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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Like A Bolt Out Of The Blue

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While Marvel Studios has been, on average, going strong in the feature film market, television is another matter – Agents of SHIELD has become little more than The Marvel Easter Egg Hunt, and the Netflix shows amount to an R-rated version of the former. Agent Carter was fabulous, but as it was cancelled in its second season, we will likely never know its full potential. That being said, Marvel’s latest venture, Inhumans, holds great potential for both their life on the air and the future of television.

On the hidden lunar kingdom of Attilan, the race of Inhumans have made their home, ruled peacefully by a watchful king, Black Bolt (Anson Mount, Hell on Wheels), and loving Queen, Medusa (Serinda Swan, TRON: Legacy). However, insurrection becomes the order of the day when Black Bolt’s jealous brother, Maximus (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones), leads a coup for the throne. With the aid of Princess Crystal (Isabelle Cornish, Australia Day) and her teleporting giant dog, Lockjaw (work with me), they escape to Hawaii, where they find themselves ill-equipped to Earth’s limitations, all while being hunted by the illegitimate occupant of their throne.

Even though it began as a feature film — a release date, an attached star (Groot himself, Vin Diesel, as Black Bolt) and everything — Inhumans works well as a series thus far, with a very early 90’s feel to it, reminiscent of the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but its first two episodes move slowly as a feature, something that will surely flow better on the small screen in installments. Whether this is a result of padding a feature film script or standard operating procedure at ABC (the answer is yes), it’s a minor gripe compared to its two big advantages.

Number one is its cast, led by Anson Mount as Black Bolt — to play a literal strong, silent type could be suicide for an actor, but Mount’s characterization of Bolt is resilient, yet charming — at least, for a character whose voice can level cities. In truth, he isn’t entirely silent — Mount, the showrunners and several ASL experts concocted a sign language that he uses to communicate, something not even thought of in the comics. I look forward to seeing the King of Attilan learning actual ASL, if for nothing more than awareness’ sake! Medusa, on the other, a source of fear for comic devotees due to visual effects seen in the trailers, needn’t worry about the effects, nor Serinda Swan’s portrayal of the Attilanian Queen. She’s not a standout performer just yet in the series — not all shows start off on the best foot — but the romance between her and Black Bolt is palpable; beautiful, even. By the end, you’ll be a shipper. A surprising addition to the cast is Ken Leung (Keeping The Faith) as the royal visionary, Karnak (“Zim-Zallah-Bim,” Johnny Carson) — I knew he was cast, but his powers are impressive and, in this fan’s eyes, may tie into the MCU at large sooner than we think. I mean, is it any coincidence that his powers bear a design similar to spells in the Mystic Arts (see also: Doctor Strange)? We shall see.

Number two is the technical merits behind the show — famously billed as the first show filmed with IMAX cameras and showing only in IMAX theaters ahead of its debut on ABC, this is the most polished and gorgeous show I’ve seen produced by network television! Visual effects, particularly Lockjaw himself, shine with no trace of green screen or cut corners — are you watching, Once Upon A Time? — and in an IMAX theater, sound is bounding — every crash, every stab and every slam of a hoof is amplified with gusto in IMAX Sound. Bravo; can we have more network shows in IMAX?

Yes, the show is bogged down with some gripes — everyone above the pay grade of an extra has to be pretty as per ABC tradition — even people in the lower caste of Attilan are pretty, which kind of defeats the purpose, story wise. ABC, please hire actors with less than perfect teeth, facial deformities and Autism in all your roles with no corrections. Call yourself inclusive, eh? Minor gripes include Isabelle Cornish, a bit of a teenage weak link thus far as Crystal, but I hope I’ll be proven wrong as I was with Agents of SHIELD‘s FitzSimmons, and Iwan Rheon is a bit dry as Maximus, but I’ve never seen his work on Game of Thrones, or any episodes of the aforementioned, but again, let’s let these actors find their groove in the MCU.

Thus far, Inhumans is imperfect, but few shows are right out of the gate. Heck, Star Trek: The Next Generation took three seasons to kick it into gear, and with any luck, Marvel’s Royal Family will triumph before its eight episode limit! To your health, my King & Queen!

Rating: 3/5