Call Me By Your Name


The sexual tension between Hammer and Chalamet is palpable.

(2017) Drama (Sony Classics) Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, Vanda Capriolo, Antonio Rimoldi, Elena Bucci, Marco Sgrosso, André Aciman, Peter Spears. Directed by Luca Guadagnino

 

Under the languid heat of the summer sun in Tuscany, sexuality can be awakened, bestirred or even changed. All things are possible in an idyllic location like that.

Elio (Chalamet) is the 17-year-old prodigal son of an archaeologist/professor dad (Stuhlbarg) living and working in Tuscany with Elio’s German mother (Casar). Into the household comes Oliver (Hammer), a grad student interning with Elio’s dad. At first Elio is a bit testy to the new arrival; after all, Oliver is staying in Elio’s bedroom while Elio is exiled to the adjoining bedroom with a bathroom shared between them.

Elio is a talented pianist and composer with quite a future ahead of him. He is a bit standoffish as talented teens who know they are talented can be. There is a neighboring French girl (Garrel) who would dearly like to be Elio’s girlfriend and Elio isn’t particularly averse to the idea as he is dealing with raging hormones and desires.

As the summer wears on, it becomes clear that Elio is heavily attracted to Oliver – and Oliver is attracted right back. Eventually as the two circle each other warily their orbits eventually intersect and Elio’s sexual urges – gratified first by a ripe peach (don’t ask) and then by Marzia his French girlfriend, find explosive root in this newcomer. The two have a hard time (no pun intended) keeping their hands off each other (as well as other appendages). For Elio, this is truly first love with all the joy and heartache that it entails. Every summer, after all, eventually comes to an end.

A lot of critics have been singing the praises for this film and for some very good reasons but I must caution readers that while there are a lot of things to like about this movie, there are plenty of flaws as well. I like how evocative of time and place the movie is; you can almost feel the heat steaming from the screen on a hot summer’s day in Tuscany. You can feel the 80s vibe in a realistic way – many films set during this era seem to be of the idea that everyone sported Flock of Seagulls hair. Guadagnino got the fashions right without going overboard with the excesses of the era.

>He also did a masterful job of casting. In all the main roles exactly the right actor inhabits them. Chalamet delivers a performance that deservedly got an Oscar nomination and while he didn’t win, had he not been nominated in a year of Gary Oldman’s superlative performance in Darkest Hour I think he might have had a shot at it.

The reason Chalamet’s performance is so praise-worthy is that it is so layered. Elio has the arrogance of youth and the uncertainty of the inexperienced; he can be stand-offish but he deeply desires love. He has a high sex drive but he wants affection, both received and given. If this performance is any indication, he could be the next Daniel Day-Lewis but a note of caution; he has been anointed a once-in-a-generation performer by certain hysterical magazine writers basically off of one or two outstanding performers; let’s see how he does for consistency over the next five years or so before we begin throwing those sorts of superlatives around shall we?

Chalamet has some wonderful actors to play off of. Hammer is of course ruggedly handsome and has that preppy accent which stands him in good stead here. He has the right combination of worldliness and naiveté that makes the character such a perfect foil for Elio. The chemistry between Hammer and Chalamet is blazing hot and the relationship is never anything but genuine for a single moment.

Stuhlbarg who has acted in a number of prestige films this year outdoes himself in the almost too-good-to-be-true father. He has one scene with Chalamet in which he surprisingly gives his son his tacit approval and explains his own regret for not following his own feelings in a similar situation. It’s a terrific scene and if it is more of a fantasy coming out for a lot of gay men whose own experiences are/were somewhat different it can be at least understood.

Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom turns in a lovely print with colors that pop off the screen and capturing perfectly the season (also in the coda which takes place on a snowy day) and the place. It’s a beautiful film to watch. Iconic screenwriter James Ivory who back in the day was one of the great art film directors of his time, shows that even at 89 he still has a great ear for dialogue.

As I said, though, the film is flawed. It runs almost two and a quarter hours and towards the end of the movie one gets the sense that Guadagnino didn’t quite know how to end th film, although the ending itself is beautiful and bittersweet – it comes after a series of false stops. Also, while I’m not squeamish about sex scenes – even explicit ones – it just seemed that there were too many of them. After awhile it came off as almost gratuitous. We get the sense that there is sexual heat between the two and that Elio is nearly insatiable sexually; it’s just ramming us over the head with it after awhile. A good twenty minutes of film time could have been cut with excessive sex scenes as well as a few extraneous scenes as well.

Some have said that this is this decade’s Brokeback Mountain and there is some truth to that. Certainly a gay romance has rarely been portrayed so beautifully and so naturally onscreen, particularly in a film of this importance. Gay or straight, we’ve all been through first loves (let’s hope) in our lives and there’s no doubt this film evokes the feelings of that bittersweet experience for all of us. I wish the director had been a little bit less lenient at the editing bay but regardless of that this is an important and beautiful movie.

REASONS TO GO: The performances by Chalamet, Hammer and Stuhlbarg are all exceptional. The cinematography Is beautiful, evoking lazy summer days in northern Italy. The ending is lovely albeit bittersweet.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie went on way too long. The sex scenes became gratuitous after awhile.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of sexual content, some nudity and a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sufjan Stevens was asked to write one new song for the film but was inspired to write two. He was also asked to re-record “Futile Devices” from his mostly electronic The Age of Adz album with a piano and vocals arrangement.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/11/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 93/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brokeback Mountain
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Killing Jesus

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Arlington Road


Arlington Road

Jeff Bridges finds out his Oscar-winning script won't arrive for another ten years.

(1999) Thriller (Screen Gems) Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Hope Davis, Robert Gossett, Mason Gamble, Spencer Treat Clark, Stanley Anderson, Viviane Vives, Lee Stringer, Darryl Cox, Loyd Catlett, Chris Dahlberg. Directed by Mark Pellington

With all the sociopathic behavior that goes on these days, it’s hard enough to Love Thy Neighbor. Heck, most of us don’t even know our neighbors; we’re all so wrapped up in our lives. Who has the time? But after seeing this movie, I suspect some of us will make the time.

Jeff Bridges is Dr. Michael Faraday, who teaches a course in American Terrorism at George Washington University. Bridges is, bluntly put, a mess. His wife, an FBI agent, had recently been killed in a Ruby Ridge-like incident. He’s shacking up with a grad student and, oh yes, his son is drawing more and more inward.

One day he comes across a neighborhood boy stumbling down the middle of the street and realizes the kid has blown a hand off. Bridges rushes the kid to the hospital and there meets the parents who happen to live close by. As played by Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, they seem a nice normal American family. Robbins and Bridges hit it off, and they soon become friends.

Still, this is a movie and as time goes by, Bridges becomes suspicious of his new best friend, discovering that his buddy has changed his name to hide some very disturbing incidents in his past. Eventually, Bridges suspects that the family next door may be responsible for an Oklahoma City-like bombing. But is it Bridges’ own paranoia, fueled by the loss of his wife in a senseless tragedy, or is Robbins actually a card-carrying loon with a dangerous agenda? The ending surprised even me.

The cast here is pretty impressive. Cusack is always watchable, although she seems a bit stifled in a role that might have suited a less quirky actress. Robbins is very impressive. For the movie to work, he has to convince you that he’s a nice guy building a dream life for himself and his family AND that he’s a cold, calculating killer capable of blowing children into small bits. You have to decide which the character truly is. If you can’t believe in both versions of the character, the movie becomes formulaic, but Robbins doesn’t let that happen.

Pellington creates a very believable suburbia, even if Bridges at times gets too strident for his own good. There are moments that sing with tension, while others are so mundane you’re lulled into a false sense of security. That’s what a good thriller is supposed to do.

Although there are times I think the filmmakers are a bit too influenced by Se7en and not enough by Poltergeist (a movie which very effectively portrayed horrific events happening in a normal environment), the filmmaking is otherwise solid and the ending is very satisfying, surprising even. After watching this, I’m making a point of getting to know my neighbors better. A lot better. Just as soon as I sign off the computer. Really.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performance by Robbins. Well-made thriller that creates believable suburban atmosphere and lulls one into the mundane before shocking you with something awful. Great ending, one I didn’t see coming.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cusack seemed a bit too restrained in a role that might have suited a less quirky actress better.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a goodly bit of violence and some bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Jeff Bridges character was named for a real scientist, Michael Faraday. The street the movie filmed exteriors on was named for him.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $41.1M on a $31M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Submarine