Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Movie with Abe: Elizabeth Blue


Elizabeth Blue
Directed by Vincent Sabella
Released September 22, 2017

Mental illness is a difficult struggle that’s extremely difficult to understand and relate to for those who haven’t experienced it. There is a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness, and those who suffer from it are often reluctant to publicize or admit it because of the reactions they know they will receive from others. Schizophrenia is one affliction that can be especially harrowing, since it presents hallucinations that may seem real to the experiencer, creating a distorted perception of reality that those watching it from the outside are hopeless to be able to comprehend.

Elizabeth (Anna Schafer) has been recently released from a psychiatric hospital, and is making a slow and careful reentry into normal life. Her fiancé Grant (Ryan Vincent) is her one constant, there to support her and to be by her side even when he can’t relate to what she is going through, in stark contrast to her mother (Kathleen Quinlan), whose attitude about her daughter’s state of mind has always been dismissive and condescending. Her therapist Dr. Bowman (Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje) encourages her to make strides, but stresses the importance of medication and resisting the urge to be swayed by hallucinations, something that Elizabeth has trouble with as she faces her new reality head-on.

This is not the kind of film that glosses over its subject matter and attempts to paint an idyllic portrait of conquering the battle over mental illness. Instead, it is one that deals with the unglamorous and unpleasant state of not being able to have control over one’s mind. Elizabeth still functions as a human being, but she’s held back so much by the way that she knows her mind might play tricks on her, as well as a lingering dread that Grant will one day just disappear.

What makes this film particularly poignant is that director Vincent Sabella based this story on his own experiences as a schizophrenic who went through periods of his medications not working. The film’s partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness is a tribute to its effectiveness as a strong step in combatting stigma and exposing the way that many without a loud voice experience the world. As a film, it is involving and powerful, if not overly cinematic or especially creative. It serves its purpose well enough and should prove to be a strong and eye-opening educational tool.

B

Friday, September 15, 2017

Movie with Abe: Red Trees


Head over to Jewcy to read my review of "Red Trees," a new documentary about a Czechoslovakian survivor of the Holocaust out at select theaters in NY and LA today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Passion of Augustine


The Passion of Augustine
Directed by Léa Pool
Released August 15 on VOD

Stories that take place in convents aren’t usually the most optimistic or positive. Some darker tales over the past few decades have made such settings seem unsettling, but it’s good to know that there are plenty of more inspirational films that don’t involve torture, death, or haunting. No matter what goes on inside the walls of the convent, it’s likely that things happen at a different pace or in a different way than they do in the outside world. Preserving things the way they are can be a struggle no matter when or where in history.

Mother Augustine (Céline Bonnier) works at a convent school in Quebec in the 1960s, far from city life. The convent specializes in music education, enabling all who attend the opportunity to learn, including her niece, who is hardly the most well-behaved or manageable of students. Changes in society around the convent, coming from both the religious body of the Vatican and the political entity of the province of Quebec, threaten everything that Augustine has worked for, indicating that the convent may soon be headed for a new type of existence that doesn’t offer nearly the same cultural values it has been known for up until that point.

“The Passion of Augustine” tells a story that’s somewhat familiar about an outlier in an institution not known for its desire to embrace change or to think outside the box, and of course it’s a new kind of change which seems to be reactionary that serves as the thing that she precisely fights against. The school itself is already evolved to an impressive level, and seeing the way in which the students at the convent embrace music as a way to spread their message and raise awareness of what they are trying to preserve is endearing.

This film has won a number of awards, particularly for its acting, at film festivals and in Canada since its debut in Montreal back in March 2015. Now, more than two years later, it comes to VOD on a number of platforms in the United States. It is a well-made drama that utilizes music to great effect, with no added sexual content or violence and a relatively simple, straightforward narrative that speaks for itself definitely worth watching for those who find its premise and content appealing and who are interested in hearing some music passionately performed.

B+

Friday, August 4, 2017

Movie with Abe: Kidnap

Kidnap
Directed by Luis Prieto
Released August 4, 2017

The revenge thriller has become a popular genre, with many films declaring that their featured villains have messed with the wrong person. There are variations of this, of course, especially in terms of how severe the initial offending act was. Such films that deal with the abduction and/or murder of a child can have an added sense of fury from the parent who seeks to avenge, and usually that kind of premise leads down an increasingly violent and dark road. This setup can also represent a serious misfire, best described as an idea that never needed to come to fruition.

Karla (Halle Berry) is introduced as a hard-working woman who puts in plenty of effort to her waitressing job, staying late to cover an absent coworker’s shift when she just wants to take the day to be with her son Frankie (Sage Correa). A call from her divorce attorney at a park takes her away from Frankie for just a minute, and in that time, he gets grabbed by a vicious couple with unknown aims. Determined not to lose him, she jumps into her minivan and begins a nearly film-long pursuit of the vehicle that serves as her only hope of saving her son.

This film is essentially just one long car chase, but not one that operates all that quickly. Confusing camera angles beg the question of exactly how physics play into this particular pursuit, and there are frequent pan-out shots that seem to show the cars moving extremely slowly, which is the opposite of thrilling. This film feels like a poor imitation of “Speed,” and at times its music even seems to mimic the theme of that much, much better movie. It’s hard to figure out exactly what the point of this film is as it tries its hardest to feel relevant and invigorating.

Berry is an Oscar-winning actress who hasn’t been making all that many films lately and hasn’t made something of note in a number of years. This role is hardly a return to form for her, but that’s probably equally the fault of the terrible writing, which finds her narrating a good portion of the film’s developments as she verbalizes her inner struggle. The kidnappers are just as poorly conceived, and even less appealingly, this film is a stressful experience that creates an environment of discomfort and angst for no good reason. Its title isn’t even in a coherent form, representing the frantic and unnecessary nature of this slow-burn, off-putting vehicular tour of Louisiana roads.

F

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Movie with Abe: Some Freaks

Some Freaks
Directed by Ian MacAllister McDonald
Released August 4, 2017

There are a number of films and television shows that exist which seek to reclaim the traditional definition of “freak” or “misfit.” Often these productions tackle the subject from a comic lens, portraying those who couldn’t possibly be seen as normal or like others around them as the heroes because of just how endearing they are despite the circumstances thrown at them, in addition to whatever personality trait or physical quality makes them an outcast from society. The new film “Some Freaks” shows that it can be equally effective, if not even more so, to show the resilience of those who can never be popular in a dramatic yet lightly entertaining way.

Things are not pleasant in high school for Matt (Thomas Mann) and Jill (Lily Mae Harrington). Matt, who wears an eye patch due to the fact that he’s missing one eye, is chased around school as bullies try to steal the patch and demand to see what’s underneath. Jill is perceived as overweight and not trying at all to conform to any sense of normalcy with other aspects of her appearance, and when one unkind girl accidentally knocks her books down in the hallway, she declines to insult Jill because she deems it too easy. Thanks in part to their mutual friend Elmo (Ely Henry), they meet and realize how much they like each other.

Watching the relationship between Matt and Jill bloom is enormously interesting, and what defines it – and the problems they encounter later – is that neither of them can fathom a world in which someone doesn’t see their outsiderness right away. They see any form of genuine compliment or legitimate question as a practical joke just waiting to play itself out, and push many people away as a result. When college comes around, neither of them is ready for the real world or, more importantly, how they change as they adapt to it and find what works for them.

This is a sweet story, one that isn’t obsessed with a neat finish or happy ending and succeeds very well as a result. Director Ian MacAllister McDonald has earned numerous accolades from small film festivals for this film, and rightly so. Mann presents a portrait of a teenager almost unwilling to be happy, while Harrington, a true find who got her start on “The Glee Project,” is a revelation as Jill, making her a layered, dynamic protagonist hardly ready for the challenges of the world. This small film is a resounding hit, one that should be seen much more widely than it’s likely to be.

B+

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Movie with Abe: Dunkirk

Dunkirk
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Released July 21, 2017

Christopher Nolan has made a number of epic films throughout the past two decades. “Memento,” an immensely cleverly-constructed head trip, was his first big hit, and following that, he rose to prominence for his dark Batman trilogy. His past six films, of which “Interstellar” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are the clear favorites of this reviewer, have all existed in the realm of science fiction and fantasy, leading many to expect the same from him going forward. His latest project is a typically well-crafted work of art, this time grounded in history and capable of capturing the imagination without the aid of any fantastical elements.

“Dunkirk” opens with a legion of soldiers trapped on the beach of Dunkirk, France in the middle of World War II. Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) stands at the end of the dock looking out to the sea for any hope of rescue, which seems less and less likely as fire hits the beach and the boats attempting to ferry the soldiers back the short distance to England. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), the owner of a small boat, heeds the command to donate his vessel to the service of his country, though he insists on piloting it to Dunkirk himself with his son and his young friend in tow. And in the air, pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) begins the hourlong journey to Dunkirk to provide whatever support he can to his army.

Nolan has established himself as more than capable of turning a moment into an eternity in the best possible way. Like “Memento,” this film is not structured in a clear linear fashion, which serves to enhance the feeling of the time since it seems like escape from Dunkirk will never come. There is a magnificent power that comes from watching hundreds of soldiers bend down at exactly the same way to avoid an aerial assault that they believe will begin immediately and then rise back up at the same time when the moment has passed. The entire experience here is captivating from start to finish, fully engaging and involving the whole time.

What “Dunkirk” proves is that Nolan doesn’t need space or super powers to create an impactful and effective film. He also manages to tell this visceral war story in just an hour and forty-seven minutes, his shortest film since his little-seen debut, “Following.” Some of his regulars, like Hardy and Murphy, serve their purpose well in the cast, and the enlistment of the likes of Branagh and Rylance is a boon to his ensemble. The cinematography, film editing, and sound editing all shine in this harrowing war film that doesn’t feel gratuitous at all and is not easy to forget.

B+

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Movie with Abe: Opening Night


Opening Night
Directed by Isaac Rentz
Released August 1, 2017 (DVD)

Things rarely go as planned, especially in the world of live theater. The same act can be rehearsed over and over again, but until you’re in the moment, it’s impossible to know what minute aspect of a person’s temperament or the surrounding environment will prove unpredictable and derail an opening number or dramatic scene meant to have a very different impact than the one it ends up having. The first time a practiced production goes public, it’s even more likely that things will go awry, and only time can tell how it will all play out and whether, in the end, it all works out.

“Opening Night” follows production manager Nick (Topher Grace) as he prepares to launch a nostalgia-filled musical epic starring J.C. Chasez, the onetime ‘N Sync star, who plays himself. He’s distracted by the fact that he’s still in love with his ex-girlfriend, Chloe (Alona Tal), who just happens to be the understudy for Chasez’s has-been costar Brooke (Anne Heche), who doesn’t seem to be in the right emotional shape to headline a big production. Throw in dueling divas (Taye Diggs and Lesli Margherita), a fire-breathing executive (Rob Riggle), and plenty of unpredictable drama, and that leaves Nick scrambling to try to make sure that, against all odds, opening night doesn’t turn into a complete failure.

The DVD cover presents its characters looking quizzically at the camera, with Riggle seemingly screaming, above the tagline, “The show goes the f#&k on.” That’s hardly the most encouraging recommendation, but fear not – this film is far better than that would indicate. While it’s hardly masterpiece theater, this is an enjoyable, relatively engaging look at a bunch of characters who might be thinly overdrawn but still serve their purpose as elements of entertainment in this wild ride that isn’t quite as wild as its cover suggests.

Grace is the right person for this lead role, not the one to make jokes but instead to observe all the ridiculousness that occurs around him. Smartly, those who have altogether too much energy to play nice with the rest of the cast, namely Riggle and Paul Scheer, are relegated to minor roles while Heche and Tal, both endearing talents, get more screentime. Diggs is having fun with his part opposite Margherita, and Chasez, to his credit, does a good job of parodying himself. This is not a must-rent musical comedy, but it’s more fun than I think anyone going into it would expect.

B-

Friday, June 23, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Big Sick

The Big Sick
Directed by Michael Showalter
Released June 23, 2017

Romantic comedies come in all different forms. Usually, things aren’t all that simple or they’re complicated by just one hurdle that just proves to be too big to get over. If that were readily apparent, there would be no reason to watch. Cultural clashes are a common obstacle that proves insurmountable to some, and what might begin as a joke doesn’t always end well if the parties involved can’t find a way around it. “The Big Sick” is a truly intelligent, warm, and winning example of exactly how to make a sweet, touching romantic comedy that excels on all fronts.

Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani-born actor best known for his starring roles on “Silicon Valley” and “Franklin and Bash,” plays himself, a stand-up comedian who isn’t all that well-known but is trying to make it in the comedy scene. He meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) when the grad student pipes up during one of his sets and the two begin a relationship. When it becomes clear that seriously dating a white woman won’t fly with Kumail’s family, their romance hits the brakes, but everything is thrown back in the air when Emily is in the hospital and falls into a coma, leaving a confused Kumail to sit at her bedside, developing a relationship with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) without her even knowing that her ex is with her almost every moment.

There isn’t another film much like this one, which has a remarkable honesty to it, portrayed so wonderfully in the simplicity of Kumail and Emily’s first meeting, where he informs her that even positive audience participation in a comic’s act is considered heckling. When things get serious, this film doesn’t lose any of its signature energy, and in fact becomes even more wonderful and sympathetic, with plenty of humor to be found even in moments that seem bleak.

For those who think Nanjiani belongs in the supporting cast, this film strongly suggests otherwise. In a story written by Nanjiani and his real-life wife, the Pakistani actor represents his heritage and the way it merges with American assimilation brilliantly, in a funny and loveable performance. Kazan is wondrous opposite him, and Hunter and Romano offer perfect support in their parts. This is easily one of the most uplifting and entertaining films of the year, easy for any audience to appreciate and enjoy.

A-

Friday, June 9, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Hero


The Hero
Directed by Brett Haley
Released June 9, 2017

Many people have a distinguishing feature, something that sets them apart from others and makes them almost instantly familiar or recognizable. Someone who spends a good part of their time in the public eye is even likelier to possess this kind of trait, especially an actor who has performed many times in front of the camera. In the case of Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott), it’s not just one thing but rather two. The veteran actor is well-known for his low, booming voice that anyone listening finds mesmerizing, and his vocal impact is matched by the intensity of his facial hair, a thick mustache that frames his long face.

Lee is not a man who lives a terribly exciting life. After a lengthy career, the highlight of which was the title role in a Western film that lingers in his memory, Lee now has considerable trouble getting work. Most of his time is spent doing endless takes of commercials in which his voice helps to sell meat products, and his only friend is Jeremy (Nick Offerman), an old costar who has become his drug dealer. The discovery of detrimental news about his health coincides with a newfound relationship with a much younger stand-up comic, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), and a long-delayed attempt at rebuilding a fractured dynamic with his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter).

Elliott is a formidable actor who has been working regularly for the past three decades. This reviewer remembers him most fondly from his humorous recurring role as Eagleton Ron on “Parks and Recreation” and also appreciated his performance around the same time in a far more villainous role on “Justified.” At the age of 72, Elliott is perfectly primed for this kind of part, one that reflects back upon a career with some similarities to his own, though with a far more melancholy downturn. It’s a fantastic performance that should earn him well-deserved accolades.

Appearing alongside Elliott in this endearing comedic drama, Prepon, who now spends most of her time on “Orange is the New Black,” is an affirming foil. Offerman, offering typical comic relief, is a delight, and the typically excellent Ritter offers her best portrayal of resentment in a small role. Elliott’s real-life wife Katharine Ross appears as his ex-wife, adding a nice personal touch to a story that isn’t overwhelmingly original but still feels sincere and honest, bolstered by a tremendous lead performance.

B+

Friday, May 26, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Women's Balcony


I had the chance to review a fantastic new film that opens today and says a lot about religion, "The Women's Balcony." Head over to Jewcy to check out my review.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Movie with Abe: Take Me


Take Me
Directed by Pat Healy
Released May 5, 2017

People run all sorts of businesses. Some are more legitimate, and some more normative, and often the two intersect. And then there are those that are both off-putting in nature and considerably under-the-table in terms of their legality, yet those who operate them might still take pride in the work that they do. How well someone does their job and how above-board it is are two completely different things, yet it does tend to be interesting to see someone treat what others might balk at as completely standard operating procedure, giving it their all despite its truly strange nature.

Ray Moody (Pat Healy) runs Kidnap Solutions, LLC, an agency that specializes in custom abductions, mostly used to help rid people of habits that they would like to cut. His methods are certainly unorthodox, but that doesn’t stop him from going in to a bank to apply for a loan that a horrified teller has no intention of giving him. When he receives a call from business consultant Anna St. Blair (Taylor Schilling) requesting a full-weekend kidnapping, he is reluctant at first and then entirely surprised when, once the simulation begins, she seems to have no knowledge of having contracted him in the first place.

This is a relatively intimate film, one that features a few supporting players, like Ray’s disapproving sister, in short scenes, but mostly this is a two-person show. Ray is a nice guy who puts on a strong front to seem tough, but even he has lines he won’t cross, and he never intends to make anyone feel pain or misery. Anna, on the other hand, is impossible to read, one moment scared for her life and then appearing to bait Ray to be more aggressive in the next. Their relationship is difficult to decipher, but it does make for good entertainment.

Healy, who has appeared in a number of films over the years, steps behind the camera to film his directorial debut, which is definitely a comedy and one that puts him in a fun role at the center. Schilling, best known for “Orange is the New Black,” is the perfect actress to play opposite him, making Anna more than just a one-dimensional character. For the length of its short eighty-four-minute runtime, this film is enthralling and engaging, presenting an adventure that might not be for all tastes but produces more than a few laughs.

B

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Drowning


The Drowning
Directed by Bette Gordon
Released May 10, 2017

I had a conversation a few nights ago with a friend about movies and her perspective that they’re supposed to provide entertainment. That can mean any number of different things, but usually it signifies enjoyment and fulfillment, or at the very least something to take your mind off more important matters. That concept isn’t always true, since some movies don’t in fact provide entertainment, but there does need to be something for viewers to tether themselves to while watching. A movie called “The Drowning” was never going to be an uplifting comedy, but it could have been far less miserable than this film turned out.

Psychiatrist Tom Seymour (Josh Charles) and his wife Lauren (Julia Stiles) are out walking one day when they spot a young man jump into the water in an attempt to commit suicide. After Tom saves him, he visits the hospital and realizes that he is Danny Miller (Avan Jogia), a former patient that he treated and then got sent to jail after a murder he committed as a child. As memories of their unsettling encounters flood back to him, Tom finds Danny, now going by a new name, appearing back in his life in a very forceful and unwelcome way that causes great concern for the increasingly distracted and frazzled Tom.

What this film’s title refers to specifically isn’t clear from the start of the film, but it is apparent that Tom is retreating from his life, distancing himself from his wife, who is perfectly charmed by the new young man she meets whose identity she knows nothing about, and immersing himself in a book about the cases that he has overseen over the years. Tom is far from an inviting character, while Danny exudes a frantic, crazed energy that makes him seem dangerously unhinged.

Charles was a very strong part of “The Good Wife” and has made a handful of films since his exit from the show. This shouldn’t be counted high among them, and doesn’t showcase the best of the talented actor. Stiles’ performance is also rather wooden and adds nothing to the film. When it begins, it seems that this story is headed somewhere, but unfortunately it never manages to get there and instead wallows in its own discomfort, offering nothing close to entertainment and achieving little in the way of dramatic or dynamic transformation.

D

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Jewcy Interview: Tomorrow Ever After


There's a great little movie called "Tomorrow Ever After" that opened this past Friday. I had a really cool opportunity to chat with filmmaker and star Ela Thier, who does some pretty interesting things. Head over to Jewcy to check out the interview!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Talking Tribeca: The Last Poker Game

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


The Last Poker Game
Directed by Howard Weiner
Festival Screenings

Getting old isn’t easy. Whatever a person has achieved during a long and illustrious career, the changes a body begins to go through and the increasing lack of independent function can be extraordinarily difficult to confront. People hang on to different things, whether it’s a title or a physical souvenir, to remind them of what they have accomplished. Some accept their new reality without much resistance, while others do what they can to preserve what they’ve had and prolong the inevitable by denying its validity and the certainty that there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

Dr. Abe Mandelbaum (Martin Landau) moves into a nursing home called Cliffside Manor so that his wife Molly, who has dementia, can receive the care she needs. Abe is quick to correct those who neglect to call him doctor, and he strikes up conversations and friendships with others, both residents and staff, at Cliffside Manor. In addition to an endearing bond with Phil Nocoletti (Paul Sorvino), a resident who believes his life ended when he could no longer have sex, Abe also takes an active interest in Angela (Maria Dizzia), a nurse who has come to find her birth father after receiving a note that he is at Cliffside Manor.

The difficulties of aging and the pains that come with it have been explored extensively in film over the years, and this movie doesn’t offer much in the way of new ideas. Abe is perfectly alert and aware of what is going on around him despite a few physical setbacks, while Phil’s vision has deteriorated considerably and he has become cognizant of his limitations. Yet what the film does achieve is that it shows that those who have not yet reached the final chapter of their lives go through some of the same struggles with just as little idea how to handle it.

Landau is an established actor who has just the right affect and composure to portray this protagonist, and, at eighty-nine years old he gives off an incomparable intensity of presence in the moment during every scene of this film. Sorvino plays off him well, jumping at the chance to make a friend towards the end of his life. Dizzia, recognizable to audiences from “Orange is the New Black,” provides a stable sense of comparable youth in her interactions with the two old men, both of whom form a special connection with her. This film is thought-provoking and endearing, and presents a solid, contemplative look at what’s to come in some form of another for anyone who makes it to old age.

B+

Talking Tribeca: The Exception

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


The Exception
Directed by David Leveaux
Festival Screenings

Most films contain more than one storyline. At the very least, there may be multiple characters, all of whom play a central role and whose individual plotlines diverge as the film progresses, likely ultimately culminating towards the end of the film when everything comes together. In those cases, it’s fair to assume that one part or element may be stronger than the others, and it could even be that the film as a whole might have been better had it focused solely or more intensively on its more compelling assets.

Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is a Nazi officer who, after an unexplained incident, is transferred to Holland to serve as the head of the guard for the exiled former ruler of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer). While there, Brandt meets Wilhelm’s wife Hermine (Janet McTeer), who is eager to see her husband returned to the throne, Colonel Sigurd von Ilsemann (Ben Daniels), Wilhelm’s loyal aide, and Mieke de Jong (Lily James), a newly hired maid. As Brandt builds a close but forbidden relationship with Mieke, he is tasked with finding the spy operating within Wilhelm’s complex, an assignment that proves to be more difficult than expected when he discovers the spy’s identity.

The Nazi captain’s affair with the maid who harbors secrets takes center stage in the film’s setup and even serves as the reason for its title - Brandt is the exception, a good man who wears the Nazi uniform. Yet that love story with all of its complexities isn’t what makes this film appealing. Instead, it’s the spotlighting of a deposed ruler, one who has been in exile for so long that he is no longer used to communication with the outside world, let alone a regime which punishes negative language about its commanders or policies with unforgiving efficiency. To see how Wilhelm operates and how he interacts on a daily basis with his inner circle and with visitors is immensely interesting.


Plummer, who won an Oscar in 2011 for “Beginners” and is now eighty-seven years old, received a well-deserved standing ovation and plenty of respect at the U.S. premiere of this film at Tribeca. His turn as Wilhelm is full of emotion and intensity, and it’s wonderful to see that Plummer shows no signs of slowing down this decade. McTeer and Daniels provide ample support, with Courtney and James doing their best to steer a less-than-enthralling subplot mistaken for the main focus of this film. This film, best described as a fictional historical drama, will be most remembered for Plummer’s performance and the strength of the character he portrays.

B

Friday, April 28, 2017

Movie with Abe: Grey Lady


Grey Lady
Directed by John Shea
Released April 28, 2017

Getting past the death of a loved one is a difficult process, and it can made considerably harder by the means of passing. When someone is murdered, it’s exponentially more difficult, especially if the culprit remains at large, meaning that not only has someone been taken, but another could easily be next. Hopefully this isn’t something that many in the real world have to contend with, and certainly not on the scale that it’s represented in film and television. If nothing else, the need to settle a score and make things as right as they can be is a unifying feature of all such productions.

Boston police officer Doyle (Eric Dane) is already reeling from the death of his sister, and the murder of his partner only sends him deeper into mourning. A visit to Nantucket to try to track down clues is strictly off-book, and in addition to the gloomy aura of death that Doyle brings with him, he begins to realize that he and those he cares about are being specifically targeted. He forms a connection with a local woman, Melissa (Natalie Zea), but that may well put her in the same danger as he uncovers unsettling secrets about his own family and past that may serve as the explanation for present-day events.

Dane and Zea are both TV stars who got their starts on popular ABC shows with bigger names - “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Dirty Sexy Money,” respectively - and have now ascended to leading roles on successful cable series - “The Last Ship” and “The Detour,” respectively - that properly use their talents and give them a new chance to shine. This, sadly, couldn’t be further from that, drowning in misery and severely lacking in logic. It’s much closer to Zea’s unfortunate role on “The Following,” a series that portrayed disturbed villains prone to psychological meltdowns yet somehow able to stay several steps ahead of the good guys at every juncture.

This film’s title is meant to invoke the off-season fogginess of its setting, and while it does that, all it manages to contribute is excessive dreariness that makes this film’s completely unappealing - and unconvincing - plot even less enticing. The convoluted story doesn’t pan itself out in a worthwhile fashion, and there isn’t much to salvage here in this forgettable film that doesn’t use any of its assets, actors or location, anywhere near as well as it could have.

D

Movie with Abe: Below Her Mouth


Below Her Mouth
Directed by April Mullen
Released April 28, 2017

Passion can do crazy things to people. Most human beings are capable of thinking things through and reasoning out logical options and consequences to their actions, but it’s easy to become blinded to all that when attraction and the allure of being with someone gets in the way. Films tend to spotlight the most intense moments of a relationship, however fleeting, both the highest points of complete joy and happiness and the lowest points of misery and regret. This subject has been explored endless times, and it’s nice to see a new take that feels familiar yet still manages to achieve sufficient originality to allow it to stand on its own.

Dallas (Erika Linder) is a roofer with her own business who has just ended a relationship with her girlfriend. At a bar one night, she sets her sights on Jasmine (Natalie Krill), a fashion editor who is happily engaged to a man and only there to be with her friend. Dallas presses Jasmine to give her a chance, and despite repeated reminders that she has a fiancé, Jasmine eventually gives in, leading to a momentous affair that shows both women something that they hadn’t expected: real romance for Dallas and something truly transformational for Jasmine.

This film has the unique distinction of being shot by an entirely female crew, lending it considerably more credibility than, say, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” another tremendous film that was the subject of some controversy after its release because of the fact that it was filmed by a male director that many claimed couldn’t possibly understand the lesbian perspective. While this reviewer can’t claim to do that either, this film does serve as a strong companion to the other, full of just as much passion even if it clocks in at less than half its runtime.

Linder, a female supermodel famous for being booked for male modeling campaigns, and Canadian actress Krill make a fabulous pair, each conveying the extreme emotions that go into the affair that Dallas and Jasmine begin. The romance here feels honest and raw, and the explicit nature of many of the sex scenes isn’t used as a handicap, with the film still managing to deliver plenty of depth. This is an affirming, memorable film that ends on just the right note, delivering an energizing and satisfying story that illustrates the power of passion.

B+

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Talking Tribeca: Holy Air

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


Holy Air
Directed by Shady Srour
Festival Screenings

The dictionary definition of a scam is “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation.” A simpler explanation is “a dishonest way to make money by deceiving people.” There are obviously a number of levels in this business, and scams can turn into schemes when they involve large amounts of money taken by one person or group from another in exchange for little and sometimes nothing in return. There are, on the other hand, some scams that can be described more accurately as victimless crimes that hardly constitute as misdeeds given both the low financial loss suffered by the victim and the lack of any greater implications beyond an unnecessary purchase.

Adam (Shady Srour) is a budding entrepreneur in Nazareth, a Christian man who works alongside Jews and Muslims in his daily efforts to come up with a winning idea and market a successful product. His wife Lamia (Laëtitia Eïdo) is eager to have a baby, but the process isn’t so easy, and that impending cost coupled with his father’s failing health make his need for a cash infusion all the more urgent. Inspirational quotes written on toilet paper aren’t going to cut it, and Adam is struck with a notion far more likely to succeed: bottling “holy air” to sell to visiting believers, literally making money from nothing.

Srour, who stars, writes, and directs, should be recognizable to American audiences from his lead role as an Ultra-Orthodox Jew stranded at a convent in the West Bank in the Oscar-nominated short film “Ave Maria,” spotlights a facet of Israeli society that rarely gets top billing in cinema. Adam must gain approval from his Jewish funders, keep the Muslim gangsters from beating him up for encroaching on their territory, and appease the Christian authorities already trying to maximize their profits without his intervention. Adam doesn’t seem tethered to much, but he does want to succeed, and the way he comes up with to do it is truly ingenious.

Srour is not a showy actor, and he directs himself here as a protagonist who mainly allows others around him to shape events, and he gets to choose whether or not to participate. When Adam is ready to make his big pitch, watching him quietly come to life is a revelation of sorts. This film shouldn’t be mistaken as anything but a light-hearted comedy, one that serves to slyly entertain throughout its short eighty-one-minute runtime and then dissipates into a mere memory as Adam’s product would surely do in real life.

B

Talking Tribeca: Blame

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


Blame
Directed by Quinn Shephard
Festival Screenings

Human beings have an incredible ability to be horrible to each other. That’s not always true, to be sure, and as a result there’s still hope for our species. Adolescence, however, tends to be one of the stages in life where peer cruelty knows no bounds and often has no real inspiration other than a drive to mock those less fortunate or less favorable. Films like “Mean Girls” have shown the especially vicious nature of teenage girls, and “Blame,” which is the brainchild of a young woman not much past that time period in her life, presents a both fresh and familiar look at the perils of high school.

Abigail (Quinn Shephard) returns to school at the beginning of the year after suffering a psychotic episode of sorts, the details are which are never given, the year before. She is ostracized and mocked, and finds herself the particular target of Melissa (Nadia Alexander), who corrupts her new friend Sophie (Sarah Mezzanotte) and unsubtly tries to cut Ellie (Tessa Albertson) out of the friendship dynamic. When Melissa loses out on the lead role in “The Crucible” to Abigail, she goes on the warpath. The fact that drama teacher Jeremy (Chris Messina) seems to have a soft spot for Abigail only gives her more fuel for the fire.

Shephard, who is currently twenty-two, has made quite the debut as a feature filmmaker here. She stars, directs, and co-wrote the screenplay with her mom, showing extraordinary promise as a young talent. She calls this film her “college,” and it’s clear that she is enterprising and passionate, presenting an academic thesis of sorts with a film based in part on a play she loves, adapted to modern times and society with high school drama mixed in. I had the rare experience of sitting right in front of Shephard and the other actresses during a Tribeca screening, and hearing them react to what clearly their favorite moments from the film was a real bonus.

Unsurprisingly, in a film about teenagers, it’s the younger talent that really shines. Messina receives top billing for playing a teacher in a lackluster role that, like the other adult performances from TV regulars Tate Donovan and Trieste Kelly Dunn as adults, aren’t nearly as fleshed-out or formidable as the mean girls and their victims are. Alexander is particularly terrific at being awful, and all four actresses play well off one another in this smart, involving drama with plenty of entertaining moments and a relatively solid grasp on what it’s like to be in high school.

B+

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Talking Tribeca: Dog Years

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


Dog Years
Directed by Adam Rifkin
Festival Screenings

If an actor lives long enough, he’s likely to come to a point in his career where he isn’t getting the roles he used to, or any roles at all. That’s assuming that he’s made all the right choices throughout the years, which, when money and other distractions get in the way, isn’t all that likely. The chance to matter again to someone or some group can be very appealing, and such stories are often excellent opportunities for real-life actors with similar or dissimilar experiences to portray what it looks like to have a shot at a career-defining comeback.

Vic Edwards (Burt Reynolds) used to be at the top. He was the number one box office star for six years in a row, and was well-known all around the world for his roles. Since then, he has been married five times, and, after the death of his dog, he is encouraged by his one remaining friend, Sonny (Chevy Chase), to accept an invitation to attend the International Nashville Film Festival, where he will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. A noticeable lack of first-class airfare is just the first in a series of disappointments as he ends up being chauffeured around by an unwilling driver, Lil (Ariel Winter), and has to look back at his life to see what it is that he has really accomplished.

This is a very typical film from this subgenre in many ways, with Vic reflecting on sunnier times while he can’t help but be the world’s worst curmudgeon in the present. Lil, representing the furthest thing from Alex Dunphy on “Modern Family” that you could possibly imagine, represents everything that Vic doesn’t like about the twenty-first century, and the time that she has to spend driving him around, including a nostalgic trip to his hometown of Knoxville, is inevitably going to help them build a true friendship despite their enormous differences.

Reynolds is a veteran actor with a great body of work that serves a fun if disorienting purpose as notable clips of his are edited to turn him into a young Vic, and in a few scenes the octogenarian actually appears next to his younger self in dream sequences and engages in conversation. This is a solid turn for Reynolds, and Winter holds her own quite well playing against type opposite him. As his biggest fans and the organizers of the festival, Clark Duke from “The Office” and Ellar Coltrane from “Boyhood” have fun supporting roles. This film may not have much in the way of new material or ideas to offer, but it’s an endearing nostalgia trip nonetheless.

B+

Talking Tribeca: Literally, Right Before Aaron

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


Literally, Right Before Aaron
Directed by Ryan Eggold
Festival Screenings

It’s usually not a great idea to go to an ex’s wedding. There are exceptions, of course, like having been friends first or enough time having passed since the breakup that a relationship with the ex getting married and the spouse-to-be could potentially have formed. When one party isn’t over the other, however, and the relationship is recent enough that wounds still haven’t healed, it’s definitely a bad plan. Yet that’s exactly what the man described as dating the bride literally, right before the groom decides to do in this moderately entertaining story of undying love expressed at exactly the wrong time.

Adam (Justin Long) gets a call in the film’s opening scene from Allison (Cobie Smulders), his ex-girlfriend, who wastes no time before telling him that she’s getting married, and that she wants him to come because they had always known they would be at each other’s weddings, though of course they expected them to be the same event. Against the advice of anyone he asks and with a burning desire to get her back, Adam travels to what promises to be an awkward affair, which includes misadventures like his truly bizarre date (Kristen Schaal) and an attempt to befriend Allison’s annoyingly perfect fiancé (Ryan Hansen).

This isn’t Long’s first foray into ill-fated wedding films. In 2013, he starred in “Best Man Down,” which cast him as a groom whose best man dies during the wedding. Here, his affect is spot-on, but his character is very directionless, with little guidance from Smulders’ Allison, who is charming in flashbacks where the two flirt endearingly, but whose present-day bride-to-be likes bite. The two have chemistry, to be sure, but filling in precious few details about their now-ended relationship serves as a loss for the film rather than a gain.

Anna Kendrick chose to attend a wedding even though she probably shouldn’t have in a film from earlier this year, “Table 19.” While that comedy wasn’t entirely fantastic, it did manage to be funny, and utilized its ensemble strongly. This film isn’t able to do that nearly as well, giving John Cho, Luis Guzman, Lea Thompson, and Peter Gallagher all smart parts that, on their own, are fun, but don’t add up to much. Hansen is probably the best part of the film, delivering the most honest performance as a ham who’s not that bad of a guy. This film provides some entertainment, but it doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

B-

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Talking Tribeca: Sweet Virginia

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


Sweet Virginia
Directed by Jamie M. Dagg
Festival Screenings

Crime dramas seem to be particularly effective when set in small towns where people are used to leaving their doors unlocked and granting enormous trust to strangers. It’s not that they manage to make people feel unsafe since letting their guard down to the wrong people can have disastrous, fatal consequences, but instead that there’s a quiet calm to that kind of setting which makes the arrival of disruptive forces all the more intense and chilling, creating the opportunity for a strong instance of a genre that’s hard to do well but very rewarding when it succeeds: the thriller.

In the film’s first scene, three employees at a bar are killed late one night by hitman Elwood (Christopher Abbott). Eager for payment, Elwood extends his stay in town to collect from one of the dead men’s widows, Lila (Imogen Poots), who hired him to kill just her husband. The other widow, Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt), continues the affair she was already having with Sam (Jon Bernthal), a former rodeo champ who just happens to be the owner of the motel where Elwood is staying, creating a web of connections that only serve to complicate matters as Elwood grows impatient waiting for money that Lila may not in the end have.

It’s easy to draw comparisons, as others already have, between this film and those made by the Coen brothers, though it’s worth noting that this film contains far less humor. There are brief moments that might produce a chuckle or two, but this is otherwise a fully serious drama featuring very flawed characters who are stuck in cycles of activity that they can’t seem to escape no matter how much – or little – they try. This film earns the classification of thriller thanks to an extraordinary command of suspense, differentiated from cheap scares thanks to purposeful cinematography and a very deliberate structuring of its more intense and breathless scenes.

This cast is truly top-notch, and all four of the main players get their chance to shine. Abbott is the one who appears to have received the best reviews for his excellent turn as the mostly asocial hitman who proactively strikes up a friendship with Sam, well-portrayed by Bernthal, far more subdued than in his energetic role on “The Walking Dead.” DeWitt and Poots are both great in supporting parts that function crucially on their own and in their interactions with the men in their lives, both their deceased husbands – Jonathan Tucker makes a mark in the first scene – and the ones they are left with after their deaths. This is a solid, enthralling thriller that represents the genre well and is surely one of the top Tribeca picks this year.

B+

Talking Tribeca: Permission

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


Permission
Directed by Brian Crano
Festival Screenings

There comes a point in any relationship that lasts for a long period of time that one or both parties wonder - if only for a fleeting moment - what it might like to be with someone else. When two people have only ever been with each other, the notion seems impossible, but, when pondered, can cast doubt on the viability of a relationship. As long as both parties agree they are happy, they usually move on, leaving the concept of a free pass just to see what being with someone else would be like as an ill-advised suggestion that no one should ever take seriously.

Will (Dan Stevens) is about to propose to his girlfriend Anna (Rebecca Hall) on her thirtieth birthday. They've been together forever, never really having dated anyone else, and he spends a good deal of time working on the brownstone that he's bought for the two of them. An alcohol-fueled question from Reece (Morgan Spector), the partner of Anna's brother, Hale (David Joseph Craig) inspires them to consider giving harmless sex with strangers a try, which threatens to turn into something else when they each meet someone where it might become more than just a sexual attraction.

“Permission” starts out as a more sophisticated version of “Hall Pass” (amusingly, Jason Sudeikis has a small part in this film), but with less infantile excitement. Both Anna and Will are reticent about beginning this journey, and Will is present when she meets her first choice, Dane (François Arnaud). When his selection, Lydia (Gina Gershon), is made without her knowledge, the problems start to emerge and this film leans towards drama when what was an awkward suggestion capable of producing plenty of comic moments – which it does – may have broader, more irreversible consequences for their previously impermeable relationship. A subplot involving Hale’s desire to have a baby, not shared by Reece, explores the further longevity of a relationship that seemed perfect at the outset.

Hall and Stevens are both young actors currently appearing in plenty of projects, with Hall starring in a number of independent films including last year’s “Christine” and Stevens following up on “Downton Abbey” with another TV show, “Legion.” They’re both more than suited for their roles, demonstrating a stagnant, stable romance that is elevated by the passion they experience with Dane and Lydia, portrayed wonderfully by Arnaud and Gershon. This movie is a comedy and also a cautionary tale of sorts, one that might be warning just as much that an experiment like this isn’t a smart idea as it is commenting that it’s important to have the big conversations to make sure both members of a couple are on the same page.

B+

Monday, April 24, 2017

Talking Tribeca: Tilt

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


Tilt
Directed by Kasra Farahani
Festival Screenings

Broadly speaking, there are two types of films that deal with pregnancies. One is a comedy, romantic or not, that finds the time leading up to a baby’s birth presenting a handful of complications. Suitors may emerge for an unmarried woman over the course of the film, and usually there’s a happy ending. The other is a far darker kind of movie, one that presents a more terrifying vision of what’s to come with parenthood, something that expectant parents should almost certainly avoid at all costs. “Tilt,” screening as a Midnight selection at Tribeca, falls decidedly into the latter category.

Joe (Joseph Cross) is not a particularly fulfilled person. The struggling filmmaker’s one claim to fame is a project that received minimal funding several years earlier, and he is hard at work not getting far on his newest project, which explores capitalism and consumerism in America’s Golden Age. His wife Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen) is pregnant and initially supportive of her husband’s exploits until it becomes clear that he is becoming completely wrapped up in the negativity that comes from his subject matter and almost completely detached from his role as husband and future father.

There is something decidedly unsettling about experiencing Joe’s descent into paranoia and madness with footage of Donald Trump’s campaign speeches on the television and an only mildly more optimistic presentation of the possibility of American excellence. The eerie normalcy of it all makes it seem that this kind of thing could happen to anyone, though of course it’s important to remember that this horror film, which this reviewer might not have elected to watch given its genre had he read the film’s summary, is purposely classified into this genre because it represents a certain type of storytelling designed to highlight the evils that lurk within and the temptations outside that bring them in.

Cross, who delivered a breakout performance a decade ago in the comedy “Running with Scissors,” hands in a creepy, extraordinarily focused turn as a man so swept up in wanting to be able to say something about society that even he doesn’t seem interested in it any longer when he speaks about it to those his wife makes him share a dinner table with on occasion. Rasmussen frames the dismay with which she watches his transformation in a real and relatable way, making this disturbing and off-putting experience, that some will surely enjoy, even more skin-crawling.

B-

Talking Tribeca: The Endless

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


The Endless
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead
Festival Screenings

Cults are not known to be a particularly productive or positive part of society, and films about the subject almost never portray them in a good or affirming light. Groups assembling together to practice obsessive devotion to some deity or concept are often seen as dangerous if they don’t conform to established standards of normative religion, and, good or bad, legitimate or illegitimate, they can have the power to make people do just about anything. Worst of all, getting out once you’re in can be a difficult if impossible process since being part of something is an infectious feeling that often can’t be matched by anything else.

“The Endless” is the story of two brothers, Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorehead), who were able to achieve an escape from what they term a “UFO death cult” at a young age and haven’t managed to do all that much since. When they receive a message in the mail that appears to be from the cult, they are drawn back in by an incredible curiosity. Aaron is quick to see and appreciate the charisma of leader Hal (Tate Ellington), Justin is less than willing to succumb and let go. As they navigate the perils of what they might be undertaking, they experience a number of events that lead them to believe that not everything about the cult may be crazy after all.

Benson and Moorehead have established themselves as independent filmmakers with a distinct style and vision with previous films at the Toronto International Film Festival and Tribeca, and their latest effort is certainly no exception. The casual nature with which the on-camera brothers interact and the simplicity of their conversations stand in stark contrast to the majestic, enormous nature of the world they are reentering. Once the film begins to venture into territory where it is presenting fantastical and seemingly supernatural evidence that can serve to back up some of the key tenets of the cult, it turns from an eerie drama into something altogether more haunting and chilling, reminiscent of the 2014 film “Coherence,” which also presents a strange and distorted version of reality that has managed to trap people within it with no hope of escape. This film doesn’t resound quite as much, but it’s an intriguing and unsettling exploration of what it means to give oneself over to a sense of inevitability and accept that any sense of normalcy or control is out of reach.

B

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Talking Tribeca: The Boy Downstairs

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


The Boy Downstairs
Directed by Sophie Brooks
Festival Screenings

When a relationship ends, it’s pretty important for the people involved to move on. No one ever said that it was easy, and it often takes a long time for both parties to do so, regardless of whether the decision to split was mutual. In some cases, one person needs much more time to get past it, and a complete separation is usually necessary after a close, lengthy relationship before transforming the dynamic into a workable friendship is possible. One particularly unproductive step is the very unadvisable decision to move into the same building where an ex lives.

After spending two years in London, Diana (Zosia Mamet) returns to New York City, where she works in a wedding dress shop. Prior to her departure, Diana dated Ben (Matthew Shear), and used her international relocation as an excuse to end their relationship. When a realtor, Meg (Sarah Ramos), shows her an apartment building, she falls in love, and it’s only after all of her furniture is delivered that she delivers that her downstairs neighbor is none other than Ben, who just happens to have a new girlfriend: Meg.

Being a young adult and navigating the dating world is hard enough without the added pressure of running into your ex-boyfriend when you’re taking out the trash or heading out for work in the morning, and, as with any film of this sort, the temptation to rekindle what once was exists on an almost constant basis thanks to simple reminders of times shared together. Flashbacks tell the story of how Diana and Ben got together in the first place as their new experiences play out in the present, creating an effective double narrative that strengthens the identities of both characters.

Mamet is best known for playing the talkative, hyper Shoshanna on HBO’s very recently-wrapped “Girls.” There are similarities between Diana and Shoshanna, though the slightly less chatty Diana manages to handle the situation infinitely better than her TV counterpart would, still creating awkwardness at every turn but less as a result of things that she herself says. Mamet does great here, with stable support from Shear and a humorous supporting turn from Ramos, who played a much more understanding teenager on “Parenthood.” Aside from its clever premise, this decent comedy doesn’t offer many new ideas, but it’s a perfectly passable and entertaining showcase for Mamet tackling finding love in New York City from a slightly different angle.

B+

Talking Tribeca: Aardvark

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


Aardvark
Directed by Brian Shoaf
Festival Screenings

Mental illness is an extremely stigmatized issue in society, and those who, in plain terms, see and experience things that are not there are usually looked down upon or dismissed as crazy for their inability to perceive the world as others do. Social workers and mental health professionals, however, are not as quick to dismiss how they view the world as illegitimate, though figuring out the proper way to provide support can be a challenge. Conversations about what is and is not real can include moments of levity and humor, as expressed and portrayed in the decidedly odd “Aardvark,” from first-time director Brian Shoaf.

Emily (Jenny Slate) is a licensed social worker – she frequently points out that she is not a doctor – who meets an interesting new patient, Josh (Zachary Quinto). Josh has received many diagnoses and been prescribed numerous medications over the course of his adult life, none of which have helped him to come out of his shell and interact with people in a way that might be deemed normal. His larger-than-life actor brother Craig sends him money regularly, but since he has not visited in over a decade, Josh frequently believes that random people he meets are actually elaborate characters that Craig has constructed and assumed. When Craig (Jon Hamm) actually comes to town and begins a relationship with Emily, the line between what’s real and what’s right becomes increasingly blurred.

Slate is a wonderful young comedienne who has successfully taken on recurring TV roles on “House of Lies” and “Parks and Recreation,” and turned in breakout performances in Sundance hits “Obvious Child” and “Landline.” At the start, Emily seems to be an atypical character for her since she is in fact successful in her professional life and lacks the childish antics that the other people she has played possess. Yet as the film progresses it becomes clear that Slate is just the right actress for this part, a seemingly put-together woman who doesn’t actually know where she’s head. Quinto, who has done well in film after establishing himself on TV with “Heroes,” infuses passion and frustrated energy into Josh, whose interactions with a mysterious young woman (Sheila Vand) represent some of the most compelling moments of the film. Hamm is playing the same role he’s played in drama since finishing “Mad Men,” contributing ably but unspectacularly. While there’s plenty of intrigue to be found in this film, the way in which it refuses to truly differentiate between what’s real and what’s imaginary, perhaps in solidarity with its lead characters, proves more frustrating than fulfilling.

B

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Talking Tribeca: Abundant Acreage Available

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


Abundant Acreage Available
Directed by Angus MacLachlan
Festival Screenings

Some people plant roots in the most literal sense. While there are those who move from home to home on a regular basis, left to answer the question of where they are from with a few qualifiers, others grow up in one place and never leave. Trips out of state are infrequent or even nonexistent, and death seems the only real possibility for relocation from the place they call home. When presented with the idea that others don’t view them as quite as tethered to their home and land as they thought, it’s fair to assume and expect a negative reaction.

Tracy (Amy Ryan) is deeply connected to the family farm that she lives on and runs with her brother Jesse (Terry Kinney). The death of their father has left them both struggling to move on, as Tracy buries his ashes in the dirt on their property and Jesse, who considers himself a deeply religious man, yearns for a more proper and official Christian burial. Their steady if unexciting lives are interrupted even more by the arrival of three brothers, Hans (Max Gail), Charles (Steve Coulter), and Tom (Francis Guinan), who pitch a tent to camp out on their land and then reveal that Tracy and Jesse’s father bought the farm from their father when they were children. Their unwillingness to leave strikes Tracy very poorly, while Jesse is motivated almost entirely by guilt to consider ceding the farm to what he considers to be its rightful owners.

This quiet film features only five performers and takes place entirely on the family farm as two very different sets of siblings, each with their own interpersonal dynamics built from the forty to fifty years of life that they’ve shared together. Ryan, who ten years ago was nominated for an Oscar for “Gone Baby Gone,” delivers a fiercely committed performance, complemented well by a less showy turn from Kinney, who was a great part of “Good Behavior” in a louder and more exaggerated role. Gail, Coulter, and Guinan make these three older men, who sleep each night cuddled up in a tent, dynamic and personable in their own ways. This film doesn’t reach any particularly stirring or satisfying conclusion, but it does serve as a solid look at what it means to be firmly linked to something less moveable and more permanent than just the people in your life.

B

Talking Tribeca: One Percent More Humid

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.


One Percent More Humid
Directed by Liz W. Garcia
Festival Screenings

The heat of summer can have truly transformational effects. The literal likelihood of people wearing less clothing as a result of rising temperatures is one such effect, and the psychological lowering of inhibitions can follow thanks to a frustration with what seems to be an increasing and never-ending wave of warmth. Films like “Do the Right Thing” and director Liz W. Garcia’s previous film, “The Lifeguard,” have used summer as a driving force, and “One Percent More Humid,” which includes a weather forecast of sorts in its title, takes it one step further, spotlighting two characters struggling to make their way through a sweltering season.

Iris (Juno Temple) and Catherine (Julia Garner) are good friends who have just been through a horrific accident that took the life of one of their friends, and they are decompressing during summer break in college. Time spent together out by the water pales in comparison to the illicit affairs that each of them pursues, Iris with her married college advisor Gerald (Alessandro Nivola) and Catherine with her late friend’s brother. Summer can’t last forever, and these two young women burrow deep into these fleeting relationships as they grow apart due to the secrets they’re keeping from each other.

This is the kind of film that feels like it should be at a festival like Tribeca, honing in on two talented actresses to star in a coming-of-age story of sorts. Both Temple and Garner have already delivered breakthrough performances – I remember Temple most in “Dirty Girl” though she’s appeared in plenty else, and Garner played Lily Tomlin’s granddaughter in the underrated “Grandma.” Yet they’re both in their twenties and have bright careers ahead of them, which may take them to the kind of strong supporting roles in independent films played by actors like Nivola and Maggie Siff, who plays Gerald’s wife.

Temple and Garner have different personalities, especially as portrayed here, making Iris the talkative, more outwardly flirtatious one, and Catherine the one able to blend into the background and often not noticed by those around her. They play off each other well, and Nivola and Siff offer dependable turns as full-grown adults who aren’t necessarily any more put-together than they are. This drama gets to know its characters well over the course of its runtime, making a definitive mark as an exploration of youth, passion, and the hand sometimes dealt to people by the universe.

B+

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Jewcy Interview: The Zookeeper's Wife


I didn't have the chance to post a review when this film was released a few weeks ago, but please enjoy my interview with star Daniel Brühl from "Rush" and "Inglourious Basterds" and screenwriter Angela Workman. Head over to Jewcy to read the piece!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Fate of the Furious

The Fate of the Furious
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Released April 14, 2017

It’s rare that a franchise is still going strong eight installments in. This series debuted sixteen years ago, went forward without one of its lead actors for films two and three, and is now charging along even after the death of its other lead actor. These films, which don’t jive at all with my usual cinematic tastes, deliver an adrenaline thrill that is equal parts awesome and ridiculous. There were enough moments to defy death, and logic, in the previous few installments, yet this movie, which represents a return to form after a weak seventh entry, goes even bigger in every possible way.

Trailers for this blockbuster showed signature character Dom (Vin Diesel) going rogue and betraying his team to ally with an evil hacker named Cipher (Charlize Theron). Fortunately, the film presents events in a narrative, linear form, and all that’s left up in the air is what leverage Cipher has to make Dom work with her, which is gradually revealed over the course of the action. It’s all hands on deck, with former enemies Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard (Jason Statham) teaming up with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) to help government agents Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new protege (Scott Eastwood) stop Cipher and take Dom down with her.

This film sets its tone definitively when, in the first scene, Dom is seen racing a car by driving it backwards while it’s completely on fire. Without spoiling some of the other great action scenes, it’s fair to say that this film thrives on purposeful excess. Why would anyone - hero or villain - take the easy route of using technology or skill to solve a problem in the most direct and obvious manner instead of putting on a big show just for the hell of it? That’s the motto of this film, which features even more spectacular destruction of cars and property, and makes the most of its stars’ physical strength and brawn to feature them using nothing more than their muscles in battle, which is only questionably more believable than many of the stunts pulled off in the film.

More than anything, this series continues to be about people who love driving fast cars. When Dom’s team is shown into a warehouse of cars seized from drug dealers, it’s as if they’re in heaven. When his car gets dinged, Dom shakes and reels in pain, as if one with it. The acting isn’t what’s important in this movie, though there’s a good deal of comic relief thanks in large part to Gibson and Johnson. The driving, the action, and the stunts are all great, and any plot holes are filled in by this film series’ commitment to making it all exciting. Though the absence of a post-credits scene gave me pause, I’m relieved to know that films nine and ten are already in the works, and I’m pumped.

B+

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sunday, April 9, 2017