Book Review: Call Me by Your Name (2007)


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Call Me by Your Name: A Novel

André Aciman’s novel is an absolute delight. A book that should be savored for its lyrical descriptions that capture not only the languor and warmth of its seaside setting but also the complex, sweet, heart-tugging, and sensual relationship of its protagonists.

Set in the 1980s in the Italian Riviera, in a well-appointed home of  a professor whose family has made it a tradition to open their home to academics every summer.  This year, the family’s guest is the handsome Oliver,  a 24-year-old post doc from Columbia working on his book on Heraclitus.  Elio, the precocious 17-year-old son finds himself attracted towards the American stranger. What follows is a tale of adolescent sexual awakening and an unfolding of a romance between the two protagonists that spans decades.

There’s so many aspects of the novel that I could rave about. From his Proustian approach that captures the nuances of the emotions and thoughts of his characters.  And where every gesture and every word is analyzed. Every glance and touch are obsessed over. The result is a pitch-perfect evocation of a bittersweet romance between the characters

See, for example:

Today, the pain, the stoking, the thrill of someone new, the promise of so much bliss hovering a fingertip away, the fumbling around people I might misread and don’t want to lose and must second-guess at every turn, the desperate cunning I bring to everyone I want and crave to be wanted by, the screens I put up as though between me and the world there were not just one but layers of rice-paper sliding doors, the urge to scramble and unscramble what was never really coded in the first place—all these started the summer Oliver came into our house. They are embossed on every song that was a hit that summer, in every novel I read during and after his stay, on anything from the smell of rosemary on hot days to the frantic rattle of the cicadas in the afternoon—smells and sounds I’d grown up with and known every year of my life until then but that had suddenly turned on me and acquired an inflection forever colored by the events of that summer.

Or, here, giving us a beautiful and accepting speech made by Elio’s father:

You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!

I came across this book because of the film adaptation (check out the trailer below) that received rave reviews in Sundance and I am grateful that I had a chance to read it. It deserves to be included to the canon of great love stories.

By the way, you will never look at a peach the same way again after reading this book.

Colossal (2016)

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IMDB: 6.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

Cast
Anne Hathaway as Gloria
Dan Stevens as Tim
Jason Sudeikis as Oscar

Director
Nacho Vigalondo

Writer
Nacho Vigalondo

Cinematographer
Eric Kress

Plot Synopsis:

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an out-of-work party girl who is thrown out by her sensible boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens) and is forced to move back to her hometown where she reconnects with a childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).

Meanwhile in Seoul, South Korea, a giant monster terrorizes the population. Gloria soon discovers a bizarre connection with the phenomenon.

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This is a wonderfully strange movie that is sure to keep a lot of the audience talking long after the movie has ended. It has the quirky character of films like Donnie Darko but is at the same time an honest albeit surreal look at different themes such as addiction, self-destructive behavior (realized in Godzilla proportions), and abusive relationships. This genre-bender of a film is filled with a number of unexpected twists and tonal shifts that writer and director Nacho Vigalondo juggles with graceful ease.

Although Hathaway turns in a strong performance in the film, it is Jason Sudeikis  who is an absolute revelation here. His transformation from his classic affable and funny guy persona to something darker towards the climax is reason enough to see the film.

Imaginative, inventive and smart- this is a film that you should definitely add to you must- watch list. 

Book: Notes from a Small Island

51DpFru3htL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Just finished reading Bill Bryon’s book on his travels around England. Similar to his other travel writings, this book is filled to the brim with insightful observations of the local culture-its endearing quirks and idiosyncracies.

Here are a couple of snippets from Bryson’s adventure in Great Britain:

I have often been struck in Britain by this sort of thing – by how mysteriously well-educated people from unprivileged backgrounds so often are, how the most unlikely people will tell you plant names in Latin or turn out to be experts on the politics of ancient Thrace or irrigation techniques at Glanum. This is a country, after all, where the grand final of a programme like Mastermind is frequently won by cab drivers and footplatemen. I have never been able to decide whether that is deeply impressive or just appalling -whether this is a country where engine drivers know about Tintoretto and Leibniz or a country where people who know about Tintoretto and Leibniz end up driving engines. All I know is that it exists more here than anywhere else.

Or, this one-which isn’t exactly of England but captures the sometimes snarky tone of Bryson that gives his books its characteristic humor:

Finally, I happened on a hilly street with a few modest eateries and plunged randomly into a Chinese restaurant. I can’t say why exactly, but Chinese restaurants make me oddly uneasy, particularly when I am dining alone. I always feel that the waitress is saying: ‘One beef satay and fried rice for the imperialist dog at table five.’ And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back 3,000 years, haven’t yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?

For fans of travel writing or for those who are interested in the culture of England, Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island is a worthy addition to your library.

Dunkirk (2017)

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Rating: A-

Official site: http://www.dunkirkmovie.com/

Another visual feast of a movie from Nolan. But compared to his other films, this film deceptively feels simpler.

A master class in cinematography, color, pacing and tone-Dunkirk may not pack the same emotional punch as other war films like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List but the film’s subtlety more than makes up for its rather opaque characters. Besides, this may exactly be the point. War films as we know it, tends to center on the emotional burden and horrific travails of an individual. And although Dunkirk throws focus on the individual sacrifices and decisions of some of its characters-the sheer immensity and impersonality of the war experience is what is reflected by the film. The wide sweeping shots of the beach where thousands of soldiers wait to be evacuated, the immensity of the rather short travel across the English channel, and the breadth and width of the skies all serve to heighten this perception.

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The three part narrative separated and at the same time unified by its disparate timelines is a deft technique to remind us yet again of the scope of what Nolan is trying to portray in the film. An hour in sky dodging and chasing enemy planes is a lifetime and a week of waiting and devising an escape from the Dunkirk beach is an epic story. And yet many more stories that remain untold in the time between.

At first blush and despite the film’s display of technical mastery, the characterization of the film’s protagonists may not what many expect. The characters do not have back stories nor is sufficient time given for traditional characterization. Which given Nolan’s extremely tight traid of timelines makes sense. However, despite this limitation, the film manages to include a number of understated moments that portrays not how a “Hollywood” war film is supposed to be but rather an approximation of the actual experience of surviving a war. Of alliances made in the spur of the moment, the choices one makes and the repercussions it has for the individual and for others, and the minute acts of heroism and the transcendence of cowardice and selfishness.

 

Lady Macbeth (2017)

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William Oldroy’s debut film, Lady Macbeth, is adapted from Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk District is delicious macabre tale of a passion and revenge. Florence Pugh as the eponymous, charismatic and unrepentant killer delivers an intense and star-making performance. Running only under an hour an a half, the film packs a lot of meat-not only in the performances but the complications that it presents that is sure to give many of its audiences a lot to talk about. Bringing in themes of sexuality, violence, race and class.

Set in 19th century rural England, Pugh is a young woman sold into marriage for a piece of land to a sadistic and oppressive son of a wealthy mine owner. Both the father, Boris (Chistopher Fairbank) and the husband, (Paul Hilton) admonishes Katherine to keep to the house despite her expressed desire to be outdoors. The cold manor house and the daily ritual of getting into her corset and the prolonged absence of the men highlights Katherine’s oppression and solitude. A condition that the mutinous and headstrong heroine refuses to suffer. She eventually crosses paths with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), an equally passionate young estate worker, whom she begins an affair with. From here on, the couple deals with the complications of their situation with ruthless abandon until its dark conclusion.

A movie worth watching not only for its macabre elements but also for its rather sly take on different issues such as race as embodied in the characters of Sebastian, the housemaid, Anna (Naomi Acke) and even the young ward, Teddy (Anthon Palmer). Or, its treatment of female sexuality subjected to the tyranny of patriarchal order and its consequences. In short, a must-see movie and an incredible debut for both Oldroy and Pugh.

Rating: A-

 

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)

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Luc Besson‘s take on Tardi’s comics on the adventures of the plucky and charismatic Adele is a welcome return to the adventure movies of old. Think of it as the French version of Indian Jones or the female and far more engaging version of Tin Tin (the recent Hollywood reincarnation). With the intrepid adventurer and novelist, Adele played by Louise Bourgoin and surrounded by a supporting cast who gamely bring their sometimes absurd characters to life, this fanciful yarn has everything from a pterodactyl to a gaggle of mummies. Add to the mix a witty script with a good dash of heart and you come up with one of the truly fun films in recent years.

Loosely based on several of Tardis’ works but largely from “Adele and the Beast” (1976) and “Mummies on Parade” (1978), we find Adele on a quest to bring back to life Ramesses II‘s doctor/physician Patmosis in order to revive her sister Agathe, who has been in a coma for five years following a freak accident involving tennis and a hatpin. To complicate matters,  Professor Espérandieu  (Jacky Nercessian) whose telepathic skills are integral to Adele’s plans has been sent to death row after being implicated in the case of  136 million year-old pterodactyl egg hatching. Hilarity ensues.

Although many of the audiences today may find many of the effects dated, the film has enough charm and laughs to allow for such shortcomings to be overlooked. In fact, this particular viewer wouldn’t mind finding out what comes next for Adele.

Rating: A