Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Shape of Water, Downsizing, Call Me by Your Name

                                                  Fables and Realities

                                         Reviews by Ken Burke

 Welcome to 2018 with Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark now early into it’s 7th year (with all reviews so far done by Ken Burke [on the right in the little About Me photo], as Pat’s still getting his pencils sharpened) as well as me (you know who) now early into my 70th year (no wonder I’m getting worn out from writing all of this stuff—83 films addressed last year, 641 since inception).  I’ll be along later with my Top 10 of 2017 after I’ve had a chance to see a few more of the probable contenders, but you can see what others have had to say on that topic by scrolling way down below to look at the Metacritic ongoing accumulation of such ratings (that section of this posting also has the Golden Globes site where you can see their awards nominations now, check their winners after this upcoming January 7, 2018), or, if certain recent events still are distressing, you might be interested in what various folks call the movie dregs of 2017, beginning with Rotten Tomatoes' 20 worst scores of the year.  (Of these I saw only their #13 The Book of Henry  [Colin Trevorrow; review in our June 22, 2017 posting] with 21% positive reviews, #16 Wonder Wheel [Woody Allen, review in our December 14, 2017 posting] at 30%, #19 Justice League [Zack Snyder, Joss Whedon; review in our November 23, 2017 posting], at 40%, and #20 Ghost in the Shell [Rupert Sanders; review in our April 6, 2017 posting] at 46%, with consistently bad reviews saving me from the rest, including their #1, Just Getting Started [Ron Shelton] with a miserable 5% result.)

 Locally for me, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle offered his worst 10 (of which I saw only his #2 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales [Joachim Rønning, Epsen Sandberg; review in our June 1, 2017 posting], #3 Gold [Stephen Gaghan; review in our February 2, 2017 posting], #7 Paris Can Wait [Eleanor Coppola; review in our June 1, 2017 posting], and #10 Justice League), but given that tastes will always differ I wasn’t as harsh on any of these, giving them all either 3½ or 3 stars out of 5, indicating a reasonable—or better—degree of satisfaction in that I rarely go over 4, saving those precious higher numbers for the truly notable offerings (of which I found 2 at the 4½ level from 2017 releases, 1 at the pinnacle of 5; I’ll refer you to the Summary of Two Guys Reviews [also found as a regular reminder in the Related Links section of these postings, much farther below] to easily see which ones gained such respect on my part).  On the more upbeat side, I’ve recently seen some of the best—or at least the most intriguing—offerings of last year so let’s mosey on to my (attempted at shorter than usual, I swear) explorations of them.

            The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In an early 1960s Baltimore secret government lab a mute cleaning woman has a very ordinary life with few friends (except a co-worker and an unemployed illustrator who also has an apartment above the same movie theater where she lives), but her life changes when an humanoid amphibian from the Amazon is captured, brought to the facility, yet is scheduled for vivisection in order to find a method for American astronauts to have an advantage over their Soviet counterparts regarding breathing in outer space.  The woman manages to develop a connection with the water creature, even teaching him some sign language, before recruiting her 2 friends (with some help from a Russian spy who’s also a scientist trying to protect this unique creature from yet-another-military-priority over intellectual inquiry) to smuggle him out of captivity where she can attempt to further her connection while trying to hide him from his pursuers.

 Unless the premise is just too weird for you, The Shape of Water’s a marvelously-intriguing film displaying the type of celebrated imagination del Toro’s famous for.  I highly recommend it as there could be several Oscar considerations, especially for Sally Hawkins as Best Actress, although this film’s not yet playing in many theaters so you may have to search a bit to find a welcoming venue.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: Back in 1962, lonely, mute (but not deaf) Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a cleaning lady at a secret government installation in Baltimore, with the non-working parts of her day spent in her apartment over a movie theater (where she has a friend, Giles [Richard Jenkins]—an unemployed illustrator trying to get his old job back after having been dismissed either for drinking too much or accidently letting on he’s gay—in the accompanying apartment) or getting ready for work (daily ritual of alarm clock, masturbation in a warm bath, boiling eggs for lunch, rushing off to the job where her only other friend, coworker Zelda Fuller [Octavia Spencer], usually has to save Elisa’s place in the clock-in line so she won’t be late for work).  Everything changes when the ferocious head of the facility, former Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), oversees the arrival in a water tank of a strange Amazonian humanoid-amphibian (Doug Jones)—seen as a god by his local natives—captured to help American scientists and military understand how he’s able to use 2 separate breathing systems in hopes this will help U.S. astronauts have an advantage over Soviet cosmonauts in the increasingly-aggressive space race.  Strickland and his boss, Gen. Frank Hoyt (Nick Searcy), want to vivisect this creature to understand how he operates (although it’s already clear he needs to be in water most of the time, with only limited options for air-breathing), but a Russian spy within their organization, Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), is ordered by his handlers to kill the creature rather than allow the Americans to gain any extraterrestrial advantage.  In the midst of all this conflict over the “Asset” (as he’s called), Elisa quietly slips into his secure quarters, makes friends with him, teaches him some sign language, then recruits Giles and Zelda to help her sneak him out of the heavily-guarded-place, aided clandestinely by Hoffstetler whose scientific interests about this water-creature override his demanded-devotion to disruptive-duty.

 Once hidden in Elisa’s apartment, the amphibian-man spends most of his time in her bathtub, soon a mating/lovemaking-location for them (depending on whether you follow Strickland’s or Esposito’s viewpoint), until she floods the bathroom so they can swim/screw together in deeper water at least until leakage into the moviehouse below creates a minor disaster.  In the process of trying to stand guard over this “fish out of water”-amphibian, Giles’ arm is torn by the creature’s claws but his wound mysteriously heals quickly with the accompanying benefit of some hair growth upon his mostly-bald-head.  ⇒The Amazonian’s not doing as well healthwise, though, so Elisa’s heartbroken but determined to release him into a canal when the rainy season returns, allowing him to swim out to sea.  Hoffstetler’s scheduled to be sent back to Russia, but when he comes to his rendezvous point he would be shot by one of his own (apparently his story of killing the amphibian-man, then disposing of the body wasn’t credible) had not Strickland tailed him in a desperate attempt to find his Asset, with the assassin and Hoffstetler soon dead by Strickland’s hand, but not before cattle-prod-torture (just as he’d used on the amphibian; he’s not much nicer to his wife, Elaine [Lauren Lee Smith], covering her mouth while they have sex, later making lewd overtures to Elisa as she’s already silent, but because he doesn’t know sign he’s unaware she spells out “fuck you” in response) reveals enough to allow Strickland to grill Zelda about the creature’s intended escape.  Strickland arrives at the docks just before Amphi’s (it’s time for some abbreviation for him) departure, shooting both him and Elisa; the creature heals his own wounds (Strickland now believes he really is dealing with some sort of a god), kills his enemy with a wicked slash to the throat, jumps into the water with dead Elisa, magically revives her (as the scars on her neck from the childhood vocal cords-operation turn into gills), so the lovers can swim away, likely back to South America.⇐

So What? As noted in the 2nd entry for ... Water in the Related Links section far below, del Toro, with his childhood fascination for The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954), and associate producer Daniel Kraus, with his idea for an aqua-man (yeah, I know that term’s probably copyrighted by Warner Bros. and DC Comics for their Justice League movies; 1st one with the Lord of Atlantis was out last year, directed by Zack Snyder [and Joss Whedon; review in our November 23, 2017 posting] but Arthur Curry/Aquaman returns in a stand-alone-feature set for December 21, 2018 release) and human-woman love story, made for a natural combination for this very offbeat romance; it’s also often referred to as sci-fi, but if we need to bring in another genre to accommodate Amphi’s presence I think we’re better off with the subset of Fantasy I call Creature Features (such as King Kong [Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933; along with various remakes including our review of Kong: Skull Island {Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017} in our March 16, 2017 posting] or Godzilla [Ishirō Honda, 1954; followed by a slew of sequels or remakes, including our review of the latest reintroduction, Godzilla {Gareth Edwards, 2014} in our May 14, 2014 posting])—where I’d also place … the Black Lagoon—especially with … Water’s Amphi endowed with regenerative/transformational-powers that defy even quasi-scientific attempts at explanations.

 So, ultimately, this is a highly-original romantic fantasy which del Toro says occurs midway through […] the Cold War […] the last fairytale time in America [… where his film becomes] a fairy tale for troubled times [our 2018 world].  People can lower their guard a little more and listen to the story and listen to the characters and talk about the issues, rather than the circumstances of the issues.”  Certainly, the fairytale/at-times-claustrophobic atmosphere supports the story’s intentions with art direction and set decoration eerily-reminiscent of Terry Gilliam‘s Brazil (1985), a true sci-fi film (of the Futuristic variety) with a sense of whimsy-cut-with-imminent-disaster, a feeling also wonderfully well-evoked in … Water by an imaginative director who successfully channels Gilliam’s surrealist-inspired-work in this intriguing study done, on the whole, in various applications of green.

Bottom Line Final Comments: While The Shape of Water is basking in critical acclaim (93% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, 86% average score at Metacritic [where numbers are usually lower]) it’s on a slow rollout in the domestic (U.S.-Canada) market, now playing in only about 756 theaters even after 5 weeks in release (with a correspondingly low box-office-take so far of only $16.8 million.However, awareness of its presence should be on the rise with its growing success in the current awards season (won the top-prize Golden Lion at the prestigious 2017 Venice Film Festival, nominated for Golden Globe trophies in the categories of Best Motion Picture—Drama, Best Director, Motion Picture Best Actress—Drama [Hawkins], Motion Picture Best Supporting Actress [Spencer], Motion Picture Best Supporting Actor [Jenkins], Best Screenplay [del Toro, Vanessa Taylor], Best Original Score [Alexandre Desplat], along with Motion Picture nominations from the Screen Actors Guild [SAG] for Hawkins as Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, Jenkins as Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, plus dozens more awards and nominations).  It may seem confusing at the beginning with Giles in voiceover narrating a tale about a “princess” (the fairytale connection again) while we see Elisa’s apartment completely flooded with her asleep floating over her couch, just as other suspended objects remind us of a huge fish tank, but we later understand this as a bit of a metaphorical interpretation of all else we’re about to see (I'll get to my usual Musical Metaphors later in this posting) where we just have to accept what's given, including a “leading man” whose diet seems to consist of hardboiled eggs and the head of one of Elisa’s cats (fortunately, the other 2 felines in her apartment don’t fall prey to his lunch needs) or a black-and-white fantasy-within-the-fantasy scene where Elisa sees herself singing and dancing with Amphi, seemingly in a 1930s Hollywood musical.

*But that almost covers the production budget, $19.5 million, noted in this interview with producer J. Miles Dale (also offering useful insights into a producer’s role, especially for such a unique film).

 It depends on your sensibilities for accepting the premises of a surreal romance to determine how far you can “flow” with it, although the totality of these events left my normally-romance-embracing-wife, Nina, a bit cold by the film’s conclusion (more on that in the review below of Call Me by Your Name); I, however, was fascinated with … Water, encourage your attendance if it finally finds its way to your area, and expect to see a cluster of Oscar nominations for it, although I think del Toro as director has the best shot at actually winning any of these awards, risky as it is to make any sort of predictions until the day after the statuettes are actually distributed.  Personally, I have other picks in most of these categories, but I’ll bet The Shape of Water will wind up on my Top 10 list for 2017.
                         Downsizing (Alexander Payne, 2017)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In this story's not-too-distant-future Norwegian scientists perfect a process for reducing humans (and any other organic beings or materials) to a tiny size (about 5” for the people) in order to drastically reduce our carbon footprints upon the Earth; the appeal for going small, then living in miniature communities, isn’t so much ecological for most of those who choose to do it but rather the financial windfall where small habitations and reduced city space can easily lead to a life of luxurious early retirement.  However, when one cash-strapped-Omaha-couple decide to take this plunge they find their decisions and circumstances aren’t nearly as appealing as they initially imagined, leading our male protagonist to a series of difficult choices.  I enjoyed Downsizing quite a bit, as long as you can just play along with its pseudo-scientific-premise about the feasibility—and sustainability—of such shrinkage, but I’ll warn you it’s ultimately a much more serious story than the light-hearted-scenes in the trailer just below will suggest, so be aware of that bait-and-switch; if you do want to see it at least you’ll find it easily accessible, playing in a huge number of theaters for audiences who will be intrigued if for no other reason than the known stars of Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, and Jason Sudeikis, with an equally-fine-performance from lesser-known Hong Chau as a new complication in Damon’s challenged life.

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
What Happens: Sometime in the near future (with minor time jumps added to the plot, allowing the technological breakthrough shown in the opening scene to become fully implemented) we find ourselves in Omaha (the director’s birthplace) where Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wiig) are barely scraping by, unable to afford a house given his meager salary as an occupational therapist for the aches and pains of his fellow workers at Omaha Steaks; we also get a quick awareness of Audrey as a shoe saleswoman, but her main job is to know how they’re not keeping up with expenses.  Encouraged by old high-school-friends, Dave (Jason Sudeikis) and Carol Johnson (Maribeth Monroe), at a reunion they seriously consider going through the revolutionary (but irreversible) cellular reduction process that shrinks organic existences in a 2,744:1 ratio, leaving people about 5” tall.  The process, perfected by Norway’s Dr. Jørgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård), is promoted as a needed response to humanity’s grotesque carbon footprint but, as Dave explains, the true appeal is the tiny folks don’t consume much in the way of resources so their current savings can make them fabulously rich (Paul and Audrey’s $150,000 nest egg becomes $12.5 million by these calculations) so soon our adventurous couple’s off to the downsized community of Leisureland in New Mexico to get small.  After Paul wakes from the procedure, though, he gets a call from Audrey she backed out and is leaving him, so once the divorce is final his money can no longer sustain the huge house they intended to occupy.⇐  He ends up with a telemarketer job at Land’s End while moving to an apartment where his upstairs neighbor (whose place seems to occupy the entire spread of the building), Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz), enhances his holdings by smuggling in various contraband items to support his hedonistic lifestyle.

 Serbian Dusan also has a maid, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a noted Vietnamese dissident who lost part of a lower leg in a prison, was downsized against her will, now forced to work as a servant for those immensely more well off than she is, although she also aids her near-destitute-neighbors, who live in a cramped apartment building just outside the surrounding wall of Leisureland, by bringing in unused food from the resort’s restaurants to help feed the others (many of them Mexican) left behind no matter what society they live near.  ⇒At this point the story veers even more significantly from the weird-humor-premise we’re led to expect from the trailer as Mirkovic is called to the original downsized community in Norway, taking Paul with him as Tran insists she go as well because she’s long had invitations to visit various groups around the world—including this one—in response to her social activism but she couldn't accept with no way to pay for such trips.  When they arrive they encounter Asbjørnsen, along with his wife Anne-Helene (Ingjerd Egeberg), who deliver the horrible news climate change has reached a deadly level where collapsing icebergs are releasing so much methane gas that life on Earth will come to an end (too late for downsizing to help because only 3% of Earth’s population’s taken the plunge, which answers why there are still so many large people around to provide those services needed to keep the tiny communities running).

 However, the Norwegian group’s planned for such a disaster, with a huge underground shelter ready to maintain them, then their descendants for the 8,000 years it will take for the planet to rejuvenate itself; Paul’s ready to join these ecological-refugees, offering them his physical therapy skills for the long haul, but Dusan simply wants to return to his Leisureland luxury until the end comes, convinced those in hibernation will eventually turn on each other causing collective-self-destruction while Tran’s going back to give whatever comfort she can to her left-behind-friends.  Having made love with Tran during this trip, Paul finally says it was romantic rather than pity sex, realizes he’s in love with her, escapes from the underground just before it seals itself shut, heads home to help Tran minister to those who live outside the wall (does any of this sound familiar?).

So What? While I’d been impressed with most of Payne’s earliest work (Citizen Ruth [1996], Election [1999], About Schmidt [2002]), what really inspired me about his particular cinematic vision (and multidimensional sense of the human experience) was Sideways (2004)—which also steered me to the pleasures of pinot noir, as well as a marvelous summertime trip to the delightful Santa Ynez winery region (although at the time it was completely stripped of pinot due to others rushing there before me)—verified to an even greater degree by Nebraska (2013; review in our December 5, 2013 posting), so I was eager to see what he’d do with this new project.  (Further, I have an interest in his career because he was a Spanish major at Stanford U. a few decades ago, taking classes from Dr. Mario Cavallari who became my close friend and colleague at Mills College, Oakland CA later in the 1980s; Mario was justifiably proud of the career Alexander made for himself after graduate study at UCLA’s Film School while I hoped someday we might get Payne to do a guest spot at Mills, but that never came about, sadly for me and Nina Mario’s now deceased for a bit over a year, and I’ll just have to hope that Payne gets better critical and public response in the future than he’s had with Downsizing.)  What turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me is this film’s a lot more substantial than the trailer leads you to believe (where it seems to be a Twilight Zone story played for laughs), but in hindsight I’m now assuming Paramount wanted to promote it that way to lure in audiences who likely wouldn’t have been so attracted to a narrative about serious environmental concerns ⇒nor one where Wiig disappears so early into the plot’s complications.⇐

 While I’d agree the story veers into romantic sentimentality and Mother Teresa-levels-of-altruism at the end, overall it presents disturbing questions about what the limits of our advancing technologies may be (if any), what (if anything) will truly motivate people to halt the increasing destruction of our planet, and what defines social impact: Is it just the scientists or national leaders who offer fundamental changes in our existence or are we just as influenced by the hedonistic opportunities offered by attractive wheeler-dealers such as Mirkovic or do we not even see the importance of activists like Tran who are honored by communities many of us in the industrial world don’t even pay attention to.  There’s more within Downsizing than its seemingly-simple sci-fi premise (Futuristic genre, if you insist on labels) implies in its advertising, whether or not that was Payne’s intention.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Unlike with the other films reviewed here you’re not going to find many awards nominations for Downsizing except Chau for Best Supporting Actress by both the Golden Globes and SAG (along with a few other nominations for her and a Venice Golden Lion nom for the film, plus being one of the National Board of Review’s 2017 Top 10, but compared to the list of accolades for the others in this posting these few mentions don’t connote enthusiastic acceptance), in line with tepid critical response (51% positive review at RT, a surprisingly-higher 63% average score at MC), equally restrained audience attendance (despite being out for 2 weeks, playing at about 2,700 domestic venues it’s made only about $18.7 million).  To me that’s a damn shame because there’s some significant stuff being explored here: the continuing deleterious impact of human activity on Earth’s environment, the real possibility in the very near future our tipping point will be reached so there’s no hope of reversing the damage still currently being done, the gamble that attempts to preserve aspects of the planet’s resources will literally bear fruit in the distant future.  (If such attempted survivors living underground for thousands of years can actually go that long in such confinement without our dangerous prehistoric natures once again emerging in deadly fashion as desires for power, greed, territorial imperatives, or just an accelerated case of cabin fever would undo all that these optimistic Norwegians so confidently hoped for—although I suppose if their plan would work out there’d be no need for DNA-search-companies in the future because the whole planet would ultimately be repopulated with a specific branch of Scandinavians, which I guess I need to say would be a good thing as a couple of current DNA tests have shown me to be anywhere from 22%-40% of such heritage, so let’s hear cheers for the rebirth of the Vikings!)

 Further, Payne’s script (co-written with Jim Taylor) lays bare the trauma that can tear families and friends apart when confronted with monumental challenges, the reality that even in such an idyllic “small world after all” (yeah, now I’ve got the Disney copyright lawyers asking for my home address) there’ll still be a poor underclass (who probably used some sort of Black Market shrinkage in hopes of extending their meager resources but still end up as servants to their neighbors’ extreme wealth) struggling for survival, yet with the comedy premise being advertised for this film I’m sure there’s a lot of disappointment when its real nature is revealed, essentially foreclosing much hope the crucial issues being presented here will even be clearly acknowledged, much less become part of the public dialogues we refuse to have about difficult processes facing us in healing the many wounds to our industrial and native societies, the damaged social fabric of our cultures, and our planet itself.
           Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In the early 1980s a classics professor, his wife, and their 17-year-old-son are spending their usual summer getaway in the Italian villa the wife’s inherited.  The kid’s a talented musician along with displaying the usual surliness of his age toward most everyone around him (although a Parisian girl also summering in the nearby town periodically captures his attention), including a grad student on assignment to help the professor with some research and cataloguing projects.  Soon, however, an intense relationship develops between the younger man and his marginally-older-love-interest, explored with a delicate sensibility for these bi-curious-guys in a plot ambling through a leisurely pace until some serious emotional weight develops by the end of the story.  Despite limited release to a very few theaters so far the critical response to this film is exceptionally strong, with solid Oscar (as well as Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild) consideration being talked about for Timothée Chalamet as the love-struck-teen, along with the entire tastefully-sensual production maybe contending for Best Picture as well.

Here’s the trailer:

        Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
What Happens: Set “Somewhere in Northern Italy” (but shot in and around Lombardy’s Crema where the director resides) in the summer of 1983 we find the American, multilingual (take note, some dialogue’s in Italian, forcing you to read subtitles, but not too much) Perlman family vacationing in Mama’s (Amira Casar) inherited villa where Papa (Michael Stuhlbarg)—variously noted as an archeologist/art history or classics professor—carries on his summer work while his 17-year-old-son Elio (Timothée Chalamet) spends his days cooling off in the river with friends, playing or composing music (guitar, piano), mildly (then more actively) flirting with Parisian-tourist-in-nearby-residence Marzia (Esther Garrel) until the arrival of this year’s summer-project (in more ways than one, it turns out), a 24-year-old-graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer), there to aid Mr. Perlman in various academic tasks but initially (given his intellect, handsome features, athletic build, swaggering-but-controlled-confidence) takes the local girls’ attentions away from Elio but then focuses on the younger man, with Elio’s passion growing to the point of simply reveling in pulling a pair of Oliver’s shorts over his head, as Marzia’s the first left-behind-“fatality” in this arrangement, a standard teenage bout of devastation but made more intense for her after she’s given herself sexually to Elio.  (According to Guadagnino in the press notes: […] we wanted to explore an idyll of youth.  Elio, Oliver and Marzia are entangled in the beautiful confusion of what once Truman Capote described when he said that ‘love, having no geography, knows no boundaries.’ ” (A statement given “flesh,” so to speak, when Elio’s horniness manifests itself into a peach which amuses Oliver, upon his later discovery, even as he starts to eat the combined juices in this innocent piece of fruit.)
 The bromance begins slowly, Oliver ignoring Elio’s growing interest then insisting their attraction cannot be further explored, although that ultimately goes by the wayside as these hot summer weeks become hotter in various private locations (including a brief getaway to nearby Bergamo before Oliver’s due for scheduled departure, leaving Elio grief-stricken as he returns home alone).⇐
 While the film’s 131-minute running time might get a bit slow-paced (with just the romantic/sexual encounters of Elio’s partners as the only dramatic events until almost the very end, although SF Chronicle's Mick LaSalle found this languid opening-hour to be what he enjoyed most)—as was the opinion of 2 of my viewing companions (not Nina, who enjoyed Call Me … considerably more than The Shape of Water, but you must understand she has a general aversion to large liquid expanses [and most anything coming out of them, except salmon] whereas she’s always ready to look at hunky Italian men [although this time it’s more about males in Italy because Elio’s Italian on his Mom’s side yet he has a Jewish father who seems to be more of an influence plus he’s not very hunky even if that's how he may look to Oliver when wearing nothing but denim cutoffs while Oliver’s fully Jewish despite his seeming-Anglo-appearance, at least to a non-Jew such as me*; however, 2 DNA teststo give some substance to my mysterious adopted background, show me with about 10% Greek/Italian heritage, so I remain a contender for Nina’s affections])⇒the drama ends with a bang (even as actual “bangs” have “come” earlier, if you get my drift), the 1-2-punch of a heartfelt homily from Dad Perlman to his brokenhearted son (more on that in this review’s next section), in my opinion one of moviedom’s great speeches, followed by a scene-leap to the family returning to the villa for the Christmas/Hanukah holidays, when Oliver phones to say he’s getting married (to a woman, of course; it is still 1983, remember?) in the spring, which leaves Elio quietly devastated, staring into the living room fire on a snowy winter day while the credits roll on the left side of the screen, forcing us to share in his sorrow as he ponders where his life might go next.**
*Although appearances can easily be deceiving, as Hammer’s got some Russian-Jewish ancestry within his multi-ethnic-heritage, while Chalamet’s closer to his character’s lineage, although with parental switching, as his mother’s of Russian-Jewish decent while his father’s from a French background. (Well, France is close to Italy—and those DNA tests show that even I'm supposedly about 1% Ashkenazi Jew after all—so I guess I'll now consider myself a credible genealogy expert.)
**Which could well turn into a series of sequels if Guadagnino follows up on his stated interests.
So What? If nothing else, Call Me by Your Name offers a great lesson in criticism-disparity, proving the case for no consistency where subjectivity's concerned even when presented as being unquestionably objective.  I see the final speech Mr. Perlman gives to Elio as great insight for an older generation to pass onto a younger one about the difficulties of finding, let along maintaining, an epic connection of 2 independent souls, how ultimately Elio should take comfort knowing he experienced such a bond—even if just for a few weeks—because so many people, including Mr. Perlman himself has never found such relationship depth.  (Some think he’s dropping hints he may be secretly gay; I can’t say with certainty I got that message from his talk to his devastated son [more so, though, from his fascination with Greek statues of nude males].)  My response is shared in an Entertainment Weekly review by Leah Greenblatt (“Another much-talked-about moment from the movie’s festival run, a monologue by Stuhlbarg, should go down in scene-making—and screen-presenting—history; it might also earn him an Oscar.”)  However, my local expert, Mick LaSalle (him again!), in his SF Chronicle review presents a completely different outlook on this scene as “one of the most cloying screen moments since Anne Hathaway sobbed through ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ in ‘Les Misérables.’ [Tom Hooper, 2012; review in our December 30, 2012 posting—a role which won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar but still seems to bring heartburn to LaSalle even now.] The effect of Dad’s speech is to take the outlaw, the unapologetically dangerous and glorious and make it palatable — as if we wouldn’t find it palatable without the sanction of the father and, in a larger sense, the patriarchy. It’s to take something huge and vital between two specific people and domesticate it as one more thing in a cycle of endless and common recurrence.”  Of course this disagreement is just another variation (in a different context) of Paul Simon’s contention that "One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor" (from his 1973 There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album), but while that song’s a cautious exploration of “apartment house rules” where close-quarter-tensions can lead to “bloody purple clothes […] messing up the lobby floor,” the above clashes over elements of cinematic quality are just conceptual battles; however, they illustrate how radically different what’s shown can be interpreted, as the critics' inner voices dictate their emerging words.  

 No matter what your opinion of Perlman’s fatherly advice, I think you’d be charmed by other aspects of Call Me by Your Name such as the simple-yet-effective-cinematography of the Italian countryside (by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom), the sensuous appeal of young men and women engaging in various sexual encounters or simply cooling themselves in watery respites from the summer heat, the inviting environment of this large villa with its sumptuous meals—all effective in getting various juices flowing throughout your body in the midst of this unusually bitter winter pounding the U.S.A.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Despite LaSalle’s reservations, you could hardly ask for more critical encouragement to see a film than what you’ll find with Call Me by Your Name (a code the male lovers develop to indicate their passion for each other, still in play even after Oliver calls with his marriage news) as the RT reviewers give it 97% positive responses while the folks at MC surprisingly almost matched them with a 93% average score, but should you care to see it you’ll have to look around quite a bit because it’s currently only at 115 domestic theaters even after having been out for 6 weeks, taking in a mere $4.7 million in upper-North American-grosses, so at this rate it will take continued critical acclaim to stimulate the interests of various awards voters who may only pay attention to it, despite its lackluster income, if enough buzz begins to build because of its Golden Globe nominations for Chalamet (Best Actor—Drama), Hammer (Best Supporting Actor), and Best Motion Picture—Drama (along with another Best Actor option for Chalamet from SAG, plus other awards and nominations), but should it fail to take home any gold next weekend at the Globes its momentum might fade unless a direct campaign to voters is successful, especially regarding Chalamet.  If Call Me … does begin to fall off the radar, at least that’s not likely because of any rejection of the gay-lovers-theme in a mainstream (albeit, independent) feature given the warm reception given by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences to Brokeback Mountain just a few years ago (helmed by Ang Lee [2005], winner of the Best Director Oscar), a surprise loser to Crash (Paul Haggis, 2005) as Best Picture, although history refused to repeat itself last year when another Los Angeles-based-story, La La Land (Damien Chazelle; review in our December 21, 2016 posting) became an even-more-surprising Best Picture loser—given it was mistakenly announced as the Oscar winner until the confusion was cleared up with the prize actually going to another tale of young gay men explored in Moonlight (Barry Jenkins; review in our November 10, 2016 posting).

 Male-on-female (mostly, Kevin Spacey notwithstanding) sexual harassment in Hollywood (politics, business, classrooms—and all the miserable “etc.”) was one of the most consistently-demoralizing-news-items of 2017 (surely to continue this year), but amid all those awful revelations it’s comforting to know that homosexual-themed-films are slowly losing their demonization simply for existing (likewise with the people in society they represent), so a story such as Call Me by Your Name can not only explore the confusing ambiguity of sexual identity for a person such as Elionot sure where his heart is, wherever his penis lands—but also can universalize the crushing experience of lost love, especially one that might have been a once-in-a-lifetime-chance (for those not as lucky as me to have finally fulfilled my dream when I met Nina [as I was almost 40], so I encourage any lonely soul reading this to not give up too soon, despite what you read in Mr. Mick’s disparaging remarks).

 Regular readers of this blog (although I respect the irregular ones of you as well, plus hoping if you’ve just stumbled onto Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark that you’ll consider coming back on a frequent basis) know that I usually cap off my reviews with my choice of a Musical Metaphor that in some concluding manner offers us one last perspective on the cinematic subject at hand but from the viewpoint of the aural arts (given that I like music almost as much as I like what can found on-screen in movie theaters or in various varieties of video).  For this cluster of films, though, I’m going to ease up on my normal attempt to not overuse these songs (for the benefit of those of you who might actually be regular readers—with my thanks to those who are, as more of you have wandered over to our Two Guys blog in the past month when that segment of readership shot way up from my previous noting in our December 22, 2017 posting of only 8,948 to the current 45,628 [a new All-Time High!] so it's wonderful to be interacting with so many of you again) to draw once more from those applied very recently to other reviews because these tunes fit my currently-reviewed-films just as well as they did for the earlier ones (noted in my comments just below, but I do now present you with different video links this time, again to avoid repetition for the regulars, at least in some parts
of this never-ending-posting, even as I must admit that in none of these 3 videos do the visuals match their audio quality).  So, as a final transition from reviews posted in 2017 to this first one of our new year, I offer you The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” (from their 1967 Magical Mystery Tour album, used previously in our December 22, 2017 posting in a passing reference to Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Rian Johnson]) found at RBbuM (seemingly was shot at the song's original recording session with many guests) to accompany The Shape of Water because of its encouragement that no matter what kind of crisis you’re facing there’s “Nothing you can do [to change the nature of a horrid situation] but you can learn how to be you in time [in order to deal with it because your answer might well be] All you need is love.”

 Next I’ll turn my Metaphorical attention to Downsizing with Gene Pitney’s “Only Love Can Break a Heart” (from the 1962 album named for this song, used previously in our December 7, 2017 posting as a response to the grim events of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [Martin McDonagh]) at WlI8 because Paul must learn the hard way about Audrey’s ultimate investment in their marriage (breaking his heart), then he becomes the uncommitted one in regard to his interest in Tran ("Last

night I hurt you") until he realizes he would rather live in a passionate relationship even for a limited time than give that up in lieu of being of social-obligation-based-service to the underground refugees (only in his mind, though; no one's asking him to help with their salvation venture) so he chooses her instead (“Give me a chance to make up for the harm I’ve done”).  Finally, from that same previous posting (for Three Billboards …) I’ll revisit Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” (from his 1970 After the Gold Rush album) at dz7RhE (part of a 1974 London concern with Crosby, Still, & Nash) to accompany Call Me by Your Name because it not only addresses the need cited in the above songs for committed love to enable us to effectively fulfill our human existence—as explored in various way by Oliver, Elio, and Mr. Perlman—(“When you were young And on your own How did it feel To be alone?”) but it also acknowledges the personal sense of (seemingly irredeemable) loss when romance is unrequited (“Try to be sure Right from the start … What if your world should fall apart?”), as you see in that painful parting image of Elio staring into a winter fireplace, mournful of losing Oliver to his upcoming marriage.  In my next posting, as we continue our brave journey into 2018, I’ll go back to putting the Musical Metaphors directly with each review, but I thought a little change at the year's start might be useful in connecting similar themes of these 3 films, despite the conflicting romantic outcomes.*

*(1/8/2018) But, in regard to the “All You Need Is Love” clip noted above, I’ve found that even less than a week after I posted this it’s already gone from YouTube so here’s another one somewhat like the previous but with the lyrics included, also in Spanish to help with your bi-linguality.  The version of “… Love” I used in the passing reference within … The Last Jedi review’s still there, though, if you’d like some variety in your embrace of all humanity.  (Don’t expect such quick fixes on all terminated links, though; this one happened to be a convenient replacement done at an easy time.)

 Before we meet next the Golden Globes for 2017 films and TV shows will have been presented (Sunday, January 7, 2018; 8 pm Eastern Standard Time, NBC network) so again I encourage you to check that link (now just a little bit below) if you want more background before their ceremony airs.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2017’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, March 4, 2018 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2017 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees for films and TV from 2017. 

Here’s more information about The Shape of Water: (54:12 press conference with actors Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Sally Hawkins, co-screenwriter Vanessa Taylor, producer Miles Dale, co-producer Daniel Kraus, but mostly story co-writer/co-screenwriter/director Guillermo del Toro [begins with the trailer just above, so the interviews don’t really start until 4:12])

Here’s more information about Downsizing: (13:02 compilation of short shooting-process-images from this film, some without audio)

Here’s more information about Call Me by Your Name: (46:01 press conference with director Luca Guadagnino and actors Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.


Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 45,628 (A new All-Time High!  Thanks to you all!); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (Hello, France!!! What a fabulous response; merci!):


  1. fandango - The visuals in this movie are exceptionally well crafted and the director went to great lengths to immerse the viewer into that 1960's American society atmosphere. One does feel like they're being taken back in time to this idealised world of the American dream which is being talked about so much these days by people like Trump and his doctrine of MAGA. The movie clearly states the failings of that age, the white antagonist high powered man in a suit who treats women like pieces of meat. He claims he has created in the image of GOD which can only be a white God in his twisted mind. We are also presented with the rampant xenophobia of that age, racism, homophobia, discrimination against the disabled and generally anything considered to be different or outside the societal norm. Of course anyone who is a misfit or has ever been discriminated against, even abused for their identity will be able to identify themselves in one of the characters of this film and have a feeling of comfort or solace from watching it. The two lovers, the disabled female and the transgender freak from the Amazon are in essence an unique type of sexual minority. The movie has enough plot twists keeping the viewer engaged in the storyline and what initially seems to be a drama ends to a happy finale which is a nice bonus for this well rounded film. So a very strong political statement packaged in a fantasy love story in a dystopian age when the happy life was perpetually clouded by the shadows of destruction and the quest for absolute power
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    1. Hi Megashare9 Movies, Sorry I’ve been so long in getting your comment published and replying to it, but there was some kind of glitch so I wasn’t even notified you’d sent it in. In the future, I’ll go into my Blogspot mailbox once a week to make sure I’m aware of any submitted comments. Here's a case where we completely agree on the positive merits The Shape of Water; thanks for your extensive comments. Ken Burke