This brings one of Terry Gilliam’s most beloved fantasies (and certainly his most Sarah Polley-traumatizing one) and the nadir of The Rock’s loathsome something-for-everybody brand management, but let’s talk about James Gray. Gray found wider favor with his last two movies, where his usual out-of-fashion classicism was married to (relatively) simple adventure stories, but with Armageddon Time, he returned to his bread and butter of dense, bleak historical surveys and autobiographies. Nobody saw it, perhaps because it’s hard to market Gray’s brand of intellectual sad-sackery in a way that makes it appealing to a general audience (unless you sweeten the deal with moon-buggy chases) or because its premise sets off the alarm bells of being a simplistic “kid learns about racism” movie. But it’s not, it’s a movie about, among many other things, a kid (the young James Gray) learning about his and his Jewish family’s complicity in a system that will happily kill them if they don’t climb to a high enough class. Anthony Hopkins as Gray’s kindly grandpa tells him some not so kindly stories about genocide and anti-semitism, and the looming specter of Reagan’s election and a certain wealthy family coming to prominence in 80s New York say everything about how present-tense those fears of imminent violence are (details like early Apple computers and promises of jobs at EPCOT read as terrible omens of the evil world that awaits these characters). Not even Hopkins can find a good way to tell a child that the world has been designed to destroy people like him, because who can? Gray has created an astonishing mosaic of the failures of Jewish assimilation and the American Dream, worthy of Avalon or 20th Century Women as a personal story that spirals out into something overwhelming and universal. This is a tragic story and Gray makes your knees buckle thinking about how often and to how many kids it’s happened in the decades since.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen 4K (1988) Criterion
Armageddon Time (2022) Universal
Black Adam 4K (2022) Warner
Prey for the Devil 4K (2022) Lionsgate