Friday, August 30, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Movie with Abe: Spider in the Web

Spider in the Web
Directed by Eran Riklis
Released August 30, 2019

There is a familiar film premise that finds an aging law enforcement official of some given agency who should probably have retired a few years ago on the hook for one last big case or operation that could well bring their downfall. This concept has been utilized many times over, and usually also involves a younger partner who is initially at odds with them and might eventually come to be a trusted ally as the senior character’s still-existing prowess becomes evident. A new iteration of this idea needs to bring it with a degree of individuality and a surrounding story worthy of its specific creation.

Adereth (Ben Kingsley) is an agent of the Israeli Mossad who has spent forty years working covertly for his country. To ensure that he remains relevant rather than being forcefully ousted, he has padded his latent intelligence reports, leading Mossad to send a young agent, Daniel (Itay Tiran), to shadow him. Hints of a chemical weapons sale send Adereth to Angela (Monica Bellucci), who he begins to position as an asset, closely watched by the unimpressed Daniel who is set on doing his job and keeping the resourceful and cunning Adereth in line.

This film comes from Israeli director Eran Riklis, whose credits include “Lemon Tree” and “The Syrian Bride.” Unlike his previous film, “Shelter,” this project doesn’t feel urgent or gripping, and instead travels through its narrative slowly and unenergetically. Though it’s produced by a number of Israeli companies, this spy drama doesn’t feel at all Israeli, paling in comparison even to the recent Netflix offering “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” which also featured Kingsley as a Mossad operative. Conveniently, Kingsley never utters a word of Hebrew here even while other characters around him do, and his many stories don’t exactly make his background believable.

Regardless of whether he fits this part, Kingsley is always formidable to watch, and there is an effortlessness to his charismatic performance that shows through here. As with his recent performance in the underrated television series “Perpetual Grace, LTD,” Kingsley delivers each line with care and purpose, and that helps somewhat to elevate a thinly-written character in this project. This film is full of clichés and predictable plot points, and at times it’s impossible to decipher exactly what is going on due to a confusing narrative with unexplained jumps and scene transitions. This premise is decidedly tired, and this attempt to revive it falls extremely short on many levels.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Interview with Abe: The Narcissists

I had the pleasure of speaking with director and star Quincy Rose about his new film "The Narcissists," which opens today, for AM New York. Check out the piece over at the AM New York site and see this fun film if you can!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Movie with Abe: Vita and Virginia

Vita and Virginia
Directed by Chanya Button
Released August 23, 2019

Writers invent imagined worlds and tell incredible stories that, in many cases, live on long past them to exist in future generations. Fictional characters may be partially autobiographical or historical in nature, even if a work is posited as original rather than fact-based. What survives from previous eras off the page becomes a combination of legend and collected anecdotes and rumors, pieced together to create a picture of what a writer’s real life might have been like and how their own experiences led to an immortal representation through a given character or story.

In the 1920s, Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) is a prominent and acclaimed writer, married to Sir Harold Nicholson (Rupert Penry-Jones) but engaging in a number of affairs with both men and women while he enjoys similar freedoms. When she meets the far more reserved, reclusive author Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), she is immediately stricken. Unlike Vita’s many other attractions and entanglements, Virginia doesn’t warmly return her affection. Entranced nonetheless, Vita becomes determined to pierce the walls that Virginia has built around her and to be a close and personal part of her life.

This film is based on a 1992 play of the same name by Eileen Atkins, itself inspired by actual letters between the two famed authors. Much of their budding romance is presented through the reading of those letters, with each actress addressing the camera directly, their written words conjuring up their presence for the other and completely dominating their thoughts. It’s a stirring representation of a relationship, one built more on longing and lust than on actual interaction, resulting both from the reality of the times and their own personalities.

This film stars two very talented actresses who have already proven their talents at a young age in previous film roles. Arterton, from “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” and “Tamara Drewe,” invigorates Vita with a tremendous energy and passion, set on not conforming to the repressive sentiments of the world around her that demand her to be a loyal wife rather than fully her own person. Debicki, who broke out last year with formidable performances in “The Tale,” “Breath,” and “Widows,” tackles a role that won Nicole Kidman an Oscar for “The Hours” and impressively portrays Woolf as a steely, deeply thoughtful intellectual who has trouble expressing her emotions the way she is able to do so on the page. Isobel Waller-Bridge’s buoyant score helps to add adventure and excitement to their tryst, one that proves immensely watchable if admittedly less than completely satisfying in this cinematic retelling.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Movie with Abe: This Is Not Berlin

This Is Not Berlin
Directed by Hari Sama
Released August 25, 2019

Every society goes through many changes over the course of a given period of time, and it’s not always easy to predict what will happen next or when. Young people are especially prone to feeling like they don’t fit in and need to part of a more progressive future, and being a member of a certain community at the right time can be exceptionally transformational. That outlet may not be inherently accessible, and engaging with it can lead to a withdrawal from the previously comfortable and more initially formative life, necessitating a choice in where a person’s direction is headed.

Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) is seventeen in Mexico City in 1986, feeling unsatisfied with his troublemaking friends at school and yearning for freedom from his mother and younger brother at home. He experiences something unexpected when he and his best friend Gera (José Antonio Toledano) accompany Gera’s older sister Rita (Ximena Romo) to a nightclub that opens his eyes to something he never imagined. An introduction to the enigmatic, passionate artist Nico (Mauro Sanchez Navarro) shows him the seemingly limitless scope of discovery just waiting for him, pulling him away from everything he knows towards something dazzling and mysterious.

This film gets its title from a scene in which Nico’s attempt at avant-garde artwork is decried because, as everyone is well aware, Mexico City is not Berlin, hardly an established cultural center of the world. Yet the times are very much changing, and Carlos is right in the middle of that, becoming involved in protests against the government and finding ways to express himself that are more than just theoretical or artistic. Watching how Carlos changes – both physically and emotionally – serves to tell most of this film’s story, with the specific plot points and supporting characters merely tangential to the making of a new man who looks and feels unlike the teenager first seen at the start of the film.

This is an immersive experience, one that puts the audience in the place of its protagonist and allows him to see the world opening up in front of him as he does, watching influences like Rita and Nico and trying to become like them. Each of the actors contributes plentifully, namely Ponce de León in his first major film role. This film played successfully at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, and serves as a solid arthouse effort to capture a moment in time that is decidedly specific yet feels appropriately universal.


Monday, August 19, 2019

Movie with Abe: The Red Sea Diving Resort

The Red Sea Diving Resort
Directed by Gideon Raff
Released July 31, 2019

Throughout history, many clandestine efforts and operations have been undertaken both by established law enforcement agencies and those considered unofficial military groups or resistance fighters to help oppressed people find their way to safety. As new regimes take power or dangers are extinguished, or sometimes following the natural deaths many years later of those involved, these stories are exposed to the public. They might immediately become a sensation, recounted internationally across a plethora of news sources, or remain a low-key piece of history just waiting to be spotlighted by someone who understands its significance.

In the 1980s, Ethiopian Jews face dangerous conditions as a result of unrest within their country. Kabede (Michael K. Williams) makes contact with Ari (Chris Evans), an agent of the Israeli Mossad, to help protect his people once they make their way to a refugee camp in Sudan. After his cover is nearly blown and he must go back to Israel, Ari proposes a daring operation to his superiors. With a small team, he will travel to Sudan under the guise of buying the Red Sea Diving Resort, an abandoned property that will serve as a front for smuggling the Ethiopian Jews out. The notion isn’t as far-fetched as it initially seems, but the resort does attract some surprising attention, both from a Sudanese colonel (Chris Chalk) on the hunt for disappearing refugees and actual tourists eager to experience the illusion the agents are selling.

If this film sounds a whole lot like “Argo,” that’s because it is. A deadly serious event is turned into light-hearted spy fare, with many situations heightened and dramatized in a way that doesn’t appear to do justice to what actually occurred, which is an amalgamation of Israel’s real-life Operation Moses and Operation Joshua. It’s difficult to accept many of the holes in this film’s narrative that make their efforts feel all too successful when they’re nearly completely exposed at other random moments. It’s not as if the material isn’t treated sensitively, but rather that this story, as told in this fashion, is far too thin and unengaging. It’s not even the spectacle it could be, were historical details to be sacrificed for the sake of entertainment.

Where this film falls flattest in its attempt to depict Israeli characters with no accents whatsoever. Evans, while a strong choice to play Captain America, doesn’t have any traits resembling real-life or cinematic Mossad agents, and while Ben Kingsley is always a welcome presence in any film, his suit-wearing supervisor feels deeply inauthentic. Last year, Kingsley played the target of a Mossad operation in “Operation Finale,” a film that also didn’t try to emulate Israeli accents or antics but still felt far more genuine. This film feels far from vital, which is hardly fitting for a project with this cast and this premise.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Edward Norton Turns 50

It's Edward Norton's fiftieth birthday today, which is cause for celebration. I wrote about my top five underrated performances of his for The Film Experience. Head over there to read my take on a few roles you really need to see.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Movie with Abe: Socrates

Directed by Alexandre Moratto
Released August 16, 2019

There are certain general narratives found in film, and the strength of each individual iteration depends on the approach taken and the authenticity conveyed by both the script and the performers. Those living on the margins of society are frequently portrayed in independent film, especially youth forced to become mature as a result of their circumstances. Utilizing first-time actors who have actually lived experiences similar to those depicted on screen is the surest method of ensuring a genuine representation, tapping into personal anguish and giving a voice to those who aren’t often given a fair shot.

Socrates (Christian Malheiros) is a fifteen-year-old boy living in Sao Paulo. When his mother dies, he does his best to maintain his independence, showing up for her cleaning shifts and trying to find work wherever he can to come up with the rent money that he desperately needs. Told that he may be put into the foster care system, Socrates lies about his age and hides from the abusive father he fears. A connection with another young man, Maicon (Tales Ordakji), offers him some hope for a more lasting personal relationship that isn’t just about surviving to the next moment.

The genesis of this film is notable and speaks to the success it achieves in utilizing real people to tremendous effect. Twenty-nine-year-old Brazilian-American Alexandre Moratto makes an astounding debut behind the camera, honing in on the loneliness and emotion that Socrates expresses as he tries his hardest to stay in charge of his life when everything seems to be working against him. Using at-risk teenagers from low-income communities is a true boon to this film, which marks the first feature from the Querô Institute in Brazil and was also funded by UNICEF.

There is not much about this film that will surprise audiences with regard to its plot, and the film runs just seventy minutes. Yet there’s an urgency and vitality to this story due in large part to Mahleiros’ raw, human performance. He conveys the fact that he needs whatever random job he is hopelessly inquiring about with his eyes and with a dedication that transmits a knowledge that what he does matters since he risks losing control and independence. This film, which won the Someone to Watch Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards for Moratto and earned a nomination for Malheiros’ turn, is well worth watching, demonstrating that a fresh turn at this narrative brings with it wondrous benefits.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Movie with Abe: After the Wedding

I covered this film when I saw it at the Sundance Film Festival way back in January for The Film Experience but never posted it here! The American remake of "After the Wedding," a fantastic 2006 Danish film, arrives in theatres this Friday. Check out my take on Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams in the lead roles over at The Film Experience.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Movie with Abe: Tel Aviv on Fire

Tel Aviv on Fire
Directed by Sameh Zoabi
Released August 2, 2019

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a simple matter, with plenty of passion to be found from nearly anyone asked about the situation. It has made its way into cinema quite frequently over the years, usually in the form of forbidden romances, military dramas, or investigative documentaries that try to reframe the narrative from a particular point of view. Those approaches are valid, but it’s hard to fully connect with any one effort due to perspectives and preconceived notions brought in when accessing a film. This clever comedy takes a different approach, one that proves to be as universal as possible given its material.

Salem (Kais Nashef) begins working on his uncle’s soap opera, “Tel Aviv on Fire” in Ramallah, helping with the Hebrew dialogue spoken by the Israeli commander and the Palestinian spy charged to get close to him. After he is stopped at an Israeli checkpoint one day, Salem meets Assi (Yaniv Biton), an Israeli officer whose wife loves the show. When Salem finds himself promoted to become a writer on the show, he’s in way over his head. An unexpected – and unconventional – relationship forms as Salem secretly consults with Assi for his help coming up with ideas for the show, which adds a distinctly Israeli flavor to the storylines that the series’ backers don’t like.

There is romance to be found in this film, though it’s a subplot. As he gets close to the lead actress (Lubna Azabal), who is French and tries to lure him away to what she describes as a better place, Salem throws in lines of dialogue that he hopes his ex-girlfriend (Maisa Abd Alhady) will notice. But the more central relationship is the one between Salem and Assi. It’s enormously complicated, since Assi wields a great deal of power over Salem, who for his part unwisely ends up at their initial meeting after he asks a female soldier if calling a woman “explosive” is a bad thing. But it’s sweet to see how they begin to enjoy spending time together, as Salem arrives each day with prized Palestinian hummus and Assi delves into what he believes can be a happy multicultural ending for a show that he can’t understand quite why his wife loves so much.

Nashef won a Best Actor prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival for a relatively muted performance, one that allows others around him to shine. Biton is entertaining, as is Azabal, and it’s fun to see Yousef Sweid from “The Bubble” hamming it up as the actor playing the Israeli soldier. This film’s message, that television, and by extension film, has a power to unite us in a way that isn’t quite as possible in the real world, is endearing. This film manages to provide a compelling and enthralling story that doesn’t seek to change everything, merely to suggest one lighthearted opportunity to find commonality.