Superb acting in Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name is the beautifully acted story of a love affair that develops between a teenage boy, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), and his father’s student research assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). The story is one of emerging identity – hence the title. Set as it is in the 1980s, identifying oneself as gay then would not have been easy, and any ‘victories’ in this regard are swallowed up by societal norms. The setting is in Italy at Elio’s parents’ villa, a home the family occupies away from the USA during the summer. A mix of languages (English, French, Italian and German) and a background of academia in the form of literature and archaeology are layered onto the mellow Italian lifestyle setting. The mixture makes for an attractive exoticness. But it’s not enough to give Call Me By Your Name enough depth. The developing relationship is foregrounded and is dealt with sensitivity, yes. But at two-and-a-half hours in length the light treatment of the social and intellectual landscape leaves Call Me By Your Name lacking in oomph. The excellent acting – especially by Timothée Chalamet – is certainly a redeeming factor.

Call Me By Your Name opens at cinemas in South Africa on 23 February 2018. It carries an age restriction of 16 for DLNS.

Two upcoming titles I like the look of:

Romeo & Juliet – Ballet in cinema – exclusively at Cinema Nouveau theatres from 3 March 2018. Watch a snippet of the magic here: WATCH THE OFFICIAL TRAILER OF BOLSHOI BALLET IN CINEMA – SEASON 2017-18 SEASON HERE

Game Night – an action comedy – in Ster Kinekor theatres from 2 March. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star in New Line Cinema’s action comedy about a board games night with six highly competitive gamers. The evening becomes mysterious and rather ‘real’…

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I, Tonya: The Making of an Image

Tonya Harding was an American figure skater who qualified for the Olympics in her sport in the 1980s and 1990s. Tonya was – by admission in the film – an uneducated ‘redneck’ from a poor family. She was a brash, foul-mouthed girl who had neither the cash, the style nor the inclination to conform to the ‘good American girl’ image her status as a champion skater demanded. An ‘incident’ in which a rival skater was attacked and seriously injured, added to Tonya’s infamy and led to severe consequences for Tonya’s career.

I, Tonya is Tonya’s story. And that of her husband’s. Her mother’s. And her coach’s. All these ‘versions of the truth’ are presented in a documentary style with mock interviews of the characters interspersing the action. The aim of the film may have been to create a more sympathetic image for Tonya. She was a brilliant skater – the only one of very, very few women who could do a move called the triple axel. And she did this despite a background that worked against her: a relentlessly hard mother, a low-class husband who hit her, and no education.

But what the film also does, importantly, is mock the press and the public’s acceptance of what is dished up to it. It highlights – and therefore questions – the unfairness of American society and what/who is deemed acceptable. Tonya is portrayed to some extent as a victim of her circumstances. The interviewees – including a self-proclaimed bodyguard and and secret agent – speak with irony, creating a sort of black comedy effect. The result is that the viewer is left wondering, not so much what the truth really is, but how society forms opinions and unfairly demands conformity.

Australian actress Margot Robbie is excellent in her role. She pulls off the hick, tough and graceless (only off the ice) Tonya really well. She even does a lot of the skating scenes herself. Alison Janney is likewise very good as LaVona Golden, Tonya’s harsh mother.

I, Tonya is really worthwhile viewing. It opens at Ster Kinekor cinemas in South Africa on 16 February 2018 and carries an age restriction of 16 for DLSV.

Reels and Real Life

The thrill of my recent trip to New York began on the flight there when I watched the film Goodbye Christopher Robin. Already

Winnie-the-Pooh and friends at the New York Public Library January 2018

screening on international circuits, the film only releases in South Africa on 16 March 2018. I enjoyed this depiction of how author Alan Milne came to create the Winnie-the-Pooh stories and was delighted, therefore, to come across a brand-new exhibit of the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys when visiting the New York Public Library the day we arrived. There in a glass cabinet, in the children’s book section of this vast and beautiful library, sat Winnie, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and Kanga – all recently restuffed and nicely spruced up.

Goodbye Christopher Robin shows the developing relationship between playwright A. A. Milne (known as Blue to his son) and his son Christopher Robin (nicknamed Billy Moon and acted by the very cute Will Tilston). Further, the film depicts how, during an enforced time together in their ‘hundred-acre-wood’ estate, Blue and Billy Moon come up with the Winnie-the-Pooh characters’ names and the imaginative story millions of people know so well today. The unexpected fame and fortune that followed publication unfortunately came at the expense of the ‘real’ Christopher Robin. As a result Milne refused to write any more Pooh stories – in an effort to repair the father-son relationship. Despite this sobering biographical account the movie didn’t take away for me the magic of encountering gentle Pooh and his pals.

Me and Pooh

Another film I saw onboard (it’s a long flight to New York from South Africa) was the documentary We Will Rise. The film shows former-first lady of the USA, Michelle Obama, together with actress Meryl Streep, journeying to Morocco and Liberia where they meet girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. Obama’s mission was to encourage these young ladies in their efforts to overcome enormous obstacles to be educated. The documentary wasn’t comprehensive and seemed to err more on the side of publicity than practicality. But it did serve to underline Obama’s (and Streep’s) concern for women, for education, and for Africa. With the present US president’s recent utterances on Africa as ‘sh*thole countr(ies)’ (see http://bit.ly/2D4Pks5 for further reading on this subject), I was struck by the contrast between the two presidencies. Trump’s remarks took on a further bigoted, hypocritical and inexcusable tone for me when, a day after arriving in New York, I visited the New-York Historical Society. This museum explores the history of New York and includes a 20-minute film of the process. In virtually the opening lines of the film the narrator states that New York was built on three pillars – one of which was slavery.

The confluence of (movie) reels and real life really makes you think sometimes…

Michelle Obama and the We Will Rise programme

 

 

Bicycles and Books

In preparation for a cycling holiday I am due to go on later this year I decided to sign up for ‘Ride’ classes at the gym. I haven’t cycled regularly since I rode my bicycle to school many years ago so was a bit nervous. Reactions like ‘Are you sure you can manage?’ from friends didn’t help. Suggestions were given like using a stationary bicycle at the gym and doing my own thing at a more moderate pace instead of attending a class. But that seemed far too boring. So I went ahead and booked. On the online class booking app I was instructed to ‘choose

Me cycling in Munich in 2014

my position’. I chose the bicycle as far away from the instructor as I possibly could. I fished out of my cupboard my brand new, frightfully luminous pink, disgustingly revealing padded cycle pants. When I added the demure little skort over the top I looked suitably modest. I was ready. Let the Ride begin!

Now, before I let you know how the Ride went, I’ll talk a bit about books as no doubt you’re wondering what books have to do with bicycles.

Well, when contemplating a boring session on a bicycle by myself, my helpful friend suggested I listen to an audiobook while pedaling away. Good idea! I had recently finished listening to the audiobook The Lioness of Morocco by Julia Drosten. This book would’ve kept me in the saddle for almost 13 hours – a decent amount of training for a holiday I would say. But would it have kept the boredom away? On the whole, yes. It’s a charming romance set in a place and era I know very little about. The main character is a likeable, although rather simplistic, Englishwoman. What I did feel got a bit longwinded was the ‘saga’ nature of the story. The family and their children, and children’s children got me wondering when it would end – a bit like a gym cycling session? Another saga I’d recently finished was the historical novel Sarum by Edward Rutherford. In this ‘novel of England’ the story follows five families from 7500 years BC right up to 1985 AD. Eight hundred and ninety seven pages – and about one year – later and I would’ve had calves like a Tour de France cyclist had I listened to that while training.

Well, back to my Ride session. I did pretty well thank you very much and didn’t suffer too much from sore muscles in the derriere the next day. Success! Whether I continue with the classes or do my own thing in the gym, my holiday is approaching and time is short. So, to hasten my training along, perhaps I’ll increase the speed on my next Audible book – Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – and instead of training to a saga, I’ll puff away to a short story. Either way here’s to bicycles and books!

Feast of Movies this Weekend

I’ve been enjoying the My French Film Festival from the comfort of my own laptop this week. The fully online festival, which started on 19 January, runs until the 29th so you still have a few days left to watch. It’s free in Africa – hooray! Tip: logging in via Facebook is an easy login option. Check out the MyFFF  at https://www.myfrenchfilmfestival.com. There are a number of shorts (12 minutes, 25 minutes long) as well as feature films.

A Wedding is one of the MyFFF feature films I can really recommend. It’s the story of 18-year-old Zahira who lives with her Pakistani family in Belgium. Zahira is embedded in her Western lifestyle yet loves her traditional family. The film addresses a number of sensitive issues and how the two cultures merge and clash. The issues are: abortion; arranged marriage versus the freedom to choose a partner; religion/culture in a secular society; patriarchy; and the violence that stems from defending family honour.

Coming out on circuit today is The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. I definitely want to see that one!

TIDBITS:

  • The film Dunkirk received eight nominations for Warner Bros on 24 January from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I saw this film in 2017 on IMAX – the experience, the tension, the filming were fantastic. #TimesMediaFilms
  • A South African Western ?!. That’s right folks Five Fingers for Marseilles – a modern-day South African Western – is coming to South African cinemas in April 2018. #indigenousfilm.co.za.
  • Since Cinema Nouveau at Gateway in Durban combined premises with the classic Ster Kinekor theatres, nouveau movies have not always been clearly demarcated. Just so you know for this weekend, the top 10 Nouveau movies at the moment are: Murder on the Orient Express; Wonder; Beatriz at Dinner; Thank you for your Service; Molly’s Game; Brad’s Status; Victoria and Abdul; Wonder Wheel; Marshall; Battle of the Sexes. #cinemanouvea

What Happens Next: Travels in Perth

Do you know where Ballarat is? Well, for fans of DSTV’s The Doctor Blake Mysteries, it’s the Australian town where Doctor Lucien Blake works as police surgeon. In real life Ballarat is indeed in Australia and lies close to Melbourne, Victoria.

In the lift of the Rendevouz Hotel in Scarborough, Perth

I’ve never been to Victoria but on a recent trip to Perth, Australia, I found myself thinking of this charming mystery series, drawing a number of parallels with my experience. Blake is played by Craig McLachlan, who, according to his IMDB profile, is an experienced all-rounder. In his role as doctor-cum-detective McLachlan/Blake always looks dapper in a suit and hat and is the perfect 1950s gentleman. Today’s Perth, like McLachlan, has much to offer: a superb public transport system, beautiful beaches, and a growing business sector. But, like Blake, Perth also has a sort of ‘old’ feel about it. The bus service, the litter-free suburbs, the single-storey shopping areas that appear en route without fanfare, the quietness, the tree-filtered sunlight (even in desert-like Perth).

We stayed on the 23rd floor of this 25-level hotel that actually has only 17 floors. Huh?! It’s not like they could slot the missing floors in…

Although The Doctor Blake Mysteries doesn’t feature much humour a lovely Australian film that does is the The Dish (2000). It’s the based-on-truth story of how a huge satellite dish in a remote farming town in Australia was surprisingly used to assist in the 1969 Apollo space mission to the moon. The dish is manned by overawed locals who make several huge mistakes (like losing the rocket). I enjoyed the quirky, non-Hollywood characters and the gentle pace of the story. In The Dish, something big and important – like working for NASA – was cloaked in likeable, down-to-earth characters. A little like Perth. Perth is a place of obvious development and opportunity. But dressed in a certain simplicity and quaintness. Almost like you’re waiting for something to happen.

I’ll be watching episode seven of Doctor Blake season five tonight. To see what happens next.

Beginning and Ending a Year of Books

Last year I blogged about reading lists and enjoying the curl-up-in-bed book All the Light We Cannot See http://bit.ly/2CuB8vJ by Anthony Doerr. I mentioned being surprised at how many books I’d read in just a few weeks. Keeping lists can do that for you.

I start 2018 similarly surprised by how many books I managed to read last year.

Some of those include: Bloodlines by John Piper, Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Gospel Boldness by Rod Thomas. Rod is a Christian missionary in Japan and it is clear that his book Gospel Boldness flows from his work in that country. He encourages Christians to confidently share the gospel, saying that clarity in this area is ennabled by God’s Spirit and is something that can be cultivated. Bloodlines by John Piper is an honest and thought-provoking discussion on the gospel of Jesus Christ and racism. ‘The achievement of the cross [on which Jesus died],’ says Piper ‘in reconciling all ethnic groups through faith in Christ is part of how the work of Christ on the cross magnifies the greatness of God’s grace.’ Piper urges Christians to abstain from partiality and to support God’s plan to gather a diverse and unified redeemed people.

I appreciated Questioning Evangelism for its fresh approach to engaging people in respectful, intelligent discussions about Jesus. Newman is funny and supports genuineness, caring and listening – the antithesis of the one-size-fits-all, in-out, disrespecting sales pitch approach to people I have seen in the past.

But my favourite (and only fiction) book on this list has to be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005). This is my second reading and I relished it perhaps more the second time around. The narrator (death) is well-developed, the characters perfectly individual, the descriptions unusual, and the subject matter (Germans who didn’t support what the Fuhrer was doing in WWII) deeply touching. The style is such that you simply cannot get lost, or confused. The short sentences and chapters make for easy reading, and even though the narrator explains what is to come before it happens, these revelations don’t spoil the story. I cried as my eyes raced across the pages and as my heart ached for Papa, Mama, Rudy, Max and Liesel. The Book Thief is on the shelf of my bookcase reserved for lifetime favourites.

The Book Thief was my last read of 2017, All the Light We Cannot See my first. How interesting that both had WWII as their subject, and children as their protagonists.

I look forward to my 2018 reading material. Here’s to a fruitful 2018 of books!