Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.

Now Playing in Theatres

The Yellow Birds (mixed bag): This entry from Sundance 2017 is most notable for starring Alden Ehrenreich, now known as Han Solo, and Tye Sheridan, who anchored “Ready Player One.” It’s otherwise a pretty standard war movie that doesn’t stand out from any other similar fare, not quite sure what it’s intending to accomplish. Now playing at the Village East Cinema. Read my review from Sundance.

New to DVD

Elizabeth Blue (recommended): This spotlight of mental illness is relatively straightforward as far as cinema is concerned, demonstrating its value in the way it portrays schizophrenia and the difficulty of understanding reality when it can’t be distinguished from what’s not real.

Now Available on Instant Streaming

Cutie and the Boxer (recommended): This 2013 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary may start slowly, but it builds to a fascinating and very creatively-presented examination of a volatile marriage between two magnetic artists.

In Bruges (highly recommended): Martin McDonagh earned more attention for his recent hit “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” but his feature film debut, starring Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell is a far more even, unique, and worthwhile experience.

Sunday’s Illness (recommended): This Spanish entry, which screened at Tribeca earlier this year, is an often hypnotic tale of a long-lost adult daughter who insists that the mother who abandoned her come spend time with her, revealing unexpected truths about both of them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Outdoors

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Asaf Saban
Screening June 12th at 7pm

Building a house is an important undertaking, since it allows those with a vision to truly imagine and create the place they want to live. What happens if and when someone else eventually moves in is irrelevant since they are the architects of their own desires, not adapting anyone else’s preexisting ideas to their own. Envisioning what a plot of land can be transformed into is a considerably difficult and challenging process, and it’s rare that what is ultimately built will match the original concept exactly, a notion that can make the journey enormously problematic for those unwilling to accept necessary compromises and concessions.

Yaara (Noa Koler) and Gili (Udi Razzin) are building a house together, leaving behind the city of Tel Aviv for the open country of the Galilee. What begins as a dream construction project slowly turns into something more complicated, as neighbors interject with their opinions and a window that provides a different view than expected adds time and money to the project that can’t hope to equal the stress and discord created by its implementation. Building their future home turns into a full-time job, leading the two to seek moments of peace and clarity away from each other.

This film opens in a fascinating way, with Yaara and Gili speaking while a computer-animated simulation of what their home will look like is shown on screen, and the actors don’t actually appear until a few minutes into the film. That first shot maps out how the house is meant to look once it’s finished, offering clear expectations for its builders, and that makes the dissatisfaction with the results that both parties express indicative of more than just a different design apparent. Watching their relationship begin to crack as the foundation of their new home is assembled helps to build an important contrast in the direction of their family, which will soon be growing as Yaara discovers that she is pregnant.

The lone Ophir Israeli Academy Award nomination for this film went to Koler, who took home the Best Actress prize a year earlier for “The Wedding Plan,” a film that allowed her to be much livelier and more memorable. She’s still the strongest part of this film, which presents an intriguing premise but doesn’t quite travel as complex or rewarding a path as it could, affirming the potential to create problems that comes from collaborating on a project of this significance but offering less in the way of a substantial conclusion.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: The Testament

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

The Testament
Directed by Amichai Greenberg
Screened June 10th at 7:30pm and June 11th at 6pm

The most powerful way to preserve the memory of the millions of people who perished in the Holocaust is to continue telling their stories and passing them down from generation to generation. Efforts to record testimonials of those who survived have been made by many, and as more interviews are conducted, surprising and unexpected revelations are made about the extent of what occurred. Survivors may choose not to share certain points they find to be humiliating or disturbing with their descendants and friends, and learning that something believed to be a truth for years isn’t actually entirely accurate can have disquieting effects.

Yoel (Ori Pfeffer) is a religious man who works as a historian, and his latest project involves proving the existence of a mass grave of Jewish people killed during the Holocaust in Austria that will affect construction slated to begin shortly. In the process of his research, Yoel discovers something truly shocking – that his mother is not who she has always said she was, and is not even Jewish. As he presses on with his work, Yoel finds himself experiencing a deep crisis of faith in the weeks leading up to his son’s bar mitzvah.

What Yoel goes through is a purely internal process. When he shares in a panic with others close to him that he now knows that he is technically not Jewish, they respond dismissively that he is crazy or that it doesn’t even matter since he has grown up his entire life believing something and something from the past shouldn’t change it. But for a man who every day argues against those who tell him that what he knows to be fact is not, this is a crushing blow, and one from which he cannot hope to recover without changing something in his life.

Pfeffer, who has appeared in English-language productions “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Dig,” delivers a sobering, lived-in performance as Yoel, who is so committed to getting to the heart of the matter that he can’t let anything go, even if it bothers just him and no one else. This is a film that strongly utilizes interview footage, letting the weight of the words uttered and stories told speak for themselves. This specific circumstance probably isn’t unique to this character, and this film carries a powerful message about the power of memory and history, especially when the two don’t line up.


Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Longing

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Savi Gabizon
Screened June 9th at 9:30pm

Grieving is a painful process, since saying goodbye to someone acknowledges that new memories together can’t be created. If final moments included unresolved conversations or negative sentiments, the process of moving on is increasingly difficult. If a mourner never knew the person who has been lost, the road to acceptance of their death is marked with many realizations, both good and bad, about all the things missed along the way that now can never be experienced.

Ariel (Shai Avivi) receives an unexpected call from Ronit (Assi Levy), a woman he dated two decades earlier, who tells him that she was pregnant when they broke up and that Adam, the son she gave birth to, has just died in a car accident. She never told him because she knew he didn’t want kids, and this news compels him to try to get to know his son after his death. Acting as a proud father learning about his boy, Ariel obsesses over the teacher (Neta Riskin) Adam loved and even tries to set his son up with a young girl who committed suicide and now resides in the same cemetery as Adam.

This film is reminiscent of a similarly-titled 2014 entry from Sundance, “Lilting,” which follows the British boyfriend and Cambodian-Chinese mother of a man who has just died and who are both mourning him despite not being able to speak the same language. Had the two met when the person who connects them was alive, they might have understood each other better, and in this case, Ariel acts as if he’s joyfully meeting everyone who knows the son that he isn’t quite acknowledging is no longer living. The proposal that he makes to Gideon (Yoram Toledano) about setting up their two deceased children seems particularly far-fetched, but it’s just another way of grieving by making up for lost time, helping his son out romantically even after he’s no longer alive.

Avivi starred in a more fully comedic take on mourning, “One Week and a Day,” several years ago, and here gets to play the supportive parent who is both persistent and passionate, grounding a story that might otherwise seem far-fetched. Levy, Toledano, and the omnipresent Riskin, who stars in two other Israel Film Center Festival projects, provide the appropriate dramatic support, reacting to Ariel’s suggestions in a human and relatable way. This film takes a sweet and sentimental turn that makes it ultimately feel a fitting, if strange, tribute to the much talked-about protagonist that the audience also never has the chance to meet.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Almost Famous

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Almost Famous
Directed by Marco Carmel
Screened June 8th at 5pm

The allure of celebrity status is something many people dream about, and plenty will jump at the chance to achieve it if it comes along. Reality shows represent a relatively recent development where, despite what it is indicated by the name of their genre, scripts and prearranged storylines do play very much into the program, with twists and surprises, including ones they can’t plan for, implemented to up ratings. Rarely is the experience of becoming a household name as a result of a reality show appearance or victory a painless experience during which on one gets hurt.

Shir (Niv Sultan) is best friends with Roni (Amit Yagur), and the two of them desperately raise their cell phones in the air when an invitation to the party of the year, thrown by two mean girls, goes out, convinced that their service must not be working. Shir sees a pathway to popularity when her brother Tomer (Omer Dror) auditions for The One, a singing competition series. As Shir rides the wave of teenage obsession with older musicians, her mother Talia (Liat Ekta), a teacher, goes all-out to promote Tomer, while her yoga teacher father Avner (Nathan Ravitz) is not as eager to embrace this wild ride which also leaves Tomer’s girlfriend Maya (Amit Farkash) out in the cold, pushed aside by the show’s producers to feature his number one competition and potential love interest, Rotem (Noa Kirel).

Many people might confuse this film with the Oscar-winning 2000 film of the same name from director Cameron Crowe about a journalist touring with a rock band in the 1970s. The two do share some similarities, but this present-set movie immediately taps into modern obsessions like cell phones which dictate almost all behavior, with Tomer’s eagerness to watch his first surprise appearance on the show at a specific hour almost seeming like a relic of the past. In a sea of cinema and television about unpopular teenagers trying to get in with the cool crowd, this film manages to stick out as an enjoyable ride that isn’t concerned with being unpredictable, instead focused on telling a genuine story filled with music about those swept up by fame.

Though she’s about a decade older than her character is supposed to be, Sultan captures Shir’s teenage energy perfectly, coming alive so much more when she types onto her phone than when she actually interacts with the few people in her life she dares to speak to. She’s supported by an excellent cast, including Dror, who is musically talented but also very adept at playing a heartthrob who really just wants to sing songs of love to his girlfriend. This is a fun film with a great beat that gets going in its very first scene, memorable and entertaining without trying to be revolutionary.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.

Now Playing in Theatres

Hearts Beat Loud (highly recommended): Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons are both wonderful as a father-daughter duo who start a band as they shutter a Brooklyn record store that’s well past its prime. It’s an endearing story with some great music to boot. Now playing at the Landmark at 57th West and Regal Union Square. Read my review from Sundance.

Nancy (mixed bag): This was the final film I saw at Sundance this past year, and it was far from a satisfying way to end a week or so of 40 movies. Andrea Riseborough doesn’t seem quite comfortable in the skin of her character, the protagonist of a film that doesn’t really know where it’s heading. Now playing at the Landmark at 57th West and Cinema Village. Read my review from Sundance.

Zoo (recommended): This children’s film about a boy in 1941 Belfast who makes it his personal mission to save a baby elephant after the zoo is shuttered is enjoyable and great for what it is. Now playing at the AMC in East Hanover, NJ. Read my review from yesterday.

New to DVD

Thoroughbreds (highly recommended): I can’t say enough about how excellent this dark thriller is, and stars Olivia Cooke and Anya-Taylor Joy are both terrific. Read my review or my interview with director Cory Finley, but most importantly, watch this film!

Now Available on Instant Streaming

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (highly recommended): This informative documentary sheds a light on the scientific achievements and mental health struggles of Hedy Lamarr, an actress known for her beauty but who accomplished so much more.

Blue Jasmine (mixed bag): Woody Allen’s last well-received film won Cate Blanchett an Oscar, but it doesn’t function all that well as a film, relying on its protagonist to carry its somewhat miserable story through, hardly evocative of both the best comedy and the best drama Allen has produced throughout his career.

The Departed (highly recommended): Martin Scorsese finally won the Oscar for Best Director for a fantastic culmination of his career, a modern-day mob movie about two moles, one a cop and the other a mobster, culturally adapted perfectly from “Infernal Affairs.” Matt Damon doesn’t get enough praise for a fantastic performance in a superb ensemble.

The King’s Speech (recommended): Even if it didn’t deserve to win Best Picture over a number of the other nominees, this is still a great film featuring some very good performances, from Oscar winner Colin Firth but also from Geoffrey Rush as his humorous and distinctive speech therapist. For anyone who hasn’t seen this and likes British dramas about royalty, this is a can’t-miss.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (recommended): This film from very early in the careers of Michael Cera and Kat Dennings plays to their dramatic strengths as much as their comedic wits, with great music and an effective pace thrown in for good measure.

Righteous Kill (anti-recommended): Don’t bother with this very poor film starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino - watch my one-minute Minute with Abe reaction from nearly ten years ago instead!

Rumor Has It (anti-recommended): This attempt to capitalize on the popularity of “The Graduate” with a story about the people who might well be the inspiration for it fell flat, with Kevin Costner and Jennifer Aniston delivering lackluster performances.

Taking Lives (anti-recommended): I remember being so excited about this serial killer movie which came out when Kiefer Sutherland was very big on “24,” and it was an enormous disappointment, to say the least. Costars Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke are probably wishing that people didn’t remember this movie.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Movie with Abe: Zoo

Directed by Colin McIvor
Released June 8, 2018

There are many casualties in war, with a loss of human life on the battlefield usually receiving the most attention. Those left behind either in a besieged country or one far from the war effort often find their own resources depleted, with products and services not deemed vital withheld to fund the troops, leading to the loss of jobs while other temporary roles are created to fill more immediate needs. While entertainment remains important to keep morale up, those places that offer a more sophisticated escape suffer, especially if their inhabitants are deemed dangerous or doomed as a result of neglect.

In 1941, Belfast is a vulnerable target for the Nazis, who conduct a series of air raids on the city. Tom (Art Parkinson) is mesmerized by the zoo, where his father works, and visits regularly. As the war rages and his father is called into action, Tom learns that the zoo will be shut down and many of its most precious residents put down to prevent catastrophe. Unwilling to accept that solution, Tom enlists a few loyal allies to help save Buster the baby elephant and make sure that the legacy of the zoo is not destroyed.

The zoo has been featured prominently and film and television recently. A series based on a James Patterson novel aired during the past three summers on CBS. Matt Damon famously bought a zoo in the unmemorable 2011 film, and Kevin James played a zookeeper in another 2011 film. The one that comes closest to this film is “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which saw the couple that owned a Warsaw zoo turn it into a hiding place for many Jews during World War II. This child-friendly adventure sets itself far away from invading Nazi forces, with the survival of the elephant as the most serious of stakes motivating the young protagonist.

This film is based on a true story, and its jolly poster depicts a light-hearted film filled with wonder. While the fascination with the animals, particularly Buster, is depicted centrally, this is ultimately a film about courage and collaboration, with Tom compelled to act when he sees that no one else will consider the livelihood of the animals and the valuing of keeping them around. Parkinson is appropriately energetic, and Toby Jones and Penelope Wilton contribute positively as the resident adults, portraying an unfriendly security guard and hermit-like animal devotee, respectively. This film, which is rated PG, succeeds at being what it wants to be, a story of inspiration and joy set against a far more serious backdrop with themes that are wisely not touched here.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Azimuth

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Mike Burstyn
Screening June 7th at 6pm

Throughout history, there are a number of examples of battles fought after the official end of the war. Their significance is often minimal because treaties have been signed and there is nothing left to be negotiated, but blood is still shed and lives may be lost. Technological and communication enhancements mean that such instances in modern times are reduced, but diplomatically resolving a conflict doesn’t mean that the sentiments involved are negated, and those left on an abandoned battlefield are likely to harbor just as much emotion whether or not a war is actively happening.

At the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, Egyptian soldier Rashid (Sammy Sheik) awakens underneath a deceased fellow soldier, finding little around him alive and wandering the desert in search of a way out, unaware that the war is over. Israeli sergeant Moti (Yiftach Klein) leaves two of his men to try to drive away for help, stopping when his vehicle starts smoking. Rashid and Moti encounter each other and, driven equally by a distrust of the other and by a desire to live, bide their time as they determine how much they hate their enemy and whether they may only be able to survive if they work together.

The Sinai desert serves as a more than adequate setting for a film that features just two characters for most of its runtime. There is not much need for decoration since close-ups of these two and their efforts to best the other are most prominently feature, and visual effects serve to assist the gunfire and other weaponry used to try to gain the upper hand. This is a story about two men with historical and cultural differences who aren’t actually all that different, as explored by flashbacks to their surprisingly similar paths to serving in the war.

Egyptian actor Sheik and Israeli actor Klein are depended upon heavily for their reactions to the harsh environmental conditions surrounding them, and they perform dependably. This story isn’t specific to this conflict, and a version of it has been told generally in more involving ways in films such as “Tangerines” and “Game of Aces.” There’s some merit to the underscoring of shared cultures and sentimentality that may actually united people more than divide them, but this particular portrait doesn’t achieve anything more than its expected trajectory. It’s a decent film, but far from a memorable or unique one.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Scaffolding

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Matan Yair
Screening June 6th at 8:15pm

Many intelligent teenagers who don’t have a history of positive educational experiences are affected by one particular teacher who helps to reshape their entire attitude. An ability or proclivity for a certain discipline may remain untapped until someone is able to present the material and engage with a student in a way that works for them. The results differ based on the pupil, but an unbreakable attachment forms between the student and teacher that very much has the power to steer the future of their education and possibly even the course of their career and life.

Asher (Asher Lax) is hardly a model student. He doesn’t try hard in school and frequently gets into fights when his hotheaded nature gets the best of him. His father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) stresses hard work as a value, employing his seventeen-year-old son frequently for construction jobs to train him to take over the family business. Asher’s perspective begins to change when he connects to the teaching style of Rami (Ami Smolartchik), who makes literature far more appealing than he ever thought it could be. With his graduation and exams looming, Asher must confront a devastating and unexpected turn of events that could work to undo all of his progress.

There have been many films made about impactful teachers, though the focus is usually on the teacher and how they transform an entire class. Here, Rami is a supporting player who has a clear and lasting influence on Asher, the undeniable protagonist who, even with Rami’s guidance, still tends towards unfortunate decisions and taking the low road. Asher’s father is far from warm, while Rami is vulnerable and relatable in a wholly different way. Watching Asher as he tries to be what he believes a man should be is a compelling journey, one that doesn’t offer an easy road to success, both in terms of Asher’s attitude and events beyond his control.

The breakout of this film, playing a character of the same name, is Lax. He taps into what it is like to be someone frustrated by his circumstances who isn’t content to subscribe to what he’s told to do, and who values the conflicting displays of masculinity presented by his father and by his teacher. Smolartchik received a well-deserved Ophir Israeli Academy Award for his performance, portraying Rami as an educator who genuinely wants to connect with his students but has also become worn down by the way his life has gone. This film isn’t a complete picture of adolescence and the challenges real life brings, but it’s a thought-provoking and powerful start.


Jewcy Brooklyn Film Festival Spotlight

The 21st Annual Brooklyn Film Festival is currently in full swing, and I had the chance to watch three shorts with Jewish content that are showing beginning tonight. Head over to Jewcy to read all about them and visit the festival's site to learn more!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Saving Neta

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Saving Neta
Directed by Nir Bergman
Screening June 6th at 6pm

Even the most gregarious people have different groups of friends and family in their lives who may only come into contact for milestone occasions, and as the years go on, who makes up those groups and what the groups are can change in a big way. An individual is not defined by the people who surround them, but their interactions can shape who they are and how they dialogue with the world. Someone who is far from social and forms only intimate relationships with few people may have just as much of an impact on others as they have on them.

Neta (Benny Avni) is a man who keeps mostly to himself. Over the course of a year, he shares moments with four different women. He argues that he cannot return for reserve military duty as an army commander, Dalia (Rotem Abuhab), has difficulty focusing on his situation due to her own problems at home. He stops to fix the shoe of a musician, Ruti (Naama Arlaky), struggling with important family decisions. He observes the dissolution of the marriage of Miri (Irit Kaplan) in front of her family while on a picnic. And he tries to help when his neighbor dies and her long-absent older daughter Sharona (Neta Riskin) proves unable to comfort her mentally-challenged sister Dan-Dan (Nuria Dina Lozinsky).

None of these stories are objectively about Neta, and instead he serves as a background player in most, appearing on screen just enough to inform conversations that others have. He lives a simple, unremarkable life, and his disheveled appearance matches his reserved nature. He doesn’t seek out communication, and contributes minimally to those situations in which he finds himself forced to be extroverted. The film’s title references these women’s collective roles in bringing him back to life, though it is just as match a spotlight of strong women dealing with difficult circumstances and trying to get through them the only way that they know how.

There are a handful of great performances in this film, and the six actors named above share pretty much equal screen time. Abuhab, Arlaky, Kaplan, and Riskin all prove to be the most memorable in each of their vignettes, making their characters feel vital and central despite their limited appearances and tangential framing to Neta’s contribution to their lives. While there might be more to explore for each of these women, the way in which this film is structured does them all justice, using Neta as a connector even though they are, collectively, the more worthwhile focus.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD and Netflix. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below.

Now Playing in Theatres

American Animals (highly recommended): This true story of a university library heist planned by four students pulls double duty as a gripping thriller and a creative amalgam of interviews with the actual people and the actors who portray them. The result is simply terrific. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and Regal Union Square. Read my review from South by Southwest.

Breath (highly recommended): Simon Baker stars in and directs this visually incredible story of two young surfers on the Western coast of Australia in the 1970s who get to experience glimpses of adulthood through their interactions with a former professional surfer. Now playing at the Angelika. Read my review from yesterday.

First Reformed (mixed bag): This dreary drama about a self-destructive pastor starts off with plenty of intrigue but quickly delves into disturbing and less-than-enthralling territory, hardly representative of the best work of veteran writer-director Paul Schrader. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square, AMC Kips Bay, City Cinemas East 86th St, Cinepolis Chelsea, and the Angelika. Read my review from a few weeks ago.

A Kid Like Jake (recommended): Claire Danes and Jim Parsons lead this timely film, from trans director Silas Howard, about parents struggling the reactions by peers and professionals to their son who doesn’t conform to typical gender stereotypes or behavior. Now playing at the IFC Center. Read my review from Sundance.

Mary Shelley (mixed bag): Elle Fanning shows once again that she has a promising career ahead of her with a strong performance as the real-life creator of Frankenstein that isn’t nearly as interesting as either its protagonist or its star deserve. Now playing at the Kew Gardens Cinema and the Bow Tie Roslyn Theater. Read my review from Tribeca.

New to DVD

Forbidden Films (recommended): This insightful look at Nazi propaganda that comprised German cinema of the 1930s and 1940s played at the New York Jewish Film Festival back in 2015. Though it offers no clear-cut take on whether this film should be seen widely, its analysis is worthwhile.

Miss Stevens (mixed bag): Actress Lily Rabe leads a competent cast in a forgettable dramedy about a teacher far too invested in her high school drama students that’s harmless enough if also relatively missable.

Wonderstruck (recommended): The most recent - and most family-friendly - film from director Todd Haynes flew under the radar after playing at Cannes, Telluride, and the New York Film Festival. Its layered story, featuring strong child performances, about finding yourself in a sea of noise and confusion is powerful, and a strong second act demonstrates Haynes’ versatility.

Now Available on Instant Streaming

Cargo (highly recommended): Martin Freeman anchors this surprisingly strong zombie movie, which addresses the subject of mortality with sensitivity and depth, that played in the Midnight section at Tribeca. For fans of the genre, this film smartly emphasizes plot and emotion over gore.

Coco (highly recommended): It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t love this past year’s Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Its message is pure and wonderful, and its content and characters are a whole lot of fun. Everyone and anyone should see this.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (recommended): This comedy, released just months after “The Office” first started, was Judd Apatow’s first feature film. It’s not as funny as his next film, Knocked Up, but it’s still fun, and Steve Carell is great.

The Kingdom (recommended): This pretty standard action movie from 2007 about war in the Middle East probably doesn’t look all that different from what a film made today about the same subject would. Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner were at the height of their careers headlining this solid if somewhat disturbing thriller.

Mamma Mia (anti-recommended): I was not a fan at all of this movie musical, which I think most consider to be a bit flighty but decently enjoyable. The timing of its availability on Netflix is no surprise given the sequel’s impending release this July - a film that’s far from at the top of my list.

Wanted (highly recommended): I saw this awesome action thriller as part of a triple feature nearly a decade ago and still remember some of its best scene, its score by Danny Elfman, and James McAvoy’s star turn with a flawless American accent. I’d love to see it again.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Movie with Abe: Breath

Directed by Simon Baker
Released June 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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