The Shape of Water (2017)


Sally Hawkins contemplates a potential Oscar nomination.

(2017) Romantic Fantasy (Fox Searchlight) Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Lauren Lee Smith, Martin Roach, Allegra Fulton, John Kapelos, Morgan Kelly, Marvin Kaye, Dru Viergever, Wendy Lyon. Directed by Guillermo del Toro

 

A bird may love a fish, the saying goes, but where would they live? Some romances, it is true, face greater obstacles than others.

Eliza Esposito (Hawkins) is a mute woman who lives in a ratty apartment above a movie theater along with gay commercial artist Giles (Jenkins) who is as lonely as Eliza is. She works as a janitor at a top-secret government lab on the outskirts of Baltimore along with her friend Zelda (Spencer) who nags her about being habitually late to work.

Into the lab comes “the most valuable asset” that they’ve ever hosted; an amphibious humanoid creature (Jones) who was discovered in the jungles of the Amazon, worshiped as a god by the natives. Security director Richard Strickland (Shannon) sees the creature as a potential means of putting the U.S. ahead of the Soviets in the space race which to this point in 1963 have been kicking America’s butt.

Strickland is under all kinds of pressure to deliver useful information but his scientists, particularly Dr. Hoffstetler (Stuhlbarg) are a bit hesitant to do the kind of research that Strickland is urging them to do – the kinds of things Dr. Mengele had no problem doing. Strickland becomes further enraged when, during a session when he is using an electric cattle prod on the creature, two of his fingers are cut off. Strickland, always what you might call tightly wound, suddenly finds himself wrapped even closer to absolutely losing it.

But Eliza is drawn to the creature; she finds it to be gentle and non-judgmental and like herself, unable to communicate verbally. The creature is drawn to her kindness – she feeds it hard-boiled eggs and plays jazz on a portable phonograph she smuggles in. However, it has come to the attention of Gen. Hoyt (Searcy) who is in charge of the project that the Russkies are aware of the creature and have designs on it themselves. Eliza overhears the plan – to vivisect the creature and learn as much as they can before the Russians either kidnap the creature or destroy it in such a way that the Americans can learn nothing.

Eliza decides that’s not going to happen and enlists the help of Giles in getting her help. Zelda is reluctantly drawn in and when Dr. Hoffstetler discovers what she’s up to, gives her tacit assistance. Eliza takes the creature home to live in her bathtub, waiting for the right time to release it into a canal that leads to the ocean and can lead the creature back home but the two have begun…umm, mating and saying goodbye is not going to be easy for either of them, particularly since neither one can speak.

This is one of the most beautiful and well-told stories of the year. There is a fairy tale aspect to the film, combined with a kind of classic Hollywood feel (there is a fantasy sequence in which Eliza finds voice and sings and dances with the creature which sounds hokey but when you see it you’ll understand how brilliant and how heartbreaking the sequence is). Add to that bits of horror and cold war-era spy thrillers and you have a movie that could have easily been a mess but in the hands of a great director – and make no mistake, that is exactly what Del Toro is – becomes a tour de force, a masterpiece in shades of green and blue.

Hawkins is one of the frontrunners for an Oscar nod for Best Actress this year and with good reason. She has to perform almost entirely with body language and facial expressions. She wears her emotions plain to see throughout, engaging in an impromptu tap dance when she’s feeling playful, or resting her head against a bus window when she is contemplative. She hunches over as a person who doesn’t want to be noticed does, as someone who has been ridiculed and disregarded her entire life does. I don’t pretend to understand the Academy’s mindset but if it were me, I’d just hand Hawkins the statuette right now and save everyone the bother but that’s just me.

The fantastic supporting cast doesn’t let Hawkins down either. Jones gets a complicated and believable costume to create his character; Jenkins shows his most compassionate and frazzled sides as Eliza’s quirky and often incompetent friend. Spencer gets a role on par with her Oscar-winning performance in The Help and Stuhlbarg who has an Oscar nomination under his belt already takes a giant leap forward in proving that wasn’t a fluke.

The production design is near perfect. The lighting and color scheme emphasizes shimmering greens and blues, giving the entire film a kind of underwater look even when the action takes place above the surface. The industrial look of the lab has almost an art deco look to it; the space age sheen of futuristic buildings recalling the 1965 World’s Fair are absent here. This lab is a dreary place where people go to do repetitive, dehumanizing tasks and lose just a little bit more of their souls every time they clock in. I think we’ve all had jobs like that.

There is an awful lot of sexuality and nudity in the film as the romantic relationship between Eliza and the amphibian becomes physical. While it is handled in my opinion with dignity and restraint, some might find even the hinting of interspecies sex to be completely beyond the pale. I can understand that, truly, but it would be a shame to cheat yourself out of one of the year’s best movies – if not THE best – because of a little fantasy sex.

Some might find the ending hokey but I took a different tack with it. Jenkins delivers bookending voiceover narration at the beginning and end of the movie; my take is that we are seeing events as Giles imagined they occurred; what really happened once the amphibian exits from view is up to conjecture and Giles admits as much. I kind of hope that’s what “really” happened to although life rarely has that kind of grace. Thank goodness that filmmakers like Del Toro do.

REASONS TO GO: Hawkins has a very good shot at an Oscar nomination. The story is touching and beautifully told. This is a godsend for the discerning moviegoer. Great supporting performances all around and wonderful set design enhance the film.
REASONS TO STAY: The sexuality may be more than some can handle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is graphic sexuality and nudity as well as some profanity and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Del Toro turned down Pacific Rim: Uprising to direct this.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 86/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lady in the Water
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
The Dark Tower

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New Releases for the Week of December 22, 2017


JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

(Columbia) Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Rhys Darby, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Missi Pyle.  Directed by Jake Kasdan

A group of four bored teenagers discover an old video console and while fooling around with it are somehow transported into the game’s jungle setting, becoming the avatars they chose. They discover their strengths and weaknesses (don’t give Fridge any cake) and must work together if they are to survive the game and make it home. Based on the Robin Williams classic movie Jumanji.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG-13 (for adventure action, suggestive content and some language)

All the Money in the World

(Tri-Star) Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction; in the 70s, the heir to a billion-dollar oil fortune was kidnapped and held for ransom. His grandfather, the richest man on Earth, refused to pay it despite having his grandson’s ear sliced off as proof the kidnappers meant business, leaving his mom to rescue her boy on her own. Also stranger than fiction, disgraced actor Kevin Spacey was originally cast as oil baron J. Paul Getty. After being accused of sexual misconduct and only weeks before the release date, director Ridley Scott decided to erase Spacey from the film and digitally insert Christopher Plummer instead. Like I said, stranger than fiction.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release (opens Monday)

Rating: R (for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content)

Darkest Hour

(Focus) Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James. Early in World War II, the United Kingdom must replace their Prime Minister with a compromise candidate that nobody really wanted; Winston Churchill. He is given a nation to lead on the brink of complete military collapse; their army is trapped in Dunkirk and their navy and air force have taken a pounding. Somehow this unpopular Prime Minister must summon the will to lead his country through the darkest hour in their history.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material)

Downsizing

(Paramount) Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis. A middle class couple makes the decision that a new shrinking technique will make their lives better. When the wife backs out at the last moment, the husband is left to begin a new life in a new world and rediscovers wonder and purpose.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use)

Father Figures

(Warner Brothers) Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, Glenn Close, J.K. Simmons. Two twin brothers discover that their father, whom they were told was dead, was in fact possibly very much alive – but their mother wasn’t sure which man out of several possibilities their actual dad is. They decide to go on a road trip to find out for certain.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and sexual references throughout)

The Greatest Showman

(20th Century Fox) Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya. The story of the legendary P.T. Barnum whose circus and museum of oddities became known as the Greatest Show on Earth is set to music from the team that gave us La La Land.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including a brawl)

Molly’s Game

(STX) Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera. Here is the incredible but true story of former Olympic-class skier Molly Bloom who following her athletic career ran a high-stakes poker game that made her an FBI target when it turned out some very dangerous Russian Mafia types were part of her clientele. Remember the whole truth is stranger than fiction thing?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village (opens Monday)

Rating: R (for language, drug content and some violence)

Pitch Perfect 3

(Universal) Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp. The publicity is touting that this is the final chapter in the Glee-rip-off series. We can only pray they’re not lying.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language and some action)

The Shape of Water

(Fox Searchlight) Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins. In a secret laboratory in the 1960s, a mute janitor discovers that the scientists are experimenting on a strange aquatic creature they took from the Amazon. She is determined to stop their cruel experiments on the creature when she discovers that not only is the being intelligent but an emotional attachment is developing between them. This film led all movies this year in total Golden Globe nominations with seven.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater, Wide Release

Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language)

Tiger Zinda Hai

(Yash Raj) Katrina Kaif, Salman Khan, Anupriya Goenka, Paresh Rawal. Superspies Tiger and Zoya are pressed back into service eight years later when India is threatened by a potential despot. This is the sequel to the massive Indian hit Ek the Tiger.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Crooked House
Hello!
Kaleidoscope
MCA – Middle Class Abbay

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Call Me by Your Name
Hello!
MCA – Middle Class Abbay
The Trace We Leave Behind

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hello!
MCA – Middle Class Abbay
Velaikkaran

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Hello!
MCA – Middle Class Abbay

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

All the Money in the World
Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour
Downsizing
Father Figures
The Greatest Showman
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Molly’s Game
The Shape of Water