Monday, October 21, 2019

Movie with Abe: Black and Blue

Black and Blue
Directed by Deon Taylor
Released October 25, 2019

Racial tensions are high in today’s world, and a major contributor to that dynamic is the treatment of communities of color by the police. There have been a slew of films recently that have featured this complex relationship onscreen, with some featuring black police officers who are themselves pulled over or stopped by other members of law enforcement. Usually, the subject is given a dramatic treatment that continues to follow the story into the legal system. In an industry that sometimes just wants to deliver cheap thrills, there’s no reason to expect that this topic wouldn’t be adapted into an action movie format.

Alicia West (Naomie Harris) is a rookie cop just a few weeks into the job. When she takes a shift for her partner Kevin (Reid Scott), she witnesses the execution of a drug dealer by a group of corrupt cops led by Terry Malone (Frank Grillo). Aware that she has captured the footage on her body cam, Malone launches a full-on pursuit of West, framing her as the killer so that the victim’s mobster uncle, Darius (Mike Colter), will send his people after her as well. West must turn to the neighborhood she grew up in for survival, depending upon a man named Mouse (Tyrese Gibson) who is far from eager to become involved in the dangerous situation in which she finds herself.

The reputation of the police in real life is bad enough in some places that to presume that officers and detectives are completely corrupt to the point of killing those they find to be problematic in an almost casual way hardly seems necessary. Yet this film follows many established cinematic tropes, which include an inability to operate undetected within the ranks of the police department yet a shocking ineptness when it comes to being constantly outrun and outsmarted by the wounded newbie who manages to get away from them.

Harris, who was nominated for an Oscar for her maternal role in “Moonlight,” does her best to take this role seriously, though that’s admittedly difficult at times. She’s undeniably the strongest member of the cast, with Grillo playing the same villainous part he always does and Colter flailing in a role that doesn’t really fit him. This film skips over logic when it’s convenient, and the narrative that results is full of holes and absurdities. The dialogue is often laughable, and while this doesn’t need to have been a thinking piece, it should have been much better than this.

D

Friday, October 18, 2019

Movie with Abe: Joker

Joker
Directed by Todd Phillips
Released October 4, 2019

Comic book movies are so prominent these days that it’s nearly impossible to find a truly new and original idea. Some classic characters and stories continue to be explored over and over again, with Batman as a prime example. “Gotham” recently ended and now “Batwoman” has begun, and casting is currently underway for the latest reboot of a character whose last film franchise earned many accolades. Heath Ledger famously won an Oscar posthumously for his transformative portrayal of “The Dark Knight” a decade ago, and it would be reasonable to think that there couldn’t be a more compelling interpretation of the character, yet that’s not the case.

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) aspires to be a comedian, living at home with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy) and earning money by dressing up as a clown and twirling a sign on the street. When he is attacked while at work and subsequently fired, Arthur begins to become fed up with the society that he sees decaying around him, all while billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who used to employ his mother, prepares a run for mayor. Sitting at home watching popular late-night host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), Arthur starts to see the humor in more disturbing ideas.

While this is a comic movie simply by nature of the origin of its central character, it’s much more of a portrait of a man suffering from mental illness who sees the world in a different way than many. Arthur hones in on small moments, like the way Franklin introduces a guest or how his attractive neighbor (Zazie Beetz) looks at him during a short elevator ride. This is a masterful look at one man and his descent into madness, which actually presents a sympathetic picture of someone whose intentions really are good even if he can rarely articulate or effect them.

This film’s success is due in large part to the incredible work of Phoenix, who truly becomes Arthur. This is an amazingly focused and magnetic performance, one that feels entirely genuine even while he is so detached from reality. The unnatural laugh that booms out of him at inappropriate times, due to an alleged medical condition, is particularly unnerving and compelling. Director Todd Phillips, whose previous projects including “The Hangover” and “Old School,” does a mesmerizing job of crafting a story that’s both funny and deeply frightening. This is not a typical supervillain movie, and it’s a fantastic argument for more such thought-provoking and contemplative pieces.

B+

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

NYFF Spotlight: American Trial: The Eric Garner Story

I managed to catch two selections at this year’s 57th Annual New York Film Festival. Here’s the second.


American Trial: The Eric Garner Story
Directed by Roee Messinger
Special Events

On July 27, 2014, a black man in Staten Island named Eric Garner died while being arrested and subdued by multiple police officers. Video of the attempted arrest showed one of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, placing Garner in a chokehold when he refused to be taken in, followed by Garner repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” as he was wrestled to the ground. His death fueled Black Lives Matter and other movements to advocate for change in the way people of color are disproportionately killed by law enforcement, yet Pantaleo was never put on trial for his role in Garner’s death. This film explores that idea by imagining what might have transpired.

This film, which can’t quite be called a documentary, casts real people in the roles that they did play or would have played. Garner’s wife and friend portray themselves, testifying about what they knew about the man and what they saw and experienced that day. Two lawyers on each side act out those parts, while a lawyer plays the role of the judge. As questions are asked and accountability is explored, only Pantaleo is portrayed by an actor, Anthony Altieri. What happened is tackled from every angle, eliciting passionate responses and objections from the lawyers and those brought to the stand to give their testimony and analysis.

This is an intriguing experiment, one that posits the questions that anyone who watched the video – which is most people – would want to ask. What’s most emphasized, however, is that this isn’t the police department being put on trial or accused of any particular crime, but rather this one officer who, according to the charges, may be guilty of manslaughter and strangulation. The legal specifics are noted again and again by the defense lawyers and the judge as they debate whether what the officer did should be considered a chokehold, a move that is prohibited by police code, and if his intent was reckless and disregarded the possible result that the man he was trying to subdue could die, since only those things could result in a guilty verdict.

This film will surely stir emotions for anyone watching, with repeated video footage shown and Garner’s widow, Esaw Snipes Garner, painfully recounting the loss of her husband and snapping at anyone who would dare to manipulate her words. The format in which this trial is presented is not particularly riveting, even if its content is worthwhile and interesting. To presume that there wouldn’t be anything sensational about this trial if it did indeed occur is unwise, but there is something to be said for trying to look at this how it would have happened, with participants bringing their own legal knowledge and opinions in to try to help create justice where it wasn’t found.

B

Friday, October 11, 2019

NYFF Spotlight: Motherless Brooklyn

I managed to catch two selections at this year’s 57th Annual New York Film Festival. Here’s the first.

Motherless Brooklyn
Directed by Edward Norton
Closing Night Selection


There is something distinctive about old-fashioned mysteries, capers involving shadowy villains and conflicted protagonists whose motivations to take them down may be less than entirely noble. Police officers, detectives, or private investigators are typically led down a rabbit hole as they follow the leads – and the leading lady – to a place where they are forced to decide whether to do the right thing or to serve their own best interests. There are variations, of course, and the strength of the characters and the storyline can make or break the experience of traveling this journey.


Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willem Dafoe, and Edward Norton discuss the film

Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) is a private investigator in 1950s New York City who works with Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). When he realizes that Frank is in over his head on a mysterious assignment, Lionel, who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, must attempt to put together the pieces and determine what connects an ambitious aide (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) fighting discrimination in the city, a disturbed protestor (Willem Dafoe), and a powerful real estate mogul (Alec Baldwin). The undiagnosed condition he has often causes disruptive outbursts, but it also allows him to focus intently on the details and see things no one else can, setting him up as the only one capable of cracking this case.



Edward Norton discusses the film

This film is adapted from a 1999 novel of the same name by Jonathan Lethem, which preserves its protagonist’s defining characteristics but takes considerable other liberties, primarily in setting its story in the 1950s, which Norton cites as a classic time period which enhances the feeling of the film. The costumes, set direction, and moody score by Daniel Pemberton certainly do their part in grounding the audience experience in this mystery, which also feels clunky and expected. Running nearly two and a half hours, this film often explores themes and styles for just a moment before cutting away to an entirely different aesthetic, indicating great potential but a muddled result.



Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Willem Dafoe discuss the film

Norton is an undeniably terrific (and often underrated) actor, and there’s no denying that he applies himself here in addition to serving as producer, writer, and director. Yet this performance doesn’t feel nearly as transformative or three-dimensional, akin to the surrounding story, which travels a predictable path without discovering anything new along the way. Willis is fun, Mbatha-Raw and Dafoe are good as always, and it’s hard to hear Baldwin speak without picturing Donald Trump, though the comparison is apt in many ways here. The crowded ensemble also includes Bobby Cannavale, Leslie Mann, Michael K. Williams, and Cherry Jones, yet another instance of certifiable talent present and put to only moderate effect. There’s simply nothing extraordinary about this film which could have been great.

B-

Monday, October 7, 2019

Avengers: Endgame Oscar Chances?


I had the opportunity to attend a guild screening of "Avengers: Endgame" in Los Angeles last week, which included a talkback with the film's writers, on behalf of The Film Experience. Head over there to read my take on the film's Oscar chances and some great takeaways from the conversation.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Movie with Abe: Abominable

Abominable
Directed by Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman
Released September 27, 2019

Animated movies have historically cast a light on mystical phenomena and other creatures or characters typically perceived as villains. Monsters, beasts, and other theoretical “bad guys” have been rewritten as misunderstood and stuck in their fates as a result of magic or some act of their own doing, just waiting for the right person to come along and help to show them and the world that they mean no harm. Most often, those ready and willing to listen are children, whose sense of imagination and creativity can overcome the initial feelings and presuppositions created by a physical impression.

After the death of her father, teenage Yi works numerous jobs tirelessly so that she can make enough money to complete the trip across China that the two of them always dreamed of taking, ignoring her mother and grandmother in the process. When she finds an enormous yeti hiding out on her roof, she realizes it has tremendous power, and follows her new friend, nicknamed Everest, on an incredible journey with her neighbors Peng and Jin in tow. As she tries to get Everest home, this ragtag group is pursued by a wealthy collector and a scientist determined to put this rare creature on display.

This film tracks a similar course to many other recent animated films, picking a self-made outcast and showing her path towards finding happiness again in the wake of tremendous sadness. Once she sees that the escaped yeti is in pain, her attitude towards this terrifyingly large and unknown beast changes, and her only desire is to help Everest find his way home. Peng and Jin are appropriate tagalongs, each expressing completely different notions about the adventure they’re on while Yi merely charges ahead selflessly. The way they experience this expedition is inviting and enticing, welcoming in the audience to take the trip with them.

This film serves as a worthy entry into a collection of heartwarming animated productions from the last few decades, capturing the same sense of exploratory wonder as “Up” and the fearless spirit of “Brave” in its signature heroine, among many other elements. Like other animated films, it’s not just for children, with plenty of humor aimed at adults and dazzling visuals that should impress all ages. Voice contributions from Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Sarah Paulson, and Eddie Izzard enhance an already enjoyable experience, one that manages to present magical ideas through a deeply human lens.

B+

Friday, September 27, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Movie with Abe: Loro


Loro
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Released September 27, 2019

As Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy began to look increasingly successful, there was one world politician whose own career presented a framework for how he could actually make it into the top office in the country. Silvio Berlusconi, who served as Italy’s prime minister for nine years, is a businessman with strong holdings in the Italian television industry with a penchant for remarks and indiscretions that he doesn’t even do much to hide. Despite his reputation, which includes being chastised by the Queen of England for his behavior at a photo shoot, Berlusconi enjoys a certain popularity that endears him to a large enough population in his country for him to have been able to govern even in the face of almost constant scandals.

Berlusconi is at first just an unattainable idea in this film, referred to as “him” or “him him,” for clarification purposes, by the eager and ambitious Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio), who wants nothing more than an audience with the powerful leader so that he can bolster his own political future. Morra organizes lavish parties with all the women he can find, and eventually positions his outlandish festivities in direct sight of Berlusconi (Toni Servillo), who can’t resist the allure of beautiful women surrounding him and praising him. As he battles the media’s constant pursuit of negative stories about his misdeeds, Berlusconi also navigates his own relationship with his wife, Veronica (Elena Sofia Ricci), who must weigh the value of being with a man who will never treat her the way she wants despite given her a life more luxurious than she could ever have imagined.

This film, which clocks in at over two and a half hours long, was originally released in Italy in two parts. This lengthy narrative does include a considerable amount of material and doesn’t move particularly quickly, but, fortunately, some of its most interesting and involving content is saved for its final act. There is indeed excess to be found at nearly every turn, represented by Morra’s striving for his best and Berlusconi’s daily operations, filled either by countless adoring fans or by equally alluring scenery far too vast for just one person, no matter how high-ranking. Much of this film’s plot is invented based on stories and suppositions, and whatever liberties it takes feel valid since it manages to capture the simultaneous, contradictory glamor and loneliness that are fated to befall anyone for whom nothing is ever enough.

This film comes from director Paolo Sorrentino, who won an Oscar in 2013 for “The Great Beauty,” also starring Servillo, and created the TV series “The Young Pope,” both of which traffic in artful portrayals of how those in power choose to exercise it and indulge in everything available to them. The cinematography and art direction are heavily featured, and the intimate moments of conversation, real or fictitious, are stark and gripping, impressively contrasting with the vain, fleeting nature of all the mindless partying. Servillo delivers a striking performance, one far more energetic than his turn in “The Great Beauty” and more appropriately formidable than his dual role in “Viva la Liberta,” and he’s well-matched by Scamarcio, Ricci, and a handful of others in the ensemble who make their moments on screen matter. This film requires an investment of time and concentration, but its rewards are plentiful, offering a searing portrait of a man determined to hold onto what he has because he believes he’s earned his place.

B+

Friday, September 20, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, August 30, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Movie with Abe: Spider in the Web


Spider in the Web
Directed by Eran Riklis
Released August 30, 2019

There is a familiar film premise that finds an aging law enforcement official of some given agency who should probably have retired a few years ago on the hook for one last big case or operation that could well bring their downfall. This concept has been utilized many times over, and usually also involves a younger partner who is initially at odds with them and might eventually come to be a trusted ally as the senior character’s still-existing prowess becomes evident. A new iteration of this idea needs to bring it with a degree of individuality and a surrounding story worthy of its specific creation.

Adereth (Ben Kingsley) is an agent of the Israeli Mossad who has spent forty years working covertly for his country. To ensure that he remains relevant rather than being forcefully ousted, he has padded his latent intelligence reports, leading Mossad to send a young agent, Daniel (Itay Tiran), to shadow him. Hints of a chemical weapons sale send Adereth to Angela (Monica Bellucci), who he begins to position as an asset, closely watched by the unimpressed Daniel who is set on doing his job and keeping the resourceful and cunning Adereth in line.

This film comes from Israeli director Eran Riklis, whose credits include “Lemon Tree” and “The Syrian Bride.” Unlike his previous film, “Shelter,” this project doesn’t feel urgent or gripping, and instead travels through its narrative slowly and unenergetically. Though it’s produced by a number of Israeli companies, this spy drama doesn’t feel at all Israeli, paling in comparison even to the recent Netflix offering “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” which also featured Kingsley as a Mossad operative. Conveniently, Kingsley never utters a word of Hebrew here even while other characters around him do, and his many stories don’t exactly make his background believable.

Regardless of whether he fits this part, Kingsley is always formidable to watch, and there is an effortlessness to his charismatic performance that shows through here. As with his recent performance in the underrated television series “Perpetual Grace, LTD,” Kingsley delivers each line with care and purpose, and that helps somewhat to elevate a thinly-written character in this project. This film is full of clichés and predictable plot points, and at times it’s impossible to decipher exactly what is going on due to a confusing narrative with unexplained jumps and scene transitions. This premise is decidedly tired, and this attempt to revive it falls extremely short on many levels.

C-

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Interview with Abe: The Narcissists


I had the pleasure of speaking with director and star Quincy Rose about his new film "The Narcissists," which opens today, for AM New York. Check out the piece over at the AM New York site and see this fun film if you can!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Movie with Abe: Vita and Virginia


Vita and Virginia
Directed by Chanya Button
Released August 23, 2019

Writers invent imagined worlds and tell incredible stories that, in many cases, live on long past them to exist in future generations. Fictional characters may be partially autobiographical or historical in nature, even if a work is posited as original rather than fact-based. What survives from previous eras off the page becomes a combination of legend and collected anecdotes and rumors, pieced together to create a picture of what a writer’s real life might have been like and how their own experiences led to an immortal representation through a given character or story.

In the 1920s, Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) is a prominent and acclaimed writer, married to Sir Harold Nicholson (Rupert Penry-Jones) but engaging in a number of affairs with both men and women while he enjoys similar freedoms. When she meets the far more reserved, reclusive author Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), she is immediately stricken. Unlike Vita’s many other attractions and entanglements, Virginia doesn’t warmly return her affection. Entranced nonetheless, Vita becomes determined to pierce the walls that Virginia has built around her and to be a close and personal part of her life.

This film is based on a 1992 play of the same name by Eileen Atkins, itself inspired by actual letters between the two famed authors. Much of their budding romance is presented through the reading of those letters, with each actress addressing the camera directly, their written words conjuring up their presence for the other and completely dominating their thoughts. It’s a stirring representation of a relationship, one built more on longing and lust than on actual interaction, resulting both from the reality of the times and their own personalities.

This film stars two very talented actresses who have already proven their talents at a young age in previous film roles. Arterton, from “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” and “Tamara Drewe,” invigorates Vita with a tremendous energy and passion, set on not conforming to the repressive sentiments of the world around her that demand her to be a loyal wife rather than fully her own person. Debicki, who broke out last year with formidable performances in “The Tale,” “Breath,” and “Widows,” tackles a role that won Nicole Kidman an Oscar for “The Hours” and impressively portrays Woolf as a steely, deeply thoughtful intellectual who has trouble expressing her emotions the way she is able to do so on the page. Isobel Waller-Bridge’s buoyant score helps to add adventure and excitement to their tryst, one that proves immensely watchable if admittedly less than completely satisfying in this cinematic retelling.

B+

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Movie with Abe: This Is Not Berlin


This Is Not Berlin
Directed by Hari Sama
Released August 25, 2019

Every society goes through many changes over the course of a given period of time, and it’s not always easy to predict what will happen next or when. Young people are especially prone to feeling like they don’t fit in and need to part of a more progressive future, and being a member of a certain community at the right time can be exceptionally transformational. That outlet may not be inherently accessible, and engaging with it can lead to a withdrawal from the previously comfortable and more initially formative life, necessitating a choice in where a person’s direction is headed.

Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) is seventeen in Mexico City in 1986, feeling unsatisfied with his troublemaking friends at school and yearning for freedom from his mother and younger brother at home. He experiences something unexpected when he and his best friend Gera (José Antonio Toledano) accompany Gera’s older sister Rita (Ximena Romo) to a nightclub that opens his eyes to something he never imagined. An introduction to the enigmatic, passionate artist Nico (Mauro Sanchez Navarro) shows him the seemingly limitless scope of discovery just waiting for him, pulling him away from everything he knows towards something dazzling and mysterious.

This film gets its title from a scene in which Nico’s attempt at avant-garde artwork is decried because, as everyone is well aware, Mexico City is not Berlin, hardly an established cultural center of the world. Yet the times are very much changing, and Carlos is right in the middle of that, becoming involved in protests against the government and finding ways to express himself that are more than just theoretical or artistic. Watching how Carlos changes – both physically and emotionally – serves to tell most of this film’s story, with the specific plot points and supporting characters merely tangential to the making of a new man who looks and feels unlike the teenager first seen at the start of the film.

This is an immersive experience, one that puts the audience in the place of its protagonist and allows him to see the world opening up in front of him as he does, watching influences like Rita and Nico and trying to become like them. Each of the actors contributes plentifully, namely Ponce de León in his first major film role. This film played successfully at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, and serves as a solid arthouse effort to capture a moment in time that is decidedly specific yet feels appropriately universal.

B+

Monday, August 19, 2019

Movie with Abe: The Red Sea Diving Resort

The Red Sea Diving Resort
Directed by Gideon Raff
Released July 31, 2019

Throughout history, many clandestine efforts and operations have been undertaken both by established law enforcement agencies and those considered unofficial military groups or resistance fighters to help oppressed people find their way to safety. As new regimes take power or dangers are extinguished, or sometimes following the natural deaths many years later of those involved, these stories are exposed to the public. They might immediately become a sensation, recounted internationally across a plethora of news sources, or remain a low-key piece of history just waiting to be spotlighted by someone who understands its significance.

In the 1980s, Ethiopian Jews face dangerous conditions as a result of unrest within their country. Kabede (Michael K. Williams) makes contact with Ari (Chris Evans), an agent of the Israeli Mossad, to help protect his people once they make their way to a refugee camp in Sudan. After his cover is nearly blown and he must go back to Israel, Ari proposes a daring operation to his superiors. With a small team, he will travel to Sudan under the guise of buying the Red Sea Diving Resort, an abandoned property that will serve as a front for smuggling the Ethiopian Jews out. The notion isn’t as far-fetched as it initially seems, but the resort does attract some surprising attention, both from a Sudanese colonel (Chris Chalk) on the hunt for disappearing refugees and actual tourists eager to experience the illusion the agents are selling.

If this film sounds a whole lot like “Argo,” that’s because it is. A deadly serious event is turned into light-hearted spy fare, with many situations heightened and dramatized in a way that doesn’t appear to do justice to what actually occurred, which is an amalgamation of Israel’s real-life Operation Moses and Operation Joshua. It’s difficult to accept many of the holes in this film’s narrative that make their efforts feel all too successful when they’re nearly completely exposed at other random moments. It’s not as if the material isn’t treated sensitively, but rather that this story, as told in this fashion, is far too thin and unengaging. It’s not even the spectacle it could be, were historical details to be sacrificed for the sake of entertainment.

Where this film falls flattest in its attempt to depict Israeli characters with no accents whatsoever. Evans, while a strong choice to play Captain America, doesn’t have any traits resembling real-life or cinematic Mossad agents, and while Ben Kingsley is always a welcome presence in any film, his suit-wearing supervisor feels deeply inauthentic. Last year, Kingsley played the target of a Mossad operation in “Operation Finale,” a film that also didn’t try to emulate Israeli accents or antics but still felt far more genuine. This film feels far from vital, which is hardly fitting for a project with this cast and this premise.

C

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Edward Norton Turns 50


It's Edward Norton's fiftieth birthday today, which is cause for celebration. I wrote about my top five underrated performances of his for The Film Experience. Head over there to read my take on a few roles you really need to see.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Movie with Abe: Socrates


Socrates
Directed by Alexandre Moratto
Released August 16, 2019

There are certain general narratives found in film, and the strength of each individual iteration depends on the approach taken and the authenticity conveyed by both the script and the performers. Those living on the margins of society are frequently portrayed in independent film, especially youth forced to become mature as a result of their circumstances. Utilizing first-time actors who have actually lived experiences similar to those depicted on screen is the surest method of ensuring a genuine representation, tapping into personal anguish and giving a voice to those who aren’t often given a fair shot.

Socrates (Christian Malheiros) is a fifteen-year-old boy living in Sao Paulo. When his mother dies, he does his best to maintain his independence, showing up for her cleaning shifts and trying to find work wherever he can to come up with the rent money that he desperately needs. Told that he may be put into the foster care system, Socrates lies about his age and hides from the abusive father he fears. A connection with another young man, Maicon (Tales Ordakji), offers him some hope for a more lasting personal relationship that isn’t just about surviving to the next moment.

The genesis of this film is notable and speaks to the success it achieves in utilizing real people to tremendous effect. Twenty-nine-year-old Brazilian-American Alexandre Moratto makes an astounding debut behind the camera, honing in on the loneliness and emotion that Socrates expresses as he tries his hardest to stay in charge of his life when everything seems to be working against him. Using at-risk teenagers from low-income communities is a true boon to this film, which marks the first feature from the Querô Institute in Brazil and was also funded by UNICEF.

There is not much about this film that will surprise audiences with regard to its plot, and the film runs just seventy minutes. Yet there’s an urgency and vitality to this story due in large part to Mahleiros’ raw, human performance. He conveys the fact that he needs whatever random job he is hopelessly inquiring about with his eyes and with a dedication that transmits a knowledge that what he does matters since he risks losing control and independence. This film, which won the Someone to Watch Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards for Moratto and earned a nomination for Malheiros’ turn, is well worth watching, demonstrating that a fresh turn at this narrative brings with it wondrous benefits.

B+

Friday, August 9, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Movie with Abe: After the Wedding


I covered this film when I saw it at the Sundance Film Festival way back in January for The Film Experience but never posted it here! The American remake of "After the Wedding," a fantastic 2006 Danish film, arrives in theatres this Friday. Check out my take on Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams in the lead roles over at The Film Experience.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Movie with Abe: Tel Aviv on Fire


Tel Aviv on Fire
Directed by Sameh Zoabi
Released August 2, 2019

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a simple matter, with plenty of passion to be found from nearly anyone asked about the situation. It has made its way into cinema quite frequently over the years, usually in the form of forbidden romances, military dramas, or investigative documentaries that try to reframe the narrative from a particular point of view. Those approaches are valid, but it’s hard to fully connect with any one effort due to perspectives and preconceived notions brought in when accessing a film. This clever comedy takes a different approach, one that proves to be as universal as possible given its material.

Salem (Kais Nashef) begins working on his uncle’s soap opera, “Tel Aviv on Fire” in Ramallah, helping with the Hebrew dialogue spoken by the Israeli commander and the Palestinian spy charged to get close to him. After he is stopped at an Israeli checkpoint one day, Salem meets Assi (Yaniv Biton), an Israeli officer whose wife loves the show. When Salem finds himself promoted to become a writer on the show, he’s in way over his head. An unexpected – and unconventional – relationship forms as Salem secretly consults with Assi for his help coming up with ideas for the show, which adds a distinctly Israeli flavor to the storylines that the series’ backers don’t like.

There is romance to be found in this film, though it’s a subplot. As he gets close to the lead actress (Lubna Azabal), who is French and tries to lure him away to what she describes as a better place, Salem throws in lines of dialogue that he hopes his ex-girlfriend (Maisa Abd Alhady) will notice. But the more central relationship is the one between Salem and Assi. It’s enormously complicated, since Assi wields a great deal of power over Salem, who for his part unwisely ends up at their initial meeting after he asks a female soldier if calling a woman “explosive” is a bad thing. But it’s sweet to see how they begin to enjoy spending time together, as Salem arrives each day with prized Palestinian hummus and Assi delves into what he believes can be a happy multicultural ending for a show that he can’t understand quite why his wife loves so much.

Nashef won a Best Actor prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival for a relatively muted performance, one that allows others around him to shine. Biton is entertaining, as is Azabal, and it’s fun to see Yousef Sweid from “The Bubble” hamming it up as the actor playing the Israeli soldier. This film’s message, that television, and by extension film, has a power to unite us in a way that isn’t quite as possible in the real world, is endearing. This film manages to provide a compelling and enthralling story that doesn’t seek to change everything, merely to suggest one lighthearted opportunity to find commonality.

B+

Friday, July 26, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Movie with Abe: A Faithful Man


A Faithful Man
Directed by Louis Garrel
Released July 19, 2019

In an ideal relationship, everyone involved will feel the same way. Love and passion will be reciprocal, and there will be a shared sense of what the dynamic should look like and where it is headed. That isn’t always the case, of course, and as a result, unequal expectations can lead to problems and often to the eventual dissolution of a relationship. When things aren’t clear, however, identifying the precise point of termination can be murky, and it may not end up being such a finite ending, with unpredictable passion keeping the door open for future encounters under different circumstances.

Abel (Louis Garrel) is flabbergasted when his girlfriend Marianne (Laetitia Casta) announces that she is pregnant with the child of their friend Phil and that they are getting married in a few weeks, meaning that he has to move out. Nine years pass, but Abel’s feelings for Marianne remain, and when Phil dies unexpectedly, he finds himself back in Marianne’s life. Things aren’t so simple, however, since Marianne’s son Joseph (Joseph Engel) believes his mother poisoned his father, and Phil’s younger sister Ève (Lily-Rose Depp) decides the time is right to finally express the bursting love she feels for Abel, who has never paid much attention to her.

This film has a unique energy to it that finds Abel as an unwitting participant in his own life, hopeless to be guided by anything other than his obsession with the woman who dismissed him with no warning. The role of narrator shifts midway through the film, allowing Ève to describe a similar immutable lust for Abel that dominates her every romantic and sexual thought and subtly influences each relationship decision she makes. Marianne is more mysterious, much more aware of the hold that she has over Abel and how she can use it to get what she wants. Young Joseph is the most communicative of the bunch, looking at his life like a detective story and eagerly roping Abel into it as soon as he shows up to become a major presence in his life.

Garrel pulls triple duty as director, cowriter, and star, portraying Abel as eternally frazzled and believably in love with a woman who doesn’t treat him right. Casta is wonderfully guarded opposite him, speaking volumes with just an expression or simple gesture. Depp, the daughter of actor Johnny Depp and actress Vanessa Paradis, delivers an endearing breakout performance as the eager Ève, who seems far more bothered by the heartbreak she endures than Abel. Engel is great too, delivering on the same level as his adult castmates. This fun comedy runs just seventy-five minutes, but it manages to be entertaining the whole way through, aware that it’s hardly serious or realistic and perfectly content with that.

B+

Friday, July 12, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe (in French)

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Movie with Abe: The Command


The Command
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Released June 21, 2019

Historical films about large-scale disasters often fall into two categories: action epics about the scope of what went wrong and more intimate dramas about the people impacted. There are many stories of people being unexpectedly put into harm’s way when an unforeseen weather pattern or theoretically safe test goes hopelessly awry. These films stand both as a testament to those who lost their lives as a result and as a cinematic representation of what they endured. Truly capturing the sense of panic and hopelessness felt by those trapped in an impossible situation is the greatest challenge faced by a film like this.

Mikhail Averin (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a captain aboard the Russian Kursk submarine in 2000, conducting a routine naval exercise. When two explosions rock the ship, the crew struggles to survive, aware that they must do whatever they can to alert those who could send help that they are both in distress and still alive. Averin does his best to maintain a calm atmosphere as his men gradually become aware of their increasingly poor odds, while a British commodore (Colin Firth) watches closely from afar and seeks to offer assistance to a reticent Russian operation weary of having anything about their nuclear-powered submarine discovered in the process.

This is a film that emphasizes those aboard the Kursk and the commitment they have to survive, driven by a desire to be reunited with their families. Averin is just one of the characters portrayed, whose relationship with his pregnant wife (Léa Seydoux) and young son (Artemiy Spiridonov) serves to anchor his will to live. He is a fitting representation of true awareness of his circumstances, resolute that keeping his men sane is just as crucial as ensuring that they can be rescued. Due to the tragic nature of this story’s end, many of the scenes are likely invented, but the power and devotion shown within them is indeed representative of a heroism that was displayed even by documented events that led to their eventually being located.

Danish director Thomas Vintenberg, who was Oscar-nominated for his strong drama “The Hunt” in 2013, has assembled an entirely international cast for a film all in English that might have been better served by using original languages instead. It’s not a tremendous detriment, as performances from Schoenaerts, Seydoux, August Diehl, and others are just as strong as they might have been in a different language. This film runs almost two full hours, spending time with the people it seeks to commemorate in a film that effectively spotlights the unfortunate politics and unnecessary diplomatic obstacles that can result in devastating loss akin to another such disastrous event recently chronicled on HBO in “Chernobyl.”

B

Friday, June 14, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Shooting Life

I’m pleased to be covering the 7th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 3rd-12th.


Shooting Life
Directed by David Kreiner
Screening June 5 at 6:15pm

Filmmaking is an art that can capture many things. Watching a life on television or in the cinema that looks nothing like what someone experiences can inspire those in small towns far from the rest of civilization to dream of one day escaping and becoming part of a world that more closely resembles that ideological aim. Recording events on camera can serve an entirely different purpose, both documenting what is happening as it unfolds and also helping to glean unexpected observations and conclusions from examining life through a more reserved or intimate lens.

After a divorce, Yigal (Mickey Leon) arrives in the city of Sderot to teach filmmaking to high school students. He quickly learns that his class finds little motivation in their everyday lives, which are boring save for the frequent sounding of a red alert alarm that indicates a rocket on its way and the need to seek shelter immediately. As Yigal gets his students to open up and see that they can create extraordinary work with nothing more than a video camera and an interest in their subject matter, he confronts resistance from the principal (Evelin Hagoel) about the sentiments he is stirring up in the students by challenging them to be inquisitive.

Yigal, whose complicated relationship with his daughter who would much rather spend time with her mother and her new boyfriend is indeed interesting, is far from the most worthwhile character in a film full of dynamic personalities. Among his featured students are Libby (Noa Astanjelove), an aspiring singer whose religious parents want to keep her from being enlisted in the army, Ohad (Matan Lax), who has built a relationship with a police officer after the departure of his father, and Tal (Eyal Shikratzi), whose father lies unconscious in a hospital bed after being injured in a rocket attack.

These characters and stories all feel vibrant and true, enhanced from any sort of teen melodrama both by the performances and the film’s overall tone. There is plenty of comedy infused into an otherwise serious film that features a particularly resounding dramatic finish. It’s a three-dimensional portrait of an Israeli city known specifically for its proximity to Gaza and the frequent barrage of rockets its citizens endure, an endearing tribute to its residents with an excitable and refreshing energy.

B+

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: The Unorthodox

I’m pleased to be covering the 7th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 3rd-12th.


The Unorthodox
Directed by Eliran Malka
Screening June 4 at 8:30pm

Every country has a unique political structure that evolves over time. How a nation came into being usually plays a part in the issues its future government representatives wish to advocate either for or against, as do the goals for what the country can become. The United States may be known as a land of immigrants, and that’s certainly true of Israel as well, especially as people from places with once-thriving Jewish populations moved there as conditions back home became increasingly dangerous. Like the United States, prejudices about the color of a person’s skin or their place of birth are far more common and influential than they should be.

In 1983, printer Yaakov Cohen (Shuli Rand) storms into his daughter’s yeshiva school, furious that she has been kicked out for no discernable reason other than her Middle Eastern roots. Angry with the dominance of European Ashkenazi leaders in Jerusalem city politics, Yaakov seeks to find a voice for the Sephardic community. With the help of a political operator (Yoav Levi) and a rabbi (Yaacov Cohen), Yaakov begins to exert his energy to form an ultra-Orthodox party that represents so many immigrants like himself, traveling an uphill battle to earn the required authorizations and permissions to form a new party with an actual shot at victory.

This film, which is based on true events in the creation of the Israeli party Shas, or Shomrei Torah Sepharadim, begins from a lighthearted point as Yaakov seems ready to bulldoze any obstacle in his way in order to get justice first for his daughter and then for his people. As he enters politics, the landscape is described through narration and still images, blending history with humor as Yaakov and his allies do their best to survive in a system not set up for splintered identities. At its most moving, this film depicts Yaakov as a dreamer, still aware of his own limitations as evidenced by his visit to his former school to stomp out any chance of him stuttering before an important meeting. Yaakov is fired up, but he’s also human.

Rand is a religious actor best known for written and starring in “Ushpizin,” his last film role before this one. He is deeply charismatic and endearing, leaving other characters to shine in scenes that are meant to have him in the background, even if the story is still framed from his point of view. Levi, Cohen, and the rest of the cast offer solid support in this enlightening and entertaining look at the origins of an operation that now looks so little like what its first visionary dreamed for it several decades ago.

B+

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Red Cow

I’m pleased to be covering the 7th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 3rd-12th.


Red Cow
Directed by Tsivia Barkai Yacov
Screening June 4 at 6:15pm

Devotion to a particular faith or idea can often inspire people to see meaning in everything that happens in their lives. What they see and interpret from it may differ even from those with a similar outlook on goals and aspirations for themselves and others, and the discord among conflicting points of view can create unrest, confusion, and lead to problematic interactions. When taken too far, it can threaten the stability and happiness of those with fervent faith and even lead to dangerous violence and unavoidable consequences for a wider population.

Benni (Avigail Kovari) is a teenager being raised by Yehoshua (Gal Toren) after the death of her mother in childbirth. They live in East Jerusalem in a settlement, and Yehoshua embodies a religious extremist ideology that pervades every aspect of his life. The birth of a red cow on the same day as the death of his mother makes him believe in the imminent arrival of the Messiah, and Benny is charged with caring for the cow. She finds an intense distraction in the form of Yael (Moran Rosenblatt), developing a forbidden attraction that will never meet her father’s approval on multiple levels.

This film, which describes itself as being set in the days leading up to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin by a man with beliefs similar to those of Yehoshua, captures a zealotry in its characters that makes them immensely watchable and complex. Yehoshua, in an unusual move, permits – and requires – his daughter to wrap tefillin, or phylacteries, each morning, a practice restricted to men in ultra-Orthodox tradition. He sees what is forming between his daughter and Yael, and initially declines to interfere since he finds it to be harmless. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that this isn’t an innocent rebellion on Benny’s part, but instead an expression of her identity that doesn’t match her father’s worldview.

Kovari, who has a small role in another Israel Film Center Festival film, “Redemption,” and picked up a prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival for her performance, delivers a passionate and genuine turn as Benny, who doesn’t seek to contradict her father’s beliefs but to be her own person within the context of his reputation and energy. Toren infuses Yehoshua with an immutable drive, one that makes him an enormously compelling character. Rosenblatt, who won an Ophir Israeli Oscar for “Wedding Doll,” rounds out an exceptional cast as Yael, a worthwhile character in her own right even though this really isn’t her story. This film spotlights a fascinating facet of society with a rich and involving portrait of an atypical father-daughter relationship.

B+

Monday, June 3, 2019

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Redemption

I’m pleased to be covering the 7th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 3rd-12th.


Redemption
Directed by Joseph Madmony and Boaz Yehonatan Yacov
Opening Night

Religion is something that can guide a person’s every waking moment. There are many different motivations for someone to become religious at a given point in their lives, and often a dramatic shift from a secular lifestyle to an observant one creates an entirely new worldview. When elements from a dissimilar past collide with a more stringent present, the disparity can be seen in a stark way that forces the person at the center to examine their beliefs and choices to determine if how they see the world is compatible with what they need or what others need from them.

Menachem (Moshe Folkenflick) is a devout Orthodox Jew who works at a local supermarket to support his young daughter Geula (Emily Granin), who is undergoing chemotherapy for a cancer similar to the one that took his wife’s life. Desperate for money to pay for the treatments, Menachem enlists his former bandmates, Avi (Sivan Shtivi), Gouli (Yonatan Galila), and Danny (Shahar Even-Tzur), to play weddings. Though it’s a far cry from the clubs and the music they used to play, Menachem finds a surprising release in returning to his musical roots while trying ardently not to stray from a faithful path.

What could be a familiar tale of someone having to leave religion behind in order to become the man he used to be and make ends meet feels completely fresh, aided by the specifics of its storyline. Whenever his bandmates express their excitement at the feeling of playing together, Menachem is quick to respond that rejoicing with a bride and groom is a ritual duty. The loss of his wife and the illness of his daughter have only served to strengthen his beliefs, but being in such close proximity with people who can’t understand the way he sees his relationship with Judaism and God threatens to unseat whatever balance he still has left.

The performances in this film are extraordinary. Folkenflick immerses himself into Menachem, displaying compassion, humor, and the gravity of his situation in all of his interactions, particularly the dates he goes on in order to find a potential new wife. In her debut film role, Granin is wonderful, and the two leads are ably supported by the portrayers of the band and by Avigail Kovari as a neighbor who steps in to babysit every time Menachem’s two worlds collide. This is an endearing and powerful film, one that finds the humanity in each of its characters and delivers a resounding and enjoyable portrait of their struggles and victories. The music is a great added touch too.

B+

Friday, May 31, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Movie with Abe: Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Released April 26, 2019

This film is arguably the biggest movie ever made, drawn from twenty-one films that came before it and purporting to be the end of a saga that’s clearly going to continue long past this. I’ve only seen fourteen of the feeder films, and the fact that I missed an important one from a few years ago led to my waiting a long time to see last year’s two big lead-up entries, “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” It’s hard to separate this film as I usually do from the large franchise it culminates, judging it on its own merits rather than merely as a sequel or summation. No matter how you look at it, it’s an experience all its own.

After the devastating impact of Thanos’ snap, those left behind have immense trouble moving forward. Five years later, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is ejected from the quantum realm and proposes a daring new idea for how to restore the universe to what it once was. Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) works with Captain America (Chris Evans) to convince a reluctant team including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to step up and risk everything to travel back in time and locate the stones they need to defeat Thanos. Old allies and new villains emerge during their treacherous journeys, threatening even more devastating consequences for those he didn’t eviscerate the first time.

Expectations are understandably high when it comes to this conclusion of four different phases of Marvel films released in the past eleven years and after the spectacular offering that was “Infinity War.” Breaking down the aftereffects of the events contained within that blockbuster is a tall order, and this film has the benefit of an extended runtime of just over three hours, allowing plenty of plot development as its characters pick themselves up and find a way to correct course. As in the past with ensemble superhero entries like this, the biggest payoff is seeing so many familiar faces from earlier films and the reintroduction of beloved players, both significant and minor, at the most unexpected and crucial moments. These films know how to incorporate many, many characters without any of them feeling extraneous, which is not an easy feat.

This film’s cast is so incomparably large that it’s almost impossible to survey all of its members. Its two undeniable standouts, however, are Rudd, joining this film after sitting out the last all-hands entry, and Ruffalo, each infusing tremendous comedy into their roles in exactly the way that this franchise has popularized. There are serious moments, especially considering the natur eof the narrative material, but this film is great fun when it wants to be. This particular chapter closes itself out with gusto, with important sacrifices and extremely memorable battle scenes, and the best part is that there’s room for more in the future with dozens of superheroes to choose from for the many next iterations. This concept evidently works, and even if this film can’t match the dramatic excitement and power of “Infinity War,” it’s a fitting semi-conclusion that isn’t a disappointment to its fervent fans.

B+

Friday, May 17, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Gully

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.


Gully
Directed by Nabil Elderkin
US Narrative Competition

As the number of shootings around the United States has increased in recent years, there have been many debates about what factors have caused this spike. One potential influence that is often cited is the enormous violence present in video games, in which players try to shoot as much as possible with the knowledge that, as soon as the game is over, they can restart and everyone and everything they’ve killed will simply regenerate so that they can repeat the process. Too much time spent immersed in that imaginary world can have destructive consequences and lead to a dangerously altered perspective on how the real world works.

In their neighborhood in Los Angeles, Calvin (Jacob Latimore), Nicky (Charlie Plummer), and Jesse (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) spend their days wreaking havoc on people around them. While they live at home in relatively docile environments, they fulfill their desire for excitement through criminal activities that range from petty theft to brutal beatings merely for their own enjoyment. Discovering previously unknown information about their own backgrounds only propels them more into this lifestyle, inviting consequences that may put their own families in jeopardy and threaten their livelihoods.

This film is described as being set in a dystopian version of Los Angeles, though much of what these young men experience and do happens in many areas of the country and world. The relative lack of a police presence and criminal consequences for this crew feels like the real exaggeration, especially due to the color of Calvin and Jesse’s skin. Violent moments are often accompanied by a sudden shift to video game format, with a “vehicle upgrade” token to describe their theft of a new car and other points attributed to actions they don’t realize are truly horrific. It’s a mesmerizing way to frame this story, one that, thanks to its presentation in this way, feels decidedly unique and exceptionally creative.

The performances here are truly compelling. Latimore, from “The Chi,” demonstrates Calvin’s intellectual potential and the reasons he has chosen not to utilize it. Plummer, from “All the Money in the World,” shows how Nicky’s own lack of effort has affected his daily routine. Harrison Jr., from “Luce,” conveys so much emotion even as Jesse never speaks. Supporting turns from Jonathan Majors, Amber Heard, Terrence Howard, and John Corbett enhance a strong ensemble. This film, from music video director Nabil Elderkin, is a bizarre experiment in many ways but one that has incredible results in its crafting of a world built on digested images and ideas with much to be gleaned from it.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: Wild Rose

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.


Wild Rose
Directed by Tom Harper
Viewpoints

There’s nothing like an out-of-control rock star. Having earned fame through some combination of hard work, perseverance, and sheer luck, there is a certain persona that can be created, one that can be inspirational to young fans and also entirely destructive to a person’s own wellbeing. It’s usually important to maintain a degree of stability on the road there, or at least overcome obstacles that include coming from a small town with so much competition against peers all over the world. Acting like an entitled celebrity before any of that has been achieved, however, isn’t a great way to start on the road to making it big.

Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) is released from prison and returns to the home of her mother Marion (Julie Walters), who has been looking after her two young children while she was away. Obsessed with country music, Rose-Lynn dreams of making it to Nashville. Glasgow doesn’t provide the opportunities she needs, and so she takes a job cleaning the house of a kindly and successful woman named Susannah (Sophie Okonedo). Impressed with Rose-Lynn’s talent when she hears her singing while she’s cleaning, Susannah indicates the desire to invest in her musical future, though Rose-Lynn has chosen not to share with her the fact that children are part of an equation that she hasn’t fully figured out how to solve.

There have been many films made about eager young musicians trying to achieve fame. This one manages to stand out as original and involving thanks to its portrayal of the extremely passionate and equally self-destructive Rose-Lynn, who knows what she wants but isn’t eager to do all the things she needs to in order to get there. Susannah represents a chance to skip so many of the steps, and that opportunity forces Rose-Lynn to decide between her career and the children she knows need her, as frequently expressed by the mother who wants to support her but will only to do so if she sees more of an investment in her family. She may feel trapped in small-town Glasgow, but this story should be relatable to many.

Buckley broke out at Sundance last year with an impressive turn in the dark “Beast,” and this part couldn’t be any more different. Here, she is exceptional, channeling so much frustration and passion into her young dreamer, equally mesmerizing when she’s speaking dismissively and singing beautifully. As her two strongest influencers, Walters and Okonedo infuse crucial authority into their performances. This film balances great music and a solid story, both anchored around its magnetic protagonist.

B+

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Driveways

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.


Driveways
Directed by Andrew Ahn
Tribeca Critics’ Week

Children perceive the world differently than adults do, but that doesn’t mean that the complexities of grown-up concepts are lost on them. Many parents try to shelter their children from the realities of divorce, disease, death, and so many other negative things, which can help to shield them during formative times but may also leave them unprepared for when they need to deal with similar events later in their lives. Circumstances may not always allow adults to keep things from those they seek to protect, which can result in precocious experiences well beyond a child’s normal maturity level.

Kathy (Hong Chau) arrives in a small town she doesn’t know to clean out the home of her recently deceased sister, who she quickly discovers was a hoarder. With her is her young son Cody (Lucas Jaye), who doesn’t say much but develops an immediate affinity for the man who lives next door, Del (Brian Dennehy), a Korean war veteran who splits his time between sitting on the porch and playing bingo with his friends. As Kathy struggles to connect with a departed relative she realizes she didn’t know, she begins to see the way that Cody has taken to Del in a way that transcends the tremendous age difference between them.

This is a sweet drama about an unlikely friendship. Cody socializes minimally with kids from the neighborhood and displays a limited willingness to get to know them better. He is drawn instead to a man who, decades older than he is, selectively chooses how he wants to spend his time, well aware that he is getting older and less physically capable but not eager to throw in the towel just yet. It’s endearing to see how they develop a kinship based on shared interests at the opposite ends of their lives, content simply in each other’s company. It’s also nice to see Kathy find some comfort in her son making a friend when she can’t be there entirely for him in the way she wants to be.

Chau, who stole all her scenes in “Downsizing” and also appears in a less enthusiastic role in another Tribeca entry from this year, “American Woman,” delivers a heartfelt turn that indicates a woman who, through no fault of her own, has lost agency over her own life, with both her late sister and her young son demanding all of her attention. Dennehy is sentimental and great, and it’s particularly wonderful to watch him opposite the extremely talented Jaye, making his live-action feature film debut with this standout part. This cast augments an otherwise perfectly ordinary film, making it a lovely and heartwarming story.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: Blow the Man Down

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.


Blow the Man Down
Directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
US Narrative Competition

Sleepy towns by the sea can serve as the perfect setting for a murder mystery. There is a certain familiarity among those who live in a place that includes more land and space than people, and the relationships that form may not all be entirely positive. When something unexpected occurs, suspicion often turns to those who are least liked, and even if rumors are proven to be untrue, the calm peace that rules a quiet landscape can slowly begin to fracture in a way that will never be fully repaired or restored to normal.

Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) are sisters mourning the death of their mother. When Mary Beth tries to distract herself with a night out, she realizes she is in danger and accidentally kills the man threatening her. As Priscilla and Mary Beth move to cover up that murder, they begin to understand the vital role their mother played in keeping things civil within her friend group and the town as a whole. In her absence, Doreen (Marceline Hugot), Susie (June Squibb), and Gail (Annette O’Toole) take steps to take down the owner of the local brothel, Enid (Margo Martindale), threatening more than just the livelihood of Priscilla and Mary Beth.

There is a distinct feeling of dread that accompanies much of this film, first as the sisters are introduced and then when the older women who have run the town for years emerge as rivals. Not featuring their mother onscreen at any point is an effective choice, one that makes this world feel even lonelier for her not being in it, since things are irreversibly changed by her death. Though it’s not her demise that is the subject of this film’s mystery, it almost could be, as if these events, had they happened with her still alive, would have not been cause for concern in anywhere near the same way.

This film features strong performances, namely from Hugot, Squibb, and O’Toole, who get to shine in main roles that they are rarely given at this point. Lowe and Saylor are decent as well, as is the dependable Martindale, but none of the three feel vivid or real. This film presents an intriguing premise, but, despite gloomy backdrops and some thematic musical interludes, it doesn’t seem to have a coherent destination in mind. The experience is mysterious and mildly compelling, but the end result is far from purposeful or satisfying.

B-

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Swallow

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.


Swallow
Directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis
US Narrative Competition

It’s a known phenomenon that, during pregnancy, women often experience strange cravings. Pairing unusual foods that might not otherwise go together can become the norm, and those not carrying a baby inside them can’t relate to why they’re in the mood for the things they are. While they may not be appealing, they’re rarely outright dangerous. In cinema, however, many horror movies choose an unborn child to be the source of the terror, manifesting inexplicable and disturbing behavior in the mother-to-be before coming into this world.

Hunter (Haley Bennett) lives in a huge, beautiful house with her workaholic husband Richie (Austin Stowell). When they learn that Hunter is pregnant, Richie eagerly tells his parents (David Rasche and Elizabeth Marvel), who treat Hunter in a condescending way that mirrors Richie’s constant ignoring and demeaning of his wife. Frustrated and lonely, Hunter gets an odd desire, to swallow objects not normally consumed by human beings, including a marble, a push pin, and a battery. Hunter doesn’t know why it gives her such satisfaction, but something within her compels her to try this reckless behavior that doesn’t sit well at all with Richie and his parents.

This is a peculiar and unsettling film, one that never exactly explains its purpose. As a character, Hunter is meek and unsophisticated, hardly deserving of the treatment that she gets from her spouse and in-laws but seemingly uninterested in even possessing her own thoughts and wishes. This bizarre temptation feels extremely random, and it’s unpleasant to watch with no real benefit. This shouldn’t be described as horror but instead as eerie and miserable. A subplot about Hunter’s upbringing feels almost irrelevant, demonstrating that the character and this story don’t have much worth.

Bennett doesn’t infuse too much energy into her performance, though there’s something to be said for muting her aversion to ingesting the many objects she tries to swallow. A Tribeca jury saw fit to award Bennett their Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature award, a puzzling choice given the many other options in better films. The role may not be the best she’s had, but Marvel, from “Homeland” and “House of Cards,” stands out as Hunter’s mother-in-law, applying just the right combination of overbearing, manipulative opinion-sharing and maternal instinct. Watching this film, it seems there has to be an endgame in mind, but this uninviting experience heads nowhere, making everything that occurs feel distinctly pointless.

C