Connect with us

New Movie Reviews

‘Call Me By Your Name’ works better if you read the book AFTER the movie

Charmaine Blake



It’s officially Hollywood awards season, which means anxious moviegoers around the world can finally watch and compare the movies we’ve been hearing about for ages. 

Perhaps the most elusive is Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. The film is currently only playing in New York and Los Angeles and awaiting a wider release, which means that you have time to read the book while you wait for it in another city or part of the world. 

But contrary to all instinct, you may want to wait before reading. Call Me By Your Name is deeply fulfilling on both page and screen, but Call Me By Your Name may just be the rare case where you should watch the movie first before reading the book. 

I read Call Me By Your Name in December, before seeing the film that had just arrived in New York. The novel is unapologetically gripping within the first few pages as André Aciman superbly describes Elio’s attraction – his love, his obsession, his unfettered desire – to Oliver. Aciman’s  words are chosen with almost chemical precision to create a vivid and exact portrait of how young love consumes. The story soars, in large part, because of Elio’s hyper honest narration, which gives the reader an intimate and unparalleled account of one person’s journey through love.

Watching Call Me By Your Name on film lets the actor and audience interpret the meaning of every look and gesture.

However, the movie of Call Me By Your Name does away with Elio’s narration, so viewers don’t get those marvelous words. Instead, you get Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer acting the heck out of Elio and Oliver’s desires and impulses, without any words of narration to aid them in conveying their attraction. 

Watching Call Me By Your Name on film before reading the book lets the audience interpret the meaning of every look and gesture of Elio and Oliver, before learning of every detail of every single thread of thought that led Elio to a single moment as Aciman depicts in the book. 

Art is inherently subjective, much as we criticize it. Having the opportunity to freely interpret a relationship as complex as Elio and Oliver’s as an outside, third-person viewer, rather than through the novel’s first-person narration, only adds to the depth of Call Me By Your Name.

Take, for example, one crucial interaction the two share early on. Oliver touches Elio’s shoulder while a group of people are playing volleyball, and Elio wiggles away.

In the novel, you’re treated to this passage:

…I was so spellbound that I wrenched myself free from his touch, because a moment longer I would have slackened like one of those tiny wooden toys whose gimp-legged body collapses as soon as the mainsprings are touched…It never occurred to me that what had totally panicked me when he touched me was exactly what startles virgins on being touched for the first time by the person they desire: he stirs nerves in them they never knew existed and that produce far, far more disturbing pleasures than they are used to on their own. 

It’s a deliberately relatable sensation, placed early in the book to show you that Elio’s passion is rooted in desires we’ve all shared. Not until later do we have the inkling that this brief moment is something beyond a casual interaction at a volleyball game.

In the movie, though, you see that scene play out over a split second as Elio squirms away. No explanation is offered, leaving the viewer to ask “Is he hurt? Is he being cautious? Is Elio even interested in Oliver?” Where the novel embeds you in Elio’s psyche, the screen version gives you neither Elio’s desire nor Oliver’s doubt in the moment. The scene is loaded with potential precisely because of its ambiguity — we could be any of those casual volleyball game bystanders, unaware that something far more tender is blossoming in their midst.

And those moments of viewer interpretation are echoed again and again throughout the movie. For instance, after Elio and Oliver’s first night together, Aciman spends pages and pages on Elio’s complicated thoughts about what just happened. As Aciman outlines in the novel, Elio and Oliver’s coupling is not the be-all-end-all bliss Elio imagined, but Elio feels that if it had remained in his imagination he would have gone mad wanting to live the experience. 

Something bordering on nausea, something like remorse – was that it, then? – began to grip me and seemed to define itself ever more clearly the more I became aware of incipient daylight through our windows…I had known it would hurt. What I hadn’t expected was that the hurt would find itself coiled and twisted into sudden pangs of guilt.

Elio feels disgusted with himself, yet he cannot regret the decisions he never questioned. He feels an unbridgeable distance growing between him and everyone and everything tied to his life before the night with Oliver.

The beauty of the movie is that instead of analyzing [the scene] for us, we as the viewer get to watch Elio experience it.

In the film, all of those conflicting thoughts must be conveyed through Chalamet-as-Elio’s face, where it can be hard, as a an outside viewer watching an actor, to piece apart all those warring emotions just by watching. 

But once again, that ambiguity may be the film’s strength. It seems impossible that this building, tumultuous romance would include the sort of temporary revulsion Aciman describes in the novel. It is the paradox of not wanting someone once you find out they want you, and the beauty of the movie is that instead of analyzing it for us, we as the viewer get to watch Elio experience it.

That’s not to say that Elio has cast away Oliver. The moment Oliver leaves for the day, Elio longs for his company as both friend and lover. In the book, readers are offered:

He was my secret conduit to myself – like a catalyst that allows us to become who we are, the foreign body, the pacer, the graft, the patch that sends all the right impulses, the steel pin that keeps a soldier’s bone together, the other man’s heart that makes us more us than we were before the transplant.
The very thought of this suddenly made me want to drop everything I would do today and run to him.

In the movie, viewers see this:

We see what Oliver sees, which is a confused kid grappling with sex and longing.

And perhaps that reveals the film’s greatest strength. Call Me By Your Name‘s not-so-secret weapon is Chalamet, whose performance communicates everything in Elio’s head and more if you watch closely enough.

Call Me By Your Name‘s not-so-secret weapon is Chalamet, whose performance communicates everything in Elio’s head and more

Take for instance, the film’s emotional closing, one long shot of Chalamet’s face presented during the credits in which we watch Elio process his relationship. Few other actors could carry such a powerful ending. Once again we are maddeningly distanced from Elio’s inner thoughts and can only wonder how he feels after everything that’s happened. You’ll relive every moment the two of them had together and hope it’ll yield answers. You’ll ache for him, a mere boy, as you watch the magnitude of the summer wash over him.

As it happens, the book ends well beyond that, with Elio recounting Oliver’s whereabouts and their missed connections well into adulthood. If the movie broke you, the book may offer some comfort in filling in what follows. Then again, it may break you all over again.

This isn’t as simple as a book or movie being better than its counterpart. Call Me By Your Name can and should be experienced in both forms: each text only enriches the other and bolsters this already soaring story of love, lust, and longing. 

The novel is phenomenally written, but the film offers a rare opportunity to interpret two people’s incredible journey of falling in love. It’s an opportunity that should be experienced before reading exactly what the main character feels in the novel. Instead of poring over the text beforehand, we can savor the opportunity to witness Elio and Oliver’s love without expectation, subject to our honest reactions and the actors’ raw performance. And afterward – as the Oscar buzz builds – we can read the book and marvel over what inspired such a magnificent movie.

We do not deserve either, to be clear. But we can damn well try to earn them.

Read more:

New Movie Reviews

Why ‘Love, Simon’ is so important, and why you need to see it (twice)



Everyone loves “Love, Simon,” and all that it represents

Image: Twentieth Century Fox

The recently released Love, Simon is not only making LGBTQ+ history; it’s also elevating the rom-com genre in unprecedented ways.

It’s been met with a choir of critical praise so far. Mashable’s own MJ Franklin showered it with love in a review that called it “a gotdamn delightful romcom, and gay as hell.” In a perfect summation of the movie’s far-reaching impact, he wrote: 

“[Love, Simon is] a heart-wrenching, empathy-expanding look at what it means to be a gay teen AND it’s a universal story about the awkward, messy attempts of navigating high school, AND it’s a hilarious comedy in it’s own right.”

Voices all around the internet are in agreement: Love, Simon is not only a triumph of cinema, but a huge leap toward a long overdue and desperately needed cultural shift.

Why is it so important? For one, it’s probably the first rom-com with the power to save literal lives. 

Data indicates that LQBTQ+ teens are at a much higher risk of attempted suicide or suicidal thoughts. As a recent report from CNN noted, a 2015 study conducted in the United States found that 40 percent of high school students who identify as “gay, lesbian or bisexual or questioning” had “seriously” considered suicide at one point or another. (It’s important to note those numbers donot include transgender teens.)

Non-profit organizations like Dan Savage and husband Terry Miller’s It Gets Better Project have worked hard to provide everyone who identifies as LGBTQ, and youths in particular, with the support system needed to combat this too-common sentiment. But a mainstream Hollywood movie that addresses the joys of gay high school experiences as well as the difficulties has the potential to reach people on a much larger scale.

And that’s not to mention the important fact that this stellar, young cast isn’t just diverse in terms of sexual orientation, but also race:

In 2016, groundbreaking Best Picture winner Moonlight shined a bright light on the especially isolating experience of being gay, black, and male in America, from youth to adulthood. That stark portrait and its success sparked an important conversation that Love, Simon continues in its own uniquely impactful way.

It should go without saying, but Love, Simon is not just an important film for LGBTQ+ people. As Franklin put it, “calling it a gay teen rom-com seems to do Love, Simon a disservice because it’s so much more than that.” This movie reflects reality by showing a broad spectrum of love and coming-of-age issues, including those of straight people. 

Heterosexual people and their relationships still dominate mainstream culture, and LGBTQ+ folks have had no problem identifying with the universal experience of love depicted in all those rom-coms. Love, Simon steps out of that heteronormative mindset, but it’s still for everyone.

Representation in mainstream culture leads to normalization. As a gatekeeper of what our culture views as “normal,” Hollywood has the power to breed life-changing empathy toward LGBTQ+ folks in those who struggle to see outside their own heterosexual lives.

New Movie Reviews

Ready Player One review Spielberg’s shiny VR caper isn’t worth playing

Charmaine Blake



Flashy adaptation of the book is full of pop culture references and striking visuals but a thin plot and shallow characters

With the help of Van Halens Jump, Steven Spielbergs Ready Player One launches its video game adventure story at full speed. The year is 2045; the place is Columbus, Ohio. Our hero, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), fills in the details while climbing past his grungy homes of his town, the stacks, where trailer parks are piled on top of each other sky-high. Things are so miserable in Wades world, everyone escapes to play in an immersive virtual reality game known as the Oasis. Its Steve Jobs-like founder, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) is worshipped like a god until his death some years before. However, before he left the mortal world, the benevolent creator left behind a series of games that would reward the winner with the Willie Wonka-like prize of the keys to his virtual kingdom.

Thats a lot of story to race through in two hours and 20 minutes, but Spielberg paces his movie to fly past the films explanations of events as quickly as possible. The conflict is straightforward and simple: our hero and his friends must outplay the corporate bad guys led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and beat him to the three keys that would control the game. Some scenes are just too bloated with with trivia to have any real weight. The information isnt given in a casual, conversational way, but in a pretentious manner, as if theyre trying to impress you with minutiae.

The Ernest Cline novel on which its based on is perhaps best known for its many pop culture references. The film follows suit with a soundtrack filled with an upbeat selection of greatest hits from the 80s, with a few interlopers from the 70s. The deepest cut is perhaps Princes I Wanna Be Your Lover, but the rest are songs you likely know the lyrics to. Its tragic that all history of pop culture post-1989 seems to have been lost, but anyone who remembers the 80s may feel nostalgic spotting artifacts from their past. A DeLorean! Theres Batman! Thats the … Holy Hand Grenade? Theres even a few nods to Spielbergs movies, like when a T-Rex chases a car in Jurassic Park. Its easy to get distracted by these cameos on the edge of the story.

The film mimics video games weightless camera, creating a floating point of view around fight scenes and chase scenes. While thrilling to watch, its a style that left me queasy from motion sickness. The spinning is sometimes so fast, its tough to figure out which player is winning or who is fighting who. With too much movement, momentum is lost. The audience has to regain its footing in the story before running off towards the finish line.

While the movie is visually whimsical with its design and neon colors, the weakness of the source material still pokes out. Plot holes remain, despite screenwriter Zak Penn and Spielbergs efforts to liven up the visuals and punch up the dialogue. Im not sure I have a great understanding of how the game mechanics are supposed to work. If movement is required to move an avatar in the game, how do people play in the Oasis while standing in their living rooms?

For a movie about the heros journey, theres no arc for any of the characters. Theyre all already heroes, the big bad is evil from start to finish. Sheridan isnt given enough to act on. Wade and his teammates are almost interchangeable, save for a few differences in height and race. The grown-ups seem to enjoy their roles a bit more than the very serious group of young gamers. Mendelsohn has some fun playing a slippery villain, and Rylance is reliably childish as the Wonka/Jobs hybrid.

Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke in Ready Player One. Photograph: Jaap Buitendijk

Unfortunately, Ready Player One has a noticeable girl problem: it cant see female characters as just other people. For as skilled and resourceful as Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke) is, her avatar is that of an impossible pixie dream girl a creature with a svelte body, anime-inspired big eyes, weapons training and the person who knows and loves almost every reference Wade makes. Of course, shes damaged with a birthmark on her face, and hes the only nice guy who can see that shes truly beautiful. Samantha is the artificially programed Eve to Wades Adam, but worse because she never gets the chance to sin.

Those who come away cheering for Ready Player One will likely have enjoyed the films many references, the storys breakneck speed and playful visual design. Others may want to unplug from the paint-by-number characters and shallow plot. The film has much to say about our present-day fixation on nostalgia. So many characters pine to go back to their 80s future, but some of us want to see whats next. Theres no leveling up or cheat codes that can help with that.

  • Ready Player One is released in the UK and US on 29 March

Read more:

Continue Reading

New Movie Reviews

John Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place’ will make you scream, and then turn your own screams against you

Charmaine Blake



Real-life couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt make for a stellar onscreen couple as well.

Image: Paramount Pictures

It’s not easy to make an entire room full of movie fans scream in terror. But John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place did just that Friday, thrilling the SXSW crowd with impeccably crafted scares, surprisingly effective drama, and one hell of a satisfying ending.

By the time the credits rolled, my hands hurt from clenching them so tightly. I let out a long breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. And then I felt compelled to applaud, loudly, at what I’d just seen. Judging by the dazed looks on the faces of the critics around me, I wasn’t the only one. This is that kind of movie.

For the most part, A Quiet Place lives up to its title. Krasinski and Emily Blunt play the parents of a family living out their days in near-silent isolation, lest the slightest noise attract the monsters that have already demolished most of the rest of the human population.

The film’s genius is in the way it weaponizes that absence of sound. The quiet of A Quiet Place has nuances and textures – there’s a difference in the silence a father hears as his family tiptoes around an abandoned store, versus the silence his deaf daughter (Wonderstruck‘s Millicent Simmonds) hears when she’s in the same scenario.

When sound does intrude, it’s horribly jarring. My tension spiked with each crash or yell. When those noises attracted the monsters – which are so brutally efficient that they leave little more than a blood smear behind – that’s when the audience would start to scream.

Even more harmless, mundane noises take on an outsized significance. The roar of a waterfall starts to sound like comfort and liberation, because it’s loud enough that the monsters can’t hear over it. A song played on an iPod feels downright decadent, and almost unbearably loud. Dialogue starts to seem strange to our ears, after so many conversations executed via sign language. (The same applies, unfortunately, to the score, which feels unnecessary at best and overbearing at worst.)

All this tension puts us in the same mindset as the characters: They can never let their guard down, so we can’t either. Krasinski and his brilliant sound team even manage to turn our own bodies against us – I was acutely aware of my own gasps and signs, and frequently found myself covering my mouth so I wouldn’t yelp in shock.

Still, none of this would really matter if we weren’t at least a little invested in these characters’ fates, and here this cast does some of its most elegant work.

A Quiet Place doesn’t spend a whole lot of time dwelling on who these people are (if any of them have names, I don’t know what they are) but the actors capably convey their characters’ personalities in a few deftly sketched strokes. Blunt in particular shines, building an entire emotional arc out of an unguarded smile, a weary frown, a squaring of the shoulders.

In essence, A Quiet Place is a feature-length version of that scene in every horror movie where the protagonist creeps down a dark hallway toward an unknown threat, and we grit our teeth with a mixture of eagerness and dread.

Half the time, the payoff, when it comes, hardly seems worth the fuss. A Quiet Place is the all-too-rare movie where it does. This may not be the deepest or most ambitious horror movie in recent memory – there’s not much here beyond that brilliantly simple core concept. But as a delivery vehicle for sheer, visceral terror, it’s one of the most brutally effective.

Read more:

Continue Reading