The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro
123 mins, 2017
When the different among us team up
Del Toro’s latest film (and winner of Best Picture in 2018), as is his wont, features a non-human creature and its struggle against those who would exploit him for the “good of us all”—at any cost.
In what begins as an enchanting narrative twist, which deftly opens the cupboard of metaphors of all stripes, a mute cleaning woman (heroically played by Sally Hawkins as Elisa), working in the alien’s corporate jail, comes to the rescue.
A few godlike miracles are added to the mix (no spoilers, but justice for all) and the do-gooders (including a finely nuanced performance from Richard Jenkins as Giles—Elisa’s constant admirer and partner in freedom), giving the film an aura of 21st century mythology. The only visual drawback (readily trumped by Dan Lausten’s exquisite cinematography coupled with Sidney Wolinsky’s seamless editing) is the Amphibian’s (requiring saltwater to survive) costume. With the sound turned off, most viewers would be expecting a cartoon superhero rather than an emotionally and intellectually complex anomaly to planet earth.
Michael Shannon is readily convincing as Richard Strickland, the driven chief jailer who must keep promises made to his masters; Octavia Spencer has just the right tones of aghast and “with you” playing Lisa’s sympathetic co-worker, Zelda.
The aural icing on this cinematic cake is Alexandre Desplat’s action-reinforcing original score.
Del Toro has crafted a film that will provoke discussions on a range of subjects, but a tad more mystery in the plotting (the end is never in doubt) and a creature that can truly stand (swim) on its own rather than join the DC Marvel parade would have upped the ante to masterpiece territory. JWR
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
115 mins, 2017
Don’t get mad, get even (you hope)
In 2009, I closed my review of McDonagh’s play with this thought:
“Those with a taste for distasteful issues presented in a thought-provoking, utterly professional fashion won’t dare miss The Beauty Queen of Leenane”(cross-reference below).
I can think of no better way but to use those same words for the opening of this review.
Anyone who has ever lost a child knows the incredible pain, frustration and anger of outliving their own flesh and blood. In this instance, Mildred (an exceptionally well-controlled performance from Frances McDormand) has lost a daughter on the cusp of adulthood: brutally raped and murdered in small town Ebbing; no suspects after months of searching; the case seems dormant.
To stoke the conscience of the community—most especially the chief of police (played with extraordinary panache by Woody Harrelson)—she rents three billboards on a less-travelled town road (but within view of her aching house) to keep the heat on the perpetrator and those who could convict him—“her” seems out of the question.
As grim as the facts of the case are, it’s really McDonagh’s exceptional understanding of human nature, inbred racism, willful blindness and dramatic irony that makes this film a standout in the awards season.
Miss it at your peril of a better understanding as to why revenge for its own sake might turn out to be worse than the original crime. JWR
135 mins, 2017
What good is a deed?
Every once in a while, a film comes along that speaks so much truth about the black/white divide that it can’t help but bring tears, cheers, jeers and shame to all parties. Because we cannot “get along” there are no winners; we are all losers: white or black.
The ensemble cast is extraordinary. Miss this film at your risk. Employing multiple points of view (narrators in this case), threatened to become tiresome but was judiciously used. Cheers to that.
Here are 10 things we have learned:
- After Pearl Harbour and the U.S. was forced to enter the war, “slaves” and freemen alike fought for their country.
- When the war ended, “slaves” were celebrated as liberators in Europe (especially), but immediately put down to “use the back door” in much of America—notably Mississippi, where this saga takes place.
- It is bad luck to watch a son leave to serve his country (safer to turn your back, a metaphor that has many implications here).
- Arrogant white men are just as prone to be swindled by their kin as anyone else.
- Music has the power to sooth any troubled beast.
- Trying to return to life-after-horrific-war is virtually impossible (this, long before PTSD was ever acknowledged; thank goodness for the “medicine” of bourbon).
- Black and white men being seen as “friends, together” is a cause for swift, brutal retaliation from the bigoted members of the KKK.
- Some patricides are defendable to the highest courts in the land.
- Brotherly love with “conditions” is no love at all.
- Stepping up to familial responsibility would heal a lot of broken lives/relationships.
Merci mille fois. JWR
114 mins, 2017
Fake news on the other foot
Not entirely coincidentally, Spielberg’s take on the release of the Pentagon Papers by The Washington Post serves as a timely reminder that the White House is quite capable of creating fakes news of its own.
As always, Meryl Streep is superb in the pivotal role.
The re-enactment of ‘70s protests are far too “fresh.
Hearing Richard Nixon’s own voice is as creepy now as then.
The lemonade gag wears a bit thin.
Do take a peek and remind yourself that history most certainly does repeat itself. JWR