Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Two Movies Two Nights, One About Love, One About Anger - Naming and Billboards (Updated)

Monday night we saw Call Me By Your Name, a movie as devoid of violence as you can get.  There was blood - Elia got a nose bleed while eating dinner.  Oscar scraped his stomach in a bike accident.  If there was more than that, I don't remember.  The movie was about love in many different forms from love among family members, friends, and sexual love.  It's about intelligent, well educated, multilingual people interacting not just with civility, but with affection.  It all takes place in a lushly sensual summer in Northern Italy.

The movie has gotten a lot of praise.  The New Yorker has one gushing review and one thoroughly nasty review.  It wasn't merely critical, but relentlessly churlish.  The first paragraph ends with:
"Elio affirms that his parents were aware of the relationship and offered their approval, to which Oliver responds, “You’re so lucky; my father would have carted me off to a correctional facility.” And that’s the premise of the film: in order to have anything like a happy adolescence and avoid the sexual repression and frustration that seem to be the common lot, it’s essential to pick the right parents. The movie is about, to put it plainly, being raised right."
I had thought about how loving Elio and his parents were with each other, and as well as I got along with my parents, this family really had a great rapport.  But to say that the movie was all about being raised by the right parents, hints that perhaps something about the warmth of the family irritated Brody, the reviewer, enough to color his whole view of the movie.  There were things he said that had  merit.  He basically said it was all a tourist promotion scheme for Northern Italy, and I did think, when I saw the waterfall, about all the people who will add it to their itineraries when the go to Italy.  And I thought about his criticism of the camera shots.  There were no point of view shots - and I realized I couldn't remember seeing what was happening from the eyes of the main characters. (I'd have to see it again to be sure.  I'm not sure it's true.  We do see Oscar's arrival from the upstairs window where Elio is, for example.)  That criticism also made me feel sorry for someone so steeped in film making that he sees the film making instead of the film.

I did raise the question to my wife about Armie Hammer's name.  I joked that he was the grandson of the oil man Armand Hammer.  It turns out, according to The Times of Israel that he's the great grandson of Armand Hammer.  The review focuses on the Jewish themes of the movie.

Tuesday night we saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a movie full of violence, foul language, and anger.  The film erases the idea of good guys and bad guys - everyone is flawed, and there's anger deep in all of them.  With one exception.  It doesn't paint a pretty picture of the United States, but it does force anyone watching it to think about our uncivil society and the troubled lives of people who never experienced dependable, unconditioned love.  This is, for me, a movie about anger and how it causes us to do stupid things, to hurt other people as a way of trying to lessen our own pain.

All that said, Three Billboards got a slew of Golden Globe awards Sunday night and Call Me By Your Name got shut out, though it did have a lot of nominations.

This post is for Casey, but he's probably already asleep.

[UPDATE Jan 10, 2017:  I've had a night to sleep on this second film.  What hadn't quite formed itself into words last night:  This is a fairy tale, constructed to make a point about the destructiveness of anger and the importance of forgiveness.  The characters and the town are less real people than constructs to teach a lesson, a parable perhaps.  That's the unease I walked away from the theater with.  Will it work?  I don't know.  This town is in the same state as Ferguson and racism in the police station isn't below the surface.  While partisan politics aren't mentioned, this town clearly voted for Trump and Mildred is probably one of the few who didn't.  The town is divided between troubled whites and others - blacks, a gay guy, and a dwarf.  I suspect the obviousness of that will have many Trump voters immune to the message about the destructiveness of anger and hate.  It will come across like Clinton's deplorable comment did.  With the exception of one (very cool) white resident of Ebbing, the only people who supported Mildred were the outsiders - blacks, a gay, a midget.   But perhaps people who originally side with Mildred will recognize their own obsessiveness.

In a SlashFilm interview, director McDonagh says the screenplay was written eight years ago, so it's not about Trump and current politics, but it doesn't say how much time he spent in small town Missouri.  (Sam Rockwell, in a Vanity Fair interview says the movie was filmed in Asheville, North Carolina, but he spent time in Missouri doing ride-alongs with police.) So I simply don't know how well this reflects the people in a town like this.

All that said, each film maker, each author should make the story they have in them.  Short of intentionally manipulative propaganda, it's not their responsibility how people react.   Riling people up is not a bad thing.  so long as they think about the issues raised and their own positions.]


  1. Well, I'm awake having gotten home from a journalism class and the vagaries of transit strikes in London.

    I'll risk a few words about your first film seen, one I have also seen with Gene in its first week here in London.

    In a word, we were both disappointed: in the writing, the acting, the casting, the cinematography and the story we paid to enjoy; or in our case, to suffer.

    As to why, that would take pages. The simplest way I can put it, is little about the movie's relationship was authentic for either of us. I felt like having just seen the all-white cast of the musical 'Hamilton'. It didn't work for us.

    I guess folks must have read a favourable review as more than a few people dabbed wet eyes.

    To try to understand our indifference, I bought the book this week, hoping to find in the author's words a clearer picture than what this film revealed in his characters and their lives.

    Now, if you were to ask me about Paddington 2? That was a great movie for its genre, a classic handled well, with its infectious humour and goodness (with an animated bear, no less) shining through in every ridiculously spirited frame.

    No comparison, you say? You're quite right. I'll read the Jewish connection on 'Call Me' tomorrow morning, but for now, Good night.

  2. Jacob, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy the movie. I take it then, that you will be more in agreement with the negative review in the New Yorker.

    There were questions I had as well and I also wanted to read the book because it seemed that it might answer some of those questions. I did wonder about Elio having sex with his 'girlfriend' not long before his first assignation with Oscar. Was that just movie time, telescoping events that weren't so close together in the book? And I wondered about Oscar's infatuation with Elio and whether this was new for him. And I also wondered how Elio's father knew about how good the relationship had been. But I figured more of that would be spelled out in the book.

  3. No trouble; will see how the reading goes as I awoke today to read the pleasant news that Dear Leader II will not be visiting London after all.

    A good day then, even with rain.


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