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Review: Fine young cannibals in the tender ‘Bones and All’

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Zombies had a good run. Vampires had their day in the sun. Now, it seems to be cannibals’ turn for their bite at the apple.

Luca Guadagnino’s “Bones and All” gives them that, and more, in casting Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet as a pair of young cannibals in a 1980s-set road movie that’s more tenderly lyrical than most conventional romances. You know, the ones without all the flesh eating.

Guadagnino, the Italian director, is one of our most lushly sensual filmmakers. He makes feasts as much as he makes films. So it’s both a hearty recommendation and a warning to say that he brings as much passion and zeal to the lives of the cannibals of “Bones and All” as he did to the ravenous eroticism of “I Am Love” and the lustful awakenings of “Call Me By Your Name.” If you’ve seen what Guadagnino can do with a peach, it should no doubt concern you what he might manage with a forearm.

But while there is certainly gore in “Bones and All,” there is also beguiling poetry. Guadagnino’s darkly dreamy film, which opens in select theaters Friday, has some of the spirit of iconic love-on-the-run films like Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” and Nicholas Ray’s “They Live By Night” — movies that as open-road odysseys double as portraits of America. Like the couples of those films, Maren (Russell) and Lee (Chalamet), as cannibals, are technically law-breakers. But their relationship to society is different. They aren’t fighting it. They aren’t outsiders by choice.

And though “Bones and All,” adapted by Guadagnino and David Kajganich from Camilla DeAngelis’ novel, is about their relationship, it’s more striking as Maren’s coming of age. Particularly in its vivid, unforgettable early scenes, “Bones and All” digs into her dawning awareness of her cravings — who she is, how she got this way, what it will cost her to be herself. There are, no doubt, powerful metaphors here of growing up queer. But the film isn’t a neatly drawn parable. In Maren’s self-discovery there’s something elemental about alienation and self-acceptance — and how devouring another might save you from devouring yourself.

“Bones and All” can be both brutal and beautiful. You have the sense of seeing a movie that in shape and style reminds you of countless others. But, well, cannibalism just has a way of throwing things off balance. The result is something that feels both archetypal and otherworldly. When, in the opening scenes, Maren sneaks out of bed to visit friends having a sleepover, it’s an extremely familiar set-up — right up until Maren’s languorous kiss of another girl’s finger turns into a crunching bite.

Chaos ensues, Maren flees and when she gets home, her father’s rapid response makes it clear this isn’t their first time rushing to uproot. Her father, Frank, is played by André Holland, an actor of such soulful presence I remain befuddled why he’s not in everything. They go from Virginia to Maryland, where, one morning, Maren wakes up to find him gone. On the table are an envelope with some cash, her birth certificate, and a tape recording of Frank recounting her first eating (a babysitter). Maren is 18. She’s never known her mother. And the sense of abandonment is piercing. Seeking her mother, she buys a bus ticket and heads to Ohio.

Power lines and nuclear power plants loom in the frame early in “Bones and All.” On television and the radio, we get snippets of Rudy Giuliani and Ronald Reagan. These are reminders, I think, of power dynamics in the 1980s for all those who lived outside a narrow, heterosexual spectrum.

On a stopover at night, Maren learns there are others like her. A mysterious man (Mark Rylance) beneath a streetlight introduces himself as Sully, and explains he could smell her blocks away. “You can smell lots of things if you know how,” Sully says. Rylance, with a drawl, a feather in his hat and gothic panache, plays one of the creepier movie characters of recent years. Leading her back to a nearby house, he explains the ways of being an Eater. “Whatever you and I got, it’s gotta be fed,” he says. Soon, he’s bent over a body in his underwear, with blood smeared across his face.

In an Indiana grocery store, Maren encounters Lee. Chalamet, reuniting with Guadagnino, is again in fine form. Sporting a mullet, a fedora and an unbuttoned shirt, his charismatic cannibal seems to be channeling James Dean. He certainly catches Maren’s eye, who eagerly joins him in a stolen pick-up truck. Drawing closer to Lee has an added layer of danger. Will he kiss her or swallow her?

His fraught family history ropes in other struggles of young adulthood. “Bones and All” can ramble a little, but Lee and Maren’s companionship together is as sweet as it is inevitably tragic. In a cruel world full of fearsome characters more rapacious than they are — Michael Stulhbarg and David Gordon Green play a pair of particularly ghoulish hicks — they try to forge a love. The movie, overwhelmingly, is in the eyes of Maren. It’s a brilliant breakthrough for Russell, who made a startling impression in 2019’s “Waves.” Her Maren is such a sensitive, curious creature — hungry less for flesh than for affection, acceptance and a home.

Stulhbarg, you might remember, had a pivotal role as the father in “Call Me By Your Name.” His role here couldn’t be any more different. But his words from that earlier film speak to much of “Bones and All.” Both films wrestle with what we inherit from our parents and what we sacrifice for the sake of conformity. “Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once,” he said in “Call Me By Your Name.” “Bones and All,” too, yearns for a free, full-body existence.

“Bones and All,” an MGM release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for strong, bloody and disturbing violent content, language throughout, some sexual content and brief graphic nudity. Running time: 121 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.


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Vatican Swiss Guard slayings back in spotlight with new book

ROME — The mother of a Swiss Guard member accused of committing one of the most sensational crimes in recent Vatican history – fatally shooting his commander and the senior officer’s wife before killing himself — is turning to the United Nations and Pope Francis in hopes of getting some closure nearly a quarter-century after the slayings.

Muguette Baudat was on hand Tuesday as her lawyer, Laura Sgro, a veteran defense attorney in Vatican criminal trials, detailed her efforts to pry information out of the Vatican and access the court file into the May 4, 1998 slayings that are recounted in Sgro’s new book, “Blood in the Vatican.”

“I’ve been waiting for more than 24 years, so I don’t expect anything,” Baudat said at a book launch event. But she added: “The book is very important.”

Within hours of the slayings, the Vatican spokesman announced that Baudat’s 23-year-old son, Cedric Tornay, a noncommissioned Swiss Guard officer, had killed Col. Alois Estermann and Estermann’s Venezuelan-born wife, Gladys Meza Romero, with his service revolver and then turned the gun on himself. The spokesman said a buildup of resentment over a reprimand by Estermann and the denial of a decoration, combined with a ″peculiar″ psychology, led to Tornay’s violent acts.

Nine months later, in February 1999, the Vatican released a 10-page summary of its internal investigation that confirmed its initial assessment. It concluded that Tornay was solely responsible for the murder-suicide but added that his marijuana use and a brain cyst the size of a pigeon’s egg could have impaired his reasoning.

Baudat spent two decades campaigning for more information and hired Sgro in 2019, asking for the Vatican investigation to be reopened. She said her request was not spurred by a belief that the Vatican was responsible, but rather to end the secrecy with which it has always handled the case.

Last year, the Vatican secretary of state intervened personally in the case and asked the Vatican tribunal to pay “particular attention” to Baudat’s request. Sgro was granted access to the court file.

In the book, Sgro details what she found in the file, as well as the conditions imposed on her by the Vatican prosecutor for viewing it: She wasn’t allowed to make copies but could only view the documentation in the tribunal, with two gendarmes standing behind her back monitoring her at all times. She was allowed to take some notes but not too many since she was explicitly barred from copying the text. She had to submit her notes to the prosecutors’ office after each viewing session, which took place over the course of a year.

And what she discovered in reading the court file, she said Tuesday, “confirmed all the doubts that the mother had about an investigation conducted in an absolutely superficial way.”

Sgro noted that at least 20 people were allowed access to the crime scene in the moments after the slayings, including chaplains, monsignors and the Vatican spokesman, none of whom wore protective gear. No fingerprints or blood samples were taken, and no DNA tests performed.

A handwriting analysis of a letter, purportedly from Tornay to his mother and foreshadowing the killings, was done on a photocopy, not the original document. The corpses were moved around the Estermann apartment, as was furniture, according to 38 photographs taken by a Vatican newspaper photographer that were in the court file. Autopsies were performed not in a hospital morgue but in the crypt of a chapel inside the Vatican walls.

“After one hour, Cedric was given up as the guilty one and the investigation was built around this, and this is absolutely the most alarming thing,” Sgro said.

The lawyer alleged that the conditions in which she was forced to work to view the file, as well as the mother’s long fight to find information about her son, constituted human rights violations that should be taken up by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

There was no indication Tuesday whether the U.N. might take up her case, since such complaints must show a consistent pattern of “gross violations” of human rights, such as the policy of apartheid in South Africa.

Sgro said she had little other recourse since the Holy See is not a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore not a party to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where such appeals would normally be heard. The Holy See enjoys observer status at the U.N. and has received criticism from U.N. human rights experts over the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Sgro said she sent a copy of “Blood in the Vatican” to Pope Francis and he responded with a personal letter. His response, she said, gave her hope that the Vatican might be ready to acknowledge that its original investigation was flawed and that Tornay’s legacy might somehow be rehabilitated even if he is confirmed as the killer.

“It’s a small drop after 24 years of silence,” Sgro said. “Let us hope this drop becomes a glass of water, then a lake.”

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Clarence Gilyard, ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Matlock’ actor, dies at 66

Clarence Gilyard Jr., a popular supporting actor whose credits include the blockbuster films “Die Hard” and “Top Gun” and the hit television series “Matlock” and “Walker, Texas Ranger,” has died at age 66

NEW YORK — Clarence Gilyard Jr., a popular supporting actor whose credits include the blockbuster films “Die Hard” and “Top Gun” and the hit television series “Matlock” and “Walker, Texas Ranger,” has died at age 66.

His death was announced this week by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he taught stage and screen acting. Additional details were not immediately available Tuesday.

“Professor Gilyard was a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him at UNLV,” the school’s film chair, Heather Addison, said in a statement. “Whenever we asked him how he was, he would cheerfully declare that he was ‘Blessed!’ But we are truly the ones who were blessed to be his colleagues and students for so many years.”

Gilyard was a Moses Lake, Washington, native. He had a prolific career as an actor, starting in the 1980s with appearances in “Diff’rent Strokes,” ”The Facts of Life” and other shows. He then appeared in two of the biggest movies of the decade: “Top Gun,” in which he played Sundown, a radar intercept officer, and “Die Hard,” when he was featured as a villainous computer maven whose one liners included “You didn’t bring me along for my charming personality.”

In the 1990s, he was on the side of law enforcement in “Matlock,” playing opposite Andy Griffith, and “Walker, Texas Ranger,” which starred Chuck Norris. His other credits include “The Karate Kid: Part II,” a stage production of “Driving Miss Daisy” and an appearance alongside “Die Hard” star Bruce Willis in a commercial for DieHard batteries.

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Review: Slice into the holiday spirit with ‘Violent Night’

The holiday season is upon us and how better to celebrate than watching Santa slip several pool balls into a Christmas stocking, swing them in the air menacingly and see him cave in someone’s face?

Such is “Violent Night,” a film that clearly no one wanted but somehow nicely acts as a chaser to all the sticky sentimentality this time of year. It is billed as an “alt-Christmas action-comedy” and it may be a litmus test of who is your real tribe: If you think watching Santa try to strangle a guy with Christmas lights is funny, this is the film for you.

Directed by Tommy Wirkola, “Violent Night” has taken the season’s naughty or nice dichotomy deeply to heart, offering pounds of gore and wounds that spurt mini-fountains of blood along with tooth-aching sweetness about believing in Santa and the true meaning of Christmas.

It’s easy to initially dismiss it as an “SNL” digital short that got high on its own tinsel but there is a sort of perverse glee to seeing Santa suck on the tip of a candy cane until it is a sharp shard and then plunge it into a bad guy’s neck. Isn’t it time for Kris Kringle as a sociopath?

Few people can balance all these demands as Santa except David Harbour, who specializing in gruff-on-the-outside, sweet-on-the-inside teddy bears. This time, his beard soaked in blood, he must save an ultra-rich family from a murderous group of home invaders with automatic weapons and military training.

On his side: “Christmas magic,” which he reveals multiple times he does not understand and which allows the screenwriters — Pat Casey and Josh Miller — a yuletide-sized logical loophole. They’ve even given Santa an origin story as a centuries-old Viking raider with a fondness for crushing skulls with a hammer. He’d be on the naughty list, naturally.

We initially meet Santa in the present day at an English pub. It’s Christmas Eve and he’s hammered. There are other men dressed as Santas this night, but they’re just pretenders, like “Bad Santa.” He’s the real thing.

Tonight, Santa is worn-out and fed-up. The children these days just demand more and more presents — just grubby consumers. He even calls them junkies. “I forgot why I started doing it in the first place,” he says. “Maybe this is my last year.”

During his rounds, he happens to linger too long at the Lightstone family compound in Connecticut. A ruthless gang has just stormed inside hoping to relieve the family of $300 million and trapping Santa with just his magic bag of presents and a pent-up desire to hurt people.

John Leguizamo, so often the comedy relief in films, here is as heavy as it gets, an anti-Christmas madman who tortures with a nutcracker and gets some of the best over-the-top lines like “Christmas dies tonight” and “Time to kill Santa.” The film soon moves into “Die Hard” territory as terrorists play cat-and-mouse with a good guy inside the building.

Santa connects with one of the hostages — a little girl (Leah Brady, sparkling like an ornament) — who still believes in Santa. “You are more than the presents you bring,” she tells him. And so he proves that Christmas is indeed alive by systematically murdering every single bad guy and girl with a sledgehammer, aided by his new friend’s “Home Alone” boobytrapping skills and all to a soundtrack of Christmas songs by Burl Ives, Bryan Adams and Slade.

This is not a Norman Rockwell vision of Santa, of course. He has a torso full of tattoos and sutures his own wounds with Christmas tree ornament hooks. He vomits, impales baddies in spiky Christmas decorations and uses the sharp parts of a pair of ice skates with surgical precision. Few films have earned their R rating better. All that’s missing is you as long as you think it’s time to add a little blood to Christmas?

“Violent Night,” a Universal Pictures release that opens nationwide in theaters Friday, is rated R for “strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references.” Running time: 112 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.


MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.




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