Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

The Hollywood culture of the 1950s is on full display in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Wrapped in the calculated mannerisms of the era, sexpot actress Gloria Grahame won a supporting actress Oscar in ‘52. For women, twenty-five was retirement time. There were legends who were exceptions, but most young women, like Grahame, fell into sudden oblivion. Women were scripted additions to male stars whose age, of course, didn’t matter.

We watch Annette Benning create Gloria Grahame in her golden days, followed by her affair with the much younger Peter Turner. Eventually, she leaves him for another man, dabbles in all kinds of ludicrous adventures, becomes sick and dies at fifty-five. All this is based on Peter Turner’s memoir of his affair with Grahame after the culture of the era forced her off the screen. His sensitive book about a woman who remained a creature of her time has been filmed with dignity by everyone involved.

The operative word here is atmosphere. When Grahame moves in with Turner in 1979 and says “It’s a long way back to Sunset Boulevard,” we realize that we are in for a mixture of both sadness and appreciation. We watch snatches of her old movies, hear her memories – and watch her decline. The story unfolds in diminished natural colors as director Paul McGuigan and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh turn Peter Turner’s memories into a groundbreaking look at what can happen when stardom ends. Theirs is a groundbreaking look behind the scenes in Hollywood’s glory days. They have done it with delicacy and respect.

Annette Benning becomes Gloria Grahame without ever once trying to soften the tough reality that growing older bestowed on Hollywood women. Benning at fifty-five, has known continual success as an actress and as a wife with a husband and four children. As she steps into this part, she leaves behind any of the fakery she might have used in a role that is often unflattering to her. It is a tribute to the culture of today that women of her talent can command the screen at any age.

Jamie Bell creates Peter Turner, the aspiring young English actor who was smitten with Grahame and helped her through her last days after she had left him for another man. Peter and his mother Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) become Grahame’s custodians while she is dying. Grahame’s last words, “How do I look?” are the perfect summary of what we have seen.

The acting conveys it all. Annette Benning creates a brave older woman who is living in pretense, caught in her own flawed imagining of who she really is. Jamie Bell does a beautiful job as the younger lover, resisting any temptation to overdo his part. Add to these Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham as Peter’s parents and Vanessa Redgrave as Grahame’s mother. This is a cast who understood the delicacy of bringing Peter Turner’s book to the screen and they do it with great sensitivity. It’s original. It’s good.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Word Count: 497
Running Time: 1:45
Rating: R
Date: 25 February 2018


Call Me by Your Name

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Call Me by Your Name

If you have any reservations about seeing Call Me by Your Name, I suggest that you erase them and go right now. How does director Luca Guadagnino get us to forget within minutes any reservations we might have about seeing a film about male homosexuality? He does that by giving us a work of art.

Guadagnino takes us to a 17th century Italian villa where we meet a gentle intellectual family. They have been described perfectly by the director as a family rooted in compassion, trust, and wisdom. Father Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor of Greco-Roman culture, mother Annella (Amira Casar) is a translator, and both work at home. Son Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is a thinker who writes music while studying piano and musical history. He is also seventeen years old.

Whenever the father needs help with research he imports a young academic as his assistant. Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives for that temporary stay. Elio, who has had a lovely friendship with Marzia (an excellent Esther Garrel) while they explored their new interest in sex with trust, is stunned by his strong attraction to the visiting researcher. When Oliver understands what Elio wants, he is careful and protective of the boy’s age and innocence.

As they bicycle and walk and swim, we in the audience are soaking up the beauty of the Italian countryside. No paved roads or cars, just peace. By the time Elio and Oliver indulge themselves, we realize Elio’s parents are extending to their son a quiet understanding of where he is at the moment.

In other hands, this movie might have been fraught with disapproval, tempers, and drama. Mr. Guadagnino has quite literally created magical surroundings and wise, quiet people for an utterly natural coming-of-age story that catches much of what so many feel but don’t say.

Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar – as father and mother – are thoroughly winning as they set the tone of understanding. And a salute is due the designers of the peace of life in the surrounding Italian beauty that sets the tone.

Director Guadagnino avoids all the trappings of a predictably difficult subject and hands us instead quiet time to think of what is actually happening emotionally in all these good people. He never asks us to take sides. His final family scenes are written and acted with such dignity that most of us left the theater lost in quiet thought.

It is Timothee Chalamet who carries the main role so well that we are quietly on his team as he learns. Armie Hammer plays the older male with restraint and kindness until he understands exactly when it is okay to respond to his young partner. The final conversation between the parents we have come to like so much wraps the whole movie in a perspective that would probably have been impossible for other filmmakers. Their movie is on most lists of Top Ten Bests of the Year. The praise is deserved.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Call Me by Your Name
Word Count : 499
Rating : R
Running Time : 2:12
Date : 31 December 2017


This review was posted on December 29, 2017, in Drama, Romance.