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.


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