Glenn Gaylord's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Call Me by Your Name
4 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

THE CHARM OFFENSIVE - My Review of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (4 Stars)

Sometimes the context in which a film is released can color one's perception of it. With the spate of sexual assault and harassment allegations in recent months, it's almost impossible not to see CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, the new feature from director Luca Guadagnino (A BIGGER SPLASH) and writer James Ivory based on the novel by Andre Aciman through that lens. The story of a 17-year-old boy's 1983 summer of love with a 24-year-old man can't help but have a whiff of pedophilia about it, despite the fact that the age of consent in Italy, where the story takes place, is 14. Perhaps, in years to come, where the film is allowed a separation from its year of release, people may discover a film of uncommon naturalness and grace, despite the ever-present creep factor.

Timothée Chalamet (LADY BIRD, MISS STEVENS) plays Elio Perlman, who spends the summer in Northern Itay with his parents. His father, played by the remarkable Michael Stuhlbarg (A SERIOUS MAN) is an arts professor who each year hosts a research assistant at their villa. In walks Oliver (Armie Hammer) as that assistant, with his movie star looks and Connecticut Country Club vibe. When he's not reviewing slides of naked male torsos with Professor Perlman, Oliver gets a guided bike tour by Elio of the quaint village. They develop a sweet friendship, with either barely seeming to feel attraction for the other in the film's first half.

It's a very slow, Euro style buildup, reminiscent to me of the languorous rhythms of Vittorio de Sica's 1970 classic, THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS. It's a glorious, sun-dripped piece of filmmaking, filled with slightly missed connections and an incredible representation of a young man's first times. Chalamet truly sells the guileless charms of his first sexual encounter with a woman, his long-time friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). The frankness of the sexuality here includes his delirious reaction to the sex and a visible erection under his pants when they make out, and truly harkens back to a style of European cinema we don't get enough of anymore. It's not that we lack sex and nudity in films, it's the believable push-pull, the unapologetic attraction seen here that feels refreshing.

Once Elio and Oliver start to connect, the film enters its ravishing realm. The care taken with the beats of touching each other, or watching each other pass through their shared bathroom, feels like a connection I haven't seen before. Chalamet and Hammer are fantastic actors, and clearly they worked hard to make this connection work, but the issues I had with the film kept intruding on a splendid piece of filmmaking. Casting is such an important process, and I have no doubt that Guadagnino saw that indefinable something when these two got together. All of this is undeniable. The problem, for me, is that their physical presence makes this a hard sell. Chalamet, with his skinny frame, looks way younger than 17 while Hammer, a tall hunk of a man, looks many years older than 24. This serves to widen the age gap past the point of it being "ok". Despite the fact that Elio initially acts as the aggressor, with Oliver demuring, it just doesn't look right. I'm not saying that people in their late teens don't have sexual desires and experiences. I'm not even saying it's illegal in the film. It's not. I'm simply talking about my reaction to their vast physical differences. I can't even say Guadagnino should have landed on different actors. Perhaps chemistry trumps everything. My struggle, however, almost took me out of the film at times.

Luckily, there's so much that's great. For those who like a moody, slow film with great care paid to the subtle details of human interaction, this will feel like a treasure trove. There's also a monologue by Stuhlbarg guaranteed to break your heart. Many will talk about the soon-to-be-famous peach scene, literally dripping with sensuality, but my jaw dropped when Stulbarg's beautiful words and stunning vulnerability held the screen for a scene which puts the entire story in a whole new context.

Many will call this a gay love story, but, in reality, the characters are bisexuals, active ones. It's a unique look at the subject, with both Elio and Oliver feeling what they feel one moment, and feeling something else in another. I bought it.

The lyrical way Guadagnino tells this story gets a great assist by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who creates such a vivid sense of place and time. The scene in which Oliver dances with a woman beside a car parked in the town square feels so 80s without overplaying its hand. The use of "Love My Way" by the Psychedelic Furs couldn't be more perfect. This is a film, where bit by bit, we feel the impact Oliver has on Elio. It's written across his face in one extended shot. Sure, this is yet another coming-of-age film, but we truly come to understand how this relationship will impact the lives of its characters. Some will see past the inherent problems with the film, while others are sure to throw this in with our Spacey/Weinstein cultural moment and dismiss it, perhaps unfairly. Either way, I have a feeling people will look back at this film in 20 years as a cinematic landmark of sorts.

Murder On The Orient Express
9 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

DEAD AGAIN ON ARRIVAL - My Review of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2 1/2 Stars)

I'm a huge fan of the Sidney Lumet's 1974 version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Albert Finney's portrayal of Agatha Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, had a winning combination of humor and gravitas. The supporting cast felt emotionally connected to the material, even garnering an Academy Award for Ingrid Bergman's touching performance. It was an old school, star-studded, lush whodunit with one of the more surprising and brutal reveals in the history of its genre. Lumet showed off his masterful skills at shooting a film in enclosed spaces, as he did here and with DOG DAY AFTERNOON and TWELVE ANGRY MEN.

I wasn't opposed to the current remake, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, adapted by Michal Green (BLADE RUNNER 2049, LOGAN). With the advent of better technology, a generation or two unfamiliar with the original or even the novel, and the potential for some more current star power to occupy those roles, why not? Well...

These are tense times we're living in, and the latest version will provide some elegant, escapism in the "they don't make 'em like they used to" vein. Branagh and company have produced a grand experience, tacking on an unlikely but somehow fun prologue set at the Wailing Wall (!) in Jerusalem. It nicely serves to demonstrate Poirot's skills at predictive behavior and set up his obsession with balance to the natural order. The stars all get their grand entrances, a welcome sight in a time where things like that seem to get ignored more and more. Branagh and his cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (LOCKE, THOR) have a great time as the camera swoops around the train compartments or peeks in from outside to reveal the entire cast at times doing their individual things. The film has a quiet, whispery quality to its tone, sometimes reaching poetic levels. These are all very good things. But...

It's also a bit of a stillborn bore. Sure, there's a lot of production value gained by the grand CGI train shots, especially during an avalanche sequence, but too much of it felt a bit phony, as if we were on our way to Hogwarts. Branagh presents himself with perfectly coiffed hair and a mustache to end all mustaches, and he does a very good job of balancing the seriousness of the situation with the entertaining fussiness of his detective. You always feel confident that he's listening, paying attention to body language, turns of phrases, and nuance. I had no doubt he was the greatest detective in all the world! But, he's front and center in a way that almost completely overshadows everyone else's performances. Great actors have been give very little to do despite being totally game for the material.

This cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Derek Jacobi, Olivia Colman, and Lucy Boynton. With the exception of Pfeiffer, who has had a grand time being outrageous in films lately, and Depp, who proves appropriately weaselly as an intimidating gangster, most of the actors barely register. I wanted to feel more, especially given the fact that this group of people are trapped on a train with a murder victim, violently stabbed to death. The tone grows blasé real fast, where in real life, I would think panic would have set in more. What this film needs is Melissa Leo being dragged by her hair down the aisle of the train ala OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN!

Some scenes have been staged to "open up" the film, such as an improbable outdoor conversation between Branagh and Ridley, and an outside "Last Supper" shot of the entire cast when the big reveal occurs. It comes across as desperate and unnecessary, since Branagh does a really good job with the claustrophobic interior spaces. I also felt let down by the big reveal, a viscerally intense scene in the original. In the new version, the stabbing sounds have been mostly replaced by score, diluting an indelible moment.

It's still a film with the element of surprise, if you're unfamiliar with the material, but it's still a slog. Watch the first one instead or see the new one just to escape the horrors of the 24 hour news cycle. You could do worse, but Branagh could have done a whole lot better.

Tom of Finland
9 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

NO-MO-EROTIC - My Review of TOM OF FINLAND (2 Stars)

How could a film about a legendary gay artist who pushed the envelope with his intensely sexualized images of impossibly beefy men be so unsexy and dull? If that was their intention, then they pulled it off! TOM OF FINLAND, directed by Dome Karukoski with a screenplay by Aleksi Bardy and six (SIX!!) other credited writing assists, means well, and tells a important story in gay history, but man is it a long slog.

Born Touko Valio Laaksonen in 1920 and played by the extremely charisma-free Pekka Strang, the film rather artfully intercuts his time as a World War II soldier with his struggles to live as a gay man in Finland. It was a time of arrests, bar raids, and bullying if you were perceived to be gay. Touch retreats into his fascination with art, drawing image after image of pumped-up gay men. It was his way of giving to the community a powerful avatar, ones that could fight back against oppression and express desires many wouldn't dare to do. Eventually, he would be discovered in Los Angeles, where he traveled and built a loyal, adoring audience. The looks of 1970s butch and leather men were inspired by his work, instilling in the gay community a heretofore untapped confidence to stand up to its oppressors. As such, Tom of Finland, as he was eventually called, can stand beside the Stonewall Rioters as an integral part of the early gay rights movement.

Karukoski knows how to tell a visual story and there's something magnanimous and touching about Tom's journey. This quiet, unassuming man stayed that way even while others adored him. It's a lesson in humility in the face of success. The film has its moments, especially in the Los Angeles section, where it picks up some much-needed steam. I enjoyed the sequences where they seek out a Hassidic Printer, who may be their last hope after getting rejected by everyone else. The AIDS crisis also rears its ugly head, further cementing the inspiring work Tom did and how it made people feel good despite the horrors surrounding them.

Pekka Strang may be accurately portraying Tom, but if so, it doesn't make for compelling viewing. I just didn't really care to follow around this dullard for very long. It made me realize that a film can be important and unbearable simultaneously!

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
10 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

I SAW THE SIGNS - My Review of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (3 1/2 Stars)

Writer/Director Martin McDonagh (IN BRUGES) has never met a scab he hasn't picked. He favors in-you-face, vulgar, highly stylized dialogue spoken by rage-filled characters. His plays feel like an episode of VEEP, but with an Irish brogue; primal screams in the face of tough lives.

His latest film, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is no exception. Frances McDormand plays Mildred, whose anger at her small town police department stems from their inaction in the nearly year old unsolved case of her daughter, who was raped and murdered. To shake them up, she rents the titular billboards to expose their incompetence. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) doesn't appreciate being called out, especially since he's dying of pancreatic cancer. His none-too-bright Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell) has a very hair trigger temperament and a history of racism and torture, and acts as Willoughby's self-appointed henchman to intimidate Mildred.

Mildred, however, is a rock. She's all stillness, cold stares, and killer comebacks in the face of adversity. An early scene in which she comes home to see her son (Lucas Hedges) at the dinner table with their local Priest illustrates how far she's willing to go to maintain her stance. In effect, she reads the collared man to filth.

This is all very entertaining material, delivered by actors at the peak of their talents. McDonagh wants to tell a revenge and redemption story set against a kind of cornball Americana. It sounds like a winning combination, but something didn't feel completely right here for me. As a meditation on long-held grief, it's quite moving. McDormand does so much with such little movement. Harrelson delivers a gut-punch of a performance, especially during a surprising and beautiful scene I'll only describe as the one with the cough. Rockwell plays dumb and aggressive with much command and almost, almost, almost gets the audience to like him, but his past is fraught with so many horrors, I wrestled with that.

What didn't quite work for me is that we've seen all of this before from everyone involved. Moreover, the direction leans hard on a type of staginess and suffers from a little too much small town folksiness. It felt like every great line was delivered with a knowing glance as if to say, "Check this. I get to spit out something scabrous and you're gonna love it!" You can almost sense the cast is holding for laughter and applause. Don't get me wrong. I liked this movie. I liked it a lot. But it lacks a certain grit in its filmmaking. While the dialogue is witty as hell, it's a tad overwritten at times.

Still, the film sets up its characters really well in its first act. It contains some great and shocking set pieces, those jaw-dropping moments that spurn conversations that begin with, "Did you see that moment when...?" McDormand, when she's not mouthing off, does so much with stillness and has an uncanny ability to retain a little mystery even when we watch her thinking. Some great actors fill in the supporting roles, to mixed results. Lucas Hedges doesn't get much to do (no moving freakouts here), but he's appropriately solid and perfectly outraged by his mother's increasingly dangerous behavior. Caleb Landry Jones, who this year alone has cornered the market on trashy sleazeballs, plays things more low-key, delivering a sweet performance as the manager of the billboard company. [Side note: I found it hard to believe that a character as headstrong as McDormand's wouldn't bargain a little better when it came time to determining the cost of advertising.] Amanda Warren, so fierce as the Mayor in THE LEFTOVERS, has an odd role as Mildred's co-worker. She disappears from the movie at one point, only to reappear later, making it seem like Mildred completely forgot about her. Something must have been cut out with this storyline. Peter Dinklage gets a chance to play a shy romantic interest, and does so charmingly, but he's given too little screen time to really shine. John Hawkes, as Mildred's abusive ex-husband, dominates his scenes, but the softening of his character, along with Rockwell's really felt off to me. It's really tough to reconcile their redemption arcs when they've done such rotten things in the past. Perhaps it's a lesson we all need to learn right now as accusations get hurled against seemingly everybody these days. As such, it leads to a quite beautiful final scene. While the storyline isn't completely resolved, we see a glimmer in the eyes of a couple of characters and some wry, sensational smiles that suggest that the human spirit can triumph over anything.

So why am I not as passionate about this film as I think I should be? I've wrestled with that question for the past few days. It's really funny. It's got the element of surprise. It lopes along at its own dopey pace, giving its characters plenty of time to breathe. It shows a new and difficult way to cope with loss and grief, which may inspire people to swear a lot and perhaps light up too many molotov cocktails. If you're in law enforcement, you may feel emboldened by this film to indiscriminately beat people up in the streets. Maybe it just left a sour taste in my mouth, which isn't such a bad thing, but something I'm not accustomed to in these black and white, no grey area times of popular filmmaking. Could this be a masterpiece that I'll come to love some day? Probably so. See it for yourself and let me know if you agree. I'm really ok being wrong when so many people clearly loved it.