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Love knows no age and gender

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:50 AM December 12, 2017

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”

Love stories are often being churned out, onstage and onscreen, to tap into their common theme’s universal relatability. But, on our recent trip to London and Paris, we “stumbled” into unconventional Oscar-worthy cinematic tales that celebrate love at its sweetest and most beguiling.

Armie Hammer and Annette Bening turn in career-best portrayals in Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age romance “Call Me By Your Name” and Paul McGuigan’s May-December drama “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” respectively.

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Set in a rustic Italian countryside in the summer of 1983, “Call Me By Your Name” exquisitely mines the delicate bond that develops when precocious 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) crosses paths with charismatic American graduate student Oliver (Armie), who’s staying with the Perlmans for the duration of his six-week academic visit.

Timothée Chalamet in “Call Me By Your Name”

Armie Hammer delivers career-best portrayal in “Call Me
By Your Name”

The fun-loving but emotionally detached visitor quickly endears himself to everybody, especially to the nubile signorinas who unapologetically swoon and pine for Oliver’s undivided attention and affection.

Away from the prying eyes of his gushing admirers, however, Oliver soon establishes a special connection with Elio that is as ambiguous as it is increasingly exhilarating.

But, not even the young man’s occasional trysts with the “willing and able” Marzia (Esther Garrel) can hide the heady sexual tension that smolders and crackles every time Elio and Oliver are together.

With only a few weeks left before the latter’s imminent departure, they know that whatever they have is about to come to an end.

Is the star-crossed protagonists’ budding love story worth pursuing? Or is it just another case of a fleeting summer romance?

Like “Brokeback Mountain,” the poignantly staged and beautifully photographed “Call Me By Your Name” is one of the best gay-themed love stories we’ve seen in years.

It’s a wistful, thematically alluring and exceptionally acted romantic yarn that demonstrates the convention-breaching reach and indomitability of true love.

Indeed, nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spots.

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In “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” also set in the ’80s, young actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) finds his “weak spot” in the sick and aging actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening).

Her waning popularity and fast-disintegrating career have forced the Oscar-winning actress to leave Hollywood and seek the validation she desperately needs elsewhere—this time, in London’s theater district, where she falls in love with Peter, who is 28 years younger.

Based on Peter’s memoir, the true-to-life tale also deals with a “love that cannot be” as it wistfully recalls the lonely final years of the once-celebrated actress, whose cautionary story gives the fabulous Annette considerable dramatic meat to chew on—and masticate!

Annette’s acting heft has always been significant. She was nominated four times at the Oscars, but has yet to win. But, she is often held back or weighed down by decorative roles and characters that require her to play second fiddle to actors who aren’t as innately gifted.

In the tender, moving and slyly humorous “Film Stars,” Annette plunges head-on into Gloria’s colorful tale with fetching charm, clarity and tenacity.

In her heyday, Gloria appeared in films like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and won an Oscar for her performance in 1952’s “The Bad and the Beautiful.” But, she is best known for portraying irresistible femme fatales in “The Big Heat” and “Oklahoma!”

The vivacious actress’ scandal-prone career was damaged beyond repair after Nicholas Ray, the second of her four husbands, caught her in bed with his son (and Gloria’s stepson), actor Tony Ray.

Their relationship reportedly began when Tony was only 13 years old.

On the local movie scene, the movies to watch are the Indonesian horror drama “Satan’s Slaves” and the noirish crime procedural “Smaller and Smaller Circles.”

M. Adhiyat in “Satan’s Slaves”

“Satan’s Slaves” is Joko Anwar’s spooky revival of the 1982 Indonesian cult classic.

After the death of their mysterious mother (Ayu Laksmi), three siblings (Tara Basro, Endy Arfian and Nasar Annuz) must protect their 6-year-old youngest brother, deaf-mute Ian (M. Adhiyat), from a satanic cult that “harvests” its victims’ souls when they come of age.

The movie skillfully eschews the horror genre’s cheap shock-and-scare tactics for something more hair-raising.

Framed by its menacing mood and a relentlessly foreboding atmosphere, it uses objects, sounds, shadows, a little-known urban legend and the protagonists’ habits to scare the bejesus out of viewers—like a ringing bell, an old woman’s involuntary wheezing, the hissing sound of radio, and a dead singer’s wistful song.

“Satan’s Slaves” is one of the creepiest films we’ve seen this year.

Benefiting from a delectable feast of intricate storytelling, Raya Martin’s slick and stylish “Smaller and Smaller Circles” is more disturbing than scary—and that isn’t a bad thing.

While imperfect, the English-speaking psychological thriller hews closely to the thematic boldness and ingenuity of TBA Studios’ filmmaking oeuvre as it follows the investigation of Jesuit priests Gus Saenz (Nonie Buencamino) and Jerome Lucero (Sid Lucero), who are looking into the grisly serial murders of 13-year-old boys.

Nonie Buencamino (left) and Sid Lucero in “Smaller and Smaller Circles”

While we like listening to the French language (after all, we just visited Paris last month), seeing a Filipino priest (Nonie) and an investigative reporter (Carla Humphries) exchanging lines in French is a little too “maarte” for our taste. Oui?

Moreover, some of the actors’ labored delivery of their overly enunciated English lines distracts, discombobulates and draws attention away from where the focus should be, its significant story—but, that’s just us nitpicking.

By cleverly plugging into the zeitgeist, “Circles” asserts its pertinence as it muses on the unsolved extrajudicial killings in the country and mulls over its future in the hands of amoral public officials who constantly twist our perception of what’s right and wrong to justify their self-serving motives.

Like Father Gus, the movie necessitates the urgent need to challenge authority when what we’re asked to do defies logic, or breaches acceptable standards of morality.

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TAGS: “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”, “Satan’s Slaves”, Annette Bening, Call Me By Your Name, Entertainment, Jamie Bell, news, Reel Time, Timothée Chalamet
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