Friday, January 15, 2021

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 Marksman
New to Theaters and VOD: MLK/FBI
New to VOD: Promising Young Woman, News of the World
New to DVD: A Thousand Cuts, Monsoon, Jungleland
New to Amazon: One Night in Miami
New to Hulu: The Ultimate Playlist of Noise

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Marksman

The Marksman
Directed by Robert Lorenz
Released January 15, 2021

In certain cases, it’s unclear whether an actor was cast for a particular role or if the part was actually written specifically for that actor. This is far more typical in the case of big-budget blockbusters or action films than independent features or biopics, and that’s often because a star is marketable and audiences will buy tickets to see them in any capacity. How much effort is put in to building a coherent narrative around that central character is not set in stone, and it’s definitely much easier to simply rely on the bankability of a name alone.

Liam Neeson stars as Jim, a widower who lives in Arizona right near the Mexico-U.S. border. Just after he learns that he is going to lose his home to the bank over late payments caused by high medical bills for his late wife, Jim encounters a young mother (Teresa Ruiz) who has just illegally crossed the border with her eleven-year-old son Miguel (Jacob Perez). Though he wants to stay out of trouble and report their presence to his stepdaughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick), who works in law enforcement, Jim must keep the promise he makes to Miguel’s mother to transport him safely to Chicago as they are trailed by cartel operatives led by the vengeful Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba).

Neeson had another vehicle like this in last year’s “Honest Thief,” where he portrayed Tom, a bank robber determined to put his criminal past behind him after falling in love. Here, he’s on the other side of that, devastated to be left alone after a rich life with a loyal partner, and the threat of losing the one thing he has left coupled with compassion for a child out of options leads to him to focus on nothing but fulfilling a caring mother’s request. From the moment he makes that choice, Jim is immediately endowed with all the past training and abilities of Neeson’s previous characters.

Most who choose to watch this film will be looking forward to the moment in which Jim becomes merely a stand-in for any role that Neeson has had in the past. Unfortunately, it doesn’t lead to particularly creative or engaging filmmaking, as Jim is more tired and less expressive even than the already low-key Tom. The immigration elements of the story add little, and there are actually few moments of true satisfying action that should please Neeson fans. It’s certainly much more logical than the Sean Penn starrer “The Gunman,” and there’s nothing inherently bad about it, but this film has a thin premise and doesn’t aim particularly high in any respect.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Ultimate Playlist of Noise

The Ultimate Playlist of Noise
Directed by Bennett Lasseter
Released January 15, 2021 (Hulu)

When someone knows that they have a limited time left to do something, they tend to want to spend as much time as possible doing it. The notion of indulging plentifully in an experience before it disappears or can no longer be accessed makes sense, since those memories and feelings will serve as an enduring reminder to be referenced in the future. It can’t replace the absence, but may serve as a comfort and the only thing a person can really do in the face of something they can’t control or prevent, no matter how hard they try.

Marcus (Keean Johnson) is a high school senior who loves music. When he learns that he has a condition that will force him to have brain surgery that will leave him without his hearing, he sets out to create the definitive collection of noise, assembling samples of all the sounds that he knows he’ll no longer be able to hear. Along the way, he meets and is amazed by Wendy (Madeline Brewer), a musician who is trying to escape her own messay situation and make it to New York. Their road trip provides the opportunity to encounter a wide array of sounds and a transformative sample of what’s out there in the world.

This film’s premise has some similarities to “Sound of Metal,” a far melancholier story of a drummer losing his hearing. This could be considered the less gruff version, one that’s much more family-friendly even if some of the experiences that Marcus has aren’t completely wholesome. In addition to his impending deafness, he feels a sense of longing for his older brother who died but left a strong impression on him. He is immediately attracted to Wendy but the relationship is more about interacting with their audial surroundings than developing a true romantic connection.

Johnson has a very likeable demeanor that makes him an endearing protagonist, someone with a sense of what he wants and a great curiosity about the world that has yet to be fulfilled because of how much he just doesn’t know. Brewer plays a far gentler character than the one most might know her from on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and she makes Wendy appropriately alluring while keeping her three-dimensional and complex. This film has a wonderful spirit of adventure and exploration, one that fuels it as Marcus prepares for an unthinkable future made much more bearable by the excitement of all he can internalize before that happens.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Movie with Abe: The King of Staten Island

The King of Staten Island
Directed by Judd Apatow
Released June 12, 2020

Growing up can be tough, and there are many who, if given the choice, would choose not to do it at all. Remaining in a perpetual state of putting off major life decisions and significant accomplishments is appealing because there is no pressure to be successful or become independent. Such scenarios rarely last forever, and the introduction of a new element into a previously sustainable situation can threaten to change everything. Ultimately, a bit of outside perspective and a new approach may be exactly the enhancement that someone didn’t know they needed.

Scott (Pete Davidson) is twenty-four years old and still living at home in Staten Island with his mother (Marisa Tomei). The ever-aspiring tattoo artist spends most of his time with his friends Richie (Lou Wilson), Oscar (Ricky Velez), and Igor (Moises Arias), while navigating a budding relationship with Kelsey (Bel Powley). When his mother begins dating a hotheaded firefighter, Ray (Bill Burr), Scott reacts negatively, unhappy with the idea that his father, also a firefighter who died years earlier, would be replaced by someone he doesn’t like at all, and sets out to sabotage him.

This film comes from director Judd Apatow, best known for comedies like “Knocked Up,” “Funny People,” and “Trainwreck,” about people having their first experiences with adulthood. Davidson, a “Saturday Night Live” player who had a similarly terrific role in the recent “Big Time Adolescence,” serves as a co-writer on this semiautobiographical story and feels so at home in the role of Scott, unwilling to censor any of his base impulses and even less motivated to change for the sake of other people. It’s at the same time clearly a version of Davidson’s personality and a terrific lead performance.

Davidson is in good company in this rich and highly entertaining film that offers plenty of laughs along the way. The entire cast is excellent, with Powley and Maude Apatow, who plays Scott’s more responsible and productive sibling Claire, as spectacular standouts, and other performers like Steve Buscemi and Pamela Adlon utilized very well in small parts. Burr, who has been picking up mentions from critics’ groups this awards season, makes Ray a more layered character than he might be in another film. This film has a unique Staten Island spirit, one that makes a narrative that could be unremarkable if handled differently charming and very worthwhile.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Movie with Abe: Another Round

Another Round
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Released December 18, 2020

Alcohol is known to cause impairment, but there’s a wide range of ways in which people react to its consumption. Some may become tipsy and make questionable decisions when they drink, while others may have built up a high tolerance and be able to function relatively normally even after imbibing generously. Aside from a person’s behavior while under the influence, there are additional effects that may not be immediately apparent and can be far more destructive and lasting. Attempting to push limits to see what might happen can be enlightening and equally regrettable.

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is a high school teacher failing to connect with his students, who, along with their parents, complain about the difficulty of his tests and their need to earn high marks in the class. A night out with his fellow teacher friends results in an intriguing experiment, one that finds the four men drinking heavily to keep their blood alcohol levels at a stable high throughout the day, including during their time at school. Martin’s new attitude enables him to forge a new relationship with his students while he and his friends begin to notice the potentially adverse implications of their risky routine.

This film, which took home top honors at the European Film Awards, presents a story that wouldn’t really work in an American setting, where high school teachers are of a different generation and might have murkier boundaries with their students. Yet what these educators decide to do, under the guise of intellectual research, is indisputably irresponsible, and they fail to consider what tangential results their reckless indulgence might cause. Though their students seem mostly unaware of why they are acting differently, their family members feel the brunt of their shift towards a life of permanent inebriation.

This serves a reunion for director Thomas Vinterberg and star Mads Mikkelsen, whose 2013 collaboration “The Hunt” earned an Oscar nomination, a feat that is likely to be repeated by this year’s official Danish submission for Best International Feature. The recognizable Mikkelsen is a strong fit for the role of Martin, who expresses reservations about this plan but ultimately finds it irresistible, navigating a fine line between once again finding a passion that was lost and acting in an appropriate and commendable manner. This film’s narrative arc, much like the sobriety of his characters, is full of extremes, culminating in a highly memorable and emphatic finale that calls into question whether its players have indeed learned anything from their dangerous antics.


Friday, January 8, 2021

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 Virtual Cinemas: Blizzard of Souls, Beautiful Something Left Behind 
New to DVD: The Keeper 
 New to Amazon: Herself

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Movie with Abe: Pieces of a Woman

Pieces of a Woman
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
Released January 7, 2021 (Netflix)

Experiencing a loss can lead to truly lasting and irreversible effects. There’s the very literal absence of the person or thing that is no longer present, and a melancholy about what could have been if that was not the case. No two people go through a loss in the exact same way, even if they are now both missing the same thing. Getting back to a point of stability may take a tremendous amount of time, and those who can’t see the world through one person’s eyes may have difficulty accepting that the process may be lengthy and possibly never even fully complete.

Martha (Vanessa Kirby) prepares for a home birth with her partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf), and they are forced to use a new midwife, Eva (Molly Parker), when their original choice is not available. Troubling indicators after the baby is born lead to the devastating death of the child and Eva’s arrest on multiple counts of negligence. Martha struggles to exist in the aftermath, facing constant judgment and hushed conversations around her, both from those she knows, like her mother, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) and those who somehow think they comprehend her situation and mindset.

This can be a very grueling film to watch, one that spares little in its depiction of the birthing process and its traumatic aftermath. Martha is a character who exudes positive energy early on but is also clearly involved in a relationship that is toxic at best. There is a friction between Sean and Elizabeth that initially seems lighthearted and almost comical, and though they both want to support Martha, their approaches are disparate and clashing. Sean in particular is unwilling to consider Martha’s feelings separately from his own, unable to acknowledge that the emptiness she has could be different or deeper than his own.

Kirby, a standout player from the first two seasons of “The Crown,” delivers an exceptional performance charged with emotion, presenting Martha as someone who does not like being vulnerable but also isn’t always able to stand up for herself in the face of oppressive or demeaning elements. Burstyn is memorable and impactful in her limited scenes, adding layers to the mother who doesn’t always agree with her strong-willed daughter. The strength of LaBeouf’s turn shouldn’t be judged by the lawsuits and negative press he is currently facing, but it’s not easy to separate those allegations from the similarities to the character he plays perhaps all too well. This film is, at times, both poignant and deeply upsetting, seemingly unsure of its ultimate direction but committed to sitting with discomfort and grief and grappling with unresolved questions about imagined possibilities.


Interview with Abe: Blizzard of Souls

I had the pleasure of speaking with director Dzintars Dreibergs, cinematographer Valdis Celmins, composer Lolita Ritmanis, and actor Oto Brantevics about their new film “Blizzard of Souls,” which debuts in virtual cinemas tomorrow and is Latvia's official Oscar submission for Best International Feature. Check out our conversation below to learn more about the film! Buy tickets here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Interviews with Abe: Herself

I had the pleasure of speaking with writer-star Clare Dunne, star Harriet Walter, and director Phyllida Lloyd about one of my top films of the year, “Herself,” which premieres on Amazon Prime Video this Friday. Watch the two conversations, plus my one-minute video review from last year's Sundance Film Festival, below, and click here to read my review of this excellent film.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Top 10 Films of 2020

As someone known for being able to name the year a movie was released or won an Oscar, it feels weird to make a list of the best movies of 2020 when some of my favorites haven’t been officially released yet, and I might still see something I really like by February that could arguably count as either 2020 or 2021.

As a result, this is my current top ten movies of 2020, with the caveat that it’s not final. See these movies!

10. Dating Amber (available on VOD)
9. Palm Springs (watch now on Hulu)
8. Nine Days (coming summer 2021)
7. Summertime (coming spring 2021)
6. Weathering with You (available on VOD)
5. Wendy (watch now on HBO Max)
4. Herself (coming to Amazon Prime January 8th)
3. Mank (watch now on Netflix)
2. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (watch now on Netflix)
1. Promising Young Woman (coming to VOD mid-January)

Stick around in 2021 for plenty of exciting content, including the 14th Annual AFT Awards, Oscar predictions, Sundance Film Festival coverage, and so much more!

Friday, January 1, 2021

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: Herself
New to VOD: Shadow in the Cloud
New to DVD: Dating Amber, Saul and Ruby's Holocaust Survivor Band, The Last Shift, Honest Thief
New to Netflix: Bonnie and Clyde, Catch Me If You Can, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Into the Wild, Mud, The Departed
New to Amazon and Hulu: A Night at the Roxbury, Cloverfield, Face/Off, The Truman Show
New to Hulu: Hell or High Water, The Mexican, Young Adult, Save Yourselves
New to Topic: Once Upon a Time in Venezuela