Review: ‘Eileen’ (2023), starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland and Owen Teague

December 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie in “Eileen” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Eileen” (2023)

Directed by William Oldroyd

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1964 in an unnamed city in Massachusetts, the dramatic film “Eileen” (based on the 2015 novel of the same film) features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A shy administrative assistant at a juvenile detention center becomes enamored with a newly hired psychiatrist at the same job, and the two women do their own kind of pushback on what society expects from women. 

Culture Audience: “Eileen” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, the book on which the movie is based, and movies about repression and mental illness that take an unexpected turn.

Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway in “Eileen” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Much like the movie’s namesake, “Eileen” appears to be going one way and then goes in a very different direction. The cast members’ intriguing performances are the main reason to watch this psychological drama, which takes a very dark turn near the end. The movie is weakened by a vague ending that doesn’t give the closure and answers that were given in the book.

Directed by William Oldroyd, “Eileen” is based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 novel of the same name. Moshfegh and Luke Goebel co-wrote the adapted screenplay for “Eileen.” The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

“Eileen” takes place during a bitterly cold winter in 1964, in an unnamed Massachusetts city not far from Boston. (“Eileen” was actually filmed in New York and New Jersey.) Eileen Dunlop (played by Thomasin McKenzie) is a 24-year-old bachelorette, who lives a dreary existence with her alcoholic, widower father Jim Dunlop (played by Shea Whigham), who is a former police chief. In addition to his alcoholism, there are indications that Jim has an undiagnosed mental illness.

Jim is verbally and physically abusive to Eileen, who is miserable living with her father, but she can’t afford to move out of the house. Eileen doesn’t report the abuse because she knows that Jim still has friends in the local police force. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Eileen has a co-dependent, love/hate relationship with her father. She hates his abuse, but she also wants to feel needed, because he depends on her to take care of him.

Eileen has an older sister named Joanne, who is married and hasn’t come by to visit in quite some time. Jim tells Eileen in no uncertain terms that Joanne is his favorite child. During one of Jim’s many drunken rants, he tells Eileen that he wishes that Eileen were as organized as Joanne is. There are hints that Jim probably sexually abused Joanne as a child, which would explain why Joanne is keeping her distance from him as an adult.

For the past three or four years, Eileen has been working as a secretary/administrative assistant at Moorehead, a boys’ juvenile detention center, which is essentially a prison. It’s mentioned at one point in the movie that Eileen is a college dropout. At her job, Eileen isn’t very well-liked by the other secretaries in the office, because she’s quiet and keeps mostly to herself. Mrs. Murray (played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan) and Mrs. Stevens (played by Tonye Patano) are the two of the nosy co-workers who speak in gossipy and condescending tones to Eileen.

The beginning of the movie shows that Eileen is very introverted, but she’s not as prim and proper as she appears to the outside world. Eileen is kind of a kinky voyeur: She puts ice down her underwear after watching a couple’s makeout session. Eileen’s love life is non-existent, but she has vivid sexual fantasies about having sex with a Moorehead guard named Randy (played by Owen Teague), who’s about the same age as Eileen.

However, someone else on the job arouses Eileen’s sexual interest even more than Randy. Her name is Rebecca St. John (played by Anne Hathaway), who is Moorehead’s newly hired prison psychologist. Eileen is entranced with Rebecca from the moment that she meets this new co-worker. Rebecca, who is originally from New York City, looks and acts more like a glamorous movie star than a psychologist.

At one point, Rebecca tells Eileen that although she’s had plenty of boyfriends, she’s never been married. Rebecca says her dating relationships are “just for fun” and never last. Rebecca comes across as a progressive (she believes that psychedelic drugs should be used as therapy) and independent (she say she loves living by herself), which is the opposite of the conservative and stifling lifestyle that Eileen feels she is being pressured to live.

Eileen is infatuated with Rebecca’s sophisticated ways and seems to be fascinated with everything that Rebecca does. Rebecca notices this admiration and makes an effort to befriend Eileen, who is very flattered by the attention and the compliments that she gets from Rebecca. It’s obvious that Eileen wants her relationship with Rebecca to be more than a friendship, but does Rebecca feels the same way?

One day, Eileen notices Rebecca having a counseling session with an inmate named Lee Polk (played by Sam Nivola) and his mother, who is identified in the movie only as Mrs. Polk (played by Marin Ireland). Lee is in prison for murdering his father by stabbing him to death in the father’s bed. The father was a police officer who worked in the same police department as Eileen’s father Jim.

Eileen can see the counseling session through glass windows, but she can’t hear what’s being said behind closed doors. However, Eileen knows that the session ended badly because Mrs. Polk storms out and shouts, “Filthy, nasty boy!” Meanwhile, Lee smirks in reaction to seeing his mother upset.

Shortly after the session ends, Rebecca asks Eileen if she thinks Mrs. Polk is an angry woman. Eileen doesn’t know enough about Mrs. Polk to give an opinion either way. However, Eileen tells Rebecca that she thinks Lee is intelligent and that he doesn’t seem like the type to be a cold-blooded murderer.

A turning point in Eileen’s relationship with Rebecca happens when Rebecca asks Eileen to go with her to a local bar. Rebecca says it’s because she’s new to the area and wants to meet more new people. But as far as Eileen is concerned (based on how excitedly she gets ready for this meet-up), Rebecca has asked her on a date. At the bar, Rebecca will only dance with Eileen and literally shoves a man away who tries to cut in on Rebecca and Eileen dancing together.

One of the strengths of “Eileen” is how all of the principal cast members make their characters very believable. Even when not much is happening in certain scenes, the performances of McKenzie and Hathaway make viewers wonder what Eileen and Rebecca might be really thinking, compared to what they’re saying out loud. That’s an example of the compelling acting in this movie.

Viewers who don’t know what’s in the “Eileen” book or don’t know what happens in the last third of the movie probably won’t see the plot twist coming. The “Eileen” book is told from the perspective of a middle-aged Eileen looking back on her life. The “Eileen” movie does not give that retrospective context and therefore brings up questions that remain unanswered by the end of the film. However, the movie has an impeccable buildup to its most suspenseful moments, even if the ending won’t be as satisfying as some viewers hope it will be.

Neon released “Eileen” in select U.S. cinemas on December 1, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023.

Review: ‘She Came to Me,’ starring Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, Brian d’Arcy James and Anne Hathaway

October 20, 2023

by Carla Hay

Peter Dinklage and Marisa Tomei in “She Came to Me” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“She Came to Me”

Directed by Rebecca Miller

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and briefly in Delaware, the comedy/drama film “She Came to Me” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An opera composer, who is in a stale marriage to his psychiatrist, overcomes his writer’s block after he has a sexual encounter with a female tugboat captain, who has a history of stalking, while his 18-year-old stepson has relationship problems of his own that involve an accusation of statutory rape.

Culture Audience: “She Came to Me” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and movies that try to be “slice of life” but aren’t very realistic.

Evan Ellison (pictured in front, at left) and Anne Hathaway (pictured in front, at right) in “She Came to Me” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“She Came to Me” is a meandering, off-balance dumpster of half-baked ideas. It fails to have much compelling drama and isn’t very funny in attempts at absurdist comedy. Everything really falls apart in the last half-hour that is annoying nonsense. The movie’s talented cast members mostly flounder around in characters who often don’t have believable chemistry with each other in relationships where they’re supposed to have believable chemistry.

Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, “She Came to Me” had its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival. The fact that this subpar movie was at such a prestigious film festival is an example of how family connections (Miller is married to Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis) and having famous cast members can give certain filmmakers an advantage to get their movies into a major film festival. The Berlin International Film Festival tends to choose very artsy movies. There’s nothing artsy about “She Came to Me.”

“She Came to Me” is a clumsy back-and-forth stumble between two storylines that are shoved together in the last 20 minutes in a way that looks completely fake and unearned. It’s as if Miller couldn’t think of a good way to end the movie and came up with something that panders to the lowest-common, silly denominator in the last third of the film, when the tone for the previous two-thirds of the film aimed to have more of a cutting-edge comedic tone.

In “She Came to Me” (which takes place mostly in New York City and briefly in Delaware), the two storylines that are awkwardly placed are about the love life problems of a father and his 18-year-old stepson. The marketing of “She Came to Me” misleadingly makes it look like the father’s storyline is the only focus of the movie, but the son’s storyline gets nearly as much screen time. The teenage romance that takes up so much time in “She Came to Me” is not hinted at in the movie’s poster or trailer.

In the beginning of “She Came to Me,” viewers are introduced to New York City-based opera composer Steven Lauddem (played by Peter Dinklage) and his psychiatrist wife Patricia Jessup-Lauddem (played by Anne Hathaway), who are experiencing a rough patch in their marriage. Steven is mopey and anxious because he has writer’s block and is expected to meet a deadline in a few weeks to complete the first draft of his next opera.

Patricia has her own issues: She seems to be obsessive-compulsive about keeping everything neat and clean. Patricia has relegated her sex life with Steven to be “by appointment only.” She is also conflicted about her interfaith background (her mother was Catholic; her father was Jewish), but Patricia is currently a practicing Catholic.

The first scene in the movie shows Steven and Patricia at a house party. Some of Steven’s colleagues in the opera industry are there. Steven is very uncomfortable and reluctant to be at the party, because he doesn’t want to have to answer questions about his next opera, which he secretly hasn’t even begun to write. Only a few people, such as Patricia, know that Steven has writer’s block. Patricia thinks this party will be a good networking opportunity for Steven.

One of the people at the party is Duftin Haverford (played by Gregg Edelman), a high-ranking official at an opera company. Duftin inevitably asks Steven when Steven’s next opera will be completed. Steven pretends that he can meet Duftin’s deadline for a first draft in two weeks. It’s a deadline that Steven is dreading.

As Duftin walks away from Steven and Patricia, Duftin tells his party companion that Steven had a nervous breakdown five years ago and went into a deep depression. Patricia was Steven’s therapist, but at some point, their relationship obviously became more than a doctor-patient relationship, and they got married. Duftin quips, “If she were my therapist, I’d marry her too.” Little does Duftin know how stagnant this marriage has become.

Meanwhile, Patricia’s 18-year-old son from her first marriage is Julian Jessup (played by Evan Ellison), who is having a happy romance with his 16-year-old girlfriend Tereza Szyskowski (played by Harlow Jane) while they are students at the same high school. Julian and Tereza, who have no siblings, are good students in school and spend as much time as they can together. Tereza and Julian are lab partners in a science class, and they both have aspirations to become “futurist” engineers. It’s mentioned later in the movie that Patricia’s first husband (Julian’s father) left her and Julian and then died after the divorce.

Julian and Tereza are very close, but apparently not close enough for Tereza to introduce Julian to her parents or invite him into her home. Tereza’s mother Magdalena Szymkowski (played by Joanna Kulig) is a Polish immigrant who works as a house cleaner. Tereza and Magdalena have a tension-filled relationship that is typical of what can happen between a parent and a teenage child: The teenager wants more freedom than the parent is willing to give.

Magdalena is protective of Tereza because she doesn’t want Tereza to make wrong decisions when it comes to love and romance. The movie doesn’t go into too many details of what happened to Tereza’s biological father. However, Magdalena says enough in conversations for viewers to know that it was a bad marriage, where Magdalena felt disrespected and stifled, so she has vowed to never be financially dependent on a man again. She’s teaching Tereza to have the same outlook on life.

Ironically, Magdalena is now with a live-in partner who is very controlling. Magdalena’s current beau is Trey Ruffa (played by Brian d’Arcy James), who has adopted Tereza, even though he and Magdalena aren’t married. Trey works as a courtroom stenographer. Trey likes to think that even though he didn’t go to college, he knows enough about the law that he could be a prosecutor if he had the credentials for it.

Trey is a very strict parent, while Magdalena is willing to have more flexibility in parenting of Tereza. There’s a useless tangent in the movie about Trey being a Civil War re-enactment enthusiast. He brings an uninterested Magdalena and Tereza to a Civil War re-enactment event where participants have to dress in Civil War-era costumes.

There are other reasons (that are at first unspoken, but come out later in the movie) to explain why Tereza doesn’t feel comfortable bringing Julian to her home to introduce him to her parents. There are differences between Julian and Tereza when it comes to their ages (and what they can legally do because of their ages), social classes and races. (Julian is black, and Tereza is white.) If there’s a racist in Tereza’s family, it’s easy to guess who it is. Tereza is reluctant to show Julian what her family is like, but she is welcome in Julian’s home, where Tereza has a very good rapport with Patricia.

One day, while Steven is wallowing in self-pity over his writer’s block, he decides to walk his French bulldog Levi and go to a local bar at around 11 a.m. to have a drink or two. At the bar, he meets an unusual stranger: a tugboat captain named Katrina Trento (played by Marisa Tomei), who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but is passing through New York City for work-related reasons. Steven and Katrina have a conversation where they tell each other a little bit about their lives. He doesn’t tell Katrina right away that he’s married.

Katrina mentions that her tugboat business has been in her family for generations. She makes it obvious that she’s attracted to Steven and invites him to go on her tugboat nearby. Steven is curious but a little nervous. On the tugboat, Katrina reveals more about herself. She confesses, “I’m addicted to romance.” She also says she’s been in court-ordered rehab, because she has a history of stalking love interests.

Most people with common sense would steer clear of someone with these problems, but Steven seems to crave the attention that Katrina is giving him at that moment. And so, when she starts taking off her baggy work clothes to reveal that she’s got slinky lingerie underneath, it comes as no surprise that Katrina seduces Steven. None of this is spoiler information, since this plot development (and many others) are revealed in the trailer for “She Came to Me.”

At the end of this sexual encounter, Katrina starts babbling to Steven as if she expects them to be in a relationship. Steven tactfully tells Katrina that what they had is a one-time encounter, and he doesn’t want to see her again. He also urges her to get psychiatric help for her obsessiveness. He then quickly leaves the tugboat.

Steven’s tryst with Katrina (and his accidental fall in the dock’s water when he leaves the tugboat) jolt him out of his writer’s block and inspire him to write the opera “She Came to Me,” which is about an attractive female tugboat captain who seduces men and kills them. The opera is a hit. Katrina eventually finds out that she’s the inspiration for the opera when she goes to a performance. After the show, Katrina tells Steven (who is surprised to see Katrina) that she has permanently moved to New York City. (This plot development is also revealed in the movie’s trailer.)

All of this sounds like more than enough for two movies, which is why “She Came to Me” is often unfocused and unwieldly. The movie’s opera scenes are embarrassingly horrible. In no way, shape or form would this amateurish opera ever realistically be on any legitimate, major opera stage in New York City. There are some high school productions in real life that look better than the opera scenes in “She Came to Me.”

And although the “love triangle” between Steven, Patricia and Katrina is a major part of the movie, the three middle-aged adults in this situation are a lot more foolish and less mature than the two teenagers (Julian and Tereza), who go through their own personal drama. The storyline involving Steven, Patricia and Katrina gets so unrealistic, it’s almost like it belongs in a completely separate movie. “She Came to Me” starts off with a somewhat offbeat comedic tone, then makes an abrupt turn into a melodrama, and then sinks into a cesspool of ridiculous schmaltz.

The cast members are not to blame for why this disappointing movie has such an unfortunate identity crisis. Dinklage, Ellison, Jane and Kulig give solid performances. Hathaway and Tomei (the two Oscar winners in the movie’s principal cast) make an effort to bring nuance to their roles, but the characters of Patricia and Katrina are such cringeworthy clichés (the sexually repressed wife and the wacky, uninhibited mistress), these stereotypes are borderline misogynistic. Toward the end of the movie, certain characters make decisions that are nonsensical and look very inauthentic. Ultimately, viewers are more likely to feel disconnected from most of the characters in this dreadful dud of a movie, instead of feeling connected and invested in what will happen next.

Vertical released “She Came to Me” in select U.S. cinemas on October 6, 2023.

Review: ‘Armageddon Time,’ starring Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb and Anthony Hopkins

October 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins in “Armageddon Time” (Photo courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features)

“Armageddon Time”

Directed by James Gray

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1980 in New York City, the dramatic film “Armageddon Time” (inspired by director James Gray’s own childhood) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An 11-year-old, middle-class Jewish boy, who befriends a working-class African American boy from school, learns some of life’s harsh lessons about bigotry and privilege. 

Culture Audience: “Armageddon Time” will appeal primarily to people interested in retro movies that explore the loss of innocence in childhood.

Jaylin Webb and Banks Repeta in “Armageddon Time” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

The talented cast’s performances elevate “Armageddon Time,” a drama that apparently wants to condemn racism, antisemitism and social class snobbery. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t have anything new to say about people who enable these types of bigotry. The cast members’ acting should maintain most viewers’ interest, but parts of “Armageddon Time” (written and directed by James Gray) might annoy or bore viewers who feel like they’ve seen this type of “loss of childhood innocence experienced by a future movie director” many times already.

That’s because there have been several movie directors who’ve done movies based on their real childhoods, with the childhood versions of themselves as the protagonists of the movies. In these semi-autobiographical or autobiographical films, these directors depict their childhood selves as inquisitive, imaginative and often misunderstood by many people around them. The child has at least one parent who usually doesn’t encourage the child’s artistic inclinations, because the parent thinks it’s not a good career choice to be any type of artist.

All of these clichés are in “Armageddon Time,” Gray’s dramatic retelling of what his life was like for a pivotal two-month period when he was 11 years old. “Armageddon Time”—which takes place from September to November 1980, mostly in New York City’s Queens borough—can be considered semi-autobiographical, because the characters in the movie are based on real people without using the real people’s names, except for members of Donald Trump’s family. At a certain point in the movie, viewers can easily predict where this movie is going and what it’s attempting to say.

However, because the cast members deliver good performances and have believable chemistry with each other, “Armageddon Time” has moments that can be entertaining and compelling. “Armageddon Time” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France. The movie then made the rounds at several other film festivals in 2022, including the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, the Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland, and the New York Film Festival in New York City.

The story is told from the perspective of 11-year-old Paul Graff (played by Banks Repeta, also known as Michael Banks Repeta), who has talent for drawing illustrations of people. Paul has a mischievous side where he makes caricatures or illustration parodies of people he knows. He’s also a science-fiction enthusiast who has created an original superhero character named Captain United.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s September 8, 1980—Paul’s first day of school as a sixth grader at P.S. 173, a public school in Queens. One of the first things that happens in a classroom led by a cranky teacher named Mr. Turkeltaub (played by Andrew Polk) is that Mr. Turkeltaub has found a drawing that depicts him as a turkey. An infuriated Mr. Turkeltaub demands to know who made the drawing, and Paul eventually confesses that he did it.

Just a few minutes later, a classmate named Johnny Davis (played by Jaylin Webb) tells a harmless joke as a reply to the teacher’s question. Johnny’s flippant response gets Mr. Turkeltaub even angrier. He hisses at Johnny as he points to Johnny’s head, “You’ve got nothing up here.” Johnny snaps back, “Look who taught me.”

Paul and Johnny both get mild punishments for their disobedience, as Mr. Turkeltaub orders them to clean the chalkboard in the classroom. Johnny and Paul become very fast friends from this shared bonding experience. Their friendship is defined by a lot of the rebellious things that they do together.

Johnny and Paul also share a passion for outer space. Johnny dreams of becoming an astronaut for NASA, while Paul wants to illustrate comic books about space travel. Although both boys talk about a lot of things with each other immediately, they’re not as up front about each other’s home lives when they first meet.

Paul’s family is middle-class, but he lies to Johnny by saying that his family is rich. Johnny, who doesn’t like to talk about his parents, comes from a low-income household and lives with his grandmother (played by Marjorie Johnson, in a quick cameo), whom Johnny describes as “forgetful.” (It’s implied that she has dementia.) Eventually, Johnny opens up to Paul about what’s really going on with him at home, but Paul keeps up the lie about his parents being rich for as long as Paul can keep telling this lie.

Paul’s tight-knit family at home consists of his energetic mother Esther Graff (played by Anne Hathaway), who is the president of P.S. 173’s Parent Teacher Association; his stern father Irving Graff (played by Jeremy Strong), who is an engineer; and Paul’s smug older brother Ted Graff (played by Ryan Sell), who is about 15 years old and almost the opposite of Paul. Ted is a popular, outgoing student at his private school, and he gets good grades. Paul is introverted, somewhat of a loner, and an average student, even though he has the intelligence to get better grades in school. Paul is much closer to his mother than he is to his father, who has a bad temper and tells Paul that being an artist is not a wise occupation.

Frequent visitors to the Graff home for family dinners are Paul’s grandparents, aunts and uncles. Esther’s father Aaron Rabinowitz (played by Anthony Hopkins), who is from the United Kingdom, is Paul’s favorite of these relatives. Grandfather Aaron is kind and patient with Paul, who feels like Aaron is the only family member who truly accepts Paul for who Paul is. Aaron is also the only one in this family who teaches Paul the realities of antisemitism and racism and how not to be a bigot.

Many of the Graff/Rabinowitz family members, including Aaron, are originally from Europe and survivors of the Holocaust. Aaron’s mother was a Ukrainian refugee who eventually settled in England. Aaron and his wife Mickey Rabinowitz (played by Tovah Feldshuh) are both retired schoolteachers. Other relatives who are in the story are Paul’s aunt Ruth (played by Marcia Haufrecht) and uncle Louis (played by Teddy Coluca), who are both very opinionated.

Family conversations around the dining room table reveal that although members of this family have experienced prejudice for being Jewish, many of the adult family members are racists who don’t like black people. Some of the family members are more blatant about this racism than others. Aaron is the only adult in the family who doesn’t come across as some kind of bigot or difficult person. He’s not saintly, but the movie depicts Aaron as the only adult who comes closest to having a lot of wisdom and a strong moral character.

Meanwhile, at school, Johnny and Paul get into some more mischief. In Mr. Turkeltaub’s class, Johnny tends to get punishment that’s worse than what Paul gets. Johnny is a year older than his classmates because he’s had to repeat sixth grade. Johnny usually get blamed first by Mr. Turkeltaub if there’s any student trouble in the classroom.

It doesn’t help that Johnny sometimes curses at the teacher in response to being singled out as a troublemaker, whereas Paul tends not to go that far with his disrespect for authority. However, Mr. Turkeltaub seems to deliberately pick on Johnny to get him angry. There are racial undertones to the way that Mr. Turkeltaub treats Johnny, who is one of the few African American students in the class.

Through a series of events and circumstances that won’t be revealed in this review, Paul transfers to the same private school where Ted is a student: Kew-Forest School, located in the affluent neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens. Paul is very unhappy about this transfer because he will no longer get to see Johnny at school. Paul also experiences culture shock, because most of the students come from upper-middle-class and wealthy families.

Members of the real-life Trump family are major financial donors to Kew-Forest School and sometimes stop by the school to make speaking appearances to the assembled students. “Armageddon Time” shows Fred Trump (Donald Trump’s father, played by John Diehl) and Maryanne Trump (Donald Trump’s older sister, played by Jessica Chastain) in cameos, as they give condescending lectures disguised as pep talks at Kew-Forest School. Maryanne Trump, who inherited her fortune from her father, even has the gall to say in her lecture that she worked hard for the wealth that she has.

Because “Armageddon Time” writer/director Gray didn’t change the names of Fred Trump and Maryanne Trump in the movie, the only conclusion that viewers can come to is that Gray wanted to show some kind of disdain for the Trumps in the movie, by depicting them as out-of-touch rich people whom he did not like or trust, even as a child. The only other semi-political statements made in “Armageddon Time” are scenes where the 1980 U.S. presidential election is in the news and discussed in the Graff family home. Irving and Ethel Graff are Democrats who want incumbent Democrat president Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan (a Republican), to win the election.

Because “Armageddon Time” takes place during the height of the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia (then known as the Soviet Union), the movie makes some references to the fear that many people had that a nuclear war could be imminent and would cause an apocalypse. In the production notes for “Armageddon Time,” Gray says that the movie’s title was named after the reggae song “Armagidion Time,” which had a cover version released by The Clash in 1979. (The Clash’s remake of this song is in the “Armageddon Time” movie.) Gray further explains in the production notes that the movie is about Paul’s personal Armageddon.

It’s during Paul’s experiences as a new student at Kew-Forest School that he begins to understand how race, religion and social class are used as reasons for bigots to inflict damaging prejudice on others. When Johnny shows up near the Kew-Forest School playground to talk to Paul, it’s the first time that Paul is fully aware that many of his peers at Kew-Forest school look down on someone like Johnny, just because Johnny is a working-class African American. One of the Kew-Forest students uses the “n” word to describe Johnny, and Paul is shocked.

Paul’s mother Esther also disapproves of Johnny, mainly because she blames Johnny for being a “bad influence” on Paul. There are some racial undertones to Esther’s dislike of Johnny, mainly because Esther wants to deny that Paul is a willing and active participant in whatever rebellious and rude antics that he and Johnny decide to do. Paul, who has an angelic face, is not as “innocent” as Esther thinks he is.

Repeta skillfully plays the role of Paul, a boy who starts to see life in ways that Paul did not expect. His performance is an admirable anchor for the movie, which at times is hindered by writer/director Gray’s self-indulgent nostalgia. And although Hathaway and Strong give solid performances as Esther and Irving, Paul’s emotional connections to his parents at this particular time in Paul’s life are secondary to the emotional connections that Paul has with his grandfather Aaron and with his new friend Johnny. Hopkins and Webb deliver fine performances as Aaron and Johnny, but much about how these two characters are written (the wise grandfather and the rebellious kid) are reminiscent of characters seen in many other movies.

One of the problematic elements of “Armageddon Time” is that Johnny is often treated as a “black token” in the movie. He has all the negative stereotypes of what many racists think black boys are: troublemakers who can’t be as accomplished or as intelligent as their white peers. It would have been better if the movie had at least a few other African American people in prominent speaking roles for some variety (after all, this movie takes place in racially diverse New York City), instead of putting almost all of the African American representation in the movie on a troubled adolescent boy.

There’s a point in the movie where Johnny runs away from home, because he suspects that child protective services will put him in foster care, and he asks Paul for help in having a place to stay. Paul’s reaction is realistic, but it seems like Gray wants to gloss over how Paul contributes to a lot of Johnny’s pain. “Armageddon Time” is less concerned about the root causes of Johnny’s problems and more concerned about making Aaron the noble sage who preaches to Paul about the evils of racism. However, the movie doesn’t actually show Aaron helping anyone from an oppressed racial group, or even caring about having anyone in his social circle who isn’t white.

“Armageddon Time” is a lot like watching people say repeatedly, “Isn’t bigotry terrible?” But then, those same people don’t really do anything to actively stop the bigotry that they complain about. The Graff household also has some domestic abuse that seems to be put in the movie for some shock value, and then the matter is dropped completely. The ending of “Armageddon Time” could have been a lot better, but the movie has enough good acting and memorable characters to make up for some scenes that wander and don’t serve a very meaningful purpose in the movie.

Focus Features released “Armageddon Time” in select U.S. cinemas on October 28, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022.

Review: ‘Roald Dahl’s The Witches,’ starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci

October 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Eugenia Caruso, Penny Lisle, Josette Simon, Anne Hathaway, Orla O’Rourke and Ana-Maria Maskell in “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” (Photo by Daniel Smith/HBO Max)

“Roald Dahl’s The Witches”

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Demopolis, Alabama, in 1978, the family-friendly horror/fantasy film “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A widowed grandmother and her orphaned grandson encounter evil witches who want to turn children into mice. 

Culture Audience: “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” will appeal primarily to people looking for lightweight, fantasy entertainment about good versus evil that has the same formula as many other family-oriented films about wicked witches who don’t like children.

Jahzir Bruno, Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci in “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” (Photo by Daniel Smith/HBO Max)

“Roald Dahl’s Witches” should’ve been named “Anne Hathaway Hamming It Up as a Witch,” because that’s really the main attraction for this duller-than-it-should-be movie. Hathaway’s Grand High Witch character—who is the leader of a coven that’s flocked to Demopolis, Alabama, in 1978—is the only one in the coven who has a distinct personality. The rest of the witches are essentially backdrops to Hathaway’s over-the-top performance in a very formulaic and unimaginative movie. Considering all of the Oscar winners who were involved in making this movie, “Roald Dahl’s Witches” isn’t horrible, but it’s a big disappointment from people who can do and have done much better work.

Directed and co-written by Oscar-winning “Forrest Gump” director Robert Zemeckis, “Roald Dahl’s Witches” (adapted from Dahl’s 1983 novel “The Witches”) is the second movie version of the book. The first movie version was 1990’s “The Witches,” directed by Nicolas Roeg and starring Anjelica Huston. The 2020 movie version changed the story’s location from Europe to the United States, and made the witch-hunting grandmother and grandson African American.

It’s a change that is significant only in that the movie briefly makes some subtle references to racism, and the grandmother listens to a lot of 1960s and 1970s R&B music. Other than that, the premise of the movie remains the same: The grandmother (played by Octavia Spencer) and her orphaned grandson (played by Jahzir Bruno), who do not have names in the movie, go on a mission to hunt down and stop a coven of witches who plan to turn children into mice, in the hopes that the mice will be killed as rodent pests.

Hathaway and Spencer are both Oscar winners. Zemeckis co-wrote the screenplay to this movie with “The Shape of Water” Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris. The movie’s cast also includes Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci. On paper, it sounds like a winning combination to make a spectacular, award-worthy classic movie. The reality is that “Roald Dahl’s Witches” is frustratingly average and at times a boringly repetitive film.

We’ve seen many movies already with an over-the-top evil witch, animated animals that interact with live-action humans (in this movie’s case, the animated animals are mice and one obligatory witch’s black cat), and one big race against time to stop the chief villain from doing what the villain plans to do. Nothing in this movie is award-worthy.

That’s not to say “Roald Dahl’s Witches” doesn’t have entertaining moments. But they are arrive in between long stretches where not much happens except the grandmother and her hero son talk about and plan what they need to do to stop the witches. The boy, whose parents died in a car accident, has been living with his grandmother since becoming an orphan. (Chris Rock does voiceover narration as the hero boy as an adult.) His grandmother is slowly able to lift him out his depression over his parents’ death, and she buys him a pet female mouse that he names Daisy.

And it’s around this time that the hero boy encounters a witch with a snake coming out of her sleeve while he and his grandmother are in a hardware store. The witch’s name is Zelda (played by Josette Simon), and it turns out that she used to be the grandmother’s best friend when they were children. Zelda was turned into a witch by the Grand High Witch and has been in the coven ever since. The grandmother figures out that her grandson encountered Zelda, based on her grandson’s frightened description of the witch he saw in the hardware store.

The witches in this story have several distinctive features, which the grandmother tells her grandson about when she teaches him how to spot a witch: The witches, who are demons disguised as humans, always wear long gloves because they have claws, not hands. The witches always wear wigs, because they are actually bald. The witches have unusually long corners of their mouths, which they cover with heavy makeup. The witches have feet without toes and have oversized nostrils that become more pronounced when they can catch the scent of children.

The witches hate kids and want to get rid of all the children in the world. The witches offer candy (such as taffy) to children entice them. And witches are repulsed by clean children because these children smell like defecation to the witches. The cleaner the children are, the more they stink to the witches.

After the grandson’s scary encounter with Zelda, the grandmother and grandson check into a swanky hotel called the Grand Imperial Island Hotel, which they are able to do because of a favor from a hotel employee whom the grandmother knows. The grandmother says that she figures that her grandson will be safe to hide there because “ain’t nothin’ but rich white folks” at the hotel and “witches prey on the poor, the overlooked, the kids they think nobody’s going to make a fuss about if they go missing.”

The movie’s other reference to racism and social-class disparities in America is when the grandmother and the grandson check into the hotel and the hotel manager R. J. Stringer III (played by Tucci) looks surprised to see them there. R.J. makes a comment to the grandson that the hotel normally doesn’t get a kid like him as a guest. It’s a racially tinged, condescending remark that the grandmother picks up on right away, and she lets this stuck-up manager know that she and her grandson will be treated with the same amount of respect that the other hotel guests get.

And speaking of the other hotel guests, there’s a snobbish British couple named Mr. Jenkins (played by Charles Edwards) and Mrs. Jenkins (played by Morgana Robinson) who are at the hotel with their insecure son Bruno Jenkins (played by Codie-Lei Eastick). Bruno tries to make friends with the grandson, but Bruno’s domineering mother won’t let him. And there’s a convention going on at the hotel for a group calling itself the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, whose members are all women who wear long gloves. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who these women really are.

“Roald Dahl’s The Witches” is a by-the-numbers story that hits all the familiar beats of similar movies, and it culminates in a showdown that goes exactly how you would expect it to go. There’s nothing wrong with the acting from the cast, but it’s just so predictable and generic. (Spencer plays yet another matronly woman who gets sassy when she has to be.) Children under the age of 14 will probably enjoy this film the most. But for people who’ve got more life experience and have seen enough movies like this already, “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” is just too cookie-cutter to really have much substance and make a lasting impact on viewers.

HBO Max premiered “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” on October 22, 2020.

Hollywood Walk of Fame announces 2019 star recipients

May 25, 2018

The following is a press release from the Hollywood Walk of Fame:

A new group of entertainment professionals in the categories of Motion Pictures, Television, Live Theatre/Live Performance and Recording have been selected to receive stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it was announced today, June 25, 2018 by the Walk of Fame Selection Committee of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. These honorees were chosen from among hundreds of nominations to the committee at a meeting held in June and ratified by the Hollywood Chamber’s Board of Directors. Television Producer and Walk of Famer Vin Di Bona, Chair of the Walk of Fame Selection Committee for 2018-2019 and Walk of Famer Ellen K, host of The Ellen K Morning Show, announced the new honorees with Leron Gubler, President & CEO for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce who is also the emcee of the Walk of Fame ceremonies.The new selection was revealed to the world via live stream exclusively on the official website www.walkoffame.com. The live stream began at 1 P.M. and was held at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce offices.

“The Walk of Fame Selection Committee is pleased to announce our newest honorees to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Committee always tries to select a group of talented honorees that appeal in various genres of the entertainment world,” Chairman and Walk of Famer Vin Di Bona,  “I feel the Committee has outdone themselves and I know the fans, tourists and the Hollywood community will be pleased with our selections. We are excited to see each and every honoree’s face as they unveil that majestic star on Hollywood’s most famous walkway!”

The Hollywood Walk of Fame Class of 2019 are:

In the category of MOTION PICTURES:
Alan Arkin, Kristen Bell, Daniel Craig, Robert De Niro, Guillermo del Toro, Anne Hathaway, Lupita Nyong’o, Tyler Perry, and Gena Rowlands.

In the category of TELEVISION:
Alvin And The Chipmunks, Candice Bergen, Guy Fieri, Terrence Howard, Stacy Keach, Sid and Marty Krofft, Lucy Liu, Mandy Moore,  Dianne Wiest, and Julia Child (Posthumous).

In the category of RECORDING:
Michael Bublé, Cypress Hill, The Lettermen, Faith Hill, Tommy Mottola, P!nk, Teddy Riley, Trio: Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, and Jackie Wilson (Posthumous).

In the category of LIVE THEATRE/LIVE PERFORMANCE:
Idina Menzel, Cedric “The Entertainer”, Judith Light, and Paul Sorvino.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and its Walk of Fame Selection Committee congratulate all the honorees. Dates have not been scheduled for these star ceremonies. Recipients have two years to schedule star ceremonies from the date of selection before they expire. Upcoming star ceremonies are usually announced ten days prior to dedication on the official website www.walkoffame.com.

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