Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Movie with Abe: A Thousand Cuts


A Thousand Cuts
Directed by Ramona S. Diaz
Released August 7, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

The phrase “Democracy dies in darkness” is the current slogan of The Washington Post, and it carries a good deal of weight. The implication that it is possible to transform a free society into a totalitarian one if there is no one there to expose wrongdoing is frightening, and, given history, it’s not at all unrealistic. Documenting the actions that threaten liberties is increasingly essential in an age where technology presents not only the opportunity to share news widely but also an ability to manipulate and disseminate disinformation. It becomes exponentially more vital when powerful leaders go to great lengths to demonize journalism as an enemy.

Maria Ressa runs Rappler, a news website in the Philippines, and is celebrated globally as an important journalist, named the 2018 Time Magazine Person of the Year. In her home country, Ressa documents the rise of Rodrigo Duterte, who ascends from a mayoral position to being elected president in 2016. Duterte’s declared war on drugs, which extols violence and results in mass extrajudicial killings, is the biggest promise of his campaign. When his authority is threatened by the coverage he receives, he turns his propaganda machine on Rappler and the press, demonizing them so that any negative stories about him can be seen as an illicit and politically motivated challenge to his authority.

Duterte’s explicit and unapologetic promises to kill drug dealers were profiled in the very strong and disturbing Oscar documentary short finalist “The Nightcrawlers,” and this film digs deeper into how Duterte uses public opinion and social media to his advantage. His surrogates, who express publicly that they have been told to run for particular offices by the president, accuse anyone who doesn’t applaud wildly for the war on drugs of being addicts, and trolls descend on Rappler’s offices to protest and prove that they are indeed real people. The use of the term “presstitutes” is traced to twenty-six fake social media accounts that then influence three million people, showing the fearsome power of clickbait. Ressa is arrested for a cybercrime law she allegedly violated after it was passed, setting a terrifying precedent for applying laws retroactively, thereby putting any political opponents of Duterte’s at severe risk of incarceration or worse.

This film documents what’s going on in the Philippines, including the late addition of footage from Ressa’s case from this June, but it carries an immensely important call to action for the world. Ressa speaks at a forum in the United States about the similarities between the two countries’ presidents, describing them as macho, populist leaders who have used anger and fear to divide their people. The notion, as explored in this film, that what happens in the United States is tested first in other countries with less stable governments, is deeply worrisome, and the parallels are obvious in videos of Duterte unabashedly making jokes about his penis and women smelling like fish to an adoring, laughing crowd. What this documentary exposes and shows to the world isn’t being hidden, but the implications it brings are cause for extreme concern. Work like Ressa’s and films like this are absolutely critical to the survival of a free society.

B+

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Movie with Abe: I Used to Go Here


I Used to Go Here
Directed by Kris Rey
Released August 7, 2020

People’s lives don’t always pan out the way they expect. The prediction that those growing up now will have multiple careers in fields that don’t even exist yet only further reduces the likelihood that knowing what you want to do when you grow up means that’s what you’ll end up doing. Having a passion, however, can be enduring, and those who have a firm sense of what they’re best at may indeed persevere and pursue their dreams. What success looks like isn’t set, and achieving what you set out to do may not be as emotionally fulfilling or financially productive as it always seemed like it would.

Kate (Gillian Jacobs) is thirty-five years old and has just published a novel. A cover she doesn’t love seems like a negligible bump, but a cancellation of the book tour that was supposed to help create the sales her publisher tells her aren’t materializing makes her feel like a failure. An unexpected invitation from her college professor David (Jemaine Clement) to do a reading at her alma mater provides her with a chance to feel relevant and accomplished. The return to a part of her past brings with it a longing for simpler times and a gradual recognition that what she always wanted may not actually bring her the happiness she so desires.

Kate is a relatively solitary character, one who attends the baby shower of her friend Laura (Zoe Chao) and is told to pose with her book in front of her belly alongside three pregnant women in a photo. She calls Laura in a moment of boredom but otherwise expresses no connection to friends or family, and as a result latches on to the current residents of her old home, who all happen to be aspiring writers. She encounters old classmates whose lives are very different now, and revisits elements of her college experience that seem potentially irresponsible but likely inconsequential. It’s a way to get to know her without really understanding who she is first, since even she doesn’t appear to truly know.

This film was originally slated to have its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival this past March. It is a recognizably independent venture, one that values spotlighted performer turns over cinematic style, finding poignancy in simple conversations and uncomplicated storylines. Jacobs is a decent fit for the lead role, imbuing Kate with minimal energy and an uncensored personality. Clement plays what may well be the most normative role of his career, and Josh Wiggins, who made his debut in “Hellion” and returned to Sundance with “Walking Out” several years ago, is a standout from the supporting cast as a student who befriends Kate. This film is reminiscent of “The Lifeguard,” another portrait of an unmotivated young woman who seeks solace in what she might consider the best years of her lives. It’s entertaining and likeable enough, and, like its protagonist, not entirely fascinating or memorable.

B

Monday, August 3, 2020

Movie with Abe: An American Pickle


An American Pickle
Directed by Brandon Trost
Released August 6, 2020 (HBO Max)

A tremendous amount can change in a short period of time. Technological innovations, new discoveries, and political change can make one decade almost unrecognizable from the one that came before it. It’s not usually easy for those accustomed to one way of life to eagerly adopt to new concepts, and that’s evident in the way that many senior citizens today utilize smartphones and computers that look nothing like what they knew during their childhood. There’s a way to approach progress and feel open to it without leaving the past behind, but that’s often a struggle, particularly if the new normal feels like it’s being presented as a replacement of what came before it.

Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) works as a ditch-digger in Europe in 1919, where he meets his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook). Their blissful wedding is interrupted by a Cossack massacre of their town, leading them to immigrate to the United States, where they dream of luxuries like drinking seltzer while Herschel tries to make ends meet killing rats in a pickle factory. When he falls into a giant vat and is sealed in, he is preserved in the brine until someone stumbles upon the abandoned factory one hundred years later. He meets his only living relative, his great-grandson Ben (also Rogen), who eagerly shows him what the twenty-first century has to offer. Their different approaches to religion and hard work lead to a rift that causes the two Greenbaums to compete for success and victory at any cost.

This film’s concept is decidedly fantastical, presuming that a person could literally be pickled and emerge completely unaged and the same after a century. Deciding that the premise can be believed sets up a decently stirring and thought-provoking examination of values and the appreciation of small wonders. Given that Rogen is a comedian and this film is written by Simon Rich, creator of “Man Seeking Woman” and “Miracle Workers,” drama isn’t the goal. This experience is best compared to an Adam Sandler movie like “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” one that sometimes reaches the level of smart parody but gives in too much to the impulse for slapstick humor. Its mimicry of the Eastern European lifestyle through Herschel feels authentic, though its presentation of certain elements of Herschel’s personality, like his Judaism, come off as disappointingly selective and surface-level.

Rogen is doing double duty here as the two Greenbaums, and he’s certainly having a good time. He does a spectacular job of not breaking character as Herschel, who sets out to start a successful pickle business despite having no knowledge of the existence of health codes or social media platforms. Ben, in comparison, is much less engaging, tampered down by Rogen to make him feel substantially different. There are plenty of laughs to be found in this journey, though this film resounds more when it abandons silliness for substance, which does happen on occasion throughout its ninety-minute runtime.

B-

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Movie with Abe: Made in Italy


Made in Italy
Directed by James D’Arcy
Released August 7, 2020 (VOD)

Children often perceive the world to be boundless, which can make certain events and places feel infinitely grander and more impactful than they objectively are. They assign significance and meaning to formative moments that, when reflected back upon or revisited, may hardly seem so influential. There’s also an element of time that causes places and people to age, rarely still in the condition they once were when someone goes back to somewhere special. What something or someone meant to an adult may not be diminished even if confronting it at a later point in life adds entirely new clarifying context.

Jack (Micheál Richardson) is desperate to retain his job as director of an art gallery owned by his wife’s family after she serves him with divorce papers, and needs cash quick to buy it before she sells it to someone else. He travels with his father, Robert (Liam Neeson), to the Tuscany country house that belonged to his late mother. Finding it in terrible condition, Jack sets out to make a sale, forging a friendship with a local restaurateur, Natalia (Valeria Bilello), who helps to show him the delights of living far from the city. The experience also opens his eyes to who his distant father really is and what’s underneath the laissez-faire attitude that has shaped his parenting style.

Neither son nor father comes off as the most socially apt individual, with Jack clinging to a relationship that is clearly no longer viable and Robert paying so little attention to his one-night stands that he doesn’t even remember their names. Neither is looking to connect with the other, and Jack maintains the illusion that his marriage is perfectly healthy as he pushes his father to put some effort into updating a property whose charm isn’t nearly as present as Robert maintains. The renovation process is just as much about how they relate to each other as it is about the home they’re trying to sell.

What makes this film a delight is the casting of well-known actor Neeson’s real-life son, Richardson, in one of his first major film roles. The two do a superb job of making their characters seem like they have reasons to resent each other, and they’re well-supported by Bilello, who makes Natalia a worthwhile part of the story when she might otherwise not have been. This film marks the feature directorial debut of actor James D’Arcy, known for “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” and “Broadchurch,” who also serves as screenwriter. While its plot may not be wholly original or groundbreaking, the film as a whole is sincerely watchable as light entertainment mixed in with some decent drama.

B

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Movie with Abe: Out Stealing Horses


Out Stealing Horses
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Released August 7, 2020 (VOD)

Formative moments in a person’s childhood often don’t resonate as quite so significant until much later in that person’s life when all of their effects and consequences can be more clearly seen and analyzed. It’s a frequent cinematic device to begin a story with a lonesome adult character reflecting back upon how they have reached the space they inhabit at that moment in time, with long-suppressed memories and notions bubbling to the surface as the result of a catalytic conversation or reunion, ready to lend even more meaning to that which set them on this particular path.

In 1999, Trond (Stellan Skarsgård) moves to a quiet country home in Norway. When he meets his neighbor (Bjørn Floberg), he is surprised to recognize him as Lars, a childhood friend he hasn’t seen for years. As the two begin spending more time together, Trond begins to remember the events that, half a century earlier, left a permanent mark on him. As he tries to move forward with his life, Trond is unable to escape the haunting experiences that come flooding back to him, buried for many years under other more pleasant thoughts yet still inescapably influential.

This is a film that slowly unfurls its mystery, finding Trond living in isolation and surrounded by the overwhelming white of snow. The flashbacks to his younger years are more vibrant, filled with people who bring out a certain energy in him. The two time periods seem so different not only because of the technology featured, but also because of the mindset with which Trond approaches the world. What takes place between those scenes long ago and the present charts a melancholy and often tragic path, one that guides the film’s tone, which is far from optimistic.

Skarsgård is a recognizable international presence, most recently seen on HBO in “Chernobyl.” He commands a certain subtle gravitas when seen on screen, and he’s supported well by a cast that portrays the younger characters and the adults in their lives. This film, which was Norway’s submission for the Best International Feature Oscar last year, is haunting in its look at a lost life that could have been, but any true sense of urgency is lost in this presentation, which plays out as if in slow motion. It’s an intense and powerful story enhanced by the performances within it, but it doesn’t feel as rich or rewarding as other recent foreign films that begin from similarly nostalgic points of mystery.

B

Friday, July 31, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD: Summerland
New to DVD: Light from Light, The Infiltrators
New to Hulu: Bull

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Movie with Abe: Summerland


Summerland
Directed by Jessica Swale
Released July 31, 2020 (VOD)

It’s often said that you can’t choose the family you’re born into but you can choose the family you live with. For some, that may mean reacting to a negative upbringing by surrounding themselves with loving and warm people. For others, it can result in not trusting anyone and living a solitary existence, never getting close for fear of being hurt. People choose not to start families for a variety of reasons, which includes the notion that someone wouldn’t be a good parent. It’s impossible to know, however, until a person actually becomes a parent and gets to experience it for themselves.

Alice (Gemma Arterton) is a writer in a small cliffside Southern England town during World War II who keeps to herself and has earned a reputation for being crotchety, frequently tormented by young pranksters eager to play a joke on the recluse. Alice is startled when she is informed that she will now be responsible for housing a young evacuee, Frank (Lucas Bond), a duty assumed by many locals during the war. Separated from his parents, both actively in danger in London, Frank forms a friendship with Edie (Dixie Egerickx), a fellow student at school, and tries to build a rapport with the woman counting down the hours until Mr. Sullivan (Tom Courtenay) can find him a new temporary home.

One common interest that Alice and Frank are able to find is the subject of Alice’s research for her latest book, which deals with Summerland, a pagan concept of heaven. Its imaginative nature appeals to Frank, and though she doesn’t want to have to explain what she’s doing to anyone, Alice seems somewhat pleased to not have someone outright reject her ideas for once. As Frank wrestles with the uncertainty of knowing what will happen to his parents, Alice is haunted by memories of the one relationship (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) she did allow herself to have. Their experiences are separate but equally compelling, particularly in how they come together as, despite Alice’s efforts, a bond does begin to form between the two of them.

Arterton has turned in terrific performances in films like “Tamara Drewe,” “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” “Their Finest,” and “Vita and Virginia.” Here, she’s full of aggressive personality, determined to be left alone when the world has other plans of her. She and the young Bond are wonderful together, and he truly is an incredible discovery. Mbatha-Raw, Courtenay, Penelope Wilton, and the rest of the ensemble contribute to a film whose story is legitimately interesting and captivating, traveling a beautifully-decorated road to acceptance and happiness.

B+

Friday, July 24, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD/Virtual Cinema: Yes God Yes, Days of the Whale, Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison
New to DVD: The Whistlers, Marriage Story, Resistance
New to Amazon: Radioactive
New to Hulu: The Assistant, Bolt

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Movie with Abe: Radioactive


Radioactive
Directed by Marjane Satrapi
Released July 24, 2020

History is filled with names of people whose contributions to society are nearly impossible to measure given the scope of their ideas and inventions and the many later uses developed based on their initial work. It’s not uncommon to learn that those who are revered today were significantly underappreciated in their time, seen as heralds of amoral revolutions or attempting to reach far beyond the station assigned to them based on their gender, race, age, or some other factor that didn’t actually limit their intellectual capacity. There’s much to explore in their stories, including how society’s response to important pioneers shaped the progress of what they discovered and shared with the world.

Marie Sklodowska (Rosamund Pike) has difficulty getting the almost entirely male scientific community in Paris to take her work seriously. When she meets Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), she resists his encouragement and open acceptance of her abilities, but soon realizes that he is a helpful partner, both in science and in love. Their most transformative discovery – radioactivity – leads to a Nobel Prize, though Marie must fight to make sure that she is even acknowledged. Faced with the reality of life without Pierre, Marie struggles to forge ahead with countless obstacles preventing her from making the impact she knows she can.

This film’s title is telling since it doesn’t utilize Marie Curie’s name but instead describes her most significant contribution to society. Throughout the film, there are many flashes to moments in history long after Marie’s death when the effects of her work are seen through the use of the atomic bomb and the Chernobyl disaster, exploring consequences she may never have anticipated as she faces the immediate effects of radiation on her husband’s health. Interspersing those events throughout Marie’s story is effective since it highlights the momentous nature of what she did and the boundless potential she could have had if not for the constant hindrances she faced because she was a woman well ahead of her time who refused to be sidelined.

Pike is best known for her Oscar-nominated performance in “Gone Girl,” and here she delivers a quiet, determined turn as Marie, playing her as dedicated but impatient, uninterested in saying the right thing to get ahead when she doesn’t feel she should have to act a certain way because of her gender. Riley is a strong foil as Pierre, aware of what he must do to be taken seriously and absolutely inspired by Marie’s knowledge. This biopic, from “Persepolis” director Marjane Satrapi, is most involving when it focuses on the game-changing science its protagonist researches rather than the equally worthwhile subject matter of the world’s treatment of her as a woman.

B

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Movie with Abe: Days of the Whale


Days of the Whale
Directed by Catalina Arroyave Restrepo
Released July 24, 2020

One of the main reasons that young people act out and break the rules is boredom. Not finding much that they are doing purposeful and having plenty of time on their hands can lead to petty criminal activity that is in truth victimless. Another powerful trigger can be activism, a desire to change a societal standard or rebel against an injustice they see being perpetrated. Whatever their intentions are, there can be consequences for defying what has been set as normative or expected, whether from official forces such as the police, military, or government or from extralegal entities with a more direct and potentially dangerous reach.

Cristina (Laura Tobón) and Simon (David Escallón) live in Medellín and spend most of their time tagging walls with graffiti art. As a result of her mother’s move to Spain to pursue a journalistic career opportunity, Cristina lives with her father and the much younger woman he is seeing, leading to frequent conflict and a desire for freedom. Simon lives with his grandmother and comes from a less privileged upbringing. They share an antiestablishment sentimentality, one that manifests most in their unintended but frequent interactions with the street gangs that they see as their true oppressors.

This film, which had its premiere at South by Southwest last year, runs less than eighty minutes but manages to tell a compelling and involving story in that time. Cristina and Simon are young and passionate, interested only in doing the things they want, not necessarily spending the family time or investing in positive decisions that might help them attain better futures. They know what they need to do to survive but are still driven by an energy they can exert solely through their artwork, which they also know is far from permanent given the possibility and likelihood of it being painted over by rivals or authorities.

This film serves as a formidable debut for its three main players. Tobón and Escallón deliver layered performances that showcase the enthusiasm that contrasts with, and is a product of, their frustrations with an inability to completely shape their own destinies. Behind the camera, Catalina Arroyave Restrepo, a native of Medellín who recently turned thirty, impresses with her first feature as both writer and director. This visually stirring film feels like an authentic slice of life in a country that most often represents only the famous and infamous, not those anonymous people who feel like no one will remember them when they’re gone.

B+

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Movie with Abe: Tijuana Jackson: Purpose over Prison


Tijuana Jackson: Purpose over Prison
Directed by Romany Malco
Released July 24, 2020

There are many films set in prison, and a good number of them feature instances of extreme violence and harrowing circumstances that find innocent people suffering tremendously after wrongful convictions whose damage can never be undone. There are also comedies that seek to extract the levity from such situations, dialing back the severity of the experience to hone in on the humor that can be found in misunderstanding or miscalculating how someone is perceived when they set out to have a new lease on life as a release is imminent and the possibilities for the future seem endless.

Rachel (Shannon Dang) is a college student trying to complete a ten-minute student film, and for her subject, she has chosen someone who seems to have an unusually optimist attitude and a plan for himself: Tijuana Jackson (Romany Malco). Jackson is determined to become a life coach and motivational speaker, and he’s ready to talk to – and bill – anyone willing to listen. As Rachel and her cameraman follow him around, his biggest hurdles are those closest to him with the least faith in his abilities: his mostly loving mother (Baadja-Lyne Odums), spiteful sister (Tami Roman), precocious nephew (Alkoya Brunson), and the parole officer, Cheryl (Regina Hall), who’s also his former classmate and crush.

The best way to describe Jackson is to liken him to the infamous protagonist of the American version of “The Office,” Michael Scott. He’s ambitious, well-meaning, and almost always misreads situations and says the wrong thing. He does also have good ideas, and if his life had gone differently and he had applied himself in the right way given the opportunity, he could have done well. Instead, he’s stuck in a cyclical trap, where his drive to succeed causes him to cut corners and put the limited freedom that he enjoys in jeopardy. The consequences don’t seem all that dire given the rapport he demonstrates with the other inmates and guards, but they’re also attuned to his antics and know how to stop him from getting too excited about sharing his thoughts with those around him.

Malco, best known for his supporting roles on shows like “Weeds” and “A Million Little Things,” makes his feature debut as writer and director, crafting a story about the values that really matter with himself as its star. He’s undeniably charismatic, and the strongest move this film makes is pairing him with Hall, who has shown her comedic chops in “Black Monday.” Her scenes, along with those featuring the talented Brunson, enhance a film that’s not overly imaginative but still manages to find a few laughs in its portrayal of a man who might be described by some as a con artist and by others as a nice guy who’s never really been in control of his life.

B

Friday, July 17, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD: The Sunlight Night, Dirt Music, The Painted Bird
New to DVD: Shirley
New to Netflix: Pride and Prejudice
New to Amazon and Hulu: The Weekend

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Movie with Abe: Dirt Music


Dirt Music
Directed by Gregor Jordan
Released July 17, 2020 (VOD)

People don’t always get the romances they want or deserve. Many cultures still prescribe spouses for their children, and those who are married have no choice in who they want to spend their lives with and how or if they want to start a family. Those who are able to select their own partners may feel pressured by society or events such as an unplanned pregnancy or major geographical move and end up regretting what they initially thought was a good idea. Not everyone has the power to change their fate, but some still try to change course when they realize that there may be something else out there for them.

Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) lives in western Australia, struggling to find purpose after trading in her career as a nurse to be with a local fisherman kingpin, Jim (David Wenham), and his two young children. Having grown distant from the magnate more concerned with his own productivity than her happiness, she is drawn to Lu (Garrett Hedlund), a former dirt musician who now works as a poacher. Georgie sees something appealing and revitalizing in Lu, and her pursuit of a relationship with him enables her to learn important things about their intertwining histories as he feels compelled to run from his own past.

This film is based on the 2002 novel of the same name by Tim Winton. One cinematic device that is strongly conveyed here is the visual representation of Georgie’s surroundings. Her view of the ocean is magnificent, and the island countryside that is shown is beautiful. Her first sighting of Lu comes when she is swimming early in the morning, and it is enhanced by the glory of the backdrop she sees around her. This love story is assisted in a crucial way by the place where it is set, especially when Lu flees the devastation he has experienced and seeks refuge in an unfamiliar place whose terrain and sheer magnitude are positively disorienting.

Macdonald, a Scottish actress, and Hedlund, an American actor, don Australian accents to play the two wishful halves of this would-be couple. Both are skilled actors who have performed in many international projects, and they bring a muted, pining passion to their characters that makes them effective if admittedly unenthusiastic anchors. Wenham offers a complex portrait of a man who isn’t entirely a villain but certainly hasn’t done much to redeem himself. This film’s music and representation of its protagonists’ most defining moments are its strong points, woven together with marvelous scenery to create a decently intoxicating if not entirely fulfilling romance.

B

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Sunlight Night


The Sunlight Night
Directed by David Wnendt
Released July 17, 2020

There can come a point in a person’s life when they feel that they’re not really headed anywhere, and they need to do something drastic in order to change that. An unexpected breakup can contribute to this sentiment, as can either extremely positive or negative events in the lives of those closest to them. A change of scenery is the easiest way to initiate self-reflection and a reboot of sorts, though new places also come with new factors that can be just as influential to a person’s experience. Whatever the inspiration and the destination, a fresh start almost always brings along with it some transformative discovery.

Frances (Jenny Slate) just needs to get away after her boyfriend breaks up with her and she learns that her sister (Elise Kibler) is engaged and that her parents (David Paymer and Jessica Hecht) are separating. She immediately accepts an open position that will spirit her far from everything stressing her out, which will have her painting a barn completely yellow with a disgruntled artist, Nils (Fridtjov Såheim), at the top of the world in rural Norway. Her fully-sunlit summer also finds her beginning an unexpected friendship with a young baker named Yasha (Alex Sharp), who has traveled from New York to where he is to give his late father a Viking funeral.

This is a film that follows someone trying to find herself after her life spirals out of their control. Frances arrives and is far too talkative for Nils’ liking, and the nonstop sunshine may be beautiful but ultimately shines brightest on her loneliness. Using Frances’ interest in art to frame its structure, this film introduces new characters and noteworthy events through artwork, commenting on their strengths and flaws in a visual way as they express themselves through minimal speech and muted actions.

Slate, who has impressed at Sundance before in “Obvious Child” and “Landline,” turns in another fine performance that speaks well to her abilities and personality. She’s supported well by a strong cast that also includes Sharp, who won a Tony for originating the starring role in the Broadway show “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Zach Galifianakis, and Gillian Anderson. This film is quirky and often downright bizarre, leaning into the unexpected happenings and cultural norms of its transplanted main character’s new experience. This offbeat film manages to entertain all the way through, a worthwhile story set against an incredible backdrop.

B+

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Movie with Abe: Irresistible


Irresistible
Directed by Jon Stewart
Released June 26, 2020

Politics in America has become a very divisive and polarizing thing, especially since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. People seem to want to argue just for the sake of standing their ground, and issues are often weaponized to convince voters that they are at risk of losing something they hold dear. Those who live in big cities can’t necessarily relate to those who live in small towns all across the country, though they’re not as different as they may think. Assumptions and generalizations are rarely helpful, and can lead to incredible miscalculations about what actually matters to real people.

Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) needs a win after his predictions prove entirely false in the wake of Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. When he’s shown a video of a retired colonel, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), making a speech espousing what he sees as Democratic values in Deerlaken, a tiny Wisconsin town, Gary jumps at the chance to convince him to run against the sitting mayor (Brent Sexton). When he arrives in Deerlaken, Gary finds it difficult to adjust to the heartland mentality and to make Jack the kind of candidate who can herald a nationwide blue wave. His presence piques the interest of his top rival, Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), who sees it as an opportunity to rally conservative money to support Jack’s opponent.

This is the second feature film from writer-director Jon Stewart, best known originally as the Emmy-winning host of “The Daily Show.” Since his departure from that series in 2015, Stewart has been a vocal activist for causes like funding for September 11th first responders, and his first film, “Rosewater,” spotlighted the true story of a Canadian-Iranian journalist imprisoned and tortured in Iran. Here, he’s attempting to skewer the entire political spectrum, painting Gary as an opportunist seeking to exploit Jack for what he can do for the Democratic party, unconcerned with the fate of Deerlaken. Occasionally, his commentary is pointed and effective, and at others it’s hopelessly broad, unsure of whether to focus on the petty rivalry between Jack and Faith, which often feels crude and out of place, or to caricature news anchors and talking heads for their inability to recognize their own ridiculousness.

This uneven film is still full of entertaining moments, though the better comedic ones come earlier on before things take a surprising turn designed to underscore the true problems facing this country. Carell and Byrne ably do what’s asked of them, as do Cooper and Mackenzie Davis, who plays Jack’s daughter, but this film isn’t the “Welcome to Mooseport” sequel some trailers have made it out to be. Stewart is a welcome voice whose critiques absolutely have value, and this film may help start a conversation about the way our two-party system exploits those who don’t fit neatly within its categories and the appalling truth about how campaign funds can be misused. In its own right, it isn’t nearly as resounding as the motivations that drove Stewart to make it.

B-

Friday, July 10, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to Virtual Cinema: Widow of Silence, The Tobacconist, Guest of Honour
New to DVD: Judy and Punch, Hope Gap, Blood and Money
New to Netflix: Only, The Long Dumb Road
New to Amazon: The Tourist
New to Hulu: Palm Springs
Apple TV Plus: Greyhound

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Long Dumb Road


The Long Dumb Road
Directed by Hannah Fidell
Released November 9, 2018 (Netflix July 8, 2020)

Sometimes, the best road trips are unintentional. That’s usually the case with road movies, which find one character planning to go from one place to another and having an unexpected experience along the way. The people that they meet are often the most memorable part, and they can come to define the journey just as much as where they stop en route to their destination. Naturally, road trips serve as positive inspiration for comedy films, since there’s no end to the possibilities of just how wild and crazy time in a car driving across the country can get.

Nat (Tony Revolori) is leaving his hometown in Texas and driving his parents’ minivan to art school in California. When the trusted vehicle won’t start shortly into his drive, he is helped by an energetic mechanic named Richard (Jason Mantzoukas) who just been fired. Nat offers to take Richard to the nearest bus station but their time on the road lasts much longer than that as they get into considerable hijinks on what should be a simple and straightforward trip of several days, turning Nat into a whole new person thanks to Richard’s influence.

It would be totally acceptable to just let Mantzoukas talk for an hour and a half without having any plot to assist him, and he’s shown his comedic prowess in a supporting role in the 2015 Sundance hit “Sleeping with Other People” and in his recent guest appearance on “The Good Place.” Pairing him with Revolori, who played off Ralph Fiennes so well in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is a marvelous experiment, since it allows them to bicker frequently and create tremendous entertainment in the process. They’re a fantastic and very effective duo.

It’s hard to find a dull moment in this ninety-minute comedy, which is the first foray into that genre for Sundance alum and director Hannah Fidell. She wisely brings her star from “6 Years,” Taissa Farmiga, in for a supporting role as one of two sisters who meet the boys during their trip. She and Grace Gummer are superb, and Casey Wilson and Ron Livingston contribute in small parts as people from Richard’s past that he encounters on the trip. There are many laughs to be found in this very enjoyable comedy, which may not be arthouse cinema but still succeeds completely at being exactly what it means to be.

B+

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Tobacconist


The Tobacconist
Directed by Nikolaus Leytner
Released July 10, 2020 (Kino Marquee)

People are often resistant to new ideas. Challenging societal norms is met with controversy, and those in power may try to suppress notions that they see as potentially leading to rebellion and, worse, systemic change. Objectionable traits are identified and used as a way to silence dissenting voices, and minority groups are linked together so that they can more easily be targeted and ostracized. Standing your ground in the face of oppression is difficult, and those who refuse to acquiesce to beliefs they find unacceptable don’t always find themselves victorious, paying a heavy price for staunchly defending their values.

Franz Huchel (Simon Morzé) is sent by his mother to Vienna to work at a tobacco shop, learning from the tutelage of Otto Trsnjek (Johannes Krisch), its opinionated operator. As Nazi sentiments begin to permeate Austria, Otto makes his feelings clear, setting his shop up as a place that entertains free thought and serves all customers. Franz is drawn to one of his regulars, Professor Sigmund Freud (Bruno Ganz), who takes an interest in the young Franz and his pursuit of a Bohemian woman, Anezka (Emma Drogunova), who has captured his attention.

This film’s title reveals that its protagonist is the not the famous father of psychoanalysis but the seventeen-year-old Franz, who reports dutifully to apprentice for a man who isn’t warm but appreciates what it means to give good service. The cigars that serve as the primary piece of the business are seen as an art to be curated, and that is the spirit of the shop, which caters to many diverse interests. As Franz learns from Otto, he also explores the meaning of his dreams, which haunt him and which Freud encourages him to write down and contemplate. He fixates on Anezka, who becomes a symbol of idealized stability that he may never be able to truly achieve, especially if he wants to advocate the same principles his two mentors – Otto and Freud – do.

Austrian actor Morzé delivers an affecting lead performance, grounding this film in a realistic setting by soaking in the sentiments of those around him while navigating his own journey towards maturity. The late Ganz, best known internationally for portraying Adolf Hitler in “Downfall,” gives Freud an endearing sensitivity, contrasted sharply by Krisch’s scene-stealing turn as a far less gentle emblem of good. Drogunova’s memorable presence ensures that all aspects of Franz’s complex experience are compelling. This film, which adapts Robert Seethaler 2012 novel, smartly and effectively portrays the delicate transition from an open society to a frightening totalitarian dystopia, a story whose lessons can be broadly applied to other places and time periods.

B+

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Movie with Abe: Guest of Honour


Guest of Honour
Directed by Atom Egoyan
Released July 10, 2020 (Kino Marquee)

A person’s profession can shape their character, and their character may also influence the profession they choose. Today, most people will have a number of jobs and multiple careers, but there will still be those who select a path and stick with it throughout their entire working life. It’s impossible to fully separate a person’s personal life from their work, and as a result, they impart wisdom and perspectives gleaned from their business experiences. A child, when grown, forges their own trajectory, sometimes using what they’ve learned and deciding to purposely take an opposite approach.

Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) comes to see Father Greg (Luke Wilson) to plan the funeral of her father, Jim (David Thewlis). She recounts their complicated relationship, which includes the death of her mother when she was young. When a jealous bus driver (Rossif Sutherland) shows an inappropriate interest in the high school music teacher, Veronica finds herself caught in a treacherous situation for which she believes she must be punished. Jim, who was always deeply committed to his work as a food inspector, begins showing up frequently at restaurants unannounced and ensuring that its operators are appropriately scared of the consequences as he tries to grapple with his daughter’s desire to remain behind bars when she knows she isn’t guilty.

The sequencing of this film makes it clear that Veronica’s questionable innocence is not the mystery at its center, but rather what Veronica has endured in her life that makes her feel like she must atone for something. Jim is never charming since, even at his most by-the-book, he is far from warm and rarely earns anything other than terrified appreciation from those he assures can remain in business. Veronica’s field, selected in part by her father thanks to childhood music lessons, is one that involves considerably more creativity, and also invites a passion that connects Veronica in a much more intimate and personal way with others, which can and does lead to potentially problematic implications.

Thewlis is an established British actor known for playing characters that aren’t usually likeable, and he brings depth and meaning to the role of Jim. De Oliveira, a Canadian actress best known for her TV work on “Locke and Key,” is the real standout, probing the many facets of Veronica and her somewhat unreadable nature. This film is just as much about two people and the lives they lived together as it is about the ones they lived apart, and the layers it peels back during this introspective journey are continually intriguing and rewarding.

B+

Monday, July 6, 2020

Movie with Abe: Greyhound


Greyhound
Directed by Aaron Schneider
Released July 10, 2020 (Apple TV Plus)

The way that wars are fought has changed over time. Advances in technology have made it so that enemy movement can be anticipated and offensives can be staged with much greater precision. New vehicles and weaponry have accelerated the pace by which battles are waged and conflicts are declared resolved. What has not changed is the effectiveness of an unexpected campaign, catching an enemy off-guard and ensuring their defenses are weakened to gain the advantage. What counts most in those situations is the training those in charge have received and their ability to remain cool under pressure.

Commander Ernie Krause (Tom Hanks) leads a convoy of Allied ships during World War II across the Atlantic aboard the USS Keeling, codenamed Greyhound. Without air cover in an area known as the Black Pit during a portion of their journey, the convoy is left vulnerable, tracking German U-boats hiding underwater and waiting to attack at night. Ernie remains alert and focused, paying close attention to questionable radar readings to determine where the U-boats are and try to fend off an assault that could cripple their fleet.

This film is based on the 1955 novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester, adapted for the screen by Hanks. While its specific characters and ships are fictional, the six-year Battle of the Atlantic is not, and this serves as a representative sample of the confrontations that did occur. This film takes place almost entirely at sea, and captures the inescapable nature of being trapped with enemy forces circling. What’s most gripping is the urgent need to move on from a bruising incident or devastating loss and get right back to the next pressing threat, something that feels impossible when there isn’t even a moment in between to recover. That sentiment is very effectively captured in this film’s style and pacing.

Hanks is a likeable, reliable face who has substantial previous experience at the head of projects related to World War II, in front of the camera in “Saving Private Ryan” and behind it for the miniseries “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.” As Ernie, he provides a relatable anchor who performs commendably in the face of relentless stress. This film is a suspenseful, immersive voyage at sea that remains fiercely engaging for the whole of its hour-and-a-half runtime. It serves equally as a representation of history and a showcase of an extraordinary military prowess that is timeless.

B+

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Movie with Abe: Widow of Silence


Widow of Silence
Directed by Praveen Morchhale
Released July 10, 2020 (Laemmle's Virtual Cinema)

Historically, women have almost never been afforded the same rights as men. Being granted the ability to vote and expecting to be paid the same as their male counterparts are momentous achievements that should not have required any sort of fight. The inequality that exists in countries like the United States seems small when compared with others who prescribe little to no rights to women, or base them entirely on their relationships to men, typically a husband or a father. In almost all such cases, it is men who are empowered with deciding what women can and cannot do, leading to unchecked corruption and horrific oppression.

Aasia (Shilpi Marwaha) spends each day riding in a small taxi to wait to speak to a representative of the government (Ajay Chourey) who may be able to help her. In the decades-long conflict in Kashmir, a region claimed by both India and Pakistan, Aasia’s husband disappeared, and has not been seen for seven years. Known as a half-widow since his death cannot be confirmed, Aasia needs to officially have him declared dead so that she can become the lawful owner of her own land and ensure that it passes to her eleven-year-old daughter Inaya (Noorjahan Mohmmad Younus).

Introduced as “based on many true stories,” this film exposes a disturbing reality that has shaped the existence of women in Kashmir and in other places. After a lengthy ride each day made even longer by repeated unnecessary stops at checkpoints along the way, Aasia is to be told by the registrar that she has played a role in her own fate and that, to help her, he would need to go above and beyond and would require something from her in return. Her situation is untenable but she is powerless to do anything about it, and even incurs blame for troubling others by daring to think that she might be entitled to her own autonomy.

This film offers a stark presentation of its content, panning from Aasia sitting next to the driver to the winding road that she travels all too often and including no cinematic frills to emphasize any of the film’s themes of injustice. Its story and performances are strong enough to convey it, using these characters to bring attention to an all-too-common situation experienced by many around the world that no person with the true power to change it would ever accept. Aasia’s persistence in the face of certain failure is inspiring and affirming, and this film’s straightforward style serves well to underscore its importance.

B+

Friday, July 3, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD: The Outpost
New to DVD: The Short History of the Long Road, Bull
New to Netflix: Fiddler on the Roof, Mean Streets, Million Dollar Baby, Schindler's List
New to Amazon: Big Fish
New to Amazon and Hulu: Rabbit Hole, Starting Out in the Evening
New to Hulu: The Whistlers, I Am Not Your Negro, To the Stars, A Kid Like Jake, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, My Cousin Vinny, We Have a Pope, The Catcher Was a Spy, Rebel in the Rye, Furlough, Mary Shelley

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Top 10 Films of 2020 So Far (and 10 More to Anticipate)

It’s the official halfway point of the year! It’s an unusual time in moviegoing history, of course, since most theaters remain closed and a number of film festivals have been cancelled. As a result, I’ve seen fewer films than I would have at this time other years – ninety, which is still a lot of movies. To celebrate this milestone and, more importantly, a strong slate of films that were in fact released, here are my top ten films of 2020 so far, as well as ten more that I saw at the Sundance Film Festival that have all been acquired and are expected to be released later this year. Additionally, don’t miss ten great films that I saw and ranked in 2019 that were officially released in 2020: “Olympic Dreams,” “Big Time Adolescence,” “Only,” “Judy and Punch,” “Yes, God, Yes,” “The Short History of the Long Road,” “Come As You Are,” “Standing Up, Falling Down,” “Troop Zero,” and “Driveways.”

Top 10 Films of 2020 (So Far)


1. Wendy

It’s been eight years since director Benh Zeitlin broke out with the astonishing “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and retelling the classic story of Peter Pan in an incredibly imaginative and wondrous way is a formidable use of his talents, which include an excellent selection of child actors.


2. Weathering with You

This Japanese animated film from GKIDS may look like a movie for kids, particularly as it follows a young girl with an unexplained power to control the weather, but it deals with sophisticated themes in its marvelous and mesmerizing portrayal of magic.


3. Corpus Christi

This Polish Oscar nominee for Best International Feature is an intriguing, captivating look at a man who feels a deep commitment to religion that he needs to act on despite the limitations set by his lengthy stint in prison.


4. Downhill

The American remake of the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure” might look more like a slapstick comedy, but its blend of uncomfortable humor and dramatic undertones makes for a wholly enjoyable experience.


5. Les Misérables

Not to be confused with the famous musical or its 2012 cinematic adaptation, this French Oscar nominee for Best International Feature feels even more timely now than it did upon its initial release, tackling police brutality and the pent-up sentiments of those who have been unfairly profiled and targeted.


6. And Then We Danced

This Swedish film presents an endearing love story embedded within a world dominated by a love for Georgian dance, a pull its protagonist feels as his family life and sexual orientation threaten to stand in the way of achieving his dreams. Its international success is a testament to the importance of its message, which many in Georgia attempted to stifle.


7. Aviva

There isn’t another film quite like this one, which blends dance and gender into an eye-popping combination, navigating the facets of personality typically attributed to male or female and using visual representations to display them. It’s a dizzying, beautiful ride that leaves much to be pondered even once it’s over.


8. Premature

This is a film that could have just been about another couple whose pairing is complicated by factors both within and beyond their control, but the sincerity with which it presents that story and the authenticity emanating from its performers make it so much more than that.


9. Saint Frances

Aimlessness has never felt quite so appealing, as this film’s main character is given opportunity after opportunity and usually does the bare minimum required. Its narrative is an endearing and occasionally surprising one, grasping humor and depth from interactions that might have been expected but still feel poignant and involving.


10. The Banker

Controversy over the rights to make this film and a subsequently delayed release meant less of a showcase of the trailblazing nature of the story it tells, featuring two Black men who figured out a creative way to get ahead in a society that kept telling them they couldn’t. Samuel L. Jackson is a particular delight.

And here are ten more films that may just be released before the end of 2020, or possibly next year. Keep an eye out for them.


1. Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan is extraordinary as a young woman who makes it her mission to expose the behavior of men who take advantage of women. It’s so much more than a simple revenge movie, full of biting comedy and an on-point emphasis that citing the worse behaviors of others is a weak and ineffective defense. Originally slated for release by Focus Features in April, new date TBD.


2. Herself

This Irish film begins violently, with a mother physically assaulted by her abusive husband during an attempt to run away with her young daughters. What ensues is an extremely moving and affirming tale of someone determined to take charge of her life, all too aware of the many impediments that stand in her way. Acquired by Amazon Studios.


3. Nine Days

This film posits a fascinating perspective on what it means to be alive, with one man auditioning a group of individuals for the chance to live, tasking them with close monitoring of other people’s existences on TV screens and rationalizing decisions and morals. It’s a stunning and intensely thought-provoking science-fiction take. Acquired by Sony Pictures Classics.


4. Palm Springs

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti make an absolutely fantastic pair in this hilarious comedy about an obnoxious wedding guest who accidentally brings the bride’s sister into his never-ending time loop. The performances and writing are equally enjoyable. This one will be available soonest – it’s coming to Hulu on July 10th.


5. Black Bear

A filmmaker leaves the city to spend a weekend at the country house of the couple that lives there, unaware that her presence will reveal unexplored issues in their relationship and darker questions about the significance of choices and the permanence of identity. Acquired by Momentum Pictures.


6. The Killing of Two Lovers

This film’s title indicates its protagonist’s boundless fury at his wife’s willingness to consider a relationship with another man when their marriage is clearly not working, but the film itself presents a much wider, sophisticated portrait of the elements of family and the challenges that must be overcome in difficult times. Acquired by The Exchange.


7. The 40-Year-Old Version

Though its title sounds just like Judd Apatow’s directorial debut, this black-and-white film written by, directed by, and starring Radha Blank couldn’t be more different. It’s about so many things, but primarily a struggling playwright determined to reinvent herself, facing critics and obstacles at every turn. Acquired by Netflix.


8. Minari

The winner of both the grand jury prize and audience award for the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance is an unassuming story about a Korean-American family that moves from California to rural Arkansas. It tackles themes of assimilation, productivity, and identity with the help of a tremendous cast. Produced by A24.


9. Ema

A normal film about two parents dealing with the fallout from an unsuccessful adoption experience might be compelling enough in its own right, but Chilean director Pablo Larraín frames this story in the context of music, with its title character frequently performing dance numbers that serve to convey her emotions. After a one-day-only online release on May 1st, Music Box Films will distribute at a later date.


10. Uncle Frank

This film starts as two interwoven stories, one featuring a young girl yearning to leave her sheltered, conservative South Carolina upbringing and the other centered on her Uncle Frank, whose life in New York City looks like nothing his family could ever imagine. Both are equally involving, and writer-director Alan Ball’s latest project deftly moves between comedy and drama. Acquired by Amazon Studios.

For more movie recommendations and reviews, visit www.MoviesWithAbe.com and subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Outpost


The Outpost
Directed by Rod Lurie
Released July 3, 2020

War affects people, whether they’re directly involved in a conflict or simply have the misfortune of being right in the middle of a war zone. There’s a difference between wars that happen at home and those that are abroad, since the people can separate themselves from what’s happening if they’re only reading about in the newspaper or watching it on the news rather than encountering it where they are. Soldiers sent into combat in a faraway place are transported from safety to somewhere that they know brings with it a danger they may not be able to escape.

The Combat Outpost Keating is established in northeastern Afghanistan as a way to defend against Taliban attacks in the region, situated in a precarious and vulnerable valley. Captain Benjamin Keating (Orlando Bloom) leads a group of American soldiers who face frequent surprise offensives when they become the target of gunfire from the mountains above. As they attempt to keep the peace and show the tribes in their vicinity that they only want to help, the soldiers, including Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood) and Specialist Ty Carter (Caleb Landry Jones) prepare for a harrowing and deadly battle they know could leave no survivors.

This film is based on CNN journalist Jake Tapper’s nonfiction book “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” which recounts the Battle of Kamdesh, which resulted in many casualties and posthumous military decorations. Like a war movie set in any time period, it’s necessary to introduce specific characters, who in this case are based mostly on real soldiers, to anchor a film that, when bullets are flying, doesn’t have time to stop and focus on the names of those who get hit by senseless, undiscriminating fire. This film seeks to do justice nonetheless to their memories by commemorating the bravery of all those who fought valiantly and either lost their lives or came out forever scarred by this experience.

One of the most recognizable faces in this film is a non-American, Bloom, who bursts onto the scene to take charge of an unexpected situation, never losing his calm despite considerable pressure. Eastwood, who bears a resemblance to his very famous father, Clint, and Jones compellingly convey the stresses of being in an uncertain place while trying to feel as normal as possible. This film delivers on its mission to capture what it truly feels like to be trapped in a war zone knowing that the goal is to stay there despite the constant threat of the unknown, presenting an affecting and involving immersion in a life-or-death scenario.

B

Friday, June 26, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD: Corpus Christi
New to DVD: Portrait of a Lady on Fire, And Then We Danced, Burden
New to Hulu: Clemency

Friday, June 19, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!


New to VOD: The Short History of the Long Road, Miss Juneteenth, Babyteeth
New to DVD: Saint Frances
New to Netflix: Da 5 Bloods, Frost/Nixon
New to Amazon and Hulu: The U.S. vs. John Lennon
New to Hulu: Buffaloed, Eye in the Sky, Larry Crowne


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Movie with Abe: Babyteeth


Babyteeth
Directed by Shannon Murphy
Released June 19, 2020

There are points in a person’s life where they’re seeking a connection that they’re not able to find anywhere. This can come in a moment of crisis, when circumstances change and leave someone feeling distinctly different from how they were before and in need of something new. Encountering someone who represents a fresh start or a completely different world can be therapeutic, but it can also be a troubling step towards uncertainty and instability, one that feels right explicitly because of its inherent wrongness, and which only other people can see may be a mistake.

Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is undergoing chemotherapy and keeping mostly to herself when she meets an older drug dealer, Moses (Toby Wallace). She soon becomes entranced with him despite repeated indications of his dishonest nature and his ulterior motives. Her mother Anna (Essie Davis) notices but lacks the ability to act on her observations because of the intense regimen of drugs her psychiatrist husband Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) has prescribed, and he’s far more focused on an alluring young neighbor than on his own family. Left mostly to her own devices, Milla begins to explore what life means for her and what she requires to make herself feel complete.

This film is immediately reminiscent of a recent Sundance Film Festival selection, “Dinner in America,” which also follows a young woman attracted to an obvious bad egg who makes little effort to hide who he is. This Australian production, adapted from screenwriter Rita Kalnejais’s play of the same name, feels entirely universal, unbound to a particular place or cultural condition. Milla has to contend with her own mortality at a young age, while her parents have retreated into an antisocial state where they feel powerless to effect any change to their own wellbeing. Moses is opportunistic and occasionally charming, and he shows up just when Milla desperately needs some excitement and danger in her life.

Scanlen is best known for her role in HBO’s “Sharp Objects” and in the most recent film version of “Little Women.” Here, she delivers an intoxicating, lived-in performance as Milla, who isn’t sure what she wants and is most interested in trying whatever feels right. Wallace has a fitting demeanor to play the objection of her affection, and Davis and Mendelsohn inhabit their characters with a recognizable resignation indicative of a dissatisfaction with where their lives have taken them. The finished product is initially captivating but ultimately less than satisfying, similar to the freewheeling behavior of its protagonist, a diversion from normal life that can’t possibly last forever.

B

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Movie with Abe: Da 5 Bloods


Da 5 Bloods
Directed by Spike Lee
Released June 12, 2020

There are a number of recognizable elements to Spike Lee Joints, what the filmmaker famously calls his movies. After a number of prominent projects in the 1980s, including the Oscar-nominated “Do the Right Thing,” Lee has been regularly working to examine the treatment of black people in America and abroad, and he finally won an Oscar in 2018 for his work on the adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman.” Now, in the midst of a global cry for anti-racism in the wake of an increased spotlight on police brutality in America, Lee’s latest has arrived with no need for movie theaters to be open to pointedly question the system and upend expectations.

Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) were all soldiers together in the Vietnam War in the 1st Infantry Division. Their squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) was killed in action shortly after their successful location of a downed CIA plane with gold bars brought as payment to their local Lahu allies against the Viet Cong. Decades later, the surviving veterans, who call themselves the Bloods, return to Vietnam in search of Norman’s body. Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) tags along without his father’s approval, and the group of five set out to find the site of the plane, never sure of who they can trust along the way.

This film’s release comes at a powerful moment in this country’s being, and it most strongly stands an example of learning about black history. This film provides an educational framework, through Norman teaching his soldiers and the older characters reflecting on their experiences, about how black Americans were disproportionately sent to fight in Vietnam, looked down upon by the people they encountered there, and discriminated against even in light of their service once they returned to America. This is also an opportunity to give deep, complex leading roles to established black actors often relegated to supporting parts, particularly Lindo and Peters.

As he did in “BlacKkKlansman,” Lee knows how to poignantly and devastatingly drive home a message with a quick cut to real-life footage that shows how racism and violence aren’t even hidden from the masses, just brushed under the rug and considered forgotten. The story here is considerably more free-flowing, and it’s difficult to defend its 154-minute running time as well as some of its plot elements. But ultimately it’s a film that comes at just the right time to ensure conversation around it, more memorable for the right reasons – an emphatic defense of black existence and the enduring right for everyone to tell and frame their own stories – than any lackluster cinematic devices or storytelling decisions.

B