Wednesday, March 31, 2021

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture

The competition: Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Minari, One Night in Miami, The Trial of the Chicago 7

For your information: The first three alphabetical films have three performers nominated, while the last two have just one each. Chadwick Boseman appears in two of these nominees. Only two of these nominees – “Minari” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” – are up for the Oscar for Best Picture, making this the year of least crossover since 2015 (2007 is the most distinct with only “No Country for Old Men,” which won both prizes, cited by both groups). Neither Golden Globe Best Picture winner, “Nomadland” (also the Critics Choice victor) or “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” is represented here. The winner of this award has gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar eleven twelve since its inception in 1995.

Who should win? This is a very strong category. It’s hard to argue with a dedicated and diverse group in “Da 5 Bloods,” the range of talent in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” the fantastic four in “One Night in Miami,” so many superb actors in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and the earnestness of everyone in “Minari.” I’d choose “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” but wouldn’t mind any of these winning.

Who will win? If it’s “Minari,” that would be very exciting and a great Korean-language follow-up to “Parasite” winning last year. The likelier and just as deserving option is The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role

The competition: Maria Bakalova’s Kazakh traveler (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), Glenn Close’s protective grandmother (Hillbilly Elegy), Olivia Colman’s devoted daughter (The Father), Yuh-Jung Youn’s immigrant grandmother (Minari), and Helena Zengel’s quiet orphan (News of the World).

For your information: Close won a SAG Award in 2018 for “The Wife” and in 2004 for the TV movie “The Lion in Winter.” She has seven additional nominations for her film and TV work, though interestingly has never contended as a part of any ensemble. Colman is also nominated this year for her performance in the series “The Crown” and as part of its ensemble, which took home this trophy last year. She was nominated for that role last year as well as for being part of the “Fleabag” ensemble, and also contended in 2018 for her turn in “The Favourite.” This is the first nomination for Bakalova, Youn, and Zengel. Only Youn is nominated as part of her ensemble. All but Zengel are nominated for the corresponding Oscar. Bakalova (as a lead), Close, Colman, and Zengel were all nominated for Golden Globes but lost to Rosamund Pike and Jodie Foster, respectively, while Bakalova defeated all but Zengel at the Critics Choice Awards. All but seven times since the SAG Awards’ inception in 1994, the winner of this award has gone on to win the corresponding Oscar.

Who should win? None of these performances are at the top of my list. I think I’d choose Bakalova or Youn.

Who will win? This should safely be Bakalova, but who knows.

Monday, March 29, 2021

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

The competition: Sacha Baron Cohen’s inflammatory activist (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Chadwick Boseman’s young soldier (Da 5 Bloods), Daniel Kaluuya’s energizing organizer (Judas and the Black Messiah), Jared Leto’s murder suspect (The Little Things), and Leslie Odom Jr.’s opinionated singer (One Night in Miami).

For your information: Baron Cohen was nominated in 2012 as part of the “Les Miserables” ensemble. The late Boseman won an ensemble prize for “Black Panther” in 2018 and makes history this year as the first performer to earn two individual nominations and two ensemble nominations, thanks to his role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” in one year. Kaluuya won an ensemble prize in 2018 for “Black Panther” after contending the previous year both individually and as part of the “Get Out” cast. Leto won this prize in 2013 for “Dallas Buyers Club” and was also nominated as part of its ensemble. This is the first nomination for Odom. Baron Cohen, Boseman, and Odom are also nominated as part of their ensembles. Baron Cohen, Kaluuya, and Odom are all nominated for Oscars for these roles. Kaluuya won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award. All but seven times since the SAG Awards’ inception in 1994, the winner of this award has gone on to win the corresponding Oscar.

Who should win? Baron Cohen, Kaluuya, and Odom were all terrific.

Who will win? I think that Kaluuya is set to win this.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Female Actor in a Leading Role

The competition: Amy Adams’ troubled mother (Hillbilly Elegy), Viola Davis’ talented performer (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby’s grieving mother (Pieces of a Woman), Frances McDormand’s exploring nomad (Nomadland), and Carey Mulligan’s revenge-seeker (Promising Young Woman).

For your information: Adams has six previous individual nominations, most recently double bids for “Sharp Objects” and “Vice” in 2018, plus three ensemble bids, one of which she won, in 2013 for “American Hustle.” Davis has won four individual prizes, for “The Help” in 2011, “How to Get Away with Murder” in 2014 and 2015, and “Fences” in 2016. She won the ensemble prize for the first of those and earned another individual nod and two more ensemble bids. Kirby was previously nominated twice as part of the cast of “The Crown.” McDormand has won three individual prizes, for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in 2017, “Olive Kitteridge” in 2014, and “Fargo” in 1996. She won the ensemble prize for the first of those and earned another two individual nods and one more ensemble bid. Mulligan was nominated in 2009 for “An Education” both individually and as part of the ensemble and as part of the “Mudbound” cast in 2017. All but Adams are nominated for the corresponding Oscar, and the other four all lost to Andra Day at the Golden Globes. Mulligan triumphed at the Critics Choice Awards. All but seven times since the SAG Awards’ inception in 1994, the winner of this award has gone on to win the corresponding Oscar.

Who should win? Mulligan is my clear favorite from this very good list.

Who will win? I’m betting tentatively on Mulligan over McDormand and Davis.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

The competition: Riz Ahmed’s newly deaf drummer (Sound of Metal), Chadwick Boseman’s passionate musician (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Anthony Hopkins’ dementia-stricken parent (The Father), Gary Oldman’s determined screenwriter (Mank), and Steven Yeun’s hard-working father (Minari).

For your information: Ahmed was previously nominated in 2016 for his performance in the limited series “The Night Of.” The late Boseman won an ensemble prize for “Black Panther” in 2018 and makes history this year as the first performer to earn two individual nominations and two ensemble nominations, thanks to his role in “Da 5 Bloods,” in one year. Hopkins has three previous individual nominations, most recently in 2018 for “King Lear,” and three ensemble bids. Oldman won this prize in 2017 for “Darkest Hour” and was nominated in 2000 for “The Contender.” Yeun is the lone first-time nominee, and, like Boseman, is nominated as part of his ensemble. All five of these men earned Oscar nominations, and Yeun was the only one not in contention at the Golden Globes, where Boseman prevailed. He also triumphed at the Critics Choice Awards. All but four times since the SAG Awards’ inception in 1994, the winner of this award has gone on to win an Oscar. The most recent time it didn’t happen was in 2016 when Denzel Washington beat eventually Oscar champ Casey Affleck here.

Who should win? It’s a superb group. I’d choose Boseman or Ahmed.

Who will win? I think the quadruple nomination all but ensures a victory for Boseman.

Friday, March 26, 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: Nobody
New to Theaters and VOD: Senior Moment
New to VOD: The Father, Donny’s Bar Mitzvah
New to DVD: Soul, News of the World, Breaking News in Yuba County
New to Hulu: Collective

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Movie with Abe: Nobody

One of this week's high-profile theatrical releases is the new film “Nobody,” which I had the chance to write up for Cinema Daily US. Head over there to read my review of this very violent but engaging film starring Bob Odenkirk

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Movie with Abe: Senior Moment

Senior Moment
Directed by Giorgio Serafini
Released March 26, 2021

It never feels good to be considered irrelevant. In a society that thrives on increasingly advanced technology, those who aren’t as up to date or might prefer more old-fashioned approaches can get left behind and shut out of many places and activities. Older populations are typically made to feel like their voices shouldn’t be heard and that they are not as capable as they used to be, even if most functionality remains clear. Some will go to incredible lengths to assert their continued existence, which rarely leads to good results. In this mediocre comedy, a car and an unexpected romances compel one man to make sure everyone knows he’s still around with something to say.

Victor Martin (William Shatner) is a retired NASA pilot who spends a good chunk of his time driving his prized Porsche with his friend Sal (Christopher Lloyd). After a few too many encounters with the law, Victor finds his license and car taken away. Now that he has to take the bus, he has the chance to meet Caroline (Jean Smart), who runs a café. As he prepares to fight for the right to get back on the road in court, Victor reconsiders his priorities and wonders whether settling down late in life might actually be the smart choice for him.

This film’s title has a clear double meaning, referencing the tendency for older people to forget something briefly, often in the middle of a sentence. There are scenes where Victor finds himself suddenly lost and not aware of exactly what is going on, and he’s certainly out of touch with how the world operates in a number of ways, as his familiarity with local police would indicate. Being left without the ability to get around on his own strikes him as more urgent and important than anything that has happened in a long time, and his introduction to Caroline allows him to have one more thing to focus on and keep his going.

Shatner is an actor who’s always had a particular charm, from his early days as a leading man on “Star Trek” to his more recent comic relief work in “Boston Legal” and other projects. Having just celebrated his ninetieth birthday earlier this week, he shows no signs of slowing down, and he’s a great fit for this part, opposite a typically dependable Smart. This film is light and feels like a relic of the past, one that may not be all that modern and in no way groundbreaking, but a harmless piece of entertainment that delivers exactly what it promises.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Movie with Abe: Donny’s Bar Mitzvah

Donny’s Bar Mitzvah
Directed by Jonny Comebacks
Released March 23, 2021 (VOD)

A Bar Mitzvah officially signifies a Jewish boy becoming an adult and a part of the Jewish people. Typically, the religious ceremony is also accompanied by a big party filled with friends and family. Those who grew up in Jewish communities likely remember the excess that went along with some celebrations, and as kids may not have noticed how parents were behaving when they had the chance to interact their own friends at such an event. The wildest occurrences are exaggerated in every possible way in this lewd and absurd send-up of the late 1990s and the most over-the-top people you’d ever meet at a Bar Mitzvah party.

Donny (Steele Stebbins) isn’t looking forward to his big night. His mom (Wendy Braun) is way too stressed out and nervous about everything going right, including the dance he’s supposed to do with his friends, and he’s worried that one of his buddies is going to mess things up with his new girlfriend, Hannah (Isabelle Anaya). Among the many other subplots are his sister Michelle (Jessica Renee Russell) trying to appease her matchmaker grandmother by pretending to date her friend David (Radek Lord), who’s actually gay and interested in both her brother and her father, an emcee (Jeremy Tardy) on the hunt for a party disrupter, and a table of parents ready to indulge in their worst habits all night.

This film is best described as “The Hebrew Hammer” meets “Super Troopers,” taking remembered experiences and amplifying them exponentially to the absurd. The numerous lunacies portrayed here might have happened, or likelier people wish they had happened, in real life. This excessive gathering is the theoretical product of every single adult guest being that crazy relative you didn’t want to come or the work colleague you wish you didn’t have to invite. That mixed with an unhealthy helping of teenage testosterone plus a good deal of vomiting, defecation, descriptive sex, and completely random subplots represents the major ingredients in this delirious concoction.

The actors do seem like they’re having fun here, with the younger cast, led by Stebbins and Russell, imitating the more obnoxious and awkward tendencies of teenagers assigning too much weight to minor moments and childish impulses. The adult ensemble generally opts for broader comedy, though some of the performances, like those from Michael Patrick McGill and Noureen DeWulf, are especially entertaining. Those searching for sophistication or some actual representation of a Bar Mitzvah ceremony won’t find either here, but there’s an oddly appealing rhythm to this film’s unchecked lunacy. Its commitment to offending everyone isn’t necessarily laudable, but its parody of a time period and a state of mind does have decent zany entertainment value.


Monday, March 22, 2021

Movie with Abe: Judas and the Black Messiah

One of this year's late-breaking contenders that built up enough steam to earn six Oscar nominations, including a bid for Best Picture, was “Judas and the Black Messiah.” I had the chance to take an extensive look at this film for Cinema Daily US. Head over there to read my review of this powerful film featuring strong Oscar-nominated performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield (the quality isn't diminished despite them both being bafflingly categorized as supporting actors).

Sunday, March 21, 2021

SXSW with Abe: Violet

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Directed by Justine Bateman
2020 Spotlight

Many people experience self-doubt. Impostor syndrome can often set in at the worst possible moments, when work that has been legitimately done to get a person somewhere is invalidated by overwhelming thoughts that they don’t belong there or deserve to have achieved what they have. What that looks like and how it manifests can be different on a case-by-case basis, but those who experience crippling anxiety about the legitimacy of their decisions and their own self-worth can be very much impeded from success. Justine Bateman’s feature directorial debut offers a vivid, captivating vision of inner workings given all too much power.

Violet (Olivia Munn) works as an executive in film development, where she is forced to manage incompetent, lazy underlings and endure minimizing harassment from her boss and studio heads. The main reason she has done nothing to stand up for herself is that her every move and thought is criticized by a voice (Justin Theroux), which she refers to as the “committee” in her head. Optimistic conversations with a loyal friend (Erica Ash) and supportive temporary roommate (Luke Bracey) inspire her to consider something she has never done before – fight back against the committee and take charge of her life.

To convey what Violet experiences in her own mind, this film employs multiple techniques that serve as an assault on the senses. She frequently flashes to seemingly violent and unpleasant memories as the loud voice commands her not to do the brave or difficult thing, and cursive text appears scrawled across the screen to externalize what Violet wishes she could do in that moment. It’s a powerful combination of devices that proves impossible to ignore, and serves only to support the film’s narrative, which extracts key moments from a short time in Violet’s adult life that is evidently representative of a similarly subservient whole.

Munn is a fantastic choice to play the title role, channeling a deep frustration with Violet’s decisions that has built up consistently and yet always been knocked down again by that doubting and demeaning voice. It’s a very impressive performance stripped of any lightheartedness or charm that is slowly injected back in as Violet builds confidence and begins to resist. A flurry of recognizable faces provide support throughout but never distract from this simultaneously focused and schizophrenic portrait. Its denouement comes with conflicted morality, but it’s an entirely involved experience that isn’t easy to shake.


SXSW with Abe: The Fallout

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

I'm writing up some of the films I see for the brand new site Cinema Daily US. Head over there to read my take on “The Fallout,” a sensitive and powerful drama about the aftermath of a school shooting that won the Narrative Feature Competition Grand Jury Prize.

SXSW with Abe: Best Summer Ever

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Best Summer Ever
Directed by Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli
2020 Spotlight

There has been much made in recent years about representation in media. Actors earn accolades for transforming themselves into someone with experiences they can’t relate to or haven’t personally been through, and questions are asked about why someone whose life more closely resembles a role wasn’t approached for it instead. If someone can effectively mimic the way someone else acts, why shouldn’t the opposite be true, and is the aim of a performance to deceive an audience or to elicit an emotional response? This wonderful musical makes excellence use of a diverse cast to prove that acting requires energy and passion above all else, and other projects should follow suit.

Sage (Shannon DeVido) and Tony (Rickey Wilson Jr.) meet at dance camp and fall for each other. When the summer ends, Sage gets on the road with her mothers to the next place they can set up their marijuana-growing operation. Vehicle problems and Sage’s desire to have a normal life result in them putting down temporary roots in the same small town that Tony, who told Sage that he lived in Manhattan and went to a fancy private school, happens to be the star football player. As they are unexpected and awkwardly reunited, they become the targets of a popularity-seeking cheerleader (MuMu) and a rival football player (Jacob Waltuck).

This film has what it describes as a “fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities.” Like another beloved musical, “Hamilton,” this film opts for a position of radical inclusion, one that invites any actor to play any role, regardless of any physical or societal trait that might typically impede them from being cast. It’s a marvelously successful experiment, one that discovers extraordinary talent among all of its players. They sing, they dance, and they’re clearly having a good time, which, predictably, leads to an enthralling and enjoyable experience for audiences as well.

The entire ensemble is worthy of praise, but it’s worth singling out the superb turn by DeVido, who imbues Sage with a lust for life and a discerning eye towards ridiculousness that others don’t seem to possess. The dance numbers are fun and the songs, which include sing-along lyrics on the bottom of the screen, are also strong. While this clear sendup of “Grease” and other more recent high school-set musicals isn’t always sophisticated in its plotting, it’s a remarkably entertaining time, one that captures the best of the genre and executes it with a marvelously competent cast and crew.


Saturday, March 20, 2021

SXSW with Abe: In the Same Breath

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

I'm writing up some of the films I see for the brand new site Cinema Daily US. Head over there to read my take on “In the Same Breath,” a riveting documentary about the resposne to the coronavirus outbreak in China and the United States.

SXSW with Abe: Swan Song

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Swan Song
Directed by Todd Stephens
Narrative Spotlight

People who don’t conform to what society expects of them often need to find their own supportive communities. One way of fitting in is to become known for a skill and to hone that craft. There is a degree of respect afforded to those who have proven themselves to be talented in a particular area that can overshadow any notions of them being peculiar or unusual. A career doesn’t last forever, however, and someone who felt deeply embraced in the prime of their lives may find difficulty getting back to a place of happiness and satisfaction, a sentiment explored in this decent human story.

Pat (Udo Kier) used to work as a hairdresser and run his own salon in Sandusky, Ohio. Now, he lives in a nursing home and leads a muted existence, hassling those charged with helping him and expressing little hope for his own future. When he is approached to style the hair of an old friend, Rita Parker Sloan (Linda Evans), for her funeral, Pat initially resists but then decides to set out for a long walk across town to reclaim the glory he once had and do one last job to prove to everyone – and to himself – that he still has what it takes.

Writer-director Todd Stephens describes this film, which he considers the third part of his “Ohio Trilogy” that also includes “Edge of Seventeen” and “Gypsy 83,” as an homage to the real Pat Pitsenberger. He remembers Pat as someone who contradicted the pressure for everyone to look and dress the same in his own hometown, walking around in bright clothes and fabulous outfits, paving the way for other gay men like Stephens to be able to have the courage to be themselves in small towns. Even if this showcase feels slow-paced and occasionally aimless, its fidelity to Pat’s identity is laudable, and this film definitely creates a space for him to be his authentic self.

Kier, who has recently appeared in violent roles in films like “Bacurau” and “The Painted Bird,” shared that he embraced the opportunity to move away from the “boring” standard of looking evil and killing people to play this real person and pay tribute to Pat’s legacy. It’s a fun and certainly different part for Kier, and he’s surrounded by a competent ensemble that also includes Michael Urie and Jennifer Coolidge. The film’s themes are indeed resonant but its execution is less riveting and emphatic, not nearly as engaging as its featured protagonist.


SXSW with Abe: Not Going Quietly

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

I'm writing up some of the films I see for the brand new site Cinema Daily US. Head over there to read my take on “Not Going Quietly,” a terrific documentary about activist Ady Barkan.

Friday, March 19, 2021

SXSW with Abe: Recovery

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Directed by Mallory Everton and Stephen Meek
Narrative Spotlight

One of the most stressful concepts during the pandemic for those who have closely followed restrictions is the idea of travel. The nonchalant and dismissive responses that emphasizing how intense and off-putting it would be to need to drive somewhere and potentially come into contact with untold numbers of strangers elicit even more anxiety. Yet the health and wellbeing of someone more vulnerable is an excellent reason to risk it all, which serves as the catalyst for this very entertaining buddy comedy.

Blake (Mallory Everton) and Jamie (Whitney Call) are sisters with big plans for 2020. Those hopes go down the drain when coronavirus hits and they begin an intensive quarantining process where their few outings feature a fully involved sanitization process of body and clothing as soon as they reenter their clean space. When they learn of a COVID-19 outbreak at their grandmother’s nursing home, they brave the outside world to drive across the country and rescue her before their other sister, who is ignoring regulations to the point of being on a cruise while the world around her is locked down, returns to pick her up first and surely infect her.

This is a fantastic film for this moment, one that taps into the feelings that so many who realize just how unseriously others are behaving in the face of a wildly transmissible virus have. It’s validating to see that Blake and Jamie’s protocols are more stringent even than what some of this reviewer’s strictest friends have instituted, and also maddening when their practices don’t match up completely, like the failure to have a glove at the ready for a trip to a gas station or the non-universal wearing of masks in any outdoor public space. While it is possible that, like similar material that seems to be very popular at the moment, the appeal of this fare may fade over time, it’s an excellent snapshot of the present that really finds the funny in all of it.

This film works best thanks to its two leads, who wrote the script together while Everton codirected. They’re a pleasure to watch on screen together, playing off each other with superb comic timing and capturing the energy of sisters who are also best friends. The way they react to the horrifying things they encounter that make them never want to leave home again is priceless, and the dialogue they write for themselves is very entertaining. This film does veer into exaggerated territory on numerous occasions, but even when it’s not exactly realistic, it’s still wildly enjoyable. Everton and Call demonstrate enormous promise that’s already more than fulfilled here with a movie that’s sure both to delight audiences and hit too close to home in the best kind of way.


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 Courier
New to DVD: Promising Young Woman, Healing from Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation
New to Hulu: Pink Wall, Sister Aimee, Identity
Film Festival Coverage: SXSW

SXSW with Abe: The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson
Directed by Leah Purcell
Narrative Spotlight

In almost any civilization, people are quick to deem something they view as different from them dangerous and threatening. It’s easy to find innumerable instances of foreigners or natives being blamed by whatever populace pronounces themselves the dominant standard for crime, financial ruin, or any other societal ailment. Those who might be theoretically aligned with that typical group but have never really seen eye-to-eye with its tendencies or felt fully embraced are likely to be less discriminating and more open to seeing people for who they are. That openness on the edge of civilization is the subject of this slow-burn Outback period drama.

In 1893, Molly Johnson (Leah Purcell) looks after her many children while also very pregnant with her next child. Her husband has been absent for some time, working as a drover for sheep for long stretches. Sergeant Klintoff (Sam Reid) and his wife Louisa (Jessica De Gouw) pass through en route to the lawman’s new post, where his first task is to hunt down Yadaka (Rob Collins), an Aboriginal man wanted for murder. When Yadaka arrives on Molly’s property, she is wary of his presence but gives him a safe place to stay, learning more about him and herself in the process.

This film is based on Henry Lawson’s 1892 short story about the resilience of the strong-willed mother and Leah Purcell’s staged 2016 play. It’s a narrative that speaks to Australian culture and the Outback in particular, but it’s certainly applicable to so many places in the world where white immigrants have imposed imperialistic views and policies on people who lived there long before they ever thought to arrive. There’s nothing modern about this film, which is firmly set in the past, but the ideals it navigates are absolutely relevant to the white supremacy and victimization of minorities currently happening around the world.

Purcell pulls triple duty as director, writer, and star, imbuing Molly with a stern protective nature, one that makes her well-suited for survival. Collins humanizes Yadaka, making it clear that he is far from the villain he has been made out to be by authorities seeking his head. Reid and De Gouw embody interesting supporting characters whose roles don’t feel all that relevant. This film boasts strong production values that make its setting and story feel real, though it never really manages to come alive. As a metaphor or a morality lesson, this film works well, but as a viewing experience, it’s not nearly as engaging or riveting.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

SXSW with Abe: Language Lessons

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Language Lessons
Directed by Natalie Morales
Narrative Spotlight

You can only learn so much about another person through a camera or computer screen. That’s one of the top criticisms of at-home education that’s been the necessary default during a global pandemic, with those opposed arguing that it can’t possibly replicate the experience of in-person learning and being surrounded by other students. Those who live on different sides of the country or even the world are satiated in part by video calls, but nothing can match the feeling of standing in front of someone and hugging them. There is still great potential in online communication, as marvelously shown in this wonderful two-performer production.

Adam (Mark Duplass) has been given a gift by his husband Will (Desean Terry): one hundred Spanish lessons with Cariño (Natalie Morales). The already mostly fluent Adam, who lives a lavish life of luxury in a giant Oakland home, is supposed to turn on his camera each week for two years to connect with the Costa Rica-based Cariño to improve his mastery of the language. When Adam experiences an unexpected loss, the nature of his conversations with Cariño change, transforming preplanned exercises into an entirely more personal dynamic.

This film is exceptional for a number of reasons. While it was made during a pandemic and for the most part features two actors on separate screens for the entirety of its runtime, it’s not one of the many projects that will clearly trace back to this moment in time. This kind of online extracurricular course does exist in this form, and its format merely serves to link two people in two different places as they come together over a shared interest in language. Most impressively, this film manages to remain completely interesting throughout its hour-and-a-half runtime despite being little more than a dialogue between two people looking at each other through their only sometimes crystal-clear computer screens.

This is the directorial debut for Morales, an actress who has impressed in recurring roles on “Parks and Recreation” and “Dead to Me,” as well as anchoring a decent sitcom, “Abby’s.” Here, she is full of personality and depth opposite a typically invested and dryly charming Duplass, and the two make for a stellar onscreen pair. This relationship feels like one that might truly exist, evolving over time and shifting between humorous anecdotes to serious exploration of boundaries. What may be most charming about it is its use of language, with Adam trying ardently to practice his admittedly grammar-imperfect Spanish in as much of their conversations as possible. This film is funny, engrossing, and heartwarming, an optimistic indication of the power of storytelling without the need for all the usual cinematic bells and whistles.


SXSW with Abe: The Fabulous Filipino Brothers

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

The Fabulous Filipino Brothers
Directed by Dante Basco
Narrative Spotlight

Every family has its idiosyncrasies. Parents influence their children with the cultural, religious, and sociopolitical values they teach and practice, which may be embraced and adopted or rebelled against, depending on how they are imparted and digested. Siblings in the same family don’t always behave the same way as they grow up, and staying close through adulthood can prove just as impactful on how they interact with the world. It can be particularly fun to see how birth order and treatment by other family members shapes each of them, as is very much the case with this upbeat and energizing comedy.

The Basco brothers all live in Pittsburg, California, where their Filipino heritage is a major part of their identities. Each of the four gets a vignette that checks in with where they are in their lives. The oldest brother, Dayo (Derek Basco), offers to pay for part of a family wedding and scrambles to come up with the money, leading him down a regrettable path. Duke (Dante Basco) is away on business and runs into his high school girlfriend, Anna (Solenn Heussaff), which prompts the return of unexpected feelings. Dave (Dionysio Basco), who is far from serious, meets a mystery woman who he finds very attractive. Danny Boy (Darion Basco), destitute after a breakup, reluctantly goes on a date with Teresa (Liza Lapira), who may be just what he needs to return to some semblance of normalcy.

The four segments of this film are connected by the narration of Dores (Arianna Basco), who explains how the family functions and dramatizes each of their backstories. They do feel distinctly different, with Dayo and Dave’s paling both in seriousness and entertainment value to the other two. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them; they just aren’t as memorable or enthralling. That may be because what they experience is, generally speaking, nothing new, whereas both Duke and Danny Boy are challenged to change how they operate, which certainly isn’t easy but proves very watchable.

The inarguably best part of this film is that these characters are played by real-life siblings. Dante serves as director, and there’s a comfort that can’t necessarily be mimicked on screen that comes from their real relation. It doesn’t come across as too casual or forced, and it’s great to see this familial effort prove so tremendously successful. Even if two of its four parts are stronger than the others, the better portions feel longer and more substantial, contributing to a very worthwhile and enjoyable whole full of winning and smile-inducing moments.


SXSW with Abe: Here Before

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Here Before
Directed by Stacey Gregg
Narrative Feature Competition

A loss is something that people don’t always recover from, and it can stick with them for their entire lives, regardless of how much time has passed. The emotions that stem from an absence may be triggered at unexpected times, and it may seem as if someone has moved on, in whatever way they can, before they return to a state of deep mourning that prohibits them from functioning fully in the world. Being reminded of places or people that relate to a loss can understandably serve to reopen scabbed wounds, a concept bluntly explored in this uneven psychological thriller.

Laura (Andrea Riseborough) lives with her husband Brendan (Jonjo O’Neill) and her teenage son Tadhg (Lewis McAskie). When ten-year-old Megan (Niamh Dornan) moves in next door, Laura takes a liking to her, in no small part because it feels like the relationship she had with the child she lost, her daughter Josie. When Megan’s mother (Eileen O’Higgins) fails to pick her up from school, Laura drives her home and forms more of a connection as she becomes increasingly entranced by how much Megan makes her think of Josie.

It’s not clear what this film exactly wants to be, since there is definitely something disconcerting about Megan’s precociousness and the way that she so quickly warms to her adult neighbor. Laura does notice that Megan seems to function independently and that her mother and stepfather often leave her to her own devices, but she exudes a welcoming nature that makes sense as a reason that children might be drawn to her. Whether there is something supernatural at play with Megan being some kind of reincarnation of Josie is certainly a notion this film posits, and as that becomes its intended direction, this film leans strongly into that possibility as it adopts a feverish, almost nightmarish tone.

Riseborough is an actress with tremendous capability that she has demonstrated in numerous projects, but she has also starred in a few lackluster projects that cast her in uninviting roles anchoring uninspired storylines. Like “Nancy” and “Luxor” in recent years, this film finds a good lead in Riseborough but surrounds her with a lackluster plot that becomes less and less interesting as it goes on. Those hoping for one resolution over another will likely be disappointed with the film’s denouement, which is moderately satisfying but makes so much of what came before seem irrelevant and tedious.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

SXSW with Abe: Executive Order and Witch Hunt

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

I'm writing up some of the films I see for The Film Experience. Head over there to read my take on “Executive Order” and “Witch Hunt,” two interesting approaches to dystopian realities that don't feel all that distant.

SXSW with Abe: The Return: Life After ISIS

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

I'm writing up some of the films I see for the brand new site Cinema Daily US. Head over there to read my take on “The Return: Life After ISIS,” a thoroughly intriguing documentary looking at women who voluntarily joined ISIS.

SXSW with Abe: The End of Us

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

The End of Us
Directed by Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner
Narrative Feature Competition

Living through a pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone. Even the healthiest, wealthiest people with all the space in the world have surely found it difficult. Those without means and with preexisting conditions have endured a harrowing year since lockdowns and quarantines were instituted, and many didn’t survive after contracting coronavirus. As with any situation, there is a more lighthearted, humorous way to look at it, imagining an added layer of complication to make isolation and social distancing feel even more unbearable. This comedy handles it in an invigorating and highly entertaining manner that feels very fresh and fun.

Leah (Ali Vingiano) and Nick (Ben Coleman) live together in Los Angeles, but their relationship isn’t really working. Leah finally has the uncomfortable conversation and tells Nick that they need to break up. Unfortunately, her timing couldn’t be worse, since the next morning is the first day of a new normal. Since his friends and family members are wary of exposure, Nick isn’t able to find anywhere else to stay, forcing him and Leah to become unwilling roommates as they process their changing feelings. Leah’s burgeoning romance with a coworker, Tim (Derrick Joseph DeBlasis), only adds to the awkwardness since her live-in ex-boyfriend has no choice but to witness it happen right in front of his eyes.

There have already been and are sure to be many more cinematic stories about living through this pandemic, and at a certain point, especially while some restrictions are still in place with an end only distantly in sight, it’s not appealing to watch reality reflected back on screen. But this film subverts expectations by giving both its protagonists plenty of personality, augmenting the differences between them in a fantastic way as they grow further apart emotionally but are forced to remain even closer than ever before. Whether their levels of cautionary behavior will be quite as amusing once mask-wearing and being six feet apart are a thing of the past is hard to know, but in this moment, this film feels like the perfect kind of comedy.

Vingiano and Coleman make a great pair, playing fantastically off each other as Leah and Nick become increasingly passive-aggressive. Leah is the straight-laced, serious one while Nick isn’t great at actually achieving anything, but they’re both dynamic, and it’s very welcome when the film allows them brief opportunities to switch roles of responsible and reckless. They’re their own people but also so representative of recognizable components in any relationship or household, and this film makes excellent use of strong characters and superb actors with an equally competent and enjoyable story to surround them.


SXSW Interview: Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

I had the incredible privilege to speak with ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeffery Robinson and directors Emily and Sarah Kunstler about their powerful new documentary, “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America.” Watch the talk above!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

SXSW with Abe: Hysterical

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Directed by Andrea Nevins
Documentary Spotlight

The idea that women aren’t funny, or aren’t as funny as men, is simply laughable. But like so much of human history, that hasn’t stopped one gender from assorting superiority over the other, assigning certain diminutive signifiers to women who possess the same traits and characteristics as men but are somehow deemed inferior for them. This enthralling and entertaining documentary shines a spotlight on many women who have successfully forged a career in stand-up comedy despite the many obstacles they continue to face to achieve even some semblance of stability in an often critical industry.

A number of talented female comedians share their stories, chronicling the formative experiences as children and in young adulthood that led them to pursue a passion that finds them standing in front of an audience on a regular basis. In each case, there are countless instances where they were held to different standards and told that two female comics couldn’t be put back-to-back or that they were funny, for a woman. In a few particularly powerful examples, like that of Kelly Bachman, they use the stage to amplify voices that are rarely heard, as she did when she called out an unexpected person in the crowd one night: Harvey Weinstein.

This film isn’t a repository for complaints about sexism and unfair treatment in this particular workplace, but there are surely many who will dismiss it as such. It’s precisely that unreasonable and malignant behavior that makes this film’s existence important, since it shows just how talented these women are, which as it turns out isn’t relevant for those who don’t want to think that a woman can be as funny or stage-ready. Like current conversations around racism, it also highlights the prominence of those who believe they are elevating or doing women a favor by spotlighting them while their accompanying condescending comments do exactly the opposite.

This documentary doesn’t attempt to capture the complete history of female stand-up comedians, but it does do a great job of mixing footage of acts by early influential comics like Moms Mabley and interviews with those still on the circuit who saw their predecessors’ work and were influenced by it in some way. Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin provide insight into the way that things have changed, and, in many respects, not changed over the past few decades. This film serves as a very worthwhile and unfortunately necessary reminder that there are so many hilarious women out there, and the fact that they’re female is only notable because it speaks to the experiences they’ve had and are likely to incorporate into their bits.


SXSW with Abe: Potato Dreams of America

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

I'm writing up some of the films I see for the brand new site Cinema Daily US. Head over there to read my take on “Potato Dreams of America,” a delightful story about coming to America.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Interviews with Oscar Nominees

Oscar nominations have been announced, and I’m thrilled to have had the chance to talk to a number of the nominees them this year! Click below to read these extremely enlightening conversations with these talented artisans to learn more about their crafts:

Thomas Vinterberg (Director – Another Round)
Donald Graham Burt (Production Designer – Mank)
Mark Ricker (Production Designer – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
Trish Summerville (Costume Designer – Mank)
David Crank (Production Designer – News of the World)
Mia Neal, Matiki Anoff, and Sergio Lopez-Rivera (Hair and Makeup – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, and Francesco Pegoretti (Hair and Makeup – Pinocchio)
Chris Lawrence and Matt Kasmir (Visual Effects Supervisors – The Midnight Sky)

Group Interviews:
Darius and Abraham Marder (Screenwriters – Sound of Metal)
Mikkel E. G. Nielsen (Editor – Sound of Metal)
Michael Minkler (Sound – Greyhound)
Nicolas Becker (Sound – Sound of Metal)

Oscar Nominees: Best Picture

My predictions: 8/8, but I predicted two others and had “Sound of Metal” at #9
My ballot: Here it is!
The nominees: The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Well, this isn’t all that surprising, and, though I’m sad about a few of the omissions, this is a pretty spectacular list of films to represent the best of the year. I was disappointed that “One Night in Miami” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” weren’t here when I felt they very much could and should have been, but they managed to earn three and five nominations, respectively. Whereas last year, four films had ten or more bids, this year it’s just one, Mank, which scored ten despite missing out for its screenplay, film editing, and visual effects. Interestingly, the spread is pretty even, with six of the others all achieving six nominations. It doesn’t feel right that the best film of the year, Promising Young Woman, is the least-represented in this category, with only five mentions, especially since it should have been honored for some of its technical feats. Judas and the Black Messiah experienced the biggest late surge, while The Father, technically a late release but one that premiered over a year ago at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, recovered despite an uneven precursors performance. Sound of Metal was another late-breaker that went from just one Golden Globe mention to a solid showing here, and the same is true for Minari. The frontrunner, Nomadland, has officially solidified its position, now that what might have been its closest competition, The Trial of the Chicago 7, didn’t get nominated for Best Director. More on all this as the Oscar ceremony approaches, but given what was realistically possible, I’m perfectly okay with this list.

My current bet to win: It’s got to be Nomadland.

Oscar Nominees: Best Director

My predictions: 3/5
My ballot: Coming soon!
The nominees: Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), David Fincher (Mank), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman)

This list isn’t so much of a surprise, with plenty of indicators it might happen. I was still betting on Regina King and hadn’t taken seriously the many people who suggested that Aaron Sorkin might find himself snubbed after a strong precursors performance. I’m delighted to see Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) here after speaking with him last week, and, like Pawel Pawlikowski of “Cold War” two years ago, he translates a BAFTA nomination for Best Director into the same at the Oscars without a Best Picture bid from either group (his film is the frontrunner for Best International Feature). It’s also nice to see Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) get in after he missed out on a Globe nomination. Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) being nominated make it the first time that two women have been recognized in the same year, something that embarrassingly has never happened before in Oscar history. I was nervous about his chances for a while, but I’m glad to see that David Fincher (Mank) didn’t get left off for a truly strong film that is one of my favorites of 2020. A very good list!

My current bet to win: It’s going to be Zhao.

Oscar Nominees: Best Live Action Short

My predictions: 2/5
The nominees: Feeling Through, The Letter Room, The Present, Two Distant Strangers, White Eye

I’ve seen four of these films but only managed to predict two correctly. The biggest surprise is that Pedro Almodovar’s Tilda Swinton-starring “The Human Voice” isn’t here. The Oscar Isaac vehicle The Letter Room did get in, as did Feeling Through, a sweet story of an unexpected friendship. Both the Palestinian and Israeli entries in this category, The Present and White Eye, made it, and they’re both great. The one I haven’t seen is Two Distant Strangers, so more on that once I’ve had the chance to screen it.

My current bet to win: I’m going with Feeling Through.

Oscar Nominees: Best Animated Short

My predictions: 3/5
The nominees: Burrow, Genius Loci, If Anything Happens I Love You, Opera, Yes-People

I’ve only seen two of these films, so I need to watch the others before offering judgment. I predicted the other Disney Plus short, “Out,” over Burrow, though they’re both lovely, and Netflix’s If Anything Happens I Love You seemed like a non-brainer. I’ve heard excellent things about Opera and am looking forward to seeing both Genius Loci and Yes-People when I can, and offering more thoughts then. I’m sad that “To Gerard” didn’t make the cut – that was a sweet film.

My current bet to win: For now, I’ll say If Anything Happens I Love You.

Oscar Nominees: Best Documentary Short

My predictions: 4/5
The nominees: Colette, A Concerto is a Conversation, Do Not Split, Hunger Ward, A Love Song for Latasha

I did very well here, picking four nominees correctly and having my alternate sub in for the open slot. This is a very good list, ranging from multigenerational relationships to protests to starvation to loss. Anyone reading this should be able to watch all of these films for free: Colette on The Guardian, A Concerto is a Conversation via The New York Times, Do Not Split from Field of Vision, Hunger Ward on Pluto TV, and A Love Song for Latasha on Netflix. I’d also urge you to watch the five films that didn’t make the cut, detailed here.

My current bet to win: I’m going with A Concerto is a Conversation.

Oscar Nominees: Best Documentary

My predictions: 3/5
My ballot: Coming soon!
The nominees: Collective, Crip Camp, The Mole Agent, My Octopus Teacher, Time

I’m glad that my guess that Time would be snubbed didn’t come to fruition since it really is a formidable and worthwhile film. I’m much more upset about “Welcome to Chechnya,” which I thought might be safe due to its place on the visual effects shortlist. There were so many great films on this list, and “Boys State” and “Dick Johnson Is Dead” are two other prominent ones that didn’t make the cut. Both of the films that were also shortlisted for the Best International Feature category, Collective and The Mole Agent, made the cut here, and the former is a double nominee. Crip Camp is a great choice, and I’m sure marine biology aficionados will be much more excited about My Octopus Teacher making this list than I am.

My current bet to win: It might be “Time,” but I’d bet more strongly on Collective.

Oscar Nominees: Best Animated Feature

My predictions: 4/5
My ballot: Coming soon!
The nominees: Onward, Over the Moon, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, Soul, Wolfwalkers

With all indications that “The Croods: A New Age,” which is a perfectly good movie, was going to be on this list, we instead get a different choice in the form of A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, which happens to be the only one of these five that I haven’t seen. I’m relieved that the underrated Over the Moon didn’t miss out, and also happy to see Onward and Wolfwalkers join the frontrunner here, Soul.

My current bet to win: It’s going to be Soul.

Oscar Nominees: Best International Feature

My predictions: 3/5
My ballot: Coming soon!
The nominees: Another Round (Denmark), Better Days (Hong Kong), Collective (Romania), The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia), Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

For the second year in a row, we get a double nominee in the form of a film that makes the cut both here and in the Best Documentary race – Collective (Romania) – which begs the question of whether this category should be reserved for narrative films in an effort to diversify the pool of prospective nominees. Documentaries are eligible for Best Picture but none has ever scored there, so I don’t know how that rule would go over. But “Collective” is far superior, in my mind, to last year’s “Honeyland,” so I’m fine seeing it here. I’m pleased to have correctly predicted The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia), the last of the fifteen finalists that I screened but which I very much liked. I had Better Days (Taiwan) in dead last, but it is a strong and devastating film, so its inclusion here is welcome. Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina) was terrific and I’m glad it wasn’t snubbed, and Another Round (Denmark) had a great day since its director, Thomas Vinterberg, who I interviewed last week, also got nominated for Best Director. I am surprised that both “Night of the Kings” and “Sun Children” didn’t get in, but this was a very competitive category with plenty of worthy content.

My current bet to win: I would be very surprised if it wasn’t Another Round.

Oscar Nominees: Best Visual Effects

My predictions: 3/5
My ballot: Coming soon!
The nominees: Love and Monsters, The Midnight Sky, Mulan, The One and Only Ivan, Tenet

Where is “Welcome to Chechnya”? I thought it would have been impossible for anyone to ignore the work on that film when they watched it as one of ten finalists, but somehow it happened. To be fair, I had only seen seven of those ten, and two that I haven’t watched - Love and Monsters and The One and Only Ivan - did get in, so I have some catching up to do. I enjoyed talking to the visual effects supervisors for The Midnight Sky (read that piece here), and so I’m thrilled to see their fine work recognized. Tenet makes sense to include here since it’s a visually staggering feat, while Mulan wouldn’t be my first choice but isn’t undeserving.

My current bet to win: I think this has to go to Tenet but maybe “The Midnight Sky” wins?

Oscar Nominees: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

My predictions: 3/5
My ballot: Coming soon!
The nominees: Emma, Hillbilly Elegy, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, Pinocchio

I underestimated both Emma and Hillbilly Elegy, each of which earned just one other nomination but do deserve to be here for some colorful and impressive work. I’m excited that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Pinocchio made the cut since I have an infinitely greater appreciation for that work after speaking with the artists involved (read those pieces here and here). Mank is another great choice.

My current bet to win: I think Pinocchio might win this.

Oscar Nominees: Best Sound

My predictions: 3/5
My ballot: Coming soon!
The nominees: Greyhound, Mank, News of the World, Soul, Sound of Metal

Combining the sound races into just one category won’t make me any better at predicting the nominees, but I am proud that I guessed that both Tom Hanks movie, Greyhound and News of the World, would score, and I’m especially relieved that the former made it in since that was an underappreciated technical feat (read all about it here). I’m puzzled not to see “Tenet” or “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” here but I’m glad that Sound of Metal is. Rounding out the category are nominations leader Mank and a film expected to win its other two bids, Soul.

My current bet to win: I think Sound of Metal can win this.