Movie review: The Shape of Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another awards movie. This is The Shape of Water!

IMDb summary: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Writing

The Shape of Water was written by the director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (who wrote Divergent and the upcoming live-action Alladin and has also worked on Game of Thrones). I thought that the duo crafted a unique yet familiar love story. The characters – the mute woman and the creature – were the two things that made the conventional plot into an unconventional (subverted) and extraordinary one. It was interesting to see how Elisa’s disability made her more empathetic towards other individuals who were shunned by society (not only the creature but the (?)gay (he is never labeled in the movie) neighbor but the black co-worker). Her specific disability (being mute) and her gender (female) also had an interesting correlation with the idea of women being silenced/having no voice in that period (the 1960s – prior to the sexual revolution and the overt women’s rights movements).

The hints at the fact that the amphibian man was the one who hurt her as a child made for some fascinating implications in their relationship too. For one, that possibility (of him maybe having hurt her) and some of his other actions in the film made him seem as a creature in which goodness and destruction coexist (sort of like in humanity: Hawkins‘ character symbolizing the kindness and Shannon’s – the violence). The whole romantic relationship between the two characters was just so pure, even adorable and yet still slightly creepy. The picture didn’t shy away from the more questionable parts of the relationship (Beauty and the Beast never raised those kinds of questions) which was quite brave, in my mind, mostly in risking alienating the audience. The film’s ending was quite unexpected, to me, personally. I was assuming that the script will go the melancholic route – ‘if you love, let go’ – but The Shape of Water chose the hopeful/happy fairytale conclusion and finished on the note of love and unity. That was quite an escapist ending but it did fit the surreal quality of the film.

A few other notes on the writing. First, I loved this movie’s appreciation for cinema and creative arts in general (painting, drawing). I’ve always loved films which love (like me) and pay homage to other motion pictures (I’d love to live above the movie theatre). The second interesting point of writing that was somewhat divorced from the main love story was Michael Shannon’s arc and his character’s relation to the ideas of the male success and the expectations for such success. Failure was not an option for him and it is still not seen as a legitimate or appropriate part of the construction of masculinity, especially the white privileged form of masculinity.

Directing

Guillermo del Toro directed The Shape of Water and succeeded in crafting almost a spiritual sequel (an adult one) to Pan’s Labyrinth (while I have liked his more action-driven works like Hellboy and its sequel and Pacific Rim, his weirder creations (fantasy realism or realistic fantasies) were always more fascinating to me and that includes Crimson Peak). Anyways, speaking about this picture, I adored its mixed tonne. The Shape of Water was both a genre movie and a typical awards movie. It was an old-school monster thriller/horror movie (think the original Universal Monsters Universe, Creature from the Black Lagoon) as well as an old-school romantic drama with some shades of the theatrical musical or more than just shades in one particular sequence (think Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, just recently La La Land). The adult tone that I’ve mentioned in the opening sentence was that fact that the film had sexual and sensual undertones that one would not find in a more family-friendly film, like Pan’s Labyrinth (though, both that movie and The Shape of Water were rated R, so maybe Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t that all-ages appropriate as I remember).

Visually, the film looked stunning. The 1960s world of science was well realized (stellar production design) and the underwater sequences at the beginning and the end of the film were amazing (top-notch cinematography). The movie’s and the main character’s relationship to water was realized so cleverly and beautifully too. The costume design and the makeup were impeccable as well: the monster looked incredibly real.

Acting

Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2) delivered a brilliant performance that shined through the limited means of expression, a.k.a., she was amazing, even though, she barely said any lines. She seemed so endearing and had such a complex interplay innocence and maturity about her. And, although she was so great in the film, part of me wishes that the role would have been given to am an actually mute actress – I’d love to see more opportunities being extended to actors with disabilities (or special abilities). The TV show Switched at Birth has taught me that there are quite a few mute and deaf actors working in the business.

Doug Jones (a longtime collaborator of del Toro, currently part of the main cast of Star Trek: Discoveryor the Andy Serkis of practical costumes/effects was great as the creature and was definitely more than able to act through all that rubber. Michael Shannon (12 Strong, Nocturnal Animals, Loving) was also fascinating to watch even when though he played a very despicable character. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Allegiant) also had some fun scenes, while Richard Jenkins was amazing as the neighbor. Michael Stuhlbarg also had a small role in the film (and applause go to him and his agent for having three awards movie this season – The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post – that join numerous other awards movies in his filmography, including the recent ones: Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and Arrival).

In short, The Shape of Water was one of those movies that made me go ‘huh?!’ and made me unsure what to feel (or think) in the best way possible.

Rate: 4,8/5

Trailer: The Shape of Water trailer

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5 ideas about a movie Hail, Caesar! + The Coen Brothers

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since the BvS hysteria has died down and the next superhero craze hasn’t started yet, let’s review a movie that I’m 3 months late to review – Hail, Caesar! by The Coen brothers. In my defense, UK was probably the last place that this movie was released in. However,  I do acknowledge the fact that, although I saw this movie probably 2  months ago, I couldn’t find time to discuss it. Well, better late than never, so without further ado, let’s talk about The Coen brothers themselves and their newest creation – Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers

I would argue that The Coen brothers deserve to be called the modern auteurs of contemporary filmmaking for they distinct style and accomplishments in cinematic storytelling. They are able to take the core archetypes – the premises for either tragic or comedic stories – and make something spectacular and unique out of it. To give a few examples of this, I will briefly discuss their most well-known comedy The Big Lebowski, their most famous tragedy No Country For Old Men and their wonderful combination of these two polar opposites – Fargo.

The Big Lebowski: the kooky and quirky comedy that gave a start to a whole new religion. One of the weirdest films that I have ever watched, yet it still very clear and extremely funny. The story is kinda ridiculous (happens by accident and is a misunderstanding) but the film somehow makes sense in the end.

No Country For Old Men: a slow and suspenseful masterpiece, filmed in wide shots. Aurally haunting because of the lack of score. A great character study in a cohesive style of The Coens but, at the same time, very extraordinary and different.

Fargo: another example of the great usage of the wide and long shots. The film has a lot of  old school ‘fade to black’ transitions and uses the music really well. The mise-en-scene is full of white ‘any-space-whatevers’, as described by Deleuze. And, of course, all the ‘yah’ lines in that Minnesota dialect are iconic. Fargo is probably my favorite film by The Coen brothers.

Other films that The Coen brothers either fully made or only partially contributed to that I have seen are: Inside Llewyn Davis –  very personal story of a musician. This movie introduced me to Oscar Isaac for the very first time. The Coens also worked on Bridge of Spies’s and Unbroken’s scripts. Both of these films are very enjoyable.

Although, I have seen quite a few films made by The Coen duo, but I want to watch a lot more, especially Raising Arizona, Burn After ReadingA Serious Man, Miller’s Crossing, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and True Grit.

Now, let me tell you 5 things about Hail, Caesar!

IMDb summary: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.

  1. To begin with Hail, Caesar! was The Coen brothers’ love letter to old Hollywood. While watching this film, I was taken back to the Golden Age of Hollywood and got a chance to directly witness the behind-the-scenes inner workings of the movie business. Other films about the creation of motion pictures, which you might want to check out if you are interested, are the old school Singin’ in the Rain and the newer ones like Trumbo, Hugo and even Argo.
  2. The actual story of Hail, Caesar! was quite hectic and overwhelming. Some scenes seemed to come out of nowhere, but I guess that just showed how unpredictable the movie business was/is. I really liked the 24h time frame of the plot as well as the fact that we got to see all the aspect of filmmaking: the pre-production, the principal photography and the post-production. The constant narration also did not irritate me. However, a few of the jokes seemed to be quite painfully awkward, at least to me.
  3. Hail, Caesar! explored themes like the manipulation of people, the power of the public image and the importance of movies. It also looked at the business vs. creativity dichotomy of the film industry. The picture also had a lot of religious undertones and Christian imagery. Overall, the picture was a great synthesis of the traditional and the modern.
  4. Hail, Caesar! tied itself to reality/history with that communist screenwriters plot-line, which I did not enjoy that much. It just seemed like the easiest route to go to for the movie that is set during the Cold War. I wish that the end-game of the film would have been different, because I have seen enough movies (from all genres) that have already explored the East vs. West divide of the 20th century and did that in a more compelling way.
  5. Hail, Caesar! had a huge an accomplished cast, but, sadly, this film seemed like a paycheck gig for the majority of the actors. I feel awful for saying this, because this is The Coen brothers’ movie after all. Josh Brolin (Everest, Sicario, Marvel), a long-time collaborator of The Coens, led the cast and did a nice job. George Clooney (Tomorrowland), another favorite of The Coens, seemed to be playing himself (at least that version of him that the media has created). The relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich played quite a stereotypical character, but he managed to subvert that stereotype. Ralph Fiennes (Spectre), Jonah Hill (Jump Street films), Scarlett Johansson (Marvel, Chef), Fargo’s Frances McDormand as well as Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer) also had minor but very theatrical roles.  Lastly, Channing Tatum (Jump Street, Magic Mike and Step Up films) rounded up the cast. His musical number reminded me a lot of Frank Sinatra’s and Gene Kelly’s performance in 1945’s Anchors Aweigh.

In short, Hail, Caesar! was not the best The Coen brothers’ film, but it was still enjoyable and pleasant. A solid B picture.

Rate: 3.9/5

Trailer: Hail, Caesar! trailer

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