Thursday 17 November 2022

On the Road: Family time

Hello from sunny Southern California. I'm in Orange County for a couple of weeks visiting my parents, family and friends. And also watching movies, because I can't help myself. Since its movie awards season, there are a lot of screenings on, so I'll be occasionally driving up into Hollywood to see things there. And there are also a few movies in theatres now that haven't opened in the UK yet, such as the first one here, which I saw with my parents yesterday. The other two were films I caught up with on the plane...

Armageddon Time
dir-scr James Gray; with Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong 22/US ***.
Filmmaker James Gray makes by far his most personal project yet, tapping into his own childhood for a coming-of-age drama set in 1980 Queens with a plot that plays largely in the subtext. Even as it takes on enormous political and social issues, film has a lovely delicacy, although this subtlety can be challenging for viewers who like to have a clear idea of what the story is trying to say. That said, it bristles with provocative themes, bracingly complex characters and nuanced performances from a strong cast ably anchored by the young teen Banks Repeta.

Clerks III
dir-scr Kevin Smith; with Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson22/US ***.
Kevin Smith revisits his now iconic characters once again for another flurry of nutty antics and snappy movie references. All of the main cast is back, with added cameos, for a meta-comedy that takes a remarkably moving look at middle-aged men grappling with their mortality. Things kick off when Randal (Anderson) has a heart attack and decides it’s finally time to make a movie of his own, enlisting Dante (O'Halloran) and the gang to play themselves. What follows is witty and messy, as expected, with Smith’s charming-scruffy filmmaking quietly revealing a rather sophisticated exploration of ambition, regret and grief. There are plenty of goofy sequences along the way, but the most memorable moments involve nostalgia and big emotions.

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
dir Dean Fleischer-Camp; voices Jenny Slate, Isabella Rossellini 21/US ****
Disarmingly surreal, this surreal animated romp is so relentlessly charming that its big emotional climax sneaks up on us. It’s the story of a tiny shell named Marcel (Slate) who finds himself alone in a big house with his grandmother Connie (Rossellini) after the owner (Thomas Mann) leaves, inadvertently taking the rest of Marcel's eclectic family with him. Then filmmaker Dean rents the house on Airbnb. He befriends Marcel and starts shooting documentary footage, which goes viral online and attracts the attention of a 60 Minutes producer. Where this goes is wonderfully bonkers, and along the way the amusing details and Marcel’s hilariously sarcastic humour completely win us over, leading to some unexpected moving moments. Watching this micro-gem of a film is pure joy.

In addition to catching up with family and friends (the main purpose of this trip!), while in Southern California I'll also be attending a few awards-consideration screenings, and also seeing some things in cinemas. Over the coming week, I'm looking forward to Sarah Polley's Women Talking, Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans, Disney's animated Strange World and Damien Chazelle's Babylon. Others are sure to pop up...

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