Tale As Old As Time

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SOME SPOILERS AHEAD

At the core of the human condition, love is something we truly cannot do without; it guides us in relationships of all kinds and permeates our popular culture — movies, books, music and video games all guided by love, the one thing human beings crave the most. Without love, we feel lonely and powerless, and it is such a theme that guides one of last year’s greatest motion pictures, The Shape of Water.

In part the brainchild of legendary director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), we are quickly introduced to Baltimore, Maryland in the early years of the Cold War, and with it, the life of Eliza Esposito (Sally Hawkins, Made In Dagenham), a mute woman whose friends she can count on one hand — her co-tenant, Giles (Richard Jenkins, The Cabin in the Woods) and her supervisor at work, Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures). Her job entails janitorial work at a government facility, but one day, a creature known only as “The Asset” (Doug Jones, Hellboy II: The Golden Army) is brought in for, in the loosest sense of the word, examination, by a corrupt federal official (Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road). On another day, The Asset’s containment area is left unattended, and contact is made between him and Eliza. Neither able to speak as humans do, they become fast friends, but as the proverbial noose begins to tighten on The Asset’s life, Eliza resolves to help him escape — however, there is far more at play than saving the life of a friend.

Del Toro is one of Hollywood’s most active creative minds — the man has a full 18 (?!) projects in development. His dream project is said to be a new take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so one would not be too wrong in construing this as his Creature from the Black Lagoon, but I prefer to see it as equal parts Beauty and the Beast and Children of a Lesser God. Eliza and The Asset, for instance, are two rejects of a purportedly perfect world, who find each other under extraordinary circumstances and become friends where others would mock or scream, respectively, and this is also thanks to Ms. Hawkins and Mr. Jones, who perform with no discernible dialogue between each other and make the blossoming romance between them believable — not since WALL•E has there been such a palpable emotion between two characters who have little to say!

Mr. Shannon is not in as fine a form — he brings a little too much of his General Zod self from Man of Steel to this film; one with less knowledge of movies may assume he walked straight from that film’s set to this one, and he’s written far too vulgarly for my taste. To clarify, I didn’t expect him to be nice in any way, but I didn’t go to see him twirl his mustache so openly — also, I really never wanted to see him naked at any point in a movie. This movie does that and more… yiuch. My only other complaint about the film is in its “rah-rah, kill the red menace” portrayal of military characters — one of them even defiantly says “see these stars on my shoulder?”. I’m sure there were people like that in the ranks back then, but certainly not all were that way. It borders on Kubrickian parody, and in our day and age when servicemen and servicewomen are suffering in a litany of ways (not just PTSD), a little more respect would have been nice.

The last of the supporting players, Ms. Spencer and Mr. Jenkins, are in better form than I’ve ever seen them. Spencer is, yet again, playing hired help, but with a certain vigor and brightness to it that isn’t seen much anymore in such roles (but never stooping to caricature), and her purpose expands when she assists in the escape of The Asset. Jenkins, whom I normally regard as the most milquetoast Oscar nominee in history, is charming and kindly as Giles, an out-of-work painter with as few friends as Eliza (maybe less) and with little purpose to fulfill him until the rescue needs to take place.

Returning from Del Toro’s Crimson Peak is Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen, who brings a style of camera work that aptly resembles American films made in the Cold War era, bringing to mind Rear Window and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming! and evoking the feel of an America that no longer exists. A newcomer to Del Toro’s fold, renowned composer Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel) brings an ethereal sound akin to his work on Philomena but with all the strength and gravitas of his work on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

Let’s not mince words, I was pushing for All The Money In The World to receive a Best Picture nomination, and I still regard it as the best of 2017’s offerings, but The Shape of Water proves a beautiful movie in a year that also gave us Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. Despite a few minor handicaps along the way, this is still a warm sight to behold and should be seen before it leaves theaters.

Rating: 4/5

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Monster Dearest

The red smoke from those flares bear semblance to my wrists post-film.

I have never been insulted by a film’s stupidity until now. This decade’s edition of Godzilla is soulless and lost, wasting cast and crew over the course of two hours and three minutes.

In this reviewer’s eyes, the fault lies on the shoulders of writer Max Borenstein (emphasis on “Bore”), whose asinine talents would be better put to use writing the imminent My Little Pony movie. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the film is about, due to the fact that Borenstein’s script bears a constantly moving plot that never stops to think of what is being said and/or done. Moreover, it’s riddled with tired, cringe-worthy clichés and glazes over plot holes of various sizes. The kingpin offense is how the film is secretly a sequel (you read that correctly) to the 1954 original — a most unworthy one that rides the tail of its predecessor by bearing its same name. It’s as if Borenstein watched Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland for inspiration.

Further, I seem to remember that Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) wrote an (obviously) unused draft of the film which portrayed the film’s titular monster as he was shown in the 1954 original — a living, terrifying metaphor for the dangers of the nuclear age. Specifically, Darabont sought not to render him as a protector of humanity, which is the way he was in the film’s sequels — in his words, “he became Clifford the Big Red Dog.” Guess what Godzilla is in the finished film.

Unlike Borenstein’s writing, Edwards means well in his direction — Make no mistake, the film is an eye-and-ear candy binge, particularly on an IMAX 3D screen. From visuals alone, Edwards’ future as a director looks bright, but he deserves a better script for his freshman outing. Speaking of, the cast present in this film is incredible, but again, they suffer from an utterly destitute script that renders their talents either flat or hysterical.

There’s little to appreciate, let alone love, in this mess of a monster movie, save for the visuals and sounds brought to the film by Gareth Edwards. Here’s hoping Borenstein doesn’t get welcomed back for Edwards’ upcoming Star Wars spinoff.

Rating: 0.5/5