Don’t call me, I’ll call you

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PRETTY boys, stolen moment. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer). Photograph courtesy vox.com

THE FACT THAT James Ivory’s screenplay for Call Me By Your Name got this year’s Oscar nod seems like the Academy Awards was trying to bend over backwards for LGBTI issues. The irony is that this pretty, pretty film, which goes under the guise of being LGBTI-sensitive, nay erotic, is about nothing more than a gay relationship seen through a cisgender prism. And instead of a message about happy, valiant love, in a world where it’s all taboo, you get one about dishonesty and stealth, punting the women in the tale as foils for sexual frustration rather than real characters.

When you see the trailer of the work, you may believe that this is the most perfect, idiosyncratic little maverick piece of filmography ever. And set in some Italian village in the 1980s, it bears the kind of quirky rural iridescence that is present in The Durrells, a 2017 British series set on the island of Corfu, all replete as it is with ripe fruit and growing olives. But as the plot unfolds, red herrings sprout up from all corners of the narrative tossing Greek sculptures from Antiquity to the wind and leaving you primarily with a story about lust in its most direct reflection, even sweeping aside issues of sexuality.

A sultry, sulky, beautiful 17-year-old named Elio (Timothée  Chalamet) gets all itchy with lust for a person at least 10 years older than him (Armie Hammer), Oliver, who has come to work as a research assistant with Elio’s dad (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology. It takes a while for Elio to get his leg over, but then there’s no turning back. And indeed, had this couple been heterosexual, the plot would not have shifted.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the beauty of sex being represented on screen, but once the sex in this film begins, all else collapses by way of character definition, plot, pragmatic constants or anything else, and you find yourself between the penises, the hands and the mouths of exquisite young men, over and over and over again. It’s not explicit in the crass sense, but much of the work is sacrificed in the name of delicate, urgent whispers cast over sweaty sheets.

It’s lust so direct and unsubtle that the story cannot but end tragically, but you’re not equipped for the hairpin bend that brings confessions of the father’s personal failures into the mix. When you’re 17, are you fully formed enough to understand the complexities of “being in love” or is it just about jerking off into a nectarine? When you’re 17, how do issues of ultimate betrayal look? Which brings you to puzzle the value of this film.

From another angle, when you’re telling a story and your central protagonist is 17 and gay and it’s the horrendous 1980s where Aids is a thing and the world still reels with shards and secrets and threats of homophobia, is it sensible to toss all that context in the bin and just focus on some pretty screwing?

Call Me By Your Name pretends to be a sweet love story with a gay twist, but it leaves you perplexed about issues of wholeness and pain, bias and lessons that get left abandoned in the premises of the tale. Is it about the promiscuity of Greeks from Antiquity? Is it about the loneliness of being Jewish in a city that is Catholic? Neither, it seems. This is a film about sex, plain and simple. But is sex ever plain and simple? This is not a foray into pornography, but it might leave you feeling grubby and unsatisfied.

  • Call Me By Your Name is directed by Luca Guadagnino and features a cast headed by André Aciman, Elena Bucci, Vanda Capriolo, Amira Casar, Timothée Chalamet, Victoire du Bois, Esther Garrel, Armie Hammer, Antonio Rimoldi, Marco Sgrosso, Peter Spears and Michael Stuhlbarg. It is written by James Ivory based on the novel by André Aciman. Produced by Emilie Georges, Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, Marco Morabito, Howard Rosenman, Peter Spears and Rodrigo Teixeira, it features creative input by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (cinematography), Walter Fasano (editing), Stella Savino (casting), Samuel Deshors (production design) and Guilia Piersanti (costumes). Release date: February 23 2018.

All for the love of a gentle monster

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I see you: Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) opposite the creature (Doug Jones). Photograph courtesy www.indiewire.com

YOU MIGHT SIT there in the auditorium watching Guillermo del Toro’s film The Shape of Water, and quietly begin to think you’ve stepped into a time-zone. This beautifully crafted fantasy love story is like a rendition of 1950s schlock horror tradition ramped up all the way. It’s a delight to watch from beginning to end and contains all the fabulously one-dimensional stereotypes that leave you in no doubt as to who the good guys and the baddies are.

Set in the early 1960s in the mad little heart of the Cold War, the piece presents the American guys opposite the Russians in a quest for scientific advancement. At the heart of all of it, is a kind of amphibious beast with an utterly beautiful texture and a guileless face. Played by Doug Jones, he’s the quintessential colonialist’s dream: exotic and unknown, he’s kept as a government secret and both sides want to do a spot of vivisection to see what he’s made of.

That is, until Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) discovers him.

Endowed with a peculiarly self-deprecating physicality, fitting a mute, damaged and introverted young woman who is almost completely alone, and works a strange routine, where her job, alongside her pal Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is to clean the latrines of the facility, Elisa is the “Fay Wray” in this quirky love story. And it will wring your heart in the finest of ways.

There follows a delicious tale of discovery and boiled eggs, of explicit white male malevolence, homophobia and racism, and a rip-roaring adventure which sees rotten fingers tossed on the lounge carpet, a smashed up teal Cadillac which will make you roar with schadenfreude and some monster sex, not to mention the seductive use of Glenn Miller’s wonderful swing standard I know why. Oh, and water, there’s lots of water.

It’s as poetic an extrapolation of the genre as you can imagine and the sentiments sing with the kind of monster narrative that saw Wray in the arms of King Kong more than 80 years ago, and left audience members weeping. Replete with the dark green Art Deco tiles on the walls everywhere, and the insane nuances of Hawkins with her other friend in all the world, Giles (Richard Jenkins) a gay graphic designer who mourns his lost hair, the work is completely delicious, offering as it does, insight into the complexities of Cold War society with all its crude and petty races for new technology, and its deep biases and tendency toward social violence.

Featuring a lovely little cameo with Michael Stuhlbarg (of A Serious Man fame), as the Russian Dr Robert Hoffstetler, aka “Dimitri”, who recognises the ability of the monster to communicate and indeed to love, it’s the kind of film that will leave your heart dancing with a mix of nostalgia for comics and how stories were told, and a love of the underdog monster who is neglected or ousted by social etiquette.

  • The Shape of Water is directed by Guillermo del Toro and features a cast headed by Evgeny Akimov, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Shaila D’Onofrio, Madison Ferguson, Deney Forrest, Diego Fuentes, Allegra Fulton, Karen Glave, Jayden Greig, Jonelle Gunderson, Sally Hawkins, David Hewlett, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, John Kapelos, Marvin Kaye, Morgan Kelly, Cameron Laurie, Dan Lett, Wendy Lyon, Brandon McKnight, Sergey Nikonov, Vanessa Oude-Reimerink, Alexey Pankratov, Martin Roach, Nick Searcy, Michael Shannon, Lauren Lee Smith, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Cody Ray Thompson, Edward Tracz, Dru Viergever, Danny Waugh and Clyde Whitham. Featuring a screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, it is produced by J Miles Dale and Guillermo del Toro and features creative input by Alexandre Desplat (music), Dan Laustsen (cinematography), Sidney Wolinsky (editing), Robin D Cook (casting), Paul D Austerberry (production design) and Luis Sequiera (costumes). Release date: January 19 2018.

The newspaper that would not kowtow

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WAITING to hear what’s what: Newsroom dynamics with the cast of The Post. Photograph courtesy foxmovies.com

THE MESSY BEAST of the print media, in all its procedural glory and inky mechanisms comes under scrutiny in this completely magnificent Steven Spielberg film that deals with the notorious Pentagon papers. Featuring Meryl Streep opposite Tom Hanks in the leads, it tells the story of the Washington Post, a family-run paper, which finds itself fighting beyond its size for national credibility in the face of secret government documents that contradict the need for the longevity of the Vietnam War.

And of course, you know how the film will end, but getting from point A to point B is not the primary point of the work. It’s a story about the early 1970s with all its sexism and women’s big hairdos, about the values that are projected by the media and about the need in the world for a free press. More than all of this, it’s a work that grants you gritty and wonderful insight into the pre-computer era energy of a newspaper newsroom, where the need for accuracy is tantamount and the smoke and stress of the pooled environment of committed professionals attests to the collaborative passion that made a print newspaper the beautiful thing it was.

Streep utterly shines in this complex role – Katharine Graham inherited her role as publisher of The Post when her husband, Phillip committed suicide in 1963. Armed with a fierce belief in the value of the paper and great loyalty to its heritage, she steered it through the muddy and oft bloody waters of the Pentagon papers to a victory that changed the nature of the media and government secrets, going forward. Streep embodies this woman who teeters between the cultural imperatives of men and women in a world run by men in suits and ties, with characteristic grace and elegance.

You will see interesting cameos by the likes of Michael Stuhlbarg – who you might recognise from the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man – in the role of Abe Rosenthal, the editor of the New York Times, as you will see beautiful reflections of the nub and texture of 1970s American social protocol. It’s a true tale of the meaning of integrity in a world on the cusp of madness, and is the kind of film you need to buy and keep in your repertoire of great classics.

Similar, in a sense, to the 1976 film The Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, The Post offers astute insights into the value of the media in society. There are caveats enfolded into its nuances that point to the way in which society is broken or kept whole by the pen and opinion of the team of journalist, sub-editor and editor, who bring their readers what matters.

  • The Post is directed by Steven Spielberg and features a cast headed by Saul Alvarez, Celeste Arias, Kelly AuCoin, Tom Bair, Estelle Bajou, David Aaron Baker, Jordan Baker, Seth Barrish, David Beach, Will Blomker, Walter Brandes, Alison Brie, Dan Bittner, Susan Blackwell, Annika Boras, Dan Bucatinsky, Brendan Burke, Brian Burton, Philip Casnoff, Carrie Coon, Lilli Cooper, David Costable, John Henry Cox, Michael Cyril Creighton, Rick Crom, David Cross, Thaddeus Daniels, Juliana Davies, Johanna Day, Will Denton, Michael Devine, Brett Diggs, Curzon Dobell, Jon Donahue, Francis Dumaurier, Jennifer Dundas, Caleb Eberhardt, Gary Galone, Odiseas Georgiadis, Deborah Green, Bruce Greenwood, Tom Hanks, Pat Healy, Angus Hepburn, Rick Holmes, Christopher Innvar, Lauren Lim Jackson, Mark Jacoby, Austyn Johnson, Brittney Johnson, Cullen Oliver Johnson, Steven Kearney, JaQwan J Kelly, Leslie Kujo, Tracy Letts, Brent Langdon, Fenton Lawless, Ben Livingston, Jerry Lobrow, Kevin Loreque, Deirdre Lovejoy, Stephen Mailer, Ginger Mason, Hazel Mason, Don McCloskey, Carolyn McCormick, Gannon McHale, Robert McKay, Shawn Allen McLaughlin, Sean Meehan, Kelly Miller, Jessie Mueller, Joel Nagle, Patrick Noonan, Ned Noyes, Shaun O’Hagan, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Sage Oyen, Sarah Paulson, Coral Peña, Matthew Piazzi, Mark Pinelli, Jesse Plemons, Frank Ridley, James Riordan, Matthew Rhys, Stephen Rowe, John Rue, Amy Russ, Stark Sands, Kaylyn Scardefield, Armand Schultz, Luke Slattery, Brett G Smith, Cotter Smith, Sasha Spielberg, Sawyer Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Michael Stuhlbarg, Justin Swain, Clarke Thorell, Kenneth Tigar, Joseph Tudisco, Sonny Valicenti, Anthony M Walker, Peter Van Wagner, Theis Weckesser, Aaron Roman Weiner, Jeremiah Wiggins, Steve Witting, Bradley Whitford, Gary Wilmes, Catherine Wolf and Zach Woods. It is written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and produced by Kristie Macosko Krieger, it features creative input by John Williams (music), Janusz Kaminski (cinematography), Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn (editing), Ellen Lewis (casting) Rick Carter (production design), and Ann Roth (costumes). Release date: January 26 2018.