Call me by your name

And what I’m trying to say isn’t really new
It’s just the things that happen to me
When I’m reminded of you

Is it okay if I call you mine? from the film Fame (1980), music and lyrics by Paul McCrane

Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment,
Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.

Plaisir d’amour (1784), music by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, lyrics by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian

Awards season is near and one of the films that has been on everyone’s lips is Luca Guadagnino’s Call me by your name. Some people are hoping that Call me by your name is this year’s Moonlight (the film that was eventually named Best picture at the last Oscar cast following a screw up with the envelopes). Moonlight was the first LGBTQ themed film to ever win Best picture, and there’s talk of a repeat in 2017. But will it win? In Call me by your name, Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old Italian-American, lives in the Italian countryside with his parents. We are in the summer of 1983 and Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology, has hired an American student to help him. Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome a 24-year-old man with golden hair, comes to stay with them at their beautiful villa in Lombardy. Oliver will sleep in Elio’s room. Although Elio spends some time with his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel) and Oliver is seeing a local girl, it soon becomes clear that the young men are attracted to each other. It’s done in small details. When Oliver suddenly touches Elio’s shoulder during a ball game, the teenager’s reaction is to quickly withdraw. But when they are alone, it is Elio’s turn to touch, kiss and grab, and Oliver to hold back. They are both conscious and wary of their feelings. Oliver is ambiguous. He enjoys the game of seduction and the attention, but is also aware of the danger. But what should happen, happens. Call me by your name is actually not as explicit as screenwriter James Ivory originally conceived it. A lot of nudity (read full frontal) was removed at the request of the actors. And then there is a scene of Elio in bed with a peach (yeah, a peach!). There was Marlon Brando and butter in Last tango in Paris, now there is Timothée Chalamet and a peach in Call me by your name. Guadagnino is such an original filmmaker. In Call me by your name he is more concerned with the small gestures, the furtive glances and the tearful face than the long dialogue scenes that will spell everything out for the moviegoers. The way the part is written, it would be almost impossible to play Elio. There are too many things for a young actor to do, too many emotions at once. But Chalamet hits every nails with brilliance make it seems easy, no sweat, and at the end the audience feels emotionally drained. Armie Hammer is Chalamet’s perfect partner, accompanying him, and us in this intense love story. Hammer, like Chalamet, gives a most multi-layered performance. And as Elio’s dad Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a heartfelt speech to help his son cope with his sorrow. The beauty of the Italian landscapes is casually photographed by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom as we go along for a bike ride or for a swim in a river. He knows that however beautiful it is, there is nothing more beautiful than two young lovers.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from January 23 – 25
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/call-me-by-your-name

Call me by your name

Directed by:
Luca Guadagnino

Screenplay by:
James Ivory
Based on the novel by André Aciman

Starring:
Timothée Chalamet
Armie Hammer
MIchael Stuhlbarg
Amira Casar

132 min.

Rated 14A

In English, French and Italian with English subtitles.

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Wonder wheel

Wonder wheel, the new Woody Allen film is not a comedy but a melodrama. “I relish melodrama and larger-than-life characters,” says Mickey (Justin Timberlake) speaking to the camera. Mickey is a Coney Island lifeguard and wannabe playwright, and this type of naration is often used in theatre. This is the 1950s, and the film centres on Ginny (Kate Winslet), a clam-bar waitress and wannabe actress. She lives with her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator, and her young son Richie (Jack Gore), an incorrigible pyromaniac. Their apartment next to the boardwalk is surrounded by the noise of the amusement park and the shooting games. The film starts as Humpty’s estranged daughter Caroline (Juno Temple) comes to seek refuge from her mobster husband. Initially Humpty refuses to get involved because he’s afraid the mobster will be looking for her. But her allows her to stay with them. Meanwhile, Ginny has an affair with Mickey the lifeguard, who is a few years younger than she is. That gives Ginny a little break from the gloom of life at the apartment where Ginny and Humpty are always fighting and Richie gets in trouble again with another fire he has started. With Mickey, Ginny can dream to be an actress again, and Ginny is happy. That is untill Mickey meets Caroline and he falls for her. Although this is an original screenplay by Woody Allen, it feels like a play, either adapted from another source or from an unproduced Woody Allen play. A big chunk of the action is stagey and takes place inside the apartment. But even when it does not, the screenplay has a series of speeches and monologues that seems like it was written for the stage. It may have been deliberate. Look at it this way: Ginny played on stage when she was younger, and Mickey, who wants to be a playwright, reads Shakespeare, quotes Eugene O’Neill (Wonder wheel might have been an O’Neill play, or a Tennessee Williams, or an Edward Albee). The characters in Wonder wheel are angry people, clinging on to their unattainable dreams. They are surrounded by a deafening dysfunctional noise. Wonder wheel is well directed by Allen with an acute sense of doom. But there is a lack of focus in the writing. There is enough drama and material for several films. Winslet is unforgettably tense in portraying Ginny’s increasingly hysterical neuroses. And legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s brilliant use of colors is one of the great joy of this Woody Allen film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wonder wheel

Directed by:
Woody Allen

Screenplay by:
Woody Allen

Starring:
Kate Winslet
Justin Timberlake
Juno Temple
Jim Belushi

101 min.

Rated 14A

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr story

On the surface Hedy Lamarr’s career as an actress is not very impressive. The Austrian-born film actress is mostly known for her nudity and a close-up of Lamarr (then Hedy Kiesler) feigning orgasm in the scandalous 1933 erotic film Ecstasy. Lamarr arrived in Hollywood in 1938 after MGM’s Louis B. Mayer signed her up. The publicity claimed she was “the world’s most beautiful woman”. And they might have been right. Her first Hollywood film was Algiers opposite Charles Boyer. Followed a series of increasingly forgettable films. So why a documentary about Hedy Lamarr? One thing that is not generally known is that Lamarr was also an amateur inventor. In 1942, Lamarr and her friend composer George Antheil designed a device that could help the war effort. Lamarr knew that radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be jammed, and the torpedoes diverted. With their “frequency hopping” device, Lamarr and Antheil could change the radio frequencies and help the torpedoes hit their targets. At the time the Frequency-hopping spread spectrum was rejected by the US Navy, but in 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, updated versions of their design appeared on Navy ships. It’s amazing to learn that Lamarr and Antheil’s work led to the development of GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. Lamarr made her last film in 1958, was arrested for shoplifting twice, she became addicted to pills and destroyed her beauty with too many plastic surgery. After 6 marriages, she retired to Miami Beach, Florida in 1981 and became a recluse. Today, there are the films of course and her work as an inventor has been posthumously recognized.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr story

 

Directed by:
Alexandra Dean

Screenplay by:
Alexandra Dean

90 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Lady Bird

In her semi-autobiographical solo directorial debut, Greta Gerwig tells the story of a complicated teenage girl who, like the teenage Gerwig, lives in Sacramento, California in 2002. Her name is Christine (Saoirse Ronan), but wants to be called “Lady Bird”. Lady Bird hates everything. She hates the Catholic school her parents chose because they could not afford anything else. She’s constantly fighting with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). At school Lady Bird hangs around with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and starts a relationship with Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges). It is short-lived when she discovers his secret. Then Lady Bird meets musician Kyle Scheible (Timothée Chalamet) and has sex with him. She would like to go an art school in New York, but her dad (Tracy Letts) lost his job and Marion insists that a local Catholic college will be just fine. Lady Bird is mostly about the mother and daughter’s relationship, and this gives us Laurie Metcalf in the best work she has ever done. It feels like Oscar material. The Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan scenes are so real that you think they were improvised. It is clear that, although they fight all the time, Lady Bird and Marion love each other very much and that the possibility that one will get hurt is greater because of that. If I laughed so much during Lady Bird, is that I got myself caught by surprise by the appalling behavior of that teenager. It’s Gerwig’s originality as an actress, screenwriter and director that is apparent here. Of course I’ve seen other films about teenagers. But one so real, funny and touching? I don’t think so.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Lady Bird

 

Directed by:
Greta Gerwig

Screenplay by:
Greta Gerwig

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Laurie Metcalf
Tracy Letts
Lucas Hedges
Beanie Feldstein
Timothée Chalamet

93 min.

Novitiate

A film about a convent of cloistered nuns has always been a perfect topic for a film. It’s even better if you have a Reverend Mother who will antagonize the young postulants. Novitiate begins in the 1960s with 17-year-old Cathleen’s realisation that she wants to become a nun. Over the years we see that Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) is totally fascinated when she meets a nun. Nora (Julianne Nicholson), her agnostic mother, is not very happy when Cathleen tells her. The Sisters of the blessed rose is managed by Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair (Melissa Leo). At first she speaks in a low whisper voice, instructing the new postulants on what their lives will be like from now on. There is “regular silence”, they are told, during which time some talking will be permitted, and there is “grand silence” where no talking is allowed. Complete silence. There is little doubts that Cathleen (now Sister Cathleen) had a real “calling” (thanks to Qualley’s emotionally invested performance), but the reasons for the other girls may be less pure. The idealized notions we see in movies, like Audrey Hepburn in Fred Zinnemann’s 1959 film The nun’s story, or the insistence from their families that there ought to be at least one child as a priest or a nun are some of the reason. But whatever the reasons, the temptation to succumb to the sexual urges is present throughout the film. It is during that time that the reforms brought on by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council (AKA Vatican II) were introduced. Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair is against any changes and refuses to accept the orders she has received from her Bishop. So the nuns continue to whip themselves with a weird knotted-rope instrument, and there is something called “the chapter of faults”, where the young postulants kneel on the floor for long hours and have to confess their sins and weaknesses. Writer-director Maggie Betts has put together an excellent cast of actresses, young and old. Beside Qualley’s central performance, we have noted a few names. Dianna Agron (from TVs Glee) plays Sister Mary Grace, a progressive nun who disagree with the Reverend Mother and feels the need to leave the order. Julianne Nicholson plays Sister Cathleen’s mom with a brassy camp that is great fun to anticipate. Her confrontation with the Reverend Mother is one of the best scene in the film. And Leo in a performance that is subtle and overplayed, sometime in the same scene, speech or phrase. In the early scenes, we know that under that soft voice there is a scary woman. It is Leo showing us the different layers of contradiction of the Reverend Mother that makes it so compelling to watch. As with all films with nuns, Novitiate is aesthetically most beautiful to watch, thanks to cinematographer Kat Westergaard. Beside the score by Christopher Stark, there is a soundtrack of classical music for female choirs. Novitiate shakes up our pre-conceived notions about nuns and the powers inside the church. Any church.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Novitiate

 

Directed by:
Maggie Betts

Screenplay by:
Margaret Betts

Starring:
Margaret Qualley
Melissa Leo
Dianna Agron
Morgan Saylor
Julianne Nicholson

123 min.

Wonderstruck

I was looking forward to see Wonderstruck, the new Todd Haynes film. The last film we saw from him was Carol, and he also directed Far from heaven. Wonderstruck is set in 1977, and it tells the story of a young boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley) shortly after his mom ( if you blink you might miss Michelle Williams) has died in a car crash. Ben, who never knew who his dad was, finds what he thinks are relevant information. But before Ben can do anything, he has an accident that makes him deaf. He then runs away from his guardians in Minnesota and goes to New York in search for his father. Cut to Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. Rose (Millicent Simmonds), , a young deaf girl who runs away from her father to go Manhattan. Rose is searching for her favorite silent film actress (Julianne Moore who plays two characters). In 77, Ben meets Jamie (Jaden Michael), another boy who will help Ben find the answers he needs. While the Rose/1927 part of film was shot in black and white and is silent, the Ben/1977 are a full color reconstruction of 1977. You think “How did they do that?”. There are scenes in New York where you can see down a long street, and every car, every costume, the way people walk and smoke is like looking at a photo or a documentary film. I have no way of knowing if special effects were used. Brilliant cinematographer Edward Lachman has matched the style and colors of American cinema of the 1970s. It is impressive.  But the 1927 scenes are a lot less believable. The film is helped greatly by Carter Burwell’s expressive score. I was initially put off by Wonderstruck‘s lack of focus and its inconsistency. Some bit of dialogue and turn of events, at least in the early scenes, seemed to be a bit corny. But ultimately, I was charmed by the whole film because of its innocence and naiveté. I think all, pre-teens, teens and adults, will enjoy it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wonderstruck

 

Directed by:
Todd Haynes

Screenplay by:
Brian Selznick
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Millicent Simmonds
Oakes Fegley
Julianne Moore
MIchelle Williams

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The Florida project

The characters featured in The Florida project are usually reserved for trash TV shows like The Jerry Springer show or Desperate housewives of… pick a place, any place really and you’ll find trash. But here, director Sean Baker does not want to judge. You may know Baker for his previous film, Tangerine, shot entirely on iPhones. In The Florida project we follow Moonee (newcomer Brooklynn Prince), a 6-year-old girl. Moonee lives with her welfare mom, Halley (Bria Vinaite, also a newcomer) in one of the cheap motels near Disney world. During the day, Moonee is left wandering on her own without parental guidance. She’s not really alone. Wandering with her are her friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and her newly found best friend, Jancey (Valeria Cotto). There is nothing Moonee won’t do: spit on cars, ask strangers for money, demand free food be given to them, insult, yell and swear at adults. No limits. And when we get to know her mom, we get it. Halley is a walking time bomb. A in-your-face, loud-mouth young woman who is ready to steal to pay the rent, and even brings clients to her room while Moonee is in the washroom. The motel complex is managed by Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe, one of the few professional actors). Bobby does the best he can to help the tenants and make sure they don’t cause any more problems. He’s got his hands full with Halley and Moonee. The very thin plot with mostly improvised dialogue and a cast of non-professional actors does not mean that The Florida project is unworthy. On the contrary : the originality of its subject and Baker’s casual approach is its greatest assets. I will not soon forget Moonee and Halley or the actresses. Looking at Brooklynn Prince, one can’t help but remember Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern wild, with the difference that Wallis was a much more structured and powerful performance. Prince and Vinaite play characters rarely seen in films. Some people feel that a film needs a moral point. There is no point in The Florida project, except to experience unconventional, non-mainstream cinema. Oscar nominations? Yes. I would really like to see Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince among the nominees. But I think that Willem Dafoe is the glue that holds the film together. Dafoe’s Bobby is such warm and caring character, and he plays him with such a gentle touch, an ease. It flows. The Florida project is what it is. Totally original and undefined by our expectations.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The Florida project

 

Directed by:
Sean Baker

Screenplay by:
Sean Baker
Chris Bergoch

Starring:
Brooklynn Prince
Willem Dafoe
Bria Vinaite
Valeria Cotto
Christopher Rivera
Mela Murder
Sandy Kane

112 min.

Rated 14A

Mark Felt: The man who brought down the White House

I was a teenager when I saw Mike Stivic and Archie Bunker fight over the Watergate scandal in the deliciously topical sitcom All in the family. Then a few years later, I saw All the president’s men, about Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation that uncovered the corruptions of the Nixon administration. In the film we see the journalists meeting in a dark garage at night with an informant they called “Deep throat”. We now know that “Deep throat” was Mark Felt, the Associate director of the Federal bureau of investigation (FBI). The film start as Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) learns about the death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (he headed the bureau from 1924 to 1972). As interim director Nixon names “yes man” Patrick Gray (Marton Csokas). Mark Felt does not get along with Gray, as he feels that he should have been appointed. Then on June 17, 1972, the Watergate break-in happens. The investigation starts at the FBI, but Gray receives orders from the White house to stop the investigation and cover it up. But Mark Felt wants to sticks to the principles of the FBI as an arm’s length organisation untouched by political interference. In his personal life, Felt and his wife, Audrey (Diane Lane), are looking for their missing daughter. Mark Felt: The man who brought down the White House is interesting mostly for the history lesson and the similarities to what is happening in Washington in 2017. Liam Neeson, who is in every scenes, has a somber and commanding presence. The cast of characters are well-played, but no one else than Neeson is notable. According to the director, Diane Lane gave what he termed an “electric performance”, but most of it was cut from the finished film. As it is, it’s a thankless part. Although the film is interesting to see because of what we learn, it suffers a lot from a slow tempo and a lack of energy. The Daniel Pemberton score helps to keep the suspense and tension boiling. I liked it enough to recommend, but you should also see Alan J. Pakula’s All the president’s men.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Mark Felt: The man who brought down the White House

 

Directed by:
Peter Landesman

Screenplay by:
Peter Landesman

Starring:
Liam Neeson
Diane Lane
Michael C. Hall
Maika Monroe
Julian Morris
Marton Csokas

106 min.

Woodshock

I find that the worse films are not the overblown Hollywood blockbusters, but the pretentious independent films.Additionally, Woodshock is boring and confusing. It stars Kirsten Dunst as Theresa, a woman with a profound depressive (and depressing), blank stare. In early scenes we witness Theresa as she put a few drops of a mysterious liquid from a mysterious vial into a bag of marijuana, rolls a joint and gives it to her sick mother. Mother smokes it and then dies. Since then, Theresa has been walking around the house in a near-vegetative state. Her boyfriend, Nick (Joe Cole), tries to help her, but he is unable to pull her out of her depression. They live in a house next to the woods. Theresa works at a marijuana store. It is confusing because everything around them (sets, costume, music, cars) seems to say they live in the 70s or 80s. Unless there were marijuana stores back then and did not know about it. Whatever was in that vial kills two more people, but when Theresa smokes it, she gets psychedelic visions, the likes I haven’t seen since the good old days of hippies movies. And she also goes to the woods to levitate. If bad movies makes you laugh, then go. It just did not do anything for me. Boring and annoying.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Woodshock

 

Directed by:
Kate Mulleavy
Laura Mulleavy

Screenplay by:
Kate Mulleavy
Laura Mulleavy

Starring:
Kirsten Dunst
Pilou Asbæk
Joe Cole

100 min.

Tulip fever

There was a time in the Netherlands during the 17th-century when tulips bulbs were the most priced items. Especially the bulbs with a tulip breaking virus that could produce a multicolored tulip. Those were traded at auction to the highest bidder. Tulip fever, set during that period, is a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and a Moliere comedy. But Tulip fever is more sensual. It stars Alicia Vikander as Sofia Sandvoort, the beautiful wife of rich tulip trader Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Sofia, who is much younger than her husband, is desperately trying to get pregnant and give Cornelis an heir, meaning a baby boy. And although there is no doubt that Cornelis loves his wife, he needs an heir and claims that in six month, if Sofia is not pregnant, he’ll have to find another wife. Still, he commissions young portraitist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint her portrait. At first van Loos is such a professional that he fails to notice the beautiful woman posing for him. He also does not see that Sofia would do anything to be noticed by him. And then it happens. Dane DeHaan’s blue-eyed piercing stares is what gives Tulip fever its most potent sensual moments. There is very little nudity in the film, and instead we get more of a romantic love-making than in most films. So they make love and wants to elope together. To make money van Loos goes into the tulip trading business. Meanwhile, Sofia’s maid and confidante, Maria (Holliday Grainger, who also narrates), gets pregnant from the fish monger (Jack O’Connell). The fish monger also went into the tulip trade shortly before he disappeared. And of course, Cornelis is totally unaware that any of this is happening. We are treated here to a fast paced film with enough plots to fill several films. None of these Masterpiece theatre lengthy conversations while sipping tea. The set and costume department have not tried to beautified the 1600s narrow streets of Amsterdam lounging some canals. They are dirty, full of fruits and fish sellers and unsavoury characters. You can almost smell the stench. Tulip fever is not what you would expect from a period comedy/drama. It’s so unusual that some reviewers have completely dismissed it. But to compare it to other period films would be a mistake. Yes, some of the plot is farfetched, but only if you judge it by a modern standard. I saw the film as a 17th-century saucy comedy, or an homage at the very least. It was not meant to be taken literally in a realistic way. There’s a character played by American comedian Zach Galifianakis. He’s a bizarre fit in that type of film, but he knows how to spread himself thin and doesn’t get in the way for most of the film. Dame Judi Dench has a small part as the Mother superior of an orphanage who also likes to grow tulips as a side business. Even when she is under playing, Dench reads her comic lines with a knife-like cutting edge. We’re then taken aback that so much snap can come out unannounced with such ease. That’s what you call perfect timing. I found Tulip fever amusing and beautiful to look at. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Tulip fever

 

Directed by:
Justin Chadwick

Screenplay by:
Tom Stoppard
Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach

Starring:
Alicia Vikander
Christoph Waltz
Dane DeHaan
Holliday Grainger
Judi Dench
Zach Galifianakis

105 min.

Rated 14A