Monday, January 15, 2018

Call Me by Your Name


            A coming of age, romantic drama set in 1983, this is a story of first love and sexual awakening. It is beautifully filmed and extremely well acted by it's two leads, Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet.

           Michael Stuhlbarg is Dr. Perlman, a Professor of Archaeology who spends the summer at a house in Northern Italy with his wife (played by Amira Casar) and seventeen year old son, Elio, played by Mr. Chalamet. Every summer, Professor Perlman enlists the assistance of a student aid and when the film opens we meet Oliver (Mr. Hammer) who slowly awakens confusing feelings in Elio. What starts as a friendship soon turns to much more.

            The setting of the film is just exquisite. I found myself wanting to leap into the film and enjoy a summer, outdoor dinner among the fruit trees of the property. The film is a lush visual treat. Oliver and Elio begin their romance in a slow, subtle "dance" of mutual attraction and Elio is eventually totally smitten with the older Oliver. Mr. Hammer does his best work to date, showing a vulnerability underneath a confident exterior. Mr. Chalamet is simply amazing as he wrestles with his feelings and ultimately acts upon them. The closing moments of the film show a remarkable range in a dialog free scene for the young actor.

             Luca Guadagnino directs from a script by James Ivory. Mr. Guadagnino purposes limits the nudity and the sex scenes in the film to hopefully broaden it's audience. He prefers to leave much to the audience's imagination cutting away from the protagonists in their most intimate moments. He blends this tender, romantic story with a wonderful combination of acting, writing, music (by Sufjan Stevens) and cinematography.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Darkest Hour

        Directed by Joe Wright and starring Gary Oldman, this is a British war drama focusing on the early days of Winston Churchill. Having just won the Golden Globe for his portrayal of Mr. Churchill, Gary Oldman is now the front runner for a well deserved  Best Actor Oscar as well.

           The film is set in May 1940,  Mr. Churchill has just become the new Prime Minister just as Hitler's forces are occupying most of Europe and bearing down on England. The British forces are trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk and Mr. Churchill is faced with ultimate decisions affecting the troops, England and the outcome of the war. 

            Portraying Winston Churchill may very well be the pinnacle of Mr. Oldman's career. It is a towering performance that presides over the entire film. Praise must be given to his co-stars as well though, including Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Churchill, Ben Mendelsohn as King George, and a wonderful Lily James as Elizabeth Layton, Mr. Churchill's loyal secretary.

            Mr.  Wright's direction moves the film along at a brisk clip with wonderful sets and cinematography, faithfully recreating  wartime London. I didn't want to see it end. The film makes a great companion piece to Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk" as history is seen from both sides in what was truly a darkest time for England.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

In The Fade

           Written and directed by Fatih Akin, this new German foreign language film is sadly based on incidents taking place worldwide everywhere that hate and prejudice continue to fester. 

          It is the story of Katja, a German woman, who's husband and son are killed by a bomb at the onset of the film. It's a difficult but important story anchored by an incredible performance.

           Katja is played by Diane Kruger, who is simply amazing in the role. Her grief, anger, guilt and all the emotions tumbling around in her head in the aftermath are brutally honest. Every note of her performance is raw and her outrage and hatred is so intense, the audience is on edge wondering how this will all play out. 

          What the police initially believe is drug related violence, turns out to be something far more sinister, when it is discovered the people responsible are a neo-nazi group targeting minorities in Germany (Katja's husband is Turkish). The film parallels an episode of Law & Order, first the crime and then the trial but the consequences are unexpected and the drama far exceeds anything done on a weekly TV show.

          The title of the film is taken from a song by Josh Homme (who composed the music for the film). It represents Katja's state of being after the bombing. Ms. Kruger has done fine work in many American movies and television shows (find "The Bridge" on Fox demand or Netflix) but this represents a new high for her in her native German.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Square

          An avant garde dark comedy from writer/director Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure), this new film, while set in an art museum, covers more ground than just tearing down the pretentiousness of the art world.

           The film stars Claes Bang as Christian, the curator of a contemporary  art museum in Sweden. Early in the film Christian is the victim of a pickpocket scam and loses his phone, wallet, and cufflinks. This incidence reverberates throughout the film impacting everything that follows. It co-stars Elisabeth Moss as Ann, an American journalist and Dominic West as Julian, an artist with an exhibition in the museum. Both are small but significant roles. Terry Notary also co-stars as Oleg, a performance artist, in a prolonged dinner sequence that is surreal, humorous and frightening all at the same time.

           Mr. Ostlund skewers the art world with various set pieces but also has a lot to say about class prejudice, trust (sexual and otherwise), freedom of speech, and equal rights. He deliberately sets up uncomfortable and absurist situations that force a reaction from the audience. There are moments that  will make you laugh or shudder and others that will clearly have you scratching your head. 

            A film like this is not meant to simply entertain. It forces an audience to pay attention and really digest what you are watching.  It's a bold film that takes a lot of risks and probably won't appeal to a mainstream American audience but if you like offbeat and even challenging film, "The Square" is a good choice. The film is in Swedish (with subtitles) and English.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

My Best and Worst Films of 2017

Best of 2017

Dunkirk- Simply a masterpiece of film making.
The Shape of Water- a most unusual but surprising and poetic love story.
I, Tonya- Terrific true life tabloid tale told from various viewpoints featuring wonderful acting.
The Florida Project- Practically a documentary on a segment of American life on the fringe with an adorable leading lady.
Logan- a comic book movie as mythic western taken to an entirely different level.
Land of Mine- fantastic story based on a little known piece of World War II Danish history.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri- Wildly original with a tremendous cast.
Get Out- race relations in today’s America disguised as a horror film.
Hostiles- terrific western with great performances by Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike.
Patti Cake$- Indy hip-hop film with an unlikely star in the making.

Honorable Mention

Lady Bird- perfect coming of age film.
Detroit- devastating story of the riots in ‘60’s Detroit with brave and meticulous direction by Kathryn Bigalow.
Roman J. Esq. – Denzel Washington as we’ve never seen him
Wonder Woman- D. C. comics finally gets it right and Gal Gadot is just terrific.
The Big Sick- girl in a coma produces big laughs. Who would have thought?
Baby Driver- a totally new way of syncing the soundtrack to the film raises the bar on this action crime film.
The Post- freedom of the press with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks

Worst of 2017

The Beguiled- This is art taken to new level of boredom.
Passengers- How can two exciting stars still sink a film?
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets- Horrible casting makes this almost unwatchable.
The Only Living Boy in New York- I don’t even remember the plot.
Mother!- WTF!
Wonder Wheel- Woody’s losing it. Kate Winslet does try to save it though.
Downsizing- Conned by the trailers, this “comedy” turns very serious with great ideas never realized.
The Comedian- just a sad, sad film.
Life- Alien rip-off
Justice League- Wonder Woman is the best thing about this “boy’s club” mess.

The Greatest Showman

         As light and sugary sweet as cotton candy, this version of P.T. Barnum's life is homogenized and sanitized family fun. Hugh Jackman stars as Barnum and there is no doubting his talent as an actor and singer. After his wonderful dramatic turn in "Logan" earlier this year, this new film proves he can do pretty much anything.

            Mr. Jackman is joined by Michele Williams as his wife, Charity and Zac Efron as his eventual partner, Phillip Carlyle ( a fictionalized version of James Anthony Bailey). The performers of Barnum's circus are wonderful and standouts are Zendaya as Ann, the trapeze artist and Keala Settle as the bearded lady. Also co-starring are Rebecca Ferguson as the Swedish singer, Jenny Lind and Paul Sparks as James Gordon Bennet, the founder of the NY Herald and an early critic of Barnum.

            There are memorable song and dance sequences and the film does exactly what it's meant to do despite the fact it takes much liberty with Barnum's real life. It speeds through his early years to concentrate on the adult version of P.T. Barnum and how his circus was born.Even if it is a fluff piece with no real depth, it's all good, clean, holiday fun for the family, 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Phantom Thread

       Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this film marks his second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis. Set in the fashion world of London in the 1950's, Mr. Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned designer and dressmaker to royalty and the stars of the day.

        Woodcock is a confirmed bachelor (by his own words) too caught up in his work for a real relationship. Women come through his life as temporary muses and once he tires of one, moves on to the next. The only constant female in his life is his protective sister, Cyril, play by Lesley Manville. One day he meets Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, and once she enters his world, she becomes more than he expected and real love enters and disrupts his meticulous life.

         The film is gorgeous to look at, from the production value to the costumes and dress designs, it is exquisite. Mr. Day-Lewis is superb as always, giving himself over completely to the role of a perfectionist artist. Ms. Krieps more than holds her own in all their scenes together. The thread bare plot is about obsession, control and what happens when perfection is compromised by love. The relationship between Alma and Woodcock becomes a game of control, bordering on madness, with mutual love at stake.

          Flowing like a soft fabric in a light breeze, the film is quiet and orderly.  Woodcock's conservative and buttoned-up nature provides some unexpected comic relief with many a memorable line or expression. Mr. Anderson treats his film like the most delicate of lace and reveals his layers slowly and methodically.  It is a film more of style than substance, save for watching a master actor in what is rumored to be his last role.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Hostiles

        Written and directed by Scott Cooper, this is the best period western since "Unforgiven". It's pace is meticulous and deliberate with no wasted dialog. There are stretches where nothing seems to happen (and yet so much does) and then moments of horrific violence. It is a simple story yet filled with emotion that runs deep into your soul with a towering performance by Christian Bale.

         Mr. Bale plays Captain Joseph Blocker who, in 1892 reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne chief and his family back to his tribal homeland. He is weary from all the death and destruction of the Indian wars and has no love for Chief Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi. But facing a court martial if he disobeys orders, they start out on the perilous journey. Along the way, they encounter the widow Rosalie Quaid played by Rosamund Pike, who's anguish and grief is heartbreaking. The three principles, all hurt and empty from their personal losses, develop great chemistry as the small band moves northward to Montana.

            Co-starring in various military roles are Ben Foster,  Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Jonathan Majors, Timothee Chalamet, and Peter Mullen. Adam Beach and Q'orianka Kilcher play Yellow Hawk's son and daughter-in-law. While it is a fine cast, the heart and soul of the film are the three leads. Mr. Bale, Ms. Pike and Mr. Studi can express more with just a look than any dialog.

             The film is beautifully shot with gorgeous New Mexico, Colorado and Montana landscapes forming the background. Mr. Cooper takes his time telling his story but pulls no punches making it clear we are all capable of being the hostiles.