FlixChatter Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

Once in a blue moon I fell in love for a film just from the trailer. It happened with The Shape of Water sometime last Fall, but it took a few months before I finally saw it. Forbidden love stories are my thing, but this isn’t just a typical star-crossed lovers. Guillermo del Toro created a romance unlike any other… and like Elisa with the Amphibian Man, I was smitten by this film.

I LOVE the fact that I saw Sally Hawkins in two movies in the span of a month. As fellow Jane Austen fans know, she was Anne Elliot in BBC’s Persuasion, a story that’s dear to my heart. I’ve been a fan of hers since and she’s perfectly cast here. It’s a bold role and rather fearless performance I must say, quite a departure from the roles she’s done in the past. The mute Elisa is the beating heart of the film…

When he looks at me, he doesn’t see me as incomplete.
He sees me as I am.”

… well isn’t that how we all want to be seen?

It’s the stuff fairy tales are made of. Elisa was living a mundane, lonely life as a janitor at a research facility… until one day she meets someone that changes her life forever. The sea creature was more than just an ‘asset’ the way the top secret government facility sees it… he was her everything. Del Toro captured this heart-wrenching love story so beautifully… it’s emotional, thrilling, funny, suspenseful… everything one would want in a period romance, and then some. Yes it has some disturbing and violent moments that warrants its R rating. I remember how some scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth was so shocking. This one isn’t quite so brutal but it does have its dark, scary moments, yet its beauty is spectacularly breathtaking. There’s such a dreamy quality to the whole production, and there’s something so organic and lush, it’s as if you could touch and smell the universe it’s set in.

Just like any good fairy tale, there’s also a freakish monster of a villain. No, not the sea creature, the monster in this film is the one who wants to tear Elisa away from the love of her life. Michael Shannon has played a lot of menacing characters, and he’s never more revolting here as Strictland. He’s the government official tasked to deliver the ‘asset’ to a high ranking general, as the creature is deemed advantageous to the US during the 60s Space Race. He’s so devilishly vile and creepy he makes your skin crawl.

The film’s visual effects are enthralling, but so are the supporting characters. I always LOVE seeing Octavia Spencer on screen, she elevates every scene she’s in and she’s delightful as Elisa’s sympathetic friend. Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg are two terrific character actors and they both provide memorable performances here as Elisa’s neighbor and lab scientist. I have to give props to Doug Jones who played the Amphibian Man for bringing the character to life.

I recall listening to an NPR interview of Del Toro who said he spent three years and his own money to design the creature. ‘I wasn’t designing a monster, I was designing a leading man.’ That really hit me and that’s perhaps what made this story worked. The filmmaker created a character we could relate with despite where he came from and what he looked like. It’s a message of tolerance tailored for the time we live in with the whole migrant, refugee crisis, but at the same it wasn’t on the nose or preachy. The terrific script makes the 2-hour plus running time feels like a breeze, kudos for Del Toro and his co-writer Vanessa Taylor.

Now, it’s not a perfect film. Strictland felt a bit like a caricature as there’s a lack of background about his character and Shanon’s evil-ness is borderline over-the-top at times. I also wonder some things about the creature that doesn’t seem to add up (spoiler alert – highlight to read: he’s a powerful being (even considered a god where he came from) and could heal himself & humans from even being fatally shot, yet why is he powerless when he was chained in the lab?). But none of those bothered me much, nor did it take away from the plenty of stuff that did work. I love the humorous (the one with the cat is hysterical!) and playful moments in Del Toro’s homage to classic movies. The scene of Elisa and her neighbor watched a musical and they began tapping their feet together is one of those sweet movie moments I’d watch over and over. There’s also a gorgeous musical segment that’s unabashedly sweet and romantic.

In the end, it’s films that I connect with emotionally that I love and remember the most. As a fan of classical music, I also adore Alexandre Desplat‘s ethereal score that adds so much to the film. It’s a masterpiece bear revisiting time and time again. I’m glad I saw this on the big screen before year’s end. It’s the last film I saw in 2017… what a way to end the year!

P.S. Just hours before this review’s posted, the Oscar nominations are announced, which you can check out on my friend Paul’s blog here. Keith also posted his Oscar commentary here. Thrilled to see Del Toro, Taylor, Hawkins, Jenkins and Spencer all got nominated.


Have you seen The Shape of Water? Well, I’d love to hear what YOU think!

Everyone’s a Critic: Two Twin-Cities natives review ‘A Serious Man’

Happy Monday, everybody! In this special edition of Everyone’s a Critic, I thought it’d be fun to have a couple of my Minnesota friends to offer their (slightly different) views on a movie that happens to be filmed in our neck of the woods. This is the first movie set in Minnesota from the Coen brothers since Fargo over a decade ago. I haven’t seen it but I’m definitely intrigued to check it out just to see the familiar places I’ve been to in Minnesota, i.e. the Embers restaurant shown in the movie was a regular hangout place for my friends and I in my college years.

Special thanks to Becky and Leslie for their contribution!

Leslie Thomson

So for the last few years I’ve made it my mission to see the best picture nominees before the Academy Award’s big night. And mission it was this year with the Academy changing the number of nominees from 5 to 10 movies. Not having seen any of the movies before the announcements, it was a scramble. Unfortunately I only made 8 of the 10, missing out on Up (should be an easy one to watch) and Precious (expecting a very hard one to watch and I admit I’ve been reticent to see it, but eventually I will).

Having seen 8 of the movies, I was asked my opinion of A Serious Man. With a large part of the production being filmed here in my home state I was obviously interested in seeing it. Friends were approached by one of the film scouts to look at the interior of their house for that perfect 60’s décor but they lost out to neighbors up the street. But we were given day by day descriptions of the numerous trucks, powerful arc lights illuminating their neighborhood at the crack of dawn and the constant parade of cars cruising by to see what all the activity was about.

 

Joel & Ethan Cohen

 

I’ve liked many of the Coen Brothers’ movies, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski (my mother’s favorite), O Brother Where Art Thou (my favorite) and No Country for Old Men. So of course as with their other movies, I expected a slightly twisted, quirky movie populated with slightly twisted, quirky characters. Well A Serious Man is all that. But I was bemused – missing – something. I watched the numerous scenes of a middle class, Midwestern Jewish family  moving through their life of Hebrew school, bar mitzvah, running from the school brute (whom I kept thinking of as a golem), a failing marriage, a nude neighbor, a rude neighbor, car accidents, rambling rabbis young and old, bickering siblings, etc, etc, etc. Was there more to this movie that I, as a goy, was missing? I don’t know. All I know was that my facial expression throughout the movie mimicked that of Larry Gopnick – slight head tilt, furrowed brow and an uncomprehending stare all until the final scene which snapped to black. Huh?

 

Michael Stuhlbarg
Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik

 


Becky Kurk
(Prairiegirl)
I liked this movie simply because it was so nostalgic for me. It’s also amusing, in the Coen Bros kind of way, with enough laugh-out-loud moments to satisfy the comedy junkie in me. It is set in 1967 and was filmed entirely in and around the Twin Cities, mostly in Bloomington, a second-tier southern suburb. I grew up in Roseville, a second tier northern suburb. (The Coen Bros grew up during the 60s too, in St. Louis Park, a western suburb of Minneapolis.) The 60s sets – interior and ex, the clothes and the music were so faithfully recreated I thought I had gone back in time, and it brought back a lot of memories. One of the most surprisingly delightful scenes (for me) was an exterior shot of a Red Owl grocery store (the precursor to Super Valu), with it’s distinct logo. I remember going to shop there with my mom a hundred times when I was a girl.

After a Jewish college professor’s (Larry Gopnik, played wonderfully by Michael Stuhlbarg, a 2009 Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor) wife asks him for a divorce, his life starts to come apart, and his search for “meaning” leads him on many paths. One of many laugh-out-loud scenes include a loose neighbor woman who indulges with him in the same recreational drug his young son smokes right before his bar mitzvah. Combined with his brother’s bizarre troubles, their Jewish traditions (of which I am not familiar with at all, but most of the time, you don’t need to be Jewish to see the humor involved), his kids (Larry has two teenage children, a 16-year-old girl, thoroughly embarrassed by her parents and obsessed with her hair, and a 13-year-old son who is beholden to a bully for $20 he owes him for the pot he and friends smoke in the high school bathroom), there is so much subtlety woven into the plot I can see how viewers can easily get bored. But I thoroughly adored the charm, loyalty and realness of this outwardly normal-seeming, inwardly dysfunctional, ultimately (probably) typical Jewish family living in the suburban Midwest in the late 1960s. With this film, I think you need to go with your instinct whether you should see it or not – either you will love it or hate it. I doubt there’s much room for anything in between.