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Hammerle on... ‘Love, Simon’, ‘The Death of Stalin’

April 4, 2018

bob hammerle movie reviews‘Love, Simon’

“Love, Simon” is a cinematic gem floating in a sea of nearly unwatchable movies. The film focuses on Simon Spier, a 17-year-old high school senior facing graduation. But he is haunted by a secret: He is a gay kid who has hidden that fact from both his family and friends. In the process, he makes contact online with a classmate who reveals himself to be gay, and they begin to communicate using assumed names. Chaos ensues when a diabolical classmate discovers their interaction, and Simon finds himself blackmailed as he tries to find a way to stay in his self-imposed closet.

hammerle-simon-rating.jpgMuch like the Oscar-nominated “Call Me by Your Name,” director Greg Berlanti has the courage to touch upon a subject that is all but ignored in our society. How does a gay high school senior reveal his identity while fearing the consequences? What does he tell a young female friend when you reject her attempts to get romantically involved? What will be the consequences when your male friends try to deal with the news?

This film confronts all these issues, and it does so in a fiery, frequently comic manner. It is helped by many wonderful performances, beginning with Nick Robinson as Simon. He resembles a young Matthew Broderick, and you empathize with him at every turn. On top of that, Katherine Langford gives a moving performance as Leah, a close friend who simply can’t understand why he won’t respond to her growing affection. Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Keiynan Lonsdale hold your attention as they play other friends of Simon; young people who are more upset by his attempts to help his blackmailer than the fact that he is gay.

I should also note that performances of Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents, a loving couple who are totally oblivious to the conundrum facing their son. To make matters worse, Simon’s dad has no problem making gay jokes, and in the process, you quickly learn that in this case, ignorance is not bliss.

And, though I embraced this film from beginning to end, let me point out its only drawback. Logan Miller plays Martin, the student who threatens to reveal Simon’s secret unless he is assisted in dating one of Simon’s closest friends. While you can appreciate the fact that Simon reluctantly agreed to do so, it leads to the movie’s downside when Martin gives an unsolicited idiotic speech at a football game.

However, beyond that small distraction, this clearly is the best film released to this point in 2018. It provides meaning when you see Simon fanaticize what life would be like if being straight carried the same ramifications as being gay. Berlanti focuses on some hysterical scenes where kids had to tell parents that they were heterosexual and how those parents reacted in both astonishment and horror.

As I watched “Love, Simon,” I was reminded of an incident in 1965 when I graduated from Batesville High School. Like many of my friends, I played sports year-round, and my group included a non-athlete who I will simply identify as “Fred.” He remains one of the funniest guys I have ever met in my entire life, and my friends and I used to get together at a small local establishment known as Harry’s every Sunday morning after Mass. We had to keep this a secret from our parents as they found the owner, Harry, to be a disreputable 80-year-old curmudgeon. We didn’t, and Fred used to leave us in stitches with his constant string of inventive humor.

None of us had the foggiest idea at that point of what it meant to be gay, and there was not a hateful bone in anyone’s body. After we graduated, Fred went on to Ball State, where we received the horrific news that he hung himself in his dorm room closet as a freshman. It was only then that we learned that he was gay and there is absolutely no doubt that this revelation led to ungodly consequences at school that resulted in his death.

Like many, I have saved my high school yearbook which contains many individual notes left by friends. Fred wrote this on the inside crease of three pages: “For God’s sake, Bob, I ask only one thing from you and that is to never forget Harry’s and the damn good times we’ve had there together with Harry and the boys.” After he signed it, he put in this P.S., “This was run-on sentence.”

I still treasure Freddy’s comments to this day, and “Love, Simon” brought him back to life for one small moment. Movies have meaning that touch your heart, and this is one that all high school kids should be required to see to graduate. They will be better people for the experience.

‘The Death of Stalin’

“The Death of Stalin,” directed by Armando Iannucci, is a dark, inventive film surrounding the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the early 1950s. While it is wildly creative, it lacks much of the zip and comic strength of Iannucci’s acclaimed TV series “Veep”.

hammerle-stalin-rating.jpgStalin was a tyrannical beast who authorized the execution of millions of Russian citizens during his reign. Surrounded by a group of sycophants who wondered if they were next in line at the chopping block, his death unleashed a comic struggle to replace their contemptible dead leader.

The strength of the film flows from a number of fine performances by very good actors beginning with Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Michael Palin as Molotov and Jeffrey Tambor as Malenkov. As they all wrestled with the consequences of Stalin’s death, they frequently found a way to turn turmoil into a tragic comedy.

The movie was also helped by several other memorable performances, beginning with Simon Russell Beale as Lavrenti Beria, the head of the Soviet National Police. Though it seems a bit scandalous to make this observation, it was at times quite amusing to watch his callous approach to torturing and killing Soviet citizens for little reason. In addition, Rupert Friend gave a hysterical turn as Stalin’s son, Vasily, a deranged psychopath with the ability to do any idiotic act that entered his limited brain.

And, although she had a small role as a pianist, Olga Kurylenko demonstrated her acting skills as Maria Veniaminovna Yudina, an artist who was not afraid to publicly express her hope that Stalin died quickly. Even though she remains underused on the big screen, Kurylenko remains one of my favorite actresses. For those of you harboring any doubt, skip this film and hunt down her marvelous roles in “Seven Psychopaths” (2012), the James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” (2008) and “Hitman” (2007).•

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Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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