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Movie Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water by director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Crimson PeakPan’s Labyrinth) stylizes horror, mixes it with romance and comedy and wraps it with anti-Americanism. For all the visual flourishes, fancy trappings and stylization, however, Fox Searchlight’s film is distinctly repetitive, dull and predictable. This amounts to a lavish diatribe against America, humanity and life.

The highly praised Del Toro’s as gory, lush and death-obsessed as ever and his hybrid of a sequel to and remake of the Fifties’ B-movie horror classic Creature from the Black Lagoon knits too many sections and themes and comes up dry. In another fine performance, this time as a villain, for a change, Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter) is the heavy-handed movie’s only major conflict, portraying a racist, sexist boor who reels in a gill-man from an Amazonian river in 1962 and proceeds to torture, taunt and house the water-man or fish-man (Shape never explains what it is). With so many reasons to hate this monster, the blatant metaphor Shape keeps hitting the audience with, you almost want to look deeper for what motivates Shannon’s evil Mad Men-type, a white male sexual predator in case you miss that he’s evil. But The Shape of Water keeps characters plain, simple and obvious. Like Call Me By Your Name and Moonlight, sensory immersion trumps character, plot and theme.

Shannon’s skill, gorgeous photography, production design and Alexandre Desplat‘s ethereal musical score are almost enough to divert attention from the fact that this slow-moving episode hasn’t much to say or show other than that ignorance is bliss, men are monsters and America was never great, let alone the greatest. Sally Hawkins (Godzilla) plays a mysterious facility’s custodian, Eliza Esposito, an absent-minded woman with a disability who falls in love with the gill-man for no apparent reason, except that she’s terribly lonely. This piece of condescending character development, is, if you think about it, ignorant in its own way.

The mute woman lives alone above a grand Baltimore movie palace in an equally grand apartment next door to her best friend, an unemployed artist who’s homosexual (Richard Jenkins, trying not to be a stereotype with some success). That a cleaning woman or an out-of-work painter can afford such a pad in 1962 tips that this is an absurdist or surrealistic story, pure fantasy, further established by the fact that the custodian’s such an other-worldly person as to barely be functional. She chronically shows up late for work, at other workers’ expense, hardly does her job and listens to co-worker and pal Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Gifted, Black or White, Hidden Figures) kvetch about her husband. All you know about this plain woman is that she masturbates, rides the bus and feels separate from the rest of the world. Yet she never really makes an attempt to connect or align with it.

And she was orphaned and left by the river as a child, one of several water signs that run incessantly throughout The Shape of Water. If there were some sense of how the janitor Esposito ended up as kind and non-compliant, this film might have been more involving. Doug Jones as the creature is mostly a computer-generated, performance captured role, without the technical touches of, say, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, so fish-man is confined to reactions, instincts and urges.

This appears to be central to The Shape of Water‘s point that humans are ultimately most human in the silence of dreams and underwater, the sort of detachment from this world, un-reality or anti-reality that Del Toro depicts as a matter of course. Sure, he includes a clip of Shirley Temple tap dancing with Bill Robinson, puts on old records for romance and makes sure that the silent, lonely woman is surrounded by nice things in her home. But The Shape of Water, like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, always comes back to blood, water and body parts. It exists to horrify.

What’s intended to pull this horror off is the straight, white, American male villain, the most hackneyed, predictable Hollywood villain besides the businessman, minus the mustache-twirling. The character’s a stand-in for the vulgar, uncouth president. Shannon’s villain even uses the word pussy.

In a deeper sense, Del Toro’s movie’s a preachy visual critique of America, complete with the tidbit that Kellogg’s Corn Flakes was created as an antidote to masturbation. The only nuclear family is depicted as cartoonish. They even watch cartoons, such as Mr. Magoo. Everything American circa 1962, from missionary position sex and a happy, middle class family to the U.S. military, is portrayed as meaningless, malicious or worse. Every presumably straight, white, American male character is depicted as daft, incompetent, sadistic, racist or monstrous.

The character that comes closest to meeting that description who isn’t undignified or malignant is a devoted Soviet spy (Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name). Depicting Soviet Russians as capable of humanism is certainly one way to acknowledge the centenary of the bloodiest dictatorship on earth.

Besides the creature, The Shape of Water‘s angelic character is Hawkins’ lonely, lustful custodian, who tempts the gill-man Eve-like with an egg, fantasizing before teaching him sign language, Benny Goodman and sex (again, without regard for others). The Shape of Water is a polished jumble of themes and genres which deliberately never takes, let alone holds, a shape.

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The eighth Star Wars picture, The Last Jedi, underwhelms. This begins to become apparent with the lackluster three-paragraph opening crawl, a series staple. It thins and flattens out from there, though readers should note that I do not regard any of these films as great motion pictures.

That said, I gave 2015’s entry, The Force Awakens, a positive review (as well as a tepid recommendation of last year’s Star Wars-themed Rogue One). Nearly everything about The Last Jedi is mediocre, formulaic and, frankly, as fresh and exciting as waiting in line at a government checkpoint for permission to travel.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper), characters return, picking up after the end of The Force Awakens. This means that Han Solo’s son, Ben (Adam Driver), spunky Rey (Daisy Ridley), dastardly Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), plucky Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) and the usual creatures and droids are back (with new ones, too). Isaac and Driver fare best this time out.

Most of the cast have cardboard roles with dreadful lines. Luke delivers at least three lines referencing the island where he lives and they all stick out without support or exposition. This is not necessarily Hamill’s fault. But the screenwriting impairs what ought to be his command performance as Luke Skywalker.

Each cast member seems directed to act out each role with sameness, which is not to be confused with consistency. There’s no range here. For example, Rey’s composed and very 21st century in dialogue while gallivanting on Luke’s island one minute, but she’s an emotional New Age wreck the next. Whether Rey’s crying, hugging, holding hands, mind-melding or jabbing with her lightsaber, she’s too on her mark, pat and scripted. In action scenes, for instance, she’s always screaming, moaning and breathing heavily like it’s a command she’s executing rather than an experience she’s having.

It’s not just Rey. Even Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Agora), looking thinner and noticeably trying to breathe life into the role, stiffens. Boyega’s Finn fares worst, not merely because the already-underdeveloped character has the least to do that matters to the plot, other than as a prop for a new Asian tomboy character (Kelly Marie Tran). Only Driver owns his role, physically imposing himself extremely well, making sensitively dark, tormented Ben/Kylo Ren the most interesting part of The Last Jedi. The less said about the late Miss Fisher as Leia, the better.

Snappy comebacks are gone. So, largely, is any sense of fun. Even a segment of the picture set in a galactic Monte Carlo-like getaway lacks playfulness and stamina, existing strictly to serve The Last Jedi‘s theme that the “downtrodden” are inherently noble and the upscale are inherently not. It’s as though everything’s deployed to serve a specific plot or marketing function. The stilted quality pervades The Last Jedi. The sameness suctions both its sense of life and nostalgia. What are probably final scenes of iconic characters with other iconic characters amount to lost cinematic opportunities.

Add multiple plot points pushing a kamikaze-sacrifice morality, several scenes which seem to have been storyboarded solely to please PETA, as against adding, alleviating or advancing action and a bombastic score and The Last Jedi underperforms. Potentially interesting scenes, such as a spearfishing moment when two of the good guys appear to prepare for a bite to eat, are cut, lost or mangled. Remember when Yoda trained Luke on Dagobah? Scenes lingered and the extended sequence added depth, danger and mystery to both characters and enhanced The Empire Strikes Back. Here, such bonding moments are pushed away, sacrificed as quickly as characters’ lives. A ghostly space float scene stops all motion and takes the audience out of the movie.

Long and choppy, dragging for stretches without action, Star Wars: The Last Jedi too easily makes the audience want to affirm one character’s declaration that “it’s time for the Jedi to end.” Creator George Lucas has said he made nine stories in his space saga. This laborious eighth is a mediocrity.

Movie Review: I, Tonya

I, Tonya by writer Steven Rogers (P.S. I Love You, Stepmom) and director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours, Lars and the Real Girl) is a scathing indictment of American culture. Starring Margot Robbie (The Legend of Tarzan, Goodbye Christopher Robin) as U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding, the film satirizes today’s lynch mob-media culture, tracing it back to its surge in the nasty 1990s, climaxing in the year 1994, when Harding’s winter Olympics contest with teammate Nancy Kerrigan took the country by storm after Kerrigan was brutally downed in an attack.

Of course, 1994 was the year the butcher of Brentwood, O.J. Simpson, took the media by storm, too. One of the best and undersold aspects of I, Tonya is its ability to turn sarcasm and satire upon the audience, public and nation, morphing the movie into a proper reflection of this rotting America. Simpson is a perfect counterpoint to Harding in terms of measuring the injustice of trial by public opinion.

This is a fictionalized movie based on fact, not a documentary, and titles clearly mark the source material. But Gillespie, whose movies tend to take intense interest in the roots of human action, and writer Rogers, whose scripts tend to portray women as intellectually strong and rational, combine their talents with Robbie’s outstanding performance (she’s a producer here as well). The result is an entirely absorbing satire which trims its humor until what’s left is the raw, bitter truth about a victim who is prejudged as a caricature and sent down the media grinder. Bobby Cannavale plays a Hard Copy tabloid type who rightly observes that his tawdry show was disowned by mainstream media — before the media aped trash media and became just like it.

Indeed, trash — the exact term the media and skating subculture tagged to Harding — describes what became of American culture in the Nineties. Hard Copy and CBS hosting the Olympics leading the way, the New York Times and New Yorker now traffic in the same unsubstantiated smut, smearing and insinuation. As Harding, Robbie is simply amazing. She captures every bit of the young athlete’s harsh exterior and wounded interior, qualities which were always apparent and made Harding’s skating and melodramatic behavior so involving to the public. Robbie portrays every physical, mental and psychological development in the Pacific Northwest-based Tonya Harding story; the muscular, frizzy-haired, foul-mouthed skater with braces who tried too hard, ruthlessly schemed and competed and reeked of ordinary insecurities.

Harding also skated a triple axel, which I, Tonya doesn’t diminish. It lets this achievement sneak up and sit there, in front of you, over and over. Eventually, as various characters break the wall in first-person narratives after the facts, the audience realizes they’re laughing at the expense of someone’s ability or attempt to acquire knowledge and develop her ability, to the extent figure skating is and/or should be considered a sport (and one of the issues the movie raises is how Harding’s hard athleticism is subjugated to poise, frills and beauty).

If she’s always spouting lines such as “it’s not my fault”, and she is, her mother (Allison Janney, arch as ever in a butch bowl haircut) explains why. This woman is an example of the worst type of parent. She embodies horrible ideas — self-sacrifice as a virtue, man-hating via feminism, brute strength over rational thought — and she means it. Janney’s terrific as always, and it’s not her fault if critics and audiences find her characterization fundamentally funny. Watch her character from frame to frame for a portrayal of pure evil. Even her musical cue, Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman”, one of many on-target pop song choices in I, Tonya, warns the discriminating audience of what’s to come.

“Kiss yer muther goodbye,” Janney’s working class mother seethes to her daughter early in the picture in another clue about why she hovers over the child. How could Tonya Harding not be drawn to a wife-beater like the man she marries (Sebastian Stan, Captain America, Winter Soldier, Civil War, The Martian)? In scene after scene, Harding is tossed between the two like a punching bag between boxers, ending up as bruised, nasty and embittered as you’d expect. When she spits a vulgarity at a judge, you wonder how she’s kept the anger in check for so long.

But, on some level, with her coach Diane (Julianne Nicholson nailing every scene) as the most rational person in the movie, Tonya Harding loves to skate as sport. Despite the monstrosities of the irrational motivations instilled in her, and the delusions that burrow around her rise to fame and lead to the assault on Kerrigan, this much comes through, complete with end titles and scenes that let the audience decide for themselves what to make of the damaged athlete who did her best.

More than anything, I, Tonya casts doubt upon today’s Me, Too culture of prejudice, rash, snap judgments and high and mighty moralism. It makes you look at a 23-year-old skater based on facts, transcripts and performance. With a David Letterman Top Ten bit as bait, complete with Letterman’s own brand of vulgar humor at the expense of someone’s race, I, Tonya does so through the lens of your own tendency to fall for sarcasm, cynicism and lynch media-driven mobs.

Is what happens funny when it happens to you? Tellingly, the jaded, young audience I saw this with in hardened Hollywood went from tipsy sneers and snickers to tears during the show.

The movie doesn’t exonerate Tonya Harding and it doesn’t pretend to try. Instead, to the tune of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ version of “The Passenger” as an angry, weary cry against the status quo, I, Tonya depicts the byproduct of bloodlust in realistic terms. What’s left is a downtrodden woman cast out, putting on a mask, with too much rouge, a vulgar mouth and a harsh shade of lipstick. The skater branded a tough tart may have had a hand in doing something very wrong and she certainly accomplished something exceptionally good. I, Tonya shows what making fun of everything costs everyone, especially someone with skill and the desire to be the best.

 

Best Christmas Gifts 2017

Photo of LA’s The Grove at Christmastime by Scott Holleran

Making the most of Christmas commercialism means to me finding or letting in the joy of this marvelous season. I’ve decided to round up some of my favorite things to give or receive purely for the purpose of spreading the cheerfulness, happiness and goodwill that comes this time of year. I think benevolence is all around if you know why to look — for your sake — and never let life’s turmoil go down deep. Sometimes, things help. They remind you that you matter, that you’re capable of enjoying things. Things can become a person’s project and lead to an enterprise, discovery or way to living a renewed life. I hope these tips help you and those you value have a merry Christmas.


Coffee, Shaving and Elegant Correspondence

Two of the best made products for everyday basics are the Verismo coffee machine and Harry’s razor and blades. Both are simple, efficient and streamlined for functionality. When traveling, I like to use the Photocard application, which easily and masterfully makes and sends picture postcards to send with a note through mail and/or e-mail via my iPad or iPhone.

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Similarly, give boxed notecards as gifts, too, which encourage family and friends to correspond with short, handwritten notes, which may be more personal and meaningful than text or e-mail. I recommend Crane’s stationers and Papyrus for finding the highest quality blank and themed note and greeting cards. For gift cards, I know that getting and giving Amazon, Starbucks and Apple, such as iTunes, cards (and, of course, movie theater gift cards, too) brings happiness. You can also send an individual item, such as a favorite book (Atlas Shrugged), movie (La La Land) or song (“Hello”), in iTunes and other mobile apps.

Money is always welcome, of course, though I think cash or a money card is best presented with a thought expressed in writing or recording if you deliver via modern technology. PayPal, banks’ direct payment tools such as Zelle, ApplePay and others (Square, Western Union, Facebook) offer a range of options for gifting money directly to the individual.


Movies, Movies, Movies

If you want to give a movie, investigate the recipient’s preferred format, i.e., streaming such as Hulu, Apple TV or Netflix, DVD or Blu-Ray. I suggest giving a few films if possible as a batch in a selected variety — musical, comedy, drama, classic, action — centrally based on what you have reason to think the recipient enjoys and perhaps one of your own favorites (of course, with a line about why). If that’s not appropriate or possible, choose one favorite and explain in a blank Christmas card note or gift tag what you want the recipient to gain from watching the movie. Simply writing enjoy works, too.

So does bundling. For instance, if you know a dashing or romantic youngster who appreciates civilized man as a work in progress, consider sharing the charms of Cary Grant by gift wrapping North By Northwest, Gunga Din and Charade. Go for variety in your bundles, but look for common themes in the movies. Include gift receipts in case they already have that movie. Don’t forget other classic movie stars, such as Lizabeth Scott, Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. Look on Amazon.com or call used bookstores to find a credible biography or memoir of the movie star to add as a relational stocking stuffer.

Spielberg at his best

If you’re a true classic movie fan, these are some good themed movies for buying and watching together with one you love: naughty, light comedy in romance — So This is Love, Red-Headed Woman, One Hour With You; for epic, raging Westerns — Forty Guns, The Big Country, Stagecoach, Red River, The Virginian; warm, lush adventures from Steven Spielberg — Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; really glorious, wonderful musicals by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein — The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Oklahoma! or others such as Minnelli and De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York; movies about war — such as American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, 13 Hours; or give some of your favorites among Oscar’s Best Picture winners — Wings, On the Waterfront, Rocky, Schindler’s List, From Here to Eternity, Moonlight, Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, The Hurt Locker, The Artist, The King’s Speech, Chicago, or The English Patient.

Reflections on suppression

Movies perfect for home video gifts include family fare such as Zootopia, A Dog’s Purpose and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, all of which embed benevolent ideals in bright, gorgeously colorful films with bold yet simple strokes and a delightful sense of humor. Other good classic films for general audiences are Ted Melfi‘s Hidden Figures, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Walt Disney’s Bambi, The Jungle Book and Dumbo or his very personal and thoroughly enjoyable So Dear to My Heart, a fabulous movie which depicts the antithesis of today’s cynicism. Other movies which might be welcome to those contemplating and facing serious obstacles include Into the Woods, the Stephen Sondheim musical which skillfully depicts life’s fairy tale moments with depth and insight; Brokeback Mountain, a beautiful film (2005’s best) about secret, lifelong romantic love; The World According to Garp for its biting wisdom and incisive cultural commentary, which was way ahead of its time; and, for an uplifting and thought-provoking examination of the most radical thinker of our times, buy Michael Paxton’s Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, now available on a new Blu-Ray edition. Mike Binder‘s Black or White, Jeff Nichols’ Loving and Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are excellent movies about racial integration.

And these slavery-themed films make audiences think twice while moving them to searing emotions — leaving impressions which will last for years and prepare loved ones for forecasting, dodging and transcending what lies ahead: the artistic-themed The Lives of Others, the mythology-themed The Hunger Games, the historical epic 12 Years a Slave and the penetrating romantic tragedy We the Living.


Books

Every movie lover should own a copy of both Leonard Maltin‘s Classic Movie Guide and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which are reliable and outstanding references to have on hand.

Learn from history

For new and recent accounts of why and how people come to believe in evil — and to understand why faith and force are the “destroyers of the modern world” as Ayn Rand wrote — read True Believer: Stalin’s Last American SpyThe Third Reich: The History of Nazi Germany and Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels. To grasp why conservatives advance both destroyers, read the new biography of one of America’s worst presidents, the conservative who made Obama possible, Bush by Jean Edward Smith.

For portraits, memories and stories of man at his better or best, read and/or give The Pit, Harry Reasoner’s Before the Colors Fade and Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty. For the reader who wants to be moved, think, grow, make money and challenge the world, I recommend Ayn Rand’s novels: We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.


Music

Music is so personal that it’s hard to find the right gift. That said, I am fortunate that gifts of certain albums and songs to loved ones who’re facing certain problems add value and yield positive results. Some of my favorite gifts have been albums I never would have discovered on my own, such as favorite albums by Fleetwood Mac, Mark Knopfler and Johnny Cash. Cash’s daughter, Rosanne Cash, made a thoughtful, melodic and terrific road trip album, The River and the Thread, which I saw her perform up the Golden State freeway at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center in the Santa Clarita Valley. But, then, I like story-driven songwriters’ music, especially the British songwriters’ invasion.

ONJ and JT at play

To this end, I strongly recommend giving and listening to Divide by Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith’s The Thrill of It All (or Smith’s In the Lonely Hour, for that matter) Adele’s 25 and James Blunt’s Some Kind of Trouble and Moon Landing. Rock-n-roll and other songs by Pat Benatar, Neil Diamond, Melissa Etheridge, Elton John, Stevie Nicks, Alanis, the late Tom Petty and his hero, Elvis, are worth considering, depending on one’s situation, tastes and listening habits. Also, think about giving music by pop female vocalists such as Melissa Manchester, Susan Boyle and Olivia Newton-John.

Olivia’s battle with cancer returned this year, which reminds me that whenever someone I love is diagnosed with any form of cancer, I find value and draw strength from listening to and giving one of her extremely enlightening vocal albums, A Celebration In Song. Olivia’s playful Christmas album with her Grease co-star, John Travolta, This Christmas, is a perfect tonic for the holidays, too. One of my favorite Christmas albums is the one created by pop singer Christopher Cross. It’s really blissful, though it’s hard to find. Other fine musical gifts include vocal and instrumental music by Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz.


Television

As gifts, TV programming can be extremely life-affirming. For history buffs and non-fiction fans, I recommend The Marva Collins Story starring Morgan Freeman and Cicely Tyson, the fascinating and brilliantly conceived and produced American Ballet Theatre: A History and the eye-opening documentary series by Ken Burns on two of the most damaging figures in American history, The Roosevelts.

HBO’s Path to Paradise dramatizes the first attack on the Twin Towers, which provides a uniquely informative retrospective of pre-9/11 U.S. appeasement and incompetence. History Channel’s Rebuilding the World Trade Center tracks the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack through an absorbing account of what they call a rebuilding which is, in fact, not what it claims but is nevertheless worth watching. Though it’s a motion picture, not a TV program, if you haven’t seen it, The Walk by Robert Zemeckis is the most exhilarating movie I’ve seen in the theater. It’s an exciting capstone to the existence of the World Trade Center (1973-2001) and a proper remembrance of what were the tallest skyscrapers on earth.

Objective reporting

NBC’s This Is Us is the best new show on TV. CBS’ Escape from Sobibor, dramatizes the only mass concentration camp revolt by Jews against Nazis. Fox’s Glee and Empire and NBC’s Frasier entice and entertain in their premiere seasons if you’ve never watched. For good comedy, Eight is Enough, The Andy Griffith Show, The Carol Burnett Show, I Love Lucy, Hot in Cleveland, and most shows created by Norman Lear afford reality-based laughs that don’t incessantly snicker at values. Cold Blooded, SundanceTV’s amazing documentary miniseries about the Clutter family murders on a farm in Kansas, made infamous and wrongly glorified by Truman Capote in his true crime fictionalization, In Cold Blood, is simply one of the best TV programs I’ve seen in a long time.


Experiences

Though it can be more expensive, giving experiences in advance can be the most joyful and best Christmas gift of all. Whether a handmade certificate for a day at the park or tickets to Disneyland, the opera or a gift card for ArcLight Cinemas, this gift marks a commitment of quality time or a genuinely thoughtful recognition of the recipient’s values. If someone loves gardening, for instance, consider a pass or membership to the botanical gardens. Same goes for other hobbies, interests and favorite sports, such as season or some tickets to the ballpark to see the National League champion Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, or the arena to see the Kings.

Whatever you give or receive, I think the best gift is the one which fits what the person wants. If you think about a favorite or deserving colleague, client, friend, contractor, neighbor or loved one, you probably know, have seen or have some general sense of what lights him up and makes him smile. The best gift could be treating the kids to ice cream, so a Baskin-Robbins gift card might be a good idea. It could be a new tie, scarf, print, beverage or floral bouquet or plant or new album, tool or machine. Consider giving dinner for two at a swanky restaurant to grant someone reprieve. Think in terms of his or her favorite places, wide-eyed tales of want and treasured experiences. Then, go for it.

Have a good time shopping if you can and do and here’s hoping my readers get what they deserve…and wishing you a Merry Christmas and the best of everything in 2018.

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.