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

Tribeca with Abe: Safe Spaces

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.


Safe Spaces
Directed by Daniel Schechter
Spotlight Narrative

The notion of political correctness has evolved over time, to the point that there are now reactionary groups that believe things have gone too far and no action or statement is safe from potential condemnation for not making every possible audience feel comfortable. Even those with the best of intentions may manage to offend another person or people, and in those circumstances, how they respond to accusations of or confrontation about a sentiment perceived as unacceptable serves as the best way to resolve an unfortunate situation. Not everyone wants to apologize for something they don’t believe was wrong, which often leads to the gradual worsening of an initially fixable circumstance.

Josh (Justin Long) is an adjunct professor who enjoys a familiar relationship with his students, and inadvertently pushes too hard to draw out true inspiration during one class. Informed that his behavior has triggered a student and incited others to boycott his classes, Josh seeks to defend himself rather than to admit fault. Also serving as a troubling force is the diminishing health of his grandmother (Lynn Cohen), with whom he shares a close bond, and her impending death results in Josh spending extended time with his sister (Kate Berlant) as they navigate their connections to their divorced parents (Fran Drescher and Richard Schiff).

This film’s first scene serves as a subtle jumping-off point for the fracturing of Josh’s life, as a dialogue he believes he can explain threatens to derail his career. The fact that he champions himself as a defender of liberal notions only makes his response all the more regrettable, since he dismisses any notion of improper conduct and tries far too hard to correct course by saying more. His interactions with his sarcastic sister, who has her own ideas of counterculturalism, the parents who express entirely different approaches to family, and the grandmother who has meant so much to him help present a fascinating, entertaining, and enlightening snapshot of Josh’s life.

Long often plays comic roles and usually serves as a straight man of sorts, including in the lackluster Tribeca entry from a few years ago, “Literally, Right Before Aaron.” Here, he demonstrates great comedic timing and dramatic skill, crafting an endearing if simultaneously overzealous character in Josh. Berlant is funny, and Drescher and Schiff contribute effectively and appropriately to a strong ensemble. This film doesn’t pretend to know how people should behave and handle every issue that arises, but this is an equally enjoyable and thought-provoking look at what happens when two perceptions of the same event truly don’t match up.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: Flawless

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.


Flawless
Directed by Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit
International Narrative Competition

Being a teenager is hard enough for those who might be objectively perceived as normal. For anyone who falls outside a specific set of behaviors deemed standard, dealing with others who have yet to reach maturity and who sometimes derive pleasure from embarrassing those not like them can be truly horrific and impossible to endure. Though differences exist from country to country and culture to culture, there are universal similarities to be found which highlight the incredible height of intolerance that can exist from those who choose to shun rather than to embrace those they perceive as an other.

Eden (Stav Strashko) is a transgender girl who has just moved to a new school in Israel after the revelation of her true identity made her daily life unbearable. Choosing not to share her history, she befriends Mika (Netsanet Mekonen) and Keshet (Noam Lugasy), who each seek to change something about themselves by augmenting her breasts and slimming her nose, respectively. Eden soon learns that Mika and Keshet are taking active steps to achieve those changes, communicating with a kindly woman (Keren) who has promised to help them in exchange for the donation of their kidneys. Though the process seems suspicious, Eden wants nothing more than to fit in.

This is a multifaceted teen drama, one that addresses the pressures that teenagers face to feel accepted and to correct perceived imperfections in whatever way they can. That becomes dangerous here as Eden risks both her secrets being revealed and her own safety, all in the name of wanting to be cool, succumbing to the influences of the judgmental popular kids at school and her own friends. A disturbing subplot involves Itay (Arad Triffon Reshef), a frequently bullied student who is the preferred target of a group of masked assailants who enjoy humiliating him in violent ways, gaining a twisted delight out of causing pain to others. It’s a facet of real life that may well exist in many places, far beyond the already unfortunate miseries of popularity contests.

Strashko, best known as a model in Israel, delivers an incredibly vulnerable and naturalistic turn as Eden, a sympathetic figure always nervous about how much of herself to share with a cruel world. Mekonen and Lugasy elevate their teenage sidekicks by making them seem three-dimensional, more than just an extension of Eden’s experience and desiring of affection and attention on their own. Filmmaking duo Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon expertly address their characters and present a situation that best allows them to feel like true representations of varied experiences, seen in an overall narrative well worth a platform like this.

B+

Monday, May 13, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: The Kill Team

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.


The Kill Team
Directed by Dan Krauss
Spotlight Narrative

It’s an unfortunate reality that there are many unethical things done in war. Often, actions that would otherwise be deemed criminal are ignored or unreported in the midst of greater aims and a bigger picture. How those at war react to what they see happening around them can vary, and it takes a good deal of courage and resolve to be able to recognize that something is not right when everyone else is allowing it to happen, suggesting that a good deal of improper behavior goes undocumented and unresolved as a result.

In 2010, Private Andrew Briggman (Nat Wolff) heads to Afghanistan, eager to serve his country. When his commander is killed, his replacement arrives in the form of Sergeant Deeks (Alexander Skarsgard), who bucks traditional codes and inspires his soldiers with encouragement and a ferocious drive to succeed. Briggman catches his eye and enthusiastically maneuvers his way into a promotion, only to learn that the activities of his unit may not be entirely above-board. When he questions what he sees, he discovers that anyone who tries to make waves will face cruel consequences.

Writer-director Dan Krauss adapts his own 2013 documentary of the same name, turning his nonfiction investigation into onscreen drama. While there is nothing that particularly stands out as being necessary to see portrayed in a scripted format rather than recounted via testimonies and collected evidence, this presentation does offer a glimpse into how a group of people transplanted to a place where they have the power and can do whatever they deem appropriate can become extremely dangerous and wildly out of control.

Wolff delivers a strong performance as the ideal high achiever recruit, who has a clear sense of right and wrong and wants to use it to help the country he believes has done so much for him. Watching the disillusionment set in and be replaced by a fear that Briggman will be targeted for speaking out about what he sees happening is a compelling process made terrifyingly real by Wolff. Skarsgard, from “Big Little Lies” and “True Blood,” approaches the role of Deeks expertly, painting him as a clear leader equally capable of commanding respect and fear. This war film may not stand out among recent efforts such as “The Hurt Locker,” but its disturbing source material and its representation here are an important point of discussion made more visible by this showcase.

B

Tribeca with Abe: Clementine

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.


Clementine
Directed by Lara Gallagher
US Narrative Competition

It’s hard to predict how someone will react to a breakup, and their behavior in the immediate aftermath may be completely different from how they normally operate. Retreating from society is a common step for those who have the ability to detach temporarily from daily life, which can be both therapeutic and also merely serve to prolong a separation from a regular routine that will inevitably have to be resumed. However impermanent or unrealistic that separation may be, it has the potential to be hypnotic and transformative, if even just for a short while.

Karen (Otmara Marrero) arrives at the lake house of her former girlfriend, attempting to recover from a painful breakup in a space that is definitely not her own. Though she interacts with almost no one else, she does begin to forge a friendship with a mysterious younger woman, Lana (Sydney Sweeney), who shows up outside looking for a ride home. As the two of them explore their own loneliness, they discover a comfort with each other despite knowing very little about their backgrounds.

This film has a strange tone to it, one underscored by mystery about what Karen might be hiding about her relationship and what Lana’s motivations are for spending so much time with Karen. The flirtation that builds throughout the film is foreboding, creating a hypnotizing experience that should serve to draw in audiences. Whether there is anything waiting to be discovered after having watched the film is another matter, but the journey there is presented in such a way that it feels worthwhile traveling to learn more.

The primary reason that this film’s setup works is the talent of its two stars. Marrero, from “StartUp,” delivers a vulnerable performance as Karen, who, at age twenty-nine, thinks she has some sense of where her life is supposed to end up but is in no position to get started on it anytime soon. Sweeney, from “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Big Time Adolescence,” portrays Lana as someone eager to make a friend who talks too much, seeming social when she’s really revealing nothing about herself. Watching these two interact on screen is an engaging experience that doesn’t redeem itself as entirely original or vital. Its technical elements and structure outweigh its narrative content, which is held up by the performances at its center which serve as its true driving force.

B

Tribeca with Abe: Plus One

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.


Plus One
Directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer
Spotlight Narrative

Weddings are a celebratory occasion, but that may not necessary be the emotion that everyone in the room feels. Those who are married can recall fond memories of their special day each time they witness the union of another couple, while those who are in committed relationships or already engaged will think positively about what they want when they stand together before an adoring crowd. Those without a date, however, may find attending an event designed to honor love and being with someone else utterly unbearable, especially if, for them, it’s a frequent occurrence.

Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine) are friends from college, and, as of late, they’ve each been accompanying the other to the unbelievably high number of weddings that they feel forced to attend. When they are regularly mistaken for a couple, they each laugh off the notion, declaring that they’d never even consider it and acting as wingmen so that they can each hook up with a random stranger. With each toast and romantic misfire, the two are forced to consider whether they should in fact be together and if a theoretical relationship could actually work given the platonic way that they’ve always seen each other.

This comedy, which deservedly took home an Audience Award at Tribeca, is a winning recipe that has plenty of familiar ingredients. It’s by no means new territory, both the setup with the weddings and the friends who seem destined to hook up even if they are both entirely resistant to it. Yet this is a genuinely enjoyable and totally involving experience, one that presents scenes designed to make audiences smile and laugh, wasting no time on unnecessary subplots and forgettable interactions. The entire narrative feels relevant, with plenty of humor and great dialogue throughout it.

Liking the two protagonists is crucial to this film’s success, and their portrayers deliver tremendously. Quaid paints Ben as the more serious of the two, eager to maintain his standards of decorum and behavior, yet also a bit too chatty for his own good at times. Erskine, a strong presence on “Casual” whose talents seem wasted on “Pen15,” is the inarguable star of the film, turning in a performance that feels fully on, milking every scene for all the comedy that can be found within it. They make this a totally enjoyable experience, proving that weddings can be a great setting for comedies and that these two, particularly Erskine, should get more starring roles.

B+

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: American Woman

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.


American Woman
Directed by Semi Chellas
Spotlight Narrative

Fighting against the government isn’t always a clear-cut operation. When an army of some sort rises up to combat the establishment, it might be termed a civil war or a revolution. When there isn’t an official conflict, the legality of certain actions may exist in a gray area, with the repercussions more questionable due to changing political parties and new definitions of what constitutes a crime. There are many examples throughout history of this, and the motivations and allegiances of those on the less popular or less powerful side can be open to interpretation.

Jenny (Hong Chau) has been laying low after making bombs as an act of protest against the American government, and is lured back into her former life when she reluctantly agrees to look after three fugitives. She meets Pauline (Sarah Gadon), an heiress who has been kidnapped by Juan (John Gallagher Jr.) and Yvonne (Lola Kirke) and alleged by news media to have been radicalized herself while in captivity. Jenny tries to keep the hot-tempered Juan in check and to understand whether Pauline is indeed a prisoner or a willing participant, all while trying to keep them from being discovered and captured by law enforcement eager to put them all behind bars.

This narrative takes its inspiration from the real-life case of Patty Hearst, who was abducted by a domestic terrorist group in the 1970s and suspected of having been involved in perpetrating their anti-government activity. This fictionalized story targets the emotions and true aims of its characters, particularly Jenny and Pauline. Jenny is concerned most with the safety and security of herself and those around her, while Pauline is soft-spoken and careful not to incite violent aggression from Juan, who continues to demean her despite her apparent complicity in their cause. While much is still left unexplained, this exploration does navigate intriguing questions.

Chau, who delivered a standout performance in “Downsizing,” also stars in another Tribeca film this year, “Driveways,” which allows her to be more energetic and three-dimensional. Here, she plays her part decently, but commendation should go most to Gadon, from “11/22/63,” whose quiet, reserved turn is extremely effective, and Gallagher Jr. from “The Newsroom” and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” playing a far less gentle part than usual. This film tells an interesting story, though it’s not the best recent representation of domestic terrorism – check out “The East” for a more compelling and well-rounded approach.

B

Tribeca with Abe: Lost Transmissions

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.


Lost Transmissions
Directed by Katharine O’Brien
Spotlight Narrative

Every person experiences the world in a slightly different way, and that can greatly affect how they’re able to cope with events in their lives. People of all sorts can relate to music and may be able to digest it on a specific frequency that speaks to them even if the rest of what they hear is all noise. The path from inspiration to success as a musician is rarely straight or smooth, and along the way, the bumps are made all the more interesting by how they respond to them.

Theo (Simon Pegg), an eccentric music producer, is entranced by Hannah (Juno Temple) at a party and immediately brings her into a recording studio to give her a platform to sing. As they become closer, Theo begins acting irrationally, and all of his friends explain to Hannah that he is a schizophrenic who periodically stops taking his medication. As she pens songs for an airheaded pop star (Alexandra Daddario), she remains fiercely committed to keeping Theo under care despite his frequent and often violent resistance to anyone trying to tell him that he’s crazy and needs help.

This film’s title refers to the first sign of Theo’s questionable mental stability, when he pauses between radio stations while adjusting the dial in the car and declares that he is starting to hear the messages meant only for those who are ready to hear them. There is a magnetism to both of these characters, first in Theo as an energetic socialite who has no problem chatting anyone up, and then in Hannah, who has a natural talent but doesn’t possess the drive to succeed that might enable her to climb her way to the top. When they are together, something crackles, though it’s not always a pleasant sensation for either of them or those around them.

This is a revelatory role for Pegg, better known for comedies like “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” and the “Shaun of the Dead” and “Star Trek” series. He delivers a layered turn with humor and enthusiasm on the surface and so much more underneath. Temple, who has been great in films like “One Percent More Humid” and “Dirty Girl,” is excellent as usual, making Hannah an endearing protagonist who feels real and complicated. These two people are immensely watchable, interacting in a wild universe that might not be calibrated just right for either of them.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: Only

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.


Only
Directed by Takashi Doscher
Spotlight Narrative

There are many ways that the world could end, and so many different paths to inch the inhabitants of the Earth closer to it. Dystopian stories usually present something that has lost so much of what makes up society today, contemplating how certain warning signs that may already be present could evolve into something truly destructive. Governments may fall and sensibilities may be corrupted within even the best of people, and survival may be the only true goal of those who are left untouched, whether partially or entirely, by whatever agent or event it was that led to chaos. Such narratives are rarely optimistic but, when done right, they can be fascinating.

It has been four hundred days since the outbreak of a mysterious virus that is fatal only to women. Eva (Freida Pinto) has managed to stay alive, thanks mostly to the meticulous procedures devised by her disease expert father and followed every day by Will (Leslie Odom Jr.). Aware that her very existence puts her in danger, Eva evades detection and prepares for what she knows will be her inevitable demise, an eventuality that Will refuses to accept.

This is a film that works well by splitting its plot into the events being experienced in the present by Eva and Will and everything that led up to that day. From the ash falling from the sky that accompanies the inexplicable symptoms of each woman who visits the hospital to the bleak landscape that an almost entirely male population travels in the aftermath of the near-extinction of women, this film remains riveting and feels vital. News reports about Congress authorizing a reward for the reporting of live American females only aid the terrifying thought that, aside from a few specifics, a world like this might not be far too from resembling reality.

In addition to a strong and well-executed story, this film rests on the excellent performances delivered by its two leads. Pinto, best known for “Slumdog Millionaire,” manages to convey the incredible and unbearable claustrophobia that Eva feels having to follow a rigid routine each day without any contact with fresh air or other people. Odom Jr., who won a Tony for “Hamilton” and starred in “Smash,” is equally compelling, demonstrating Will’s unyielding commitment to keeping the love of his life safe. This exploration of what two people living for each other against all odds shares some elements with other films, but the way it handles its material compellingly demonstrates that stories like this are well worth telling.

B+

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Buffaloed

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.


Buffaloed
Directed by Tanya Wexler
Spotlight Narrative

Great ideas can be born with the best of intentions, and it’s often hard to predict just where they’ll lead. When shortcuts to success and quicker routes to the top present themselves, those who might have preferred an honest path can be tempted to compromise their integrity and do what’s easiest. Declaring a desire to escape what’s perceived as a stifling prison can also motivate someone to do what they feel will be simplest and most efficient. Rarely do such schemes pan out, but the road to that point is usually considerably more entertaining and engaging with more obstacles and bumps along the way.

Peg Dahl (Zoey Deutch) lives in Buffalo and can’t stand it. She has always been resourceful, finding ways to make money through both honest and dishonest means which often get her into trouble. When a college acceptance makes her dreams of getting out of Buffalo seem possible, she turns to an unexpected career path to get rich quick. Sick of dealing with the constant calls that come in to collect on the debt that her mother Kathy (Judy Greer) owes, she realizes her skill at being on the other end of the phone. Initially working for a slimy operator (Jai Courtenay), Peg soon decides that she can open up and run her own shop.

This film is reminiscent of a number of other recent cinematic stories featuring high-stakes concepts that quickly got wild and out of hand. The entrepreneurial and management style that Peg employs bears some similarities to those portrayed in “Molly’s Game” and “Joy,” with the energy of “The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” to demonstrate just how exponentially it can all spiral. That combination proves moderately successful, offering an over-the-top plot that serves as a fun watch even if it takes more than a few liberties which hamper its ability to be taken seriously.

Deutch, who delivered a great performance in “Flower,” is completely on and excitable as the passionate, devious, and clever Peg, and she is the best reason to see this film. Greer is always great, while Courtenay leans heavily into villainous exaggeration. This film doesn’t mind being rambunctious and following its ideas as far as its characters will take them. Its opening title card defines its title’s multiple meanings, referencing its setting, the animal, and lesser-used verb form, indicating a perfectly worthwhile rollercoaster ride ahead.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: The Short History of the Long Road

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.


The Short History of the Long Road
Directed by Ani Simon-Kennedy
US Narrative Competition

Any good road movie doesn’t have just one destination, and, if it manages to be engaging enough, where it’s headed doesn’t even matter all that much because it’s about what happens along the journey. Moving from place to place makes it difficult to establish lasting connections, yet there are those who thrive on change and the notion of impermanence to keep themselves going. For people with no set address, the idea of settling down can be the scariest of all and present a true challenge.

Nola (Sabrina Carpenter) is a very resourceful teenager, adept at fixing things and making a quick buck after traveling constantly in a souped-up van with her father Clint (Steven Ogg). When an unexpected event derails their wandering adventure, Nola must find a way to support herself. After edging her way in to a job as an auto mechanic for a body shop owner (Danny Trejo), she sets out to find the mother she doesn’t remember who couldn’t handle a life of traveling unpredictability, discovering much more about herself and what she really wants in the process.

A good point of comparison for this film is “Leave No Trace,” which also follows a father and daughter who can’t stay put and prefer not to put down roots. Unlike that more serious exploration of aversion to being tethered to anything, this one is full of humor, particularly from Clint as he enjoys being able to interact with a society that isn’t nearly as clever or resourceful as he is. Nola has inherited that same comedic energy, choosing to see the bright side of her fringe experience and enjoy what she can. It’s great fun to watch them both as they move from place to place, and there are more dramatic and impactful moments that are equally effective.

Actress-singer Carpenter, who has appeared on “Girl Meets World” and “The Goodwin Games,” delivers a fantastic lead performance here, energizing Nola and making her a complicated character whose worldview isn’t nearly as expansive and complete as she believes it is. Best known for playing cruel, villainous characters on “The Walking Dead” and “Westworld,” Ogg delivers an unexpectedly heartwarming turn, grounding Nola’s experience well. Writer-director Ani Simon-Kennedy crafts a sweet-natured and involving story that takes a well-traveled concept and makes it feel fresh and funny, bringing the audience along for a great ride full of sincere laughs and genuine emotion.

B+

Tribeca with Abe: The Place of No Words

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.


The Place of No Words
Directed by Mark Webber
US Narrative Competition

Children have a unique way of seeing the world, able to conjure up incredible interpretations of simple events that can make them truly magical. Playing at a park or with toys can seem like the greatest adventure, and, as such, it can be a way of helping them to cope with real-life stressors that might be far beyond the grasp of their comprehension. For the adults in their lives, existing in that same imagined space may be helpful and necessary, particularly if they’re not able to control events around them.

Clad in fur and wielding a sword, a father (Mark Webber) journeys through the mountains with his young son (Bodhi Palmer), exploring the vast countryside and encountering wondrous creatures and sights along the way. Simultaneously, that same father is seen in the present day, slowly becoming sicker as the result of a terminal illness while trying to spend time with his son. The child’s mother (Teresa Palmer) works with the father to keep the child happy while they endure the pain of watching a deterioration they can’t stop.

This film might be appropriately described as a subtler, fantastical version of “Life is Beautiful” in which a father goes to extraordinarily lengths to entertain his child when he knows that death is imminent and there is nothing he can do to reverse or prevent it. In this case, it’s far from a joke, but instead a chance to escape into a world defined primarily by adventure and wonder. What’s so mesmerizing about this quiet film is that it’s never confirmed or even expressed who it is experiencing the hallucination of this trek through the past. While it might be the son who processes his grief and emotions through this outlet, it’s also an opportunity for the father to be able to journey with his son in a safe, marvelous place, his own manner of coping with the inevitable.

Most impressive about this film is that Webber stars with his real-life son, who is now five years old. His wife and Bodhi’s mother Teresa also appears in the film, and this family performance is truly effective and exceptional. This is not Webber’s first time acting with a child of his, and he seems to have a particular knack for it. While not much necessarily happens over the course of this film’s runtime, it’s a powerful and meaningful look at a close bond disrupted by impossible realities and preserved by a shared imagination, using little to say plenty.

B+

Friday, May 10, 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!

Tribeca with Abe: Charlie Says

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.


Charlie Says
Directed by Mary Harron
Spotlight Narrative

Charlie Manson is a notorious figure from recent history, one whose legacy helped to define and terrorize a generation. The man himself, who died in prison in 2017, was notable mostly for his ability to attract devoted followers who listened to his every word, hypnotized by his ideas and compelled to do terrible things in his name. Understanding what it was that made them listen to him and commit horrific murders simply because he said so is a difficult task, yet it’s one that this film attempts to tackle through its portrait of three imprisoned cult members.

Leslie van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón) sit in their own cell block, awaiting a death sentence that has been deemed unconstitutional and having contact only with each other and the prison staff. When a local professor, Karlene Faith (Merritt Wever), begins working with the girls, she gradually learns about their history and what drew them to Manson (Matt Smith). What started as a refuge from society with nothing but free love for those around them turned into something much darker and more dangerous, an infectious home for those who never felt a sense of purpose before and could now be seen as equal to everyone around them.

This film is directed by Mary Harron, best known for helming “American Psycho” in 2000, and written by the screenwriter of that film, Guinevere Turner. Though that story was fictional, it does serve as a fitting framework that suggests Harron and Turner as just the right people to bring this tale to the big screen. Through flashbacks and conversations in the prison, this film does manage to peel back the layers of its characters as they, with the help of Faith, come to realize the role they’ve played in their own lives and how they’ve lost sight of the people that they once were, individuals not subservient to a manipulative master. It is an enlightening – and highly disturbing – journey.

Murray, who starred in a previous Tribeca entry, “Bridgend,” and who appears in the ensemble on “Game of Thrones,” has a fitting affect to play the impressionable van Houten, who initially resists Manson’s commands but soon becomes his most devoted apostle. Bacon, the daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, is a standout among the rest of the cast, as is Wever, from “Nurse Jackie” and “The Walking Dead,” and Smith, who is well cast after his turns in “The Crown” and “Mapplethorpe.” This film is inarguably unsettling, creating a mood that makes it somewhat possible to comprehend how this cult operated and managed to usurp those within it.

B+

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Crown Vic

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.


Crown Vic
Directed by Joel Souza
Spotlight Narrative

If a character is introduced as being on the first day of their job, it’s a good bet that they’re in for a wild ride that is in no way representative of the average experience for a newbie. Their lack of knowledge about how their specific field works often leaves them completely unprepared for what they’re about to undergo, though not having lived in and been conditioned by a particular world can also give them crucial insight that the enlightened may lack. Pairing a seasoned, disgruntled veteran with a first-timer is a well-tested recipe for an explosive and transformative ordeal.

Nick (Luke Kleintank) begins his first shift on the street as a police officer in Los Angeles after working hard to earn his place when most assumed that his famous cop father simply put him there. Acclimating him to the job is first-time training officer Ray (Thomas Jane), who has spent more than two decades on the same beat. As murderous bank robbers roam the streets, taking out cops along the way, rookie Nick, whose wife is expecting a child, must determine how closely he will follow Ray’s guidance, especially as things take a dark turn when they encounter an off-the-rails detective (Josh Hopkins) with no limits.

If you’re in search of the ultimate cop movie, where anything that could feasibly occur in the course of one night of a police officer’s patrol, this may be it. What begins as simple musings about Ray’s extended career and Nick’s lack of experience turns into the two of them fighting against every conceivable threat, from out-of-control colleagues to armed resistance to human trafficking cases. It’s hard to believe that even a fraction of this could actually take place in this timeframe, but this film does manage to be engaging enough for its 110-minute runtime.

Jane often dabbles in this kind of dark fare, though this reviewer enjoyed him best in a lighthearted role on HBO’s “Hung.” He typifies the hardened cop personality who thinks he’s done it all and can’t be fazed by anything anymore. Opposite him, Kleintank, who played Joe Blake on “The Man in the High Castle,” portrays Nick as overly self-confident while being utterly unprepared for the reality of what he might experience. Hopkins, usually a less resounding presence on shows like “Quantico” or “Cougar Town,” delivers a surprisingly intense and harrowing turn as someone well past the edge. This film is likely just right for devotees of the genre, while others may find it a bit over-the-top, engaging but decidedly exaggerated.

B

Tribeca with Abe: Georgetown

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.


Georgetown
Directed by Christoph Waltz
Spotlight Narrative

Some actors are born to play a particular role. Christoph Waltz is an Austrian-born actor who achieved international fame in 2009 when he won an Oscar for playing Nazi Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds,” and then scored another Oscar for his subsequent Quentin Tarantino collaboration in “Django Unchained.” Waltz demonstrated his versatility after that with a comparatively normal role in “Carnage,” a stint as a Bond villain in “Spectre,” and a return to masterful deception in “Big Eyes.” That latter part is perhaps the best and most fitting qualification for Waltz’s feature directorial debut in which he also stars as a man who is most definitely not what he claims to be.

Presenting its story from multiple time periods at once, this film introduces its protagonist, Ulrich Mott (Waltz), as someone who knows people. He delights in hosting dinner parties for the powerful and influential, and he manages to charm everyone save for those closest to him. His much older wife, journalist Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave), seems to tire of his constant conversation, while her daughter, Amanda (Annette Bening), is immensely suspicious of his motivations. As his business network grows, it becomes clear that little, if any, of what Mott says is true, and his greatest aim in life is to convince everyone that he can accomplish anything on their behalf.

There is much about Waltz as an actor that is indistinguishable, thanks in no small part to his mastery of language and the excitement with which he delivers nearly all of his lines. That aids his character considerably, adding to the mystery of Mott as someone whose express purpose is never clear-cut, seeking always to expand his purported connections so that he can promise more to the next person he meets. The way that Waltz can change the expression of his face so quickly and subtly is remarkable, and it makes his potentially villainous nature all the more fascinating.

Opposite Waltz, Redgrave, who at eighty-two is still getting strong parts like this one, performs commendably, matching his gleeful pursuit of business relationships with her own established and reserved savvy. Bening, unfortunately, isn’t given much to do, and represents the weaker aspects of the film, which deal with the procedural efforts to bring Mott down for unknown crimes. When this film is hiding its characters’ ambitions and motives, it’s at its best, and giving Waltz yet another fantastic part to play is its most positive result.

B

Tribeca with Abe: Standing Up, Falling 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.


Standing Up, Falling Down
Directed by Matt Ratner
Spotlight Narrative

Friends come into people’s lives at different points, and sometimes it can be at the most opportune moment. Educational institutions and professional workplaces are the most common places for people to be introduced, but some of the richest friendships begin as the result of happenstance meetings. Drinking at a bar is a great way for people to get to know each other even if they have nothing in common aside from their geographical location, and whether that friendship persists outside of the confines of an alcohol-based establishment can often be a simple matter of chance.

Scott (Ben Schwartz) isn’t doing great as a stand-up comedian, returning home from Los Angeles to live with his parents in Long Island after his career has stalled. Having been away for a number of years reminds him of what he gave up, namely a wonderful relationship with Becky (Eloise Mumford), who is now married. At a bar one night, he meets Marty (Billy Crystal), a widowed dermatologist who drinks a good deal more than he should. Though they are from different generations, Scott and Marty form a fast friendship based on sarcasm and a lack of serious judgment for each other’s choices and paths in life.

This concept has been done many times before, but this iteration feels fresh thanks both to a great script by Peter Hoare and the smart pairing of two genuinely funny actors. Crystal, who shared that he has only ever before attempted a similarly serious role in “Mr. Saturday Night,” made a number of terrific comedies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but his more recent parts, like that of a rabbi in “Untogether” at Tribeca last year, have felt much less satisfying for his talents. Schwartz, best known for “Parks and Recreation” and “House of Lies,” also tones down his usual antics to deliver a surprisingly affecting and effective turn. As the closest people in their respective lives, Nate Corddry and Grace Gummer contribute positively to a strong ensemble.

Films about comedians always have to make a choice about how much they want to indulge their characters’ senses of humor, and this one wisely decides to lean on its other protagonist to deliver most of the jokes. That works enormously well, since it highlights both how Marty has lost control of his life and how Scott is headed nowhere because of his own self-doubt. Together, they’re in for a ride that’s both fun and resounding, a notch up from what this type of fare might usually provide.

B+

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Burning Cane

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.


Burning Cane
Directed by Phillip Youmans
US Narrative Competition

Religion is a community institution that brings people together, yet there is a fervor that can exist within an individual’s body and mind that offers a spiritual connection related to no one else. That may enhance their existence or may bring trouble, causing a person to doubt their own worth or ability, unconfident that they can fulfill what life or the lord has asked from them. That internal struggle can affect even the most faith-oriented of people, especially when what they see going on in the world around them contradicts their sense of what is right and what should be.

Among the conflicted in this story set in Louisiana are Reverend Tillman (Wendell Pierce), a widowed preacher far too prone to drink than is good for him, Helen Wayne (Karen Kala Livers), a woman with a sick dog, and her son Daniel (Dominique McClellan), whose alcohol dependency is crippling and prevents him from holding down a job and being able to support his family. Their lives intersect with the church as a place that unites them but also as more of an idea of a higher power that might watch or judge them for what they do, offering some direction that they can hope to follow.

Describing this film as experimental isn’t quite accurate, but it is certainly artistic. The comparisons to the works of Terrence Malick are well-earned, if that’s considered to be a compliment. This film has been feted extensively by the Tribeca Film Festival, eliciting awards for its cinematography, lead actor Pierce, and the citation for Best Narrative Feature. Even before that, it was cause for celebration due to the extremely young age of its director, Phillip Youmans, currently a freshman at NYU studying film and still in high school when the film was finished. There is indeed potential here, but this 78-minute project doesn’t have a concrete or compelling focus to it.

Pierce, who currently stars on “Jack Ryan” and last inhabited the Big Easy on HBO’s “Treme,” gets an unusual chance to step into the spotlight, residing in a position of power and influence that his characters rarely do and crafting a complex, broken turn. Livers also delivers a strong performance, though acting in this film pales to its fractured construction, designed to truly draw audiences in but ultimately more occupied with contemplative cinematography to probe its setting than anything else. As with other artsy fare, this film has its value but isn’t as resounding as others seem to believe it is.

B-