The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water starring Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) loves to make movies and it’s obvious that actors and members of the production teams love to make movies with him. Those who have worked on The Shape of Water have called it “magical” and “beautiful” and during del Toro’s Best Director award speech at the Golden Globes, he moved his two leading ladies to tears. The love and the respect people seem to have for del Toro certainly translated to the screen and their performances in The Shape of Water. This film was so well received, it has been nominated for thirteen Oscars (just one shy of the record), including the big ones (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay) and a number of the technical ones (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Film Editing).

Sally Hawkins (Maudie, Blue Jasmine) turns in a performance of a lifetime as Elisa, a mute cleaner at a highly classified government facility who meets and eventually falls in love with an amphibian creature being held captive at the facility. She doesn’t say a word, but through her facial expressions, use of sign language, and that sly smile, you know exactly what she’s feeling. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) is equally impressive as Zelda, Elisa’s cleaning colleague. She’s funny, doesn’t stop talking, and never really requires a response from Elisa in order to know how she feels about something. It must be difficult to play a part when your lines are like one big rant but it never really shows. The rest of the supporting cast couldn’t be any better – Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Michael Shannon is an over-the-top villain named Strickland who you despise in every single scene. He never lets up and it’s perfection.

The film is set in the 1960’s when everyone was afraid of Russians spies. When a creature from the Amazon is brought into a secret research facility its apparent that the views on how to treat it are opposing. One man wants to learn from it, the other man wants to torture and destroy it before enemies can get their hands on it. In the middle is Elisa, who somehow finds companionship with the strange, misunderstood creature. It’s a weird story that brings together elements from familiar movies like Splash, King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, and Creature from the Black Lagoon – and some may say the narrative has been done before, so why bother? If this type of thing troubles you, if you were angry that Avatar got so much hype even though it was basically Pocahontas, stay at home because this type of fantasy film probably isn’t for you. It’s what a director does with a familiar story – either visually or with beloved characters – that can make all the difference. What James Cameron did to revitalize the popular story with a huge budget, del Toro does with and a small budget and pure passion.

This movie is too different to be universally likeable. The magical/unbelievable element will throw off some moviegoers– but if you go into it prepared and with an open mind, it’s really hard not to love every minute of it. Guillermo del Toro has said that on a few occasions, his fairy tales have saved his life – The Shape of Water being one of them – and that is evident in how personal the film feels. It explores the loneliness in being different, the dream of being loved and understood, and the harsh cruel realities of the world all at once. The score (Oscar-nominated Alexandre Desplat), the almost-excessive romanticism, and overly adorable characters will either make you smile with delight for two hours or have you rolling your eyes, wishing for it to be over. Like everything, it’s a matter of perspective and what you’re in the mood for.

The Shape of Water has grossed over $95M worldwide; with less than a $20M budget that is quite the success. The Shape of Water has been nominated for thirteen Oscars at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards:
Best Achievement in Directing
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Best Achievement in Film Editing
Best Achievement in Production Design

Watch the official trailer from FOX Searchlight here:

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Irrational Man – Woody Allen

Irrational Man starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, and Parker Posey.

While not quite up to par in terms of his recent works (Magic in the Moonlight, the Oscar-winning Blue Jasmine, and Midnight in Paris) Woody Allen‘s Irrational Man still manages to be moderately amusing and light in a way that only fans of the Director/Writer will appreciate. This movie in particular will not likely appeal to as many people as Woody Allen’s other films of the last decade. Starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role as Abe Lucas, the disillusioned alcoholic and mopey philosophy professor, and Emma Stone as Jill, the philosophy student inexplicably drawn to him, Irrational Man follows their friendship and Abe’s odd journey to finding a reason to keep living.

Prior to discovering his purpose in life, Abe was living a drunken existence without meaning (or sex). He was once an accomplished writer, philosopher, and philanthropist but lost his way when he realized he would never be able to bring real change to the world.  When he starts to focus on changing the world for one person, his outlook immediately changes and he begins an elaborate plan to execute the good deed. While he sees his tasks as completely rational, from the outside world it is completely the opposite, hence the name of the film. The concepts in Irrational Man are both light and dark, which is typical of a Woody Allen film

The film is just over an hour and a half, which makes it a quick watch by today’s standards. It didn’t “drag on” and while the ending may leave you a bit stunned (but not entirely disappointed), Irrational Man doesn’t leave you with any lingering feelings towards it, good or bad. It’s not likely to be a film you will watch again, but it’s also not something that will make you angry for wasting your precious time.

Irrational Man originally premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 and saw a wider release in August 2015. The majority of the box office totals ($27M) came from the foreign market

Watch the official trailer here:

 

 

Trainwreck – Judd Apatow

trainwreck

Trainwreck starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader.
Photo Credits: Mary Cybulski / Universal Pictures

Amy Schumer is the new “it” comedienne, there’s no denying that. After blowing up on the small screen by starring in her own TV show Inside Amy Schumer and finding herself featured on shows like the latest season of The Bachelorette, it was just a matter of time before the big names in Hollywood decided to back her on her own feature length film – Trainwreck. She wrote it, she stars in it, and Judd Apatow directed it. When you mix her flare for breaking down the male/female boundaries and her crude tell-it-like-it-is (not to mention shameless) delivery with his history of directing such funny filth, it certainly seems like a winning combination. It’s hard to say exactly where it went wrong, especially when so many critics and movie-goers raved about it, but a seasoned comedy screenwriter (like Apatow) likely could have made it better. Trainwreck had all the components of a great summer comedy, except and experienced rom-com writer; luckily though, it got away with it for the most part.

Amy Schumer stars as a commitment-opposed magazine columnist who unexpectedly falls for a sports doctor, played by Bill Hader. She’s blunt, funny, the opposite of graceful, and has a soft spot for her father. Amy’s got all the qualities of a stereotypical promiscuous man….but is, in fact, a woman; she just hasn’t found the right guy to settle down with. Therein lies the message that some feminists…. sorry, columnists, took issue with when bashing….sorry, reviewing, the movie. If you aren’t one to care about the underlying messages in romantic comedies or how they affect society’s perception of men and women, then just relax, adjust your blinders, and enjoy the film. That’s what these kinds of movie are for anyway!

The odd thing about Trainwreck is that the funniest actor is actually not an actor (or comedian) at all – it’s LeBron James. It can be very painful to watch athletes attempt to get a laugh from the crowd, especially when they’re playing themselves; however, LeBron is so incredibly believable and funny in his delivery  that you actually find yourself looking forward to scenes with him in them. He’s hands-down the best thing about the movie, which doesn’t say much for the more experienced actors that were supposed to carry the film.

It’s not that Trainwreck was that bad, because so many people found it hilarious, it’s just that it could have been so much better. And finally, as with every Judd Apatow movie, it was about 30 minutes too long. All that being said, it still makes for a good girls night or a date night movie, as long as you’re not easily offended by crude language and awkward sex scenes.

Trainwreck was released in theatres back in July 2015 and will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on November 10, 2015.

Watch the trailer: