Like H.P. Lovecraft, whose At the Mountains of Madness hes long attempted to bring to the screen, Guillermo del Toro loves scary, slimy monstersthe sort that slither across dank floors and lurk in inky shadows. In addition to that creature-feature fandom, however, he boasts the eye of a sly social critic and the heart of a romantic, and thats never been more apparent than in The Shape of Water, the Hellboy and Pans Labyrinth auteurs entrancing fairy tale about a mute woman and a fish man whose interspecies love crosses all barriers.
Led by a phenomenal Sally Hawkins, its a fantasy cast in a familiar del Toro mold: all slick subterranean locales, affectionate classic cinema shout-outs, deftly detailed protagonists, and fiends of a decidedly human varietyand one that functions as a poignant parable about the ugliness of discrimination, and the transcendent beauty and power of otherness.
As del Toros camera wends its way through an apartment seemingly located at the bottom of the ocean, Richard Jenkins narration about love and loss, and about a princesscue the image of a slumbering female suspended in water above a couchsets the films storybook-ish tone. The would-be royal heroine in question is Elisa Esposito (Hawkins), a vocally impaired woman who lives in that previously seen abode, which is actually dry and situated directly above a movie theater in 1960s Baltimore. Across the hall is her dear friend Giles (Jenkins), an artist struggling to reignite his alcohol-derailed career by drawing Jell-O advertisements, and whose appetite for the pies at local franchise restaurant Dixie Dougs is mainly due to his fondness for the young man (Morgan Kelly) working the counter. Able to communicate through sign language, Elisa and Giles are a pair of outcastshe stuck in the closet and residing amongst cats, and she equally alone, her life defined by a daily routine that includes boiling eggs and setting a timer before getting into a bath for a brief bit of self-pleasure.
Elisas partiality to the tub, as well as her mysterious gill-like neck scars (not to mention the fact that she was an orphan found as an infant along a riverbank), are early indications that shes inherently connected to the water. Thus, she finds herself naturally drawn to the mysterious new asset that arrives at the secret research facility where she works alongside chatty best friend Zelda (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer) as a cleaning lady. Encased in a tank, that subject is a mythological fish man (the always remarkable Doug Jones) who resembles Hellboys Abe Sapien (also played by Jones) but cannot speak and is viewed by his government captors as the key to figuring out how to breathe in space. Hes a vital pawn in the ever-escalating Space Race against the Russians, and for the man who dragged him from the Amazon to Maryland, Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon), hes a primitive specimenviewed as a God by nativesto be abused with a cattle prod, vivisected, and then thrown away.
Elisa soon develops a kindred bond with this merman, and her desire to protect him from harm is shared by Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Soviet spy who objects to his communist bosses desire to have the creature stolen or killed. The Shape of Water is consequently overflowing with pariahs, many of whom are either actively (Giles, Hoffstetler) or passively (Elisa) suppressing their true identitiesor, in the case of Zelda, are forced to behave submissively while suffering racist barbs. Anything unique finds itself in the crosshairs in del Toros tale, such that Elisa is also preyed upon sexually by Strickland, a military brute who prefers that his cheery domestic wife stay silent while hes ramrodding her in bed, and whocourtesy of losing two fingers to the merman, and having them unsuccessfully reattachedis a beast whose rancid, rotten nature is plain for all to see.
Shannon is perfectly cast as the bigoted Strickland, almost to a fault; after so many similar parts, theres little surprise to his performance, to the point that one patiently waits for him to begin quoting from the Bible. An overarching air of predictability, in fact, is what keeps The Shape of Water from achieving true greatness, as del Toro telegraphs his materials trajectory at the outset and then hits virtually every expected dramatic beat along the way. At times, one craves a bit more volatility; an instance or two of out-of-the-blue insanity, to upend the narratives coasting-along momentum, even though the director crafts each individual sequence with an attention to detailregarding setting, character, and moodthats enchanting.
There is one such astonishing moment: a glitzy 1930s-style black-and-white musical reverie featuring Elisa and the merman dancing arm-in-arm that, like the classic movies Giles watches on TVincluding a The Little Colonel clip featuring another mismatched but harmonious pair, Bill Bojangles Robinson and Shirley Templeexpresses The Shape of Waters old-Hollywood amour. Del Toros fondness for yesteryears cinema permeates the entire film, felt in his painstaking design of interior and exterior spaces and in his sincere, irony-free sentimentality. Elisa and the mermans relationship plays out not as a sardonic joke or as a soggy allegory but, rather, as a sweet affair between kindred souls (bonded by animal magnetism), and orbited by other individual tales of prejudice and persecution that are equally imbued with empathy for the outsiders plight.
The Shape of Water is another visual del Toro feast, its every damp locale colored in shades of wet, moldy green (save for evil Stricklands sunshiny home), and its humor lively, especially in a gag involving Stricklands brand-new Cadillac.
Even better than its offhand wittiness, its aesthetic splendor or its shrewd social commentary, however, is its headliner. Ever since her breakthrough big-screen role in Mike Leighs 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky, the England-born Hawkins has been one of international cinemas most distinctive leads, and here, deprived of speech, she delivers a turn of guileless nuance and heartwarming expressiveness. With a twinkle in her eye that suggests shes quietly assessing everything around her, and a ferocious determination that manifests itself during a passionate outburst against Giles, Hawkins never feels like the twee device that Elisa might, in worse hands, have turned out to be; on the contrary, she comes across as both an everywoman firmly grounded in reality and a regal maiden transported from some old-school Disney fable. Shes magic.
Spike Lee Is at His Searing Best With BlacKkKlansman
“Spike Lee’s white-hot genre mash-up BlacKkKlansman initiates its course in the early 1970s. It’s a time “marked by the spread of integration and miscegenation,” according to an unnamed race theorist in the opening sequence (he’s played with palpable animosity by Alec Baldwin). In Colorado Springs, he continues, a sect of “true, white Americans” sense a movement brewing among black “radicals” and Jews who they feel have “pressured their great way of life.” The proto-MAGA sentiment is but a backdrop, one of many ways Lee’s latest joint teases out the resonances between then and now. The parallels aren’t simply the work of a fabulist, though; the playfully urgent film is inspired by real events—as Lee styles it, “some fo’ real, fo’ real shit”.
Elsewhere in Colorado Springs, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is at a crossroads. The first black officer on the Colorado Springs Police Force, he’s overcome the department’s internal racism to attain the rank of a detective, but an assignment has left him with mixed allegiances, torn between his work and the world. It’s not until he comes across an ad in the paper from the Ku Klux Klan that it all clicks—call them, and pretend to be white.
With a jazzman’s knack for grandiosity, one that’s more Charlie Parker bebop than Miles Davis cool, Lee understands tone better than most filmmakers of his generation. Over his career, he has found ways to bring sound and color into symmetry as well as discord, and to derive power from both. He’s got an appetite for climax……………..”
Movie Review: Christopher Robin Revives Winnie the Pooh
“It’s been a banner summer for crying. Some of the tears came from movies you’d expect, like one in which an eighth-grade girl struggles with her self-esteem. Other times, they were sneak-attack snivels, like when a movie-musical sequel based on the songs of ABBA triggered four different tear-jerking moments, one of which had me stifling an audible shriek-sob.
Anyone who saw the trailer for Disney’s new Christopher Robin film, which gives Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood the Paddington treatment, probably expected to have their heart strings plucked a bit. This movie gives them a full-blast bluegrass strum.
That’s one willy, nilly, silly, old, emotionally devastating bear.
Maybe its because were all feeling a bit brittle lately. There are Heffalumps and Woozles at every terrifying turn in todays world. We could use an old friend to help fight them off and feel safe again.
Christopher Robin is written by Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), and Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip), directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), and of course, inspired by the characters of A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard. Its a veritable Avengers of emotional storytelling. Together, they prove that feelings are still movies most valuable special effect. (Though the special effects used to animate these characters is pretty darned impressive, too.)
When we meet up with our old friends, the animals are gathered for a farewell party for young Christopher Robin, who will soon be going off to boarding school. A clever narrative device then makes…………..”
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Review!
I was not among those begging for a followup to the wildly successful 2008 Abba musical. But after just a few scenes, all I could say was: Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
“Benny Andersson and Bjrn Ulvaeus of Abba must over the years have considered what they would do if they were asked to sign off on a second iteration of what can only be called the Mamma Mia! movie franchise which first appeared in 2008. Perhaps they thought that, in the words of the song: If I had to do the same again, I would my friend, because quite frankly its a licence to print money.
That first film made me break out in a combination of hives and bubonic plague. And to be honest, this new one does have the original films plotless melange of feelgoodery, an exotically amorphous jellyfish of a film which is periodically zapped with the million-volt shock of a zingingly brilliant Abba tune.
But something in the sheer relentless silliness and uncompromising ridiculousness of this, combined with a new flavour of self-aware comedy, made me smile in spite of myself: there are funny, campy performances from Cher, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters and also Alexa Davies as Walterss younger self, and some very good lines. People are always running absurdly around a Greek island waving their arms in the air like they just dont care and its always sunny, except when gasp! theres a storm and plans for the relaunch of a tourist hotel are briefly and unimportantly derailed. This film reminded me weirdly in its staging of Kenneth Branaghs 90s film version of Much Ado About Nothing, with its golden southern European hues and beaming cast. Theres the same bizarre plot convolutions and holiday-romance departure from reality.
After the first film, I noted that the song Fernando was not included and suggested that next time they should include a hearing-impaired character of that name and someone desperately worried should bang a particular percussion instrument and ask of Fernando a certain impassioned question. In fact, Cher sings Fernando now, and addresses it to a bearded Andy………”
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