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I’m Chance and I love movies.  Well, I love most media.  I’m a nut for TV, I’ve been a fan of musicals and plays since my mother took me to see Phantom of the Opera when I was five, and there’s also a soft spot in my heart for video games.  I love anything that tells a good story or makes me feel something genuine.  And, on more than a few occasions, I’ve loved some not-so-good stories.

But we’re here for films.   Sadly, I don’t go see them very often.  According my AMCStubs ticket history, since August 2016 I’ve been to seven movies.  That’s not entirely accurate as I’ve seen a few movies at other cinema chains and pulled a the old 2-for-1 theatre hop more than a couple time.   You also won’t find many feature length stories in my Netflix history, as I spend most of my streaming time rewatching every episode of Archer there is.  I want to change this.

When I was sixteen I made a New Year’s resolution to go to see a movie every week for the year.  I was going through a bit a pretentious stage, visiting a cinema in downtown Portland that showed both mainstream and indie/art films, I’d see a couple movies that were part of a gay film festival (probably the first publicly queer thing I’d ever done), and wanted to just see everything.

I failed that resolution for the first time, but far from the last.  Every year for the following sixteen years I told myself I’d do it this time.  I’ve never successfully made it out of January.  Most years I don’t make it past the first week; maybe this year won’t be any different.  But I hope that by starting this blog and sharing my thoughts it will motivate me to follow through, I’ll have an obligation to see it to the end, to stand proud on December 31st with a wallet full of torn stubs (or more likely, an app full of QR codes).

I’m not just here for new releases though.  I want increase the number of movies I watch at home too.  My goal is write about them all.  The ones I see in darkened hall, projected on a huge screen, the ones I find at 2 a.m. while mindless scrolling through Netlix’s myriad categories, the ones I may have missed in recent years, and even the classics I’m a little ashamed I’ve never gotten to before.

But first we’ll settle for one from my stack of SAG Awards DVD screeners.  Tomorrow evening, if work hasn’t leached away all my strength, I’ll sit down to compose my thoughts on one of the buzzier bits of awards bait this season, Call Me by Your Name, which I watched earlier this evening.

I have lot of opinions about things.  Most of them strong.  But I also want to hear what you think.  Please never be afraid to comment on anything I post, whether it’s to heartily agree with me or share a boisterous counterpoint.  Without consideration art dies.

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One Down, Fifty-One to Go – The Shape of Water

The wind was blistered my face as I trudged through the two day old snow and slush up Broadway toward my destination, eager not just to escape the desolate wasteland and regain feeling in my various extremities, but to visit a movie theater for the third straight week, something I probably haven’t done since my teens.  After two straight exciting and entertaining visits (Pitch Perfect 3 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi) I was hopeful the third wouldn’t disappoint.  But could a love story about a mute cleaning lady and a terrifying fish monster really get the job the done?

I am thrilled to report that The Shape of Water is a revelation.  I can’t say that I was entirely surprised, Guillermo del Toro’s history as a creative speaks for itself, yet the level at which what he, Vanessa Taylor, and all of the designers put on that screen worked caught me off guard.  Every aspect of the film was touching perfection.

From the astonishing performances to the evocative lighting, the original and exciting creature effects, and the beautifully curated soundtrack. Each piece added a new and important layer, building to a Himalayan peak.

Sally Hawkins stands tall atop that mountain.

Artistry, Activism, and Hypocrisy – Golden Globes 2018

I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.

Oprah’s moving speech as she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award at last night’s Golden Globe awards was one of a number of moments that touched on the recent revelations about sexual misconduct, harassment, and inequality not just within the film/TV industry, but in the world at-large.  Nearly every attendee, female and male, was dressed in black as part of a concerted effort to draw focus to TIME’S UP, a new legal defense fund set up to aid those who have been the victim of gender inequality or sexualized assault and harassment.

In an ideal world it would this show of solidarity would lead to actual real change.  But this is the real world and the gross hypocrisy of it was on full display on that same stage.  Both of the Lead Actor winners have had their own issues.  In a June 2014 interview with Playboy Gary Oldman decried the political correctness of Hollywood and defended Mel Gibson following the outcry after the racist and misogynistic voicemails he left for his then girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva.  In the same interview he defend Alec Baldwin’s use of a gay slur to a paparazzo by saying Alec was “pissed off.”  He was also unusually upset about the fact that he felt that he couldn’t get away with calling Nancy Pelosi a “fucking useless cunt” but that Bill Maher or Jon Stewart could.  Quite humorously he also shat all over the Golden Globes themselves calling them a “meaningless event,” and saying it “doesn’t mean anything to win,” one.

James Franco’s case is a little more egregious.  By now many have forgotten the incident of his apparent attempt to set up meet up with a Scottish teenager through Instagram messages in 2014.   He initially denied the entire affair on Twitter, but while appearing on Live With Kelly and Michael shortly after he admitted to hitting on the girl.  Then we come to last night.  Shortly after he accepted his Best Actor award for his performance in The Disaster Artist, claims from multiple women started to appear on Twitter, including from Ally Sheedy implying he had played a hand in her leaving the industry.  Among the accusations were claims he’d attempted to have sex with underage girls, he’d forced a woman’s head toward his exposed penis while they sat in a car, and claims that while teaching at UCLA he may have dated some of his students.  Franco wore a TIME’S UP pin to the ceremony.

Then there’s Kirk Douglas.  A legend in the industry.  He joined daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones on stage to help present the Best Screenplay award.  He received a raucous welcome, including many people rising to their feet to clap.  He’s also been chased for years by rumors that he raped Natalie Wood when she was young actress on the rise.  During her life Wood never made a public accusation herself, but stories persisted nonetheless.

It wasn’t just the men who were slobbering hypocrites however.  No, Elisabeth Moss threw her hat into that ugly ring as well with her impassioned speech quoting Margaret Atwood (author of the the original Handmaid’s Tale book) and saying her accepting the award was for her and “all of the women who came before you and after you, who were brave enough o speak out…”  Moss apparently forgot her own allegiance to an oppressive cult that has in it’s own time been accused or covering up sexual assaults by its members, including the recent revelations about fellow member Danny Masterson.

One least unfortunate bit of news from last night, and after a brief detour we do return to the misdeeds of men, of the more than a dozen male award recipients who appeared on stage I don’t remember any one of them showing support for TIME’S UP or giving any time to the topic of sexual assault/harassment/inequality within the industry.  But multiple women did.  These fights cannot be won alone.  Just like with issues of racial injustice, or of LGBT equality, it will take more than just the victims of the abuse standing up to win the fight.  Yes, let the lead, let them be the loudest voices, but don’t make them do it alone.  Unless we all truly take part nothing can change.  So, it’s great that you wore black, and clipped a TIME’S UP pin to your lapel. but unless you’re willing be a soldier in this war fallback, and stop blocking the path to progress with your bid to get a pat on the back.

All of this also ignores the number of people in that room who are still working with, or stating to desires to work with the likes of Woody Allen.

Thankfully it wasn’t all awfulness last night.  Overall it was a good show.  I still haven’t seen MANY of the nominees, but with the exception of the people I previously mentioned I didn’t have any serious objections to any winners.  Seth Meyers made an admirable effort from an unenviable position.  His jokes were topical without being tasteless or exploitative of the situation.  We for the most part avoided any of the usual cringeyness that happens with the scripted banter between presenters.  And they managed to only run about ten minutes long.

LAST MUSINGS

  • Natalie Portman’s “all-male nominees” regarding the directing category was the line of the night.  She wasn’t nominated for any awards, but she should win one for that.
  • Barbra Streisand being the last woman to win a Best Director Globe (in 1984 no less) is unacceptable.
  • Allison Janney is a queen.
  • The Greatest Showman winning Best Song is the only award for that show I was willing to accept because Keala Settle (who sings “This is Me” in the film) should be a star.  But fuck P.T. Barnum and his human zoo having ass.  Stop glorifying monsters.

I’m going to try and watch I, Tonya tonight.

Call Me by Your Name

We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!

As I slipped the SAG Awards DVD screener of Call Me by Your Name into my XBox I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.  The responses to it I’ve seen from friends and acquaintances have been noticeably, almost impossibly divided.  The people around me have settled at the two extremes, maybe not so surprisingly, separated according to their race.  Most of my white friends had found it to be a revelation while my PoC friends (most of them Black) were jokingly referring to it as “Moonwhite” while rolling their eyes.

When the screen finally faded to black, away from Elio’s face as he tearfully stared into the fire I was struck by my absence from either camp.  I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it.  I had enjoyed it as a film for its majority but also struggled to embrace a number of very important aspects of what I had been presented with.

I never read André Aciman’s original novel, and after watching the movie I have no desire to do so, but I do wonder if some of my problems would have been null if I had.  There are a number of lingering shots of scenery at the end of scenes, after characters have finished talking and left room, or ridden away on a bicycle, where we’re left with an off-center image of a tree, or a hallway.  They feel like an attempt top magnify the emotional relevance of what we’ve just scene by not jumping away to the next scene, but they rarely happened in response to the type of scene that deserved the extra time to sink in.  Instead most of the scenes we’re left to consider are transitional one, the scenes between the ones with the emotional and storytelling weight.

There were two exceptions to this.  The first came around the midpoint of the movie.  When Elio joins Oliver on his trip into town in order to pick up some printed pages the two have a cat an mouse conversation while a statue commemorating the WWI Battle of the Piave River.  There is a tacit confirmation of attraction.  The two then return to the Perlman home.  On the way they pause briefly on their bicycles, Oliver asks Elio if he’s ready and then they ride along down the road and the camera holds its view of a pair of trees and some tall grass. This moment read very similarly to me as an act break in a stage play.  It could have very well sufficed as an end point.

The two who had been dancing around their unspoken, unacknowledged attraction, come to an understanding.  Their future is unknown.  We can guess how it’s going to go, but that’s not the important part of the story.  At least, it didn’t have to be.  If the movie had ended in that moment I probably would have liked it more, if only because it would have avoided my biggest problems.

Almost immediately after this quiet, touching moment, the pacing descends into a pool of tar.  The next twenty-five minutes drag on as the now unspeakable love has been spoken and the two withdraw to their respective corners, neither quite ready to take that next inevitable step.  It’s an understandable slowdown, insofar as it’s a believable reaction to each young man’s revelations, but the previously mentioned lingering shots on nothing in particular after unimportant moments are only drawn out further as a result.

My other major problem is with the soundtrack and score.  The music itself was all pleasant and thematically appropriate, but often it was too much the obvious choice, on the nose.  It failed whatever the musical equivalent of “show, don’t tell” would be.  The musical choices didn’t allow the performances to speak for themselves, and especially in this film, that was a mistake.  Whenever Elio was struggling with his sexuality and feeling depressed the music quiet and somber, lots of high pitched piano notes.

But it went further than just the mood music, the lyrics also leaned in too hard.  In a moment when Elio is waiting for Oliver to return late at night from a poker game, or being with Chiara (it’s never made explicit where he’d gone), Sufjan Stevens’ “Futile Devices” plays, his voice sounding like an inner monologue, “And I would say I love you, but saying it out loud is hard, so I won’t say it at all.”  All nuance of Elio’s, for the moment, unfulfilled pining is drained from the scene the audience isn’t allowed to understand on their own what’s happening and are instead signposted to the appropriate emotional response.

Thankfully it wasn’t all bad news.  The performances from the entire ensemble were impressive.  Timothée Chalamet’s performance belies his true youth and inexperience on the screen.  The praise he’s receiving is definitely deserved, and in spite of some of the more obnoxious moments he had to play (why was he perfectly calm and and collected about everything until the peach) he showed us a believable and relatable character.  The sexually unsure teenager I saw was one I recognized, one I had seen in my own past.

His onscreen chemistry with Armie Hammer (and actor it turns out I’ve never actually seen in anything before) was immediate and true.  The initial awkward discomfort, like two strange cats put in a room together, unsure, constantly circling, up through the passionate disregard of their first sexual encounter.  The moments of silence between the two work especially well.

It turns out, in spite of his relative ubiquity in recent years, I’ve never actually seen anything Armie Hammer has been in, and friends of mine who have weren’t always kinds in their descriptions of his performances.  Because of this I was surprised at how charming his young, American academic was.  Everyone loved Oliver, and so did I.  Until he started acting like a pedantic dick, and then I hated him.  And it all worked.

But if I had to pick a standout among the cast it would have to be Michael Stuhlbarg.  Prior to CMBYN I had seen very little of his work (I’ve since seen The Shape of Water) and now I want to go back and watch his entire catalogue.  For most of the film his is a thankless role, Elio’s effete father, an apparently accomplished and renowned professor of history.  If you’re not paying attention it might not become apparent until the revelations of his comforting conversation with the heartbroken Elio in the final moments that you’d truly see the mastery of his work.

He shines in the smallest moments, the ones that a viewer not used to looking for the clues would miss.  The lingering looks, the occasionally overly jovial responses to others, a freeness with his movement.  He’s a proud and caring father, and one that understands all too well what Elio is going through.  And it comes through in every moment.  His casting in three possible major award contending films this year (CMBYN, Shape of Water, and The Post) isn’t a coincidence.  He is a highly gifted actor and hopefully on the verge of a major career breakthrough.

Assorted Other Thoughts

  • Oliver and the peach was a surprisingly honest moment.
  • Elio’s call to his mother from the train station was an incredibly familiar moment.
  • The settings were all gorgeous, particular the old country home the Perlman’s lived in.
  • It didn’t go unnoticed that in a movie focused on two queer men understanding and accepting they found an excuse to insert a topless woman and exactly zero dicks.  Hollywood will Hollywood.
  • The speech Elio’s father gives him after the Oliver returns to America could have easily come across more exposition and “here’s the moral” in the hands of a less capable performer.  Instead it felt like an honest moment between a father and his son.
  • The final, quite long, shot of Elio in front of the fire was risky and bold choice that paid off.  Timothée Chalamet’s emotional journey plays out to perfection on his face, and the decision to have him look directly at the camera felt like a punch in the gut, bringing the audience into his suffering and acceptance.

 

I’ll be back (hopefully) tomorrow with a short post on my thoughts about The Shape of Water.  Since I saw it in at a (quite full) cinema last night I wasn’t able to take any notes so it won’t be nearly as extensive as this was, but I do have thoughts.  If my SAG screener for it ever shows up I may give it another watch in the future to do a more thorough reaction, but that will be time permitting.

Let me know what you thought in the comments.  Did you love the movie?  Hate it?  I want to hear from you.

Finally, it’s been quite a while since I’ve done any sort of analytical writing, and I’ve never done so about film, so forgive in the short term if things are a bit of a mess, hopefully and I can reawaken that part of my brain quickly.