Reviews of the new Star Wars, the latest Churchill and a bunch of awards nominees
The film looks at the first month after he was named Prime Minister in 1940. That’s when Hitler conquered Belgium, was poised to march into France and had the British army pinned down on the beach at Dunkirk. Churchill has to figure out how to get his soldiers home and at the same time withstand internal plotting by Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax. They wanted him to start peace talks with Germany. He doesn’t have to wrestle too much with that issue at the many meetings we’re shown, and his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott-Thomas) doesn’t have to offer too much advice. He’s resolute and in a fanciful scene talks to people on the tube and gets the message: “Never!” It made me think of Brexit. The same attitude drove it but to a different place. (5th Avenue) 2 ½ out of 5
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME: This is already one of the most celebrated films of the season. The Golden Globes gave it three nominations and the critics in Los Angeles named it best film of the year. I don’t go that far although I did appreciate the warmth, the yearning and the bittersweet result of the love story in it. It’s of the gay variety but communicates to anybody.
The setting is sunny Italy in summertime. Armie Hammer arrives as a grad student to work with an archeologist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and meets his teenage son Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet, who is also in Lady Bird). They’re distant at the start but slowly an attraction develops. That turns into sparks and the friendship turns sexual. For Elio it’s an exploration. It’s harder to tell what it is for Armie’s character but under Luca Guadagnino’s direction the affair is sweet and genuine, hidden but accepted as natural. There’s a great speech from the boy’s father that supports him and helps make up for some of the film’s overwrought elements. The script, based on a popular novel, is co-written by James Ivory, age about 90, who has followed themes like this before in a couple of his Merchant-Ivory films. (5th Avenue) 3 ½ out of 5
THE SHAPE OF WATER: Seven Golden Globe nominations. Amazing. Now if only it deserved that many. Guillermo del Toro’s new one has fine acting, writing and art direction but in support of only a so-so fantasy tale. It starts with great promise and then dwindles in the home stretch. In fact there are two sides to it and you’d be best to choose which one to follow because they don’t make a lot of sense to be together.
Side one is a cold war thriller, set in the early 1960s (beautifully visualized, by the way) about a secret US government project. Michael Shannon (superbly crass) plays the man in charge. He’s got a humanoid creature he brought back from the Amazon and plans to use in the space race with Russia. Side two, believe it or not, is a love story as Sally Hawkins, playing a cleaning lady, gets romantic with the humanoid. He’s played by Doug Jones, not the senator-elect but the actor who was also a creature in del Toro’s better fantasy, Pan’s Labyrinth. Sally bonds with him because she too is an outsider; she’s a mute. That theme continues through her friends: a black cleaning lady (Octavia Spencer) and a gay neighbor (Richard Jenkins, splendid). Is it all real or just a character’s imagination? Bits from TV and movies show up so often that you do wonder. It’ll keep you interested but not much more. (International Village) 2 ½ out of 5