Monday, June 29, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Outpost


The Outpost
Directed by Rod Lurie
Released July 3, 2020

War affects people, whether they’re directly involved in a conflict or simply have the misfortune of being right in the middle of a war zone. There’s a difference between wars that happen at home and those that are abroad, since the people can separate themselves from what’s happening if they’re only reading about in the newspaper or watching it on the news rather than encountering it where they are. Soldiers sent into combat in a faraway place are transported from safety to somewhere that they know brings with it a danger they may not be able to escape.

The Combat Outpost Keating is established in northeastern Afghanistan as a way to defend against Taliban attacks in the region, situated in a precarious and vulnerable valley. Captain Benjamin Keating (Orlando Bloom) leads a group of American soldiers who face frequent surprise offensives when they become the target of gunfire from the mountains above. As they attempt to keep the peace and show the tribes in their vicinity that they only want to help, the soldiers, including Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood) and Specialist Ty Carter (Caleb Landry Jones) prepare for a harrowing and deadly battle they know could leave no survivors.

This film is based on CNN journalist Jake Tapper’s nonfiction book “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” which recounts the Battle of Kamdesh, which resulted in many casualties and posthumous military decorations. Like a war movie set in any time period, it’s necessary to introduce specific characters, who in this case are based mostly on real soldiers, to anchor a film that, when bullets are flying, doesn’t have time to stop and focus on the names of those who get hit by senseless, undiscriminating fire. This film seeks to do justice nonetheless to their memories by commemorating the bravery of all those who fought valiantly and either lost their lives or came out forever scarred by this experience.

One of the most recognizable faces in this film is a non-American, Bloom, who bursts onto the scene to take charge of an unexpected situation, never losing his calm despite considerable pressure. Eastwood, who bears a resemblance to his very famous father, Clint, and Jones compellingly convey the stresses of being in an uncertain place while trying to feel as normal as possible. This film delivers on its mission to capture what it truly feels like to be trapped in a war zone knowing that the goal is to stay there despite the constant threat of the unknown, presenting an affecting and involving immersion in a life-or-death scenario.

B

Friday, June 26, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

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


New to VOD: Corpus Christi
New to DVD: Portrait of a Lady on Fire, And Then We Danced, Burden
New to Hulu: Clemency

Friday, June 19, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

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


New to VOD: The Short History of the Long Road, Miss Juneteenth, Babyteeth
New to DVD: Saint Frances
New to Netflix: Da 5 Bloods, Frost/Nixon
New to Amazon and Hulu: The U.S. vs. John Lennon
New to Hulu: Buffaloed, Eye in the Sky, Larry Crowne


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Movie with Abe: Babyteeth


Babyteeth
Directed by Shannon Murphy
Released June 19, 2020

There are points in a person’s life where they’re seeking a connection that they’re not able to find anywhere. This can come in a moment of crisis, when circumstances change and leave someone feeling distinctly different from how they were before and in need of something new. Encountering someone who represents a fresh start or a completely different world can be therapeutic, but it can also be a troubling step towards uncertainty and instability, one that feels right explicitly because of its inherent wrongness, and which only other people can see may be a mistake.

Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is undergoing chemotherapy and keeping mostly to herself when she meets an older drug dealer, Moses (Toby Wallace). She soon becomes entranced with him despite repeated indications of his dishonest nature and his ulterior motives. Her mother Anna (Essie Davis) notices but lacks the ability to act on her observations because of the intense regimen of drugs her psychiatrist husband Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) has prescribed, and he’s far more focused on an alluring young neighbor than on his own family. Left mostly to her own devices, Milla begins to explore what life means for her and what she requires to make herself feel complete.

This film is immediately reminiscent of a recent Sundance Film Festival selection, “Dinner in America,” which also follows a young woman attracted to an obvious bad egg who makes little effort to hide who he is. This Australian production, adapted from screenwriter Rita Kalnejais’s play of the same name, feels entirely universal, unbound to a particular place or cultural condition. Milla has to contend with her own mortality at a young age, while her parents have retreated into an antisocial state where they feel powerless to effect any change to their own wellbeing. Moses is opportunistic and occasionally charming, and he shows up just when Milla desperately needs some excitement and danger in her life.

Scanlen is best known for her role in HBO’s “Sharp Objects” and in the most recent film version of “Little Women.” Here, she delivers an intoxicating, lived-in performance as Milla, who isn’t sure what she wants and is most interested in trying whatever feels right. Wallace has a fitting demeanor to play the objection of her affection, and Davis and Mendelsohn inhabit their characters with a recognizable resignation indicative of a dissatisfaction with where their lives have taken them. The finished product is initially captivating but ultimately less than satisfying, similar to the freewheeling behavior of its protagonist, a diversion from normal life that can’t possibly last forever.

B

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Movie with Abe: Da 5 Bloods


Da 5 Bloods
Directed by Spike Lee
Released June 12, 2020

There are a number of recognizable elements to Spike Lee Joints, what the filmmaker famously calls his movies. After a number of prominent projects in the 1980s, including the Oscar-nominated “Do the Right Thing,” Lee has been regularly working to examine the treatment of black people in America and abroad, and he finally won an Oscar in 2018 for his work on the adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman.” Now, in the midst of a global cry for anti-racism in the wake of an increased spotlight on police brutality in America, Lee’s latest has arrived with no need for movie theaters to be open to pointedly question the system and upend expectations.

Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) were all soldiers together in the Vietnam War in the 1st Infantry Division. Their squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) was killed in action shortly after their successful location of a downed CIA plane with gold bars brought as payment to their local Lahu allies against the Viet Cong. Decades later, the surviving veterans, who call themselves the Bloods, return to Vietnam in search of Norman’s body. Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) tags along without his father’s approval, and the group of five set out to find the site of the plane, never sure of who they can trust along the way.

This film’s release comes at a powerful moment in this country’s being, and it most strongly stands an example of learning about black history. This film provides an educational framework, through Norman teaching his soldiers and the older characters reflecting on their experiences, about how black Americans were disproportionately sent to fight in Vietnam, looked down upon by the people they encountered there, and discriminated against even in light of their service once they returned to America. This is also an opportunity to give deep, complex leading roles to established black actors often relegated to supporting parts, particularly Lindo and Peters.

As he did in “BlacKkKlansman,” Lee knows how to poignantly and devastatingly drive home a message with a quick cut to real-life footage that shows how racism and violence aren’t even hidden from the masses, just brushed under the rug and considered forgotten. The story here is considerably more free-flowing, and it’s difficult to defend its 154-minute running time as well as some of its plot elements. But ultimately it’s a film that comes at just the right time to ensure conversation around it, more memorable for the right reasons – an emphatic defense of black existence and the enduring right for everyone to tell and frame their own stories – than any lackluster cinematic devices or storytelling decisions.

B

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

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


Israel Film Center Festival selections: The Art of Waiting, Aulcie, The Electrifiers, Love Trilogy: Chained, Mossad, Peaches and Cream
New to Virtual Cinema: Aviva, For They Know Not What They Do, Sometimes Always Never
New to DVD: Red Cow, Greed, Advocate, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Blush
New to Amazon: Knives Out

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Aulcie

I’m pleased to be covering the 8th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which is running virtually June 7th-14th.


Aulcie
Directed by Dani Menkin
Available June 7 – June 14

Sports provide a forum for people to root for their favorite teams and players, and there’s often an incredible energy that unites inhabitants of a particular geographic area and from other places who feel an affinity for a given team or athlete. Players sometimes achieve a cult fandom, which may change over the course of time when they switch teams, leagues, or even sports. Going to another country and becoming a star athlete can have a tremendous effect on a person, allowing them to feel more at home in a new place than they ever did where they were born and first lived.

Aulcie Perry grows up in Newark, New Jersey, standing tall at 6’ 10” and playing basketball in high school. An early career in American sports leads nowhere when he barely plays, but his fortunes change when he is recruited by a scout from Maccabi Tel Aviv in 1976. Aulcie becomes a celebrity champion for the Israeli team and a renowned figure in the country. His ensuing conversion to Judaism and high-profile relationship with an Israeli model are wondrous high points that pale in comparison to the devastation he experiences when drug addiction leads to incarceration in America for international drug smuggling.

This is a documentary that frames its subject as a man with many regrets. He recounts the incredible opportunity that he got to come to Israel and play for a country that greatly admired and respected him, which wasn’t the experience he had growing up as a black man in New Jersey. He laughs remembering how he met the love of his life because he was thrilled that she was so tall after being around the typically much shorter Israeli population. Among all the good memories, Aulcie emphasizes most that he would have made different choices had he known how things would turn out, something that he’s given another chance to do when he attempts to reconnect with the daughter he’s never met.

This is a smart closing night selection for the Israel Film Center Festival, showcasing an element of Israeli culture that isn’t often at the forefront in any sort of media. The connection that Aulcie was able to form with a country so different from his own and with a new religion is affirming, and it’s those positive associations that contributed to Aulcie’s recovery after his time in prison, among other influences. It’s hardly an expected story, but it is an intriguing and worthwhile portrait of a man whose life took him very different places than he ever thought it would.

B+

Friday, June 12, 2020

Movie with Abe: Sometimes Always Never


Sometimes Always Never
Directed by Carl Hunter
Released June 12, 2020

The games we play as children inform our perceptions of the world and the way that we interact in real life. More specifically, the games that families play together also speak to the type of people the parents are in selecting leisure activities to fill their time. If the experiences are positive, those children will pass along enthusiasm for those same games onto next generations, informing their parenting style and the lens through which they frame family time. That isn’t always the case, and children may grow up resenting the values taught to them in the course of seemingly harmless play.

Alex (Bill Nighy) has an unusual connection to the game Scrabble. His son Michael went missing years earlier after storming out while they were playing, and he splits his time between searching for him and obsessing over words to play, both online and in person with anyone he meets. His son Peter (Sam Riley) doesn’t share his warm affinity for the game, remembering that they always played off-brand versions with slightly modified boards and rules, and yearning for the day that his father will be happy enough with the son who is still right in front of him.

This film is an interesting genre hybrid, playing mostly as an awkward comedy, with an early round of nighttime Scrabble with strangers allowing Alex to show the kind of person he is, coming up with extravagant words whose meanings he claims not to know yet obviously must be founded somewhere. Peter resents him but also spends a good deal of time apologizing for his father’s behavior, something Alex is unable to recognize. This parent is far better at expressing himself through fancy language spelled out in block letters than he is at communicating with actual words.

Nighy has exactly the right temperament to play this role, making Alex just short of endearing, particularly when he shares knowledge in a way that comes off as pretentious, like his explanation of the film’s title, the rule for buttoning suits that he knows due to his profession as a tailor. Riley is, like his onscreen father, somewhat reserved, but Peter is far more aware of how his comments land with others, even if he is hopeless to couch his gut reactions to provocative statements. This film is intriguing but at the same time somewhat aimless, exploring a family trauma that continues to exist through every new word game.

B-

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Movie with Abe: Aviva


Aviva
Directed by Boaz Yakin
Released June 12, 2020 (Available exclusively on ROW8.com)

No two people are the same, even if they are influenced by similar factors throughout their lives. There are certain tendencies that are often attributed to elements like gender, race, nationality, socioeconomic background, and so many more, but there’s still no easy way to define a particular person purely by metrics. Those who don’t conform to established archetypes may be seen as outliers, and might struggle to determine what is wrong with them rather than embracing the many things that make them the completely unique person they are.

Aviva (Zina Zinchenko) is a young woman living in Paris who develops an online relationship with Eden (Tyler Phillips), a man in New York. When they finally meet each other in person, they grow closer and fall in love. The story of their life together is told with additional performers portraying them. Or Schraiber and Bobbi Jene Smith play the masculine and feminine versions of Aviva and Eden, appearing frequently in scenes as their characters express feelings and behaviors typically assigned to the opposite gender. All four are also dancers, whose movements across the screen help to convey even more depth of emotion that play in both to their relationships to each other and to everything else in their lives.

This film is instantly intriguing, introducing its whirlwind romance in a relatively normative fashion before unexpectedly jumping to dance sequences and atypical actors to give audiences truly rare insight into the people they are watching. There is nothing simple about this romance, which begins when they can only imagine what awaits them when they may finally meet and then becomes a more insular process turned external thanks to the visual approach this film employs so gracefully. Like so many real-life relationships, both romantic and platonic, this is a bumpy, unpredictable ride full of highs and lows.

This film is a dizzying, beautiful experience, one that can best be summarized by its refusal to conform. There is no switch that gets flipped when a different performer takes over a role, and labeling what Aviva and Eden are doing by assigning an actor presenting a certain gender is a fascinating exercise. There is often more chaos than order in this film, which allows its dancers to make performance art through movement and music, enhancing a sophisticated and deeply thought-provoking two-person story with a rich interpretation of the many pieces of each person that they bring into any relationship.

B+

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: The Art of Waiting

I’m pleased to be covering the 8th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which is running virtually June 7th-14th.


The Art of Waiting
Directed by Erez Tadmor
Available June 7 – 14

Having a child isn’t an easy process for every prospective parent. Even if everything works naturally, there are important considerations like cost, living space, and other factors that make the decision to start a family more complicated. Those who aren’t able to conceive right away may struggle with having to choose what they are willing to sacrifice and how much they want to invest to try to bring a life into this world. During deliberation and any necessary treatments, it’s guaranteed that they will receive numerous opinions from those who haven’t been asked to provide their suggestions.

Tali (Nelly Tagar) and Liran (Roy Assaf) want to have a baby. When they learn that Liran’s sperm have low mobility, their doctor (Eli Gorenstein) pledges to help them if they commit to regular tests and affirm that this what they actually want. News that Liran’s brother and his partner are also thinking about parenthood prompts Liran to share their plans with his parents, Moshe (Shmil Ben Ari) and Nurit (Evelin Hagoel), and grandmother (Rivka Bahar), who then need to move in with them when rocket fire in the southern Israeli city of Sderot hits their home. Their unwanted and prying questions are contrasted by the concern expressed by Tali’s father (Rami Heuberger), who worries that treatments will put Tali’s health in jeopardy and lead to her dying just like her mother did in childbirth.

Director Erez Tadmor’s film is a very personal one based on his own experiences with IVF, which took three years each for his wife Moran to become pregnant with their two children. That story is framed here as a comedy, with the influence of the parents quite excessive and unwelcome. Liran wears a Bluetooth earpiece that allows him to move out of almost any conversation without warning, something that both the doctor and Tali observe make him seem less than committed to being a parent. Both Tali and Liran have frequent nightmares that bring to life what they fear will happen even if all this works and they aren’t fit to be the parents they always thought they would be.

Embedded within this strong comedic presentation are more serious themes about the assumptions people make when they hear that a couple is trying to conceive. The response of Liran’s parents is far warmer to the heterosexual couple’s announcement than to the gay couple’s since they get stuck on who the “real” parent will be, and Nurit chooses to share only select details about what her son and his wife are going through that put an undue weight on Tali’s responsibilities while diminishing Liran’s. The entire cast, led by the dependable Tagar from “Zero Motivation” and “Past Life,” performs superbly, enlivening this entertaining and affirming story of sticking together through tough times for the sake of a rewarding future together.

B+

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: The Electrifiers

I’m pleased to be covering the 8th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which is running virtually June 7th-14th.


The Electrifiers
Directed by Boaz Armoni
Available June 7 – June 14

It’s not easy to break into the music business, and possessing youthful energy is helpful in countering the many setbacks and false hopes that come along the road to success. There are many artists who emerge with one breakout hit and then can’t hope to fulfill its promise, relegated to being known for just that track and destined instead for futures in other industries or careers. Bands well past their prime have been featured in films before, and spotlighting a group that thinks they might still have it and could still make it big is usually a recipe for humor.

Mickey (Zvika Nathan) is the lead singer for the Electrifiers, who won the Best New Artist prize in 1984 and haven’t done much since then. Along with bassist Nissim (Yigal Adika), keyboardist Roni (Sharon Alexander), and drummer Avi (Uri Hochman), Mickey now plays lackluster gigs and often ends up owing more money than he makes to his agent Victor (Eli Yatzpan) while he lives in a trailer outside the home of his ex-wife (Odelia Mora-Matalon). Enticed by the opportunity to perform in America, Mickey enlists film student Yotam (Elisha Banai), who is also dating his daughter Chen (Ella Armory), to update their last video, which exists only in VHS form, and teams with a talented young singer, Anna (Tamara Klingon), who is described by Victor as having a “gimmick” – being in a wheelchair.

This film is most definitely about men much past their prime who still believe they can become famous and be known first and foremost as musicians, despite the fact that they all, with the exception of Mickey, work other jobs to make a living. It’s a welcome comedic trip about trying to relive glory days that were never really all that glorious, particularly because Mickey is recognized most frequently for a track the band recorded when they were drunk called “Eli the Cat” which he hates singing. This journey is a familiar one, but it’s just as harmless and endearing.

The ensemble cast is key to this film’s success. Among the standouts are Adika, whose character is trying to plan a frugal wedding for his daughter, and Klingon, who embodies someone who has encountered a different kind of pushback to what she’s offering. Together, everyone makes this an enjoyable look at those who haven’t thrown in the towel just yet and have at least one last grand adventure in store. Assisted by great music, this lighthearted story is heartwarming, winning, and enjoyable.

B+

Monday, June 8, 2020

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Love Trilogy: Chained

I’m pleased to be covering the 8th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which is running virtually June 7th-14th.


Love Trilogy: Chained
Directed by Yaron Shani
Available June 7 – June 14

Improper conduct by those in positions of authority is not a new subject, but it’s one that’s trending heavily at the moment, taking up an appropriately large space for the first time in a very important way. The #metoo movement has enabled those who were taken advantage of and bullied by executives and others who sought to exert their power to force people to do things they were uncomfortable with to have a voice, and Black Lives Matter has taken on an increased relevance following the brutal killing of yet another black man by a white police officer using excessive force. Looking at situations where what happened isn’t as clear cut can be a complicated and treacherous endeavor, but also a worthwhile one.

Rashi (Eran Naim) has been a police officer for sixteen years, and has come to expect most of what he sees on the job. A routine search he conducts on kids he believes are making trouble in the park is turned into something much bigger when one of their influential parents accuses him of sexual assault. Rashi finds himself in a compromised position, distanced from his wife Avigail (Stav Almagor) and her daughter Yasmin (Stav Patay) as he remains steadfast about his innocence and his refusal to even consider that he might have done anything wrong.

This film, the second in director Yaron Shani’s trilogy (of which this reviewer has seen only this film), premiered at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival. The timing of this digital screening comes as conversations about what police can and can’t do are extremely charged. This focus, however, is entirely on the officer, whose conduct we see fully and can judge before, much to his surprise, it is reported as something else. What’s most fascinating about this portrait is how it shows a man so unconcerned with what others think about him or would allege that he did that his attitude is almost enough for anyone to convict him.

While there are elements of this scenario which are universal, this is a distinctly Israeli film. The internal affairs agents who interrogate Rashi are direct and abrasive even before he gives them cause to do so, and his anger about even being questioned boils over into a defiant and deliberately uncooperative posture. Even if what he did was unacceptable, Rashi would never admit it, in part because of his culture and in part because of his masculinity. Naim, who in real life worked as a police detective for fifteen years, deservedly took home an Israeli Oscar for his genuine and turn, anchoring a difficult and intensely thought-provoking film about falling into mindsets and an inability to be open to new perspectives.

B+

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Mossad

I’m pleased to be covering the 8th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which is running virtually June 7th-14th.


Mossad
Directed by Alon Gur Arye
Available June 7 – June 14

The more popular a movie or series is, the more likely it is to be parodied. That which is positively embraced by the masses ends up being ripe for mockery, even if it’s simply a way for people to have fun with a concept that, when presented dramatically, works pretty well. There is also plenty about real life that can be turned into comedy, particularly if certain rumors and suppositions exist and can be fleshed out into more absurd cinematic representations. The results are rarely free of stupidity, but if approached in the right way, they have the capability to be quite funny.

Guy (Tsahi Halevi) is an agent with the Mossad who, along with his colleague Aaron (Tal Friedman), is stripped of his rank after a mission to rescue his boss Shuki (Dvir Benedek) goes awry. When he is unable to find purpose in his everyday civilian life, Guy is approached by Sharon (Adi Himelbloy), the wife of a kidnapped executive (Jack Sattelberg), to help get him back from his abductors. Guy teams with a CIA agent sent to aid the search, Linda (Efrat Dor), who has trouble getting the Mossad to take her seriously, as they battle idiotic behavior exhibited by both the good guys and the bad guys.

This film opens by grounding itself as a send-up of the James Bond movies that is distinctly Israeli, with its signature agent realizing he doesn’t have his gun and making the Israeli hand gesture for “just a second.” Guy immediately seeks out the more challenging options in each situation, refusing the help of a local woman who claims to know a shortcut to his imprisoned boss and instead insisting that he would rather go through the bad guys than around them. Like “Blazing Saddles” and other parodies, this film isn’t concerned with breaking the fourth wall and inserting humorous devices like having a character climb under the framing of the scene or literally pushing play on the musical soundtrack that serves as the score.

This isn’t necessarily an intelligent movie, but it’s one that’s enjoyable and clearly most interested in providing a fun experience. There aren’t many comedic moments left unexploited, and every character, including the clearly smarter American agent, is an equal target. This cast is having a blast, and though the film’s plot tends towards the truly inane as the film goes on, Halevi, who stars in “Fauda,” and Dor, a recent addition to “The Flash,” give each scene their all. As a disarming distraction from more serious realities and as a parody of so many over-the-top action flicks, this film serves its purpose.

B

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Peaches and Cream

I’m pleased to be covering the 8th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which is running virtually June 7th-14th.


Peaches and Cream
Directed by Gur Bentwich
Available June 6 – June 7

Filmmakers are usually interesting subjects, because of that old expression that art imitates life. While many directors choose topics and stories that don’t relate at all to their own experiences, it’s likely that a good deal of what they’ve gone through and seen in life affects what they portray on screen, and at the very least it informs their perspective and what ideas they express. Not every film is a success, and it’s also possible to interpret what a hit is given expectations and the intention of a project. Unsurprisingly, how a work is received can have a strong effect on its creator.

Zuri (Gur Bentwich) attends the opening night screening of his new film with his girlfriend and editor Inbal (Maya Kenig). Disappointed by the size of the audience and lackluster reception, he gets into a cab and, finding little support from Inbal, determines that he is sick and must go straight to the hospital. What ensues is a seemingly neverending night, particularly for the haggard cabbie, Micho (Dover Koshashvili), who just wants to get paid as his passenger sends him all around town, encountering an old friend (Alon Aboutboul), a young social media star (Hadas Ben Aroya), and his powerful producer (Tzahi Grad) as he searches for affirmation that his movie means something.

Bentwich serves as writer, director, and star, burying Zuri under a thick, unkempt beard and dressing him in a hooded yellow sweatshirt that Inbal points out makes him seem like he’s living in a completely different place and makes him look much older than he actually is. In contrast, he’s shown in a much more presentable manner through flashes to an undefined time where he sits alone on a private jet, headed to a major event with a flight attendant doting on him as he edits the footage of much of what plays out on screen. That device feels like a commentary on how it might be nice to edit life the way artists construct movies, well aware that the lowest points of a person’s life are often the most inherently cinematic.

This movie feels a bit like a frantic fever dream, with Micho serving as a stand-in for the audience to realize just how unlikely it is that he’ll ever see the money on the increasing meter since Zuri doesn’t actually know how to find what he’s looking for. It’s entirely engaging, even if it’s hard to know where it will lead. Koshashvili and Ben Aroya deservedly took home Israeli Oscars for their performances, while Bentwich picked up nominations for his direction and writing but not his lead turn, which is decent but, smartly, not what the film depends on to push ahead. It’s a head trip that says plenty about what it means to invest yourself so much in something that it takes over your life, presented in a creative and entertaining way.

B+

Friday, June 5, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

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


New to VOD: Judy and Punch, And Then We Danced, Parkland Rising, Tommaso
New to DVD: Working Man, Beanpole, Robert the Bruce, Abe
New to Netflix: Lady Bird, The Disaster Artist, Mirai, The Silence of the Lambs, The Help, E.T., West Side Story
New to Amazon and Hulu: Fair Game
New to Hulu: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Shirley, Dave, The American President, Thelma and Louise, Up in the Air
Also: 5 Films To Watch About Systemic Racism

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Movie with Abe: Tommaso


Tommaso
Directed by Abel Ferrera
Released June 5, 2020

A strong protagonist is key to any good film. It’s very possible that the person at the center of a story is more interesting than the events that surround them. Supporting players can steal scenes and even stand out enough to earn sequels or other future spotlights, which are sometimes set in new places and may feature limited references to the original project. A worthwhile character, however, isn’t necessarily enough to sustain a film, particularly if whatever transformation they go through isn’t matched by an equally compelling narrative shaped around them.

Tommaso (Willem Dafoe) is an eccentric American filmmaker living in Rome with his younger wife, Nikki (Cristina Chiriac), and their three-year-old daughter Deedee (Anna Ferrara). Tommaso splits his time between experimenting with other artists and attending addiction support groups, where he has an audience he can regale with lavish tales of his past escapades and unrealized ideas. Alcohol and drugs are not Tommaso’s only vices, as he frequently lashes out in bouts of extreme anger, contrasted by his gentler interactions with his Italian teacher and tender moments with his daughter. The line between what’s in his head and what he’s actually experiencing is blurred as one surreal interaction leads into the next.

This film is an intimate affair for writer-director Abel Ferrara, known for films from the 1990s like “Bad Lieutenant” and “The Funeral.” Similar to Federico Fellini and “8 ½,” Bob Fosse and “All That Jazz,” and Pedro Almodovar and “Pain and Glory,” Ferrera crafts a loosely autobiographical film with his first narrative feature since 2014’s “Pasolini,” also starring his frequent collaborator Dafoe. His real-life wife Chiriac and their daughter Anna play the two people closest to Tommaso, injecting even more familiar authenticity into this character study, one that investigates what truly defines this wild and passionate auteur.

Dafoe is a formidable performer, one who has impressed recently with superb performances each of the past few years in “The Florida Project,” “At Eternity’s Gate,” and “The Lighthouse.” As with his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s seemingly aimless portrait of the artist, Dafoe latches on to what’s most vivid and fascinating about Tommaso in a film that can’t seem to figure that out. Its uncertain timeline is less problematic than its lack of concern with picking an involving trajectory. Though its closing scene conjures up memories of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the taste this film leaves most strongly is one reminiscent of the less grounded elements of “The Great Beauty,” grasping at greatness but settling instead for a fading impression of brilliance.

C+

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

5 Films To Watch About Systemic Racism

The brutal, senseless killing of yet another black man by a white police officer is, sadly, not a new issue. The nationwide conversation about what we can do to combat this and change society is so important. There are many things that everyone can do to educate themselves on how to recognize privilege and root out racism. Here are five films (of many) that helped me to broaden my perspective and show me what I didn’t and still can’t fully understand because I am a white person in America.

13th


This documentary from director Ava DuVernay, who also made the vitally important limited series “When They See Us” and film “Selma,” charts how the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery and set up mass incarceration as a new form of that same institution. It’s equally informative and disturbing. Available on Netflix.

Blindspotting


This lyrical film looks at the different experiences two childhood best friends from Oakland, one black and one white, have when it comes to law enforcement and police brutality. Co-writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal frame their story through an occasionally comic lens that gets deadly serious at unexpected moments, mimicking the instability of real life for those who know that they might be killed for no reason at any time. Available on HBO Go and HBO Max.

If Beale Street Could Talk


This beautiful film is set in the 1970s, but what it showcases is not merely a relic of the past. Director Barry Jenkins, who also made the incredible Oscar-winning film “Moonlight,” adapts James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, which focuses on thin, flawed evidence used to arrest and accuse a black man of a crime, and the inability of those charged with serving justice to consider letting him go even when faced with staggering proof of his innocence. Available on Hulu.

Just Mercy


This very recent film spotlights Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, and the Equal Justice Initiative, a center started by the lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama to provide representation to those wrongly convicted and particularly those on death row. As unsettling and horrifying as the circumstances leading to the arrest and unfair treatment of Jamie Foxx’s inmate Johnny D. is the way that a power-hungry guard forces Bryan to be strip-searched when he comes to speak with his client. Currently available for free on Amazon Prime and Google Play.

Monsters and Men


This layered film examines the system from multiples angles, through the eyes of a black cop who himself is often pulled over by white colleagues for no reason, a young man arrested after filming and posting a clearly racially-biased police interrogation, and a black teenager motivated to do something after witnessing what is going on around him. It portrays the complexities of identity and how those who don’t fit neatly in a box are often manipulated for destructive purposes by others with malignant aims. Available on Hulu.

This is by no means an exhaustive list – can you recommend other films people watch to learn more about systemic racism?

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Movie with Abe: Parkland Rising


Parkland Rising
Directed by Cheryl Horner
Released June 5, 2020

There are issues that persist in society throughout history, coming into the news loudly at times and then fading from view after a certain amount of time passes. It often takes a personal experience to spur someone who was previously indifferent to action, or to make it so that they cannot turn away and move on once the majority of the public does. There are many things that shape and inspire people in this way, and to those who feel the pain caused by it most, it will always be something that is crucially and vitally important to keep talking about and amplifying.

When a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14th, 2018, killing seventeen people, the lives of those who were there and survived changed forever. Spurred to action, a group of students and grieving parents made it their mission to advocate for gun control and law reform to prevent tragic mass shootings like the one they experienced from happening again. Focused on news conferences and cross-country tours instead of summer camps and college applications, these young activists want to make their voices heard, fighting a culture that they believe values the second amendment rights of gun owners more than the lives of innocent people.

This is one of several documentary projects following the efforts of those from Parkland to create change in the wake of trauma, including “After Parkland.” This film focuses on the continued need for these activists to break down the difference between advocating for common sense gun safety laws and taking away guns from all owners, including some of their own families. Encounters with angry protesters who simply want to silence them are powerful and disturbing, and there is an important message about the prevalence of purposeful disinformation that is created to confuse and delegitimize a cause. It’s astounding to see what people are perfectly willing to do and say even when they know that those actions or opinions can be linked back to them.

This film is making its live streaming premiere tonight before beginning virtual screenings this Friday. It’s a time when school shootings are no longer in the news in large part because schools have mostly been closed as a result of another national crisis. Even more recently, another commonplace occurrence that can be prevented if people want to do the work to combat it has taken on the attention of most – the killing by police of yet another black person – making the timing of this film’s release feel less than immediately relevant. But its strong message of solidarity is one that effectively endures, as evidenced by the comments those speaking most loudly on behalf of these campaigners for change are making now about police brutality in the United States. Understanding the privilege they have and the megaphone they can use, they are choosing this moment to rally around another cause, fully aware that the only way to truly effect change is to fight not just for what feels most personal.

B+