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

Movie Review: Fly Me Away, ‘Ad Astra’

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CREDIT: Francois Duhamel/Twentieth Century Fox

Ad Astra, whaddya got for us?

Daddy issues? Check.

A plot about space travel that sure seems like a metaphor for the emotional space between a parent and child? Check.

Am I getting 2001 vibes? Sure. Not quite as psychedelic, of course, but the feeling of being unmoored and location-less (and somehow kind of liking it) is definitely there.

Was I nodding off while I watched? Yah.

Is that a mark against the film? Nah, it’s more about my own physiology. Nevertheless, I think Ad Astra works as a nice lullaby.

I give Ad Astra 5 Launches out of 4 Landings.

This Is a Movie Review: The Lost City of Z

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland

Director: James Gray

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Bow and Arrow Violence, and Occasional Gunfire

Release Date: April 14, 2017 (Limited)

The Lost City of Z tells the story of a liberal-minded man’s dilemma. During Percival Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) early 20th century explorations to South America, he becomes convinced of the existence of a mythical city deep within the jungles of the Amazon. His patrons back in England scoff at the idea, both because it is unrealistic but also because they are European white men who believe that their way of doing civilization is the only right way. Fawcett positions himself as an open-minded paragon who recognizes that the native peoples are not savages but in fact have plenty of value to offer the rest of the world. This is not posture. He genuinely believes all that he says – and Hunnam imbues every declaration with the urgency of the end of days – but idealizing a foreign culture introduces its own problems.

Fawcett does not fetishize the Amazonian peoples, but his single-mindedness can be blinding. The film’s structure is partly like that of a Möbius strip, with the end of each South American expedition only serving as a prologue to the next one. Supplies are depleted and conflicts break out within his crew, and then re-stocking and reconciling takes years. And you feel that passage of time, but Fawcett simply must get back. The strain is borne most acutely by his family, especially his wife Nina (Sienna Miller), who pleads to join one of the expeditions. The Fawcetts pride themselves on their equality, but here Percival marks a limit: they are intellectual, but not physical, equals.

Ultimately, this film is a detailed and heavy examination of the dangers of obsession. It turns out (spoiler alert) that Fawcett’s instincts are right, but that vindication is saved for an epilogue. The climax involves Fawcett and his eldest son (Tom Holland) entering the most nightmarish of the expeditions. For the most part, The Lost City of Z avoids mysticism in favor of realism. The cinematography generally focuses on weary faces instead of natural wonders. Thus, this journey is not transcendent until it starts becoming hellish.

The Lost City of Z is Recommended If You Like: Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now, Impassioned Speeches to Fusty Government Types

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Men Overboard