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.


Outdoors
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.

B-

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.

B+

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.


Longing
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.

B+

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.

B+

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


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.

B

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.


Azimuth
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.

B-

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.


Scaffolding
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.

B+

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.

B

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.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Movie with Abe: Breath

Breath
Directed by Simon Baker
Released June 1, 2018

For many athletes, the game and playing it defines them and gives them an incomparable feeling that nothing else can mimic. It’s not all about an audience, though the thrill of being watched and cheered on by crowds can certainly contribute to the intensity and the drive to win. There is something inherently powerful about being able to hone a craft and become immersed in it, regardless of who’s watching and whether or not it’s competitive. Surfing is a particularly involving and incredible art that can be just as magnificent when the aim is merely to be one with the waves.


Simon Baker, Samson Coulter, and Ben Spence star in the film

In the 1970s on the coast of Western Australia, Pikelet (Samson Coulter) spends most of his days with his best friend Loonie (Ben Spence) biking around and causing trouble to entertain themselves. A mild interest in surfing leads them to a friendship with a former professional surfer named Sando (Simon Baker) who gives them a place to store their boards and introduces them to more daring waves, as well as to his wife Eva (Elizabeth Debicki), another former athlete whose own serious injury gives them a glimpse of what they stand to lose if they continue to wade further into the water.


Hugh Jackman, Deborra-Lee Furness, and Baker at a special screening of the film

The most compelling element of “Breath” is not its characters or its dialogue but the astonishing visuals it presents. As if watching the water from the shore wasn’t beautiful enough, each shot featuring each of the three protagonists catching a wave is immersive and dazzling, seeming to capture the audience as it ripples across the screen. Water cinematographer Rick Rifici deserves enormous credit for giving this film the most authentic look possible, demonstrating with his camera the beauty of the water and what it feels like to smoothly ride a humongous wave.


Baker introduces a special screening of the film at the Angelika last week

Australian actor Baker, best known in the United States for his starring role on ”The Mentalist,” makes his feature directorial debut behind the camera, casting himself in an important supporting role but allowing the focus of the film to remain on Pikelet and the way in which he sees the world. Both Coulter and Spence are terrific finds, and the focus of the story on their experiences proves very effective, with Baker and Debicki giving more appropriately sedated, lived-in turns as adult counterparts for these young adventurers. More than anything, this film succeeds as a mesmerizing collection of unfettered joy and amazement externalized by its characters as they catch a wave and create unforgettable memories that the audience can watch with delight.

B+

Friday, May 18, 2018

Movie with Abe: First Reformed


First Reformed
Directed by Paul Schrader
Released May 18, 2018

Religion is something that has the power to guide a person’s life, and those who choose to seek ordination of some sort dedicate themselves to serving a higher purpose. What that looks like in any given religion might be completely unrecognizable to another, but in America, the history of Christianity is strong and the members of its clergy high in number. Due to its prevalence in the early days of the country and before its founding, there are many institutions whose physical buildings still stand but whose operations and congregations have outgrown their humble beginnings.

Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is the pastor of such an establishment in upstate New York, a Dutch Reform church that now serves more as a museum than a functioning parish, with just a few attending services each week while the masses frequent the far more industrial parent church, Abundant Life, that officially controls Toller’s building and is planning its 250th anniversary celebration. Toller is approached by Mary (Amanda Seyfried), a pregnant congregant worried about her activist environmentalist husband’s views on the world and the future they might bring their child into, prompting serious introspection from Toller and a dangerous descent into destructive behavior.

This film begins with stylized title cards that make the film’s setting feel dated, with Toller himself seeming like a relic, sporting a flip cell phone and living a minimalist lifestyle despite having plenty of space and means. The ideas he is introduced to about environmental decay and the political forces doing nothing to stop it are extremely specific, and the alcoholic whose health is not great from the start begins to find some sense of purpose that he has been lacking, especially as he learns that a major donor to his church is one of the most unabashed offenders.

Hawke has been working hard lately, and this performance, however committed, pales in comparison to recent, far more entertaining turns in “Stockholm” and “Juliet, Naked.” Seyfried has also been much better, but the role leaves a great deal to be desired. The casting of Cedric the Entertainer as the leader of Abundant Life proves extremely distracting, shifting too much of the focus off of Toller’s more subdued preacher. Writer-director Paul Schrader, best known for penning the screenplays to “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” has quite a reputation, but this desolate, dreary drama fails to latch on to interesting characters and believable dialogue, spiraling into a nonsensical fever dream that hardly does justice to its premise.

C+

Saturday, May 12, 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

Beast (mixed bag): There’s a lot whole of intrigue to be found in this dark, dreary tale of a young woman who falls in love with a mystery man believed to be a mass murderer. Lead actress Jessie Buckley is great, but this film is off-putting and far from pointed in the slow burn to its conclusion. Now playing at the Landmark at 57 West and the Angelika. Read my review from Sundance.

The Seagull (mixed bag): This Chekhov adaptation isn’t the slam dunk it should be given the impressive cast - which includes Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss - and instead serves as the kind of fare that is likely enjoyable for devotees of the original story and its author only. Now playing at the Angelika and the Paris Theatre. Read my review from Tribeca.


New to DVD

In Search of Israeli Cuisine (recommended): This documentary, which I saw at the AIPAC Policy Conference a few years ago, is certainly appetizing, navigating a country known for many things and highlighting a very diverse range of food options prepared by different cultures living within its borders.


Now Available on Instant Streaming

Faces Places (highly recommended): This was my pick to win the Oscar for Best Documentary this year, a marvelous exploration of the French countryside by a young photographer and a veteran filmmaker designed to shed some light - literally, through pictures - on unsung heroes.

Dirty Girl (recommended): This 1980s-set dramedy from early on in Juno Temple’s career features a fabulous central performance from the talented actress and an endearing, surprisingly fresh take on two teenage runaways.

Saturday, May 5, 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

After Auschwitz (recommended): This affecting story of six survivors of the Holocaust who made their way to Los Angeles does a great job of spotlighting individual stories. Now playing in Los Angeles, and still showing at Kew Gardens Cinema and Malverne Cinema outside of New York City. Read my review from Thursday.

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. After its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, this film is playing at AMC Lincoln Square, AMC Kips Bay, City Cinemas 123, Cinepolis Chelsea, and the Angelika. Check out Read my interview for Jewcy with director Sebastián Lelio, who won an Oscar for “A Fantastic Woman.”

Let the Sun Shine In (mixed bag): This New York Film Festival entry from Claire Denis is most worthwhile for the central performance given by the reliably incredible Juliette Binoche. The film is far less tolerable, indulging in directionless conversation and storytelling that serves questionable purposes. Now playing at the IFC Center and Walter Reade Theater. Read my review from NYFF.

Tully (recommended): The third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody is a great success, one that expands upon “Juno” and “Young Adult” to create an unusual portrait of a struggling mother desperate for just a bit of rest and support. Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis are great in this entertaining and layered dramedy. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square, AMC Empire, AMC Kips Bay, City Cinemas 86th St, Cinepolis Chelsea, iPic Fulton Market, the Angelika, and Regal Battery Park. Read my review from Tribeca.

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


New to DVD

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.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (recommended): Annette Bening plays actress Gloria Grahame in this drama that occasionally approaches intrigue but never really gets there. Devotees of either Bening or Graham may be more interested.

In Between (highly recommended): This portrait of three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv from director Maysaloun Hamoud was the opening night selection of the Other Israel Film Festival. It’s a terrific and very worthwhile watch featuring superb performances from all three main actresses.

In the Fade (recommended): Before failing to make the list of nine finalists for the Oscar, this German film took home the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. Diane Kruger delivers a formidable performance as a woman in mourning facing her family’s executioners.

The Insult (highly recommended): This was my choice to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, a remarkable story of two men from different cultures who go to court when one insults the other in response to a derogatory remark. This is excellent international cinema that should really be seen by all.


Now Available on Instant Streaming

Come Sunday (recommended): This decent Sundance drama tells the true story an evangelical bishop who has a revelation that changes everything about his faith and inspires him to charge ahead with a new vision.

Pelé: Birth of a Legend (highly recommended): I really enjoyed this Tribeca 2016 entry which showcases the amazing soccer player and mimics his signature style with a great flair and energy.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Movie with Abe: The 12th Man


The 12th Man
Directed by Harald Zwart
Released May 4, 2018

In war, there are fateful battles that involve enormous loss of life on multiple sides. For every mass confrontation that is well-documented, there are many more that are considerably less known. A covert mission is likely to be declassified and publicized only long after its occurrence, if at all, and remembering it requires that at least one member survived or someone within the chain of command who knew about its existence wrote it down or told another person about it. These stories are often gripping, inspiring tales of unlikely survival against the greatest odds.

Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) is a member of a twelve-person Norwegian operation meant to sabotage the Nazis in 1943. When the mission is compromised, all eleven of his fellow operatives are captured. Baalsrud retreats into the icy waters and moves from place to place trying to stay alive as relentless Nazi commander Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) refuses to believe the reports he has been given that the twelfth man succumbed to the elements as he ran from the Nazis, desperate and determined to find every last conspirator.

Films like “Saving Private Ryan” have been praised for their epic battle sequences that truly convey the senselessness of war and the way in which it engulfs those involved in an inescapable haze of blood and bullets. This film presents a different kind of fight, one that involves a single man doing whatever he can to make it to safety. His battle is not on a beach but on the snow-covered mountains of Scandinavia, as he flees on skis from an enemy plane in a daring attempt at perseverance. His survival is made all the more compelling by the horrific experiments Stage conducts on the prisoners he has to calculate whether his target could indeed still be alive.

Norwegian actor Gullestad delivers an inarguably committed performance, conveying the lengths to which Baalsrud had to go in order to get through his ordeal, burying himself under bales of hay and outlasting treacherous cold along the way. Rhys-Meyers, who plays villains well, is a fitting choice to portray the heartless Stage, whose desire to apprehend the missing saboteur stems from his eagerness to stay in the good graces of his superiors. This lengthy film, which clocks in at about two hours and ten minutes, presents this unbelievable journey of more than seventy days in a straightforward narrative fashion, occasionally accelerating to scenes of action but rightfully spending more time on the righteous people who, fully aware of the potential consequences, help Baalsrud along the way. This is, if nothing else, a compelling ode to its impressive protagonist.

B

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Movie with Abe: After Auschwitz

After Auschwitz
Directed by Jon Kean
Released April 20, 2018

One of the best ways to ensure that history does not repeat itself is for those who have experienced terrible things to continue telling their stories. Many films have been made about the Holocaust, and as even those who were young children during the Holocaust are now approaching their eighties, it’s more important than ever to capture as much testimony as possible on film and share it with a wide audience so that the expression “never forget” holds true, keeping the memory of those many lost during the Holocaust alive and inspiring the next generation to prevent such atrocities from being perpetrated again in the future.

“After Auschwitz” follows six women who are liberated from concentration camps at the end of World War II, charting their time in Europe immediately afterward, their journeys to the United States, and their eventual settlement in Los Angeles. Each step is a crucial part of their transformation from prisoners all but certain to be forgotten to a life that involves a degree of liberty and happiness that never seemed possible along the way. Through it all, processing what they went through is a never-ending challenge, one that manifests itself in different ways as they try their best to move on and live their lives.

The glamour of life in the United States contrasts sharply with the lack of dignity and inhuman conditions faced by Jews in Nazi Germany, and those comparisons are made frequently throughout this insightful documentary. One survivor, a term that the subjects of this film reject because it doesn’t adequately define their experience and state of mind, recalls the much-covered news story of a three-year-old girl who fell down a well and expresses shock at how much effort was put into saving just one child when everyone turned a blind eye to what was going on during the Holocaust. These women rarely discussed their experiences for years, and only later when it became clear that they needed to educate a new generation did they ease into speaking up about traumatic memories that continue to haunt them.

The use of archive newsreel footage mixed with intimate interviews with all six of these women – Eva Beckman, Rena Drexler, Renee Firestone, Erika Jacoby, Lili Majzner, and Linda Sherman – proves to be extremely effective, allowing them to speak for themselves and to share what they went through, coming from different countries to end up in the same place, achieving remarkable things and sharing what they have learned through it all. The fact that half of them have passed away in recent years makes this film all the more poignant, an important and touching film that truly captures these women and their individual lives.

B+

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Disobedience


One of the most buzzed-about movies at this year's Tribeca Film Festival was surely "Disobedience," which opened in theaters in New York and LA this past Friday. It's a terrific film, one that looks at a forbidden relationship in an insular London Orthodox Jewish community. I had the privilege to talk with director Sebastián Lelio, who took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for "A Fantastic Woman" just two months ago, about the experience of making this film.


Head over to Jewcy to read the interview, and go see the film!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Talking Tribeca: To Dust


As I'm finishing up my coverage of this year's Tribeca Film Festival, here's a review of "To Dust," a peculiar buddy comedy of sorts, that was posted on Jewcy last week. I managed to get a picture with star Géza Röhrig, most recognizable from the title role in "Son of Saul," after the screening.

Head over to Jewcy to check out the review!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Egg

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.


Egg
Directed by Marianna Palka
Spotlight Narrative

Every parent raises their child in a different way. It’s not uncommon to see new parents telling friends how to hold their babies while their own parents express an entirely opposite point of view about what’s necessary to help create a safe and productive environment for development. Conflicting perspectives can also play into the decision to have a baby in the first place, and there are additional health and socioeconomic factors that affect whether a couple or individual can conceive in the first place. Such conversations are often awkward since sharing feelings can seem to impart judgment.

Karen (Christina Hendricks), who is eight months pregnant, brings her rich husband Don (David Alan Basche) to Brooklyn to meet her old art school friend Tina (Alysia Reiner), who lives with her partner Wayne (Gbenga Akinnagbe). Their lifestyles quickly appear to clash, even more so after Tina reveals that she and Wayne are bringing a baby into the world with the help of Wayne’s friend Kiki (Anna Camp), though nothing physiological prevents Tina from getting pregnant. What initially seem like minor jabs at the way they each see the world slowly turn into far more hostile conversations that threaten to have serious implications on both relationships.

This is a film that features just five actors and takes place mostly in the same location for its entire duration. It’s possible that this dialogue-heavy production would have been better suited as a play, but the use of a very artsy loft and multiple rooms within it help to enhance its setting rather than lead the actors to focus too heavily on blocking. Reminiscent of other films like “The Big Kahuna,” this is one that draws audiences in completely to the things its characters discuss and almost makes them forget that they’re only watching five people, some of whom have just met for the first time, in close quarters.


Screenwriter Risa Mickenberg and star Alysia Reiner discuss the film

A small cast like this demands great effort from all involved, and every performer delivers. Reiner, best known from “Orange is the New Black,” and Hendricks, of “Mad Men” and “Good Girls,” are superb in what could best be termed the lead roles, each having made certain concessions in their relationships that only the other woman can help them see. As the men who occasionally make them happy, Basche and Akinnagbe serve less sympathetic functions, making Don and Wayne into the kind of guys who seem supportive until they express resentment at all they’ve been asked to do. Camp, always a delight, compliments them all wonderfully as the less-than-intellectual fifth wheel. A smart script and strong production featuring women in all department head roles pays off well for an involving, entertaining, and button-pushing ride.

B+

Talking Tribeca: All These Small Moments

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.


All These Small Moments
Directed by Melissa Miller Costanzo
Spotlight Narrative

Many people become friends as a result of their similar daily interactions, be it a neighbor, a parent whose child goes to the same school or plays the same sport, a waiter or vendor, or anything else. Often, the relationship begins in an unspoken or unrecognized way, where paths cross repeatedly and conversation eventually erupts, leading to the development of an unexpected relationship based merely on the same schedule. Eventually, when circumstances change and that routine ceases, either the interaction continues purposely at a new place or a new level, or it evaporates completely.

Howie (Brendan Meyer) rides the bus with his brother Simon (Sam McCarthy) to school every day, and he can’t take his eyes off Odessa (Jemima Kirke), who always sits in the same seat just a few rows ahead of him. As his parents Carla (Molly Ringwald) and Tom (Brian d’Arcy James) behave increasingly hostilely to each other and their marriage shows signs of breaking down, Howie tries to stay focused on school, meeting a girl named Lindsay (Harley Quinn Smith) who clearly likes him but can’t possibly compete with this alluring older woman who intrigues him every morning.


Director Melissa Miller Costanzo discusses the film

This is the kind of story that features the whole family, with established actors Ringwald and James receiving top billing but young stars McCarthy and Meyer in particular getting just as much, if not more, screen time. Howie is the one who is pining for a woman he doesn’t even know, while Carla is yearning for something more in her marriage that the entirely absent Tom isn’t providing. Simon doesn’t express much, but the fact that everything is crumbling clearly gets to him. As its title suggests, this film is about moments, and its sum is a collection of assorted scenes from the lives of these four people.


Stars Brendan Meyer and Sam McCarthy discuss the film

Meyer and McCarthy were present at a Q and A following a screening of the film at Tribeca and received a very deservingly warm reception for their breakthrough performances, making these teenagers feel real and relatable. Ringwald and James accomplish the same for the older generation and Kirke, in one of her most muted turns to date, plays Odessa exactly as she should appear to an admiring teenage boy, which helps gives the film the structure it needs. While not all of its storylines are resolved to an empathetically satisfactory degree, and the film seems to rush towards its conclusion without much warning, this is a fine and enjoyable film with some great moments, big and small.

B+

Talking Tribeca: Blue Night

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.


Blue Night
Directed by Fabien Constant
Spotlight Narrative

For many performers, being on stage and in front of an audience represents the embodiment of how they interact with the world. A singer losing their voice can be catastrophic, and even though some, like Julie Andrews, are able to remain involved in the world of music in a different capacity, there is something crucial that is missing from their lives. Finding out that such a change – or something much worse – is coming is devastating, and can greatly affect someone as they consider their options and face a future that looks impossibly different from the present.

Vivienne Carala (Sarah Jessica Parker) arrives late to rehearsal for a big show at the Birdland Jazz Club after receiving horrible news from her doctor that a mild pain in her head is in fact a tumor which, even after surgery, may leave her with little more than a year to live. As she tries to put off processing what she has learned, Vivienne navigates New York City, stopping in to see her daughter and ex-husband (Simon Baker), evading her mother (Jacqueline Bisset), and seeking comfort from her manager (Common).

From the film’s opening moment, there is a distinctive musical score that anchors Vivienne’s shock and the dreamlike way she wanders through the city. It’s an effective device that isolates her and externalizes the thoughts that she does not express to those around her, some of whom notice that she seems unlike herself. The film also has a specific look and feel to it, one that makes it seem as if Vivienne at once owns this city and knows nothing about it, representative of the control that she has lost over her future on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the start of her career.

Parker doesn’t seem like the first choice for such a role given her TV work on “Sex and the City” and “Divorce,” but she turns in a heartfelt and emotional performance, one anchored by an ability to hide her feelings as she gets lost in her own thoughts. The film is best as a showcase of her journey, one that many may have to experience but still manages to feel deeply personal. The inclusion of an unfriendly Lyft driver (Waleed Zuaiter) who encounters Vivienne on numerous occasions is peculiar, and the film occasionally drifts from its most interesting moments to those that feel unnecessary and hardly vital to this character study.

B

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Song of Back and Neck

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.


Song of Back and Neck
Directed by Paul Lieberstein
U.S. Narrative Competition

There are many people who believe that physical pain can be indicative of emotional distress, and there is science to back some of it up. While it’s not always the case, those who suffer discomfort of certain body parts may have deeper issues to address, and curing ailments can be as simple as reducing stress in their daily life. Healing something without the use of Western medicine can be immensely satisfying, though there’s rarely a simple fix that doesn’t feature a relapse or require either a follow-up or repeated, consistent care.

Fred (Paul Lieberstein) isn’t doing great. His neck and back pain are so extreme that he crawls out of bed every morning to get ready and eat breakfast on the floor. His visit to a doctor reveals multiple issues that might require ten years of surgery and still not end up fixed, leaving little hope for his future. When the lifelong paralegal still working at his father’s firm meets Regan (Rosemarie DeWitt), a client seeking a divorce, everything changes. Her suggestion of acupuncture leads him to an unexpected relief, and he begins a relationship with Regan that enables him to be seen for who he is for the first time in his life.

This film gets its title from the bizarre music that the needles make when they sit in Fred’s back, prompting the doctor’s son, a cellist, to play alongside him. That element of wonder helps to complement an otherwise straightforward comedy story, one that finds an unlikely hero in Fred, who says hello to every person he passes in the office each time he walks by their desks each day, to take an active role in his life, bonding with a kindred spirit whose experiences have been very different from his own, save for the same crippling physical pain she has endured.

Lieberstein is best known as a writer and showrunner for “The Office,” on which he also starred as the frequently-maligned and miserable Toby. Here, directing himself, he demonstrates a wonderfully muted energy that makes him a great lead, and the always terrific DeWitt is well-cast opposite him. This story is sweet and innocent, full of entertaining and enjoyable moments. Its trajectory is relatively simple, and the film goes along with it, offering some drama along the way, resulting in a mildly memorable and endearingly funny film.

B+

Talking Tribeca: Untogether

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.


Untogether
Directed by Emma Forrest
Spotlight Narrative

Regardless of what labels society wants to put on a relationship, some people don’t want to have the way they interact with another person defined by those who don’t understand their connection. It is possible that both parties have the same idea of what they want, but a change or realization from one of them that it isn’t enough and they need to have some formal bond can start to chip away at something that worked previously. Some terms, like “untogether,” can have a double meaning: referring to a less-than-official relationship but also to an individual.

Andrea (Jemima Kirke) scored early success as a novelist at a young age, but since then, and since getting clean, she hasn’t been able to doing any real writing. Her newfound affair with Nick (Jamie Dornan), a doctor made famous as a writer for his memoir about a lost love in Gaza, often frustrates her more than it satisfies her. Her sister Tara (Lola Kirke) is a massage therapist dating a much older musician turned painter, Martin (Ben Mendelsohn), and she finds herself distracted when a rabbi (Billy Crystal) invites her to come to his congregation, sending her on an unexpected journey of self-discovery about what she actually wants from life.

This is a movie with two concurrent sets of protagonists whose lives intersect only occasionally. There are moments in which Andrea and Martin seem much better suited for each other, though both sisters start to look introspectively without letting their significant others in on their pursuits. Tara’s exploration of Judaism is a solitary trajectory, one that Andrea rejects outright and that Martin can’t be really bothered to understand. Nick has his own issues to sort out, and he allows Andrea to share with him much more than he opens up to her.

The assortment of plotlines and troubled relationships include plenty of intrigue but not much connected logic, with each seeming like its own story and hardly relevant to anything else in the film. Casting sisters in these roles is a successful gambit, with both Jemima, of “Girls,” and Lola, of “Mozart in the Jungle,” offering valid interpretations of these young women. Crystal doesn’t seem to fit into the world of this movie, one that seems worth watching while it builds its story and then eventually reveals itself to not be grounded or headed towards something. Its title unfortunately serves as an effective descriptor of its content.

C+

Talking Tribeca: Little Woods

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.


Little Woods
Directed by Nia DaCosta
U.S. Narrative Competition

Large areas with small populations often present a distinct set of job opportunities to its residents that may involve supporting the economy or local industries. Getting into something else can be difficult, especially because a dearth of people means that circles are small and everyone knows everyone. The temptation to break the law to make a bit of extra cash may be strong, and getting caught in the process isn’t necessarily as much of a deterrent as it should be since a large risk represents a large reward and may be the only way to stay afloat in tough times.

Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is on probation after being caught trafficking prescription pills over the Canadian border to her home in Little Woods, North Dakota. Following her mother’s death, she discovers that she must come up with a considerable sum of money to save her house from being repossessed by the bank, which forces her to reconnect with her sister Deb (Lily James), who is supporting a child on her own and pregnant again with a baby from the same father. Desperate for funds and unable to see any other way out, Ollie decides to turn back to what she knows best to make some quick cash.

This is hardly an optimistic film, one that introduces a woman who clearly has compassion for others but hasn’t experienced much luck in return. Her parole officer (Lance Reddick) is kindhearted and supportive, eagerly providing her an enthusiastic reference for a job, but he also stops by unannounced to make sure that she’s staying out of trouble. Deb’s situation is even more miserable, living in a trailer in a supermarket parking lot and fighting often with her ex (James Badge Dale), whose behavior can be described as bipolar at best. These two sisters have each other even though they don’t always see eye-to-eye, and they’re both in need of a win to keep on going.

Thompson and James are both terrific actresses with a number of previous great roles, including “Creed” and a continuing part on “Westworld” for the former and “Downtown Abbey” and “Baby Driver” for the latter. Here, they do their best to make their characters feel raw and genuine. The story, while fine-tuned with these particularities, is a familiar one that has been covered before in films like “Frozen River,” and this film doesn’t always feel as poignant or purposeful as it should.

B

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Mapplethorpe

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.


Mapplethorpe
Directed by Ondi Timoner
U.S. Narrative Competition

Artists who create work that isn’t easily digested in their times don’t necessarily seek out controversy, but they see something that many others don’t and feel the need to capture it and express it to the world. The wonderful thing about art, in whatever form, is that it can be preserved to be seen by future generations and appreciated by those with more open minds, inspecting and analyzing it to determine what it was that inspired its creator to make it and what it was they were trying to say, regardless of how strongly others wanted to stifle them.

Robert Mapplethorpe (Matt Smith) begins his career as a painter in the company of Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón) in the 1980s, struggling to make a living and to be taken seriously by his very religious family. Living in Chelsea exposes him to a whole new way of life, which prompts him to make a move to photography. Switching freely between explicit photographs of naked male bodies and BSDM and ordinary portraits of well-known individuals, Mapplethorpe creates a legacy of work matched by the fervor of his process and self-perception, often putting him at odds with the most important people in his life, including his brother Edward (Brandon Sklenar) and wealthy patron Sam (John Benjamin Hickey).

There is no question that Mapplethorpe’s photography was cutting-edge, and it remains so today, representative of an underground scene that he sought to make mainstream without even acknowledging that any gallery owner or collector would reasonably hesitate to display his work. The drive he felt to capture it on camera and the passion with which he sought out subjects, sometimes plucking them from the street to be featured extensively in a series, is what proves most memorable from this biopic, which charts his ascent to success and his deteriorating condition as a result of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Smith is best known to American audiences for his roles on “Doctor Who” and “The Crown,” and he eases into an American accent and a wildly different character here, making Mapplethorpe into an irritable, brilliant artist never expressing any doubts about his talent, only whether others will fully appreciate him. This is a rare foray into narrative filmmaking for director Ondi Timoner, one that covers the history effectively but fails to truly come alive, serving as a perfectly adequate but unspectacular showcase of one man who pushed the boundaries and created something off-putting to some and mesmerizing to others.

B