Armageddon Time Movie Review

There are certain genres that are universal. Regardless of labels, we are able to connect with the characters and understand where they are coming from.

The new movie, Armageddon Time, was written and directed by James Gray. Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), is a young man coming of age in 1980’s Queens. His favorite things to do are drawing and spending time with his Grandpa Aaron (Anthony Hopkins). Coming from a middle-class Jewish family, his parents Esther (Anne Hathaway) and Irving (Jeremy Strong) are doing the best they can.

The story gets going when Paul starts to hang out with Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb). Johnny is one of the African-American students in his class. Due to racism and other issues, he has already been held back. Bonded by their mutual sense of rebellion and dislike for their teacher, Paul and Johnny become fast friends.

Paul is idealistic and stubborn, but also a little naive. When he is forced to transfer from public school to private school, the economic and societal differences between the boys become evident. The choice he has to make will define the rest of his life: speak up or stay silent.

Gray’s film (which is based on his own life), is half coming of age and half a family drama. It is well-written, well-acted, and absolutely fantastic. Repeta, as our young protagonist, blew me away. This young man was brilliant in the role and truly made me want to go on Paul’s journey with him.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Armageddon Time is presently in theaters.

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RIP Angela Lansbury

There are some performers whose career is so indelible that we believe that they are immortal. The truth is that no one lives forever and we all go at some point.

The legendary actress Angela Lansbury passed away on Tuesday. This star of stage and screen (big and small) has been in our collective cultural lives for as long as many of us can remember.

Most notably, she played Jessica Fletcher in the iconic 1980s television show Murder, She Wrote and was the voice of Mrs. Potts in the 1991 animated film, Beauty and the Beast. I remember watching both as a child and feeling as if she was just a natural who spoke to the audience, regardless of the role she played.

She was 96. May her memory be a blessing. Z”L

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Zack to the Future Podcast Review (2020 to 2021)

Every era and every age group has its own archetypal character that sort of sums up the creative ideas of the time.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this character was Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar)  on Saved by the Bell. Zack was an overconfident, smooth-talking kid with a slightly used salesman con artist veneer. He had a good heart, but it wasn’t always on the surface.

Zack to the Future (2020 to 2021) is a rewatch podcast in which Gosselaar sits down with co-host Dashiell Driscoll to watch the program with adult eyes. Having never watched the show, it is an opportunity for the cast, crew, and fans to reminisce about the gang at Bayside High.

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I looked forward to this podcast every week. Gosselaar’s insight provides a unique perspective on his time playing one of television’s most well-known teenage characters. Unfortunately, it has since been canceled. But like its small screen predecessor, there are always returns.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings Book Review

“Normal” is relative. What is every day to one person is out completely out of the ordinary for another.

To say that Chrysta Bilton‘s childhood was anything but ordinary is an understatement. Raised in and around Los Angeles, her story is told in the new memoir, Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings. It was published earlier this month.

In the early 1980s, her mother, Debra was out of the closet and wanted to be a mother. Other than getting married to a man and making a baby the old-fashioned way, her options were limited. She would have to go to a sperm bank. While getting her hair done one day, Debra met Jeffrey Harrison. He was everything she wanted the father of her children to be.

Through Debra tried to create a traditional family structure for both Chrysta and her younger sister, it was anything but. She had a series of partners, addiction issues, and tried to support her daughters via get-rich-quick schemes.

When Chrysta finally discovered the truth about her parentage and her many half-siblings, she was forced to face a reality that would force her to shift her worldview.

This book is amazing. Bilton’s story is complicated, emotional, difficult at times, and shows the truth about what it is to have a family. What I found inspiring is that Bilton somehow came out of this extraordinary childhood with a resolve and a strength that some might not have developed at all.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings is available wherever books are sold.

Out of the Corner: A Memoir Book Review

From an audience perspective, it would appear that both starring in a blockbuster movie and coming from a respected performing family guarantees success in Hollywood. Anyone who knows the truth would say otherwise.

Out of the Corner: A Memoir, by Dirty Dancing actress Jennifer Grey, was published last month. Grey is Jewish acting royalty. Her paternal grandfather, Mickey Katz was one of the most famous comedians and musicians of his day. Her parents, Joel Grey (of Cabaret fame)and Jo Wilder followed in her grandfather’s footsteps. Raised in both New York City and Los Angeles, she rose to fame in Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and other 1980s classics.

The reader is taken on an emotional journey through her early years, the ups and downs of her personal and private life, and finally, her finding peace with her identity.

This book is amazing. Grey’s tale is emotional, human, honest, and goes straight to the heart. She leaves no stone unturned, revealing her flaws, her mistakes, and the various heartaches that came her way. Within the narrative, there were two stories that stood out. The first was her father publicly coming out almost a decade ago after spending a lifetime in the closet. The second is her wish to speak to co-star Patrick Swayze one last time. It is a heartfelt wish that I think that anyone who has lost a loved one will understand.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on a “best of” list come the end of the year. It is one of my favorite books of 2022.

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Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore) Book Review

Every decade has its iconic films. They speak to who we are in the moment, where we have been, and where we might go in the future.

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore), by Hadley Freeman, was published in 2016. Freeman explores the tropes, narratives, and character arcs that dominated the era and its iconic movies. Speaking of such films as Pretty in Pink, Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Coming to America, The Breakfast Club, etc, the reader is given the perspective as both a fan and a critic.

The thing I did not realize (or forgot) is that some of these movies are full of racism, sexism, and homophobia. It’s not surprising, given some of the cultural attitudes back in the day. I also did not recognize until I read the book that Hollywood was more progressive in the 80s (well to a certain point) than it claims to be now. There was more latitude (depending on the specific IP) given to women and minorities to grow beyond the stereotypes and expected storyline.

Writing with love, respect, and an equally critical eye, Freeman provides the reader with both a modern lens and how audiences responded to the films when they were initially released.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore) is available wherever books are sold.

Throwback Thursday: The Facts of Life Reunion (2001)

When we face a dilemma, the first people we often turn to are our friends.

The Facts of Life Reunion (2001) aired 13 years after the original series ended. Natalie (Mindy Cohn) has spent the last decade living and working abroad as a reporter. After working and living abroad as a reporter, she comes back to the States with a dilemma. Blair (Lisa Whelchel) is a wealthy businesswoman who believes that her husband is cheating on her. Tootie (who now goes by her given name, Dorothy) (Kim Fields) is turning to a career as a talk show host after failing to make it as an actress. Jo (Nancy McKeon) is balancing her job as a cop and her home life as a wife and mother.

Reuniting with her friends (sans Jo, represented by her husband and daughter) and Mrs. Garrett (the late Charlotte Rae), Natalie has to make a decision. She has received two marriage proposals and has not made a decision about which one to say yes to.

What I like about this TV movie is that it is a nice piece of nostalgia. There is enough of a narrative to keep the story moving along while building on what made the television series special. Each individual storyline feels appropriate, giving the viewers a nice follow-up to where we left them in 1988.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye Review

Those of us above a certain age remember the late Tammy Faye Bakker for her boundless enthusiasm, her makeup that some might call excessive and how she was portrayed in the press. When she and first husband, Jim Bakker made the news in the 1980’s for the financial scandal surrounding their television ministry, there was no escaping the headlines.

The new movie, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, takes the audience behind the flash and the noise to reveal the real woman. Stepping into the shoes of Tammy Faye and Jim are Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield. The film follows Bakker from her early years, where she is an outcast due to her parents divorce to the high of being the face of televangelism for a generation, and finally when she became a late night punchline that revolved around the fiscal mismanagement of the Bakker’s Christian ministry empire.

First of all, kudos to the makeup and hair department. They were able to recreate Tammy Faye’s iconic look without making it look like Chastain was wearing a Halloween mask. What I liked about the film is that the woman on the screen is much more than was in the news back in the day. She has a big heart, genuinely believes in her mission (and her husband), and unlike others in her world, is willing to embrace members of LGBTQ community.

A nice counterpoint to Tammy Faye is her mother, Rachel, played by Cherry Jones. Rachel is down to earth and practical. She does not exactly want to burst her daughter’s bubble, but wants to bring Tammy Faye back to reality. What I did not realize is that in her own way, Bakker was a feminist. She was not the typical wife of religious leader who quietly stays in her lane. Tammy Faye was an equal partner in sharing their message with viewers and fans. My only complaint is that towards the end of the film, a few minutes could have been cut from the final presentation.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is presently in theaters.

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