Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful? (Movie Thoughts: Beautiful Boy)

flat,1000x1000,075,f.u1After going to a screening of ‘Beautiful Boy,’ a friend texted me wanting to get drinks. I demurred, because the movie made me emotionally exhausted. Director Felix Van Groenigen has adapted David and Nic Sheff’s twin set memoirs of the latter’s battle with addiction and the movie vividly portrays what happens to someone with the disease, and at times it feels like an endless cycle – of vicious highs and lows, of benders and recoveries, and after almost two hours of this, I just felt my heart so heavy. Perhaps it is the ‘caretaker’ in me, a role I have played for most people most of my life – though not lately and not now. There is a part of me that wants to scoop up poor Timothee Chalamet and shake him, or hug him, or both. Chalamet’s portrayal felt at times too real, a testament to how good he is. He literally transforms before our eyes, from a surf-loving teenager to a bonafide methhead. It is one of the most crushing performances I have seen in recent memory, and yes there were tears, and lots.

But I am not blind to the film’s other flaws. The story is mostly told from the father, Davis’s point of view, and in the beginning of the film he asks why could something like this happen to his beautiful boy of a son. We never get an answer to that question. Steve Carrell plays David with a lot of warmth, but also with a touch of indifference. We sense his love for his son, and we get the sacrifices he did for him, but the character is much too heroic, and i never got a sense of its full texture, unlike Chalamet who goes all-out for Nic.

So as a film, we get short strawed, but Chalamet’s performance more than makes up for it. Above everything else, we see a still fearless actor with still no guards whatsoever. I hope he never loses that rawness, as it is what gives him the edge to be one of the finest young actors around.

Suddenly Summer (Movie Thoughts: Hot Summer Nights)

tumblr_p37rjqKK8o1vo5ua5o1_1280Happy July Fourth, and why not start it off with a summer-themed film, one with wholesome American values, like marijuana!

‘Hot Summer Nights’ is Timothee Chalamet’s follow-up feature after ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ amd just like the latter movie, takes place during a summer in a young man’s life. (The year is 1991)  I think comparison of the two films ends there. Elijah Bynum’s film is about Daniel, who in the course of the summer, gets involved in selling weed, and Chalamet here channels a bit of Tom Cruise here circa Risky Business. I think there’s no doubt that Chalamet is a great actor – he is charming and fearless and fun to watch here, but his performance alone cannot elevate a tepid and familiar script. You have seen all this before, and sometimes better. I can’t think of any original idea here. Chalamet plays well with Alex Roe, who plays Hunter, the guy who lures Daniel into a life of crime. There’s a romantic distraction as Daniel falls for the hot chick in town, played by Maika Monroe, but they are all shiny objects trying to highlight an empty room. The whole cast deserve better than this bloated almost-two-hour film, and the audience does too.

Teacher Thespian (Movie Thoughts: Miss Stevens)

msstevNow that I have become a fan of Timothee Chalamet, thanks to ‘Call me By Your Name,’ I am eagerly seeking his back catalog, and from what I read, he also gives a great performance in ‘Miss Stevens,’ a movie from 2016 that he did prior to filming CMBYN. I don’t know how I missed this film, as it sounds like something I definitely would have been interested in seeing.

Had I seen this movie, I would have had an idea about Mr. Chalamet’s cause he is sensational here. This film itself is a small piece, but the acting here is top notch. Lily Rabe, playing the title role is sensational as well. This film is a tribute to teachers, and how they define the line by being adults and at the same time friends to her students. Chalamet plays a troubled young man who is infatuated with her, his teacher. But like a lot of troubled souls, there’s brilliance amidst the turmoil – Chalamet does a monologue here of a scene from ‘Death of A Salesman’ that show his brilliance as an actor.  This film may be small, but the performances linger.

Is It A Video (Music Thoughts: Call me By Your Name Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Call Me By Your NameThe one thing I loved most about ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is its music. I thought it not only enhanced the film, but it seems like it was another character. The music helped build tension, it emphasized how characters are feeling, and in some cases helped advance the story.

Since the movie is set in Northern Italy 1983, we get a glimpse of pop music then. I loved how Giorgio Morroder and Joe Esposito  ‘Lady Lady Lady’ described the emotional turmoil in Elio’s mind as he watched Oliver dance with another girl. I was racking my brain as to why that song sounded so familiar and voila, I googled and found out that it was on the ‘Flashdance’ soundtrack, which of course I used to play back in the day. And I am nowhere near an 80s pop music expert, but I don’t think I recall ever listening to Miss Cha Cha Cha’s ‘Paris Latino,’ and now it’s one of my favorite things.

Then there’s the classical stuff. I cannot stop listening to “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” which id of course from one of my favorite scenes from the movie, when Elio starts showing off to Oliver how he can change arrangements of a piece based on how Liszt would do Bach’s version, among other variants. On the soundtrack, Alessio Bax’s recording of the tune is perfection. I also love all the other ‘modern’ instrumental pieces, like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ‘Germination.’

And really, we also get Sufjan Steven’s three songs, two that were made especially for the film. They are all magnificent, each and every single one of them. They all fit perfectly in each of the scenes, and even Luca Guadigno describes the songs as part of the narration of the film. There’s the urgency of ‘Fultiel Devices’ when Elio starts looking for Oliver after he has professed his love for him. And there’s the swooning, romantic ‘Mystery of Love,’ and I don’t think I will ever listen to ‘Vision of Gideon’ without shedding a tear.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ is rich in sensory artistry – the lush cinematography, the ripeness of the peach, the cracking of the soft-boiled egg. The music, evidenced in this soundtrack, contributes to what makes it unforgettable.

When Love Calls (Film Thoughts: Call Me By Your Name)

call-me-by-your-name-thai-movie-posterThere are films you watch, and there are films you connect with, and then there are those rare films that watch, connect with you, and haunt you.  I cannot remember the last time I saw a movie more than once at the cinemas – this one I saw three times in a span of five days.

When Andre Aciman’s book first came out about ten years ago, I already fell in love with it. I remember giving it to friends as Christmas gifts because I thought it alone was a gift. I had doubts  as to how the lyrical aspect of the book would be translated to the big screen. But Luca Guadigno has made a film that is art filled with art, and the lyrical tone has been captured perfectly by James Ivory, who wrote the screenplay.

b6648dff58fc0b8b30b28ede6195f41aSo let me count the ways of what makes this film beautiful. First, the wondrous performance by Timothee Chalamet as Elio. I cannot recall a performance so committed, so worn in. I have seen countless interviews with Chalamet now and it seems that Elio is very far removed from his reality, yet in my warped sense of reality, he will always be Elio. Everything in his performance is perfection, and we actually get to see a transformation on screen – of a young man going from confusion to giving in to how he feels; of a young man graduating from his books and music to experiencing life and love as real as it is expressed through those arts, and of someone jumping from naivete to heartbroken, all in a span of 132 minutes. I know he is getting acclaim for his performance here, but I hope he gets the highest acclaim he can.

And, Chalamet’s chemistry with Armie Hammer’s Oliver id palpable. I have some doubts myself about Hammer’s casting (In the book, Oliver is 24, and Hammer reads on screen as someone older) but perhaps that’s just nitpicking. Hammer gives the performance of his career here – he has never been more real, vulnerable, alive. He has the tendency to appear wooden and bland from his previous roles, but here I think I can actually his heart beating beneath his Star of David necklace. And Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue at the end of the film is already legendary, and that message encapsulates what the film is all about. We have said the phrase ‘love is love’ over and over again, but here we get to see and feel those words.

And above all, this film awakens all emotions. We get to reminisce the feeling of when we first fall in love, we get to revisit the heartbreak of that, too. I have always thought that in love there is always pain, and I have always celebrated that pain. Sometimes in the dreariest of days, the pain is what reminds us that we are alive – that we are still normal, breathing people, and pain will always remind us of that. So indeed, perhaps I am one of those people who will always want to feel the pain of heartbreak. This film has a lot of joy, but it’s its pain that resonates with me, and will stay with me.

MV5BNDk3NTEwNjc0MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzYxNTMwMzI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_I can go on and on and on about this, but i will practice what I like most about the film – its restraint. Guadagnino is wise to dial down when things could be overtly sentimental. Can you imagine that train scene in the hands of a less-nuanced director? Even the intimate scenes seem to be shier, focusing more on the intimacy than the salaciousness. he holds, back, the film holds back, because when you do, you give out more.

I have already described this film as haunting. I fear for me, it will do so for the rest of my life.