Friday, March 27, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases in theaters, on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Movie with Abe: Resistance

Directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz
Released March 27, 2020

There are many stories of incredible bravery and survival during the Holocaust as so many were brutally and senselessly killed. Fighting back was not possible for everyone, but there were those who found ways that they were able to subvert extermination efforts and save the lives of others. Many of those stories have been dramatized and turned into movies, and there’s also often a greater legacy that the featured survivors went on to create for themselves and for those they affected. Audiences may be surprised to learn about the path of a young Marcel Marceau, who was an active member of the French Resistance during World War II.

Marcel (Jesse Eisenberg) is the son of Charles Mangel (Karl Markovics), a kosher butcher in Strasbourg, France in 1940. An aspiring performer, Marcel is admonished by his father for his pursuits of less serious aims. He is approached by his cousin Georges (Geza Rohrig), a member of the French Resistance, when a group of orphaned Jewish children arrive in need of guardianship and entertainment. Marcel’s comic abilities make him a perfect fit, and his quick thinking in dangerous situations prove crucial to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts cover that helps them hide these children in plain sight.

When Marcel first interacts with the children and delights them with his playful nature, this film feels like it might be similar to “Life is Beautiful,” showcasing the humor and positivity necessary to survive the unthinkable. Included is the expected portrayal of the Nazi pursuers as inhumane and eager to torture those they deem inferior simply because they can, which is typically disturbing. The dramatization of real-life events is felt through close calls and unlikely victories, the key ingredients of any film that wants to depict more than just history as it precisely happened.

Eisenberg is an actor known for his awkwardness, which makes him a decent physical fit for the role of Marcel, who is an endearing protagonist once he overcomes his desire not to be perceived as a clown. The presence of Rohrig and Markovics, stars of the Oscar-winning Holocaust films “Son of Saul” and “The Counterfeiters,” respectively, lend this film some credibility, as does a brief top-billed appearance from Ed Harris as famed General George S. Patton. This film is hardly a comprehensive or resounding biopic of Marcel, but serves as a relatively standard and affirming showcase of endurance and perseverance thanks in no small part to its protagonist’s attitude and talents.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases in theaters, on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases in theaters, on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Burnt Orange Heresy

The Burnt Orange Heresy
Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi
Released March 6, 2020

Art has an incredible quality to exist long beyond the life of its creator, and, as a result, often takes on a new significance as a piece of their legacy. Viewing or owning something acclaimed is seen as an accomplishment, and collectors and museums go to extraordinary lengths to possess something of historical value. A finished – or unfinished – painting can’t possibly contain all of the meaning and intention the artist originally put into it, yet there’s plenty that can be extrapolated and summarized by those who think they know or understand. At times, that leads to outright fabrications and a true difficulty in determining what’s actually true or real.

James Figueras (Claes Bang) is an art critic who spends most of his time in Italy delighting tourists with lectures about art. When he meets a visiting American, Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), he is immediately taken with her charm and intelligence. Their romance begins, and she accompanies him to Lake Como when art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger) summons him to meet reclusive painter Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland) and steal one of his paintings. James must balance his desire to be relevant and to succeed with his commitment to honesty and true artistry.

James seems like the kind of person who is well aware that he knows much more about the subjects he discusses than anyone else he encounters, and therefore, at the very least, takes that into account to make his anecdotes seem all the more exciting and fantastical. When he’s alone with Berenice, the act isn’t nearly as charming or convincing, particularly when she begins to pick up on just what it is that he is doing. Jerome changes the dynamic because James is indeed enamored with him, even if it’s merely because he strives to achieve the same public profile and renown through any means necessary.

The cast here is talented, but none of them seem to be doing their best work. Bang, the memorable star of Sweden’s 2017 Oscar nominee “The Square,” is at times intriguing and at others despicable, but he’s not an overly effusive lead. Debicki, who has impressed in a range of recent films including “Widows” and “Vita and Virginia,” manages to be mysterious and alluring, but the role isn’t terribly consistent. Jagger, a peculiar casting choice, is certainly dramatic, while Sutherland portrays the recluse without much enthusiasm. Like a painting that is given too much credibility based on interpretation, this film, which positions itself from a creative angle, doesn’t actually deliver all that much, telling a lackluster and unmemorable story.


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Banker

The Banker
Directed by George Nolfi
Released March 6, 2020

The United States doesn’t have a great record on tolerance in its two-plus centuries of existence. Slavery was a big part of its roots, and even after certain legal victories over institutional racism, discrimination remains rampant in so many places and professions. There are those who see racism at play and choose to confront it head-on, challenging it through subversive methods designed not only to achieve their true aims but also to show those who would dare hold them back that they’re not nearly as smart as think they are.

Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) grows up in Texas shining the shoes of rich white men and taking notes on the conversations he overhears so that he can understand how to make solid investments. As an adult in Los Angeles, Bernard tries to get into the real estate world, which he finds difficult given the color of his skin. An Irishman (Colm Meaney) who has himself been judged by his heritage is impressed by him, giving him a good shot at success, but Bernard has his sights set on something greater. With the help of his wife Eunice (Nia Long), a rich, eccentric businessman (Samuel L. Jackson), and a white colleague (Nicholas Hoult) who will handle all face-to-face interactions on behalf of the two black men fronting him, Bernard sets out to buy the building that houses the many banks that all refused to even consider giving him a loan.

This film is based on a true story, one that includes many unfortunate setbacks and upsetting looks at the true character of many Americans with far too much money and power, yet most of it is presented here as comedy. It’s probably most comparable to “The Help,” a film that also portrays those who understand how the system works and console themselves with that truth by finding ways to subtly and humorously demonstrate their intelligence and cunning by outsmarting those who attempt to suppress them. It’s undeniably entertaining, though the stakes and seriousness of the surrounding situation aren’t quite conveyed. That’s not the main purpose of this film, which itself is poking fun at the absurdity of its content.

Mackie has a high profile right now thanks to his role in “Avengers: Endgame,” all the films that led into it, and the upcoming “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” TV series. This is a solid role for him, but his prominence takes a backseat to his costars in nearly every scene. Long is strong, and Hoult shows his versatility with an eager part here that suits him well. The incomparable standout of the film is Jackson, who owns every moment he’s onscreen with a formidable and fantastically enjoyable turn. This film was originally slated for release in December before problematic events related to Bernard’s living children prompted Apple to delay it. While those should certainly be addressed, for this reviewer who screened the film way back in November, it is a fun caper film that works well with its lighthearted picture of relatively recent American history.