Mike at the Movies

Call Me by Your Name (R) *****

This is a tricky film to review because while it can seem salacious the film is largely not. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is a 17-year-old living in northern Italy where he “… reads books and transcribes music.” Oliver (Armie Hammer) is an older, handsomer grad student come to spend the summer as Elio’s father’s assistant. Mr. Perlman (Michael Stuhlberg) is an archaeologist. Oliver is deadly handsome, a bait for all the women in the village of every age and he flirts with all of them, kissing only a couple. Elio is introverted and very much into his music—derivatives of Bach.

At 17, Elio is sexually precocious, making love to the gorgeously sweet Marzia (Esther Garrel) from Paris. What makes the film salacious to some are the love scenes between Elio and Oliver in which they alternate being the instigator. The sex scenes are very much adolescent—Oliver often seems overwhelmed and Elio obsessed. It is Oliver who is concerned about others knowing about their affair. “Are you going to hold what happened last night against me?” he asks a loyal Elio. Elio tries to hide the affair as well but, in a lovely, touching and deeply needed scene, we discover that one of his parents has figured it out.

Elio’s mother is played by Amira Casar, a strikingly beautiful woman who may have more lines in the planned sequel. Yes, this is a love story of a most unusual sort. Yes, it is homosexual in nature. But to focus on that misses the point about love in general that the film makes. Young children will be totally confused, and only wise older children should risk it lest they, too, fail to comprehend the lessons of this film. Adults should see it, by all means.

The Shape of Water (R) ****

Sorry, but I just could not identify with this film, despite its lovely sentiments and visual effects. It does have a distinctive style: lots of scenes in narrow hallways that seem to close in on whoever is in the hall at the moment.

Elisa’s (Sally Hawkins) nude scenes are strange but effective in that she is so totally vulnerable in them. She cannot speak, you see, and has to communicate by sign language with everybody, including Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) who communicates mostly with his bulging eyes and his excitable dorsal fin. He is a secret project of the U.S., but there is a Communist cell trying to either capture him for the Soviets or, failing that, kill him to keep the Americans from discovering too much about amphibian life.

In a disturbing but expected turnabout, Michael Shannon (Richard Strickland), who was so good and so sympathetic in “12 Strong,” is a horrible, sadistic villain in this piece. He doesn’t care a whit about Amphibian Man while Dr. Hoffstetler (actually Dmitri, the chief Soviet scientist played by Michael Stuhlberg) defends him from a purely scientific perspective, fighting his Soviet masters who only want to kill the creature by the end.

While all this is going on, Elisa is falling in love with Amphibian Man and, in one writhing scene, strips off her clothes and makes love to him in the shower. Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), Elisa’s partner in the janitorial service, serves as comic relief for much of the film, remarking on the sexuality of Amphibian Man while Elisa exults in the memory of the moment.

As the film moves to its more or less expected conclusion, it gets more and more violent. There is one break in the format of the film when “You’ll Never Know How Much I Love You” emerges and Amphibian Man and Elisa do an Astaire/Rogers-style dance in black and white and Elisa’s voice emerges briefly. Richard Jenkins is touching as Giles, Elisa’s friend, whose hair begins to grow back after his head is touched by Amphibian Man.

As one might expect from the title, water abounds. Yes, the theme is love, self-aware pride and acceptance and cruelty, but the reptilian connection never fully touched me. As a parallel to “Beauty and the Beast,” it succeeds, but only as a parallel. Leave the kids home for this one. Even in sign language the words are a bit rough and the sex is, as mentioned, really creepy.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (PG-13) *

When will this love of destruction and fable stop? Haven’t even the youngest teens gotten their fill of cities being blown up and of heroes and heroines escaping certain death in unbelievable ways? Apparently, not yet.

Here we go again with the maze runner not even running a maze this time. Dylan O’Brien reprises his role of Thomas from the earlier editions of the franchise and Kaya Scodelario repeats her role as Teresa. Tip: She will not be appearing in the fourth edition. Then again, anyone who has a reason to be dead comes back to life in this film so why not allow her back? “Her most clichéd line? “You can’t save everyone, Thomas.” His equally expected reply: “I can try.” Please, give up, Thomas. You gave it a try this time and ended up in Cape Town, South Africa. Stay there and let some other poor sap blow up another town.

Kudos, however, to Aidan Gillen who, as arch-villain Janson, has perfected the sneering, strutting style that all arch-villains must perfect before being accepted.

Please avoid this film. Don’t encourage them.

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