Movie Review ~ Frankie


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Three generations grappling with a life-changing experience during one day of a vacation in Sintra, Portugal, a historic town known for its dense gardens and fairy-tale villas and palaces.

Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear, Ariyon Bakare, Vinette Robinson, Pascal Greggory, Jérémie Renier

Director: Ira Sachs

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Maybe it’s an only child thing.  Movies that revolve around family conflict tend to just zoom on by me with little effect, rarely landing with any kind of weight.  I’ve discussed this with those that come from large families with siblings and been told that it’s because as an only child I haven’t had that experience dealing with the kind of dynamics that exist when there are other personalities to take into account.  In my family, it was just the three of us so there was little room for gambit when you wanted something or were frustrated – everything was always out in the open.  So it’s tough for me to watch “family drama” films whether they’re good (August: Osage County) or bad (This is Where I Leave You) and find a thread to grab onto. That could be why I found it almost impossible to engage with Frankie, even though I’m a fan of the director and the majority of the cast.

At this point, I’m interested in anything Isabelle Huppert (Greta) shows up in, with the actress finding her ways to intriguing roles if not fully satisfying films.  Her Oscar-nomination for Elle was a deserved turning point in recognition of a long career of bold choices and she’s continuing to show up in curious places.  Then there’s Marisa Tomei (Love the Coopers), Brendan Gleeson (Paddington 2), and Greg Kinnear (I Don’t Know How She Does It), three more actors who have amassed an impressive list of credits on IMDb with both mainstream films and indie flicks.  With writer/director Ira Sachs guiding them all, this seemed like a pleasant gathering of talents; however like the titular character it’s a movie that keeps you at arm’s length and rarely allows you to see underneath its hard shell.

Set over the course of one day, Frankie centers around the family and close friends of celebrated actress Françoise “Frankie” Crémont (Huppert) who are gathered in a picturesque town in Portugal.  Even though they are in paradise, emotional baggage is being unpacked as the movie opens.  Frankie’s daughter (Vinette Robinson) is grappling with a marriage that may have run its course and her son (Jérémie Renier) has once again fallen in love with the wrong woman and is despondent.  Her ex-husband (Pascal Greggory) has stayed in the picture, though he hasn’t quite given up wanting to care for his former spouse.  That extra attention doesn’t seem to bother her current husband (Gleeson) because nothing seems to truly turn him askew.  Things get more complicated with the arrival of Frankie’s former make-up artist Ilene (Tomei) who has invited her friend Gary (Kinnear) along which throws a wrench (delicately) into a grand scheme Frankie has been working on.

Frankie is really just a series of conversations between characters, rarely more than two people at a time.  While this allows for some freely interesting insight at first (and blessedly Huppert is allowed to speak in French to those that communicate likewise), by the time the movie is half over you find yourself longing for something of import to happen or be revealed out of these exchanges.  Many of these dialogues are inward musings spoken aloud that another person just happens to be there for, they rarely are as revealing or revelatory as they may have been intended to be and, honestly, it often comes across as shallow whining from the privileged upper class.  That would be fine, if only there was a balance to show the movie understood it was commenting on that position of opportunity.  It becomes obvious early on why Frankie has gathered these people together so there’s not some big awful secret waiting to be revealed, but the slow turning of the wheels feels overly laborious for the usually smooth sailing writing of Sachs and his co-writer Mauricio Zacharias.

As a writer and director, Sachs has shown in his previous work to have a finely tuned ear for how real people speak and, flawed though they may be, has presented them with some wholeness to them.  When I interviewed him in 2014 for the release of his wonderful movie Love is Strange, he spoke of wanting to present characters with a certain humility about them that reflects their class and age and I can see some of that intention present in the outlines of the characters in Frankie.  What I didn’t find was anything more than those outlines underneath it all.  It’s a curious circumstance, to be in this beautiful setting with such an appealing cast but not be able to generate any kind of emotional resonance from anything you’re hearing.  It doesn’t help the actors don’t seem to know quite how to sell it either, with Huppert appearing distant and not in the way I think Sachs intends her to be.  Only Tomei feels like she’s at peace and she brings a noted warmth to all of her scenes.  It’s a mixed bag from everyone else, especially out of sync with everything else are scenes with Frankie’s granddaughter and a local boy that catches her eye.

There’s a shot in Frankie where all the characters trek to look out on the edge of a cliff into the vast openeness of the sea.  With so much to admire, so much to think about, and so much to take in, they barely stay for a moment before turning back and walking back from where they came and where they are comfortable.  That’s a lot like Frankie the film.  A lot of effort is spent getting to a place that should be a thing of beauty, only to turn around and head back without taking time to think about what we’re looking at.

Movie Review ~ Where’s My Roy Cohn?


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Roy Cohn personified the dark arts of American politics, turning empty vessels into dangerous demagogues – from Joseph McCarthy to his final project, Donald J. Trump.

Stars: Ken Auletta, Roy M. Cohn, Joseph McCarthy, Roger Stone, Liz Smith

Director: Matt Tyrnauer

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  After Donald Trump gained enough Electoral College votes to claim victory on election night back in 2016, most of America was left shell-shocked and wondering how this could have happened.  Keep in mind he lost the popular vote by millions.  Entering the final weeks of the campaign with a growing list of concerns over his qualifications to lead the nation, it was almost safely assumed he stood no real shot at winning.  So how did it happen?  Did we all just have too much faith in our democratic system?  Or did we not see that this rise to power was a long time in the making and a fox had been placed in the henhouse right under our noses even before the eggs had hatched?

The answer to the ascent of Trump can be traced back to one man, Roy M. Cohn, and he’s the subject of a new documentary making its way to theaters this weekend after first bowing at January’s Sundance Film Festival.  The first of two documentaries released in 2019 on the flamboyant lawyer who died of AIDS related complications in 1986 at the age of 59, director Matt Tyrnauer’s approach is a fairly straight-forward telling of Cohn’s life through friends and colleagues and archival interviews with the man himself.  Notoriously unlikable and almost proud of it, my only true exposure to Cohn up until this point was Al Pacino’s award-winning performance in the HBO mini-series Angels in America.

Reaching back to 1951 at the beginning of his career when Cohn was an aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy and assisted in the prosecution of the Rosenbergs, Tyrnauer charts how the closeted attorney used his influence to kick off the Army–McCarthy hearings of 1954.  Hoping to protect a fellow McCarthy aide drafted into service, his dogged pursuit of getting the man out of having to serve wound up backfiring and nearly exposing the private lives of Cohn and possibly McCarthy. Once he left McCarthy’s side he made his way back to New York where he became a trusted council for a number of individuals with ties to organized crime, always finding loopholes or working out deals to avoid jail time for his clients.  A feared legal eagle, Cohn wasn’t shy about wielding his power and enjoyed striking fear into his adversaries and even his close companions.

The last third of the documentary focuses in on Cohn’s relationship with Trump as the real estate magnate enters the big leagues in New York.  Retaining Cohn to provide advice for working the system and bartering the best deals with the least amount of loss, hearing the techniques he taught Trump sounds very familiar to the kind of behavior we see on a daily basis now.  Never admit you’re wrong.  Never apologize.  Claim defeat as victories.  All tactics Cohn pioneered that Trump, as his clear protégé, carries on to this day.

While informative, it’s also a fairly sad documentary because Cohn was such a deeply unhappy and hypocritical man.  Denying his sexuality for years in public though in private it was well known who he spent his time with, he still wanted people to believe he was going to marry Barbara Walters (of all people!), his longtime childhood friend.  Worst of all, when Cohn contracted HIV during a time when hundreds of people were dying from it,  Cohn vehemently squashed rumors he had the disease even as he pushed to be included in experimental treatment being conducted by the National Institute of Health.  This when close friend President Reagan hadn’t even said the word AIDS in public but was helping Cohn get into clinical trials behind closed doors.  Unthinkable.  On one hand, I’m sad for Cohn but on the other he was such a wicked person that there’s a part of you that almost feels his end was a sort of karma for his actions during his life.

The next Cohn documentary is set to air on HBO before the year is out and I’ll be interested to see what new angle it would take to tell us more that we didn’t learn here.  While not a comprehensive view of Cohn’s life, much of his childhood is reduced to small anecdotes by Tyrnauer in favor of focusing on the relationships he developed as an adult, it is informative and gives a good picture of why Cohn was such a polarizing individual to much of the country and why he was a golden god to a select few.  Even now, some of the subjects interviewed seem wary of Cohn’s reach from beyond the grave.

Movie Review ~ Aquarela


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Water and ice are shown around the world, in all of their many powerful forms.

Director: Victor Kossakovsky

Rated: PG

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  It’s nice to see movies for free.  There, I said it.  I like that, as a one-man band critic I’m afforded the great opportunity to watch films in theaters for free and then get to write about them for everyone to read.  I feel that part of doing this work and committing to it is seeing everything that comes your way, even if it feels outside of your comfort zone.  Those that review only mainstream films or projects that are easy to consume lack a well-roundness that gives their critical eye a sharper focus.  So yes, you should see the Martin Scorsese film, but you should also be getting your butt out of bed early on a Saturday morning to see whatever kids movie is screening at 10am or watching an independent film no one in your peer group has heard of.  That goes double for documentaries, a genre that’s easy to forget about until the end of the year rolls around and you only have to focus on the five nominees vying for the Oscar.

Part of the benefits of reviewing films is that often we have the option of screening the movie at home or watching it in the theater.  I almost always opt for the theatrical experience because I feel that’s what the filmmaker was making it for when they started out.  With evenings getting packed, though, and weekends having more time available I’ve been getting used to watching upcoming releases from the comfort of my own home/sweatpants.  It doesn’t come close to seeing it a theater but at least I’m able to take it in in some form, right?

There was a dilemma facing me when the Aquarela screening was rolling around.   I could have screened it at home but then we were teased that the movie was going to be shown in a high-resolution presentation, allowing for a superior moviegoing experience.  Though my gut was telling me this was one I could get by with seeing when I had 90 minutes to spare, I am, after all, a sucker for all the bells and whistles a reclining seat and state-of-the-art sound system can ring.  Thus, I decided to forego the home viewing and trek out to watch this documentary on the big screen.  I should have trusted my gut.

I honestly don’t know where to even start this review…which is maybe why I’m only beginning to talk about the film four paragraphs in.  Director Victor Kossakovsky has offered up a beautifully shot but gratingly dull doc that is 99% dialogue free and completely lacking in narrative.  Though filmed at a rate of 96 frames per second (fps) when most movies are shot at 24fps, the life-like clarity brought to the images is totally missing in every other aspect of the film.  It’s a movie that’s all establishing shots; impressive to look at for a while but quickly becoming a gigantic bore.  I don’t need a cut and dry narrative in my films, especially in a documentary which is allowed to be a bit more free-form, but I do need to feel there is some point, some direction, some goal, to what I’m watching.

That’s not to say there aren’t occasional spots where the movie comes to life.  There’s a sequence near the beginning following a team of workers trying to retrieve a car that has fallen through the ice.  As they go about their process to pull the sunken vehicle from the icy waters, we see other cars in similar peril racing across a thawing lake hoping not to be swallowed by an expanding fissure.  Kossakovsky doesn’t stay in one place too long, though, and without any fanfare we’re watching icebergs float, crash, bob, or just stay motionless while the camera lingers around their massive widths.  Only when the camera ventures underwater and the view blessedly changes will you snap out of the sleepy trance Kossakovsky has cast over you.

Your eyes will start to look for something, anything, that is happening on screen to focus on.  Any time the perspective changes or the landscape alters there’s the hope of something greater to come but it’s not to be. Sure, I guess you can say Kossakovsky is tracking water from its most solid state at the opening to its airy etherealness as it vanishes while cascading off of Venezuelan waterfall by the end.  The problem with all of this is nothing about these images is moving or inspiring.  The filmmaking (aside from the frame rate) doesn’t seem particularly difficult or boundary pushing and I have no clue how the movie was edited into what it wound up being.  Every image looks like a screensaver to me.

There’s a fear on my part with these heady movies that I’m missing the point or failing to rise to the challenge posed by the filmmaker but with Aquarela I don’t see a line in the sand (or water, as it were) being drawn.  The only challenge Kossakovsky poses to his audience is to stay awake for 90 very long minutes.  The title, Aquarela, is from the Portugese word for watercolor…which is the most interesting tidbit I could offer you. And to think, I could have skipped a shower and slept through this at home instead of “resting my eyes” at the theater.

Movie Review ~ All is True


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A look at the final days in the life of renown playwright William Shakespeare.

Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Kathryn Wilder, Lydia Wilson, Jack Colgrave Hirst

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: We’ve all seen Shakespeare when he was in love but what about when Shakespeare was in despair? That’s what seems to be on the mind of producer, director, and star Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Ben Elton when they decided to film All is True without much fanfare. If anything, All is True is a nice reminder that it’s possible to make a movie with three quite respected stars and not have anyone know about it until it’s ready to be released. It wasn’t until 2018 was nearly finished that people were aware this even existed and there was even a very brief discussion that Branagh would be a late addition to the Best Actor Oscar pool. Then people started seeing Branagh’s Bard picture and the buzz cooled considerably…and I can see why.

Look, I’m a Shakespeare fan but not a Shakespeare snob so I’m ok with filmmakers playing a little fast and loose with the Bard. I get a chuckle anytime a play or musical adds him as a character that can poke fun at his persona and I think the man himself would get a huge kick out of the many ways his works have been re-envisioned over the hundreds of years his plays have been in the lexicon. I’m wondering, though, how he’d feel about certain elements of his personal life being examined onscreen and conclusions being drawn from pure conjecture. Would he still be laughing at particular truths being leveled toward him and his family?

Branagh is clearly a fan of the man as well, having starred in and directed countless Shakespeare works over the years. He’s one of the foremost experts on the playwright and based on the performance he gives he’s well suited for playing Shakespeare and for directing the film. Yet there’s something to be said about being too reverential to your subject and getting too close to the work. You run the risk of becoming myopic to what constitutes engaging entertainment and what others would want to see. Before you know it, you’ve produced a chamber piece that has limited appeal – and that’s what winds up happening with the respectable but stodgy All is True.

William Shakespeare (Branagh, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) has returned to his home in Stratford after his Globe Theatre burns down in 1613. Frequently absent after the death of his only son in 1596, his arrival isn’t exactly met with excitement from his wife Anne Hathaway (Dench, Skyfall) or his daughters Susanna (Lydia Wilson, About Time) and Judith (Kathryn Wilder, Murder on the Orient Express). Still consumed with unresolved grief from the loss of his son, Shakespeare spends his days building a garden in honor of his only boy, stopping only to quote verse, converse with his family, or speak with an array of visitors that seek some form of council.

The film feels like a series of brief one acts involving Shakespeare and his family being involved with events around town. Instead of Elton’s script just focusing on Shakespeare working through his heartache with the help of his family, we get introduced to several Puritan members of the church and townspeople that pass through their lives. One daughter is accused of infidelity, another must overcome her own sense of self-loathing in order to move on in her blossoming relationship with the town lothario, then Shakesapre’s own sexuality comes into question when the Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen, Beauty and the Beast) comes to visit. The only family member that seems to get the short end of the stick is Anne, though Dench, always true to form, makes the most of every frame she’s in and every line she’s given.

The whole movie plays out with some truly lovely cinematography from Zac Nicholson (Les Misérables) that’s often filmed in one long take or on stationary cameras. People sit and deliver most of their lines with very little movement necessary, creating the effect you’re watching a play instead of a movie. Using candle-light in the evenings and natural light during the day, Nicholson captures the realistic world that Shakespeare would have lived in during that time…and also the mundanity of it as well.  Much like a Sunday matinee, don’t be shocked if you find yourself resisting the urge to nod off on several occasions.

I can’t say All is True is an entertaining picture or even one that I enjoyed when all was said and done. Though admirably performed (Dench, in particular, is grand) there’s just a casual sameness to the film after a while. Much of the running time follows people in highly distressed, unhappy stages of their lives and it’s only when some inkling of happiness is introduced the film finds a lightness and snaps out of its dirge-like funereal march toward the end credits. It’s brief…but it’s welcome.

Movie Review ~ Never Look Away (Werk ohne Autor)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: German artist Kurt Barnert has escaped East Germany and now lives in West Germany, but is tormented by his childhood under the Nazis and the GDR-regime.

Stars: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendahl, Oliver Masucci

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rated: R

Running Length: 188 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Most movie nerds like myself keep a director like Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in their back pocket when they need to dole out a bit of comedy with their film trivia. After his 2006 film The Lives of Others won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, von Donnersmarck likely had his pick of projects to undertake and he settled on what looked like a sure bet. 2010’s European spy thriller The Tourist starred Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, both at the height of their box office potential, and when it was released it was a notorious bomb. Nevertheless, the Hollywood Foreign Press nominated it for three Golden Globes (for Depp, Jolie, and Best Picture) which has become a long-standing joke in Hollywood and a central reason people point to that nominating body as being enchanted by getting movie stars to attend their award shows instead of recognizing quality films.

It’s been eight years since that fiasco and von Donnersmarck has returned for his third film and found himself nominated again for Best Foreign Language film for Never Look Away (or Werk ohne Autor/Work Without Author as it was known in Germany). I admit that I’ve not seen The Lives of Others but know it to be a respected winner of the Oscar and with a nomination for Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography as well, it’s obvious the Never Look Away represents an embraced return to form for von Donnersmarck after what had to have ultimately been a bruising experience with the Hollywood system.  With a stellar production design and Deschanel’s stunning camerawork, it’s a high-class picture.

Never Look Away follows Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling, Woman in Gold) an artist in post-war Germany haunted by the memories of his past and attempting to exorcise his demons through art. As a child, he saw his beloved aunt suffering from undiagnosed mental health issues taken away and his town destroyed by bombings as the Nazi’s were rising to power. Though he doesn’t follow her journey, the audience sees his aunt relegated to a hospital where she’s barely treated before being sterilized and eventually shipped off to the gas chambers with other people deemed risks to the survival of a pure society.

The first twenty minutes of the film provide several thematic threads that von Donnersmarck will pick up and discard several times over the next two and a half hours. There’s the SS doctor (Sebastian Koch, The Danish Girl) who treats Kurt’s aunt that will enter his life again when he becomes an adult studying art in East Germany. This doctor also figures into a subplot involving his arrest after the war and eventual clemency at the hands of a Russian officer who continues to protect him as the years go by. When Kurt falls in love with another student (Paula Beer) she provides still another link to the past that we’re all privy to but our main characters aren’t.

With a running time of over three hours, knowing this is another WWII story involving Nazis may suggest a daunting sit but it unfolds at just the right pitch. With such a dark subject matter, von Donnersmarck grasps onto moments of levity when he can and uses them to break up some of the heavier passages. The performances are strong, particularly Koch as a severely morally compromised man who manages to get more deplorable with each chance he gets to redeem himself. Adding to a strong list of nominees this year (Capernaum, Shoplifters, Cold War, and the favored winner, Roma) Never Look Away more than makes its case for your attention.

Movie Review ~ Stan & Ollie


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Laurel and Hardy, the world’s most famous comedy duo, attempt to reignite their film careers as they embark on what becomes their swan song – a grueling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Stars: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Danny Huston

Director: Jon S. Baird

Rated: PG

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: With a total of 107 movies to their name, the comedy duo Laurel & Hardy were kings of comedy in the late 1920’s through the late 1940’s, the golden age of Hollywood.  While both men had established careers apart from one another, it was only when they were paired up at the famed Hal Roach film studio that their stardom went through the roof and they became the stuff of legend.  Though they maybe aren’t remembered by name quite as much as the other comedic acts at the time like Abbott and Costello or The Three Stooges, it only takes seeing an image of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and you instantly are familiar with their style of slapstick comedy.

It’s surprising to me that the story of these two men has taken so long to get to the screen and now that it has it’s arrived as a small but sturdy film focusing on the later lives of the pair as they attempt a comeback tour through England in 1953.  Far from their youth and out of practice with each other, the trip proves to be eye-opening in examining their personal and professional relationship and forces them to confront long-held grudges they’ve never really gotten over.

With a career as long and varied as the one Laurel & Hardy had, screenwriter Jeff Pope (Philomena) was wise in focusing in on just one chapter in their story.  The film buff in me would have loved a longer tale that showed us the early Hollywood years that led up to this comeback tour which proved to be the last time the two men would work together, but perhaps that’s too tall an order for a feature film and might find itself better suited as a series down the road.  Pope traces the two men as their tour starts out small but gathers steam as the has-been stars get their spark back and begin to pack in theaters throughout Britain at a time when the country needed a laugh.

Casting was crucial in pulling off this piece and director Jon S. Baird tapped the right people for the job.  As Stan Laurel, Steve Coogan (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) has moments when he looks eerily like the gangly goofball with the flat face and slinking shoulders that stands in stark opposition to the somber fellow Laurel is painted as being offstage.  John C. Reilly (Holmes & Watson) plays his counterpart wearing a fat suit and convincingly real latex prosthetic to enhance his chin and jowls.  Though he doesn’t have the same ringer look that Coogan does, Reilly doesn’t let the make-up do the work for him (I’m talking to you Christian Bale in Vice) and brings the physicality of the rotund comedian out to strong results. The men are backed up by two ladies that often steal the movie right out from under them.  Nina Arianda (Florence Foster Jenkins) is a hoot as Laurel’s brash Russian wife that hogs the spotlight and then there’s Shirley Henderson (Anna Karenina) showing quiet grace playing Hardy’s concerned wife.

At 97 minutes, the movie feels longer than it actually is because it’s ever so slightly on the slow side.  I hate to say it but it even devolves into a rather dull film around the halfway mark when it starts to fall into a familiar biopic formula where conflict is introduced in preparation for a reconciliation right before the credits roll.  The period settings are spot-on and if you’re a fan of the duo then you’re in for some delightful moments where portions or their act are nicely recreated by Coogan and Reilly.  I just wish the movie exuded the same kind of spritely spirit Laurel & Hardy were able to convey in their work.

Movie Review ~ Capernaum (Capharnaüm)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: While serving a five-year sentence for a violent crime, a 12-year-old boy sues his parents for neglect.

Stars: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Kawsar Al Haddad, Fadi Yousef, Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam

Director: Nadine Labaki

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: It happens every year around this time.  We’re neck deep in awards season and the foreign language film categories start to loom large for me.  The movies submitted for consideration by their countries that make the Oscar shortlist and nab spots on the earlier awards ballots (the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, etc) start to become clearer and you can predict which will probably be the nominees at the Oscars.  Yet these are the films that will inevitably be my Achilles Heel, either because I often lack the drive to see them or miss the opportunity to screen them when they present themselves.  Then I have the opportunity to see a movie like Capernaum and I realize that I’m my own worst enemy and I need to see more foreign films not just during Oscar season but throughout the year.

The likely nominee hails from Lebanon and is from celebrated director Nadine Labaki, who also has a small supporting role as the defense attorney for Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) a young boy appearing in court bringing charges against his parents.  In flashbacks, we see why he’s brought his parents to a very public hearing before a judge and what kind of life he’s been forced to live in the short twelve years he’s been alive.  Before you think this is just a Lebanese remake of Irreconcilable Differences, know that Zain’s story is filled with trauma and poverty the likes most of us will never know and, like many privileged US citizens that will watch the movie, the film was an eye-opening experience for me.

Zain’s journey takes him from his family apartment in Beirut to a rundown amusement park where he is befriended by Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an Ethiopian woman in the country illegally forced to hide her baby, Yonas, who is also undocumented.  Forming a sort of fractured family with the woman and her child, Zain takes on responsibilities in caring for the baby while Rahil works on getting her papers in order.  Through several devastating twists, Zain and Yonas are left to fend for themselves and eventually we’ll find out how Zain ends up in jail serving time for a violent crime.

This is a tough film to watch and I’m guessing an even more difficult film to get made.  Labaki was working with actors that had no experience in situations that were culled from real life stories.  That she was able to coax such realistic performances out of them is nothing short of remarkable, lead by a mesmerizing performance by Al Rafeea as our young hero.  Wise beyond his years and forced to grow up faster than any child should, his tiny frame bears evidence of neglect and yet he always soldiers on.  Shiferaw, too, impresses as a mother left to fend for herself by the man who got her pregnant and now offers no support.  With little options, she desperately attempts to piece together a semblance of a better life.

Though it runs slightly longer than necessary (it hammers its points home loud and clear) there are unexpected surprises throughout.  Let it be known that Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, the infant that plays Yonas, is the cutest baby you’ll see on screen in 2019.  Labaki is good at turning her camera on faces and places we don’t normally see.  The overwhelming bustle of the city is captured thoroughly, you can easily see why two children roaming the street could be overlooked by passersby.  True, there are several brutal lines of dialogue that cut like a knife but Labaki ends the film with an extended freeze frame that’s downright beautiful.  Even if you’ve heard that Roma has it in the bag for the Academy Award this year, keep your eye on Capernaum as a stellar example of the power of world cinema.

Movie Review ~ Call Me by Your Name


The Facts
:

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.

Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Rated: R

Running Length: 132 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

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.

The Silver Bullet ~ Call Me by Your Name

Synopsis: Summer of 1983, Northern Italy. An American-Italian is enamored by an American student who comes to study and live with his family. Together they share an unforgettable summer full of music, food, and romance that will forever change them.

Release Date: November 24, 2017

Thoughts: With a screenplay from James Ivory (The Remains of the Day, Howard’s End, A Room with a View) and directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), Call Me by Your Name is a title that could be one to keep your eye on as we transition from the summer slate to the Oscar hopeful season.  Based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman and taking place over one gauzy summer in Italy, there are some strong themes of love and self-discovery clearly present in this first trailer.  It’s always interesting to see how a tender story like this will play out for audiences in the wide-release arena, but then again movies like Call My by Your Name aren’t exactly made for mass consumption.  Starring Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger), Michael Stuhlbarg (Doctor Strange), and Timothée Chalamet (Love the Coopers), call me very intrigued with this one.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Bronze

 

bronze

Synopsis: A foul-mouthed former gymnastics bronze medalist must fight for her local celebrity status when a new young athlete’s star rises in town.

Release Date:  March 18, 2016

Thoughts: Already generating sizable buzz for a much ballyhooed gymnastic sex scene, The Bronze is a movie I’m going to approach very carefully…as if I were advancing on a raccoon wild with rabies.  You see, I can already tell it’s a movie I’m either going to enjoy a lot or hate a lot…with very little wiggle room in between.  There’s a red-band trailer out there you can find with a lot more F-Bombs that seem to be used without much purpose…so I’m hoping there’s more to it than following the exploits of a foul-mouthed has-been slumming around in her hometown.  They already made that movie and it was called Young Adult and I liked it just fine then. Almost never seeing the light of day due to its original studio going belly-up, Sony Pictures Classics is showing some faith in this one and getting it out there, a positive sign.  Final scores will be tallied once it’s released in March.