Tag Archives | gay-themed movies

Movie Review: Call Me By Your Name

The long, slow and pseudo-sensual Call Me By Your Name has some lovely moments and persuasive performances but its charms are lost amid an obvious and heavy-handed Dionysian theme.

Written by James Ivory (Maurice), director Luca Guadagnino lays evocative scenes on Call Me By Your Name over and over. For many, this prolonged foreplay toward a bisexual coming of age, with emphasis on the same sex affair, may press one’s buttons. But I found Call Me By Your Name too light and leisurely and, ultimately, like the moody Moonlight, too neat and contrived. Timothée Chalamet is convincing as the boy and Armie Hammer is equally convincing as the man. Neither role is especially layered or deep.

Neither, by my estimate, is Call Me By Your Name, which takes place in the early Eighties and plays like an extended travelogue with pretty pictures of a drunken, naked paganism or Dionysian fantasy ala 1982’s menage a trois movie Summer Lovers, which this movie resembles, down to 1982’s androgynous pop hit “Love My Way”. This affords the film one of its less blatant, most insightful scenes. Scenes of Hammer’s young scholar being playful, then drifting into a dance alone, as others make the hypnotic, propellant tune their own in movement, advance the plot. Otherwise, looks, actions and lines too carefully signal anything-goes hedonism such as “our home is yours” and gestures such as one in which the hostess offers her seat to the houseguest. At one point, Hammer’s antiquities scholar, visiting “somewhere in northern Italy” to study with the boy’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg, Arrival, Steve Jobs), starts to prove to the boy that he gets his clues and drift when the man matter-of-factly affirms that he’s listened to the boy explain that the man’s sleeping in his room.

Message received.

Most of the movie is like this, which is to say it goes on and on, over and over, with peaches, cherries and apricots (forbidden fruit, get it?), bicycle rides, the boy’s mother really wrapping her lips around her cigarettes and the boy’s father going on about nudes and everything’s rather clear until the boy watches the young man immerse himself in heterosexual, then solitary, expressionism. Flush with lounging around with constant cigarette smoking, female temptresses and riding bikes, man and boy steal away to the Italian countryside, where more happens. At some point, the man reveals that he thinks he might be infected, though this is left dangling.

Pain, with that clue and others, emerges as the theme in Call Me By Your Name, which takes suffering — nosebleeds, masochistic footrubs and other hints — for romantic love. By the time the twist comes into play, as much of a twist as it is, the jerky shots, crotch grabbing and out of focus dreams combine with fluttering pigeons, dripping peaches and neglectful parents to end up at an all too familiar destination.

Call Me By Your Name indulges the beauty of nature, with sleepy meadows and waterfalls, to express the view that true love means enduring pain and suffering. The movie’s meaning redounds to exalted love being impossible to achieve at any age or sexual orientation.

But its sadistic hedonism goes deeper. In Call Me By Your Name, civilization marks the end of sexual bliss, which is portrayed as possible only with ignorance of reality in the Garden of Eden, complete with a classic train farewell. With additional religious tie-ins — both males are Jews, which further cues endless suffering — in comes Hanukkah, headphones and, curiously, houseflies in wintertime, as exit pop vocals wail the question: “Is it a video?”

In spite of its heartfelt moments, this question rings most truthful in Call Me By Your Name, which is neither as moving or original as it believes itself to be. The answer is yes, this film plays too much like a music video, and music plays a role in the plot, too, if not really in character development. It is adept in depicting certain moments of natural sex between man and woman and man and man but, because it is too blatantly intent upon breaching sexual bliss with suffering, Call Me By Your Name cannot honestly or exactly be called a gay romantic love story.

Movie Review: Moonlight


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Billed as ‘the story of a lifetime,’ Moonlight makes and leaves an unfinished life. This remarkable film is uniquely involving for what to some might feel strange, frank and dissonant. The carefully shot and edited movie, which takes place in Miami, is both disturbing and mesmerizing.

As neat and tidy as I like a movie to be, Moonlight is too neat, too deliberate in its unsentimental approach and its use of the word ‘nigger’ and it is too shallow in its characterizations. Superficially, this gay-themed coming of age tale about a boy in the South Florida ghetto gets deep in sensory immersion. The actors who play the lead character, Chiron (pronounced shy-rone), are each exceptional in the role. The whole cast makes this movie like watching a gentle, sad dream drift into a nightmare.

In three parts colored blue, red and black, Moonlight traces this boy’s life. As ‘Little’, a derogatory term his peers use, referring to his size, the gangly, bullied, unhappy child mopes, hides and takes refuge in a vacant place used for illegal drug trades. Here, he meets the neighborhood drug pusher (enigmatic Mahershala Ali, Hidden Figures).

The drug man with chocolate brown eyes that melt when they look upon a lost, deflated boy becomes like a father to Chiron. In a pivotal set-up scene at a diner, the hardened adult sees that the wordless child is deeply and easily harmed. The mentoring begins. As soon as he meets the boy’s high-strung, single mother (Naomie Harris, Collateral Beauty, Pirates of the Carribean 4), the mentoring becomes an unspoken vow. The pusher’s girlfriend (pop singer Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures) steps in as a surrogate mother and goes by her own judgment. When asked his name, the confused boy answers with the truth and explains that people call him Little. “Well, then I’ll call you Chiron,” she says.

This moral fable unfolds in layers, with music at the movie’s center and striking, lyrical touches in sound and vision. Chiron’s outgoing schoolmate friend, Kevin, never seems far from the sensitive boy. The wealthy drug pusher and his nurturing female housemate offer sanctuary from his unpredictable, unstable and unloving mother. The surrogate father teaches the boy to swim—rendering an afternoon of fatherhood with a baptismal lesson on how to float—and Chiron gets to let his guard down and experience the good.

But worlds collide. Blood spills. The word ‘faggot’ comes and gets defined, truth comes out and the head hung low is no longer Chiron’s. Reality in the ghetto remains and Moonlight serves a potent depiction of the school, home and neighborhood as imprisonment. As Chiron grows up, still not fitting in, he lives in fear of others, literally sometimes in a kind of cage. No one—not his mother, not his teachers, not Kevin—is free to guide, protect and love him and those who might are in their own kind of enslavement. This is Moonlight‘s dilemma, conveyed evocatively by writer and director Barry Jenkins, with story credit to Tarell Alvin McCraney.

This is also the film’s construct and it feels like a construct. Crucial action happens offscreen. Characters evolve, embrace and die out of focus, out of view and the movie’s brand of impressionism robs the story of impact and intimacy. Chiron is borderline autistic and his silent torment is easily Moonlight‘s most effective dramatization. Surely, this gay, black ghetto story is rooted in reality. Of course, drug pushers are hardened by life and it’s important to know that they, too, are human, and Moonlight delivers this point with poignancy. When the Caribbean Sea’s waves break against the shore under the moonlight amid poetic urban lament and as prelude to suppressed desire’s release, the rhythm and frame are beautiful.

But action is unseen, removing parts of the resolution to the conflicts that make Moonlight worth watching.

At its best, Moonlight depicts an often untold tale of ordinary men. Its cast, especially Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes as Chiron at three life stages and Andre Holland (Selma, Black or White) as the adult Kevin, performs admirably. The mental and physical abuse experienced by the boy at the mercy of ghetto classmates, sanctioned by school officials including a female official who shames the victim, suggests a formative answer to how American blacks’ poverty turns the innocent into the hostile. But Moonlight is too coy, contrived and stylized to wholly show and tell what has been unseen and untold about thug life. As it is, this is a tragically compelling, if not everlasting, tale.

Movie Review: Carol


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A new movie about two women in love depicts with effortlessness the veiled, secret desire of lesbians in the 1950s. Carol (The Weinstein Company, directed by Todd Haynes) is interestingly, obsessively nostalgic about its period and its dramatic purpose—to show a forbidden couple in conflict—though it is also nearly plotless.

This imbues Carol, based on an erotic novel by the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, with a dreamlike quality that permits the female version of same-sex romanticism found in Ang Lee’s haunting Brokeback Mountain from ten years ago. In fact, Carol has a lot in common with that picture. Lead characters are left alone and apart for stretches, stressing the distance. They come together in rare, passionate silences amid winter landscapes. They look, long and grope for one another.

They are also both true to life, so in Carol the characters, unlike the unlucky, tortured and persecuted men of Brokeback Mountain, are more easily masked and concealed and the lesbians are able to hide their sexuality in plain sight. The ending wordlessly hits with impact. After Friday’s Islamic terrorist attack on Paris, Carol‘s timing is perfect. Every infidel and, more broadly, every joy-seeking individual, now must learn to brace or conceal his pursuit of happiness—dining out, attending a concert or sport—unless, by some miracle, our civilization chooses to defend itself from the siege of barbarism.

Carol provides an elegant lesson in the success of secrecy, beginning with an emblem of forbidden love’s long, unpredictable plight. The first sound is the rhythmic roll of a train, steady, punctuated and purposeful, and the first image is that of an interlacing pattern of design. This is the introductory sensory material to the story of these two unusual women, played by Cate Blanchett (Cinderella, Truth) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who become an interlocking part of each other’s lives as they go barreling toward some common outcome.

Whether they end up like Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise is up to others, because it’s the 1950s, until and unless they make the matter up to them. Mara’s gamine shopgirl Terese only looks like Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the style is similar but her substance is straighter, clearer and stronger. She knows what she likes and wants and is easygoing about paying the price of her ambition. She wears a uniform Christmas hat only after a stern spinster-type remands her to do so. She goes along with working in the doll department though she’d rather be working with train sets. Her boyishness is matter of fact.

Terese eyes Blanchett’s feline Carol one day over by the trains. She lets the glance across the space linger. She signals that she wants to play.

Carol’s been catting around enough to know when to pounce, so she stalks and makes her move. Terese is instantly drawn to the sensuality and, really in the most fundamental sense, she’s enchanted by Carol’s refusal to back down from getting what she wants. Terese is young and, with Mara’s doe-like eyes of innocence, she’s insatiable for a guide to getting what she wants in life. She has a boyfriend, she has a hobby—taking pictures—and she’s greedy. But Terese is also intelligent and she knows that she’s a work in progress. She knows that she does not know it all.

Enter the husky-voiced, lipsticked stranger who, when the two finally meet in semi-private, overenunciates her name with more drama than a Joan Crawford movie. All of this unfolds slowly, with bleak, hushed, moody colors, tones and details awash in Fifties sameness with the train as a gentle, clicking symbol that the furtive shadow dancing is coming to a climax. Their glances do the work of the homosexual flirtation toward sexual liberation. Their whispers do the work of what the words cannot say. Everything they suggest, mean and become to each other is in code.

Carol has a husband (Kyle Chandler) and a child and this complicates everything, too. The child is deeply loved by Carol, though the husband is not. That he knows this fact is the wispy plot’s central conflict. Sex stereotypes are reversed and the needy male— underrepresented in Hollywood movies—emerges as an ominous threat to Carol and her newfound union. Aiding and abetting Carol in the crime of lesbianism is her former lover, played by Sarah Paulson (Mud, 12 Years a Slave) in another knockout performance.

But Carol is not anti-male and, as she puts Terese in the Packard’s passenger seat and heads off on a frosty road trip, the wise, seasoned vamp must face and reconcile the consequences of making herself, a wife and mother, a forbidden object of desire for another woman. The secret gay union forges shortly after a stay in Chicago’s Drake Hotel, where Terese really starts to discover the world and the prospect of her place in it. Not surprisingly, reflecting today’s sexism against men, romantic same sex scenes are more revealing in Carol than those in Brokeback Mountain, allowing Terese and Carol fuller character development, which adds to the movie’s powerful conclusion.

You’ll probably hear a lot about this film’s perfect period detail—in record albums, dish patterns, make-up and costumes—and compliments are well deserved. But the nostalgia is not an end in itself; Carol‘s trains, designs and artifacts serve a subtle point in timelessness and director Haynes, with an adaptive screenplay by Phyllis Nagy, weaves it into the picture with intricacy and skill. The middle of the 20th century was an imprisoning time for the woman, straight or gay, as Carol demonstrates. But it also pegs a midpoint convergence of two types of women—the temptress using her feminine wiles and the working girl using her mind—and the emergence of courage and, really, fearlessness, required of the modern, liberated woman of the mind.

Add to that that these two happen to be gay and Carol pointedly if delicately dramatizes that gays have always been embedded among society. Given cultural mores, gay men were relegated to back rooms and dark corners and, to a large extent, they still are. Gay women have the play of the field. Witness the acceptance of DeGeneres, Foster and O’Donnell, a status that celebrity male homosexuals are rarely afforded without reduction. Women may couple up to dance and play at being lesbians at their discretion. Accordingly, and in sharp contrast to today’s near-total fetishization of the heterosexual woman as a macho archetype, Carol is a warm and evocative depiction of the discreet woman.

Its dreamy sense of timelessness underscores how changeable are the times in which we live. There’s an intriguing example of this in Carol, which places three American presidents in the picture in reverse chronological order: Dwight Eisenhower appears at first in a televised address about progress, hinting at the movie’s theme, then William McKinley makes an appearance in a room where the lovers first share an intimacy, and, finally, I think it’s Andrew Jackson who appears in a climactic scene in which one of the women chooses to break from society, at great cost to herself, in order to live an honest life.

The theme, newly relevant this week—I do not think this is the filmmakers’ intention—is that it is possible to pursue one’s happiness whether society is in regress or progress. In other words, accept the state of the world (in Carol’s case, certain conventions) and go after what makes you happy. Though there’s no guarantee that you’ll get what you want and there may be every reason to believe that the culture is very much against you, as Carol depicts with masterful detail, it is crucial to know that you must go after what you want—even in defiance of the entire world.