“The Shape of Water” film review

Absolutely enchanting! Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a beautiful modern fairy tale told through a classical means. From the provocative first scene to the endearing final moments, this film explores the human condition in an innovative way that highlights the spirits of kindness, generosity, and love. In a film that could have so easily played out like many other-worldly science-fiction love stories, this story demonstrates the power of cinematic storytelling full of brilliantly developed characters and excellent direction from Del Toro. Positively gripping. The Shape of Water provides audiences with a fresh perspective on the “monster movie” genre by taking you on a whimsical journey into the belly of a government research facility during the Cold War where you meet characters you love and love to hate along the way. As with many of his other films, Del Toro once again crafts an imaginative experience through the creation of memorable characters grounded by solid writing, direction, and cinematography. It seems like “genre films” are becoming a thing of the past, because so many want to exist in multiple planes; however, for all the elements at its heart, The Shape of Water is a classic monster genre film but breaks new ground.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mostly isolated mute young lady who works in housekeeping at a remote, underground government research facility near Baltimore. With only her starving artist neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) to keep her company at home and her close friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) to watch over and speak for her at work, she leads a rather mundane life but longs for music, adventure, and romance. Taking place during the Cold War in 1962, Elisa’s encountered the strange and questionable over her time in and out of cleaning labs. Her nondescript life will be forever changed when she discovers the lab’s newest secret–a mysterious amphibian-like creature who lives in an aquarium tank. Over the days, Elisa feels compelled to visit the creature as the two of them develop a trusting bond. When the creature’s very life is at stake, Elisa must work quickly to construct a plan for his safe evacuation.

The Shape of Water has one of the most innovative openings to a film in that it juxtaposes a serene, calming yet mesmerizing sequence of underwater shots during the opening title sequence against a rather provocative first scene. Del Toro will successfully have your attention for the entirety of the film. It isn’t often that we get fairy-tale like narration at the beginning of a monster movie, and Del Toro’s choice for the beginning narration was absolutely perfect. It not only provided strategic exposition, but set the tone of the film. What we are about to watch may contain elements of monsters and mysteries, but it is a modern romantic fairy tale. Horror and science-fiction have often been used as conduits for filmmakers to explore the human condition and all its imperfections and growth; so by combining elements from both to create an innovative monster movie, Del Toro provides audiences with a fantastic opportunity to use the film’s diegesis as a mirror to our modern lives. Although the “beauty and the beast” style love story is central to the film, the film also comments on topics such as race, marriage, and class during the 1960s. There is also a side story that alludes to how members of the LGBTQ community were treated in the workplace and within the community. An incredibly comprehensive plot that never loses focus on the main story.

What an excellent cast! Sally Hawkins brings such endearing and powerful subtlety to her mute character. Her commitment to Elisa is so exquisite that you will swear that you can hear her voice through her sign language. Much in the same way we explored interspecies communication in last year’s Arrival, we witness just how the movement of hands and facial expressions know no bounds when establishing relationships with those with whom we cannot verbally communicate. In many ways, this movie is a combination of Beauty and the Beast, TV’s Swamp ThingArrival, and a little Creature from the Black Lagoon. Hawkins’ exceptional performance may very well land her an Oscar nomination, and quite possibly a win. Doug Jones’ creature is a brilliant combination of monster and lover. From the moment you encounter him, you will feel a human-like connection to his character. Like with Hawkins’ Elisa, Jones’ creature exhibits the power of subtlety. That seems to be a common element of this film: subtlety. So often the techniques of the pioneers of cinema are forgotten. Hitchcock proved over and over again that the camera itself can create suspense. Of course, he took many of his techniques from silent cinema where the camera was instrumental in visually communicating so much. Del Toro utilizes this power of the camera to not only visually create emotions but to work through actors to allow subtle powers of character to enhance the experience of this movie.

Beyond our central characters, Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Giles (Richard Jenkins) have mini-movies of their own. And indirectly, their mini-movies have an impact on the larger story; however, these side stories never eclipse the central plot and only serve to bolster the overall experience. Spencer’s character enables audiences to explore marriage in the 1960s and Jenkins’s character provides a platform for discussion regarding how ostracized members of the LGBTQ community were before more modern times. There is also a scene where a classy looking black couple was denied seating at a diner. So many societal themes that can be used as a framework through which to understand the time in which this story takes place, and now the characters can be used to explore modern themes as well. Each and every chiefly supporting player has a significant impact upon the central diegesis of The Shape of Water. Del Toro took special care in integrating every element and making sure each aspect of the story was never just filler or for shock value. Each character, each scene, each camera angle moves the story forward.

The reality of love and relationships juxtaposed against an imaginative backdrop grounded in a literal view of life in the 1960s comprise this world created by Guillermo Del Toro. Whether you enjoy an excellent monster movie or old-fashioned romance, you will enjoy The Shape of Water. The brilliance of this film can be found in how this modern fairy tale is told through classical means. I also enjoyed the references to classic Hollywood movie musicals and dramas that can each be seen in the plot of this film. No image is ever wasted in Del Toro’s film. If there is one negative critique, the second act is a little drawn out and could have been trimmed a little, and some added suspense would have been appreciated in the second act as well.

“The Big Sick” movie review

Organic and relatable. From Amazon Studios and Lionsgate comes Judd Apatow’s The Big Sick directed by Michael Showalter. Despite being billed as a romantic comedy (romcom), it is more like a family drama with comedic moments. What makes the plot of The Big Sick so incredibly relatable is its central focus on two star-cross’d lovers caught between two seemingly incompatible worlds. Beyond featuring two people who fall in love quickly, then realize how there is little chance of a future in which they are together, this story has little in common with Romeo & Juliet. No feuding families or riots here, just two 20-somethings who are trying to make it in this world, and by sheer happenstance fall for each other. However, much like the families from which Romeo and Juliet came, there are two opposing forces at work in this love story. It is clear from the screenplay and cast that all the elements are at work to generate a response from the audiences that would make this an endearing classic in the vein of Terms of Endearment. The relatability and organicness of this film comes from the fact that the entire cast–not just the lead characters–are every-day 21st century Americans who are facing the real mountains and pitfalls of romance, acceptance, honesty, and devotion.

The Big Sick tells the true-life story of the courtship between Pakistani-American Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Chicago native Emily (Zoe Kazan). Kumail is a stand-up comic–or rather–he is desperately trying to be. He’s good enough for a small venue but he dreams of performing at the Montreal Comedy Festival. Emily is a graduate student at the University of Chicago studying psychology. Between family backgrounds and professional interests, the two of them could not be more different. When Kumail and Emily fall in love with each other, everything seems to be going so incredibly well over the next few months; but when Emily learns that Kumail cannot take the next step from dating to engagement because of his Pakistani family’s traditions regarding arranged marriage to a Pakistani girl, their relationship falls apart. As circumstance would have it, Emily must be placed under a medically-induced coma in order to stabilize after her health takes an acute turn downward. With Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) in town, Kumail must deal with his ex-girlfriend’s health condition and the fact that her her parents despise Kumail after he led their daughter on. Realizing that he cannot allow his family to determine his fate, Kumail is determined to win over Emilys parents and show Emily that he can be who she needs him to be.

What sets The Big Sick apart from a typical par-for-the-course romcom is the dimension and depth of the plot and characters. Ordinarily, a romcom contains a lighthearted story that requires little critical thinking and analysis because it is meant to be simply entertaining with a little heart along the way. Great for date nights and girls nights. Often times, in a traditionally structures romcom, the female character is the most interesting with the rest of the cast playing a lesser role. However, in this film, the most interesting character is the male love interest. Furthermore, the character chemistry and plot are greatly helped by Kumail and Emily being interesting respectively. The underdog trope is often applied to romcoms, and it certainly played a role in this film. In addition to the character and plot development on screen, the audience also goes through some soul-searching. Incidentally, the movie opens the door of discussion regarding the predisposition to how Pakistani and Americans view marriage and dating. Just like past films that commentated on marriage or dating between the black and white communities–which is what was needed in the not so distant past–this film raises awareness regarding marriage and dating as it relates to middle-eastern and American relationships. A timeless plot told through a contemporary setting.

 

“A Dog’s Purpose” movie review

adogspurposeYou’re going to need tissues! Ever wonder what your dog was thinking? You’ll find out in Universal, Amblin Entertainment, and Walden Media’s glorified Hallmark movie that follows the soul of a loving dog. As such, A Dog’s Purpose is one of those films that is so simple yet emotionally touching. Based on the novel written by W. Bruce Cameron, this movie will tug at even the toughest of hearts. Although the film does not follow a traditional diegetic arc, three-act structure, and is filled with constant verbal exposition in the form of a voiceover, it is still enjoyable and works as a great date movie. No critical thinking required. Still, the author’s tagline “a novel for humans” can be seen in the social commentary on primarily human relationship dynamics followed by the relationship between a pet and his or her owner. Filled with moments of laughter and tears, A Dog’s Purpose is a film that everyone who either has or has ever had a dog should see. If you’re a cat person like me, then there isn’t much here for you–sorry. However, I was moved to tears during a scene in which the focus was on a human romantic relationship getting rekindled. You will never look at your dog the same way again and will likely go home and hug him or her just as a friend of mine did after she screened the film with me.

A Dog’s Purpose is about a dog who discovers the purpose for his existence as he is reincarnated into different dogs over the course of his life. Finding himself part of different families–or as he likes to refer to them–as packs, Bailey does his best to affect humans by influencing their respective needs to laugh and love.

Despite the rather two dimensional nature of A Dog’s Purpose, there is a deeper theme within the mostly shallow story if you examine the film closely enough. Not shallow in that there lacks emotional appeal or enjoyment, but shallow in that there is very little that is complex and dynamic in the narrative. Although Bailey spends most of his on screen life with Ethan (K.J. Apa), Bailey’s soul finds itself in other dogs who are part of their own respective family. Doing a close reading of the film reveals that each family unit represents a different kind of relationship dynamic or lack thereof. I won’t spoil it by describing each type of relationship, but knowing that there is social commentary on human and pet relationships could likely increase the appeal and enjoyment of the film for those who prefer movies with a more cerebral plot. Interestingly, the movie includes families/human relationships that represent a good cross-section of the types of relationship dynamics that exist in our lives.

For those who typically enjoy Hallmark movies, then you’ll definitely enjoy this one. Last January we had glorified Lifetime movies and this year it must be Hallmark’s turn. As I have not read the novel, I cannot comment on differences between the book and the film adaptation.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead