There are very few movies that have stayed with me after exiting the cinema. When I watched “Call Me By Your Name,” I really could not get a feeling for it. There were no outside forces, no reasons move for change or activism that I had seen in several films these past 18 months. What’s so hard about spending the summer of 1983 in Northern Italy just playing the piano in a rustic Italian villa that is a summer getaway. I felt nothing in common with Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old who spent most of his days fooling around with the Italian girls, riding his bicycle, and wearing the same swimming trunks. His parents, Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and translator Annella (Amira Casar), surround him with books in thousands of languages and and a house staff to clean up after him. Outside of his Jewish heritage that makes him a minority in the small Italian town, I didn’t feel much sympathy for the teenager.
The same feeling was directed at Oliver (Armie Hammer), an arrogant 24-year-old graduate student selected to help the professor with his work in Greco-Roman studies. He ends every conversation with “Later!” (this is 1983, after all), and is not afraid to correct Mr. Perlman in public. Oliver is out every night, gambling, dancing with the locals and more. At first, Oliver is another one of the same roles Hammer has played since he made waves as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in 2010’s “The Social Network.” Unlike Elio, Oliver shines his Jewish heritage brightly with a gold Star of David necklace.
What unfolds is a back-and-forth wave of feelings, sensuality and connection between Elio and Oliver. For the teen, his emotions are all over the place. They go from the piano keys to the affections of Marzia (Esther Garrel), a French girl in the village. But deep down, he pulled by Oliver, who at first was giving him signals but back off when the feelings weren’t reciprocated. When Elio finally opens up to Oliver, in probably one of the most beautiful settings in the film, their actions unfold organically. Set to songs by Sufjan Stevens, their love affair bridges the missed cues and lost moments with making the most of what time they have that summer.
“Call Me By Your Name” celebrates love in all forms, ranging from acceptance to long-lasting marriages like that of Elio’s parents. Perhaps the best tribute to it is from Mr. Perlman’s monologue near the end.
But as beautiful as it was, with director Luca Guadagnino choosing to shoot summertime Italy with film over digital, I didn’t feel much for Elio. It wasn’t set during the AIDS epidemic (unlike the novel on which it is based in 1987). Instead, it’s a basic, non-melodramatic love story. The leads are straight men who perform nonexplotitive sex scenes together. There’s a point where Oliver asks Elio if he had come on to him like a molester, and it was an awkward moment.
However, in the few days that followed that screening, I recalled the tiny details, how much of a challenge this is for Elio. Despite living in an accepting environment where he still had to hide his religion, he battled with himself over his feelings for Oliver. I wanted to keep a log of Mr. Perlman’s lines with me, and Stuhlbarg continues to be the right actor for every role he plays.
As I look at my own movie collection, I recall the plot twist in each one. “Call Me By My Name” has one in that there isn’t one. It’s telling that so much of the novel and how the characters change are left of the film just to make a love story. Then again, Hollywood’s answer to romance is the vomit-inducing “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise.
Three and a half stars out of five.
Now until the March 4 Oscar telecast, Take 2 will run a series focusing on issues and subjects involving the Academy Awards.
As the best picture field varies between five and 10 selections, there will be times in which star power will spill over into more than one title. This year is no exception as five actors appear in at least two contenders. Which movie will they choose to campaign for before voting is over? Check out the squad:
Chalamet is nominated for best actor for his work as Elio, a Jewish teenager falling in love in 1980s Italy in “Call Me By Your Name.” He is one of the youngest actors nominated in this category. He also appears in a supporting role in “Lady Bird” as Kyle Scheible, the title character’s second boyfriend during her senior year in high school.
One year after earning a supporting actor nomination for “Manchester By the Sea,” Hedges stars in to nominated films. In “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Hedges portrays Robbie, the son of Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes who is subjected to bullying at school due to his mother’s activisim. Hedges is also seen in “Lady Bird” as Lady Bird’s first boyfriend, Danny O’Neill.
The Pultizer Prize-winning playwright and Tony Award-winning actor has supporting roles in two movies. He plays Danny O’Neill, the father in “Lady Bird,” and Fritz Beebe, the chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co. in “The Post.” Letts’ real-life wife, Carrie Coon, plays Meg Greenfield, the influential Post editorial editor.
Perhaps the hardest working actor of 2017, Stuhlbarg appears in three nominated films. In “The Post” Stuhlbarg stars as Abe Rosenthal, the executive editor of The New York Times when it published the Pentagon Papers. The California native portrays conflicted biologist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler in “The Shape of Water.” Stuhlbarg delivers a heart-moving monologue as Elio’s college professor dad Mr. Perlman in “Call Me By Your Name.”
Known mostly for his television and stage roles, Whitford appears in two movies that bookend the year. Whitford is surgeon Dean Armitage who meets his daughter’s black boyfriend in “Get Out,” and he also Arthur Parsons, a member of The Washington Post board in “The Post.”
“Trailer Talk” rounds up recently released trailers for upcoming and anticipated movies.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp”
In addition to “Black Panther” in February and “Avengers: Infinity War” in May, Marvel Studios reminds us they have a third comic book-based movie coming out this year. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the sequel to 2015’s enjoyable heist flick “Ant-Man,” and it looks to be as fun as its predecessor.
The movie is the first from Marvel Studios to feature a female superhero in the title. Evangeline Lilly’s the Wasp suits up to join Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man for some shrinking superhero high-jinks.
In the wake of the events of “Captain America: Civil War” (and probably “Infinity War,” as the movie comes out after the highly awaited film), Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and her father, inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), are on the run after Scott Lang (Rudd) helped a fugitive Captain America. The trailer shows more heist action, mini-adventures and the return of Giant-Man, the extension of Ant-Man’s size-growing abilities first displayed in “Civil War.” If you never thought a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser could be deadly, think again!
But the teaser shines the spotlight on Hope, whose smart and cautious nature balances out Scott’s recklessness. Hope’s Wasp suit is equipped with some extra features that Scott wishes his suit had.
The film also stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne, Hope’s long-missing mother (who’s absent from the trailer), and Laurence Fishburne, of whom we only see a glimpse. Michael Pena returns as the delightful Luis. The teaser features the rocking sounds of “Ants Invasion” by Adam and the Ants.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” flies into theaters July 6.
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”
The follow-up to the 2008 hit “Mamma Mia!” acts as both a prequel and sequel. The film is set after the events of the fondly regarded musical and features even more catchy ABBA songs.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of free-spirited Donna (Meryl Streep), spent the first film searching for her father. Now Sophie, still with Sky (Dominic Cooper), is pregnant. With Donna mysteriously absent (did she die between films?!), Sophie learns about her mother’s past and how she dealt with her own pregnancy. Lily James (“Downton Abbey,” “Cinderella”) plays a young Donna in flashbacks.
While the first trailer relied heavily on flashbacks of Streep’s Donna from the original film, the international trailer focuses more on Sophie and young Donna.
The sequel brings back Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Starsgard and Colin Firth as Sophie’s dads, as well as Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Donna’s friends. This time around, Andy Garcia and Cher join in the fun.
“Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” belts its way into theaters July 20.
“Pacific Rim Uprising”
The second trailer for the sequel to 2013’s robot-fighting sci-fi film “Pacific Rim” gives us more insights into the new generation of jaeger pilots called to fight the latest invasion of kaiju monsters.
John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) plays Jake Pentecost, the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the commander who pledged to “cancel the Apocalypse” in the first film. As Jake joins the ranks of the jaeger pilots, there’s some tension between him and official Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), the pilot from the first “Pacific Rim” who was like a daughter to Stacker. Jake is joined by fellow pilots Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and Amara (Cailee Spaeny) to tackle bigger kaiju that threaten the fate of the world.
The sequel continues without Guillermo del Toro, who directed the first film. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman return in their roles from the original.
“Pacific Rim Uprising” pilots into theaters March 23.
The teaser for the HBO movie stars Al Pacino as once-beloved Penn State football coach Joe Paterno in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. The far-reaching scandal rocked the university and shocked the world.
The Oscar-winning actor looks just like Paterno, the winningest coach in college football history. After 46 years as head coach, Paterno was fired from the university after his failure to address child molestation claims against his assistant coach. Paterno, 85, died from lung cancer just two months after his dismissal.
The biopic, directed by Barry Levinson, examines the effects of the scandal on Paterno’s legacy.
“Paterno” is set to air on HBO this spring.
“Phantom Thread,” four and a half stars out of five. In theaters.
I don’t know what I fell in love with first – the incredible score by Jonny Greenwood or the orderly nature of the House of Woodcock in the tenderly shot and surprisingly funny “Phantom Thread.” I didn’t think Paul Thomas Anderson had it in him to be a hopeless romantic for fashion, for London and for the 1950s. And Daniel Day-Lewis, in what is said to be his final role, would what to play a vulnerable yet complicated man.
Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, an acclaimed dressmaker for the richest and most powerful women in Europe. Everything is very precise – his all-female crew walk into his home, sport white coats and delicately handle the fabric. Overseeing everything is his sister Cyril (the always magnificent Lesley Melville), who protects the business and her brother’s heart. During a trip to the country, Woodcock falls for Alma (Vicky Kreips), a plain waitress at an inn with a strong spirit of her own. Woodcock thinks he can mold her like he had with his former lovers as he sees himself as a immortal bachelor. Alma, however, has a mind of her own full of ideas and actions.
This makes for an abusive push and pull between the dressmaker and his muse. Whoever gets an upper hand is quickly robbed of it as fast as a needle stitches a hem. While Woodcock surrounds himself with women of different shapes, backgrounds and personalities, he doesn’t know how to handle them. He had been used to throwing them a dress to keep them in the place he wants them to be, but he can’t confront them either. He leaves that job for Cyril.
Woodcock, on the surface, looks like the opposite of Daniel Plainview, the monstrous and greedy oilman in the previous Day-Lewis/Anderson pairing, “There Will Be Blood.” Plainview was completely absent of women, whereas Woodcock has no dealings with men. Yet, their need for cruelty and isolation is the same, as Plainview loses himself in drilling that he pushes away his son HW and Woodcock gets buried in his designs and mannerisms that even Alma’s eating habits drive him mad.
All the while, “Phantom Thread” is a feast on the eyes and ears with the lovely dresses by costume designer Mark Bridges and Greenwood’s score. There are nice cues in the music that signal when it’s a safer moment when Woodcock and Alma are in sync, and then it takes a turn when the relationship sours. It’s a roller coaster to the sound of piano and strings; yet it is dreamy and nostalgic.
In some parts, this drama takes some humorous turns into Crazyland City with the romantic triangle between Woodcock, Alma and Cyril that seem as out of place as the dressmaker’s magenta socks. Nevertheless, there is always room for insanity and for times not to take yourself so seriously. What is amazing is how the young Kreips can stand toe-to-toe with one of the best actors of a generation. Besides Melville, Day-Lewis is an equal and sometimes towering presence, but Kreips can shrink him down to size.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” three and a half stars. In theaters.
Private pain on display is exemplified on three orange billboards less than a mile away from Mildred Hayes’ house in this contemporary drama. Hayes (Frances McDormand), whose daughter Angela was raped, murdered and burned, questions Ebbing police, specifically Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), why no arrests have been made seven months after the crime. The billboard ignites the simmering anger that has been under the surface in the close-knit, small town.
With the town population backing Willoughby and the force’s most visible face being the idiotic, racist cop Dixon (Sam Rockwell), Hayes does not have much support for her one-woman army. Pretty much, everyone is fighting their own battles in a public way. Seeking justice is not a clean route to travel as tempers fly into extreme matters at every reaction. If someone cuts you off in traffic, fire bomb their vehicle. Ebbing is not the kind of town where people bond together to feel your pain, and Hayes is the living, breathing version of it.
The audience doesn’t get to know Angela. She’s shown in a brief flashback and her case file is seen twice. The first time is through a gruesome set of crime-scene photographs of her burned body. Instead, the audience sees the worst in people. Hayes is not the type who sits around waiting for something to happen nor does she thinks things through. It’s a character that perfect for McDormand to play – a strong, no-nonsense firecracker. There are some doses of vulnerability, mostly in times with her teenage Robbie (Lucas Hedges) and her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes).
The police aren’t in a positive light, with Dixon as the marked problem who had previously tortured a black man but continues to serve the force. The chief is not much better himself, but with a cancer diagnosis, Willoughby is a bonafide saint.
What sets “Three Billboards” apart from other 2017 films is that it is very current. It feels like a time capsule of 2016 or the live version of a Facebook newsfeed. It does this by not being preachy, not being clean cut. However, it does accomplish this by allowing McDormand to be her most McDormand-est. She has played these fearless, tough characters for decades, and as Hayes, she’s going for it. Rockwell is the same way as the conflicted cop. They’re acting without a safety net, and while it feels like they’re not stretching much, pushing their talents to 11 is more than what most actors will do.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” four stars. Streaming on Google Play and iTunes.
An eye for an eye goes too far in the latest psychological horror film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. What’s strange about this offering is that it’s the most logical movie he has ever made.
Colin Farrell plays Dr. Steve Murphy, a celebrated cardiologist and a recovering alcoholic. He lives in the perfect house with the perfect wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman); perfect son, Bob (Sunny Suljic), and talented daughter, Kim (Raffey Cassidy). The good doctor also befriends a young teen, Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of one of Murphy’s patients who died.
Martin’s relationship with Murphy becomes obsessive as the teen blames the doctor for his father’s death. He meets and becomes accepted by the family, but then Martin’s vengeful nature emerges. One by one, one of Murphy’s family members becomes paralyzed from the waist down. As more symptoms emerge, that person becomes closer to death. Murphy can stop this from getting worse if he gives into Martin’s demands.
What unfolds is the ugly desire to survive, to not take the blame and to keep things beautiful. Heavily laced with symbolism and personal truths, “Killing” may require additional screenings or a glance at its Wikipedia page to get some of the directions in which the movie flows. Murphy is a complicated character as he can be a victim of a teen’s sick game or he is the king of dishonesty. Farrell does so much here; even his well-groomed beard is in the act. Kidman’s Anna is level-headed and strong as she sees her family deteriorate at the hands of a young man.
If you were up at around 8:15 this morning, you witnessed a good amount of history being made in the land of Hollywood with the nominations for the 90th Academy Awards. Hosted humorously by Tiffany Haddish and Andy Serkis, the nomination ceremony had a few surprises and “about time” moments. Let’s break it all down.
Fantasy and horror get their day
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale for adults, leads the pack with 13 nominations, just shy of the 14 “La La Land” earned last year. Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer earned acting nominations and del Toro secured one for directing. Horror flick “Get Out” earned four nominations, including best picture and best director for Jordan Peele. Daniel Kaluuya scored a best actor nomination. Fantasy and horror usually don’t get invited to the big dance, and both films are game-changers in this year’s selections. Will “The Shape of Water” have better luck at the end than “La La Land,” which won six Oscars but not best picture?
History already made
Rachel Morrison is the first woman to be nominated in the cinematography category. She is competing with her work in “Mudbound.” The post-World War II drama is up for four awards, with two nominations for singer/actress Mary J. Blige for supporting actress and song. Writer/director Dee Rees is nominated for adapted screenplay. It’s also the first time that a Netflix movie has made it into the top narrative categories, but it’s still not best picture. Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) is only the fifth woman to receiving a directing nomination, and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) is the third African American in that category.
A mighty “Thread”
While many expected Daniel Day-Lewis to earn a nod for his “final” performance (I’ll believe it when a decade has passed and he’s not acting) in “Phantom Thread” and recognition for its costume design and score, it was a surprise for it earn additional love for best picture, director for Paul Thomas Anderson and supporting actress for Lesley Melville. Day-Lewis could earn his fourth best actor Oscar, and Jonny Greenwood could finally collect one for his score. Melville, who was snubbed for her brilliant performance in 2010’s “Another Year,” has a chance this time.
Off the cliff
As expected, not all performances and work can be nominated, but a few omissions stand out. James Franco did not make the cut for “The Disaster Artist” in the best actor category, and the supporting cast and director of “Call Me By Your Name” were not named. Despite the quick shuffle to it in the awards fight, “All the Money in the World” could only squeak out one nomination with pinch-hitter Christopher Plummer getting it for supporting actor. Other snubs included Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba for “Molly’s Game,” box-office juggernaut “Wonder Woman,” Haddish for “Girls Trip,” Martin McDonagh for best director of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Jane” for best documentary feature and “Into the Fade” for best foreign language film. Left out of the best picture race are “The Florida Project,” “The Big Sick” and “Logan.”
The studio with the most to gain and lose in this race is Fox Searchlight, as it is backing “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” With recent best picture winners “Birdman,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “12 Years a Slave,” it will be interesting to see which of the two films will have the most studio back. It will be a battle between the present-day, in-the-moment drama or the horror/fantasy American tale that will prevail. The two have battled it out all season, making it a boring competition in a way. This may allow for dark horses like “Phantom Thread” or “Darkest Hour” from Focus Features or “Lady Bird” from A24, the studio behind last year’s best picture winner “Moonlight,” to move ahead.
As for my predictions, I only got the best actress category completely right. Last year, it was only the best actor category. Tune in later when I begin the Road to Gold series ahead of the Oscars telecast March 4.
In previous years, I spent months before the Oscar nominations handicapping films’ and actors’ odds for earning a top spot. This awards season, however, I could only get through two weeks in October. Thanks to the eye-opening exposés of Hollywood’s top brass and actors, accusing them of sexual misconduct or worst, a wave has swept through the industry affecting what movies and actors are being applauded. It made it even harder for me to even think of what films could be frontrunners. Will there be a lean toward female-centric stories? Will changes behind the scenes be rewarded? Who will be the next victim to come forward? Who will be accused of vile acts next?
Before Tuesday’s announcements, let’s look at some of the most-buzzed films and predictions in the major categories:
“Get Out” and “Lady Bird”
These are the two best reviewed and rewarded films, with “Lady Bird” having the most momentum, earning two Golden Globes. Then again, the Globes mean nothing as there is no overlap in the Academy and Hollywood Foreign Press. Both have received top critics awards and earned nominations from the major guilds. Of all the top contenders, the two have something that the others lack: first-time directors from underrepresented demographics. It may not lead to directorial nominations for Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, but they are shoo-ins for original screenplay. Expect for their leads, Daniel Kaluuya for “Get Out” and Saoirse Ronan for “Lady Bird,” to hear their names being called Tuesday. Of all the potential best picture nominations, “Get Out” may have the largest box office totals with $175.7 million.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
When I was observing awards season, I thought that the campaign for this film had started super early, with a trailer that dropped in March and early screenings at film festivals. The strategy has paid off, with the Frances McDormand-led drama earning four Golden Globes and becoming the film to beat. McDormand and Sam Rockwell have collected multiple awards so far with some critics calling McDormand’s no-nonsense Mildred Hayes a “woke” woman. With much attention being paid to Time’s Up and the #MeToo movement, the central theme of this film – a mother’s hunt for justice following her daughter’s murder – rings true to the current climate. Yet, audiences haven’t flocked to see this film, despite it winning the People’s Choice Award at September’s Toronto International Film Festival.
“The Shape of Water”
Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is the last of the Three Amigos to not have a best picture nomination. The other two in the trio – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron – have top Oscars, including best director. This American horror story del Toro has created is the closest he has been to the top since 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Three of the film’s actors – Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins – have raked in nominations, and del Toro won best director at the Globes. However, as some are questioning why Gerwig and Peele have been sidelined in the race for best director, few are paying attention to del Toro has he collect wins. Will the Academy let Peele and Gerwig stay in the writing categories and keep del Toro in directing?
“Call Me By Your Name”
Last January, the Luca Guadagnino-directed film made a splash at Sundance, and the dance kept going through the rest of the year. For a moment, it looked like it would have the same winning fate as “Moonlight,” with back-to-back wins for coming-of-age, gay romantic dramas. But much as changed in Hollywood over those 12 months, and suddenly films starring white male leads are out of favor. Timothée Chalamet, who also appears in “Lady Bird,” has a good chance of earning a best actor nomination and possibly winning if voters can get over his youth. Michael Stuhlbarg, who is really the season’s MVP with his other roles in “The Post” and “The Shape of Water,” should score a nomination as well, as long as Armie Hammer doesn’t cancel him out.
The Academy likes true stories, journalism and Steven Spielberg, and “The Post” has all three of them. With favorites Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, this would be a no-brainer. And it pretty much is, thanks to its strong box office showing so far. What could work against the film set in the 1970s at The Washington Post is the best picture win by “Spotlight” two short years ago. It faces the same type of shadow as “Call Me By Your Name.” Neither have outscored the older, similar films, and perhaps Hanks and Streep may seem too political or familiar for the current climate.
“All the Money in the World”
If there is one movie that has been widely affected by #MeToo and Time’s Up, it would be this Ridley Scott film. Before he was accused of sexual misconduct, Kevin Spacey was an early favorite for a supporting actor nomination. However, Scott quickly recast and reshot the film in record time, employing Christopher Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty. All of a sudden, a mediocre thriller is a contender and is frequently talked about. Will the salary controversy between Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg be a factor? Will all three be nominees?
If “All the Money in the World” steals a nomination, it will take the place of “The Florida Project,” one of the only true indies with a chance. The poverty-themed drama may be too hard and too small for the Academy to watch, and perhaps too close to “Moonlight” as both are Florida-centered dramas in the state’s most troubled parts. Willem Dafoe previously had a easier path to getting to his first Oscar win after several nominations, but Rockwell has stolen that run. “The Big Sick” may also not make the cut. “Dunkirk,” which was in the lead back in July, still has a chance for best picture, director for Christopher Nolan and some technical spots. Veterans Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis are safe bets and Margot Robbie and Alison Janney of “I, Tonya” have nothing to worry about.
“All the Money in the World,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Dunkirk,” “The Florida Project,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “The Post,” “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me By Your Name”
Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “The Darkest Hour”
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”
Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Armie Hammer, “Call Me By Your Name”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me By Your Name”
Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”
Best Animated Feature
“The Boss Baby”
“Ethel & Ernest”
Follow @sstamaradunn on Twitter on Tuesday starting at 8 a.m. as she live tweets the Oscar nomination announcements.
The Schuylkill Mall in Frackville has met the fate many others across the country, closing its doors last year. Its cinema – Pearl Theatre Stadium 8 – was on its way to a similar ending. By mid-2017, it looked like the theater would stay open until Dec. 31, but its end date was extended to this Monday. According to its Facebook page, the theater is hosting a “Come Wish Us Farewell” weekend with its current lineup of movies with seats for sale, free posters on a first-come, first-serve basis and concession and alcohol sales.
I visited the Pearl on Dec. 27, traveling more than 40 miles from Nanticoke to see “Downsizing,” a movie that was also screening 7 miles away from my house. However, if a movie house was closing, I had to see it in person before the screen goes black for the last time. The lobby was styled with catchy, contemporary colors, large-scale posters and open space. It was highly reflective of the $3 million makeover it underwent in 2013. There was a lounge for theatergoers 21 and older to enjoy a drink and snacks with their movie. I missed a showing for that experience, so I attended a regular screening. The concessions were cheap, and there was a good crowd there for a Tuesday night.
Seeing all the newness in the theater made me feel terrible about what was happening to the Pearl. Closing would mean that Schuylkill County would be without a theater. That would be hard to imagine a world like that, having to rely on Netflix and HBO for your movie fix.
Unfortunately, “Downsizing” was a terrible movie, and I wanted to walk out. If it weren’t for the 40+ miles and sub-freezing temperatures that night, I might have done so. Traveling long distances to see movies is nothing new for me. But I didn’t regret visiting the Pearl.
Luckily, for Schuylkill movie fans, there will be a new theater in Pottsville. Instead of mourning the death of a theater, we get to see what’s on the horizon.
When I first saw “Pan’s Labyrinth” in 2007, I was horrified by the monsters and fantastic creatures that lurked in the maze that captivated a young girl. When I discussed the film with my best friend, she said she was more terrified of the horrors of man, in the form of a cruel stepfather to the young heroine in the time of Francoist Spain. I began to look at director/writer Guillermo del Toro’s films differently from that point on, especially as he returned to form with the enchanting but destructive “The Shape of Water.”
Sally Hawkins is Elisa, a mute cleaning woman working the midnight shift at a government facility in 1960s Baltimore. Her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a gay artist who relies on freelance work from his former employer, shows her love for musicals in a set of apartments above a movie house. Elisa’s supervisor is Zelda (Octavia Spencer), an African American who is also her hand and interpreter. Elisa’s world opens when a sea creature and its Texan handler Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) are brought to the research facility. For the government, the creature (Del Toro regular Doug Jones) is a source of information – if it’s useful for study or for weaponization. For Elisa, he is the only being who understands her. Through sign language and music, the two form a bond that empowers Elisa into action.
Unlike “Pan’s Labyrinth,” everyday man is the obvious monster in “The Shape of Water.” The film starts with Giles narrating the beginning of a fairy tale when a princess is floating inside an urban aquarium. It’s magical and beautiful and warns the audience of the monsters in her world. Strickland is a racist, sexist and disabilist bully who communicates with aggression and anger. He is also the blue-ribbon example of the post-McCarthyism American man – a war veteran, husband of a perfectly groomed blonde and father of a boy and a girl. He walks tall and talks hard. He tortures the creature with the justification that he will be rewarded. There are little monsters throughout the film who are just as greedy or hateful.
Flipping the script, Elisa sets off on a mission to save the creature. She’s a voiceless soul who connects with a defenseless being that some have worshiped as god. Along this plan, del Toro shows how media, advertising and consumerism blankets over the hatred waiting to erupt. Everything down to what is on the televisions is a reflection of what is under each character’s American skin. Was the 1960s such an ideal time? Was the desire for a sunny, mid-century home, a healthy brood and a Cadillac in the driveway what America was all about? Del Toro says no with the choice of characters having the voice of logic – Giles and Zelda.
But del Toro also gives a salute to cinema, with the beautiful Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres in Toronto as examples of true movie heaven (I recognized the beautiful balconies and screen immediately and made sure to stay for the credits for confirmation.) He includes golden age musicals and monster classics. But I can’t help but to feel that are some winks of Tim Burton and John Waters here. He’s even inspired by the cast he recruited for this film – four of the best actors in the industry who are usually assigned to supporting roles in big films and starring role in independent ones.
While there are so many layers in this celluloid onion that is “The Shape of Water,” the storytelling is pretty simple with squirts of silly moments thrown in, like how Strickland makes a Cadillac look so small when he’s driving it or Zelda’s endless chatter about her lazy husband. Some fans of “La La Land” may role their eyes at this version of Hollywood dreamers, but del Toro didn’t make this film for them. “The Shape of Water” is not on the same greatness level as “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but it is so close to it. Admittedly, however, I was in a puddle at the end of it. I needed something to tug my heartstrings.
4.5 out of 5 stars
“The Shape of Water” is hauntingly beautiful and emotionally powerful. Beauty meets her Beast in this dark fairy tale brought to life by visionary director Guillermo del Toro. The enchanting and offbeat fantasy finds love and hope among the loneliness and pain felt by its outsider characters. It’s also a lovely ode to cinema for those of us who love movies.
“The Shape of Water” is set during the Cold War in 1960s America. Mute and gentle janitor Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works overnights at a secret government laboratory in Baltimore. Living above a movie theater, Elisa spends a lot of time watching musicals with her closeted gay neighbor, unemployed artist Giles (Richard Jenkins). Her only other friend is her African-American supervisor and interpreter, the protective Zelda (Octavia Spencer).
Elisa is intrigued when a mysterious, amphibious creature (Doug Jones) is brought to the facility and chained up in a water tank. Unable to communicate through conventional means, the two form a strong kinship by performing sign language to each other and listening to music.
But their unusual relationship is threatened by cruel government agent Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who wants to torture and dissect the creature for research. As Strickland closes in, Eliza is determined to save the creature and calls on her friends for help.
“The Shape of Water” is closest in feel to del Toro’s dark masterpiece, “Pan’s Labyrinth.” The director is known for his mastery of visuals, and “The Shape of Water” is a gorgeous film to behold. The film is bathed in a palette of greens, imitating the murky glow of water. Elisa’s milky, delicate features are beautifully contrasted against the creature’s blue-tinged, scale-covered body.
The imaginative fantasy is sweet and earnest as it tells the quirky romance between two kindred souls, one of whom looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Hawkins and Jones are dynamic together as the odd couple, able to express the gamut of emotions without saying a single word.
But the drama also explores the despair and solitude that connects its main characters. Elisa, the creature, Giles and Zelda are all “others,” existing outside the norms of society. Michael Stuhlbarg is a standout as Dr. Hoffstetler, the lone scientist who sees the beauty in the creature and wants to save it, not kill it.
The film tackles sexual repression, racism and sexism, the dark underbelly of a 1960s America fixated on having a white picket fence and a shiny new Cadillac. With his picture-perfect family, Strickland embodies this dichotomy. On the surface, he seems to have it all while his sadistic urges grow stronger.
As the master of movie monsters, del Toro makes us wonder who the real monster is. The film has bursts of gruesome violence as it tries to settle this question, which can be unnerving for moviegoers.
In “The Shape of Water,” del Toro infuses his love of cinema. The characters display an endearing awe of film, from watching it on the big screen of the movie theater to the small TVs in their apartments. The characters stop to admire scenes from classic musicals starring songstresses Alice Faye – one of my favorites who I grew up watching – and Carmen Miranda, as well as glimpses of Audrey Hepburn. Lovers of film will appreciate the wonderful homage.
“The Shape of Water” balances a fantastical premise with a grounded reality, building to an emotionally charged finale that had me in tears. The film recognizes that life pivots between happiness and hurt, but there’s still room for wonder. “The Shape of Water” makes you believe in fairy tales.
4.5 out of 5 stars
The ending credits have rolled on 2017. It’s time to rewind as we look back on our best and worst in film for the year. Rebecca and Tamara make their picks for best movie, worst movie, screen surprise, favorite character and hidden gem.
“Get Out”: I had a difficult time narrowing down my pick for 2017’s best film, but out of the 46 films released this year that I have seen, it’s the only one that serves as the best time capsule of the times we are living in. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut stirred audiences like the hypnotic tea stirring into the sunken place in discussions that needed to be made. The horror film follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black photographer, as he visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend. It starts with the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” cliché, but quickly moves into territory not often shown in any format, showing black men’s fears. It’s rare for a person of color to survive the end of a horror flick, and does Chris, or America for that matter, make it at the end?
Honorable mention: “The Shape of Water” – director Guillermo del Toro makes the most haunting and beautiful fairy tales for adults, often serving as portraits of some of the worst times and environments of our times. He picks the best central characters, with lonely mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) this time as a cleaner in a government facility housing a sea monster, and makes a beautiful tribute to cinema. “Dunkirk” – Christopher Nolan employs modern storytelling and suspense in a breath-taking war film. Seeing it in 70 millimeter was a treat.
“Matt Damon”: For the past three years, I haven’t been able to single out one bad movie. It has been a cluster of bad examples of filmmaking usually occurring between January and April. In 2017, however, I selected a single actor. Damon has appeared in a string of awful movies and tone-death flicks – “The Great Wall,” “Suburbicon” and “Downsizing” – and made some of the year’s worst sound bites as Hollywood is exorcising some of the accused sexual predators running rampant behind the scenes. If Damon is the example of the relatable everyday man, we need a 2018 replacement.
Honorable mention: “Life” and “Alien: Covenant” – I thought that “Life” was a poor man’s “Alien” and needed Ridley Scott to show them a real science fiction movie. Then “Covenant” came along, and I realized that Scott is a poor man’s Ridley Scott.
“Good Time”: I never watched any of the “Twilight” movies, so my only exposure to Robert Pattinson was in “Cosmopolis” and “Map to the Stars” in forgettable roles. What he brings to the spectacular “Good Time” by Ben and Joshua Sadfie is beyond words. As no-good New York crook Connie, Pattinson turns in a performance in one of the best New York movies ever made. You forget that he’s British as he takes on the persona of a Queens thug. I may be biased as this film takes place in my former hometown and makes me homesick at times, bu this high-paced drama with Pattinson as its star was a pleasure to watch.
Honorable mention: “Lady Bird”: I saw Greta Gerwig as a starlet who was in the same realm as Lena Dunham. The movies she made and wrote were annoying and full of the things that annoyed me in real life: hipsters, Brooklyn gentrification, young people without real jobs, indecisiveness, thrift stores. “Lady Bird,” her directorial debut, didn’t have as much of that stuff and had a great performance by the always-talent Saoirse Ronan.
Ryan, Sasha, Lisa and Dina (Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish): For too long, I have wanted to see movies in which black characters are not oppressed or in shackles. As great of an actress as Octavia Spencer is, she shouldn’t have to be a Southern woman in the 1960s in every movie. I want to see characters that look like me and have the same basic life problems that I have. “Girls Trip” was a breath of fresh air; it was funny with fully developed characters and I felt good walking out of the theater. Everyone knows a shy Lisa who is ready to go wild, a Sasha who takes charge, an adventurous Dina who gets you out of your shell and a Ryan who projects an image of strength while struggling to keep things in order.
Honorable mention: Moonee (Brooklynn Prince, “The Florida Project” and Laura (Dafne Keen, “Logan”) – These girls play foul-mouthed, intelligent and imaginative heroines in dangerous situations. For Moonee, it’s the state of poverty she inhabits in the shadow of Disney World. For Laura, it’s the comic-book world of villains that are after her and her father, Logan/Wolverine.
“Professor Marston & the Wonder Women”: I bet you saw the female-directed movie about a comic book character, but if you saw two female-directed movies about comics, then you earn a gold star. “Professor Marston” follows the creator of Wonder Woman and the polyamorous bond he shared with his wife and one of his students. While much attention has been paid to the sex scenes, the gaze is different. The relationship is normal, but the reactions to it are from an outsider’s point of view. Director Angela Robinson is one of three black female directors to have movies in major releases in 2017, joining Dee Rees with Netflix’s “Mudbound” and Stella Meghie’s “Everything, Everything.” Much attention has been paid to Gerwig and Patty Jenkins last year, but several other female directors have also made waves.
Honorable mention: “John Wick: Chapter 2”: Keanu Reeves is a great action star, and this over-the-top sequel is full of comedy, rage and surprisingly, art. “The Incredible Jessica James” – It’s like a Greta Gerwig romantic comedy, but it stars Jessica Williams – a person you actually want to know in real life.
“Logan”: This was the movie I was both dying and dreading to see. After 17 years, “Logan” marked the culmination of a journey for X-Men mutant Logan/Wolverine and actor Hugh Jackman, who will be forever identified with the role he created onscreen. The gritty, neo-Western drama breaks through the boundaries of comic book films to become an excellent movie in its own right. As brutal as it is emotional, “Logan” is grounded in reality, exploring the human side of a fading superhero. I laughed, I cried, and I said goodbye to a character who has been a big part of my life.
Honorable mention: Full of joy, optimism and hope, “Wonder Woman” lifted the DC Comics Extended Universe to new heights. The iconic “No Man’s Land” sequence is my favorite in any film this year. “Dunkirk” is a stirring, mesmerizing war drama that thrusts the audience headfirst into its inescapable fear and suspense. Under the visionary direction of Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water” is a gorgeous and dark fairy tale where Beauty meets her Beast during the Cold War.
“The Circle”: This wannabe techno-thriller tries to lure you with its plum cast, featuring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and John Boyega. Instead, the meandering drama lulls you to sleep. It asks questions about privacy and freedom, but never bothers to dig deep enough to offer any answers.
Honorable mention: “Transformers: The Last Knight” is less than meets the eye, the most incoherent and convoluted of all the “Transformers” movies. That’s two-and-half hours of my life I will never get back. The unnecessary “The Mummy” buried the Dark Universe before it could even start.
Horror hits highs: Horror had a break-out year with films that transcended the genre. Jordan Peele’s directing debut “Get Out” is equal parts clever and terrifying. The horror satire takes on race relations in America by working within horror tropes, only to turn them on their heads. The nightmarish “It,” based on the popular Stephen King novel, is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a horror film. The story of a group of kids battling the shape-shifting demon Pennywise got under my skin. The disturbing psychological thriller “Split,” about a man with 23 personalities who kidnaps three girls for nefarious purposes, cemented king of suspense M. Night Shyamalan’s return to form.
Honorable mention: The month of March. I’m loving Hollywood’s decision to spread its blockbusters and tentpoles throughout the year. In addition to the masterpiece “Logan,” March gave us the magic and wonder of “Beauty and the Beast,” the fun and thrills of “Kong: Skull Island,” and the space tension and terror of “Life.” Who says beware the ides of March?
Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman): I’ve followed Jackman’s portrayal of the clawed mutant through nine different films since 2000’s “X-Men.” During that span, Wolverine has tackled villains, saved innocents, taken revenge for his past and struggled with his immortality. In “Logan,” the aging antihero becomes a caretaker for Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and a father figure to young mutant Laura/X-23 (Dafne Keene), sides we’ve never seen of the Berserker. Jackman plays them masterfully as the hardened superhero encounters the one thing he can’t beat: the ravages of time. “Logan” is a magnificent sendoff to the conflicted anti-hero and Jackman’s time in the role.
Honorable mention: In “It,” the brave and long-suffering Beverly (Sophia Lillis) faces down demons of the supernatural and human variety. The no-nonsense Sasha (Queen Latifah) in “Girls Trip” acts as the voice of reason for her friends while struggling with her conscience over maintaining her celebrity gossip website.
“Justice League”: Yes, I’m listing the DCEU’s superhero team-up here because as the blockbuster underperformed, I’m not sure how many of you actually sought it! If you didn’t, you really missed out. “Justice League” brings together Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Superman (Henry Cavill) in an exciting and fun adventure that improves upon past DCEU movies. “Justice League” has solid pacing, does a better job of streamlining the plot than “Batman v Superman,” has memorable action sequences, and adds well-timed humor. I really liked all the characters and enjoyed seeing them unite to take on the villain Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds).
Honorable mention: The visually stunning and intense “War for the Planet of the Apes” provides an incredible motion-capture showcase for Andy Serkis as Caesar, the leader of the intelligent apes. The new “Apes” trilogy has become of one of my favorites, and “War” closes it out in powerful fashion.
Artists and movie studios took a lot of risks with their movie poster selection in 2017. With more than 340 feature-length films hitting the cineplex this year, the poster had to bring as much attention as possible. Here are my selections of this year’s best posters:
Now you see me …
Black, white and eyes all over was the theme for the social horror hit “Get Out” and “Obit.,” the New York Times documentary.
… Now you don’t
Stars are usually the selling point for movies, but the posters for “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” and “The Phantom Thread” have top-line actors Denzel Washington and Daniel Day Lewis, respectively, with their backs to the viewer. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are just ants on a flight of stars, but their names are bold for “The Post.”
The posters for “Logan,” “Kong: Skull Island,” “The Little Hours” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” bring back the 1970s with collage-style art and lettering.
What are we looking at?
The poster for “Baby Driver” looks simple, but once you notice that the gunsmoke/tire tracks that light up the poster are sound waves, you may be taken aback. And what’s with the folded paper background used in “Battle of the Sexes”?
For art history nerds
The posters for “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “Columbus” made this former art history just giddy. Any Photoshop guru can tell how the repeated pattern on the “Sacred Deer” poster was made and would probably be as obsessed with the poster as I am. For “Columbus,” the lack of buildings that are characteristic of a modern architecture Mecca that is Columbus, Indiana, may have some art historians puzzled, but it’s a bold move to focus on the main character.
High fashion and horror
Posters for the “Saw” franchise usually sway toward chopped-off body parts and various hardware. For the series’ cinematic return with “Jigsaw,” there was a more human, fashionable approach that would normally be used for a high-polished drama. There are several polarizing character posters with the actors modeling a pig’s head, and a blood drive campaign that was just as dark.
We are trash
The central characters of “Good Time” and “The Florida Project” are not the kind that would attract attention or demand you spend $10 and two hours to watch their loves unfold. They’re unapologetic, loud, and living their best lives.
“The Beguiled” takes a risk with bold, pink script. Character posters usually are forgettable, but Ryan Gosling’s solo shot for “Blade Runner 2049” is stunning. Like the film itself, “Wonder Woman” is not mentioned in its teaser poster. “The Shape of Water” makes you wonder how a woman in red falls for a sea creature. “Whose Streets?” asks a question before the movie even starts. And the mocking “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is just plain funny.