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The Shape of Water: A Visually Stunning Fairy Tale About the Beauty of Otherness



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.

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New Movie Reviews

They Shall Not Grow Old review – a breathtaking journey into the trenches



Written by Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

“There’s a familiar mantra that computers have somehow taken the humanity out of cinema. In an age when it’s possible to conjure spectacular action from digital effects, many modern movies have developed a sense of weightlessness – the inconsequentiality of artifice. Along with Avatar director James Cameron, New Zealand film-maker Peter Jackson has been at the forefront of the digital revolution, with his twin Tolkien trilogies (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) pushing the boundaries of computer-generated entertainment.

Yet with his latest project, a revivification of the Imperial War Museum’s archive of first world war footage, Jackson has done something quite remarkable: using 21st-century technology to put the humanity back into old movie stock. The result is utterly breathtaking.

Commissioned for the Armistice centenary by IWM and 14-18 NOW in association with the BBC, They Shall Not Grow Old is not a document of the world at war. Rather, it is an arresting snapshot of the lives of British soldiers who went to fight in Europe, many of them having lied about their tender ages to enlist. There are no historians, narrators or political commentators to guide us; the voices we hear are those of veterans, many gathered by the BBC during the making of its 1964 documentary series The Great War.

As we watch a line of soldiers marching through mud towards the front, something extraordinary happens. The film seems almost miraculously to change from silent black-and-white footage to colour film with sound, as though 100 years of film history had been suddenly telescoped into a single moment. Stepping through the looking glass, we find ourselves right there in the trenches, surrounded by young men whose faces are as close and clear as those of people we would pass in the street. I’ve often argued that cinema is a time machine, but rarely has that seemed so true………………………………………………”

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What critics thought of ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

Charmaine Blake



Image: Jaap Buitendijk / warner bros.

“The real driving force behind Crimes of Grindelwald seems to be a burning desire to set up a sequel. If only it had gone to the trouble of making me want to see one.”

Early reviews of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald reveal critics, like Mashable‘s Angie Han, are less than spellbound by the second part of the planned five film franchise.

The Harry Potter spinoff marks the tenth cinematic visit to J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World; and while trips to Hogwarts are always welcome, the monstrous flick isn’t leaving anyone wanting more. According to critics, the starring performances of Eddie Redmayne and Johnny Depp both fall flat, while the fan service remains thin and unimaginative.

In theaters November 16, Crimes of Grindelwald will need to dazzle fans better than it wowed critics to keep momentum up. If not, the beastly flick could meet a grisly end.

Check out critics’ takes on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald below.

Crimes of Grindelwald is a little too focused on its own long game

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

This Fantastic Beasts film is as watchable and entertaining as expected and it’s an attractive Christmas event, but some of the wonder, novelty and sheer narrative rush of the first film has been mislaid in favour of a more diffuse plot focus, spread out among a bigger ensemble cast. There’s also a more self-conscious, effortful laying down of foundations for a big mythic franchise with apocalyptic battles still way off below the horizon.

Andrew Barker, Variety:

Unfortunately, even the most meticulous world-building is only half the journey; you still have to populate that world with real characters and compelling stories, and it’s that second half of the equation that comes up missing in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” The noisiest, most rhythmless, and least coherent entry in the Wizarding World saga since Alfonso Cuarón first gave the franchise its sea legs in 2004, “Grindelwald” feels less like “The Hobbit” than a trawl through the appendixes of “The Silmarillion” — a confusing jumble of new characters and eye-crossing marginalia. Most of the surface pleasures of filmic Potterdom (the chiaroscuro tones, the overqualified character actors, the superb costuming, James Newton Howard’s warmly enveloping score) have survived intact, but real magic is in short supply.

Eddie Redmayne’s Newt is still no Harry

Eric Francisco, Inverse:

Two movies in, I don’t know what Newt wants besides becoming the Wizarding World’s Steve Irwin. That goal involves neither Grindelwald nor Dumbledore, and, even as a reluctant protagonist, I fail to see any reason why Newt is qualified to lead this story. Things only happen to Newt. Nothing happens because of him. This was also Harry Potter’s problem, but at least Potter’s “Chosen One” schtick had legs to get him through seven books and eight movies. Newt doesn’t even have that, which makes the prospect of another Fantastic Beasts sound less exciting and more like a threat against the Muggle world……………………………..”

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Homecoming starring Julia Roberts – Review



“As Amazon’s new thriller Homecoming unfolds, it becomes more and more clear that its lofty ambitions are both a curse and a blessing.

The series, which stars Julia Robertsis built like a puzzle box, weaving a story between the past and the present that often threatens to fall apart under its own weight. Its tropes are well-worn, and its narrative doesn’t go anywhere unexpected.

And yet all these elements miraculously coalesce into a show that is still tremendously emotionally affecting. Ultimately, Homecoming has too many strengths — and is a story too strikingly told — for its flaws to find real purchase.

The title of the series refers to the treatment facility where Roberts’s character, a novice psychologist named Heidi Bergman, works to help transition military veterans back into civilian life — at least in flashbacks. In the present timeline, a few years later, she’s waitressing. When Shea Whigham’s Thomas Carrasco, a Defense Department auditor, comes calling with some questions about her former employer, her new life starts to fragment.”

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