CALL ME BY YOUR NAME: first love in a luscious Italian summer

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Call Me by Your Name is an extraordinarily beautiful story of sexual awakening set in a luscious Italian summer.  The film is gorgeous and magnificently well-acted, but flawed.

Each year, the family of 16-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) spends the summer in a villa in Northern Italy.  Elio’s father is an American professor of ancient Greek and Roman culture, and each summer he invites a different grad student to live in their villa and work on scholarly pursuits.  In this summer of 1981, that lucky grad student is the 26-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer).  Elio is attracted to Oliver, who is a closeted gay man. Oliver is attracted to Elio, but initially resists Elio’s overtures.  What follows between the two of them is an enthralling and authentic exploration of first love.

Timothée Chalamet is really perfect as Elio, a musical prodigy who is beating off the girls with a stick.  Even really handsome and talented 17-year-olds have some awkwardness, especially while they’re trying too hard to be cool.  Chamalet captures that perfectly, along with the obsessive longing of a first romance.  (Chalamet is also in Lady Bird, where he plays the dreamy kid who plays in a band, the object of Lady Bird’s desire.)  Armie Hammer is also superb as the more worldly Oliver, whose external confidence masks inner conflicts.

Timothée Chalamet in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

The story of the two main characters would have made a perfect film, but famed screenwriter James Ivory adds some distracting implausibility with the other characters.  First, there are Elio’s impossibly cool and understanding parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) who practically push their teen son into the arms of an older man; nobody has parents like that, especially TWO of them.  (And, yes, I did understand the dad’s motivation, made almost explicit in his final monologue).  Second, Elio hurts the feelings of a girl (in a way that almost every male has hurt some girl).  Later, she forgives him and it’s all made to be okay.  This is just too convenient for Elio, and I didn’t buy it.

And then there’s one of my own movie pet peeves.  I generally despise musical interludes in movies, when the dialogue is suspended and a song is played over a montage of imagery.  This usually indicates a lack of imagination in the story-telling.  A movie gets negative bonus points from me when the music is an insipid pop ballad.  In Call Me by Your Name, there are two such Euro-pop interludes.

On the other hand, the depiction of the Italian countryside, with its rustling breezes, orchards heavy with fruit, ancient buildings and  is pure travel porn.  I think that The Wife would have walked out of Call Me by Your Name – not because she wouldn’t have liked it – but to make reservations for a return to Tuscany.  Director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash, I Am Love) has a gift for making his native Italy unbearably attractive on the screen.  Between the work of Guadagnino and Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty), Italy has been well-celebrated in recent films.

Call Me By Your Name is a very good movie, and the core story of Elio and Oliver is great cinema.

Stream of the Week: A COUNTRY CALLED HOME – to move on, she needs another look at her past

Imogen Poots in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME
Imogen Poots in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME

Since this is Imogen Poots Week at The Movie Gourmet, this week’s video recommendation is a totally overlooked drama from just last year, A Country Called Home. Somehow A Country Called Home missed out on any significant theatrical release even though it’s a very satisfying Finding Yourself drama.

Poots plays Ellie, a young Los Angeles woman with an underachieving job and a lousy boyfriend who takes her for granted. She hears that her estranged father has become gravely ill, and we learn that she has escaped a Texas childhood with an alcoholic father.  Her brother (Shea Whigham) also lives in Los Angeles; he is flourishing and doesn’t care a whit about their father – the brother has moved on from his upbringing.  But Ellie is a poster girl for low-self esteem, and she feels obligated to travel to her father’s bedside.

Ryan Bingham in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME
Ryan Bingham in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME

Once in Texas, she finds that her father has just passed, leaving the detritus of his alcoholic life.   Everything in her old hometown is trashy, complicated or just plain unsupportive.  She meets a misfit wannabe singer-songwriter (Mackenzie Davis, unrecognizable from Bad Turn Worse).  And there’s a pressured-out single dad played by the sad-eyed Ryan Bingham (the Oscar-winning songwriter for Crazy Heart).

A Country Called Home is the debut feature for director and co-writer Anna Axster, and it’s a successful and engaging study of a woman finally emerging from a childhood with an alcoholic parent.   It turns out that, to move on with her life, she needed another look at where she came from.

A Country Called Home can be streamed from Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.  And last week’s Stream of the Week, Frank & Lola, is also available from those same streaming services.

GIRL ASLEEP: it’s my party and I’ll trip if I want to

GIRL ASLEEP
GIRL ASLEEP

I’ve seen plenty of teen coming of age movies, but none like Girl Asleep from Australia and first-time director Rosemary Myers.   The arc of the story may be familiar – a new school, an excruciatingly awkward boy and an encounter with Mean Girls.  The anxiety for our teen protagonist Greta (Bethany Whitmore) is crowned by her parents doing what must be the most embarrassing thing for a teenager – the parents putting on a party for her and inviting everyone at her new school.  As the story is set up, we see some glimpses of magical realism. Then, when the party maximizes Greta’s stress, the story is immersed into a trippy Alice in Wonderland parallel universe.  It’s  all an allegory for the perils of the adolescent journey.

Greta’s batty parents are played with gleaming resolve by Amber McMahon and screenwriter Mathew Whittet.  Harrison Feldmore’s  total commitment to his role as Greta’s suitor is admirable; he’s not just geeky but enthusiastically so, plunging headlong into a profound geeky totality.   Director Myers also has fun with the 1970s milieu, taking particular glee with the short shorts worn by the male characters.

The movie is pretty funny, and you won’t find a trippier coming of age flick.   Girl Asleep opens tomorrow in the Bay Area at Camera 3 in San Jose and at the Roxie in San Francisco.  Girl Asleep screens with the short film Pickle, a deadpan comedy.

Stream of the Week: A COUNTRY CALLED HOME – to move on, she needs another look at her past

Imogen Poots in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME
Imogen Poots in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME

This week’s video recommendation is a totally overlooked drama from earlier this year, A Country Called Home. Somehow A Country Called Home missed out on any significant theatrical release even though it’s a very satisfying Finding Yourself drama.

Imogen Poots plays Ellie, a young Los Angeles woman with an underachieving job and a lousy boyfriend who takes her for granted. She hears that her estranged father has become gravely ill, and we learn that she has escaped a Texas childhood with an alcoholic father. Her brother (Shea Whigham) also lives in Los Angeles; he is flourishing and doesn’t care a whit about their father – the brother has moved on from his upbringing. But Ellie is a poster girl for low-self esteem, and she feels obligated to travel to her father’s bedside.

Ryan Bingham in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME
Ryan Bingham in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME

Once in Texas, she finds that her father has just passed, leaving the detritus of his alcoholic life. Everything in her old hometown is trashy, complicated or just plain unsupportive. She meets a misfit wannabe singer-songwriter (Mackenzie Davis unrecognizable from Bad Turn Worse). And there’s a pressured-out single dad played by the sad-eyed Ryan Bingham (the Oscar-winning songwriter for Crazy Heart).

A Country Called Home is the debut feature for director and co-writer Anna Axster, and it’s a successful and engaging study of a woman finally emerging from a childhood with an alcoholic parent. It turns out that, to move on with her life, she needed another look at where she came from.

A Country Called Home can be streamed from Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

SFIFF: LEAF BLOWER

LEAF BLOWER. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.
LEAF BLOWER. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

Leaf Blower is an amiable Mexican slice-of-life comedy.  Three young guys are drifting rudderless though their adolescences, doing what teenage males do – wasting time, busting each others balls and achieving new heights of social awkwardness and sexual frustration.  Its first screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) is on April 24, and director Alejandro Iglesias Mendizábal is expected to attend.

In his promising first feature, director and co-writer Iglesias Mendizábal has created an entirely character-driven portrait of male teen friendship and restlessness.  After all, the only real plot is whether they will find the keys that one of them dropped into a pile of leaves.   But we want to keep watching these guys to see what happens to them, and it’s all pretty funny.

  • Ruben (Alejandro Guerrero) is too cool for school.  He’s sure that he’s the only one in charge of his life – he just doesn’t know where he wants to go.  So he masks his indecision and avoidance by brooding.
  • Lucas (Fabrizio Santini) is nervous and a little hyper, but his bossy girlfriend totally paralyzes him with dread.  He’s always a day late and a peso short, the kind of guy who is stuck wearing his dirty soccer uniform to a funeral.
  • Emilio (Francisco Rueda) is constrained by his status as the fat kid (and I was a fat kid, so I relate).  Self-isolated, he yearns to be more social, but then counterproductively comforts himself with more and more calories.

All three are sexually awakened but inept.   Only Lucas has a girlfriend, and she causes him to sigh painfully every time his cellphone rings.  Ruben and Emilio are so intimidated by females that they’re too scared to even borrow a rake from one.

Come to think about it, Leaf Blower is not a pure coming of age movie because its characters don’t seem to grow or change as a result of their experiences.  It’s more of a “being-of-age” movie because they just are who they are.  Perceptive and observational, Leaf Blower is pretty far away from the American Pie kind of teen comedy.

The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) runs through May 5. Throughout the fest, I’ll be linking more festival coverage to my SFFIF 2016 page, including both features and movie recommendations. Follow me on Twitter for the very latest coverage.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!: busting balls and chasing girls

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!

Everybody Wants Some!! is director Richard Linklater’s nostalgic romp through his college jock days.  He’s described Everybody Wants Some!! as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, and it has a similar vibe. We have college baseball players living in a house next to campus, and they drink lots of beer, get high, bust each other’s balls and chase girls. There are lots and lots of ball busting and girl chasing.  All in good fun.

Everybody Wants Some!! is a dead-on 1980 time capsule, showcasing the disco, non-Urban Cowboy and punk cultural moments.  And the very fun and evocative period soundtrack kicks off with My Sharona.

There is also a bong scene that has possibly the best stoned movie monologue (“language is just a construct”, Mayans, Druids, etc.) since Jack Nicholson’s “Venutians” riff around the campfire in Easy Rider.

The story’s point of view is that of the college guys, and it is not unknown for college-age guys to see women primarily as sexual opportunities. That’s pretty much the role of all the women in this movie, except for that Special Girl who gets our hero’s attention.

Linklater is the master of coming of age (Boyhood) and coming of age in relationships (the Midnight trilogy).  Everybody Wants Some!! may be the least insightful of his coming of age films, but sometimes Linklater just has fun (School of Rock, Bernie), and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Everybody Wants Some!! has an appealing cast of actors that I hadn’t remembered seeing before (including the one guy who played Ryder in Glee).  Dazed and Confused is known for launching the careers of hitherto unknowns Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, Joey Lauren Adams and Jason London. How about Everybody Wants Some!!? I don’t see stardom here for anyone (but keep in mind that Ben Affleck didn’t have a very showy or portentous part in Dazed and Confused).

Everybody Wants Some!! may not be Major Linklater, but it’s an amusing frolic – but probably more fun for a heterosexual male audience.

DVD/Stream of the Week: DAZED AND CONFUSED

DAZED AND CONFUSED
Rory Cochrane and Matthew McConaughey in DAZED AND CONFUSED

Richard Linklater’s newest movie Everybody Wants Some!! is coming out in theaters, which he describes as a “spiritual sequel” to his coming of age classic Dazed and Confused.  So let’s all go back to the last day of high school in 1976 and refresh ourselves.  All of these high school kids  are up for a massive year-end party, and they are either thinking about or avoiding thinking about the next phase in their lives.  It all adds up to the defining coming of age film for its generation.

Linklater is the master of coming of age (Boyhood) and coming of age in relationships (the Midnight trilogy).  In Dazed and Confused the most unforgettable – and cautionary – character is Wooderson; as played with sheer genius by Mayygew McConaughhey, Wooderson is the one character who aggressively embraces NOT coming of age – kind of a shady, dissolute Peter Pan.

Dazed and Confused is known for launching McConaughey’s career,   as well as unleashing indie fave Parker Posey as a Mean Girl of uncommon enthusiasm.  This was Ben Affleck’s first main role, although his character is more of a one-dimensional bully, and doesn’t hint at his future success as an Oscar-winning screenwriter or major movie star.  The rest of the cast includes then-newcomers Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, Joey Lauren Adams and Jason London.  I especially enjoy the turns by Wiley Wiggins and the hilarious Rory Cochrane (Black Mass).

Dazed and Confused is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Video (free with Amazon Prime), iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.

Parker Posey in DAZED AND CONFUSED
Parker Posey in DAZED AND CONFUSED

 

Dazed and Confused is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Video (free with Amazon Prime), iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.

MY GOLDEN DAYS: the urgency of first love

MY GOLDEN DAYS
MY GOLDEN DAYS

The first love depicted in Arnaud Desplechin’s coming of age film My Golden Days is completely evocative. That first love is inevitable even if the young lovers don’t know it yet, and then filled with passion, importance, obsession, angst, conflict, breakups and makeups. And then it runs its course.

The performance of Lou Roy-Lecollinet as the unpredictable object of the young protagonist’s affection really elevates My Golden Days. Roy-Lecollinet has looks which won’t attract every guy, but would be irresistible to some. She’s able to convincingly play a girl with a devastating combination of confidence, forthrightness, charm, wit, impulsivity and a wandering eye.

That story makes up the core of My Golden Days, a flashback bookended by the contemporary, middle-aged version of the protagonist (Mathieu Amalric). The story of young romance is perfect – one that we can all recognize. But, in the epilogue, the Amalric character (who has lived a full and eventful life in the 15-20 years since) is oddly still fervently bitter about what happened years before; with that distance, most of us would look back with nostalgia or, at least, a wistful acknowledgement of lessons learned. I was a bit put off.

And what’s with the lame title My Golden Days, which makes this sound like the story set in a retirement home? The original title is Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse which I think translates into Three Memories of My Youth – that would be better and there’s gotta be plenty of more appealing and descriptive titles.

My Golden Days, which I saw at Cinequest, is a movie that anyone who is decades removed from first love should see.

 

Cinequest: THE OTHER KIDS

THE OTHER KIDS
THE OTHER KIDS

The entirely fresh coming of age movie The Other Kids traces ten kids who are about to graduate from high school in Sonora, California. The problems that these kids face, how they think about themselves, how they communicate with their parents is remarkably realistic – so much that sometimes it looks like a documentary.  The fact that it was shot on a very low budget on location in the decidedly unposh Gold Country town of Sonora contributes to a cinema verite flavor.  The young cast is also excellent, and there’s nary a false moment.  It’s triumphant debut for writer-director Chris Brown.

Since I saw The Other Kids, I’ve  considered this recurring question: Why do I like this movie so much when I don’t even like teenagers?  It’s got to be Brown’s masterful story-telling and the authenticity of the characters.

MUSTANG: repression challenged by the human spirit

MUSTANG
MUSTANG

Mustang is about five exuberant Turkish teenage girls who challenge the repression of traditional culture.  It’s a triumph for writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, and one of the best films of the year.

The five parentless sisters are living with their uncle and aunt on the Turkish coast “a thousand kilometers from Istanbul”.  They’re a high-spirited bunch, and their rowdiness – innocent by Western standards – embarrasses their uncle.  Overreacting, he tries to protect the family honor by pulling them out of school, taking away their electronics, putting them in traditional dresses (evoking the dress wear of fundamentalist polygamist Mormons) and conniving to marry them off as soon as possible.  The uncle turns their home into a metaphorical prison that becomes more and more literal.  The girls push back, and the stakes of the struggle get very, very high.

Our viewpoint is that of youngest sister Lale (Günes Sensoy), who is a force of nature, ever watchful (often fiercely).  The poster girl for indomitability, Lale is one of the great movie characters of 2015.

Mustang is a film of distilled feminism, without any first world political correctness.  These are people who want to marry or not, who they want, when they want and to have some control over their lives.  They want protection from abuse.  That is not a high bar, but because they are female, the traditional culture keeps these basic rights from them.

Although Mustang is set and filmed in Turkey by a Turkish writer-director, the actors are Turkish and all the dialogue is Turkish, it is technically a French movie.   Director Ergüven works in France and the film was financed and produced in France.  In fact, it is France’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar (over the Cannes winner Dheepan and the Vincent Lindon drama The Measure of a Man).

I happened to be in Sevilla, Spain for the first weekend of the Sevilla European Film Festival and saw Mustang there.  I’ll be rooting for Mustang to win an Oscar.