Synopsis: When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Thoughts: I’ve been following the reports out of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and Hereditary is a title I’ve seen pop up on more than few must see lists. Now, it’s well-known that not every title that makes it big at Sundance goes on to perform like gangbusters at the global box office (hello, The Birth of a Nation) but I’ve a happily nagging suspicion this horror film from first time director Ari Aster has the goods to go all the way. I’d see Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) in almost anything but am especially excited to see her take on this role; while the actress has been a value-add to anything she lends herself out to, it’s about time she gets another solid hit under her belt. There’s enough creepy goings-on in this trailer to entice but not spoil…and that always intrigues me to see more. It’s not coming out until June but distributor A24 has proven it has excellent timing so I’m confident Hereditary has fallen into worthy hands.
Synopsis: As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.
Release Date: July 6, 2018
Thoughts: By the time Ant-Man was released in 2015, I was in major superhero movie fatigue so I’d be forgiven for not going ga-ga over Paul Rudd’s jokey take on the bite-sized Avenger. While it had some nice Honey, I Shrunk the Kids style fun, Ant-Man just felt like another in a long line of average popcorn flicks featuring lesser characters that were positioned to continue the Marvel Universe while the more popular players took a breather. After doing battle in Captain America: Civil War and just two short months after making a return appearance in May’s Avengers: Infinity War, Rudd (Wanderlust) returns to headline this follow-up that, I must admit, looks like zany entertainment. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Michelle Pfeiffer (Murder on the Orient Express) in this first trailer but chances are Marvel is saving her for a reveal closer to the release date.
Synopsis: A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.
Stars: Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Graham, Leanne Best
Director: Paul McGuigan
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Though not for lack of trying, it’s getting harder and harder for Annette Bening to get that Oscar she’s been deserving for quite some time now. Turning in stellar performances (and, yes, the occasional clunky one) for nearly thirty years now, Bening (Girl Most Likely) picks the right projects that somehow continue to wind up being lost in the shuffle of higher profile releases. Such is the case with her lovely turn as Oscar winner (oh the irony…) Gloria Graeme in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, her latest close but no Oscar nom performance.
By the time Peter Turner (Jamie Bell, Man on a Ledge) meets Gloria Graeme in a boarding house in the late ‘70s, her days of headlining the silver screen are long behind her. Playing classic roles in regional theaters, she’s heralded for her craft but just as easily forgotten when the show closes. Inviting Turner into her room for an impromptu disco dance, the two connect in that special way that goes beyond getting down with the boogie woogie. Their first date is to (where else?) the movies to see Alien, a movie which Turner squirms through and Graeme gets a royal kick out of. They couldn’t be more different but the bond that forms between them is convincing in an oddball fashion, like a less bleak version of Harold and Maude.
Told in flashbacks by screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh who adapted Turner’s memoir, the film has an interesting structure that finds scenes from the past blending with the present. Director Paul McGuigan (Victor Frankenstein) never tries to hide that we’re watching a movie and that didn’t bother me as much because the cinematography from Urszula Pontikosis so heightened and gossamer. Pontikosis frames each shot like an old time postcard, even Turner’s humble family home is filmed with care. Visuals don’t get more inviting than the do when arriving in Los Angeles for a reunion with Graeme, Turner stares out from her secluded home on wheels to the ocean and a rich amber skyline that’s clearly shot in a studio.
While the movie is centrally focused on Graeme and Turner’s romance, Greenhalgh and McGuigan make sure to open the picture up to include supporting characters. Julie Walters (Paddington) is solid as a rock as Turner’s wise mother, understanding enough to see the troubles in store for the relationship but loving enough to care deeply for her son and his lover. There’s also a dandy of a scene with Vanessa Redgrave (Julia) as Graeme’s mother, another faded actress, and her sister (Frances Barber) in which they give some chilling advice to Turner.
Though he’s come a long way since his breakout role in Billy Elliot (also starring Walters), Bell moves into true leading man territory here. Complimenting Bening in all the right ways while finding moments to shine on his own, Bell is well-cast and it’s not hard to see why Graeme’s vulnerable soul would find a kindred spirit in Turner’s sensitive young man. The film belongs to Bening, though, and darn it if she isn’t dang good as a faded starlet coming to grips with accepting her own mortality. She lilts her voice and sways her hips in true Graeme fashion and eventually totally disappears into the role. McGuigan even makes the bold decision to feature film clips of the actual Graeme and while Bening doesn’t really resemble her, seeing the real person shows you how well studied Bening was in getting her mannerisms down.
While it’s a shame this one is flying so far under the radar it’s practically walking into cinemas, this will be a fun one for people to discover down the road…hopefully when Bening has won her Oscar for a performance equally as well constructed.
Well, here we are again…it’s the day before the Oscar nominations are announced and I’m going out on a limb with my picks for who will get nominations early Tuesday morning. It’s been a good year for movies though I’m a bit puzzled how some films and performances have gone the distance while others haven’t even been a part of the conversation. Always a little bitter with the sweet, right?
Thanks again to Shane over at Film Actually for organizing a little contest between online critics!
Here are my picks for the 2018 Oscar Nominations…keep in mind these aren’t necessarily who I WANT to be nominated. I’ll talk more about that tomorrow after the nominations are announced.
BEST PICTURE Lady Bird
Call Me By Your Name
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Florida Project
BEST DIRECTOR Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name
BEST ACTOR Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
BEST ACTRESS Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Saorise Ronan, Lady Bird
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Meryl Streep, The Post
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Call Me By Your Name
The Disaster Artist
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Lady Bird
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape of Water
The Big Sick
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM The Square
In the Fade
A Fantastic Woman
BEST EDITING The Shape of Water
Blade Runner 2049
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY Blade Runner 2049
The Shape of Water
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN Blade Runner 2049
The Shape of Water
Beauty and the Beast
BEST SOUND MIXING Dunkirk
Blade Runner 2049
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Shape of Water
BEST SOUND EDITING Dunkirk
Blade Runner 2049
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Shape of Water
BEST COSTUME DESIGN Phantom Thread
Beauty and the Beast
The Shape of Water
The Greatest Showman
Murder on the Orient Express
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE Last Men in Aleppo
City of Ghosts
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE Coco
The LEGO Batman Movie
Mary and the Witch’s Flower
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS War for the Planet of the Apes
Blade Runner 2049
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Shape of Water
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING Wonder
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
BEST ORIGINAL SONG Remember Me, Coco
This is Me, The Greatest Showman
Mighty River, Mudbound
The Mystery of Love, Call Me By Your Name
Stand Up for Something, Marshall
Synopsis: Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Running Length: 130 minutes
TMMM Score: (9.5/10)
Review: I have to say, for a few years there I was worried that Paul Thomas Anderson and I were going to have to part ways. The director of the stellar Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood had released the frustrating puzzlement that was The Master and then capped it all off with the dreadfully gauche Inherent Vice. Our relationship was on the rocks, no question. When it was announced that PTA was reuniting again with Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis for an untitled tale set in the world of 1950’s fashion, I gotta say I was pretty intrigued.
Then, the worry set in. Oh no, another too serious contemplation on life that cine-snobs would drool over like the last slice of chocolate cake and the rest of us would scratch our heads at. PTA had taken filmgoers to some great places over his career but I didn’t get much out of the last two rides. Then the stakes were raised even higher when Day-Lewis (Lincoln) indicated Phantom Thread would be his last onscreen performance and he would retire from acting. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a movie. Not only does it have to be a nice bell for Day-Lewis to ring on his way out the door but it has to also hold up to the scrutiny of critics left wanting from PTA’s last efforts.
Almost immediately, my initial fears faded as Phantom Thread unspooled.
The House of Woodcock is a renowned couture house in London’s posh fashion district. With his intricate designs and supernatural attention to detail, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) has created a life and thriving business for himself and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, Maleficent) who runs the business side of things. A ‘confirmed bachelor’, Reynolds is a complicated man that has remained unchallenged for most of his adult life. Occasionally haunted by the ghost of his adored mother (literally and figuratively), he sees lasting female companionship as less important than finding inspiration in the fleeting beauty of the women that enter his place of business.
Still, there are women in his life and as the film opens his latest live-in lover/muse has come to the end of her tenure and is silently dispatched by Cyril while Reynolds enjoys a weekend getaway. It’s in the restaurant of a seaside village that he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a ruddy-faced lass that captivates him the moment she shows up to take his order. Acting on impulse, he invites her to dinner and, eventually, into his life. Alma’s arrival into The House of Woodcock creates a ripple effect that threatens to upset the balance of power between brother and sister as well as artist and muse.
In typical PTA fashion, an unspoken darkness begins to envelop the picture as it goes along and we’re never quite sure where these characters are going to end up. Following Alma as she acclimates to her new role as a kept woman who pushes the boundaries of her power, we’re treated to an inside view of the inner-workings of a high fashion house and their celebrity clientele. Royalty get the red carpet treatment from the House of Woodcock and, in an amusing episode, an aging boozy bride to be (Harriet Sansom Harris) pays a price for her very public drunken misuse of her one of a kind hand-made garment.
There is something so calming about the way PTA and Day-Lewis have constructed this multi-leveled central character. Reynolds is part mystery and part petulant child, always determined to get his way no matter who he has to bulldoze over. That attitude makes most people roll over for his every whim but not Cyril who, in one thrilling scene, takes her brother to task between sips of her morning tea. Day-Lewis and Manville work together like gangbusters, the closeness between siblings and their troubling co-dependency is evident, made even more complicated when other people enter the equation.
Krieps is a real find, going toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis (and, to a lesser extent, Manville) and keeping in step with her famously method screen partner. The final act of Phantom Thread calls on Krieps to scale a seemingly insurmountable mountain of a character flaw but climb it she does. Through audiences may be put off by some of her actions and attitude as she struggles to keep Reynolds close, there’s an oddball charm to her methods. The dynamic between Alma and Cyril could have been explored just a smidge bit more, if only to have a few more scenes to showcase the terrific talents of Krieps and Manville.
PTA’s script is often terrifically witty when it’s not outright funny. This feels like his most accessible movie in ages and while I wouldn’t call it ‘audience pleasing’ it’s surely not the alienating watch some of his films have been over the last few years. Acting as his own cinematographer, the director captures the vibrancy of the era excellently displayed in Mark Tildesley’s (Trance) production design and Mark Bridges (Silver Linings Playbook) stunning period costumes. Special mention must also be made to Johnny Greenwood’s gorgeous score. Setting the mood of the film just as effectively as the writing and performances, it isn’t getting the attention it deserves considering the contribution it’s making.
Time will tell if Phantom Thread is truly the last time we’ll see Daniel Day-Lewis on the big screen. While I hope he’ll be enticed back if the part and process is right, if this is his swan song, it’s an amazing piece of farewell music to a career with few flaws. With its premium performances, well-constructed screenplay, patient direction, and sublime technical elements, Phantom Thread is one of the finest films of the year.
Synopsis: Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw
Director: Paul King
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Two short years ago Paddington, Michael Bond’s famous bear in the blue coat and red hat, finally got his first big screen adventure and it was a lovely bit of whimsy that snuck up on me in the best way possible. With its message of kindness filtered through quirky characters and a colorful kaleidoscope of production design, Paddington strangely wasn’t the huge sleeper hit in the US it should have been. Still, enough critics took note of its quality, coupling that with its snazzy UK box office a sequel was greenlit, and boy, are we lucky to have another one of these charming films!
The lovable bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw, Skyfall) has settled into life with the Brown family at their comfortable home in London. Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville, Breathe) is going through a mid-life crisis, dying his hair and exploring new yoga poses while Mrs. Brown’s (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water) attention is focused on swimming to France. Their children, Judy and Jonathan, are both preoccupied with their own teenage interests while their housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters, Brave) keeps the house running and everyone fed.
A popular fixture on their winding street that has a way of bringing sunshine to all he encounters (save for stodgy Mr. Curry of the neighborhood patrol), Paddington is living his best life, even if he occasionally gets into a spot of trouble. In this outing, Paddington’s Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton, Maleficent) is still back in darkest Peru and he wants to get something special for her in celebration of her 100th birthday. Though at one time she planned to visit London with her late husband, they never made the trip but her adopted nephew finds the perfect gift in an expensive hand-made pop-up book of the sights of city in the curiosity shop owned by Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent, The Legend of Tarzan).
While visiting the opening night of a dazzling ‘steam circus’ with the Browns, Paddington mentions the book to Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, Cloud Atlas), a washed up actor that happens to be the descendant of a magician who was desperate to acquire the same pop-up tome. Evidently, contained on its pages are clues to finding a wealth of jewels hidden away by the proprietor of the circus. When the book is stolen and Paddington is jailed for the crime, he has to find a way to clear his name before Phoenix can acquire the bounty.
Returning director Paul King doesn’t yield to the episodic nature of Bond’s original creations. This is a bear and family that have adventures and Paddington 2 hits the ground running, barely leaving any time to catch your breath. Bounding joyously through scenes that find Paddington bungling a job at a barber shop to his revolutionizing the lives of his fellow inmates by educating the gruff cook (Brendan Gleeson, In the Heart of the Sea) on the tastiness of orange marmalade, the movie will leave you smiling. It’s so focused on celebrating the innate goodness in people and kindly revealing how unfortunate it is to be someone who can’t find the fun in life, I can’t pick out anything that felt like a misstep. It’s also a legitimately funny and ultimately moving (bring a tissue or two) bit of family entertainment, something of a rarity these days.
While both films earn a strong recommendation, I’d give the edge to this sequel, if only for the fact that the first one dealt with a bit more intense villain (Nicole Kidman’s sinewy meanie wanted to stuff Paddington!) and Grant’s character is just a sad song and dance man that wants money to finance a West End revue. On that note, make sure to stay through the credits for an incredibly pleasing musical production number featuring Grant tap-dancing to Stephen Sondheim. Nominated for three BAFTA awards (take that, The Post!) the good news is that there’s already a Paddington 3 in the works, let’s hope nothing gets in the way of its release within the next two years. While we’re at it, this would make a great series for Netflix…just a thought.
Synopsis: A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.
Stars: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Banks, Andy Nyman, Florence Pugh
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Running Length: 104 minutes
TMMM Score: (4.5/10)
Review: Bless Liam Neeson, that Irish Energizer Bunny. For the last decade or so he’s perfected starring as the everyman that takes a licking but keeps on ticking. In movies like Taken and its two sequels, Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night, Neeson has been a dependable action hero that manages to make tired premises seem like new ideas, even if they just magically vanish from your memory the moment the lights come up in the theater. Teaming up for the fourth time with director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows), Neeson and his frequent collaborator aren’t navigating to any new destinations in The Commuter but instead are focused solely on the ride.
Michael MacCauley (Neeson, The Grey) is having a bad day. He’s just been let go from his job in life insurance and isn’t sure how he’s going tell his wife (Elizabeth McGovern, Ordinary People, in a glorified cameo) that their already hand-to-mouth life is going to get that much more difficult. A former cop that had Patrick Wilson (Insidious) as a partner and Sam Neil (Jurassic Park III) as his boss, MacCauley is pondering his next move when a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring) approaches him on his commute home from NYC to the outer suburbs. She poses an interesting proposition to him, identify the one person on the train that “doesn’t belong” and he will be rewarded with a $100K payday. Of course, this being a thriller desperate to be called Hitchcock-ian, there’s a deadly twist to taking the money. As soon as MacCauley pockets ¼ of the cash he’s thrust into making good on his promise to locate a material witness or suffer increasingly dangerous consequences.
So begins a game of Neeson trekking back and forth through the train, eliminating suspects with each stop before gathering the remaining passengers in one car in an Agatha Christie-esque wrap-up. While you may feel the movie is constructing a bit of skilled puzzle, I’d advise you to trust your instincts for the identity of the witness nicknamed Prynne isn’t that hard to decipher. The movie throws in enough red herrings to nearly make a trip to the dining car a necessity but anyone familiar with these types of films will catch the subtle clues that point to the solution rather quickly.
Like the previous Neeson/Collet-Serra vehice, Non-Stop, the set-up rather amiably carries the film for the first 50 minutes or so but the more the movie shifts from its early mystery intrigue to more action based sequences the less engaging it becomes. While Neeson looks game but gaunt, the most interesting character is Farmigia and (slight spoiler) she’s not on screen for the majority of the film. Shoddy CGI effects and some pretty lousy acting by a bunch of Brits desperately trying to disguise their accents aids in the film running of a steam long before a protracted finale and lame epilogue completely derails it.
No doubt about it, this is slick entertainment but largely a hollow experience. Typical for a January release after the big holiday push of new releases, The Commuter offers no real challenges but is a decent bit of counter-programming to the Oscar-bait entries filling most theaters right now.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver *James Franco, The Disaster Artist Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Helen Mirren, The Leisure Seeker
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya *Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
Best Foreign Film A Fantastic Woman
First They Killed My Father
In the Fade
Loveless *The Square
Animated Feature Film The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner *Coco
Best TV Series, Drama The Crown
Game of Thrones
This Is Us *The Handmaid’s Tale
Best Comedy Series Black-Ish *The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Master of None
Will & Grace
Best TV Miniseries or Movie *Big Little Lies
Feud: Bette and Joan
Top of the Lake: China Girl
Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series, Drama *Sterling K. Brown, This is Us
Freddie Highmore, The Good Doctor
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Best Performance by an Actress in TV Series, Drama Caitriona Balfe, Outlander
Claire Foy, The Crown
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Deuce
Katherine Langford, 13 Reasons Why *Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Best Performance by an Actor in TV Series, Comedy
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Kevin Bacon, I Love Dick
William H. Macy, Shameless *Eric McCormack, Will and Grace
Best Performance by an Actress in TV Series, Comedy
Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Alison Brie, G.L.O.W. *Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Issa Rae, Insecure
Frankie Shaw, SMILF
Best Performance by a Supporting Actor in TV
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Alfred Molina, Feud: Bette and Joan
Christian Slater, Mr. Robot *Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies
David Thewlis, Fargo
Best Performance by Supporting Actress in TV *Laura Dern, Big Little Lies
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale
Chrissy Metz, This is Us
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Wizard of Lies
Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies
Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Miniseries or Movie *Robert De Niro, The Wizard of Lies
Jude Law, The Young Pope
Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks: The Return
Ewan McGregor, Fargo
Geoffrey Rush, Genius
Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Miniseries or Movie Jessica Biel, The Sinner *Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette and Joan
Susan Sarandon, Feud: Bette and Joan
Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies
Synopsis: In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father’s research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.
Review: At first glance, it may appear that Call Me by Your Name is a throwback to a simpler and more carefree time. Sure, the Italian countryside on display in this romantic drama is filmed postcard ready and the means by which the sun waxes and wanes to cast great light on everyone it touches may have you ready to dial your travel agent the moment the credits roll. People lounge around pools next to their villas, ride bikes into town to grab a drink, and meals are served al fresco with ingredients sourced from local farms. It’s a beautiful life, to be sure, but there’s an unseen struggle that’s captured here and it makes for one of the most tantalizing movies of 2017.
It’s the summer of 1983 and the Perlman’s have opened up their home to a new graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer, Mirror, Mirror). Arriving to assist Mr. Perlman, an archaeology professor, Oliver’s Greek god physique and allure has a way of opening more than just doors for him. That doesn’t seem to matter much to Elio (Timothée Chalamet, Lady Bird) the Perlman’s 17 year old son that has to yield his bedroom to Oliver for the next six weeks and isn’t an initial fan of the older man. (Random thought: Interesting that Elio’s new room seems just as spacious as his previous one…why couldn’t Oliver just take that one? Well…anyway).
This is a family of book-smart, talented individuals that have a funny way of not talking about what they’re really feeling. It’s not a stifling home, though, and Elio’s parents seem understanding and thoughtful. Feigning disinterest in Oliver but secretly harboring a growing curiosity he can’t explain away, Elio goes about his summer dating a local girl, finding ways to point out how Oliver is perhaps not the perfect specimen people seem to think he is, and giving command performances that show off his innate musical abilities. Instead of recognizing that he is attracted to Oliver, Elio does what we’ve all done when we like someone but are too afraid to let them know, he acts like a jerk.
Adapted from André Aciman’s novel by Oscar nominee James Ivory, the movie takes its sweet time to get to Oliver and Elio’s eventual union. It makes for a bit of a tease for the viewer and Chalamet and Hammer have such unique chemistry that by the time Elio steals a furtive kiss on a mid-day excursion you almost feel like standing up and applauding his bold move. The range of emotions captured after that first toe dip in gay waters is handled so delicately by director Luca Guadagino (A Bigger Splash) and his actors. They don’t just hop into the sack together, but both take time to think about what this coupling means for themselves and each other.
As the summer days dwindle and the fall approaches, Elio and Oliver’s romance has its ups and downs as both push back against their needs as a way to safeguard their heart. For the more experienced Oliver, he sees a responsibility to his younger lover to treat him with respect for his new feelings while Elio just wants to drink in as much time with Oliver as he can before he returns to the states. As the departure day arrives, our stomachs start to twist into knots at the anticipated goodbye that’s sure to wreck us almost as much as it does Elio.
Gay or straight or other, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in Call Me by Your Name. It’s honest approach to first love and the devastation of it slipping away is summarized perfectly in a final speech from Elio’s dad (Michael Stuhlbarg, The Shape of Water). Delivered with a painful honesty that shows his ultimate respect and compassion for his son, it is maybe the most transcendent scene I saw in theaters this year. Everything seemed to fall away (the theater, the audience members, the rest of the screen) and all I saw was his face and heard his voice. A suberb moment in a magnificent film.
Review: First impressions are everything and the underwater opening shot of The Shape of Water got in good with me. Over the credits, director Guillermo del Toro navigates us through hallways submerged in water as if hazily coming out of a dream before revealing that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s a beautifully artsy way to introduce his adult fairy tale and it sets a tone that’s well-maintained throughout. This is an artisan that knows his way around strong visuals but sometimes struggles with a narrative to match those impressive sights. Over-indulging with Pacific Rim but bouncing back nicely with the criminally underrated Crimson Peak, del Toro reaches new heights (or depths?) with The Shape of Water.
Living above a movie theater and working nights as a janitor at a government laboratory in 1960s Baltimore, Elisa (Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine) has been mute since an injury as an infant left her unable to speak. It’s a quiet life ruled by routine, whether it be her standard breakfast or her “personal” time she makes sure to take every day. Her job is mundane but she has a friendly co-worker in Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station) and Giles, a kindly closeted neighbor to keep her company.
The lives of all three are altered significantly by the arrival of a secret experiment into the research facility. A living, breathing sea-monster has been captured in South America and has been brought to the test center to be studied, observed, dissected. Under the watchful eye of the evil Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon, Midnight Special) and the scholarly interest of Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, Trumbo), the creature is kept chained in a tank and routinely tortured by his captor.
While cleaning the laboratory one night, Elisa connects with the creature and sees kindness in him where others see fear. Over the next days they find a common language that leads to deeper understanding and maybe…love. Set during the height of the Cold War with the threat of Russian spies everywhere, Strickland takes no chances in protecting his find at all costs, so when Elisa hatches an escape plan for the creature and brings Zelda and Giles (Richard Jenkins, White House Down) along as her co-conspirators, they face an obsessive hunter out for blood.
As is typical of a del Toro picture, the period details are precise down to the backsplash tiles in Elisa’s apartment. An ardent fan of monster movies from Universal Studios, del Toro has intelligently put together this picture as a loving homage to his youth while relaying a very present message of acceptance at the same time. The script, co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (Hope Springs), is filled with main characters that would be considered outsiders, or “other”, yet their position in the plot isn’t there to exploit what makes them different. There’s even a sweet scene where fantasy and reality collide when Elisa imagines herself in a big budget Hollywood musical, featuring the creature as her dance partner. It’s these bits of whimsy that parallel nicely with the darker turns the film takes in its final half hour.
Hawkins has next to no dialogue but conveys so much in her expressive face. It’s difficult stuff to invite an audience so far inward but Hawkins has the goods to captivate us throughout. While Spencer has played (and will continue to play) this type of whip-smart tough cookie roles before, there’s an added layer of angst in her personal life that ups the ante for her. Jenkins continues to be a value add to any project he’s involved with, his gay illustrator longs for any kind of connection and his personal and professional rejections are heartbreaking to watch. If all goes to plan, Stuhlbarg will be in three movies nominated for Best Picture this year (Call Me by Your Name and The Post being the others) and as a man harboring dangerous secrets he’s resplendent as always. No one plays a nasty villain quite like Michael Shannon and while I’d long for a chance to see him play a Giles-like role someday, he’s a nice nemesis for Hawkins and company.
There’s going to be those that find the romantic relationship that develops between Elisa and the creature (marvelously played by Doug Jones, Hocus Pocus) to be troubling. On the way out of the screening I heard one audience member remark they weren’t aware the movie was about bestiality and honestly, to reduce the movie to that is missing the mark entirely, especially when you take into account the open-for-further discussion ending. I found the relationships between all of the characters incredibly moving and authentic, especially the dandy scene with Elisa pleading with Giles to help her save the creature. If they know what’s happening is wrong and do nothing to help him, what makes them any better that Strickland and others who want to destroy something that is different? It’s a lesson our country needs to hear right now and del Toro knows it.