Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Movie with Abe: Operation Finale

Operation Finale
Directed by Chris Weitz
Released August 29, 2018

There are many movies made about the Holocaust, a number of them based on true stories and others on events that might have happened to real people that have been dramatized into a creative structure. Some take place before the rise of the Nazi regime, some while they are still in power and concentration camps are being used to house and exterminate those inside, and others long after the Allies have officially declared victory and the Holocaust remains a nightmarish stain on history. All can be equally effective, especially since the memory of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust never fades for those who experienced it.

Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is a Mossad operative in Israel chosen to head a team that includes Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll) and Hanna Elian (Mélanie Laurent) to travel to Argentina in 1960 with one goal: capture the man that they believe is Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). While dealing with the logistics of secretly extracting a war criminal to stand trial for the first time in Israel, Peter and his team are confronted with the weight of the mission they are trying to accomplish and the implications it could have for the world to see the Holocaust presented in an incontrovertible and very public way.

This film resembles a number of recent films that have also dealt with high-profile kidnappings and government operations that didn’t go as planned. At times, it feels like “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken,” where the abductors don’t seem to have much of a clue what they’re doing but aren’t too fazed by it, but it’s much more comparable to the Oscar-winning success “Argo,” which tells a relatively serious story in a playful manner full of entertainment. There are moments at which it approaches the gravity of “Munich,” but those come mostly from Peter being haunted by his own losses from the Holocaust and the reminder of just how a momentous a role the man they are after played in the architecture of the Holocaust.

This is a film where backgrounds and nationalities don’t matter all that much, since a mention of a character’s origins suffices rather than an actual attempt to take on a regional accent or dialect. As a result, Isaac and comic relief Kroll feel and sound particularly American, which detracts slightly from the story, while Kingsley, British as usual, delivers the most compelling and unforgettable turn as Eichmann. The film does manage to tell a gripping story, one capable of holding the attention of anyone watching. Knowing how events turn out doesn’t ruin the effect of this impactful mission, one worthy of showcasing in this format and done well enough here.


Saturday, August 25, 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 many choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as 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

Eighth Grade (highly recommended)
Juliet, Naked (highly recommended)
Never Goin’ Back (highly recommended)
Night Comes On (highly recommended)
Blaze (recommended)
Puzzle (recommended)
Songwriter (recommended)
We the Animals (recommended)
The Bookshop (mixed bag)
An L.A. Minute (mixed bag)

New to DVD

Aardvark (recommended)
It Happened in L.A. (recommended)
The Rider (recommended)
Tully (recommended)
Bye Bye Germany (mixed bag)
First Reformed (mixed bag)
Furlough (mixed bag)
The Yellow Birds (mixed bag)

Now Available on Instant Streaming

Changeling (highly recommended)
Concussion (highly recommended)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (highly recommended)
Her (highly recommended)
Mississippi Grind (highly recommended)
Amy (recommended)
Cinderella Man (recommended)
The Company Men (recommended)
The Constant Gardener (recommended)
The End of the Tour (recommended)
Ex Machina (recommended)
No Country for Old Men (recommended)
Serenity (recommended)
Slow West (recommended)
Song of the Sea/a> (recommended)
Wish I Was Here (recommended)
Hereafter (mixed bag)
The Informant (mixed bag)
The Golden Compass (anti-recommended)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Movie with Abe: An L.A. Minute

An L.A. Minute
Directed by Daniel Adams
Released August 24, 2018

Hollywood is an industry that has been satirized almost as much as it has been featured in a straightforward manner. Warm temperatures and hot egos in Los Angeles make the town one ripe for parody, and that extends beyond the movie business to anyone who travels in famous circles on a regular basis, living a life that looks nothing like that of many of their adoring fans – and less endeared haters. Successfully skewering this phenomenon isn’t always the easiest thing, since it requires a delicate balancing of humor and truth that simultaneously comes off as honest and intelligent.

Ted Gold (Gabriel Byrne) is a renowned author whose latest book, about a homeless serial killer, is all over the shelves. As he walks the streets of Los Angeles, he is asked for money by a man and accidentally gives him a precious token from his past. Searching desperately for him, Ted finds himself held up for money and then entranced by a performance artist named Velocity (Kiersey Clemons), who captures all of his attention and jolts him into realizing that he hasn’t been nearly as authentic as he’d like to think in the course of his work.

This film succeeds best in its depiction of the rollercoaster that fame can be, with one person completely on top one moment (or rather, minute) and then disposed of and totally ignored the next. As with similar projects, circumstances are exaggerated, as are the things that can make a person of interest to the general public. This depiction isn’t nearly as lively or effective overall as something like last year’s “It Happened in L.A.” and takes some questionable, if equally predictable, turns along the way.

Byrne has the perfect aggravated air to play someone seemingly annoyed at his own success, though it’s hardly his most energetic or impressive performance. Clemons, who broke out with a wonderful turn in “Hearts Beat Loud” earlier this year, shows talent, but the role is written a bit too broadly to really give her the appropriate platform for another standout showcase. There is interesting and worthwhile content to be found here, but this film frequently falls into the very traps it seeks to mock in its portrayal of the ups and down of life in the spotlight, a depiction that doesn’t seem to be nearly as up to date and relevant as it should be.


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Bookshop

Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment

The Bookshop
Directed by Isabel Coixet
Released August 24, 2018

Books have a power to transport people out of their worlds and into completely new, boundless realms. While this reviewer prefers movies because of how they visualize and realize stories, books can have an even grander possibility to let those turning their pages escape to somewhere else, away from the banality or unbearable nature of daily life, especially in a time that doesn’t allow for the free expression of thought or true purpose. Naturally, as with any artistic innovation, there will be pushback from those who see it as a lesser form or one unworthy of being indulged and emphasized.

Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) is a widow in 1959 England whose dream is to open a bookshop, something she finds to be considerably more difficult than expected. Countless hurdles are placed in her way, with the most momentous opposition coming from high-society queen Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), who wants to use the space to open a cultural arts center and will use every weapon in her arsenal to sway those few who support Florence against her cause. As she seeks to enlighten the residents of the town with her literary knowledge, she finds sympathy only from a young girl named Christine (Honor Kneafsey) and a lonely widower (Bill Nighy) who is taken with the ideas she expresses and the goals she seeks to achieve.

People advocating for change and progress well ahead of their time is nothing new, and such stories often make for great movies. What makes Florence stand out isn’t necessarily what she’s trying to do but rather the unshakeable persistence with which she does it. Everyone is against her, and it’s not as if her aims are all that revolutionary or objectionable. She’s just a woman who isn’t supposed to be pushing so much in her time and is expected to do what she’s told, a path she has no intention of following.

Mortimer is a fantastic actress whose spirit is one of her best qualities, and that’s on full display here in a relatively isolated lead role that allows her to push forward against every new obstacle. It doesn’t allow her much opportunity to use her comedic chops, unfortunately, and as a result this is far from her most engaging performance. The same is true of Nighy, who does play his part to the best of his ability. The film is decent but ultimately unmemorable, telling a perfectly standard tale in a competent manner.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Movie with Abe: Songwriter

Directed by Murray Cummings
Released August 17, 2018

Music is a very different art than film, and the product of a musician’s work doesn’t look very much like a finished movie or television series. Music videos and live performances help to give a fuller picture of an artist’s intent and add to their work, interpreting lyrics and the mood of the song with scenes and facial expressions that don’t come through when music is played on the radio or streamed online. Getting into the mind of a musician provides even more insight into their process, their motivations, and to understanding what they seek to contribute to the world with their art.

Ed Sheeran is a popular singer and songwriter whose career has blossomed and boomed in the last few years. This international sensation is well-known and adored by many, and his prominence and success are only continuing to grow. This documentary, directed by Sheeran’s cousin Murray Cummings, tracks his third studio album, “Divide,” from start to finish, seeking to provide a close-up look at who Sheeran is and what drives him to make music, with a particular focus on the genesis of his songs from melodies and words in his head to something people will listen to over and over.

“Songwriter,” an appropriately-titled film, is being released in theaters across the country but also slated to be available on Apple Music next music. That’s the perfect platform for this documentary, which shows Sheeran as he is, a man who spends almost all of his time thinking about what he wants to write. This production certainly doesn’t feel like the extravagant showcase of a famous man with millions of fans, instead demonstrating an intimacy that’s felt when Sheeran returns to the school he grew up at to pay tribute to the teacher who believed in him and share his love of music with the current students.

Those who like Sheeran or have a particular affinity for music in general will likely find themselves taken with this film. More than anything, this is a portrait of Sheeran as an artist. There are no grand takeaways about what it’s like to be in the music industry and to maintain a sense of self with fame constantly calling and threatening to overwhelm a person’s decency and genuine nature. For those not as into Sheeran or the business, it may not be quite as engaging, but it’s still a decent look at one talented musician.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Movies With Abe is on the road!

You may have noticed that there haven't been a lot of updates here at Movies With Abe in a while. That's because my wife Arielle and I were busy traveling in Israel, packing up our New York City apartment to move out at the end of July, and hitting the road for a series of road trips! We've made it to Denver, where we'll be celebrating the wedding of good friends this weekend, and then we get back in the car on Monday morning for more exploring. Once we've settled down for a little bit in September, more frequent posts will resume, as they already have at TV with Abe, where I'm catching up on a backlog of summer television. Fear not - during this hiatus, there's a brand new blog! Follow along with our adventures at Road Trip with Abe...and Arielle, where we'll be chronicling each day of our trip. Check back here for new content soon - the less traveling we're doing, the more movies I'm be watching and reviewing.