and he’s much older than anyone would expect. It’s a fun story based on real events that works very well as a film. Now playing at City Cinemas 123, Regal Union Square, and the Landmark 57 West. Read my review from Thursday.


New to DVD

The Seagull (mixed bag): I wasn’t too fond of this Anton Chekhov adaptation from director Michael Mayer, which features a stacked cast led by Annette Bening and Corey Stoll. The real standouts from the ensemble are Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, and Glenn Fleshler. Literary enthusiasts will likely enjoy it more than I did.


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (highly recommended): Long before endless sequels made this franchise into something unwatchable, this first film was truly enjoyable and actually pretty great, managing to net Johnny Depp a SAG win and Oscar nomination for playing a pirate! It’s creative, entertaining, and fun for most ages.

Twenty Feet from Stardom (recommended): I wasn’t as enthralled by this cleverly-titled, Oscar-winning documentary as most, but I can appreciate the power of telling a story about the people who brush with fame on a daily basis only to be sidelined in history because they’re not the ones out in front.

Friday, September 28, 2018

NYFF Spotlight: The Favourite

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 56th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 14th.

The Favourite
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Opening Night Selection


The cast and crew discuss the film

There are many fascinating stories from history just waiting to be adapted into a juicy book, enthralling film, or engaging television series. In many cases, characters and entire plotlines are embellished or created from scratch due in large part to the fact that not every moment is thoroughly or accurately documented, especially when the subject dates back many years. Additionally, the way that people speak to each other and interact can be altered to add to the creativity or entertainment value as guided by the people behind the camera telling the story through the actors playing it out on screen.


Olivia Colman and Emma Stone discuss the film

In the late seventeenth century, Anne (Olivia Colman) is Queen of Great Britain. Much of her decision-making is advised and even directed by Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough, for whom she harbors considerable affection. The arrival of Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) initially presents an opportunity for Sarah to keep Anne’s need for attention at bay, but once Abigail, whose station in life has been greatly reduced due to past events, sees the position she is in, she becomes a fierce rival for Sarah.


Director Yorgos Lanthimos and screenwriter Tony McNamara discuss the film

These characters are all real, and the intimacy Anne shared with both Sarah and Abigail is relatively well-documented. As showcased here, however, all three are capable of spitting out extraordinary dialogue that shows just how well-suited they are to their surroundings, far more intelligent than all the men around them and more than ready to go toe-to-toe with one another. It’s a marvelous tale marking the third English-language film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who hands the screenwriting reins to the very capable Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis. It’s also far more unsettling than “Dogtooth,” “The Lobster,” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” brilliantly transposing his knack for dark humor to this regal, historical setting for a delightfully entertaining trip.


Joe Alwyn and Nicholas Hoult discuss the film

All three women in this film are terrific, and the only question come Oscar time will be which categories to place them in since they all have considerable screen time. Colman, who played one queen in “Hyde Park on Hudson” and will soon take over the role of Queen Elizabeth II on “The Crown,” makes Anne into a hilarious presence, reacting purposefully and acutely to everything that goes on around her. Stone, donning a convincing English accent, is considerably more cutthroat than her usual sympathetic characters and gives Abigail a formidable energy. Weisz is quick and unforgiving, and hers may well be the most superb of these three excellent turns. Nicholas Hoult stands out among the male cast for his portrayal of Robert Harley, the leader of the government opposition, who seeks to curry whatever favor he can through less than noble means. The costumes by famed designer Sandy Powell and the wide-lens cinematography by Robbie Ryan help complete this extremely engaging and worthwhile experience, and though its final scene is the weakest point of the film, everything that leads up to it and extraordinary and captivating.

B+

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Old Man and the Gun


The Old Man and the Gun
Directed by David Lowery
Released September 28, 2018

There are many historical instances of kidnapping victims developing sympathetic and even romantic feelings for their captors. Bank robberies don’t tend to produce the same reactions, especially because, unless they turn into a far longer and more laborious ordeal, they happen quickly and, through fear, usually lead to quick compliance. Some can turn violent and prove particularly traumatizing, while others are over almost before they start and don’t linger as an overly negative memory for those affected. In rare cases, it occurs like a simple transaction, with the person demanding money asking in a very polite and almost charming manner.

Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) walks into a bank wearing what looks like a hearing aid in the 1980s and calmly robs it with a smile on his face. This is the way he operates, smiling and utilizing pleasantries to catch the tellers and managers off guard, harming no one in the process and walking away with a load of cash each time. As dogged detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) gets closer to tracking down Tucker and his “Over-the-Hill Gang” of senior citizen robbers, Tucker develops a relationship with Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a woman that he meets on the run from one of his jobs and who is blissfully unaware of just what it is that the man she’s falling for does for a living, even after he freely admits it on their first date.

Redford, who himself is eighty-two years old, a bit more senior than the real-life person he portrays, truly makes this film what it is. He has been working steadily for nearly half a century and, if this performance is any indication, shows no signs of letting up anytime soon, despite claims that this is his last film. Redford makes Tucker extremely endearing, most concerned with treating those he’s stealing from with dignity and kindness, almost inviting them to join in on his caper and have a blast with him. With a different actor in the lead role, this film wouldn’t work nearly as well. While Affleck appears less than enthusiastic, Spacek is a perfect foil for Tucker, just as nice but with much sincerer intentions.

Tucker is a fascinating subject, particularly for the way that he enjoys the chase, famous for his numerous incredible escapes from prison, a place he didn’t mind returning to over and over since he knew he’d find a way out eventually each time. The way that Tucker’s adventures are showcased in this film works to tremendous effect, with a purposefully dated, slow feel to it, emphasizing characters and their motivations rather than being driven by the admittedly extremely interesting events being depicted. Its rather short runtime brings its story to a close somewhat swiftly, but everything up until that point is compelling in the way that it’s framed and compelling in its own right.

B+

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.


Now Playing in Theatres

A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. (recommended): This single-shot film is a mesmerizing and thought-provoking look at the night of the 2016 presidential election through the eyes of two people whose lives are going to keep going no matter what happens – a very interesting and unique interpretation of a relationship in the context of current events. Now playing at AMC Empire and Regal Union Square. Read my review from Sundance.

Colette (highly recommended): Keira Knightley is superb as the title character in this film about a talented writer whose great works are overshadowed by her husband’s ego. It might feel like a familiar story, but it has a decidedly fresh and invigorating touch. Now playing at the Angelika and the Paris Theatre. Read my review from Sundance.

Fahrenheit 11/9 (recommended): Michael Moore’s latest is exactly what you’d expect from the incendiary and incisive documentary filmmaker, a look at how Trump’s election came about as a result of flaws all throughout America and an occasionally-focused examination of what’s next for our country. Intriguing and cutting-edge if nothing else. Now playing in wide release. Read my review from Thursday.

I Think We're Alone Now (recommended): Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning star in a post-apocalyptic drama from “The Handmaid’s Tale” director Reed Morano that’s slower and more contemplative than other dystopias but still manages to be effective and worthwhile. Now playing in limited release. Read my review from Sundance.

The Last Suit This Argentinean story of a Holocaust survivor who decides to return to Poland to deliver a suit he made to the man who saved his life decades earlier is a warm, entertaining story filled with great performances and enjoyable moments. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and Village East Cinema. Read my review from yesterday.

Lizzie (mixed bag): This true-crime drama set over a century ago presents the brutal murder of a wealthy Massachusetts couple and mulls around trying to figure out whether their daughter, played by Chloe Sevigny, or their maid, played by Kristen Stewart, was responsible. It’s interesting but gets lost in its own winding journey. Now playing at the Landmark 57 West, AMC Kips Bay, and the Angelika. Read my review from Sundance.

Science Fair (recommended): This documentary about intelligent kids competing to win a major prize to honor their scientific achievements is a welcome and refreshing showcase of positive inspiration that drives innovators to succeed. It’s both cool and entertaining. Now playing at the Landmark at 57 West. Read my review from Wednesday.



New to DVD

Beast (mixed bag): There’s a lot whole of intrigue to be found in this dark, dreary tale of a young woman who falls in love with a mystery man believed to be a mass murderer. Lead actress Jessie Buckley is great, but this film is off-putting and far from pointed in the slow burn to its conclusion.

Damsel (anti-recommended): I really did not care for what initially seemed like a creative western starring Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska but quickly devolved into something ridiculous. The actors are good but this movie just isn’t worth it.

Hearts Beat Loud (highly recommended): Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons are both wonderful as a father-daughter duo who start a band as they shutter a Brooklyn record store that’s well past its prime. It’s an endearing story with some great music to boot.


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Click (mixed bag): I know a lot of people have a soft spot for some of the sentimentality in this 2006 Adam Sandler comedy, but I didn’t buy a lot of what I felt what as an unfunny, extended advertisement for Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

The Endless (mixed bag): This psychological thriller about two brothers who previously escaped a UFO death cult doesn’t exactly know where it’s going, an idea that might be appealing at first but ends up being unfulfilling.

Role Models (recommended): I honestly couldn’t remember anything about this comedy starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott, but my Minute with Abe from ten years ago tells me that I liked it much more than I expected – a raunchy and entertaining film from David Wain.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Last Suit


The Last Suit
Directed by Pablo Solarz
Released September 21, 2018

What one person experiences during a horrific period of history can’t possibly be fully understood by future generations. Though they may hear countless stories of what was endured, a very potent and real way of keeping history alive and assuring that it is not repeated, it is not the same as actually going through it. Studying it from an academic perspective also can’t accomplish what living it does, and a deep need to fulfill some promise made decades earlier towards the end of someone’s life, regardless of impossible or, at the very best, unlikely logistics, can only be truly comprehended by the person who feels it and knows what they require in order to allow them to make some sort of peace with what has happened to them.

Abraham Bursztein (Miguel Ángel Solá) is an 88-year-old tailor living in Buenos Aires. As he prepares for the move to a retirement facility that has been orchestrated by his daughters and gets one last photo with his family, Abraham promptly decides that he must go to Poland, a place he has not been since he was deported and sent to a concentration camp during the Holocaust, to deliver the last suit he’ll make to the man who saved his life. The journey back to Europe and within its countries doesn’t prove to be easy, and both the language barrier and his determination not to set food in Germany along the way make it even more complicated.

This film opens with a scene of celebratory Jewish dancing from before everything in Abraham’s life was ripped away from him. Throughout his trip, which is laced with comedic moments, a score featuring distinctly Jewish music guides him along his way, a voyage that his family clearly doesn’t support and everyone he meets struggles to understand, asking him who it is he is trying to find and how he knows that he’ll be able to locate him so many years later. Abraham remains steadfast, despite his ailing health and travel mishaps, set on delivering one last item before he feels as if he has fulfilled what he is meant to in life.

Veteran Argentinean actor Solá, who is two decades younger than the character he plays, makes Abraham feel like a very lived-in character, not eager to adjust to the ways of the world and not at all prepared to accommodate others in how he should behave, even if modernity has gotten ahead of him. Ángela Molina and Martín Piroyansky help give Abraham context as a hostel operator and traveling musician, respectively, who initially find Abraham’s attitude off-putting but eventually warm to him. This film is an affirming tribute to a man who represents a generation of people who truly did survive, and an enjoyable and entertaining trip to boot.

B+

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Movie with Abe: Fahrenheit 11/9


Fahrenheit 11/9
Directed by Michael Moore
Released September 21, 2018

Fourteen years ago, fresh off an Oscar win for “Bowling for Columbine” that he used as a platform to decry then-President George W. Bush and the War on Terror, veteran documentarian Michael Moore released “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a cleverly-titled look at what led to the war in Iraq that was meant to have obvious parallels to the classic novel “Fahrenheit 451.” The film was expectedly met with considerable negativity by those who didn’t agree with Moore’s worldview and his assessment of the situation, as well as his attempts to link the Bush family to Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist groups. If Bush was an unpopular figure with some, it’s no surprise that our current president, Donald Trump, is the latest target of Moore’s incisive and highly unique investigative journalism.

The title was just too good not to use, flipping the date in his 2004 film to represent the first day after Trump surprised with his victory to win the office of the president. A few films, including the excellent “Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time,” have already tackled the factors that led to his ousting of over a dozen Republican challengers and his shocking defeat of the Democrat most polls had easily beating him. Moore dives much further into it, placing blame on the Democratic establishment and tying in the Flint water crisis and Parkland anti-gun activism into what he sees as a decaying state that can only be helped by the election of those willing to think outside the box and challenge the status quo.

Where Moore has always been most effective is in his ability to push boundaries and to incorporate the way others perceive him into his projects. Steve Bannon offers perhaps the best quote of the entire film, noting that, while he definitely doesn’t agree with Trump’s politics, he is a great filmmaker. Moore shows Jared Kushner as an eager producer of his 2007 documentary about health care, “Sicko,” and even includes footage of his own conversation with Trump moderated by none other than Roseanne Barr. The funniest moment of a film that includes more than a few laws finds Trump walking into the office of Michigan Governor Ricky Snyder with a pair of handcuffs, intent on making a citizen’s arrest since no one else will prosecute the crimes he documents having been perpetrated by the former businessman who Moore argues bears more than a passing similarity to Trump.

As usual, Moore travels down a few avenues that seem, at best, tenuously connected to his primary argument. At times, it feels like this is just an advertisement for Democratic Socialist candidates, with considerable time spent on how states like West Virginia voted heavily for Bernie Sanders only to see their delegates go to Hillary Clinton. His spotlight of one passionate West Virginia Democrat running for office is far more effective, and his critique of leaders like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama is complex and thought-provoking. Showcasing how the younger generation, represented by those who survived a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, can effect change, is a positive takeaway of this otherwise insightful but hardly optimistic look at just what’s become of this country so many people want to call great, an extremely typical, and typically immersive, Michael Moore film.

B+

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Movie with Abe: Science Fair


Science Fair
Directed by Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster
Released September 14, 2018

There are many different forms of competition out there, some of which take on a more public nature because the results will impact who is leading a particular country or representing the voice of many others in government or another forum. Often in these cases, the aim is merely to win, and if victory is not achieved, all the effort that went into it results merely in starting over for the next opportunity to campaign or try again. It’s refreshing, therefore, to see a showcase of innovators who want nothing more than the chance to compete to show that what they are working on, regardless of whether it receives a prize, that has the potential to change the world as long as they stick with it.

Nine high school students from all over the world compete to win the International Science and Engineering Fair, bringing with them the inventions they have concocted to show judges and impress their peers. What they have created is shaped in many ways by their upbringings and environments, whether it’s something designed to help combat zika or to utilize an algorithm initially designed to predict Kanye West lyrics to far greater effect in computing life-or-death rhythms. Social lives are rarely in the question, and a commitment both to the work and to the spirit of the fair are crucial for them to be able to go the distance.

Like other documentaries about high-achieving students before it, “Science Fair” selects a handful of diverse candidates, all of whom hail from different backgrounds with varying motivators compelling them to succeed. It’s both fun and inspiring to watch them talk about how they came up with their chosen endeavors, including one programmer who started out by having his calculator spit out Shakespearean insults whenever a particular key was pressed. Seeing the genuine joy they have in presenting these to others is affirming, and it really is great to know that winning this competition isn’t their only endgame.

The opening moments of this film find one freshman bounding to the stage with such delight before being overcome with tears, immediately illustrating the positive impact that valuing young minds and showing them that they can do incredible things has. As young people start to become activists for other types of change in the world, it’s nice to see an engaging platform for those with more standardly intellectual yet highly advanced ideas to develop what they have been inspired to do. This film is engaging and entertaining, delivering both smiles and moments of wonder from the sheer creativity and impressiveness of these minds.

B+

Monday, September 17, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Wife


The Wife
Directed by Björn Runge
Released August 17, 2018

There are a number of achievements in life that only one person gets recognized for but which take the effort of a team to accomplish. Nowhere is that truer than in a marriage, where one spouse might make incredible strides or publish trailblazing material, but being able to devote the time and energy to that passion requires at the very least the cooperation of the other spouse, if not the adding of ideas and inspiration. Many of these people acknowledge the tremendous debt they owe the unrewarded party, but the inequity of the balance of power can still gradually grow into resentment over time.

Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) receives a phone call with the exciting news that his latest book has won him the Nobel Prize, and eagerly invites his wife Joan (Glenn Close) to pick up the other receiver so that she can share in his joy. As they travel to Sweden to receive the award with their son David (Max Irons), a budding writer who desperately seeks the approval of his father, a divide forms between the long-united couple as Joan sinks into the shadows of her husband, reflecting back on the formation of their relationship and confronting allegations about her husband’s past from a pushy writer (Christian Slater) who wants nothing more than to pen Joe’s biography.

Joan is well aware of her role in this story, and even begs her husband not to thank her in his speech so that she won’t be perceived as the “long-suffering wife.” She is intelligent, loyal, and, well aware of the privileges she has gained from Joe’s success. Yet, as her husband receives the most-coveted award possible in his field, she realizes that perhaps, in supporting him, she has held herself back from living her own life and putting her mind and energy to the best use. Though this film theoretically should be Joe’s story, Joan, after so many years in being in the background, is finally ready to step into the spotlight and show what she can contribute.

This is an incredible role for Close, who has herself shown what she can do, with six Oscar nominations in a career spanning over thirty-five years. She is all but guaranteed to receive a deserved seventh bid and possible first win for this magnificent turn, which truly guides the film. Pryce and Slater add commendable support, with their overly vocal male figures contrasting sharply with her more reserved, pensive attitude. Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd stand out as the younger versions of Joan and Joe, offering incredible context to their relationship. This film smartly and sensitively dives into a compelling dynamic, one that offers much more complexity than it initially appears.

B+

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Movie with Abe: BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman
Directed by Spike Lee
Released August 10, 2018

There are many incredible stories from throughout history that, regardless of or perhaps as a result of their grandeur or their unbelievable nature, aren’t immediately shared with the public. It can take years for them to be told, and they may not come to light until well after the deaths of those involved. Once they are public, it’s natural for them to be shared in broad fashion, put to paper in newspapers, magazines, or books and then turned into films or television series. The framing can make all the difference – what this amazing series of events looks like and signifies in the right context.

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) becomes the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs in 1979. Eager to go undercover, Stallworth picks up the phone and dials the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Posing as a prospective member, Stallworth develops a relationship with his voice alone, sending a white colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), in his place to meet the members. While he tries to build a case against these white nationalists that he believes are doing more than spreading hate, Stallworth also befriends the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke (Topher Grace), who, like the local chapter members, has no idea that they’re actually speaking to someone who represents all they despise.

Much of this film focuses on the humorous nature of how Stallworth managed to fool so many people and become a card-carrying member of the KKK. The surrounding culture of racism even within the police department in Colorado Springs serves as an important backdrop to this story, which is a very self-congratulatory one that features many moments of clearly expressed triumph. Unsurprisingly, a good deal of the characters and incidents in this film have been fictionalized, which is understandable, but what it means is that the film isn’t quite as emphatically powerful as it hopes to be, providing a less than satisfactory amount of information and intrigue beyond the film’s initial premise.

This is a very recognizable Spike Lee Joint, praised by many as a return to form for the director. The references to the current state of America and how little progress has been achieved are overt and unsubtle throughout the film, but it really reaches its boiling point in the closing moments that bring home the seriousness of this subject and what America looks like today. Had that tone defined this relatively entertaining and overly casual film, it would be both a truly strong film and an important wake-up call to the next generation. Ultimately, it’s really just the latter, a decent film that hardly makes the most of its very worthwhile subject until its final harrowing scene.

B

Friday, September 7, 2018

Movie with Abe: I Am Not a Witch


I Am Not a Witch
Directed by Rungano Nyoni
Released September 7, 2018

There are many ways in which society has evolved over the centuries, with great modernizations since the Dark Ages that imply more than just a chronological development but one that has improved the way the world functions and treats people. In addition to recent events that have appeared to backtrack the progress that has been made, there are places in the world that still practice many things that would be deemed backwards or inhumane. Portraying an unbelievable truth in cinema often doesn’t require too much exaggeration since the mere fact that everyone doesn’t find it absurd and objectionable is hard enough to fathom.

Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is an eight-year-old girl in Zambia who is seen as suspicious when she arrives in a village without any story and with nothing to say. Accused of being a witch, Shula is convicted and must adjust to her new life being attached to a long white ribbon, alternatively seen as a scourge upon her country and as a prophetic spirit able to judge the guilt of others and provide her own kind of service to the nation. This young girl must decide how to navigate an absurd fate and make the most of her potential.

It’s often difficult to separate what’s clearly expressed satire and what is something that might actually still occur in a nation, like Ghana, where sentences of witchcraft and by alleged witches are still handed out. Nothing in this slow, melancholy film presents itself outright as comedy, yet the insanity of it all and the power ultimately given to Shula for little reason other than that she barely speaks is entirely ridiculous. The depiction of a witch camp in which those accused are put on display for visitors is poignant, and offers an important representation of a real-life occurrence that seems too horrific to believe.

The feature film debut from Zambia-born director Rungano Nyoni won her a BAFTA Award and may contend as the Best Foreign Language Film submission for the United Kingdom at the upcoming Oscars. It tells a story that exposes those marginalized by their own communities for perceived differences, shining a light on injustices that are encouraged rather than forbidden by local laws and governmental enforcement. Breakout actress Mulubwa, who is from Zambia herself, delivers a strong debut turn far more mature than her young age would indicate, wise beyond her years and able to perceive much that the adults around her don’t. This film tells its story in an unrushed fashion, allowing it to play out without any manufactured urgency. The message here is its most powerful, exposing its audience to a problematic phenomenon that continues to exist in some places today.

B

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.


Now Playing in Theatres

Operation Finale (recommended): Ben Kingsley stands out with his portrayal of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in this intense, entertaining thriller in the style of “Argo.” Now playing in wide release. Read my review from Wednesday.

Pick of the Litter (highly recommended): While I didn’t see this film, my wife Arielle, who loves dogs, did when it premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival this past January. This documentary about puppies raised to be guide dogs still sticks out as one of the best movies she’s seen in a while, so if it sounds like your thing, see it right away! Now playing at the IFC Center. Read her review from Slamdance.


New to DVD

American Animals (highly recommended): This true story of a university library heist planned by four students pulls double duty as a gripping thriller and a creative amalgam of interviews with the actual people and the actors who portray them. The result is simply terrific.

A Kid Like Jake (recommended): Claire Danes and Jim Parsons lead this timely film, from trans director Silas Howard, about parents struggling the reactions by peers and professionals to their son who doesn’t conform to typical gender stereotypes or behavior.

The Last Laugh (recommended): This entertaining and insightful documentary explores the question of whether the Holocaust is funny, an issue it doesn’t resolve but has an interesting and worthwhile time examining through clips and interviews with many famous comedians.

Mary Shelley (mixed bag): Elle Fanning shows once again that she has a promising career ahead of her with a strong performance as the real-life creator of Frankenstein that isn’t nearly as interesting as either its protagonist or its star deserve.

Woman Walks Ahead (recommended): This period film, which premiered at Tribeca earlier this year, is a worthwhile look at one trailblazing woman who wanted nothing more than to paint a famous Native American chief, with plenty of historical value and modern-day emphasis on getting along despite differences to be found within it.


Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

A Beautiful Mind (highly recommended): I’d still rank this very deserving 2001 Oscar winner for Best Picture as my second-favorite movie of all-time, featuring amazing performances from Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, and Jennifer Connelly. It’s an exceptional drama that serves as a great example for similar films.

Brick (recommended): I wasn’t so gung-ho about director Rian Johnson’s debut feature film long before “Looper” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but I can still appreciate the innovative and off-kilter nature of this early Joseph Gordon-Levitt indie.

Bruce Almighty (recommended): Jim Carrey will be back next week with a new TV show, and you can celebrate with this late-era comedy from the height of his career that’s genuinely funny, with a random guy grappling with what it means to have all the power in the universe.

The Cider House Rules (recommended): This 1999 Oscar winner and Best Picture nominee is hardly the liveliest of films, but it does feature some strong performances and a good script.

Fair Game (recommended): This underrated 2010 dramatic thriller is a very worthwhile look at what it means to be a journalist and a politician, featuring exceptional performances from both Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.

King Kong (recommended): Last year’s sort-of sequel may be more recent, but this 2005 remake of the classic original was brought to tremendous life by director Peter Jackson. It’s a large scale-epic, one that manages to make this monster movie believable and enthralling.

Pearl Harbor (recommended): I’ve only seen this much-maligned war movie from much-hated director Michael Bay once, but I actually didn’t think it was all that bad. Even if the acting and script aren’t superb, there are decent parts of this film, particularly its technical elements.

Searching for Sugar Man (recommended): This Oscar winner for Best Documentary is an enormously compelling, involving look at one peculiar, unique artist made all the more empathetic and worthwhile after its director Malik Bendjelloul’s tragic suicide a few years ago.

Spider-Man 3 (mixed bag): I described this film as “silly but fun” way back in 2007 when I went to Staten Island for its premiere. The franchise has already been rebooted twice since the third and final Tobey Maguire-stalling installment, and you’re probably better off watching “The Cider House Rules,” listed above, if you want to see him in something.

Summer Catch (anti-recommended): I saw this pretty terrible movie in theatres with a bunch of friends from Hebrew school back in 2001 and remember asking before it started why we were going to see a film that had received such bad reviews. They weren’t wrong – even stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and Jessica Biel have done better.

Unforgiven (highly recommended): This 1992 Best Picture winner directed by and starring Clint Eastwood is an excellent western, one that takes the best of the genre and revisits it for a contemplative and very well-done film. Definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Movie with Abe: Operation Finale

Operation Finale
Directed by Chris Weitz
Released August 29, 2018

There are many movies made about the Holocaust, a number of them based on true stories and others on events that might have happened to real people that have been dramatized into a creative structure. Some take place before the rise of the Nazi regime, some while they are still in power and concentration camps are being used to house and exterminate those inside, and others long after the Allies have officially declared victory and the Holocaust remains a nightmarish stain on history. All can be equally effective, especially since the memory of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust never fades for those who experienced it.

Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is a Mossad operative in Israel chosen to head a team that includes Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll) and Hanna Elian (Mélanie Laurent) to travel to Argentina in 1960 with one goal: capture the man that they believe is Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). While dealing with the logistics of secretly extracting a war criminal to stand trial for the first time in Israel, Peter and his team are confronted with the weight of the mission they are trying to accomplish and the implications it could have for the world to see the Holocaust presented in an incontrovertible and very public way.

This film resembles a number of recent films that have also dealt with high-profile kidnappings and government operations that didn’t go as planned. At times, it feels like “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken,” where the abductors don’t seem to have much of a clue what they’re doing but aren’t too fazed by it, but it’s much more comparable to the Oscar-winning success “Argo,” which tells a relatively serious story in a playful manner full of entertainment. There are moments at which it approaches the gravity of “Munich,” but those come mostly from Peter being haunted by his own losses from the Holocaust and the reminder of just how a momentous a role the man they are after played in the architecture of the Holocaust.

This is a film where backgrounds and nationalities don’t matter all that much, since a mention of a character’s origins suffices rather than an actual attempt to take on a regional accent or dialect. As a result, Isaac and comic relief Kroll feel and sound particularly American, which detracts slightly from the story, while Kingsley, British as usual, delivers the most compelling and unforgettable turn as Eichmann. The film does manage to tell a gripping story, one capable of holding the attention of anyone watching. Knowing how events turn out doesn’t ruin the effect of this impactful mission, one worthy of showcasing in this format and done well enough here.

B+

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to many choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as films newly released on DVD and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.


Now Playing in Theatres

Eighth Grade (highly recommended)
Juliet, Naked (highly recommended)
Never Goin’ Back (highly recommended)
Night Comes On (highly recommended)
Blaze (recommended)
Puzzle (recommended)
Songwriter (recommended)
We the Animals (recommended)
The Bookshop (mixed bag)
An L.A. Minute (mixed bag)


New to DVD

Aardvark (recommended)
It Happened in L.A. (recommended)
The Rider (recommended)
Tully (recommended)
Bye Bye Germany (mixed bag)
First Reformed (mixed bag)
Furlough (mixed bag)
The Yellow Birds (mixed bag)


Now Available on Instant Streaming

Changeling (highly recommended)
Concussion (highly recommended)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (highly recommended)
Her (highly recommended)
Mississippi Grind (highly recommended)
Amy (recommended)
Cinderella Man (recommended)
The Company Men (recommended)
The Constant Gardener (recommended)
The End of the Tour (recommended)
Ex Machina (recommended)
No Country for Old Men (recommended)
Serenity (recommended)
Slow West (recommended)
Song of the Sea/a> (recommended)
Wish I Was Here (recommended)
Hereafter (mixed bag)
The Informant (mixed bag)
The Golden Compass (anti-recommended)