Life is Hard When It’s ‘Armageddon Time’

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Armageddon and his friend Time (CREDIT: Anne Joyce/Focus Features)

Starring: Banks Repeta, Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, Jaylin Webb, Ryan Sell, Tovah Feldshuh, Andrew Polk

Director: James Gray

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Language, Corporal Punishment, and Pre-Teen Delinquency

Release Date: October 28, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Middle school is an awkward, frequently terrifying time for a lot of people. That’s especially true for budding artist Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) during his time in sixth grade in 1980 Queens at P.S. 173. He’s got the most hard-ass teacher in the world (Andrew Polk), although you get the sense that that was par for the course for the time period. His parents (Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway) want the best for him, but they don’t understand him and all their interactions are filled with constant, occasionally violent frustration. His older brother (Ryan Sell) isn’t too bad, though he is a run-of-the-mill pain in the butt.

Paul escapes all that angst occasionally with his best friend Johnny (Jaylin Webb). But that also leads into an even more troubled world since Johnny is the class troublemaker with a troubled home life, and Paul can’t even begin to fathom the racism Johnny experiences as a young black man, even though his family does clue him in on what his Jewish ancestors have had to endure. It doesn’t get much better for Paul when he transfers to a private school where one of the main benefactors is none other than Fred Trump (John Diehl). At least he has his wise and gentle grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins) to turn to in times of (never-ending) crisis.

What Made an Impression?: I had a sneaking suspicion that Armageddon Time wasn’t going to have a happy ending. It is named “ARMAGEDDON Time,” after all. There may not be a nuclear war to wipe everybody out, even though Paul’s family is devastated by the election of Ronald Reagan. But after everything that Paul goes through over the course of this movie, he can be forgiven for thinking it’s just as bad. Not much is offered in the way of catharsis, though there is just a hint of hope. I found it all incredibly compelling, though I wasn’t exactly sure why that was while watching. I certainly enjoy a good coming-of-age yarn, but this one is a lot more unpleasant than most. I suspect it works as well as it does because it’s based on writer-director James Gray’s own childhood, and it feels like an honest reckoning. Everyone has a story worth telling, and when you’re as vibrant a storyteller as Gray is, I’m happy to see that story on the big screen.

Armageddon Time is Recommended If You Like: Dickensian bildungsromans

Grade: 4 out of 5 Rapper’s Delights

The Comforting Confusion of ‘The Father’

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The Father (CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss

Director: Florian Zeller

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: February 26, 2021

Whenever I think about The Father, I can’t help but pronounce it the way that Mike Myers does when he encounters Marv Albert in the “Dieter’s Dream” SNL sketch (“Fah-thuh!”, although for some reason I add a “z” i.e., “Fah-zhuh”). Weirdly enough, that’s an apt comparison, as Florian Zeller’s film is pretty much equally surreal as the avant-garde German talk show host’s trip into the subconscious. Apparently, the way to make a movie about dementia exciting instead of a total bummer is to arrange it according to the whims of the dementia-addled mind. It’s rough to see Anthony (Hopkins) losing his sense of reality, but it’s fascinating to be bent back and forth by the facial mismatches and temporal-spatial distortions he’s experiencing. In the absence of a cure, maybe embracing the absurdity is the best way to handle something as disorienting as dementia. At the very least, it worked for this movie.

Grade: 4.0 out of Dec. 31 Missing Watches

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 2/26/21

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Tom & Jerry (CREDIT: Warner Bros/YouTube Screenshot)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

The Father (Theaters) – Olivia Colman plays Anthony Hopkins’ father
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (March 4 on Paramount+) – This is the day CBS All Access rebrands as Paramount+.
Tom & Jerry (Theaters and HBO Max) – Colin Jost in the Wedding of the Century!
The Vigil (Theaters and On Demand)

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Corona Can’t Keep a Good Queen Down (February 26 on VH1)
-78th Golden Globe Awards (February 28 on NBC)

-Alice Cooper, Detroit Stories – Loved him on The Muppet Show; glad to see he’s still making music.

This Is a Movie Review: The God of Thunder Gets Stranded in the Louche ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

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CREDIT: Disney/Marvel

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins

Director: Taika Waititi

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Colorfully Stylized Action Violence and a Glimpse of Hulk Butt

Release Date: November 3, 2017

Even in its stronger outings, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has consistently exemplified the distressing 21st century trend of “franchise film as trailer for its upcoming sequels.” But putting at the helm Taika Waititi, the New Zealand director behind vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and coming-of-age charmer Hunt for the Wilderpeople, would perhaps signal a willingness to kick back with an idiosyncratic one-off effort. And indeed, Thor: Ragnarok is not particularly burdened by setting up the next “phase” for all the other Marvel heroes, save for the mandatory post-credits scene as well as an early rendezvous with Doctor Strange that at least has the courtesy to be completely ridiculous. But as Waititi is not creating something out of whole cloth, it is still a bear of a job to wrap his sensibility around Thor’s personal history and Asgard’s extensive mythology.

One of the biggest disappointments of most MCU films, and what made Doctor Strange so satisfying when it bucked this trend, is their lack of imagination in design and music. Their craft is far from ugly, but it is no more than workmanlike. Ragnarok has plenty of personality, but it kind of gets in the way of itself. Mark Mothersbaugh’s prog-rock synth score is entirely fitting, but it never really fully rocks out until the end credits. All the new supporting characters make a convincing case to be the breakout star, but there is only room for so much of that in a busy 2 hours. I would never willingly sacrifice Cate Blanchett’s evil diva goddess Hela, or Jeff Goldblum’s eccentric sensualist Grand Master, or Tessa Thompson’s hard-drinking and unapologetic Valkyrie, or the most hedonistic version of the Hulk we have yet seen on screen. But this is a series of solo acts, not a supergroup. They play nice together, but they only intermittently gel as a unit greater than the sum of its parts.

The plot of Ragnarok is fairly straightforward, but a little overwhelming in its climax, due to the surfeit of moving parts. The titular end of Asgardian days is threatening to come to pass with the return of Hela, the long-imprisoned goddess of death and sister of Thor. Thor and Loki broker one of their many peaces to team up and save their home realm, but they are first waylaid onto the Grand Master’s home planet, where they get caught up in some gladiatorial combat.

By the end of it all, I found myself confused about who was defeated and who was victorious, and how much so on either count. Frankly, I am perfectly willing to forgo any prosaic interpretation for the sake of embracing a more expressionistic experience. This is not hard to do, as there are plenty of blasts of pure imagination (punneriffic reference perfectly intended). Trouble is, the story does matter to the people who made this movie, and even if it did not, it is too imposing to disregard. By the end of all these affairs, Ragnarok is the type of feast that overloads you with deliciousness but leaves you crashing instead of the kind that fills you up and floods you up with endorphins. It is adequately cromulent, but not very transcendent.

Thor: Ragnarok is Recommended If You Like: Doctor Strange, ’70s Glam Rock Stars, Kiwi accents

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Nonsense Circles

This Is A Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

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While I surely enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, I also felt anxious for it to end for most of its running time, although that may have had to do with all the TV I was missing and would have to catch up on later.  But it may also have to do with the fact that at this point in the superheroic cinema game, the existence of each new movie like this feels so perfunctory.  In a weird way, The Dark World was one of the most encouraging and most discouraging entries in the genre.