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Peek at the Patricia: Director uses childhood for inspiration

Armageddon Time stars Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Strong

Armageddon Time is shaped around the theme of interracial friendship. It tells the story of Paul’s (who is white) discovery of the iniquities of race and class, but doesn’t pretend that this painful knowledge might redeem him, much less rescue Johnny (who is black).

Writer/director James Gray is the latest filmmaker to root around his childhood for inspiration, following Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma) and Paolo Sorrentino (The Hand of God).

Set in 1980, and eerily resonating in the present day, the film is powered by knockout performances by young stars Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb, with acting heavyweights Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Strong in the supporting roles. The ensemble cast is excellent, although if you had to pick a standout, it’d be Hopkins as the kindly-but-principled grandfather.

The focus of the film is Paul’s immediate environment, but it doesn’t ignore the world of the time. Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign plays out in the background. The title references a comment made by Reagan on cable TV, where he pronounced: “We might be the generation that sees Armageddon,” ­and a nod to the Clash song of the same name.

Paul and Johnny’s story plays out slowly, but the chain of events are wholly convincing and important.

Gray’s semi-autobiographical drama about a Jewish family in 1980s New York may be his best work in a 30-year career.

Following the coming-of-age theme, Guitar Lessons is a film about a 15-year-old Métis boy who inherits an old guitar from the father he never knew and is determined to learn how to play.

He reaches out to a cantankerous oilman (Canadian musician Corb Lund) and the two bond over guitar lessons. It also accurately depicts and juxtaposes the harsh reality of poverty in some rural communities with the joy and humour that can still be found within the roughness of life.

Lund and Kaden Noskiye are truthful in their portrayal of two people learning from each other. With the beautiful scenery of the northern regions of Alberta’s Peace Country, it shows how simple gestures such as guitar lessons can really impact a young kid’s life and in return help our well-being as adults.

It’s an uplifting film that tells a tale of redemption, connection and of second chances in life and love.

Armageddon Time, rated PG, plays at the Patricia Theatre from November 25 to 28 (four nights) at 7 pm. Running time is one hour and 55 minutes.

Guitar Lessons, rated PG, plays at the Patricia Theatre November 29 to December 1 (three nights) at 7 pm, and at 1:30 pm on December 1. Running time is one hour and 41 minutes.

Gary Shilling is executive director of qathet Film Society (formerly Powell River Film Society).