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  1. #1
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    Jul 2002
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    New York Film Festival 2022

    New York Film Festival 60 (Sept. 30-Oct. 15, 2022)


    Main Slate so far: Opening Night film, Noah Baumbach's Don DeLillo adaptation White Noise, Centerpiece Film, Laura Poitras' Nan Goldin and Sackler family documentary The Beauty and the Bloodshet, closing NIght feature Elegance Bratton's autobiographical feature about Marine basic The Inspection, and Anniversary Film James Gray's autobiographical Armageddon Time.

    Film at Lincoln Center announces Noah Baumbach’s White Noise as Opening Night of the 60th New York Film Festival, making its North American premiere at Alice Tully Hall on September 30.

    In one of the year’s most gratifyingly ambitious American films, Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) has adapted Don DeLillo’s epochal postmodern 1985 novel White Noise, long perceived as unfilmable, into a richly layered, entirely unexpected work of contemporary satire. Adam Driver heartily embodies Jack Gladney, an ostentatious “Hitler Studies” professor and father-of-four whose comfortable suburban college town life and marriage to the secretive Babette (Greta Gerwig, perfectly donning a blonde mop of “important hair”) are upended after a horrifying nearby accident creates an airborne toxic event of frightening and unknowable proportions. In a tightrope walk of comedy and horror, Baumbach captures the essence of DeLillo’s cacophonous pop-philosophical nightmare on unbounded consumerism, ecological catastrophe, and the American obsession with death. Impeccably matching DeLillo’s and Baumbach’s similarly percussive form of stylized dialogue, White Noise is wonderfully abrasive and awe-inspiring, a precisely mounted period piece entirely befitting our modern, through-the-looking-glass pandemic reality. A Netflix release.

    Links to the reviews:

    Armageddon Time (James Gray 2022)
    Aftersun (Charlotte Wells 2022)
    Alcarrŕs (Carla Simón 2022)
    All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras 2022) CENTERPIECE FILM
    All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen 2022)
    Bones and All (Luca Guadagnino 2022)
    Enys Men (Mark Jenkin 2022)
    EO (Jerzy Skolimowski 2022)
    Corsage (Marie Kreutzer 2022)
    Couple, A/Un couple (Frederick Wiseman 2022)
    Descendant (Margaret Brown 2022)
    De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor 2022)
    Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook 2022)
    Eternal Daughter, The (Joanna Hogg 2022)
    Inspection, The (Elegance Bratton 2022)
    Master Gardener (Paul Schrader 2022)
    No Bears (Jafar Panahi 2022)
    Novelist's Film, The (Hong Sang-soo 2022)
    One Fine Morning/Un beau matin (Mia Hansen-Love 2022)
    Pacifiction (Albert Serra 2022)
    R.M.N. (Christian Mungiu 2022)
    Return to Seoul (Davy Chou 2022)
    Saint Omer (Alice Diop 2022)
    Scarlet/L'Envol (Pietro Marcello 2022)
    She Said (Maria Schrader 2022)
    Showing Up (Kelly Reichardt 2022)
    Stars at Noon (Claire Denis 2022)
    Stonewalling (Huang Ji, Ryunji Otsuka 2022)
    TÁR (Todd Field 2022)
    Till (Chinonye Chikwu 2022)
    Trenque Laquen (Laura Citarella 2022)
    Triangle of Sadness (Ruben Östlund 2022)
    Unrest ( Cyril Schäublin 2022)
    Walk up (Hong Sang-soo 2022)
    White Noise (Noah Baumbach 2022) OPENING NIGHT FILM

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-20-2024 at 10:42 PM.

  2. #2
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    DECISION TO LEAVE (Park Chan-wook 2022)



    A police procedural that becomes an erotic cat and mouse game

    A Cannes review by Ben Kenigsberg provides the essentials of Decision to Leave: "Park, making his first feature since his miniseries adaptation of John LeCarré's "The Little Drummer Girl," is still in a LeCarréan mode, firing plot details at viewers in a clipped editing style at a rapid pace. The film combines a complicated mystery, a love story, and occasional bits of broad comedy to come up with a thriller that feels at once overstuffed and single-minded, derivative and sui generis." This dodgy-ness and complexity can delight, as it does critics like Manohla Dargis and Jessica Kiang. But it can also annoy or confuse those who have trouble following and are jarred by an inconsistency of tone that's almost inevitable in a film that's a mystery thriller, a love story, and a mind-teasing game of shifting jump cuts, flashbacks, and fantasy images.

    What's thrilling, though, is the intensity of focus on the central theme of the married detective who falls in love with an attractive female murder suspect and the complexity of the man and woman's relationship, which is all the more erotic and haunting for never becoming sexual. Working in surfaces and depths simultaneously, Park seeks, and achieves, a layered effect. Just as there is an investigation and a love story, there are multiple things going on all the time on different levels.

    But the screenplay really does continually and memorably revolve around Jang Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), the chief detective, and Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei of Lust, Caution), the suspect: you walk out of the theater with this duo whirling around in your head, an effect insured by a strikingly tragic, romantic finale on a wild seacoast with fog and spume and roaring waves and rocks as a tide sweeps in and the two principals are present, but lost to each other. It might be incredibly corny if it weren't done so dazzlingly well that it becomes heartbreaking and thrilling. It's one of many things here that reminds you Park, whatever his unevenness or absurdity sometimes, is one of the world's great filmmakers. It is also the case that the two leads play with remarkable conviction and chemistry, with Tang Wei particularly powerful as a memorably chameleonic femme fatale. Did she push her husband off the mountain or is she just very complicated? And she gets more so.

    Obviously Park is further than ever from the arresting brutality of the Vengeance trilogy that made him internationally famous, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance (2002, 2003, and 2005). Partly he is in police procedural world, and partly (as more than one reviewer has pointed out) whether he's seen Hitchcock or not, he's in the world of Hitchcock's Vertigo, a man in search of a vanishing, entrancing woman he can never quite track down. There's a lot to process here, and if you want a movie to be understandable the first time through, as I tend to do, you won't be entirely satisfied. But you would also be foolish not to be impressed by such compelling complexity in playing around with a seemingly over-familiar genre.

    There was linguistic play in Parks' last feature The Handmaiden (2016 - a long six years ago), where the Japanese occupiers of 1930's Korea speak Japanese and the occupied speak Korean. Here it is established at once that Seo-rae is Chinese and came to Korea as an illegal but was allowed to stay because of a Korean relative who was a a hero in the 1930's war against the Japanese. Her Korean is "insuficient." But it is also interesting, and no doubt for Koreans much subtlety arises from linguistic twists - and meanwhile one of the contemporary phone uses is her way of speaking Chinese into hers when expressing a particularly complex feeling or idea to Hae-joon and having it talk back to him in instant Korean -auto-translation. Smart watches and smart phones are also used as recording devices and oral journals that document and bring back the couple's complexly waxing and waning romance. Numerous reviewers have remarked on how Park makes the smart phone business that confounds many directors contemporary and intriguing.

    Sometimes the jump-cuts and switches back and forth in time or from reality to wish made me feel dizzy and helpless. But I'd rather be on a train that's going too fast than one that's going too slow, maybe even be watching a film that's too long than one that's too short. Decision to Leave has a whole second act that starts things all over again, raising the layering effect to a higher level and providing more food for thought. There's no way around the fact that this is a movie for second or more viewings - and, whatever its failings or frustrations, one of the year's best.

    Decision to Leave 헤어질 결심 139 mins., debuted at Cannes May 23, 2022, where it won the Best Director award. French theatrical release May 29, AlloCiné press rating 4.0 (80%). Over two dozen other festival showings including the New York Film Festival. US theatrical release Oct. 14, 2022. South Korea's best foreign Oscar entry for 2023. Screened at Albany Twin (West Coast theatrical release) Oct. 28, 2022. Metacitic rating 8̶4̶%̶; now 85%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-14-2024 at 01:48 PM.

  3. #3
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    Jul 2002
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    TILL (Chinonye Chikwu



    The famous lynching and a memorable performance

    As Justin Chang wrote in his review in the Los Angeles Times, the lynching murder of fourteen-year-old African American Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 is "one of the cornerstone tragedies of the civil rights movement." He had been seen off by his widowed mother Mamie in Chicago and traveled to the share-cropping Black town of Money, Mississippi to visit cousins in the summertime. Chnonye Chikwu's movie deals with an event already well known through books and films, now finally 70 years later remembered in the 2022 Emmett Till Antilynching Act. The film carefully avoids being a horror story, a political biopic, or a tale of martyrdom while skirting these things, when as Justin Chang says Chikwu "undermines the template of the prestige biographical drama she only appears to be making." The way it does this is through its beauty, its calm, its reverence, its relentlessness, and especially the stunning and powerful performance of of Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett Till's mother, whose story above all this is. This is an extraordinary performance of rare concentration and power. The film is not an easy watch, even though it spares us its grimmest details. One of the best things about it is the way at some points it just pauses to sit for a moment with its feelings, or those of its characters. It allows Deadwyler's performance to hold us. It does, but somewhat at the cost of the film as a whole.

    Chikyu showed what she could do in the way of relentlessness in Clemency (ND/NF 2019), her film indictment of American capital punishment through the point of view of a Black woman prison warden. That Sundance-prize-winning film also showed the writer-director's skill working with actors even as I called it "one long, loud wail that might be more ennobling and memorable as an aria." Clemency struggled in darkness. Till walks out into the light. The central event isn't the boy's murder: it's Mamie, his mother's, insistence that his mutilated body, with his unrecognizable face, be brought home to her in Chicago and then displayed in an open casket for mourners, press, and public alike to see - out in the light. The scene where Mamie privately examines her son's body Justin Chang describes as a "long, artful and awful sequence" whose "strange mix of the tactful and the unsparing" is one that "exemplifies the sheer difficulty of the challenge Chukwu has set herself" in telling this story.

    We cannot know exactly what happened that day in the little Black-catering local grocery store where Emmett till encountered the proprietor Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett, whom Justin Chang calls "suitably loathsome") and may have complimented her as looking like a movie star and later outside whistled at her in admiration. But we glimpse this so that later at the trail of her two "brutish" husband and brother-and-law who came (with three Black employees) to take Emmett away and lynched him we know that Bryant's accusation of the boy's physically assaulting her is a baldfaced lie. Because this is Mamie's story and also to avoid further martyrizing the African American public, Chukwu has made the decision not to show the lynching of Emmett itself, only the rushing in, the menacing of the relatives, the taking away of the victim, and then, in the distance his muffled screams.

    The body of Emmett is important too, and the face, when it's brought to Chicago - when you consider it, a remarkable event, under the circumstances and since it was found in a river - after it is left with Mamie to look at. Here the camera gradually gives us a view of a limb and then the face, but only briefly. More important is the speech of Mamie when she goes south and testifies in the trial - also remarkable, if ultimately meaningless - and describes the intimacy with which a mother knows her son.

    Likewise as Chang pointed out, biographical dramas depend or some audience familiarity with their "real-life subject." And so we don't have to be told though Mamie carefully schooled her son that in Money, Mississippi, Emmett would have to be extremely careful how he behaved toward any white person and be able to bow down on the ground to apologize in abject humility if he offended in any way. But Emmett was "an infectiously high-spirited kid," indeed, " the most gregarious of jokesters" (and one might add, as big for his age), further excited and distracted by being on holiday in a new place. He did not know yet that he had entered into Hell: the Jim Crow-era South.

    But as important as the southern sequences are, including the one of the courtroom, it's what happens in Chicago that counts in this film, away from Hell, in the land of hope extended. Chang comments on the beauty of the images, drenched with color and light, and argues that the "ravishing tenderness of Chukwu’s gaze" mounts "a visual argument," saying that before the tragedy ad "even afterward" "Mamie’s home courses and sometimes overflows with love and life." And this is expressed in the "treasurable" few scenes of Whoppi Goldberg as Mamie's mother Alma and in Jalyn Hall's "boisterous" performance as Emmett. This glow of the gaze combines with the stillness and lingering at moments, especially on Danielle Deadwyler's face at key moments when the actress at once projects and embodies the profound emotions Mamie is going through.

    Why should you go to see this film? Say rather why you should not. People are still (perhaps forever?)staying away from movies in droves, and one can't urge you to endanger yourself. But it is important and essential to experience that "gaze" through our gaze, to see without looking away and - through someone was looking at his phone periodically all through, this compulsion ever-stronger - the way that happens is in a movie theater, with nothing between you and the big screen. Do you remember when you did that? When you could not look away for two hours? This is the Chinonye Chukwu experience. And you go through it here for two reasons: to experience racism and the reply - Mamie's courage and defiance and her turn from lonely mourning to empowered NAACP activism; and to witness the extraordinary performance of Danielle Deadwyler. But we know from our earliest experience, all that makes a movie riveting doesn't necessarily make it good, and there are elements in Till and perhaps in Chikwu's work, that lack a sense of the big picture and drift toward conventionality. The performance, and the radiant beauty amid the squalor remain, and should be seen as the NYFF audience first saw it, in a great movie hall, with wonderful sound and an attentive audience, keeping still.

    Till, 130 mns., debuted at the New York Film Festival Oct. 1, 2022 and showed at a few other festivals including Rio, Mill Valley, the Hamptons, and London (BFI). Limited US theatrical release Oct. 14 and wider release Oct. 28, 2022. Metacritic rating: 78%. Screened for this review at the Grand Lake Theatre, Oakland, California Oct. 30.

  4. #4
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    Jul 2002
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    TRIANGLE OF SADNESS (Ruben Östlund 2022)



    Östlund shocks and entertains but his points are scattershot - for a second time

    Ruben Östlund's new film Triangle of Sadness is painfully entertaining and wickedly funny. It holds your attention from show-offy opening to cliff-hanger finale. Yet it is annoying and disappointing in many ways. Though a wickedly funny entertainment, if's also heavy-handed, obvious and full of irrelevancies, and doesn't do justice to its premise. The theme comes from J. M. Barrie's 1902 play The Admirable Crichton (adapted as a film in 1957) about role reversals when a group of posh passengers is shipwrecked and marooned on a desert island, and a social inferior takes over because he is a skillful outdoorsman. A few shards of the original play and film remain. The issue of social justice is very relevant, because we live in a time of a surfeit of the super-rich and an erosion of social values. Östlund knows how to make us uncomfortable, as he showed with racial discomfort in his 2011 Play, and the futile attempt to escape a moment of cowardice in his 2014 Force Majeure. He likes to look at society through the wrong end of the telescope. His methods are scattershot here, though, as they were in his 2017 The Square, where the director abandons the intense focus of Play and Force Majeure and focuses on at least three different plots. That's more or less what happens here.

    Perhaps seeking relevance, or riffing obscurely off a romance in the original play, Östlund focuses first of all on two young super-models, which allows for ironic focus on sexual roles. Yaha (Charlbi Dean, who died before the film came out) makes three times as much as her boyfriend Carl (Harris Dickinson). Their opening section is an amusing, uncomfortable panel from another film, in which, after a sequence showing off Carl toyed with by fashion industry managers ("triangle of sadness" comes from an unfavorable. critique of his face), the pair argue over money at length. Women's liberation obviously means little to their relationship. Carl is the disadvantaged one, and it's painful that he wants to be "friends" or "equals," since she can afford the posh restaurants much better than he can. And yet still she plays the woman's game, this time, anyway, of leaving the check for him to pick up. This sequence is rather good.

    The segue (this film is in chapters) is that to appease Carl perhaps, Yaya, who is an "influencer" - which means constantly photographing herself with her phone, takes Carl along on a free trip she's been offered on a luxury yacht. Later, we will realize that Abagail (Dolly De Leon), the yacht cleaning lady who's going to become "captain" on the island through her survival skills, notices the desirability of Carl, whom on the island she calls "Cutie-Pie." Even on the island, when they have nothing, Abagail's taking over Carl leads to lots of painful discussion between him and Yaya: their neurotic relationship survives in extremis.. In a cast of characters none of whom is at all appealing Dickinson somehow seems sympathetic. Tall and thin, with his perfect pecs and abs, he has long arms that reach out all the time and he seems like a sleek, wide-eyed human praying mantis, eager and well-meaning.

    The social aspect is updated, necessarily. The vessel that sinks is a $250 million luxury yacht. Though there are new-rich types - a clueless old couple super-rich from dealing arms; a boorish jokey Russian billionaire (Zlatko Buric)who delights in declaring that his fortune comes from "shit," and a bore whose wealth is from stultifyingLY uninteresting Silicon Valley product. The yacht gets waylaid by a heavy storm and sunk by hand grenades shot off by local terrorists (Östlund isn't taking any chances). Unfortunately the desert island phase of the film is the most lame.

    Apart from the coming reversal of fortune, the yacht may remind you of David Foster Wallace's piece "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," which explained how a cruise where a passenger's every need is taken care of can turn into velvet-fingered torture. The service crew is introduced in a scene where their nervous supervisor Paula (Vicki Berlin) gives a pep-talk in which the "client is king" rule is ramped up to the max. Here, crew must absolutely never say no to a passenger. Thus a far-fetched sequence where one nutty rich lady insists a staff member join her in the sauna, then revises that to command the whole crew to don swimming gear and go down the sea-slide for a swim in the ocean.

    The Captain (Woody Harrelson) is a drunkard holed up in his cabin and Paula has great difficulty getting him out and in uniform for the evening of the "Captain's dinner." This is where all hell lets loose after the seas turn so stormy passengers flee to their staterooms, but not before there is way more projectile vomiting than even the most heavy-handed get-the-rich program made necessary. A character in Barrie's original who's addicted to aphorisms seems to explain how the Captain, in front of a microphone broadcasting throughout the ship, exchanges sayings about socialism and communism with the Russian shit dealer; both have sympathies with both, it seems.

    This is a ridiculous and over-the-top sequence, but it's undeniably compelling in its threatening, energetic chaos. The trouble is that the following, island, sequence is such an anti-climax, starting with a greatly reduced cast for it.

    What can we make of this movie? As with The Square, Östlund seems a little too pleased with himself, convinced because his film contains topically relevant material and shock value it will gain accolades despite lack of formal coherence. And he succeeds, since awards do come in. But the critics were far less pleased with The Square than with Play and Force Majeure, and still less pleased with Triangle of Sadness than with The Square. Maybe Östlund, who has plenty of talent, should start listening to this critical consensus and make less flashy but better movies.

    Triangle of Sadness (French title 'Sans filtre'), 147 mins., debuted at Cannes, where it won the Palme d'Or and a CSI technician prize. It was included in other prestigious international festivals, including Sydney, Sarajevo, Toronto, Zurich, and New York NYFF Main Slate), among others. Screened for this review with two other viewers for the opening noon show at AMC Bay Street, Emeryville Oct. 29, 2022. Metacritic rating: 63%.

  5. #5
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    Jul 2002
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    TODD FIELD: TÁR (2022)


    A shimmering portrait of brilliance, cruelty, and downfall

    This is a story of power and prestige and their apparent downfall focused on a conductor, a woman, and a lesbian, a greater rarity* at the pinnacle of international classical music who pushes too hard and maneuvers too cruelly, and has awful things happen to her. TÁR is a remarkable picture and signals to us the ascendency of its 'maker,' Todd Field, and his star, Cate Blanchett. We already knew Cate to be great, but here she gets an exceptional chance to prove it in in a rich and demanding role for which she learned to conduct - and convincingly, with originality, to rehearse - a symphony orchestra, to speak German, and to play, not just the piano, but Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, no less, mimicking the style of Glenn Gould for a moment while devestatingly dressing down a young student at Julliard who has let political correctness and his personal identity sweep away the western canon.

    This is a worthwhile argument indeed. Surely we cannot allow Bach to be treated as icky because he was a cis-male white European man and sired 20 children. Putting the defense in the mouth of one so flawed as Lydia Tár leaves it properly ambiguous: we can't decide these things right now; there's still a lot of hashing-out to do. What authority Lydia has: she is the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, behind her Leon Fürtwangler, Herbert von Karajan, and Claudio Abbado. But her dressing down of the attractive young mixed race Julliard conducting student, Max (Zethphan D. Smith-Gneist), winds up with a jokey racial slur someone happens to break the rules of the meeting and film. And this is only the beginning - and not even, because before that there has been an interview appearance by The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik as himself, retailing all Lydia's accomplishments.

    What Field has done in the sixteen years since he directed a film is uncertain, apparently nothing, but he has grown exponentially as a director. In the Bedroom (2001) was already an outstanding film, Little Children (2006) noteworthy enough for Telluride, Toronto, and New York; but TÁR takes on challenges of a higher magnitude, the complex international portrait of a sophisticated profession, one that is riveting, suspenseful and slyly malicious, and a personality that defies analysis. This is both an admiring portrait of the classical music world and cruel satire, the study of a brilliant artist and an anatomy of madness. Its maniacal extreme takes it into the growing world of high class horror. And yet Field avoids the over-the-top-ness of something like Black Swan. The music is still there. There's a respect for the complex juggling involved in conducting, administration, recording, promotion, and admiration and love for Mahler's Fifth and Elgar's Cello Concerto, the two works concentrated on.

    There's a galaxy of satellites or "transactional" key relations around Lydia, starting with her lover and wife Sharon (the great German Actress Nina Hoss), her abused schoolgirl daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic), her selfless assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant). Then there are those who come and go, her assistant conductor Sebastian (actor and musician Allan Corduner) who she is "rotating out," a pretty young Russian cellist Olga (cellist and actress Sophie Kauer) who's being brought in. And there is a suicide. But she's alone, as is clear in a dangerous visit to a scary place, and a return to nameless American family where she watches an old videotape of a Leonard Bernstein Young People's Concert where the maestro, a mentor, affirms the sweet emotionality of classical music.

    It isn't just a portrait of grand personal decline but also a remarkably complex picture of international celebrity music-making. The sequences of Lydia with a self-portrait book that's being published, working on a recording vs. a live performance, choosing the precise lighting and pose for the new Deutsche Grammophon album cover, these and so much mmore help fill out the details of such a complex role as major orchestra conductor. But it's the committees and boards she must meet with when she has fallen from grace that are greatest challenge. Field opts also for a complex finale. He does not go into the details that would be generated by grotesque faux pas in a "cancel culture," social media world. Instead he shows Lydia soldiering on, still conducting a symphony orchestra in an unidentified Asian country for a Monster Hunter concert. What does that even mean?

    As here, and throughout the whole film, Todd Field opts for complicated, sometimes puzzling details notable for their originality and specificity - and not for the kind of flashy style the material would lead you to expect. There is much material in TÁR for thought and investigation. It's the kind of movie you want to discuss and see again.
    *What will Marin Alsop think of it?

    TÁR, 158 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 1, 2022, showing also at Telluride, New York, Mill Valley, and a few other festivals. Limited theatrical release started Oct. 8. Screened for this review at AMC Kabuki 8, San Francisco, Oct. 16, 2022. Metacritic rating: 90%.

  6. #6
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    Jul 2002
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    ARMAGEDDON TIME (James Gray 2022)




    Profiles in cowardice

    My title refers ironically to a special fact about this film and James Gray. His unique courage is in willingness to admit his shortcomings. Specifically, in his autobiographical Armageddon Time he shows how he fails his sixth grade best friend. The compensation, of a bitter sort, is that it's the society that's failing all of us. The best friend of wispy, artistic Jewish sixth grader Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) is Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb), who is doing his sixth grade for the second time, and who is Black. It's 1980, the start of the Reagan presidency. Politics, race, morality, and family pressures bear down on young Paul. Those and economics have Johnny in their vice grip. Paul does betray Johnny. But apart from the fact that Paul's not strong enough or responsible enough to be culpable for this, where the movie is paradoxically exhilarating is that this is a filmmaker's story about his life that shows how far short he fell from being a mensch.

    Whether things get better in that sphere later we don't know, but is he not a mensch now in being able to present himself thus unguardedly? "Making a memoir," Gray has said in a recent interview (Reelblend Podcast), "Is not an act of self-aggrandizement; it's not like an excuse to talk about how terrific you are. "He sees it as an opportunity to do a searching analysis of yourself and also of the world you live in, that you lived in then. And he has said, and he shows, that he took great pains to be as specific as possible in the details about everything, the schools, the family, even the chinaware on the family table, just like his own growing up.

    With this specificity and honesty, Armageddon Time became thought-provoking for me too. It aroused memories of my own family growing up, of what school was like. I didn't have a Black best friend, my father never beat me or even yelled at me. I was encouraged, along with my sister, to be artistic. Not going to private school as Paul eventually does (which separates him from his friend) was a conscious choice of my parents. I remember how sympathetic my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Robinson, was, her appreciation of my sense of humor; then how nasty and harsh was the sixth grade one, Mr. Standish, who put a damper on everything for me and on top of that had almost-physical clashes with a bigger, older boy (who may have been held back like Johnny). Because, as reviews have said this is a "very Jewish" memoir, it also aroused memories of my first warm encounters with young Jews, mostly in college, but we were still just boys then. I remembered the kinship I felt at the time. Gray's world is both sympathetic and distant.

    Johnny and Paul are both troublemakers. But, as a dramatic outlining of racial and social inequallity, Johnny is consistently the one who gets more of the blame. Mr. Turkeltaub, their Mr. Standish, brands Johnny as a troublemaker and a loser. But while everybody, including the boys at Paul's new private school and Paul's own family, looks on Blacks as a danger and a liability, Johnny isn't clearly doomed until the pair get in trouble with the law. Then, Irving (Jeremy Strong), Paul's intense plumber (or plumbing engineer) father, turns out to have points with the cop in charge for having done him a favor, and so he has "a leg up." As Jews seeking to better themselves, Paul's parents know the importance of this. Because his mother, Esther Graff (Anne Hathaway, excellent), a home economics teacher, is president of the PTA, Paul thinks, and tells Johnny, that she controls the school. He is utterly naďve, but surely he is lying when he tells Johnny that his family is "very rich." They are, however, miles more secure than Johnnie, who lives with his grandmother who has dementia, and is likely to be put into foster care at any minute. What's heartbreaking in Armageddon Time is how both boys cherish dreams, Paul of being a famous artist, Johnny, with his NASA souvenir tokens, of being a space engineer.

    Gray is wonderfully precise about very much in this film, including the family dynamics, with the brother Ted (Ryan Sell) who beats up on Johnny and tells him to shut up (but perhaps protectively), the parents, the uncle and aunt, also schoolteachers (Marcia Haufrecht, Teddy Coluca), and the famous Grandpa (Anthony Hopkins), all talking at once at the dinner table. Those are moments that stick with you, and surprisingly, Anthony Hopkins, as an old Jew brought from Ukraine to Liverpool and from Liverpool to Ellis Island, is believable, or at least you don't have time to question it, and his many speeches stick and sing. There is enormous weight on Grandpa's shoulders because he not only must be the one who encourages Paul as an artist but also the one who explains where they came from, about antisemitism and about the Holocaust, and who sits by in his dying days while the boy sets off his model rocket and tells him to be a mensch, not to take it when they talk shit about Blacks (and at this point Grandpa gets to spout a lot of profanity, perhaps as a rite of passage for Paul, perhaps to make him more up to date). Grandpa makes it clear to Paul the game is rigged, and you have to do all you must go get around it. This is why it's he who pushes for Paul to be switched to his brother's school, to play the game.

    Yes, all this and more, and in a way it's absolutely great, and in another way it's too much. There's a nagging feeling that as fine as Jaylin Webb and Banks Repeta are (and they are both terrific actors), they just don't look right to me for who they're supposed to be. James Gray is doing his best, and it's very good. He enters familiar movie territory with Paul's new, private, school based on Gray’s alma mater, the Kew-Forest School. But he gives us details special to him: Paul is almost immediately buttonholed by Fred Trump (John Diehl), Donald’s father, who was indeed on the real school’s board of trustees. And then Donald’s sister Maryanne Trump (in a choice performance by Jessica Chastain) visits the school to give a poisonously absurd little speech about the value of hard work and how, ostensibly, no one handed her anything for free.

    It feels as if Gray is drawing heavily on Truffaut's 400 Blows for the relationship between Paul and Johnny, especially when they get in their big trouble with the law by stealing a computer from Paul's new school, just the way Antoine Doinel and his pal stole the big typewriter. This is okay - there's no harm in a homage to one of the greatest coming of age films - but it underlines a big difference. Truffaut is transmuting his early life into art. Gray is intent on anatomizing all the social, racial, ethnic, and economic elements that fed into his young life and seeing them in the light of the American Zeitgeist. In the way he seems to draw on the incident from The 400 Blows, which starkly underlines the racial divide the French film didn't have, Gray is also grasping for a strength of structure that Armageddon Time, for all its wealth of information and even of wisdom doesn't have.

    Gray's movie leaves us with a whole lot of things to think about, but they work as separate elements, not as a film, a work of art unified in itself. There are many touching and emotional moments, but they don't combine overwhelmingly fill you with an unforgettable visual and emotional impression the way it happens when Antoine Doinel runs down to the sea and stares into the camera. But that's not bad. It's almost a Brechtian Alienation effect. Nothing warm and cuddly here, even when Anthony Hopkins is on screen. We're supposed to think. When Gray said the film was a critique of capitalism he may have been going a bit overboard - but it's in there.

    Armageddon Time, 114 mins., premiered at Cannes May 2022. It has since been or is slated for 19 other total international festivals including Telluride, Deauville, Zurich, Athens, Hamburg, Mill Valley and New York. Limited US theatrical release began Oct. 28, 2022. Metacritic rating 74%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-15-2022 at 04:20 PM.


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