Friday, August 24, 2018

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2018: My Entry

It's finally my turn to complain. Like all of you who have participated in this blogathon, whether this year or in the past, know that one side or the other usually gives us a difficult time. This year, it was a bit more difficult finding a hated movie that tickled my fancy. Finding one you guys loved, but just grated my nerves was pretty easy. Let's start there.


The insane amounts of love for this one started piling up right from the beginning. Reportedly, it was given a ten minute standing ovation after its first screening at the famed Sundance Film Festival. That love continued right through to four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and a win for Best Adapted Screenplay. And it wasn't just the snobs who run moviedom. You guys were all in on this one, too. During awards season, someone was in my Twitter timeline telling the world how beautiful this movie was on a daily basis. Because of all the high praise, and because I try to see every movie nominated for Best Picture, I watched it. And ewwww.

Let's start with the plot.

Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is a 17 year old kid living with his folks in Italy. His dad is a big-time professor and invites his 24 year old assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) to stay with them through the summer and help with some research. Before you know it, Elio and Oliver are having a torrid love affair. Not to spoil it for you, but no one involved objects to any of this in the slightest.


Maybe you missed the part I have a problem with it. As a matter of fact, I will show it by itself to give it some emphasis. Are you ready? Okay, here it goes...

Elio is a 17 year old kid living with his folks in Italy.


Elio is a 17 year old kid.

Got it? Good. Let's expand the point.

Oliver is creepy, at best, and a pedophile, at worst. The film makes it clear that Elio is struggling with all sorts of emotions on top of still trying to figure out his sexuality. Meanwhile, the adult Oliver is shown to be much more sure of himself and far wiser about the world, as he should be. His behavior towards Elio comes off as predatory. At every chance, he maneuvers Elio into situations where the two can be alone. It doesn't help that he's played by a man whom I not only know is closer to 40 than 20 (he was 31 during filming), but he looks it, too. These things plus Armie Hammer's sheer size, the dude stands 6'5", mark him as the one in control of this relationship. My problem is not that Oliver exists, but that we're supposed to be sympathetic towards his plight. His plight? He's a poor, closeted soul who can't be openly gay due to the times he's living in.

Spare me.

There's a bigger problem than Oliver in this film. Elio's parents suck. Eventually, they find out about what's been going on. They do nothing. Scratch that, they do something worse. They treat it like it's just a case of puppy love between two teenagers. They coddle Elio and tell him how he will benefit from this experience in the long run.



Better, yet...

If you're a regular reader, you know have daughters. My youngest is 16. If I found out she was sleeping with anybody there would be hell to pay. If I found out that person were 24 years old, I'm going to jail for murder. But let me put it back on us as a collective. Every single day there are stories in the news about grown-ups taking advantage of kids. And every single day, people are rightfully up in arms with rage at the people who commit these heinous acts. We don't just want them thrown in jail, we want far worse to happen them. Yet, as soon as it's put in a movie where the perpetrator is not framed for us as a villain we're suddenly all okay with it? Do we really need it spelled out for us that this dude is no different than the countless teachers in their 20s whose mugshots have flashed across our TV screens for having sex with their students? He's not. Screw this movie. While we're at it, screw 2009's An Education for precisely the same reason.


Way back in 1989, before Marvel was a Disney-backed Hollywood powerhouse, they let a company called New World Pictures produced a movie called The Punisher. It was based on one of their characters who was really just becoming very popular and starred Dolph Lundgren of Rocky IV fame. It was a bomb. Over the years, it developed a bit of a cult following, but Marvel has pretty much disavowed it. In 2004, they would take their own crack at it with another movie with the same title and with Thomas Jane in the starring role. It was better, but still not good. It was more faithful to its comic book roots than its predecessor, but when applied to the big screen this is rather generic. You know the old story of someone's family being slaughtered so they exact revenge on everyone who was involved in any way. See? There are thousands of those movies. It didn't help that the pure brutality of the character was watered down to fit a PG-13 rating. Marvel heard the message loud and clear and in gave us Punisher: War Zone four years later. Thomas Jane was ditched in favor of Ray Stevenson, who really does look just like the comic book character. The PG-13 was bypassed for a hard R. Blood and guts were everywhere, all the time. It was glorious, and you still hated it.


The opening scene, features our hero Frank Castle breaking into a crime lord's dinner party and ruthlessly murdering everyone in the room. And the camera doesn't flinch. We're talking snapped necks, knives in the face, chair legs through eye sockets, and bullets riddling every part of the body. The movie never lets up from there. What's not to love?

Apparently, you snooty types didn't like the storytelling or the acting. Were they bad? Yeah. Was all the way over the top action enough to make up for it? Hell yeah!

Sadly, it bombed at the box office, making only $10.1 million against a budget of $35 million. As you saw above, critics trashed it. The two facts combined to make Marvel listen very carefully. They had suddenly become major players with the summer success of Iron Man earlier in 2008 and decided on a new path. They swiftly blamed the movie's problems mostly on its gore and swore off making any R-rated movies. So far, they haven't gone back on that, unless you count Logan and the Deadpool movies, which are based on their characters but they didn't actually make. I'm pretty sad about this because, if nothing else, Punisher: War Zone was all sorts of fun to watch even if it was a complete narrative mess. You just can't beat seeing a bad guy's head explode when our hero shoots them in the face at point blank rage range.

I was reminded of this movie as I watching Call Me By Your Name and again when I chose it for this topic. During the entire runtime, I kept thinking how wonderful it would be for Frank Castle to show up out of nowhere to punch, kick, choke, stab, and shoot the ever-loving shit out of Oliver. Then, Frank could stick a grenade in Oliver's mouth, pull the pin, and walk away as his head explodes all over Elio's parents.

Full circles, people.

Unfortunately, there were no entries in the blogathon yesterday. However, we've still had plenty of fun this week. Click below to see what beloved movies everyone else railed against and the hated ones they adore.

It's not too late to get your entry in! Click here to join the fun.


  1. "Hate" is probably too strong a term for my feelings about Call Me by Your Name, but our opinions are similar and for the same reason. And even for similar experiences--my younger daughter is 15, so I get exactly your feelings on this. Should I find out someone 24 (or 22...or 20) has been sexually active with her, we're going to find out just how creative I can get with violence.

    Incidentally, I caught a lot of shit for basically saying the same thing about An Education.

    Is it a fatherhood thing?

  2. I have Call Me By Your Name on my DVR list as I'm planning to see it in a week or 2. I don't think I've seen Punisher: War Zone but I do like Ray Stevenson and have no problems with gratuitous violence.

    1. If there's one thing PWZ has plenty of, it's gratuitous violence.

  3. I can understand you being uncomfortable with the age difference in CMBYN since you have a 16-year-old daughter. I think what the film does well (regardless of the love story) is capture a sense of nostalgia for life in the 80s, before the information overload of smart phones and the internet. The romance to me was believable and moving thanks to a star making performance by Chalamet. I didn't find Oliver creepy/predatory. Seems to be a very divisive movie though.

    1. There was a sense of nostalgia and Chalamet was excellent. However, neither of those things were anywhere near enough to make up for what I saw to be the film's shortcomings. And we will definitely have to agree to disagree on Oliver.

  4. Armie Hammer's casting bothered me the entire time during CMBYN as well. He looks like a 30 year old dude and that was hard to get past. Not to mention he's a bad actor and Chalamet had to carry his ass the entire film.

    I think I saw parts of Punisher: War Zone. I keep forgetting they've tried to make Punisher movies before lol

    1. Yeah, there was nothing about Hammer that said he wasn't long past 24. I usually don't mind him as an actor, but here he bothered me to no end.

      The Punisher movies made little to no impact so they're easy to forget.

  5. I had high expectations for Call Me By Your Name since everyone was raving about it so but it left me flat. I was bothered by the romance in that Armie Hammer just seemed so much older than the stated age of the character, if it had been someone around the approximate age he was supposed to be I don't know if I would have felt differently. Elio was 17 and sexually active (just) with the young girl so I didn't feel the same as if the character had been 15 and completely naive. But then again it wasn't an organic coming together either, Oliver did definitely pursue him. All in all a big miss.

    As far as Punisher War Zone goes I'm certain it won't shock you that I haven't seen it. You write up was fun and though I like Ray Stevenson, Dominic West and Dash Mihok I'm extremely doubtful that I'll ever get to it....although ya never know maybe some late night when nothing else is on.

    1. A big miss, indeed.

      War Zone is definitely not your type of movie. However, if you suddenly find yourself in the mood for ultraviolent nonsense this will certainly fit the bill.

  6. Armie is supposed to be only 24? Hahahaaa, boy did they miss the boat on that one. It remind me of Leslie Howard playing the teenage Romeo to an also old Norma Shearer. I still haven’t seen this film as I wondered about exactly what you hate about it. I will see it one day and see if I feel the same way. As for the second film, I don’t think I will see it as it is not my cup of tea.

    1. Yeah, Armie being 24 was a stretch to say the least. War Zone isn't for everybody, that's for sure.

  7. I wouldn't say I hate Call Me By Your Name but I'm sure as hell I didn't love it. It was cold and detached, and kinda boring. And DISGUSTING.

    As for Punisher: War Zone, I hated that one. Ray Stevenson was great as Frank Castle/the Punisher though. Way better than Thomas Jane in the 2004 movie.

    1. And I'm more than good with both those assessments. CMBYN is all of those things. And I've always said War Zone is not for everyone.


    Your opinions are your opinions and you are entitled to them.

    That said, I have issues with this reading of Call Me By Your Name, and it's one I've seen a few times. I didn't love Call Me By Your Name, mostly because I thought it moved far too slowly, especially for the first half. But I have to defend it against this viewpoint, because what this movie presents, and how it presents it, is an essential truth of queer experience, a key part of our sexual awakening. (It’s possible that my feelings are colored by my knowledge of the book, but I think this is a great adaptation)

    For starters, Elio and Oliver were pursuing each other. And Oliver mentions numerous times throughout before they hook up that it's a bad idea and he doesn't want to do it. Yes, Hammer certainly looks older than 24, I totally get that. I was willing to overlook that because I thought his performance was good. Plus, a seven-year age difference doesn't feel like a lot to me, especially since it was clear (to me) that Oliver was also struggling with his sexual identity quite a bit.

    Here's the big thing: This was the '80s in Italy. Just before HIV/AIDS hit. ESPECIALLY for young men beginning to feel the first pains of homosexuality, it was (and still is, in some ways) very, VERY difficult to find a safe outlet to act on these feelings. It is for this reason that many gay men have their first sexual experience with someone older. I had my first homosexual experience with someone 10 years older. Among my friends, that's on the low end of the spectrum, going as high as 30 years older. And not one of us - NOT A SINGLE ONE - felt like we were coerced into it in any way. We were hungry for it, longing for the touch of another man, just to know what it felt like. And unlike our straight friends, we had no road map for how to go about getting it. There were no gay rom-coms in the cinemas, no gay couples on TV, no gay people anywhere in pop culture that were falling in love and showing us how to do it. Instead, we were taught that if we so much as looked at another man in the wrong way or for too long, we might not live to tell about it. So we took it where we could get it, usually in the arms of an older, wiser man who saw something in us that sometimes we couldn't even acknowledge to ourselves. Someone who had done this before, who could guide us through it.

    This experience and the feeling that accompanies it is all over Call Me By Your Name. I'm pretty sure it's the first time I've ever seen it in a movie (certainly one this mainstream). In fact, my biggest issue with the film is how much of a utopia it takes place in - the likelihood of this working out as well as it does (unambiguous acceptance from friends and family, no discrimination to be found anywhere) is slim to none... but how wonderful that is to see!

    1. PART TWO

      It's arguable how much Elio's parents knew and when they knew it (the book even implies that Oliver was selected as the summer fellow specifically for Elio), but they support him when his heart (inevitably) gets broken. They know how difficult the world is going to be for Elio, and letting him have this first experience in a safe environment, with as little meddling from them as possible, feels kind of wonderful from a gay perspective. So many of us have to hide, have to feel ashamed of our sexuality, but Elio's parents encourage it, offering him unconditional support and love.

      Maybe what Oliver and Elio had was true love, maybe it wasn't, but either way it was meaningful for them both. In uttering the title line, Oliver gives Elio the best gift a young queer can receive: An outlet for self-love. Whenever Elio says the name of the man he loves, he gets to say his own name, a reinforcement of the idea that he is worthy of love, that what he's feeling is not in any way wrong or something to be ashamed of. This is something that Oliver is clearly struggling with as well, and giving that to Elio is a meaningful and beautiful gesture.

      The world has always been different for queer youth. The way that Call Me By Your Name dramatizes that, giving us a vision of sexual awakening (I see this as much more of a coming-of-age story than a romance) in an impossibly perfect setting, is quite unlike any queer film I've seen before - there are no external roadblocks, only internal ones: feelings of shame, self-doubt, and even self-loathing. It opens up these feelings that most (if not all) queer people have felt for all to see, and I found it quite affecting.

      I swear I didn't intend to write a novel, but it all sort of came tumbling out. I hope this gets you to look at the film in a different light. But if it doesn't, I get it. :)

    2. I really appreciate this point of view as it's from someone who clearly identifies with Elio in a way I cannot. Your points are very well made. Let me see if I can address them.

      For me, the 7 year age gap feels tremendous when one of the two is still a teenager. The gap in maturity and control of one's emotions between a 17 year old and a 24 is usually monumental compared to, say, a 24 year old and a 31 year old. I will always see this as the adult taking advantage of the situation, even if the pursuit appears to be mutual. I place the onus on the the grown-up to put the stop to the situation. Again, that's probably the dad in me. Of course, your experience says otherwise. It's just hard for someone whose first instinct is to protect kids from the adult world as long as possible. Possibly sad, but true.

      Yes, it was the 80s. And it was in Italy. The AIDS/HIV crisis hit very early in the decade. At least it did in America, where Oliver is from. Concern about it would have been right at home in this film. However, I only gave it a passing thought during the movie, because that wasn't the focus (and a byproduct of the utopia they were in).

      Elio's parents were as big an issue as Oliver for me. I haven't read the book, but you telling me it implies that Oliver was specifically chosen for their teenage son pushes me even further away from them. Despite how it sounds, I understand that the teenage years are a time when people explore and discover their sexuality. I'm good with this. I'm not good with setting up my kids with adults. I just couldn't imagine bringing someone home from work as a potential suitor for my child. It's great that they were supportive of him regardless of his sexuality. I totally get and agree with that. That, to me, is entirely different than me pushing the sexual envelope.

      I have my doubts about how much Oliver was actually struggling. I got the impression he was fully aware of his sexuality, and only got married to keep up appearances. I could be completely wrong there, but that's how he struck me.

      Agree, the world has always been different for queer youth. I'm very glad that you found a film that crystallizes your experience in such a way that you felt it in a deeply positive way. All of us movie lovers are looking for that. If this is the film that gives it to you, great. I've given my reasons for it affecting me in much the opposite manner, but I have no desire to change your experience with it. Thanks for bringing inside that experience as much as possible. This is one of my all-time favorite replies.

    3. Thank you for this reply, Dell. Why can't more internet discourse be more like this - serious and thoughtfully considered and respectful.

      And really, what you mentioned at the end was all I was trying to do - to "bring [you] inside that experience as much as possible." Your reaction to the movie is your reaction to the movie, and I would never tell someone that they are "wrong" about how they saw a movie. But I think this movie in particular needs contextualizing, at least for how strongly gay men/queer people in general have reacted to and embraced it.

      (Frankly, I was glad that the thing with Oliver's parents was softened from the book - it was the one thing in the book that made me feel really icky, even if it was only obliquely implied.)

    4. The internet is usually the opposite of respectful, sadly. Thanks for helping me keep it that way, here.

  9. The age difference in Call Me didn't bother me, like, at all.17 is not a kid. It's past the age of consent. And I can still place myself in my 17 year old shoes, when I was definitely sleeping with adults, Oliver's age and much older. Because like Elio, I knew what I wanted. I don't think it's realistic to expect teenagers to be miraculously abstinent. I think consent and respect are much more important expectations, and I saw both in this movie, and thought it was beautiful.

    1. I think 17 year olds can make decisions, yes, but are less trustworthy to make the best decisions than the same person a few years later. I know that all 17 year olds are not abstinent, and don't really expect them to be. I wasn't. However, I'd rather they'd not be with adults for the reasons I gave Daniel. My own personal experience at that age was with someone my age, so I'm sure that's also shaped my thinking. As far as the age of consent goes, it depends on where you live. Thanks, Jay!

  10. I hated CMBYN mostly because it bored the hell out of me but yeah it was gross for all the reasons you mentioned but also some of the scenes like them making out seconds after the kid puked. And that shit was praised as a romantic movie. What on Earth...