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.


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.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Movie with Abe: 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.


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.


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.


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)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Movie with Abe: An L.A. Minute

An L.A. Minute
Directed by Daniel Adams
Released August 24, 2018

Hollywood is an industry that has been satirized almost as much as it has been featured in a straightforward manner. Warm temperatures and hot egos in Los Angeles make the town one ripe for parody, and that extends beyond the movie business to anyone who travels in famous circles on a regular basis, living a life that looks nothing like that of many of their adoring fans – and less endeared haters. Successfully skewering this phenomenon isn’t always the easiest thing, since it requires a delicate balancing of humor and truth that simultaneously comes off as honest and intelligent.

Ted Gold (Gabriel Byrne) is a renowned author whose latest book, about a homeless serial killer, is all over the shelves. As he walks the streets of Los Angeles, he is asked for money by a man and accidentally gives him a precious token from his past. Searching desperately for him, Ted finds himself held up for money and then entranced by a performance artist named Velocity (Kiersey Clemons), who captures all of his attention and jolts him into realizing that he hasn’t been nearly as authentic as he’d like to think in the course of his work.

This film succeeds best in its depiction of the rollercoaster that fame can be, with one person completely on top one moment (or rather, minute) and then disposed of and totally ignored the next. As with similar projects, circumstances are exaggerated, as are the things that can make a person of interest to the general public. This depiction isn’t nearly as lively or effective overall as something like last year’s “It Happened in L.A.” and takes some questionable, if equally predictable, turns along the way.

Byrne has the perfect aggravated air to play someone seemingly annoyed at his own success, though it’s hardly his most energetic or impressive performance. Clemons, who broke out with a wonderful turn in “Hearts Beat Loud” earlier this year, shows talent, but the role is written a bit too broadly to really give her the appropriate platform for another standout showcase. There is interesting and worthwhile content to be found here, but this film frequently falls into the very traps it seeks to mock in its portrayal of the ups and down of life in the spotlight, a depiction that doesn’t seem to be nearly as up to date and relevant as it should be.


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Bookshop

Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment

The Bookshop
Directed by Isabel Coixet
Released August 24, 2018

Books have a power to transport people out of their worlds and into completely new, boundless realms. While this reviewer prefers movies because of how they visualize and realize stories, books can have an even grander possibility to let those turning their pages escape to somewhere else, away from the banality or unbearable nature of daily life, especially in a time that doesn’t allow for the free expression of thought or true purpose. Naturally, as with any artistic innovation, there will be pushback from those who see it as a lesser form or one unworthy of being indulged and emphasized.

Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) is a widow in 1959 England whose dream is to open a bookshop, something she finds to be considerably more difficult than expected. Countless hurdles are placed in her way, with the most momentous opposition coming from high-society queen Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), who wants to use the space to open a cultural arts center and will use every weapon in her arsenal to sway those few who support Florence against her cause. As she seeks to enlighten the residents of the town with her literary knowledge, she finds sympathy only from a young girl named Christine (Honor Kneafsey) and a lonely widower (Bill Nighy) who is taken with the ideas she expresses and the goals she seeks to achieve.

People advocating for change and progress well ahead of their time is nothing new, and such stories often make for great movies. What makes Florence stand out isn’t necessarily what she’s trying to do but rather the unshakeable persistence with which she does it. Everyone is against her, and it’s not as if her aims are all that revolutionary or objectionable. She’s just a woman who isn’t supposed to be pushing so much in her time and is expected to do what she’s told, a path she has no intention of following.

Mortimer is a fantastic actress whose spirit is one of her best qualities, and that’s on full display here in a relatively isolated lead role that allows her to push forward against every new obstacle. It doesn’t allow her much opportunity to use her comedic chops, unfortunately, and as a result this is far from her most engaging performance. The same is true of Nighy, who does play his part to the best of his ability. The film is decent but ultimately unmemorable, telling a perfectly standard tale in a competent manner.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Movie with Abe: Songwriter

Directed by Murray Cummings
Released August 17, 2018

Music is a very different art than film, and the product of a musician’s work doesn’t look very much like a finished movie or television series. Music videos and live performances help to give a fuller picture of an artist’s intent and add to their work, interpreting lyrics and the mood of the song with scenes and facial expressions that don’t come through when music is played on the radio or streamed online. Getting into the mind of a musician provides even more insight into their process, their motivations, and to understanding what they seek to contribute to the world with their art.

Ed Sheeran is a popular singer and songwriter whose career has blossomed and boomed in the last few years. This international sensation is well-known and adored by many, and his prominence and success are only continuing to grow. This documentary, directed by Sheeran’s cousin Murray Cummings, tracks his third studio album, “Divide,” from start to finish, seeking to provide a close-up look at who Sheeran is and what drives him to make music, with a particular focus on the genesis of his songs from melodies and words in his head to something people will listen to over and over.

“Songwriter,” an appropriately-titled film, is being released in theaters across the country but also slated to be available on Apple Music next music. That’s the perfect platform for this documentary, which shows Sheeran as he is, a man who spends almost all of his time thinking about what he wants to write. This production certainly doesn’t feel like the extravagant showcase of a famous man with millions of fans, instead demonstrating an intimacy that’s felt when Sheeran returns to the school he grew up at to pay tribute to the teacher who believed in him and share his love of music with the current students.

Those who like Sheeran or have a particular affinity for music in general will likely find themselves taken with this film. More than anything, this is a portrait of Sheeran as an artist. There are no grand takeaways about what it’s like to be in the music industry and to maintain a sense of self with fame constantly calling and threatening to overwhelm a person’s decency and genuine nature. For those not as into Sheeran or the business, it may not be quite as engaging, but it’s still a decent look at one talented musician.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Movies With Abe is on the road!

You may have noticed that there haven't been a lot of updates here at Movies With Abe in a while. That's because my wife Arielle and I were busy traveling in Israel, packing up our New York City apartment to move out at the end of July, and hitting the road for a series of road trips! We've made it to Denver, where we'll be celebrating the wedding of good friends this weekend, and then we get back in the car on Monday morning for more exploring. Once we've settled down for a little bit in September, more frequent posts will resume, as they already have at TV with Abe, where I'm catching up on a backlog of summer television. Fear not - during this hiatus, there's a brand new blog! Follow along with our adventures at Road Trip with Abe...and Arielle, where we'll be chronicling each day of our trip. Check back here for new content soon - the less traveling we're doing, the more movies I'm be watching and reviewing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Movie with Abe: 93Queen

Directed by Paula Eiselt
Released July 25, 2018

Especially in today’s society, in which civil liberties and rights for those with no voice are emphasized and demanded through social media and global campaigns, cultural dynamics that favor one set of people over another are often a source of great scorn and criticism. While those outside the situation may perceive a certain inequality, there may be a more complex truth at the root of it, with that seemingly marginalized group expressing an altogether different notion of resistance that might surprise those eager to lobby on their behalf.

“93Queen” tells the story of Ruchie Freier, a resident of Borough Park in Brooklyn, who worked to help create Ezras Nashim, the first all-female volunteer ambulance corps in New York City. The Hasidic mother of six already stands out in her community as a trained lawyer, and her quest to develop a program for religious women to be able to be met in emergent moments, mainly childbirth, by fellow women rather than men, is met with much hostility, seen as an affront to the already existent, all-male Hatzolah volunteer ambulance corps.

Support for this effort isn’t hard to find among women in the community, and what proves most interesting is their outlook on what they are trying to achieve. Ruchie and her fellow trailblazers decry labels of feminism, claiming that such attitudes seek to achieve an equilibrium between the sexes that has no place in traditional observant Judaism. She still believes that she and the other women are completely capable of being trained and providing a valuable service, though she at one moment suggests that things would have been so much easier had God just made her a man since it wouldn’t all be such a struggle.

One commonplace element of films, both fiction and nonfiction, that deal with observant religion in general and Judaism in particular, is that to become successful and happy requires a sacrifice, or at least compromise, of beliefs. That comes up at no point throughout this documentary, with Ruchie seen frequently praying, preparing home-cooked meals for her family every day, and politely explaining to non-Jewish men at a conference that she isn’t able to shake their hands. To Ruchie, what she is doing is fulfilling her purpose in this world, using her religious anchor to propel her to the most meaningful work she can do.

“93Queen,” from Orthodox female filmmaker Paula Eiselt, gets to the heart of the Hasidic community in Borough Park, offering an incredible level of access and providing subtitles to define the Yiddish and Hebrew words used frequently by the women interviewed so that it can be easily understood by any audience without compromising or diluting the authenticity of its subject population. Freier is a fascinating central figure for a film about an arduous, inspiring journey to create something that seemed unfathomable yet managed to come into existence in the incredible way skillfully documented here.


Saturday, July 21, 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

Blindspotting (highly recommended): This film serves as one of two worthy successors to “Get Out” that started as Sundance, and this is the much better of the two. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal are both terrific as remnants of a pre-gentrified society trying to fit in – and stay out of trouble – as the world evolves around them in a stunningly electric and energizing film. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and the Angelika. Read my review from Sundance.

New to DVD

Disobedience (highly recommended): Spectacular performances from Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola accentuate this captivating look at a forbidden relationship in a religious community.

You Were Never Really Here (mixed bag): Not to be confused for a sequel to the documentary I’m Still Here, also with Joaquin Phoenix, the latest film from director Lynne Ramsay is a violent revenge thriller that doesn’t really know where it’s going despite its altruistic aims.

Now Available on Instant Streaming

Enemy (recommended): Jake Gyllenhaal does impressive double duty as a man who sees someone who looks just like him in a movie and becomes obsessed with finding him. The film, from director Denis Villeneuve, has a great suspenseful feel throughout, and it’s a captivating story that’s easy to get into and hard to shake.

Laggies (mixed bag): I wanted to like this dramedy with odd couple Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz as a twentysomething and a high schooler who inexplicably become friends. It’s that central logic that’s missing here in a peculiar but somewhat entertaining story. The reason to see this, of course, is Sam Rockwell, continuing his domination of comedies with his singular personality.

Locke (recommended): Director Steven Knight and actor Tom Hardy achieve a brilliant success in unconventional cinema in this 85-minute car ride, which screened at Sundance in 2014 and features only a terrific Hardy on screen as a man whose life is falling apart over the phone as he drives home from work.

Obvious Child (recommended): This comedy, which played at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, is most notable for giving comedian Jenny Slate a lead role, playing a part perfect for her. The film around her isn’t always as strong, but she’s great and should have a bright and funny future.

Room (highly recommended): This incredible drama won lead actress Brie Larson a well-deserved Oscar for her portrayal of a mother locked in a small room with her young son, played by the equally excellent Jacob Tremblay, whose outlook on the world remains exceptionally positive despite their circumstances.

The Spectacular Now (recommended): This dramedy features terrific performances from young stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley earlier in their careers. It’s not a typical high school movie but at times proves to be very effective.

Spring Breakers (anti-recommended): I really didn’t care for this stylized look at criminality featuring a weird performance from James Franco, though it’s worth noting that many did go crazy for it. It’s a unique experience, to be sure, but one that feels more off-putting than anything else.

Zoe (recommended): Léa Seydoux and Ewan McGregor star in this futuristic drama about the hot topic of artificial intelligence that, like so many other projects about the same subject, explores what it means to be programmed to do one thing and to take charge of your own future. Now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe (Mega Edition)

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

Boundaries (highly recommended)
Leave No Trace (highly recommended)
The Catcher Was a Spy (recommended)
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (recommended)
Woman Walks Ahead (recommended)
Sorry to Bother You (mixed bag)

New to DVD

The Death of Stalin (highly recommended)
Flower (highly recommended)
Beauty and the Dogs (recommended)
Beirut (recommended)
Keep the Change (recommended)
Sweet Country (recommended)
The Endless (mixed bag):
Where Is Kyra? (anti-recommended)

Now Available on Instant Streaming

Duck Butter (highly recommended)
Gone Baby Gone (highly recommended)
Star Wars The Last Jedi (highly recommended)
Blue Valentine (recommended)
The Last Laugh (recommended)
The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter (recommended)
Traitor (mixed bag)
We Own the Night (anti-recommended)

Saturday, June 16, 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

The Yellow Birds (mixed bag): This entry from Sundance 2017 is most notable for starring Alden Ehrenreich, now known as Han Solo, and Tye Sheridan, who anchored “Ready Player One.” It’s otherwise a pretty standard war movie that doesn’t stand out from any other similar fare, not quite sure what it’s intending to accomplish. Now playing at the Village East Cinema. Read my review from Sundance.

New to DVD

Elizabeth Blue (recommended): This spotlight of mental illness is relatively straightforward as far as cinema is concerned, demonstrating its value in the way it portrays schizophrenia and the difficulty of understanding reality when it can’t be distinguished from what’s not real.

Now Available on Instant Streaming

Cutie and the Boxer (recommended): This 2013 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary may start slowly, but it builds to a fascinating and very creatively-presented examination of a volatile marriage between two magnetic artists.

In Bruges (highly recommended): Martin McDonagh earned more attention for his recent hit “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” but his feature film debut, starring Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell is a far more even, unique, and worthwhile experience.

Sunday’s Illness (recommended): This Spanish entry, which screened at Tribeca earlier this year, is an often hypnotic tale of a long-lost adult daughter who insists that the mother who abandoned her come spend time with her, revealing unexpected truths about both of them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Outdoors

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Asaf Saban
Screening June 12th at 7pm

Building a house is an important undertaking, since it allows those with a vision to truly imagine and create the place they want to live. What happens if and when someone else eventually moves in is irrelevant since they are the architects of their own desires, not adapting anyone else’s preexisting ideas to their own. Envisioning what a plot of land can be transformed into is a considerably difficult and challenging process, and it’s rare that what is ultimately built will match the original concept exactly, a notion that can make the journey enormously problematic for those unwilling to accept necessary compromises and concessions.

Yaara (Noa Koler) and Gili (Udi Razzin) are building a house together, leaving behind the city of Tel Aviv for the open country of the Galilee. What begins as a dream construction project slowly turns into something more complicated, as neighbors interject with their opinions and a window that provides a different view than expected adds time and money to the project that can’t hope to equal the stress and discord created by its implementation. Building their future home turns into a full-time job, leading the two to seek moments of peace and clarity away from each other.

This film opens in a fascinating way, with Yaara and Gili speaking while a computer-animated simulation of what their home will look like is shown on screen, and the actors don’t actually appear until a few minutes into the film. That first shot maps out how the house is meant to look once it’s finished, offering clear expectations for its builders, and that makes the dissatisfaction with the results that both parties express indicative of more than just a different design apparent. Watching their relationship begin to crack as the foundation of their new home is assembled helps to build an important contrast in the direction of their family, which will soon be growing as Yaara discovers that she is pregnant.

The lone Ophir Israeli Academy Award nomination for this film went to Koler, who took home the Best Actress prize a year earlier for “The Wedding Plan,” a film that allowed her to be much livelier and more memorable. She’s still the strongest part of this film, which presents an intriguing premise but doesn’t quite travel as complex or rewarding a path as it could, affirming the potential to create problems that comes from collaborating on a project of this significance but offering less in the way of a substantial conclusion.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: The Testament

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

The Testament
Directed by Amichai Greenberg
Screened June 10th at 7:30pm and June 11th at 6pm

The most powerful way to preserve the memory of the millions of people who perished in the Holocaust is to continue telling their stories and passing them down from generation to generation. Efforts to record testimonials of those who survived have been made by many, and as more interviews are conducted, surprising and unexpected revelations are made about the extent of what occurred. Survivors may choose not to share certain points they find to be humiliating or disturbing with their descendants and friends, and learning that something believed to be a truth for years isn’t actually entirely accurate can have disquieting effects.

Yoel (Ori Pfeffer) is a religious man who works as a historian, and his latest project involves proving the existence of a mass grave of Jewish people killed during the Holocaust in Austria that will affect construction slated to begin shortly. In the process of his research, Yoel discovers something truly shocking – that his mother is not who she has always said she was, and is not even Jewish. As he presses on with his work, Yoel finds himself experiencing a deep crisis of faith in the weeks leading up to his son’s bar mitzvah.

What Yoel goes through is a purely internal process. When he shares in a panic with others close to him that he now knows that he is technically not Jewish, they respond dismissively that he is crazy or that it doesn’t even matter since he has grown up his entire life believing something and something from the past shouldn’t change it. But for a man who every day argues against those who tell him that what he knows to be fact is not, this is a crushing blow, and one from which he cannot hope to recover without changing something in his life.

Pfeffer, who has appeared in English-language productions “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Dig,” delivers a sobering, lived-in performance as Yoel, who is so committed to getting to the heart of the matter that he can’t let anything go, even if it bothers just him and no one else. This is a film that strongly utilizes interview footage, letting the weight of the words uttered and stories told speak for themselves. This specific circumstance probably isn’t unique to this character, and this film carries a powerful message about the power of memory and history, especially when the two don’t line up.


Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Longing

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Savi Gabizon
Screened June 9th at 9:30pm

Grieving is a painful process, since saying goodbye to someone acknowledges that new memories together can’t be created. If final moments included unresolved conversations or negative sentiments, the process of moving on is increasingly difficult. If a mourner never knew the person who has been lost, the road to acceptance of their death is marked with many realizations, both good and bad, about all the things missed along the way that now can never be experienced.

Ariel (Shai Avivi) receives an unexpected call from Ronit (Assi Levy), a woman he dated two decades earlier, who tells him that she was pregnant when they broke up and that Adam, the son she gave birth to, has just died in a car accident. She never told him because she knew he didn’t want kids, and this news compels him to try to get to know his son after his death. Acting as a proud father learning about his boy, Ariel obsesses over the teacher (Neta Riskin) Adam loved and even tries to set his son up with a young girl who committed suicide and now resides in the same cemetery as Adam.

This film is reminiscent of a similarly-titled 2014 entry from Sundance, “Lilting,” which follows the British boyfriend and Cambodian-Chinese mother of a man who has just died and who are both mourning him despite not being able to speak the same language. Had the two met when the person who connects them was alive, they might have understood each other better, and in this case, Ariel acts as if he’s joyfully meeting everyone who knows the son that he isn’t quite acknowledging is no longer living. The proposal that he makes to Gideon (Yoram Toledano) about setting up their two deceased children seems particularly far-fetched, but it’s just another way of grieving by making up for lost time, helping his son out romantically even after he’s no longer alive.

Avivi starred in a more fully comedic take on mourning, “One Week and a Day,” several years ago, and here gets to play the supportive parent who is both persistent and passionate, grounding a story that might otherwise seem far-fetched. Levy, Toledano, and the omnipresent Riskin, who stars in two other Israel Film Center Festival projects, provide the appropriate dramatic support, reacting to Ariel’s suggestions in a human and relatable way. This film takes a sweet and sentimental turn that makes it ultimately feel a fitting, if strange, tribute to the much talked-about protagonist that the audience also never has the chance to meet.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Almost Famous

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Almost Famous
Directed by Marco Carmel
Screened June 8th at 5pm

The allure of celebrity status is something many people dream about, and plenty will jump at the chance to achieve it if it comes along. Reality shows represent a relatively recent development where, despite what it is indicated by the name of their genre, scripts and prearranged storylines do play very much into the program, with twists and surprises, including ones they can’t plan for, implemented to up ratings. Rarely is the experience of becoming a household name as a result of a reality show appearance or victory a painless experience during which on one gets hurt.

Shir (Niv Sultan) is best friends with Roni (Amit Yagur), and the two of them desperately raise their cell phones in the air when an invitation to the party of the year, thrown by two mean girls, goes out, convinced that their service must not be working. Shir sees a pathway to popularity when her brother Tomer (Omer Dror) auditions for The One, a singing competition series. As Shir rides the wave of teenage obsession with older musicians, her mother Talia (Liat Ekta), a teacher, goes all-out to promote Tomer, while her yoga teacher father Avner (Nathan Ravitz) is not as eager to embrace this wild ride which also leaves Tomer’s girlfriend Maya (Amit Farkash) out in the cold, pushed aside by the show’s producers to feature his number one competition and potential love interest, Rotem (Noa Kirel).

Many people might confuse this film with the Oscar-winning 2000 film of the same name from director Cameron Crowe about a journalist touring with a rock band in the 1970s. The two do share some similarities, but this present-set movie immediately taps into modern obsessions like cell phones which dictate almost all behavior, with Tomer’s eagerness to watch his first surprise appearance on the show at a specific hour almost seeming like a relic of the past. In a sea of cinema and television about unpopular teenagers trying to get in with the cool crowd, this film manages to stick out as an enjoyable ride that isn’t concerned with being unpredictable, instead focused on telling a genuine story filled with music about those swept up by fame.

Though she’s about a decade older than her character is supposed to be, Sultan captures Shir’s teenage energy perfectly, coming alive so much more when she types onto her phone than when she actually interacts with the few people in her life she dares to speak to. She’s supported by an excellent cast, including Dror, who is musically talented but also very adept at playing a heartthrob who really just wants to sing songs of love to his girlfriend. This is a fun film with a great beat that gets going in its very first scene, memorable and entertaining without trying to be revolutionary.


Saturday, June 9, 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

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 playing at the Landmark at 57th West and Regal Union Square. Read my review from Sundance.

Nancy (mixed bag): This was the final film I saw at Sundance this past year, and it was far from a satisfying way to end a week or so of 40 movies. Andrea Riseborough doesn’t seem quite comfortable in the skin of her character, the protagonist of a film that doesn’t really know where it’s heading. Now playing at the Landmark at 57th West and Cinema Village. Read my review from Sundance.

Zoo (recommended): This children’s film about a boy in 1941 Belfast who makes it his personal mission to save a baby elephant after the zoo is shuttered is enjoyable and great for what it is. Now playing at the AMC in East Hanover, NJ. Read my review from yesterday.

New to DVD

Thoroughbreds (highly recommended): I can’t say enough about how excellent this dark thriller is, and stars Olivia Cooke and Anya-Taylor Joy are both terrific. Read my review or my interview with director Cory Finley, but most importantly, watch this film!

Now Available on Instant Streaming

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (highly recommended): This informative documentary sheds a light on the scientific achievements and mental health struggles of Hedy Lamarr, an actress known for her beauty but who accomplished so much more.

Blue Jasmine (mixed bag): Woody Allen’s last well-received film won Cate Blanchett an Oscar, but it doesn’t function all that well as a film, relying on its protagonist to carry its somewhat miserable story through, hardly evocative of both the best comedy and the best drama Allen has produced throughout his career.

The Departed (highly recommended): Martin Scorsese finally won the Oscar for Best Director for a fantastic culmination of his career, a modern-day mob movie about two moles, one a cop and the other a mobster, culturally adapted perfectly from “Infernal Affairs.” Matt Damon doesn’t get enough praise for a fantastic performance in a superb ensemble.

The King’s Speech (recommended): Even if it didn’t deserve to win Best Picture over a number of the other nominees, this is still a great film featuring some very good performances, from Oscar winner Colin Firth but also from Geoffrey Rush as his humorous and distinctive speech therapist. For anyone who hasn’t seen this and likes British dramas about royalty, this is a can’t-miss.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (recommended): This film from very early in the careers of Michael Cera and Kat Dennings plays to their dramatic strengths as much as their comedic wits, with great music and an effective pace thrown in for good measure.

Righteous Kill (anti-recommended): Don’t bother with this very poor film starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino - watch my one-minute Minute with Abe reaction from nearly ten years ago instead!

Rumor Has It (anti-recommended): This attempt to capitalize on the popularity of “The Graduate” with a story about the people who might well be the inspiration for it fell flat, with Kevin Costner and Jennifer Aniston delivering lackluster performances.

Taking Lives (anti-recommended): I remember being so excited about this serial killer movie which came out when Kiefer Sutherland was very big on “24,” and it was an enormous disappointment, to say the least. Costars Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke are probably wishing that people didn’t remember this movie.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Movie with Abe: Zoo

Directed by Colin McIvor
Released June 8, 2018

There are many casualties in war, with a loss of human life on the battlefield usually receiving the most attention. Those left behind either in a besieged country or one far from the war effort often find their own resources depleted, with products and services not deemed vital withheld to fund the troops, leading to the loss of jobs while other temporary roles are created to fill more immediate needs. While entertainment remains important to keep morale up, those places that offer a more sophisticated escape suffer, especially if their inhabitants are deemed dangerous or doomed as a result of neglect.

In 1941, Belfast is a vulnerable target for the Nazis, who conduct a series of air raids on the city. Tom (Art Parkinson) is mesmerized by the zoo, where his father works, and visits regularly. As the war rages and his father is called into action, Tom learns that the zoo will be shut down and many of its most precious residents put down to prevent catastrophe. Unwilling to accept that solution, Tom enlists a few loyal allies to help save Buster the baby elephant and make sure that the legacy of the zoo is not destroyed.

The zoo has been featured prominently and film and television recently. A series based on a James Patterson novel aired during the past three summers on CBS. Matt Damon famously bought a zoo in the unmemorable 2011 film, and Kevin James played a zookeeper in another 2011 film. The one that comes closest to this film is “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which saw the couple that owned a Warsaw zoo turn it into a hiding place for many Jews during World War II. This child-friendly adventure sets itself far away from invading Nazi forces, with the survival of the elephant as the most serious of stakes motivating the young protagonist.

This film is based on a true story, and its jolly poster depicts a light-hearted film filled with wonder. While the fascination with the animals, particularly Buster, is depicted centrally, this is ultimately a film about courage and collaboration, with Tom compelled to act when he sees that no one else will consider the livelihood of the animals and the valuing of keeping them around. Parkinson is appropriately energetic, and Toby Jones and Penelope Wilton contribute positively as the resident adults, portraying an unfriendly security guard and hermit-like animal devotee, respectively. This film, which is rated PG, succeeds at being what it wants to be, a story of inspiration and joy set against a far more serious backdrop with themes that are wisely not touched here.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Azimuth

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Mike Burstyn
Screening June 7th at 6pm

Throughout history, there are a number of examples of battles fought after the official end of the war. Their significance is often minimal because treaties have been signed and there is nothing left to be negotiated, but blood is still shed and lives may be lost. Technological and communication enhancements mean that such instances in modern times are reduced, but diplomatically resolving a conflict doesn’t mean that the sentiments involved are negated, and those left on an abandoned battlefield are likely to harbor just as much emotion whether or not a war is actively happening.

At the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, Egyptian soldier Rashid (Sammy Sheik) awakens underneath a deceased fellow soldier, finding little around him alive and wandering the desert in search of a way out, unaware that the war is over. Israeli sergeant Moti (Yiftach Klein) leaves two of his men to try to drive away for help, stopping when his vehicle starts smoking. Rashid and Moti encounter each other and, driven equally by a distrust of the other and by a desire to live, bide their time as they determine how much they hate their enemy and whether they may only be able to survive if they work together.

The Sinai desert serves as a more than adequate setting for a film that features just two characters for most of its runtime. There is not much need for decoration since close-ups of these two and their efforts to best the other are most prominently feature, and visual effects serve to assist the gunfire and other weaponry used to try to gain the upper hand. This is a story about two men with historical and cultural differences who aren’t actually all that different, as explored by flashbacks to their surprisingly similar paths to serving in the war.

Egyptian actor Sheik and Israeli actor Klein are depended upon heavily for their reactions to the harsh environmental conditions surrounding them, and they perform dependably. This story isn’t specific to this conflict, and a version of it has been told generally in more involving ways in films such as “Tangerines” and “Game of Aces.” There’s some merit to the underscoring of shared cultures and sentimentality that may actually united people more than divide them, but this particular portrait doesn’t achieve anything more than its expected trajectory. It’s a decent film, but far from a memorable or unique one.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Scaffolding

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Matan Yair
Screening June 6th at 8:15pm

Many intelligent teenagers who don’t have a history of positive educational experiences are affected by one particular teacher who helps to reshape their entire attitude. An ability or proclivity for a certain discipline may remain untapped until someone is able to present the material and engage with a student in a way that works for them. The results differ based on the pupil, but an unbreakable attachment forms between the student and teacher that very much has the power to steer the future of their education and possibly even the course of their career and life.

Asher (Asher Lax) is hardly a model student. He doesn’t try hard in school and frequently gets into fights when his hotheaded nature gets the best of him. His father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) stresses hard work as a value, employing his seventeen-year-old son frequently for construction jobs to train him to take over the family business. Asher’s perspective begins to change when he connects to the teaching style of Rami (Ami Smolartchik), who makes literature far more appealing than he ever thought it could be. With his graduation and exams looming, Asher must confront a devastating and unexpected turn of events that could work to undo all of his progress.

There have been many films made about impactful teachers, though the focus is usually on the teacher and how they transform an entire class. Here, Rami is a supporting player who has a clear and lasting influence on Asher, the undeniable protagonist who, even with Rami’s guidance, still tends towards unfortunate decisions and taking the low road. Asher’s father is far from warm, while Rami is vulnerable and relatable in a wholly different way. Watching Asher as he tries to be what he believes a man should be is a compelling journey, one that doesn’t offer an easy road to success, both in terms of Asher’s attitude and events beyond his control.

The breakout of this film, playing a character of the same name, is Lax. He taps into what it is like to be someone frustrated by his circumstances who isn’t content to subscribe to what he’s told to do, and who values the conflicting displays of masculinity presented by his father and by his teacher. Smolartchik received a well-deserved Ophir Israeli Academy Award for his performance, portraying Rami as an educator who genuinely wants to connect with his students but has also become worn down by the way his life has gone. This film isn’t a complete picture of adolescence and the challenges real life brings, but it’s a thought-provoking and powerful start.


Jewcy Brooklyn Film Festival Spotlight

The 21st Annual Brooklyn Film Festival is currently in full swing, and I had the chance to watch three shorts with Jewish content that are showing beginning tonight. Head over to Jewcy to read all about them and visit the festival's site to learn more!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Saving Neta

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Saving Neta
Directed by Nir Bergman
Screening June 6th at 6pm

Even the most gregarious people have different groups of friends and family in their lives who may only come into contact for milestone occasions, and as the years go on, who makes up those groups and what the groups are can change in a big way. An individual is not defined by the people who surround them, but their interactions can shape who they are and how they dialogue with the world. Someone who is far from social and forms only intimate relationships with few people may have just as much of an impact on others as they have on them.

Neta (Benny Avni) is a man who keeps mostly to himself. Over the course of a year, he shares moments with four different women. He argues that he cannot return for reserve military duty as an army commander, Dalia (Rotem Abuhab), has difficulty focusing on his situation due to her own problems at home. He stops to fix the shoe of a musician, Ruti (Naama Arlaky), struggling with important family decisions. He observes the dissolution of the marriage of Miri (Irit Kaplan) in front of her family while on a picnic. And he tries to help when his neighbor dies and her long-absent older daughter Sharona (Neta Riskin) proves unable to comfort her mentally-challenged sister Dan-Dan (Nuria Dina Lozinsky).

None of these stories are objectively about Neta, and instead he serves as a background player in most, appearing on screen just enough to inform conversations that others have. He lives a simple, unremarkable life, and his disheveled appearance matches his reserved nature. He doesn’t seek out communication, and contributes minimally to those situations in which he finds himself forced to be extroverted. The film’s title references these women’s collective roles in bringing him back to life, though it is just as match a spotlight of strong women dealing with difficult circumstances and trying to get through them the only way that they know how.

There are a handful of great performances in this film, and the six actors named above share pretty much equal screen time. Abuhab, Arlaky, Kaplan, and Riskin all prove to be the most memorable in each of their vignettes, making their characters feel vital and central despite their limited appearances and tangential framing to Neta’s contribution to their lives. While there might be more to explore for each of these women, the way in which this film is structured does them all justice, using Neta as a connector even though they are, collectively, the more worthwhile focus.


Saturday, June 2, 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

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. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and Regal Union Square. Read my review from South by Southwest.

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. Now playing at the Angelika. Read my review from yesterday.

First Reformed (mixed bag): This dreary drama about a self-destructive pastor starts off with plenty of intrigue but quickly delves into disturbing and less-than-enthralling territory, hardly representative of the best work of veteran writer-director Paul Schrader. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square, AMC Kips Bay, City Cinemas East 86th St, Cinepolis Chelsea, and the Angelika. Read my review from a few weeks ago.

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. Now playing at the IFC Center. Read my review from Sundance.

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. Now playing at the Kew Gardens Cinema and the Bow Tie Roslyn Theater. Read my review from Tribeca.

New to DVD

Forbidden Films (recommended): This insightful look at Nazi propaganda that comprised German cinema of the 1930s and 1940s played at the New York Jewish Film Festival back in 2015. Though it offers no clear-cut take on whether this film should be seen widely, its analysis is worthwhile.

Miss Stevens (mixed bag): Actress Lily Rabe leads a competent cast in a forgettable dramedy about a teacher far too invested in her high school drama students that’s harmless enough if also relatively missable.

Wonderstruck (recommended): The most recent - and most family-friendly - film from director Todd Haynes flew under the radar after playing at Cannes, Telluride, and the New York Film Festival. Its layered story, featuring strong child performances, about finding yourself in a sea of noise and confusion is powerful, and a strong second act demonstrates Haynes’ versatility.

Now Available on Instant Streaming

Cargo (highly recommended): Martin Freeman anchors this surprisingly strong zombie movie, which addresses the subject of mortality with sensitivity and depth, that played in the Midnight section at Tribeca. For fans of the genre, this film smartly emphasizes plot and emotion over gore.

Coco (highly recommended): It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t love this past year’s Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Its message is pure and wonderful, and its content and characters are a whole lot of fun. Everyone and anyone should see this.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (recommended): This comedy, released just months after “The Office” first started, was Judd Apatow’s first feature film. It’s not as funny as his next film, Knocked Up, but it’s still fun, and Steve Carell is great.

The Kingdom (recommended): This pretty standard action movie from 2007 about war in the Middle East probably doesn’t look all that different from what a film made today about the same subject would. Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner were at the height of their careers headlining this solid if somewhat disturbing thriller.

Mamma Mia (anti-recommended): I was not a fan at all of this movie musical, which I think most consider to be a bit flighty but decently enjoyable. The timing of its availability on Netflix is no surprise given the sequel’s impending release this July - a film that’s far from at the top of my list.

Wanted (highly recommended): I saw this awesome action thriller as part of a triple feature nearly a decade ago and still remember some of its best scene, its score by Danny Elfman, and James McAvoy’s star turn with a flawless American accent. I’d love to see it again.