Armageddon Time (2022) – I can’t validate the numerous comparisons that have been made with Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans (not yet having seen the latter), but I can recommend this story of a family of New York Jews at the dawn of the Reagan era, which features themes of racism and classism, and a strange cameo by a famous/infamous real-life figure whose son would go on to become the worst person ever to be president.
Empire of Light (2022) – Touching May-December romance set in early 80s England. Olivia Colman stars as a middle-aged cinema manager with fragile mental health who has a brief affair with a young Afro-Caribbean co-worker (Micheal Ward). It’s both a romantic look at the waning days of movie-theater culture and a dark reminder of Britain’s troubled racial and class divisions. I’m surprised this film hasn’t been nominated for more awards than it has, although it did get a nod for cinematography in the upcoming Oscars.
The Godless Girl (1929) – Legendary director Cecil B. DeMille’s final silent feature is an overlong, unsubtle slog that begins with a flirtation between an atheist girl (who wants to start an atheist club at her high school) and the pious class president. When a girl is accidentally killed in a riot between believers and unbelievers, both the atheist and the Christian are sent to reform school. The vast bulk of the movie is devoted to the sadistic goings-on at reform schools, and the whole debate between godlessness and faith is almost completely cast aside. This movie is recommended nowadays only for those interested in the history of depictions of atheism in cinema. Otherwise it’s drag and a bore.
Benediction (2021) – Biopic about the life of WWI hero and war poet Siegfried Sassoon. Certainly, Sassoon deserves to be remembered (and, perhaps, pitied as a closeted gay man forced into traditional marriage and a life of dull conformity), but this film, while well-acted, is uneven, spending too little time on Sassoon’s wartime experience and middle-age years, and too much time on his youthful romantic dalliances.
Children of the Damned (1964) – Stodgy but thought-provoking British sci-fi drama. It’s a thematic sequel to 1960’s Village of the Damned (which is itself based on a classic novel by John Wyndham). Two scientists try to solve the puzzle presented by a handful of children born at the same time around the world, who all share traits of advanced intelligence, telepathy, and telekinesis. Children may be the future, but every generation has some fear and trepidation about the up-and-comers. But what happens when the kids represent a quantum leap in the evolutionary process?
Cunk on Earth (2022) – Diane Morgan stars as clueless, self-obsessed Philomena Cunk in this mockumentary history series on Netflix. The groany puns and non sequiturs come fast and furious, punctuated with occasional laugh-out-loud moments. Recommended, although your mileage may vary.
Obvious Child (2014) – Jenny Slate stars as a struggling comedian who finds herself pregnant after a torrid one-night-stand. Raunchy, funny, and rawly emotional, with a straightforward treatment of the reality of abortion that you might not be able to get away with only nine years later.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975) – Legendary John Huston directs Sean Connery and Michael Caine in this film based on a story by Rudyard Kipling. Cringey treatment of third-world culture by today’s standards, but this possibly the last big-screen adventure before movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark changed the game forever. Recommended.
The Proposal (2009) – Disposable romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock as a high-powered publisher who coerces her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to get engaged so she can avoid deportation. Funny in spots but never quite gels.
Loving Adults (2022) – Soapy Danish crime thriller follows the marital clash between an unfaithful architect and his possessive wife. Lots of twists and turns, but in the age of DNA analysis and ubiquitous cameras, this seems like something that should have happened 30 years ago. Skip.
You People (2023) – Cringey and unfunny, Jonah Hill and Lauren London star in this interracial romance, with Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and David Duchovny in supporting roles. Skip.
Force Majeure (2014) – Thought-provoking international production about a Swedish family on a ski trip to the French Alps, and the aftermath of a middle-aged father’s reaction in a moment of crisis. Recommended.