ABE & PHIL’S LAST POKER GAME (2018)

January 9, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. There really isn’t an age where one’s level of horniness is of interest to the outside world. The topic is certainly cringe-inducing as we listen in on two old men bemoaning their current state of dysfunction, while simultaneously recalling their glorious past conquests. Were these two gents played by lesser actors than screen legends Martin Landau and Paul Sorvino, there would be no need to tune in.

Writer/director Howard Weiner (a Neurologist and Harvard professor – thanks Google) delivers his first narrative feature film as a statement on old age, pride and dying. In Mr. Landau’s final film, he plays Dr. (not Mister!) Abe Mandelbaum (I’m giving credit as a “Seinfeld” reference, whether intentional or not), who, along with his dementia-riddled wife Molly (Ann Marie Shea), moves into Cliffside Manor – a Retirement Center and Nursing Home. Abe quickly bonds with fellow resident Phil (Mr. Sorvino) as the two exchange dirty jokes and tales of yesteryear.

The other story line involves a nurse (Maria Dizzia, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE) who has reason to believe the biological father she’s never met is a resident at the manor. The obvious development is whether Abe or the notoriously womanizing Phil might be her father. Other minor story lines include the center’s director (Alexander Cook) who admittedly hates old people as he searches for a miracle potion to prevent his own aging, Molly’s struggle with dementia which can only be soothed with her fur coat or relief in bed, and a last hurrah field trip to a local sports bar with the nurse, Abe and Phil.

If not for the vulgarities and three of the most uncomfortable sex scenes you’ve likely ever witnessed, this would have been a textbook Lifetime Channel movie. Watching two pros like Mr. Landau and Mr. Sorvino go at each other is quite a treat – though you best enjoy old men talking about sex, as the subtleties of pride, masculinity and self-identity of men are mere afterthoughts here. Oscar winner Landau (ED WOOD) deserved a send-off more in line with Harry Dean Stanton’s LUCKY, but fortunately he has a 60 year career as his legacy.

watch the trailer:

Advertisements

CHRISTINE (2016)

November 3, 2016

christine Greetings again from the darkness. On July 15, 1974, television news reporter Christine Chubbuck read a prepared statement and then committed suicide on-air by putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger. You may not recognize her name, but you have likely heard the story … it’s no urban legend. Director Antonio Campos and writer Craig Shilowich offer up a biopic with some insight into Ms. Chubbuck’s personal and professional life so that we might better understand what drove her to such a public and tragic end.

Rebecca Hall takes on the titular role (don’t mistake this for the 1983 John Carpenter/Stephen King film), and despite her usual stilted on screen mannerisms, she delivers what is an emotionally raw and nuanced performance that is the best of her career … and one that keeps us glued to a story of which we already know the ending. We see a woman dedicated to her vision of the profession, while being maddening to those who know her, love her, and work with her. She has an awkward intensity that compounds her lack of social skills and an ongoing struggle with depression. Somehow, Ms. Hall allows us to understand the personal and professional struggles and how things could have spiraled into hopelessness for Christine.

The commentary on the early days of tabloid journalism (“If it bleeds, it leads”) is especially interesting given how the current Presidential campaigns have been covered more than 40 years after the film is set. One might also note the parallels to the character of Howard Beale in Network (1976) … though Christine Chubbuck was less vociferous and never took to yelling “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” while on camera (though she evidently felt that way).

Support work comes from Tracy Letts as the frustrated news director, Michael C Hall as the mixed-signals anchorman on whom Christine has a quiet crush, J. Smith-Cameron as her mother and housemate, Maria Dizzia as her friend and co-worker, and Timothy Simons as the misunderstood and ignored weatherman.

The film clearly makes the point that Christine was a misfit in her work and personal life, and though some of the timeline and known specifics are either re-worked or ignored for artistic purposes, Ms. Hall must be commended for highlighting the effects of depression. Even the best meaning friends and family can unintentionally make things worse. We see a clip of Walter Cronkite’s actual report of her death, and Christine’s own words – “The latest in blood and guts” – were actually ahead of her time.

watch the trailer: