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!

Guest Review: GIFTED (2017)

guestpost

Directed By: Marc Webb
Written By: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan
Runtime: 1 hr 41 minutes

I walked out of Gifted loudly bemoaning Chris Evans’ lack of acting skills when I heard a man behind me say something even more controversial: that Gifted suffers from a “simple plot”.

No, sweet idiot, it did not have a simple plot.

I mean, if you fell asleep for part of the movie, you could be forgiven for thinking such a thing. But if you were paying even a moderate amount of attention, you should know better. Superficially, Gifted is about a young man who is the sole custodian of his sister’s daughter until it becomes apparent that the little girl might be a genius and his mother sues for custody. That’s just the logline, though. The meat of the story is in the grandmother’s zeal for her daughter’s success and then her granddaughter’s promise. The story is partly a painful parable about living vicariously through one’s children and partly a nod to the long-lived, ever-changing battle women have fought for their place in STEM fields.

That said, I might be giving Tom Flynn too much credit. He makes a few stereotypically male slip ups in his storytelling: calling a strong female character “bossy”, making off-color comments about mistresses, and taking a mildly unsavory stance on consent. He also does everything that he can to make a story that is very obviously about two women and a girl instead about the one man they all share.
Of course, that one male character is a doozy. Frank Adler, played oh so stoically by Chris Evans, is hard-working, funny, intelligent, empathetic, and possesses an enviable moral compass. His character should have been left there, as the perfect single-father, but it is Chris Evans, so he’s also suave, gorgeous, and handily achieves a Love Interest. This was presumably to give the movie its PG-13 rating, which is one of the largest mistake that the movie makes.

I know it’s cute when kids swear and I get that Hollywood thinks that attractive people making out will always make them more money, but the consequential PG-13 rating was a poor trade off. Parents who probably would have otherwise brought their children to see the movie, which is an inspirational story featuring Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) a relatable little girl who is the full package: she’s a genius, a hero, and obsessed with her cat. Why the studios didn’t fight for a PG rating is completely beyond me. Kids would love her.

Chris Evans was really the only weak member of the cast: he is a beautiful human, but he struggles to emote, and a lot of his dialogue felt wooden and unnatural. Luckily, he is always acting opposite incredibly gifted performers. Mckenna Grace can cry like nobody’s business, Jenny Slate (you might recognize her as “Mona Lisa” from Parks and Rec) is surprisingly good as the first grade teacher all of us wanted, Octavia Spencer is unsurprisingly flawless, and Lindsay Duncan wrangles a supporting role so handily that she makes the entire movie about her. In a good way.

There are some weird racial undertones throughout the film. The Adler’s neighbor Roberta Taylor (Octavia Spencer) is yet another iteration of the mammy trope, which needs to be retired. Taylor criticizes Adler for hiring a black lawyer, a comment that is jarring, super racist, and was a very successful laugh line in the theater where I saw the film. Out of any other character’s mouth it would have been unacceptable, but because no one had to think about how white the screenwriter was when Spencer spoke, the joke worked. I’m disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the line made it past a first draft. Ditto to people laughing at it.

Despite having many flaws, I still think that Gifted is worth seeing. The cinematography is beautiful, if sometimes a little self-indulgent. One scene, in which Mary climbs her uncle’s body and peppers him with questions about God, is told completely in silhouette, set against an orange sunset. It’s a beautiful film, with a magnificent cast, and a mostly empowering storyline.

And it’s not simple if you’re paying attention.


hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times.  You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.


Have you seen ‘Gifted’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

hiddenfigures

Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Written by: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Runtime: 2 hrs 7 minutes

Hollywood loves BOAT, that is, films Based On a True Story, and few are as overdue yet timely as Hidden Figures. Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, it tells the story of a team of African-American women who worked at NASA and their integral roles in helping the U.S. advance during the Space Race during the Cold War era. Billed as ‘human computers,’ these women are the quintessential unsung heroes with an inspirational and important story to tell.

hiddenfigures1

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe star as Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson respectively. A trifecta of massively talented Black actresses who brought wit, grace and humor to their roles. The film is at times harrowing to watch and it made me sad and angry at the appalling treatments of Black people, especially women, during a time when racial segregation was still legally enforced in the country. The fact that this happened merely 50 some years ago literally gives me chills. Yet the film never descended into somber or depressing territory, but it was brimming with a defiant but hopeful spirit throughout.

Right from the opening scene when their car broke down and they had to deal with the white cop who arrived to question them instead of offering to help, there’s a lighthearted tone to the film. It’s not that the filmmakers are making light of the situation however, in fact, this is a crowd-pleasing film that’s told with equal amusement and gravitas. Even during a key scene where Katherine had to walk half a mile one way just to go to the colored bathrooms, drink from a separate coffee kettle marked ‘colored’ and endure constant belittlement from her colleagues, the film never felt too heavy-handed or overly-sentimental. There’s also the moment Dorothy was kicked out of the Virginia public library for venturing out of the ‘colored’ section. Spencer’s Dorothy remained dignified and defiant as she rode home on the bus with her young boys.

hiddenfigures3

It’s hard to pick a favorite out of the three female protagonists, as they’re all excellent and given an equally compelling character arc. Henson’s Katharine seemed to have the largest arc of the three and it’s such a joy to watch her in the role. She had to act several scenes writing complex mathematical formula on a board in a single long take, and she managed to do it effortlessly and believably. All three women were convincing in their roles, their portrayals felt real instead of simplistic caricatures. The memorable male characters are Kevin Costner as the director of the Space Task Group, Mahershala Ali as Katharine’s love interest and Glen Powell as John Glenn. None of them ever overshadowed the women, but adds a perspective of the gender/racial issues of the time. On a side note, this movie made me curious to check out The Right Stuff now which chronicles the space race.

hiddenfigures2

I’m glad I waited to do my top 10 list until January as this film merits a spot on there. Boasting beautiful cinematography by Mandy Walker and rousing music by Benjamin Wallfisch, Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer, film also looks AND sounds great. It’s an important film to be sure, but also a well-written and well-acted piece that’s as inspiring as it is entertaining. It made me laugh and cry, with an ending that made me want to get up and cheer. I certainly don’t mind watching this again.

4Reels


Have you seen Hidden Figures? What did you think?

FlixChatter Double Review: Snowpiercer (2014)

SnowpiercerPoster2

Ted’s Review

After last summer’s mediocre Elysium, I wasn’t that interested in seeing another sci-fi/action picture about the poor vs. the rich set in the future. Heck even after I saw the trailer, I sort of didn’t really want to see this new film from South Korean director Joon-ho Bong at all. But thanks to so many great reviews from critics, I’ve decided to check it out and I’m so glad I did. I think it’s my favorite film of 2014 so far.

The film opens with a prologue explaining what has happened to earth. A failed global-warming experiment has killed off pretty much all living things on the planet and only the few survivors are now living in a train that can travel all over the globe. In this train, there are two classes of people, the rich and the poor. The rich gets to live in the fancy front side of the train and all of the poor folks have to stay in the back. Of course the living conditions on the back of the train is horrendous. We’re introduced to two friends Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell), right away we know they’re planning to attack their oppressors and get to the front side so they can have control of the train. That’s pretty much the whole plot of the film, Curtis and his followers battles their way into each car of the train to get to the front side. The message about our current economics system gets a little heavy handed at times but I wasn’t bothered by it as much. Yeah I know the 1% is living large while the rest of us have to suffer and so on. Basically everything that Elysium did wrong, this film got it right.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but Chris Evans has starred in two of my favorite movies of the year, the other one being Captain America: Winter Soldier. I was never a fan of his before and now I think he’s grown as actor. As the lead in another action picture, he did a good job of commanding the screen, we don’t know much about Curtis until the film’s climax and the payoff worked for me. I don’t think I’ve seen Jamie Bell in anything since the dreadful Jumper, here he’s the sidekick/comic relief and I think he did alright. Tilda Swinton looked like she had a blast playing another villainous role, I would’ve liked to see more of her character in the movie though. John Hurt played a minor role as the old mentor to Curtis and the rest of the poor folks and he’s your typical father figure type. I think I’ve seen him played this kind of role so many times that I knew what to expect from his performance. Scenes stealer belongs to South Korea actor Song Kang-ho, he was recruited by Curtis and his team because he invented the train’s door security system and he’s their key to their success. For those who’ve seen Bong’s previous work, you know that Song is his go to actor and here he didn’t disappoint. Another well known actor showed up as the train inventor and main villain, I thought he was quite effective. I don’t want to mention his name since I think most people don’t know he’s in the movie and I think it’s better for people to find out for themselves.

SnowpiercerStill1

To me the main reason this film worked was because of Joon-ho Bong‘s direction. He was able to elevate a silly concept and made into something that kind of original and fun to watch. The film’s actually based on a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige. Bong co-wrote the script with Kelly Masterson (she wrote Sidney Lumet’s last film Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead), the story had me on the edge of my seat throughout and I like the fact that they didn’t chicken out and end the film in a Hollywood fashion. Bong staged some cool action set pieces, including a brawl between Curtis’ gang and the rich folks’ army and unusual shootout between Curtis and one of the villains. For anyone who’s never seen Bong’s other films, you might find his style a little weird and un-Hollywood like. I also think he pay homage to Sam Peckinpah for this film, in fact I thought had Peckinpah ever made a sci-fi picture, it would be like this one. For a film that cost less than $40mil, the visual effects looked pretty great. I can only imagine what his next film will look like if Bong gets a budget of $150-200mil.

After witnessing the atrocious Transformers 4 a couple of weeks ago, I was glad to have seen this excellent film. It’s smart, exciting and well paced. It surely will be on my top favorite films of the year, this one comes highly recommended.

four reels


SnowpiercerPoster

Ruth’s Review

Science fiction thriller set in post-apocalyptic world is a dime a dozen. Seems that Hollywood is quite obsessed with this sub-genre, even young adult fares are set in this dystopian future, often with a hero/heroine who’s destined to change the world. Thankfully, Joon-ho Bong‘s Snowpiercer manages to set itself apart from the pack. This is my intro into Bong’s work, and it’s also his first Hollywood film. I’ve blogged about the furor over Harvey’s Weinsteins constant meddling with the film’s cut last year, so finally, after waiting for over two years, I got to see this on the big screen.

What strikes me right away about this film is how bleak it is. Bong’s imagined future has that gritty, soiled and grimy look as we’re shown how the poor, unfortunate souls have been living the past 17 years in the tail section of a rackety train, Snowpiercer. Given that earth is now inhabitable due to a cataclysmic accident that renders everything frozen, the train has to keep running nonstop with what’s left of humanity on board. Having been oppressed for nearly two decades with no chance to escape, it’s no wonder the lower class is hellbent on revolt. It’s futuristic Les Misérables set on a train. It’s an intriguing concept surely, but that alone doesn’t always translate to an intriguing film (Ted’s mentioned Elysium and I’d also add In Time  which are more action/adventure than a true sci-fi). Snowpiercer on the other hand, has a nice balance of action and character-driven sequences, and it’s not reliant on special effects to thrill the audience.

I have to admit it’s not the most entertaining film I’ve seen, and at times it’s too violent for my taste. It’s not as graphic as I feared it would be but I still think it’s not for the faint of heart. But I appreciate Bong’s bold vision and the way that Snowpiercer doesn’t glamorize the post-apocalyptic world, which enhances its sense of realism. Despite the fantastical concept, at times it made me think how this bleak reality might not be so far-fetched after all. The geopolitical and socio-economic allegory can be in-your-face at times so I could see why some critics have called it heavy-handed. But overall the pace of the film is good and the slow moments are a welcome relief from all the brutality. I especially like Chris Evans‘ emotionally-charged monologue towards the end which gives us a glimpse into what’s really at stake for the rebels. The confined space of a train gives a heightened sense of claustrophobia that makes everything even more suspenseful. The more we learn about the world within Snowpiercer, the more we realize that nothing is what it seems. There are genuine surprises as well that keeps you on your toes. Just when you think things are calming down, Bong would suddenly pulls the rug from under us! Unlike lot of action films that are loud, bombastic but lacking genuine tension (basically what Bayhem is all about), this one gives me a real adrenaline rush.

SnowpiercerStill2

The international cast is full of inspired casting. Interesting to see Chris Evans in the role of the protagonist. He’s a flawed, reluctant hero, the polar opposite of Captain America, though Evans retains that sympathetic guy-next-door persona even bloody and covered in dirt the entire film. Having seen him in Puncture, I knew he’s got dramatic chops, so I hope he makes wiser role choices from now on so we can see more of what he can deliver. Tilda Swinton once again delivers her chameleonic turn as Minister Mason, a role that’s originally written as a mild-mannered man. The most memorable characters to me are the South Korean father/daughter duo played by Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, both have worked with Bong before in The Host. It’s nice to see Ed Harris in a key role, he definitely makes an impact despite his brief appearance. Jamie Bell, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer round up the solid supporting cast.

So overall Snowpiercer is definitely worth the wait, though I wouldn’t call it flawless. There’s a certain chaotic madness in Bong’s direction that’s discombobulating, and the emotional involvement with the characters just isn’t as strong as it could be. In the end they’re all still a mystery to me that keep them at a distance from the audience. But what the film does well is that it really makes us ponder on the fascinating, though-provoking ideas whilst we marvel in the visually-arresting cinematography. The contrast between the vast and bright frozen landscape outside the train window and the cramped, crowded and dark interior is striking. The music by Marco Beltrami is also pleasing to the ear and enhances the mood.

The finale is truly something to behold, and the CGI is actually used to a tremendous effect because we’re not so worn-out by it. The lack of a glorified happy-ending is also refreshing, something that would linger long after the end credits roll and inspire countless conversations afterward. If you’re a big sci-fi fan, this one is not to be missed. It’s truly a visceral experience that manages to feel original despite the tried-and-true premise we’ve seen time and again. I’m curious to see what Bong does next, hopefully this won’t be his last collaboration with Hollywood.

four reels


What do you think of Snowpiercer? 

Musings on Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer & How I hope we get to see the director’s cut for US release

I saw the beautiful International poster of Snowpiercer today, a film I’ve been looking forward to for some time. The film’s been breaking all kinds of box records in Asia, especially in South Korea, Bong Joon-ho‘s native country. Unfortunately for most of us in the West, we probably won’t get to see it until next year… and which version of that film we’d end up seeing is still unknown.

Anyway, before I get to that, here’s the poster and latest International trailer:

SnowpiercerIntlPoster

In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.

I’m so stoked for this film as I’m intrigued by the premise and early look of the film. Plus, just look at the cast: Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Chris Evans, Alison Pill, as well as some Korean actors Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung. Chan-wook Park, who directed Stoker, is one of the eight producers in the film. The story is actually based on a French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.

Per THR, Snowpiercer was sold to 167 countries, the most territories a Korean title was sold to prior to its release. The Weinstein Co. (TWC) had acquired the US rights of the film. Now, those who keep up with film news probably have read news about über mogul Harvey Weinstein‘s desire to cut 20 minutes of the film to make it more ‘marketable’ for English speaking territories. This is what Twitch.com reported about a month ago on the matter on the reason for the cuts:

According to film critic and programmer Tony Rayns “TWC people have told Bong that their aim is to make sure the film ‘will be understood by audiences in Iowa … and Oklahoma.'”

Oh, and voice overs will reportedly be added to the opening and closing of the film for the US version too [face palm]. Of course, cutting International films for Western release is nothing new, we’ve seen Asian films like John Woo’s Red Cliff and recently, Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster (check out Steven’s review of both cuts) being edited down for US release. I get it that with Red Cliff, the original film is about four hours long, so the cuts might have been warranted, but in regards to Snowpiercer, cutting 20 minutes from a 126-min film AND adding VO is so unnecessary. If the reason is to make it ‘less dark’ and turning it into a mainstream apocalyptic action movie, that’s just disheartening and insulting!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Recent Updates from director Bong Joon-ho

JoonhoBongWell, as of late August, the director himself said the cuts would be minor. He’s been promoting the film all over the world and this is what he said during one of the press conference (per Bleeding Cool):

I came here after editing for the American version. I’ve never produced a new version for overseas premieres, and this is the first time I’m making a new version. Weinstein is actually being pretty soft toward editing, probably because it’s noticed how critics have praised the film and know how angry movie fans get over new edits. They even asked me which parts I want to include in the film.

Heh, of course I’d rather the studio would just leave it alone and let the audience see the director’s cut as it’s intended. I really don’t get the notion of tailoring a film for certain audience. I mean, I’m from Indonesia who watch 99% Western movies. I don’t expect ANY film to be tailored to my cultural background, that is just absurd. Besides, it’s not like the premise is really THAT difficult to understand, if anything doomsday is a universal theme, as is class system and the struggle for survival.

Tilda Swinton, an actress whose work I respect, makes her views known about this editing hoopla at the Deauville American Film Festival in France (per The Playlist): “There’s no question that all English speaking audiences deserve to see director Bong’s cut, and we hope very much that we will all see it,”

Asked about the film’s effect, she replied, “Maybe an effect of the film, it just occurred to me, is that when one has spent two hours in the claustrophobia of this train we can leave the cinema and feel the relief that we can make life wider, so maybe it’s a sort of aversion therapy to sit in the train for two hours. … That’s two hours, not one hour and forty minutes.” Nice! Thanks you miss Swinton! She’s almost unrecognizable in the trailer, which further proves what a versatile actress she is.

I REALLY hope we’ll get to see the original director’s cut of this. I’d LOVE to see it this year too. So Harvey, would you just release it this Winter, pretty please?


Anyway, what are your thoughts about this film and the whole editing scenario?