The Shape of Water

February 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

Guillermo del Toro always has a way of blending fantasy with reality, and did it to perfection with “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Since then he’s been hit or miss; but here, he takes a familiar story and tells it predictably–yet, it is still an amicable and poignant film.

A mute, lonely woman, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), works at a top secret government lab, as a custodian. Her only “friends” are her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and Giles, her next-door neighbor at an apartment above a movie theater. Giles, also lonely, paints advertisements for a living (or, attempted living), and has many cats. Zelda has a husband; but, as it’s revealed through monologues shared with Elisa, Zelda is just as lonely as they are. The three of their lives are affected when a security command brings in a mysterious sea creature, headed by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Strickland is your typical villain–he’s haughty, mistreating, and patronizing. He’s also quite racist and sexist. But that’s understandable, given the time period–it’s the early 1960’s.

The creature (played by Doug Jones) is a fascination for Elisa, who comes to befriend it as well. It, always referred to as “The Asset”, is presumably male. Elisa begins speaking with him, feeding him eggs, and teaching him basic sign language. She is not caught doing this, except by another mysterious scientist there, named Robert “Bob” Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is also curious about studying the creature’s habits. There is a hitch, though, since the creature was only captured to be vivisected. Bob and Elisa certainly don’t want this to happen, so Elisa decides to “steal” the creature away to her home.

Giles, who desperately wants a relationship with someone (he is gay, and of course that is shunned in society at that time), wants the best for Elisa and wants her to be happy. Things get a little complicated when she brings the creature back, and he tussles with Giles’ kitties. For those who are cat-lovers, you may be disturbed by what unfolds there.

Speaking of which, there are some bold liberties del Toro takes with such a formulaic story. The subplot with Bob being involved with the Russians is the most plausible and very intriguing, even though it’s still predictable. But there are moments, such as the cat scene, that can just take someone out of the picture emotionally. We want to be attached to these characters, and feel them. There are some moments that are either too gruesome, or too racy, or just too over-the-top, to be easily digested. And this story seemingly should be easy digested. I realize del Toro likes to take risks, that’s one of the things I admire most about him as a filmmaker. But sometimes, going too far doesn’t yield the desired effect of breaking new ground. It just comes off as exploitation. In an exploitative film, it works fine. Like Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno”. We expect to see blood and gore, and we do see more than the average blood & gore film. And we see more than what human eyes should be exposed to. But it’s set up that way. So when we see it, maybe it’s shocking. But it’s not surprising.

“The Shape of Water” has some great performances. Octavia Spencer just nails the (perhaps typecast) role of the sympathetic friend. She’s always a joy to watch. Michael Shannon is great as the stereotypical bad guy, with a nice little touch of having a sweet tooth (to cheap candy, which I think is an important aside). Also, an affinity for “the new car”, driving around to show off. Early in the film, his fingers are bit off by the creature. Elisa finds them, and doctors re-attach. The results get more amusing as the film goes on, and serves as a nice metaphor for his state of mind, and sanity. And, possibly, how two rotten fingers spoil the whole batch.

I actually was not a huge fan of Hawkins’ performance, however. I felt it a bit self-indulgent and her character wasn’t that well fleshed out. We know she’s lonely and wants to love–but there’s nothing in her approach that seems forlorn or yearning. She seems almost content throughout. Certainly we feel her pain when the creature is in danger or threatened; but that’s just the natural reaction to seeing someone or something hurt. Richard Jenkins as her neighbor Giles is pleasant as well, and him being homosexual in a time of homophobia gives us a sense of sympathy for him. In his case, he’s as excluded as the sea creature. Of course, Jones does his best with the creature character. But, there is not much he can do outside of giving us the basic performance. He also sort of falls flat, with no third dimension. Maybe that’s not as important, but I would’ve liked to see some character development with The Asset as well. Stuhlbarg gives a strong performance as Bob, who certainly cares for the creature, and for Elisa’s ability to take care of him. He’s a bit weird, but likable.

Overall, the film does work with its firm and simple premise. But, I would’ve liked to see some originality when it came to the characters. The actors can bring them out of stock, but the script doesn’t give a whole lot of diversity to work with. There are plenty of nice moments, a few strange ones; and, like I mentioned earlier, some that might take you out of the drama and emotion. That can cost points. But if the shape of water is supposed to be a heart, it’s at least a pretty picture of one.

My rating: :-)

The Day the Earth Stood Still

December 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

You would think a big budget spectacle like this remake of the 1951 classic would be more fitting to be released in the summer time, when popcorn sci-fi cinema permeates the movie theatres; but I suppose that because this one’s supposed to be “thought-provoking”, it was more suitable at the “thought-provoking” time of year, the winter. I guess we have more time to think now that we can’t go outside and do anything, than we do in the summertime. Unfortunately for this movie, there’s not much thought that’s really being provoked. It’s more like it’s being threatened to stay away.

In the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, there is almost a Serling-esque feel to the way the story unravels, and obviously the way it ends, with the choice being left to us whether we want to save ourselves or be destroyed. It’s the misconception of humans that we think that anyone who says “You’re going to be destroyed” by a foreign presence means THEY are the ones who are going to destroy us. It was a very interesting plot–and for its time, it was convincingly executed, special effects wise.

In this modern day remake, we have the gaudy special effects, and the big budget, big screen feel. And this movie fails on every level that the original succeeds on. Well now, that RARELY happens in remakes, huh? What is it about that? Is it just the natural dilution of a remake? Is it just inherent that the remake MUST be devoid of what made the original so good? I didn’t feel that way with the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, or “The Thing”, or “Father of the Bridge”, or even Zombie’s “Halloween” (don’t give me that look!). A remake should be an opportunity to take the original and either see it from a different angle, or improve on what may have made the original…dated. I suppose in the case of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, the special effects. And they didn’t even really do THAT good a job on this remake, either.

The story resembles the original in a way; but it makes a few fatal changes that completely miss the point of the original. Where it gets the story right is in one of the best scenes in the film with John Cleese, playing a Nobel prize winning scientist, Professor Barnhardt, in which he has an engaging dialog with Klaatu about the fact that “it’s only on the precipice of disaster that we change”. That is very true, and it’s something that, had this remake expanded upon, would have made it a slam dunk. Unfortunately the movie gets so caught up in military action, stuff blowing up, and a very melodramatic and tired story between Helen (played as eloquently as possible by Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (played by Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith, who seemed more confused by his own presence than anything else) and their struggles to get along. Since Jacob seems to blame her for his dad’s death, whom she’d only married a year or so prior to, this becomes a principle conflict throughout the film. Like in the original, Jacob’s father died in a war. But unlike the original, this movie fails to bring home the point about war and destruction.

If you have seen the original, there are many mentions about wars and the destruction humanity imposes on itself. In this version, it seems like this is more just about Americans, which is questionable since this was a plot that was supposed to be about “mankind”, not just American “mankind”. There are a few shots of “footage” from other countries that are going nuts over the “Alien Invasion”–but it looks like…there’s America, then there’s third world countries. I think Klaatu would be disturbed by the filmmakers of this movie, that we are so conceited.

There’s also more of an environmental angle to this film which doesn’t seem to work. Are we destroying our earth by killing each other in wars, or are we destroying our earth because we’re polluting it? In the first case, what difference does it make whether YOU kill us or WE kill us. In the latter, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE WHETHER YOU KILL US OR WE KILL US?! It would have nothing to do with us, you would just eradicate us!

Because the movie didn’t work in the big picture, a lot of other things fall apart. What do we know about the father of Jacob, for one thing? What kind of dad was he? What kind of husband was he? If it’s so important, and vital in getting Jacob to trust Helen, shouldn’t we know more about their relationship too? No, instead the movie would rather show military operations and Secretary of Defense shenanigans (Kathy Bates who is the overpowering SOD that again shows our arrogance and whatnot). And some of the movie looked like it was borrowing from “Transformers”.
Another thing that got to me was the product placement. Now I know Hollywood does this often, but man ALIVE this is outrageous. Guess where Klaatu has to meet another “visitor” that’s been living on earth for decades?

No, really, guess.

I’ll give you a hint.


Oh, and you will definitely know they use LG cell phones; Windows Vista apparently utilizes Star Trek technology; and there is a thirty second sequence that is one big silent car commercial.

It’s just disappointing that this movie did NOT need to be remade, and again, it is frustrating that they missed it by doing exactly what drove Klaatu’s journey in the first place: it’s more about greed and profit than anything else. Now, do I think the original WASN’T made for money? No, but they at least trusted the writers enough to come up with something that would be marketable AND still retained intelligence.

It’s pretty sad when the BEST thing about this movie was Keanu Reeve’s performance. Unfortunately for him, who also worked on screenplay rewrites, the end result was less than stellar.

My rating: :???: