Call Me By Your Name (2017)


After missing out upon it’s initial release, awards hopeful ‘Call Me by Your Name’ returned to a cinema near me and though I liked the sun-drenched aesthetic, music and performances, I didn’t find myself captivated by the plot in any way.

In 1983, an American grad student called Oliver (Armie Hammer), spends 6 weeks of his summer at the Perlman residence to help with his paperwork. Seventeen year old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) begins seeing this outside figure as a nuisance but it moves forward to secretive hang outs and a blossoming first love for him to ride the highs and lows of.

Luca Guadagnino’s directive stamp on this is pretty stunning, The Great Beauty of an undisclosed Italian location is as ripe as a peach for beautiful moments. Sayombhu Mudkeeprom works with the director to create shots that are filled with yellow rays and highlight the glory of both Italy and this summer love. Closing Guadagnino’s ‘Desire’ trilogy, this is definitely a glorious and interesting melancholic yarn being spun; it’s without a doubt a much more engaging movie than ‘A Bigger Splash’, but again it’s a release that suffers with length.

I must admit I did in fact get quite bored during the late stages of the second half. In the first part, the setting, characters and music all get introduced very well but as the private romance begins, the film started waning and stretched almost into boredom for me, where I was just waiting for the obvious moment when the two would go their separate ways.

The main reason I feel like the later scenes distanced me, is because I never ever bought into their relationship. It’s meant to be this beautiful spark of mutual attraction but I didn’t once believe they loved each other. It felt like Elio was a kid infatuated and Oliver was taking on a summer fling; which makes the consequent second half and their sad parting…well not very sad at all. The story didn’t resonate with me in the way I expected it would, considering all the astounding reviews it’s been collecting recently. I in no way disliked the film, I just started tiring by the end and wouldn’t recommend it outright.

I did thoroughly enjoy the score, almost wrapping me up into the lush scenery of the film. A piano heavy backdrop of music works well in both providing a nice lullaby tone and mirroring the pianist skills of Elio himself. Sufjan Stevens gifts the movie three songs and Mystery of Love; which is in contention for an Academy Award, is like some calm water gently soaking over you as you listen. The song perfectly compliments the look and tone of the film.

Chalamet is a wonderful presence, at times presenting himself wrapped round Oliver, like the curved statues spoken of as displaying desire. He brings this quiet teen intellect to the character but you can see there’s a nervous unknowing to how his narrative plays out, which is quite fascinating to watch. Hammer possesses this goofy charm throughout the picture, a serene confidence to his character and the eventual relationship. It’s definitely one of his finer turns and I’m sold on his dance moves which are care free and delightful. Michael Stuhlbarg is in this and it’s a wonder, no, a crying shame that he hasn’t been up for a major award yet, because he most often is the best quality in a production, and in this he provides good touches of humour, believable dad advice and a calming aspect to run with the general calmness of the story.

‘Call Me by Your Name’ is an assured sweet film about the ride of first love and it’s summer tinged backdrop is a wonderful look to bolster the vivid exploration of Elio’s crush. I just wasn’t as taken by the story itself that’s all.



The Shape of Water (2018)


The masterful and visionary Guillermo del Toro is back; with one of this seasons huge awards contenders, and frankly it isn’t too difficult to see why people have fallen for it. There’s a beautiful twisted charm throughout what can only be described as an odd Hollywood fairy-tale.

A mute janitor by the name of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), ends up cleaning a secretive room in a government facility. In here she discovers and learns more about this amphibian asset (Doug Jones) who she quickly connects to and falls for. It’s soon clear that this water-dwelling creature is in the midst of Cold War tactics and Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) is laser-focused on doing no good to this being.

I never expected to see a film featuring an upright fish man and a non-speaking lead to incorporate elements of such love, engaging humour and aspects of classy glitz a la ‘The Artist’ and ‘La La Land’. Director del Toro has very nearly struck a fascinating gold mine with this film, one that certainly feels like his greatest storytelling achievement since ‘Pans Labyrinth’. I say very nearly because perhaps down to my own over-hyping of this feature, I found the movie to not always keep me immersed and the obscure romance/will they, won’t they element isn’t anything majorly refreshing, even if the romantic partner is green and scaly.

Aside from those points, I found myself enjoying almost the entire run. The cast of characters are believably written and wonderfully acted. There is a healthy mix of fairly absurd comedy to be found considering the subject of this film and what people say is cleverly scripted to elicit humour. The swelling score helps this film feel like a piece of stunning movie-making from a bygone era of classic Hollywood, this can further be realised with the production design of Elisa’s neighbours’ apartment and the numerous visuals of black and white reels on screens. As you might expect with a del Toro picture, there are moments of wincing gore that definitely do their part to make you squeam.

What I think is the best quality in this Cold War set romantic fantasy, is the enchanting rapture of the world we’re presented with; the people within it, the places and the central heart shaped pairing, all mesh together to create inspiring choreography of adoration for movie monsters and Hollywood of old. I don’t know about everyone because this film has been picking up some negative jabs , but for me at least, without any real doubt I can say I was won over by the stylish spin on a love story…and by the glorious amount of key lime pie!

Hawkins gives such a lovely presence throughout, practically saying nothing she manages to tell the story through a spellbinding emotive performance. There’s almost something other-worldly about her and I think she’s the perfect fit for this role. Richard Jenkins is a gem of an actor and character within this movie; he brings great levity, kindness and a loneliness too. Shannon is always someone I enjoy watching and here he has perfect menace in his eyes and a hell bent drive to his narrative, that pretty much only Shannon could muster. Jones is del Toro’s go to guy for making beasts come to life and though it may be no epic Pale Man creation, this amphibian figure splashes with an enamouring touch. Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer are incredible supporting players who have their own moments to shine; in both aiding Elisa’s plot and within their own great scenes.
It may not be the winningly dazzling film I hoped it would be, but it’s certainly a film with visual flair, a film I’d re-watch and a film with classical romance flipped upside down and submerged in the wondrous waters of Guillermo del Toro’s mind.

La La Land (2017)


Well, not for a long while have I been eagerly anticipating a movie like the release of this musical drama. Add on top the record-breaking Golden Globes haul then you have a very excited chap. For the most part this film delivers, it’s stylish, fun, heartfelt but I don’t agree with all the souped up hype it’s received.

After a minor amount of road-rage where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) cross paths, they end up bumping into each other again and again which leads to a romance through the year. As they try following their dreams in LA it becomes a harder challenge to keep the love alive.

I have to say that I absolutely adored the first half or so of this film. It harks back to that classic glitz and glamour of Hollywood old with a neat dose of a modern touch thanks to the musical and confident direction from Damien Chazelle. Just from the sweeping opening on a Los Angeles highway to the delicate changes in lighting, the songs and story begin with a bang.

It helps that we get brilliant performances and a clear chemistry between the two main characters but also the style adds a neat note to the song-sheet that is this feature. There’s times that it looks and sounds like a studio set production and you’d expect Fred Astaire to come tap dancing in. The writing by Chazelle, is for the most part a well handled story that lends a two-sided coin to the LA lifestyle but with an obvious landing on dreams to follow and achieve.

As I sat in my seat I found myself hooked and smiling along to a wonderful series of scenes but then annoyingly, there came a specific moment where I even felt myself disengaging and from then on, the writing becomes very generic and almost cliched. It drifts into a romantic plot you’d expect to find in every other manically churned out rom-com. This frustrated me because I was expecting it to keep going with the gleeful whizz of CinemaScope delight but instead…it wains.

It is almost saved as we get a short burst of style near the end showing a quick run of events. So yes I agree it’s a fantastically well made and enchanting film, it deserved 3 perhaps 4 of the Globes it picked up out of 7. This is obviously, as I realised as they were winning, a case of the voters loving films that celebrate America or the US saving the day -(note Argo winning Best Picture)

Song wise, ‘Another of Day of Sun’ is jolly, sun-drenched and a perfect, literally perfect way to start a film of this genre. ‘City of Stars’ is sung well and has a melancholy yet magical sound but I don’t see how that gets the attention when Stone’s ‘Audition’ song is better performed and has better lyrics. Though it’s naff for jazz and a typical Top 40’s track, John Legend’s performance of ‘Start a Fire’ works well in showcasing the path Seb is taking away from his dream.

I’m not a total grouch because I did enjoy the majority of the film, I just don’t feel it should have broke GG records and I hope the Oscars gives some variety because ‘La La Land’ does swerve into a nearly boring not great second half.


The Light Between Oceans (2016)


There’s no denying that this romantically toned period drama looks effortlessly beautiful. The location greatly encapsulates both the sheer wonder of an island but the brute reality it provides also. Aside from the look and performances in this film, I found portions of the story wavering and slow.

WW1 soldier Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) gets himself a temporary position as a lighthouse keeper and soon gets the permanent role. Away from Janus island he falls for Isabel (Alicia Vikander) who shares this feeling of affection and togetherness. Staying together on Janus as husband and wife they think life is bliss but soon it fractures and a boat washes up offering them a risky opportunity at happiness.

Now knowing that this movie was directed by Derek Cianfrance, who was at the wheel of ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’, it’s clear to see the parallels in style. Both films look and flow very well but seem to lose interest by the last third, this 2016 release may not lose interest as possibilities of crime heat up but the way it’s directed doesn’t build up any gripping connection which is a shame, because the way we fall into the romance of Tom and Isabel before this is done so well.

Cianfrance also wrote the screenplay and again, it’s the last third where everything becomes so tinged with niceties that it almost threatens to bore you. More often than not, this film goes along trying to make you cry or at least engage in a sad manner to what we’re seeing, sometimes it works thanks to the performances but the majority of it starts souring because it feels like it’s shooting for the Academy’s attention.

Michael Fassbender delicately places the almost silent and war-torn Tom, clearly racked with past sins and now performing nicely, this new guilt and sense of right and wrong. Alicia Vikander powers through with gusto and raw emotion when it’s called for but has a chance for a softer smiley side near the beginning. The two of them together and enthralling and their real life connection obviously shines through. Rachel Weisz is great in this too, arriving late but making her mark as Hannah, a woman ridden with grief and loss.

The emotion it strives for isn’t as wrenching as it should be and it all feels like a tame melodrama by the end but a trio of fantastic acting, Desplat’s score and the cinematography help retain it’s cinematic romance.


No Stranger Than Love (2015)


Wow, after seeing the copious amounts of negative reviews for this apparently “disappointingly bland” romantic comedy movie, I expected something tiresome and bad. Instead I got something that however lacking of succeeding it’s aim, was still watchable and interesting.

Art teacher Lucy Sherrington (Alison Brie) is super sweet and nice, all the men in the town love her even if they don’t know her that well. Lucy shares a secret with gym teacher Clint Coburn (Colin Hanks). Together they declare strong feelings for one another which leads to a deep repercussion.

Without going into the aftermath of what saying “I love you” has in store for them both, I can say because I didn’t glance at the plot summary I’m glad I wasn’t in the know. Likewise I shall not say here what happens in case people reading haven’t seen the bio for what this movie is about, that way it won’t spoil what I thought was a unique and clever surprise.

Nick Wernham directs this sickly rom-com with a few neat shots and the capturing of this small town is done well. It feels like a place we all know from movies where everyone knows other people’s business or would like to. Having the character of Lucy not just a plain easy nice gal makes her more engaging, even if she isn’t stretched further in terms of characteristics. Wernham manages to land this film a quirky tone in the most part which does help.

Even if I don’t fully agree with the bad reviews, I must say that the film didn’t go anywhere once the thing that happens…happened. A shady character becomes boring as he goes on and the oddness of the town feels ever fainter as the plot progresses. It does then sadly become a usual suspect of the rom-com genre with cliches, lovey dovey writing and a wishy washy ending. Though I did like the admittedly pretentious poem recited on the hill before the credits hit.

Maybe it’s just my sort of thing, a weird premise and a kooky look at love but I quite enjoyed this movie and didn’t find it that terrible. It doesn’t work when trying to script the whole frailty of life, the workings of the human heart and love but it’s a cute indie film that delivered a cool surprise, a few laughs and a shot at affirming subtext. Also having Alison Brie in it probably helped too.

Speaking of which, Brie is captivating but doesn’t have much material to cope with aside from the Annie ‘Community’ appeal of being kind and objected. She plays the romantic interest to everybody well and you do feel for her as she tries coping with the fact she’s done something wrong. Colin Hanks utilises his voice well, in a way that makes him increasingly annoying which is just right for the development of this story. Justin Chatwin is an interesting man as Rydell. He’s clearly motivated and leering but there’s a well performed soft side to him as he opens up about his past.

Perhaps it isn’t a fantastic movie in terms of writing or directing, but I stand by the fact I liked it and what it tried to pull off.


Sleeping with Other People (2015)

A fantastically likable romantic comedy with fresh and engaging characters, empathy and sympathy for both the guy and the girl, a huge dose of sexual sprinkles but it does become flat not running free from the genre I hoped it would have broken the mould for.

During 2003, a chance encounter happens between Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Elaine/Lainey (Alison Brie). Shifting into present day, they happen to meet again, realising their lives are kind of similar in their lack of being able to settle down. Jake is a womaniser and Lainey is a cheater, through each other they learn a thing or two and develop that undeniable attraction from the first time they met.

Let me start with the writing, which is served up by Leslye Headland. She brings something much better than her play/film ‘Bachelorette’, crikey I seriously disliked that film. Everything that was so wrong in that 2012 flick is rectified here, with characters you can understand and like, scenarios that are believable and a running theme of being smart. The writing here might not be exactly on the clever tracks of screenplays but it’s going the right way, the dialogue can be very sharp and snappy, the changes out of comedy hit well in the emotional zone and it goes a good way a lot of the time in trying to do something different with the rom-com shtick.

Sadly that statement can’t be 100% guaranteed as a fair portion of this movie suffers by following the romantic comedy rule book. There’s a certain scene and action where it leaves you wanting the attraction to happen and it goes away from there. This brilliance should have been the end or a set up for another similar ending but without spoiling proceedings, you know from the film that it’s going to finish up as you’d expect, not as you’d wish just as you always knew it would. I was hugely hoping the great characters and moments would be enveloped by a similar breaking of the genre but they don’t get that joy.

The direction from Headland is smooth and comes with cool little quirks, the social media aspect is a trend we’ve seen and can expect to see for a long time now, but having the texts appear on screen doesn’t feel cliched here and one message thread is delivered on screen by the sender which is both funny and original. There’s degrees of slow motion, which aren’t Michael Bayed, they come sparingly and add a dramatic tinge to that slowed action. It’s a fast flowing movie and the neat shots of New York add to that rush of struggling romance. It also helps that I’m writing this review from the Big Apple and saw places in the film that I’ve now seen for real and one scene was shot on the street I’m staying at! I’m going off on a tangent, sorry, but yes, the city aspect is shot very well and feels very right for this story.

Alison Brie is a dynamic actress, she shows she can do comedy and the cutie pie routine in most of the films/TV roles she’s done but here she adds weight in some pretty emotive scenes. They come like firecrackers of despair after comedic moments that shoot fast and long. One of the break-ups is done in a funny way but she follows that with a pang of brutal self loathing that Brie truly makes feel real. Jason Sudeikis is an actor that hits or misses, I get his typical act but sometimes it feels too smarmy, here though it’s present but not annoying, he’s likable and you can see his stuttering when it comes to his thoughts on Lainey. The pair of them are charismatic and you do buy into their blossoming best friend journey. Also, great kudos to Andrea Savage and Jason Mantzoukas who bring some of the best lines to the movie and work brilliantly well as the married couple still down with being hip or at least wanting to be.

It may not be constantly funny or even genuinely sad all the way through, it also lacks a great premise to fully shatter the rom-com guidelines. Though even saying/writing this film is a delightful watch, it makes you smile and comes with charming performances helping the movie feel sexy, touching and enjoyable.


Say When (2014)


This romantic comedy, titled for American audiences as the more awfully funky ‘Laggies’ is a so-so film. I mean this in the sense that it’s neither bad or great, it does as any expected film of this genre does and with a good enough direction from Lynn Shelton there’s the required amount of love and laughs for the desired audience member.

28 years old and still stuck with old school friends and her prom sweetheart, Megan (Keira Knightley) is taken aback when her boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) proposes to her. In her still childish ways of not taking responsibilities or growing up she decides to go away for a week to try and fathom this big news. On the way, Megan crosses paths and buys booze for underage kids led by Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) who she soon becomes a friend of, leading her to meet Annika’s dad Craig (Sam Rockwell) where the option of facing adulthood and a future could be more real.

I doubt it’s any massive spoiler to say that it’s pretty clear what direction Megan ends up in, when faced with a new hunky figure and the old squeeze tying her down to past school memories. As I mentioned in the opening, there’s enough to keep the target audience satisfied, I am not in that demographic and so I can quite boldly say I wasn’t satisfied. A few moments make you smile and I cannot deny the empathy for Megan is there but it’s nothing special, a standard rom-com with no flair or huge comedy to tide you over.

Though maybe there’s some funny in there somewhere, as the screen I shared with a mere other two, cracked up on multiple occasions. I seriously don’t know what they found so funny about a floating turtle but by heck did those two girls laugh enough to make it seem like there was more people watching the film. This movie’s saving grace is Sam Rockwell who just owns that look on his face that makes you prepare to bust your guts laughing, you don’t but he’s got that cool quirky single dad down to a T and he’s both funny and adorable as a loner left by ‘Boardwalk Empire’s’ Gretchen Mol.

There’s sadly nothing outstanding or even plainly interesting in the film, the music by Benjamin Gibbard is already forgotten, the attempts at laugh out loud moments never really fly, most are in fact pretty cringe; wedding dance or Knightley sign flipper dancing jump to mind as awkward moments. It would have been alright if the end had differed from the usual cliched romantic comedy story arcs but alas. All I ask is for a film in this category to come along and do something hugely significant to make the genre fresh and exciting.

Keira Knightley is not an actress I’m a fan of anyway, but even I can appreciate she does a fine job of the slacker role needed in her character, to be honest I can even comment that she’s an actress I’m surprised took on this script considering how mediocre and plodding it is. Her high pitched accent doesn’t grate and works to an advantage in selling dumb layabout Megan more. Sam Rockwell is the spotlight and gem of the piece even without too much to do, he made me feel less terrible about coming out of seeing this movie. Chloe Grace Moretz has proved on more than one occasion that she has something, that spark, but Annika is not a character with much intrigue or substance for her to shine in.

Every now and then a shred of charm bounds onto the screen, a cool shiny modern art hanging fits the frame with a brilliant touch or the script begins floating towards something attention grabbing but on the most part this film is predictable tedium without any attempt to re-write the rom-com book. A lagging movie.