Film Review: 'Abe & Phil's Last Poker Game' – Variety

January 12, 2018 12:56AM PTMartin Landau’s final film performance is a good reason — but hardly the only one — to see this affecting indie drama.

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” So Bette Davis famously opined, voicing a sentiment that could easily serve as a subtitle for “Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game.” Written and directed by noted neurologist and award-winning documentarian Howard L. Weiner (“What is Life? The Movie”) as his debut dramatic feature, this low-key and deeply felt indie is unsentimentally blunt while addressing the humiliating debilitations that often define geriatric life. At the same time, however, it scrupulously eschews excessive grimness and shameless heart-tugging, and elicits more than a few laughs in the bargain, while focusing more often on how the title characters deal with last chances and unfinished business.

Of course, the movie comes with the baked-in emotional hook of being a showcase for the final screen appearance of Martin Landau, who passed away last July at age 89. So it’s likely, if not inevitable, that his portrayal of a proud and accomplished man in obvious physical decline will have a melancholy impact capable of coloring anyone’s response, positive or otherwise, to “Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game.” But don’t let that keep you away: Landau’s performance here is a deftly calibrated thing of beauty, and it ranks among his finest work since his Oscar-winning turn as a frail Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.”

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Landau plays Dr. Abe Mandelbaum, an 83-year old retired cancer specialist who moves into Cliffside Manor, an assisted-living facility, to remain with his wife of many years, Molly (Ann Marie Shea). Because of her steady drift into dementia, she requires the sort of constant care he’s no longer capable of providing. But Abe himself

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