TCFF film fest coverage continues with this double review from my friend Vince Caro – cinephile, videographer, musician, and artist.
Armageddon Time (2022)
Directed by: James Gray
Starring: Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong
James Gray’s autobiographical film, set in NY during the pivotal election year in 1980, is a poignant coming-of-age film as seen through the lens of middle schooler Paul Graff (Repeta). The title comes from the country’s realized fear of nuclear war, given newly elected President Ronald Reagan’s focus on the arms race. The film is a broad examination of a middle-class family’s reflection on race, caste, and social inequities that still persist to this day.
Paul, an aspiring artist, befriends a young black boy Johhny (Webb) who aspires to be an astronaut, and the two form a special bond while getting into a heap of trouble. Coming from a middle-class Jewish family, Paul is given opportunities to get ahead in life, in the form of an elite school, where he fathoms CEOs, Presidents, and leaders are made. This is in stark contrast to Johhny’s path of homelessness and systemic racism. The Graffs who purport themselves to be liberals grapple with their own prejudices, even as they look back on their own hardships caused by others’ biases.
Repeta and Webb are both brilliant as Paul and Johhny, and both exude an authentic innocence that grounds the film to earth. Hopkins is wonderful as Paul’s loving grandfather. Hathaway and Strong are excellent as well, though Strong may be a bit 2 dimensional (but arguably some distant fathers can be that way too).
The film is full of contradictions and remains unresolved which could be problematic to some viewers. But Armageddon Time, at least asks those difficult questions, and even directs those questions back to us. It’s an imperfect but ultimately moving film. Recommended.
Directed by: Charlotte Wells
Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall
Among the best of TCFF 2022’s roster, writer/director Charlotte Wells’ new film Aftersun is as poignant as any we’ll see this year. Young father Calum (Mescal) takes his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Corio) on holiday along Turkey’s coast. Calum is tender and loving to Sophie as they spend their days and evenings partaking in the resort’s activities. Carrying a camcorder, they gleefully record many of their moments together. But something is quite off, and within those tender moments hangs an ominous cloud. As Sophie begins to discover a new and adolescent world, things are not as they seem with Calum.
Wells’ Aftersun feels like a memory so private, that we are gifted as being part of that memory through Sophie’s eyes. Newcomer Frankie Corio exudes an effortless innocence to Sophie – dazzlingly brilliant. Mescal is staggeringly good in portraying Calum’s inner turmoil and disintegration. The actors have such great chemistry that the father-and-daughter relationship feels incredibly genuine.
Gregory Oke’s cinematography is gorgeous and intimate, complimented by Blair McClendon’s dynamic editing and creative use of camcorder footage, while Oliver Coates’s music adds a dreamlike quality to the film. Wells’ direction and writing is superb – using simple language and visuals that somehow transcend what we are seeing and hearing. She doesn’t spell things out for us nor does she need to.
Aftersun is a deeply personal and emotional experience. Marvelous in its simplicity, the film is a well-thought-out slice of life, balanced with humor, tenderness and melancholy that encapsulates Sophie and Calum’s humanity. It is a beautiful film rooted in personal memory that is achingly devastating when it hits you. Highly recommended.
Stay tuned for more coverage of TCFF 2022!