Friday, August 28, 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 Theaters: The Personal History of David Copperfield
New to Virtual Cinema: The Garden Left Behind, #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump
New to DVD: Yes, God, Yes, The Tobacconist, The Burnt Orange Heresy
New to Netflix: Lingua Franca, Blaze, Night Comes On
New to Netflix and Hulu: Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Released August 28, 2020

There are many novels that are widely read and then adapted for the screen. It’s rare to find just one film or television version of an extremely popular book, and there may be multiple opinions on which is considered definitive or most well-regarded. A slightly new approach is required to generate interest in a new iteration, tackling the story from a different angle or changing characters to more accurately reflect either the time in which they were supposed to live or a transformed era in which the audience will watch them. Such updates are likeliest to please those looking for a fresh perspective, and winning over fans of the classic is more difficult.

David Copperfield (Ranveer Jaiswal, and later Dev Patel) is raised by his mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) after the death of his father and finds himself sent away to work in a factory when his discipline-oriented stepfather (Darren Boyd) and his cruel aunt (Gwendoline Christie) enter his life. In the course of his childhood, he lives in an upside-down boat by the water with his housekeeper Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper), the kindly creditor-dodging Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi), and his aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton) and her eccentric cousin Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie). When he is finally on his own and facing a successful future that includes two love interests (Clark and Rosalind Eleazar), David reflects back on the people and experiences that have gotten him to a place to be able to write it all down in a book.

This reviewer doesn’t have vivid recollections of reading Charles Dickens’ 1850 novel David Copperfield, but imagines it must have happened at some point. What is apparent going into this film is that those expecting typical fare from director Armando Iannucci and writer Simon Blackwell, who have previously collaborated on “In the Loop” and “Veep,” among other projects, will be sorely disappointed. Unlike “The Death of Stalin,” Iannucci’s previous film, this film is not an outright parody or one that utilizes any of his regular players – including Capaldi, Laurie, and actress Nikki Amuka-Bird, to recite off litanies of foul language. Instead, it’s best compared to Todd Haynes and “Wonderstruck,” a clear departure from the type of cinema he’s best known for that is mostly family-friendly and focuses effectively on the fantastical.

This film is colorful and full of imagination, frequently transitioning between scenes in a way that literally jumps off the screen and merges memory with what’s actually happening in the moment. There isn’t much consistency in the devices and styles used, but there are enough standout supporting performances, particularly from Laurie and Swinton, to keep audiences engaged. The set decoration and costumes are its best assets, presenting a story that’s often more visually enthralling than it is thematically. This may just be the exception to the rule – a “modern take” that will probably appeal more to fans of the classic than viewers unfamiliar with it.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Movie with Abe: #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump

#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump
Directed by Dan Partland
Released August 28, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

Every politician has detractors, and some have more than others. Policies are critiqued and past actions are examined in painstaking detail by opponents to make the case for why someone shouldn’t be elected or reelected to a particular office. A public figure with a history of making inflammatory or controversial statements has understandably put more out into the world that can be dissected, and society has unfortunately evolved past a point where saying even just a few problematic things can end a career, due in part to a larger failure of those with the potential to effect change to speak up and push back against what they see and hear.

Since he announced his candidacy and was elected in 2016, Donald Trump has transformed the American presidency, lashing out at critics on Twitter and giving anyone he doesn’t like derogatory nicknames. He takes every opportunity to divide the American people rather than finding ways to unify them, something that the Duty to Warn Coalition, a group led by mental health professionals, believes is just one reason that he is psychologically unfit to serve. An array of experts and high-profile figures who have interacted closely with Trump break down the many behaviors he exhibits that they see as proof that he is a malignant narcissist with an incredibly concerning amount of unchecked power.

This film isn’t merely a hit job on a man who will surely decry and dismiss it as such. The doctors interviewed discuss the Goldwater rule, established after a series of attacks on a 1964 presidential candidate, and how its passage has been used to ensure that mental health professionals cannot make diagnoses without actually seeing and evaluating a patient in person. They argue that someone can lie when asked directly, and observing their behavior, particularly as it’s so widely documented and recorded, is infinitely more informative and critical.

It can be argued that there are those with an axe to grind against Trump who eagerly participated in this film, but it’s precisely the discord between the range of subjects interviewed that makes its analysis so effective. George Conway, husband to one of Trump’s top advisors who has made no secret of his disdain for the president, is the first person to speak, detailing what he initially thought of Trump and how he no longer identifies as a Republican. Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as communicators director lasted a whopping eleven days, explains how Trump sees the world and emphasizes that he doesn’t think he is a racist. Conflicting points of view about what Trump truly believes and what he adopts to further his agendas enhance the depth and value of this documentary, which always takes care to back up claims – like comparisons to authoritarian leaders – with video clips of something Trump actually did or said and pointed analysis by experts with substantial qualifications.

It’s certainly difficult, and likely impossible, to separate preexisting personal perspectives from a film like this. For this unabashedly liberal reviewer, this film appeals because it serves, in part, as confirmation bias. Yet it’s equally hard to imagine that, if those who would never even consider watching a film titled “Unfit” with Trump’s name in it actually sat through the thorough eighty-three minutes of carefully-prepared arguments and evidence, they wouldn’t come out of the experience at least minimally convinced that, politics aside, having a man like Trump in the Oval Office is a serious concern. If that can’t be accomplished, this film at least serves as a fully engaging, entertainingly-assembled thesis that always stops short of overreaching or making grand statements with nothing to support them. Its primary interviewees have pledged not to stay silent, and for those willing to hear it, this documentary is both alarming and essential.


Monday, August 24, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Garden Left Behind

The Garden Left Behind
Directed by Flavio Alves
Released August 28, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

Identifying as part of a minority in any population is a choice that people rarely make for themselves. While there are those who loudly proclaim a lack of adherence to what is seen as normative, most that look or feel different do little to draw attention to the attributes that separate them, instead trying to blend in and ruffle few feathers. Remaining invisible isn’t always possible, and the prevalence of hatred and bigotry means that even a low profile and a determination not to engage with incisive behavior can’t definitively protect someone seen as a type of other.

Tina (Carlie Guevara) works as a rideshare driver in New York City, transporting a variety of people around to make money and take care of her grandmother, Eliana (Miriam Cruz). She has a driver’s license that still says Antonio and endures frequent taunts from those who physically identify her as trans, motivating her to proceed with surgery, a process that requires frequent interviews and which her long-term boyfriend Jason (Alex Kruz) doesn’t seem to support. A local convenience store clerk, Chris (Anthony Abdo), frequently sees Tina and navigates his own journey with intolerance as repeatedly demonstrated by his ignorant friends.

Some of this film’s content is extremely disturbing, like when Tina is seen walking and minding her own business and becomes the subject of cruel verbal insults and threats of physical violence. Tina never invites any unwanted attention, but she is also determined to live her life and be who she wants to be. She converses cordially and enthusiastically with her passengers, and knows that her grandmother can’t quite understand how she needs to express herself. Her true friends are deeply loyal and on her side, and she conveys a sincere joy when she meets with a stoic doctor (Ed Asner) and begins to imagine a future in which she feels completely at home in her own body.

This marks the tremendous debut of Guevara, who brings a warm and radiant energy to a character whose experiences are often difficult and heart-wrenching. She drives this film, which includes a rich and authentic cast of transgender and Latinx performers conveying complicated existences. There is a sense of wonder that endures even in dark, depressing times in this film, showcasing people who cannot control what others think of them but can only chart their own paths forward and strive to find happiness. This film is a moving tribute to those who have searched for that fulfillment and haven’t necessarily been able to find it because someone else decided they didn’t deserve it.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Movie with Abe: Lingua Franca

Lingua Franca
Directed by Isabel Sandoval
Released August 26, 2020 (Netflix)

Privilege exists in a society in a way that often isn’t apparent or even discernable to those who have it. Passing through places without being questioned is a luxury that only feels that way when it’s clear that others aren’t able to do so, and there are additional freedoms to move and travel without stressing too much about the validity of identification and everything on it being up to date. Someone who hasn’t been forced to monitor their actions may not apply themselves as much to a particular task or job because the consequences, for them, can never be all that severe.

Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) works as a caregiver for the elderly Olga (Lynn Cohen) in Brighton Beach. Olivia struggles through the process of becoming a legal resident of the United States, trying to secure a marriage to obtain her green card while balancing the additional obstacles of being a trans woman. Olga’s grandson, Alex (Eamon Farren), has a terrible reputation with his family after multiple messes, and he gets a new chance at a slaughterhouse job with his uncle that might help him repair those fractured relationships. His unexpected interest in Olivia serves as yet another distraction to his uneasy road back toward stability.

This film made its momentous debut at last year’s Venice Film Festival as the first film directed by and starring an openly trans woman of color. It simultaneously tackles multiple subjects that feel deeply relevant and timely, examining the inequality that is rarely even acknowledged because its absence is so unimaginable for those who have never had to question what it is they don’t have. It may be seen as a political film calling for the rights of trans and undocumented people, but at its heart it is a story of human existence at the intersection of societal discrimination.

Sandoval, a Filipino filmmaker based in the United States known for her two previous feature films, “Señorita” and “Apparition,” delivers an extraordinarily quiet and unassuming performance, one that demonstrates Olivia’s purposeful attempts not to raise eyebrows or draw unwanted attention while at the same time affirming her knowledge of caregiving and the validity of her opinions. Farren is far less controlled and much more prone to explosive outbursts, underlining this film’s poignant capturing of the divide between those for whom expression of self has consequences and those for whom it does not. This subtly powerful film is effective in its unambitious aim to present a solemn examination of the way in which people from different worlds see and influence each other.


Friday, August 21, 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 and Virtual Cinema: The August Virgin, Desert One, Tesla
New to DVD: Military Wives, Guest of Honour, Sometimes Always Never, The Outpost
New to Netflix: Safety Not Guaranteed, Les Miserables

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Movie with Abe: Tesla

Directed by Michael Almereyda
Released August 21, 2020

Tesla is one of the most popular car brands today, seen both as a symbol of luxury and as the future of automotive travel using electric vehicles. It’s a world-famous name that has almost taken on the standing of a Xerox, Kleenex, or Band-Aid in its universality. Its roots, however, are in a man whose avant-garde worldview was not embraced nearly as favorably as that of Elon Musk. Nikola Tesla was a visionary inventor who, at the end of the nineteenth century, was putting forward ideas that placed him in direct contact with some of his time’s most well-known entrepreneurs and giants, pitching revolutionary concepts that struck many as absurd or impossible.

Tesla (Ethan Hawke) begins his career in America working for Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan), though Edison’s low valuation of his skills leads to a break in their business relationship. Tesla then partners with George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan), one of Edison’s key rivals who advocates an alternative approach to electric currents. Not one to bother himself with social interactions, Tesla attracts interest nonetheless from Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), the daughter of banker J.P. Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz), who frames and narrates much of his story, which continually emphasizes how much more Tesla might have been able to accomplish had his peers fully recognized his true brilliance.

Director Michael Almereyda has shown a keen interest in technology and its potential uses and abuses with his previous two films, “Marjorie Prime” and “Experimenter.” Here, he spotlights a subject that many will surely want to learn about, but chooses to do it in a peculiar way, having Anne, who died in 1952, discuss the number of Google results that pop up when she searches for the key players in this film. That emphasis on anachronism is surely meant to invoke Tesla’s role as a misunderstood futurist, capable of knowing so much more about what mankind could accomplish than anyone in his lifetime. Other cinematic devices like still photographic backdrops behind moving actors make this an inarguably experimental but equally disorienting experience, one that seems to best capture the way many of its protagonist’s notions were received by a baffled public.

Tesla was featured heavily in another recent film, “The Current War: Director’s Cut,” which opened in theaters last October after a lengthy production delay due to its initial status as a Weinstein Company project. It’s hard not to compare the two, and while that film, which makes Tesla a supporting player to the main battle between Edison and Westinghouse, was much more conventional, it also presented the story in a more engaging and accessible format. In that film, Tesla stands out as a fascinating character worthy of more attention, thanks largely to actor Nicholas Hoult’s performance, but here, Hawke’s rendition makes him the least interesting part of his own showcase. MacLachlan and Hewson are far more engaging, though it’s not entirely clear why Anne is the one chosen to tell this story. Perhaps in a century this film will be seen positively and as ahead of its time, but at this present moment, it does a better job capturing the irreverent, unappealing nature of its namesake than communicating his brilliance.


Monday, August 17, 2020

Movie with Abe: The August Virgin

The August Virgin
Directed by Jonás Trueba
Released August 21, 2020

Summer is a time that, for many, involves relaxation and a chance to unwind from the pressures of the rest of the year. Temperatures are typically warmer, which means that formal wear may be less needed in workplaces, and it’s when most with means choose to make their exodus from their normal homes to vacation in other areas. Those who either aren’t able to do so or have nowhere in particular to go are often left behind in places that become sparsely populated. This can feel lonely or isolating but can also open up the many opportunities that can easily get lost when muted or hidden by the presence of crowds.

Eva (Itsaso Arana) makes a bold decision to stay in Madrid, a place that is known to be unbearably hot during the summer, for the month of August. She finds a perfectly reasonable apartment and begins to wander the streets, meeting a number of interesting people as festive celebrations take place for Saint’s Days. She reconnects with an old friend who has recently had a baby, an ex-boyfriend who hasn’t moved on, and a few new faces who represent something other than what she’s known and encountered in her life thus far.

Eva is a protagonist who doesn’t know exactly what she wants but is aware that she hasn’t yet found it. On the eve of her thirty-third birthday, Eva is still exploring, and remaining in a city that empties out and leaves only those who have chosen to stay or don’t have the luxury of choosing to go somewhere else opens her eyes to a variety of perspectives and activities. This film meters her journey with title cards declaring the date, marking time as it passes slowly but transformatively, imbuing Eva with new experiences and a small sample of what each person she spends moments with sees in the world.

Arana serves as co-writer with director Jonás Trueba in addition to her starring role, one that truly guides and encapsulates this film. Arana bears a physical resemblance to Zooey Deschanel and Anna Friel and her screen presence feels like a wondrous combination of the way the two of them act, reserved and shy but beaming with youthful curiosity just waiting to be unleashed in a safe and inviting setting. She drives a film that is bursting with color and musical energy, embracing its sun-soaked setting and capturing the spirit of an eye-opening and sensational summer season.


Friday, August 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!

New to VOD and Virtual Cinema: The Bay of Silence
New to DVD: Mickey and the Bear, CRSHD, How to Build a Girl, Sonja – The White Swan, A White, White Day
New to Netflix: Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Nightcrawler
New to Amazon: Arkansas
New to Apple TV Plus: Boys State

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Movie with Abe: Boys State

Boys State
Directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss
Released August 14, 2020 (Apple TV Plus)

There are rules set in the United States that require candidates for office to be of a certain age in order to run. In most cases, a person is allowed to vote before they can actually be elected. The presumption is that some degree of maturity is needed to effectively govern, and that even if voters are empowered to choose who can lead them, they may not be ready to be considered themselves. At a time when the two major contenders for President are over seventy years old, the voice of the youth and first-time voters becomes even more important.

Boys State is a program of the American Legion that meets each summer to give high school juniors the opportunity to participate in mock campaigns to elect state officials and a governor. Past participants have included Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and many other notable names. Divided into two parties, Nationalist and Federalist, the attendees at the Texas Boys State in 2018 select candidates and begin campaigns, drawing on issues that they know will attract and antagonize voters to build a platform and simulate the democratic process that they will soon participate in after returning home and turning eighteen.

This documentary offers an extremely informative and enlightening look at how a simulation of politics in play can mirror the real world. All the attendees are enthusiastic enough about government and issues to choose to apply and participate in the program, and while they’re assigned parties and positions to assume, they bring with them a knowledge of how politicians actually behave and take cues from them. Candidates advocate positions like castrating rapists instead of punishing the would-be children of rape victims with abortions and say deliberately inflammatory things to provoke a response and improve their odds of election.

Where this film really succeeds is in its interviews with the participants, in which they convey plenty about their psyches and the effect being part of this political process, even a mock version, has on them. Talks of voting on secession derail the otherwise serious proceedings, and those who opt to be over-the-top analyze how that behavior is received. There’s an acknowledgment that they are all seventeen-year-olds, and therefore not all that much should be expected of them, yet there is also a gravity to personal attacks that feel more charged than any potentially harmless campaigning. This film doesn’t provide an easy, catch-all answer to how to fix a problematic political system but instead showcases a regularly-run experiment to model the way people are elected in the United States, with a good deal to teach to anyone watching and open to new perspectives.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Bay of Silence

The Bay of Silence
Directed by Paula van der Oest
Released August 14, 2020

Relationships evolve over time, and the level of intimacy also changes as people spend time together. When two people are just with each other and thinking of no one else, they may feel extremely connected and bound to one another in a way that simply isn’t possible when anyone else is around. Couples may interact differently even one-on-one with others nearby or watching them, and that can affect their dynamic and the way that their relationship works. Raising a family together also has a transformative impact, and there is much that partners can learn about one another by seeing the way that they speak to and treat young children.

Will (Claes Bang) and Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko) have a romantic start to their relationship surrounded by the beauty of Europe. After they are married and raising three children, including a newborn baby, Will is startled by Rosalind’s erratic behavior. She seems unable to ground herself in reality, and when she takes the children and disappears, Will becomes very concerned. Through his panicked search for her, Will realizes there is plenty that he doesn’t know about his wife, and frequent interactions with her former stepfather, Milton (Brian Cox), do little to put his mind at ease about problematic indicators that should have earlier told him something was wrong.

This is a film grounded in memory, one that finds its protagonists referencing poignant and pivotal moments in their lives to direct them in their next steps. Will recalls the bliss and attraction he first felt when he met Rosalind, and seems plagued that perhaps he was too enamored to really get to know the person she was. Rosalind is lost in grief after a traumatic incident, and struggles to latch on to the things she still has, namely her husband and her children. This film is equally about her own unraveling and the unraveling of the stability of what Will thought was a strong and enduring marriage, one whose cracks begin to show when he learns that the way his wife is acting is nothing new. That process is less than compelling, losing potency with each new revelation.

Bang is an actor best known for films like “The Square” and “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” and here he once again plays a man who gradually surmises that he knows much less about what is going on than he initially believes. Kurylenko, famous for “Quantum of Solace,” delves into the character of Rosalind, embracing her sense of being out of place and unable to readjust to stability. Cox, currently chewing television scenery on “Succession,” is cast in an expected role that allows him to do more of the same. This film begins with an intriguing premise, but like “Heresy,” doesn’t satisfactorily find clarity or fulfillment. Positioned as a thriller, this film feels more like a meandering and directionless drama.


Friday, August 7, 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: A Thousand Cuts, Spinster, I Used to Go Here, Made in Italy, Out Stealing Horses
New to DVD: Dirt Music, Swallow
New to Netflix: An Education, Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
New to Amazon: Inception, Rain Man
New to Hulu: Up in the Air
New to HBO Max: An American Pickle

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Movie with Abe: Spinster

Directed by Andrea Dorfman
Released August 7, 2020

Society heaps expectations upon people that are, at best, unhelpful generalizations, and, at worst, potentially truly harmful. The family unit has been redefined consistently throughout history, and while it might still be most common for a male and female parent to be married before they have children, it’s far from the only option people take today. Being in a defined romantic relationship isn’t for everyone, and it’s not the only way that they can decide to be a parent, if that’s even what they want. The term “spinster” has deeply negative connotations, imparting judgment on a woman whose prospects for having a spouse or children, whether or not she wants them, seem to have long passed.

Gaby (Chelsea Peretti) works as a caterer, though the food she makes for her clients is often much more pleasing to them than the responses she gives when they offer unsolicited commentary on her personal life. After the boyfriend she lives with moves out on her thirty-ninth birthday, Gaby finds herself confronting increasing pressure from those around her to just find someone and settle down, which makes her more resolute that she should be able to chart her own path. An attempt by her brother Alex (David Rossetti) to become a stand-up comic gives her a chance to spend time with one person who doesn’t have any opinions about how she should live her life: her niece Adele (Nadia Tonen).

This film’s plot summary is immediately reminiscent of past films like “Saint Frances” or “Family” that have seen a protagonist accustomed to living a directionless life open up their perspective thanks to the influence of a precocious child. Yet this feels wonderfully different and fresh, since Gaby doesn’t have a problem with kids but instead embraces the opportunity to just hang out with a fellow human being who doesn’t feel the need to give her advice or challenge why she does something. Their developing friendship is affirming, and helps to ground Gaby, who doesn’t hold back when she feels that others, including a chauvinistic dinner party guest of her sister (Susan Kent), think they have a right to tell her what she should be doing.

Peretti is an actress best known for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and here she brings a formidable sardonic energy to the role of Gaby, flying under the radar most of the time until she gets provoked by someone else. Tonen, Rossetti, and Kent offer solid support, but this is ultimately a movie that depends entirely upon Peretti’s charm and comic timing. This film can be seen as a willful reclaiming of its title, allowing its protagonist to steer her own story. It’s a humor-filled journey that doesn’t feel overly predictable and provides endearing entertainment along the way.


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Movie with Abe: A Thousand Cuts

A Thousand Cuts
Directed by Ramona S. Diaz
Released August 7, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

The phrase “Democracy dies in darkness” is the current slogan of The Washington Post, and it carries a good deal of weight. The implication that it is possible to transform a free society into a totalitarian one if there is no one there to expose wrongdoing is frightening, and, given history, it’s not at all unrealistic. Documenting the actions that threaten liberties is increasingly essential in an age where technology presents not only the opportunity to share news widely but also an ability to manipulate and disseminate disinformation. It becomes exponentially more vital when powerful leaders go to great lengths to demonize journalism as an enemy.

Maria Ressa runs Rappler, a news website in the Philippines, and is celebrated globally as an important journalist, named the 2018 Time Magazine Person of the Year. In her home country, Ressa documents the rise of Rodrigo Duterte, who ascends from a mayoral position to being elected president in 2016. Duterte’s declared war on drugs, which extols violence and results in mass extrajudicial killings, is the biggest promise of his campaign. When his authority is threatened by the coverage he receives, he turns his propaganda machine on Rappler and the press, demonizing them so that any negative stories about him can be seen as an illicit and politically motivated challenge to his authority.

Duterte’s explicit and unapologetic promises to kill drug dealers were profiled in the very strong and disturbing Oscar documentary short finalist “The Nightcrawlers,” and this film digs deeper into how Duterte uses public opinion and social media to his advantage. His surrogates, who express publicly that they have been told to run for particular offices by the president, accuse anyone who doesn’t applaud wildly for the war on drugs of being addicts, and trolls descend on Rappler’s offices to protest and prove that they are indeed real people. The use of the term “presstitutes” is traced to twenty-six fake social media accounts that then influence three million people, showing the fearsome power of clickbait. Ressa is arrested for a cybercrime law she allegedly violated after it was passed, setting a terrifying precedent for applying laws retroactively, thereby putting any political opponents of Duterte’s at severe risk of incarceration or worse.

This film documents what’s going on in the Philippines, including the late addition of footage from Ressa’s case from this June, but it carries an immensely important call to action for the world. Ressa speaks at a forum in the United States about the similarities between the two countries’ presidents, describing them as macho, populist leaders who have used anger and fear to divide their people. The notion, as explored in this film, that what happens in the United States is tested first in other countries with less stable governments, is deeply worrisome, and the parallels are obvious in videos of Duterte unabashedly making jokes about his penis and women smelling like fish to an adoring, laughing crowd. What this documentary exposes and shows to the world isn’t being hidden, but the implications it brings are cause for extreme concern. Work like Ressa’s and films like this are absolutely critical to the survival of a free society.


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Movie with Abe: I Used to Go Here

I Used to Go Here
Directed by Kris Rey
Released August 7, 2020

People’s lives don’t always pan out the way they expect. The prediction that those growing up now will have multiple careers in fields that don’t even exist yet only further reduces the likelihood that knowing what you want to do when you grow up means that’s what you’ll end up doing. Having a passion, however, can be enduring, and those who have a firm sense of what they’re best at may indeed persevere and pursue their dreams. What success looks like isn’t set, and achieving what you set out to do may not be as emotionally fulfilling or financially productive as it always seemed like it would.

Kate (Gillian Jacobs) is thirty-five years old and has just published a novel. A cover she doesn’t love seems like a negligible bump, but a cancellation of the book tour that was supposed to help create the sales her publisher tells her aren’t materializing makes her feel like a failure. An unexpected invitation from her college professor David (Jemaine Clement) to do a reading at her alma mater provides her with a chance to feel relevant and accomplished. The return to a part of her past brings with it a longing for simpler times and a gradual recognition that what she always wanted may not actually bring her the happiness she so desires.

Kate is a relatively solitary character, one who attends the baby shower of her friend Laura (Zoe Chao) and is told to pose with her book in front of her belly alongside three pregnant women in a photo. She calls Laura in a moment of boredom but otherwise expresses no connection to friends or family, and as a result latches on to the current residents of her old home, who all happen to be aspiring writers. She encounters old classmates whose lives are very different now, and revisits elements of her college experience that seem potentially irresponsible but likely inconsequential. It’s a way to get to know her without really understanding who she is first, since even she doesn’t appear to truly know.

This film was originally slated to have its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival this past March. It is a recognizably independent venture, one that values spotlighted performer turns over cinematic style, finding poignancy in simple conversations and uncomplicated storylines. Jacobs is a decent fit for the lead role, imbuing Kate with minimal energy and an uncensored personality. Clement plays what may well be the most normative role of his career, and Josh Wiggins, who made his debut in “Hellion” and returned to Sundance with “Walking Out” several years ago, is a standout from the supporting cast as a student who befriends Kate. This film is reminiscent of “The Lifeguard,” another portrait of an unmotivated young woman who seeks solace in what she might consider the best years of her lives. It’s entertaining and likeable enough, and, like its protagonist, not entirely fascinating or memorable.


Monday, August 3, 2020

Movie with Abe: An American Pickle

An American Pickle
Directed by Brandon Trost
Released August 6, 2020 (HBO Max)

A tremendous amount can change in a short period of time. Technological innovations, new discoveries, and political change can make one decade almost unrecognizable from the one that came before it. It’s not usually easy for those accustomed to one way of life to eagerly adopt to new concepts, and that’s evident in the way that many senior citizens today utilize smartphones and computers that look nothing like what they knew during their childhood. There’s a way to approach progress and feel open to it without leaving the past behind, but that’s often a struggle, particularly if the new normal feels like it’s being presented as a replacement of what came before it.

Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) works as a ditch-digger in Europe in 1919, where he meets his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook). Their blissful wedding is interrupted by a Cossack massacre of their town, leading them to immigrate to the United States, where they dream of luxuries like drinking seltzer while Herschel tries to make ends meet killing rats in a pickle factory. When he falls into a giant vat and is sealed in, he is preserved in the brine until someone stumbles upon the abandoned factory one hundred years later. He meets his only living relative, his great-grandson Ben (also Rogen), who eagerly shows him what the twenty-first century has to offer. Their different approaches to religion and hard work lead to a rift that causes the two Greenbaums to compete for success and victory at any cost.

This film’s concept is decidedly fantastical, presuming that a person could literally be pickled and emerge completely unaged and the same after a century. Deciding that the premise can be believed sets up a decently stirring and thought-provoking examination of values and the appreciation of small wonders. Given that Rogen is a comedian and this film is written by Simon Rich, creator of “Man Seeking Woman” and “Miracle Workers,” drama isn’t the goal. This experience is best compared to an Adam Sandler movie like “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” one that sometimes reaches the level of smart parody but gives in too much to the impulse for slapstick humor. Its mimicry of the Eastern European lifestyle through Herschel feels authentic, though its presentation of certain elements of Herschel’s personality, like his Judaism, come off as disappointingly selective and surface-level.

Rogen is doing double duty here as the two Greenbaums, and he’s certainly having a good time. He does a spectacular job of not breaking character as Herschel, who sets out to start a successful pickle business despite having no knowledge of the existence of health codes or social media platforms. Ben, in comparison, is much less engaging, tampered down by Rogen to make him feel substantially different. There are plenty of laughs to be found in this journey, though this film resounds more when it abandons silliness for substance, which does happen on occasion throughout its ninety-minute runtime.


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Movie with Abe: Made in Italy

Made in Italy
Directed by James D’Arcy
Released August 7, 2020 (VOD)

Children often perceive the world to be boundless, which can make certain events and places feel infinitely grander and more impactful than they objectively are. They assign significance and meaning to formative moments that, when reflected back upon or revisited, may hardly seem so influential. There’s also an element of time that causes places and people to age, rarely still in the condition they once were when someone goes back to somewhere special. What something or someone meant to an adult may not be diminished even if confronting it at a later point in life adds entirely new clarifying context.

Jack (Micheál Richardson) is desperate to retain his job as director of an art gallery owned by his wife’s family after she serves him with divorce papers, and needs cash quick to buy it before she sells it to someone else. He travels with his father, Robert (Liam Neeson), to the Tuscany country house that belonged to his late mother. Finding it in terrible condition, Jack sets out to make a sale, forging a friendship with a local restaurateur, Natalia (Valeria Bilello), who helps to show him the delights of living far from the city. The experience also opens his eyes to who his distant father really is and what’s underneath the laissez-faire attitude that has shaped his parenting style.

Neither son nor father comes off as the most socially apt individual, with Jack clinging to a relationship that is clearly no longer viable and Robert paying so little attention to his one-night stands that he doesn’t even remember their names. Neither is looking to connect with the other, and Jack maintains the illusion that his marriage is perfectly healthy as he pushes his father to put some effort into updating a property whose charm isn’t nearly as present as Robert maintains. The renovation process is just as much about how they relate to each other as it is about the home they’re trying to sell.

What makes this film a delight is the casting of well-known actor Neeson’s real-life son, Richardson, in one of his first major film roles. The two do a superb job of making their characters seem like they have reasons to resent each other, and they’re well-supported by Bilello, who makes Natalia a worthwhile part of the story when she might otherwise not have been. This film marks the feature directorial debut of actor James D’Arcy, known for “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” and “Broadchurch,” who also serves as screenwriter. While its plot may not be wholly original or groundbreaking, the film as a whole is sincerely watchable as light entertainment mixed in with some decent drama.


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Movie with Abe: Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Released August 7, 2020 (VOD)

Formative moments in a person’s childhood often don’t resonate as quite so significant until much later in that person’s life when all of their effects and consequences can be more clearly seen and analyzed. It’s a frequent cinematic device to begin a story with a lonesome adult character reflecting back upon how they have reached the space they inhabit at that moment in time, with long-suppressed memories and notions bubbling to the surface as the result of a catalytic conversation or reunion, ready to lend even more meaning to that which set them on this particular path.

In 1999, Trond (Stellan Skarsgård) moves to a quiet country home in Norway. When he meets his neighbor (Bjørn Floberg), he is surprised to recognize him as Lars, a childhood friend he hasn’t seen for years. As the two begin spending more time together, Trond begins to remember the events that, half a century earlier, left a permanent mark on him. As he tries to move forward with his life, Trond is unable to escape the haunting experiences that come flooding back to him, buried for many years under other more pleasant thoughts yet still inescapably influential.

This is a film that slowly unfurls its mystery, finding Trond living in isolation and surrounded by the overwhelming white of snow. The flashbacks to his younger years are more vibrant, filled with people who bring out a certain energy in him. The two time periods seem so different not only because of the technology featured, but also because of the mindset with which Trond approaches the world. What takes place between those scenes long ago and the present charts a melancholy and often tragic path, one that guides the film’s tone, which is far from optimistic.

Skarsgård is a recognizable international presence, most recently seen on HBO in “Chernobyl.” He commands a certain subtle gravitas when seen on screen, and he’s supported well by a cast that portrays the younger characters and the adults in their lives. This film, which was Norway’s submission for the Best International Feature Oscar last year, is haunting in its look at a lost life that could have been, but any true sense of urgency is lost in this presentation, which plays out as if in slow motion. It’s an intense and powerful story enhanced by the performances within it, but it doesn’t feel as rich or rewarding as other recent foreign films that begin from similarly nostalgic points of mystery.