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:


Blade Runner 2049 – Denis Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford, and Robin Wright.
Photo Credit: Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros Pictures

When the executive producer of a movie openly admits the movie is too long, and that executive producer is also a director notorious for making movies with 150 min runtimes, you have to believe him when he says it. Blade Runner 2049 is many things: visually stunning, intriguing, artistic, and, as Ridley Scott so delicately put it, “f***ing way too long“. Even if it takes more than one sitting, even if you need a couple bathroom breaks in the 2hrs and 44mins; if you’re a fan of quality sci-fi drama (think Arrival), Blade Runner 2049 is a must-see.

Just like the original Blade Runner (directed by Ridley Scott 35 years ago), it’s not for everyone. If you have no patience for slow films and for scenes that are easily 2 minutes longer than they have to be, avoid this sequel like the plague. If you are the DC/Marvel type who needs humour and constant action, avoid this movie like the plague. If you are the other type of movie watcher, sit back and get completely sucked into a new (or not so new) world.

Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Prisoners, Sicario) took a 35-year-old movie and made it fresh and relevant. A very serious Ryan Gosling plays “K”, a young “blade runner” for the L.A. Police Department. Blade runners are tasked with hunting down and retiring old Replicant models, a type of bioengineered android that looks identical to a human. Apparently older Replicants rose up against humans at some point, but that’s not really important. The important thing to know is that Replicants look and act like humans; older models are not wanted and are hunted and killed; and there is a giant, powerful corporation that is experimenting with new models and new features that make it even more difficult to tell the difference. During a routine stop, K stumbles on something strange that requires further investigation. His boss (Robin Wright) tasks him with getting to the bottom of the strange events surrounding the death of an old model, all while trying to stay ahead of the CEO of the corporation (Jared Leto), who wants answers for a very different reason. The story is fairly complex, and although it doesn’t require one to see the original, it probably helps one understand the world a little better.

Lucky for fans of the original film, K’s investigation leads him to former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). It’s been 30 years and he’s a little older, but there’s still a lot of fight (and heartache) left in his character, not to mention Mr. Ford himself (see video ‘Ryan Gosling Nearly Knocked Out by Harrison Ford‘).

The main features of the movie are the cinematography, production design, and the music/sound – all things that Blade Runner 2049 has been nominated for. The dusty, dirty, futuristic dystopia is breathtaking in almost every scene. If camera work and set design are not things you typically notice in a film, you will surely notice them in this one. They make the ugly future strangely beautiful. The score is eerily similar to Arrival, so much so that it is hard to believe that Jóhann Jóhannsson had no part in it; in fact, he was replaced by Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk, Interstellar, Inception) and Benjamin Wallfisch (IT) shortly into filming. For a film with fairly limited dialogue, the music is quite noticeable and gives the sweeping landscapes more “oomph”.

To sum up, although Blade Runner 2049 is an acquired taste just like the original, it will surely satisfy those who enjoy a science fiction drama with spectacular visuals. Denis Villeneuve brings his typical darker style to the film as well as his talent for perfect endings.

Blade Runner 2049 brought in just under $260M worldwide and has been nominated for five Oscars at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards, including:
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Best Achievement in Production Design

Watch the official Warner Bros. trailer here:

Arrival – Denis Villeneuve

Arrival starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker.
Photo Credit: Jan Thijs/Paramount Pictures

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Incendies) has done something extraordinary. Arrival is what had been missing from the 2016 movie year and exactly what was needed, a truly unique and enormously entertaining film. Much more than the average science fiction film, Arrival takes alien encounters very seriously. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play the roles of acclaimed linguist Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly, who are called upon by the U.S. Army to provide input on the alien visitors and their gravity-defying ship. They are tasked to find out why they came and what they want. As expected, it can be very difficult to communicate with a being that doesn’t speak or think in terms humans can understand, so they have a long and complicated road ahead if them. It’s both intriguing and entertaining to watch the story unfold.

From the get-go, Arrival is unsettling, mostly due to Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s haunting score (listen here). A generally somber mood is crafted right at the beginning with a cryptic monologue by Adams and a series of flashbacks. Most of the movie is dark and shadowy with some exceptional cinematography and sleek production design, both of which Arrival received Oscar nominations for. The acting is superb, with a striking performance by Adams, which was sadly ignored by the Academy.

Much like Villeneuve’s other films, every scene and conversation has a purpose; no screen time is wasted on cheap science fiction thrills like scary aliens or battle sequences. Arrival is as sophisticated as it is unique. There is some action and some intense moments, but overall it would almost classify as a science fiction drama. If you are in the mood for something light à la Independence Day: Resurgence , you will be very disappointed. The characters are in a race against time to solve a puzzle – in this case an alien language – where the consequences of getting it wrong could mean war.

Just shy of 120 minutes, Arrival is a great length and does not take an hour to end once things ramp up (looking at you, Return of the King). It takes you on a complex journey and holds back some key information for a big reveal that will leave you breathless and perhaps even choking back some tears. Some will even think that the movie is over too soon, that there could have been more – more explanations or more conclusions – but in the end, Arrival is as close to perfect as a film can get. Nothing is as it seems, and you’ll probably re-watch it as soon as you can to fully appreciate Villeneuve’s mastery.

The film was released in November 2016 and grossed just short of $200M worldwide.

Arrival was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It ended up walking away with one win for sound editing.

Watch the official trailer here:

Ex Machina – Alex Garland

Ex Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander

Ex Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander

Since the movie’s limited releases in January and April, critics and regular movie-goers alike have been showering it with praise and calling it one of the best science fiction films in years. It’s smart, thrilling, and has a continuous dark undertone that makes you feel like there’s something wrong, but you just don’t know what. Unlike a lot of science fiction movies, you aren’t quite sure how it’s going to end, but with Ex Machina, you know it probably won’t be good.

Ex Machina is written and directed by Alex Garland, a talented British author (The Beach, which adapted for the screen in 2000), screenwriter (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go), and now Director. His filmography will give a good indication of the “tone” of film one can expect from his new feature, he doesn’t stray too far from the dark and troubled.

Not everyone will be a fan of the pace of this film; some people may find it a little too slow and the shots a little too long, others will find the slow build up intriguing. Ex Machina is about a young, brilliant coder who wins a contest that will take him far into the wilderness to a compound owned by the CEO of his company. At this secluded, high-security resort is a new project the CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), has been working on – artificial intelligence. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), the coder, has been tasked with assessing and testing the machine’s capabilities over the course of a week and finally determining if he has indeed succeeded in mastering artificial intelligence.

The score is eerie and certainly compliments the solitude and the gravity of the situation. To have created a machine that looks, feels, acts, and processes information and emotions like a human being is certainly ground-breaking on a science level, but dangerous on a moral and spiritual level. The film covers a lot of ground and oddly enough everything seems quite believable and well thought through.

The machine/robot, Ava, is played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina, The Fifth Estate), who will certainly be getting more roles after the recognition she’s been getting lately. She is completely convincing as the sweet and innocent A.I. who just wants to be treated as a person and craves real human interaction. Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, Anna Karenina, Unbroken) is at the centre of the film and goes through a large range of emotions (awe, intrigue, mistrust, and finally madness) with such conviction that you just know he’s going to be around for a long, long time. These two actors, along with Oscar Isaac playing the binge-drinking, secretive mastermind behind it all who you just can’t seem to completely trust, anchor the movie in such a way that they keep you engaged and never really let go. It’s a thought-provoking slow burner and, as previously stated, some people may not have the attention span for it and it may be just a little too “messed up” for others; it is science fiction, after all.

Ex Machina only made about $36M at the box office worldwide and is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Edge of Tomorrow – Doug Liman

Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt

It was a summer filled with crowd pleasing blockbusters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Transformers 4 but if you didn’t get a chance to see Edge of Tomorrow in theatres, then be sure to look for it on DVD/Blu-Ray October 7. In a spring/summer filled with sequels, it was one of the more unique movies to hit theatres and, given its company, it didn’t get as much credit as it should have.

It was like Groundhog Day on steroids, and a lot less annoying. Tom Cruise plays “Major William Cage” who unexpectedly gets caught in the middle of a seemingly unwinnable war against robotic aliens and at the same time finds himself in a continuous time-loop where he cannot stay dead. When he does die, which is inevitable in this alien war, he wakes up a moment later at the beginning of the first day where he must relive all of the same moments over again. It was refreshing to see him in a role where he starts off as a bit of a coward who doesn’t know what he’s doing and grows into the macho killing machine we’re so used to. He’s the opposite of a hero when he begins his journey to the front lines where the battle resembles the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, except with terrifying alien killing machines and a lot more fire power. Emily Blunt was surprisingly a great fit for the female lead, a bad-ass war hero with a take-no-shit attitude.

It’s a lot of fun to watch Cage die over and over again and attempt to figure out different ways to make it through the day without getting himself killed, and of course save mankind in the process. Edge of Tomorrow is an extremely fast-paced movie with enough complexity and witty dialogue that makes one wonder how it was all crammed into 113 minutes, an ideal length for an edge-of-your-seat sci-fi action movie (Michael Bay, please take note).

Tom Cruise, as always, has a lot of impressive stunts and actually comes across as funny as the movie plays on. As he quickly becomes a seasoned war veteran through his live, die, repeat sequence, we see him slowly gain the respect of Rita (Emily Blunt) and their relationship, mostly based on tolerance and sarcasm, is pretty amusing to watch. There is some chemistry there, but thankfully that’s not what the movie is focused on.

All in all, it is a unique, fun, and action-packed movie that most people should enjoy. The plot is fairly complex but shouldn’t be too hard to follow as you gain more and more knowledge of the situation as the movie progresses. Do yourself a favour and don’t focus on the loopholes (there are bound to be a few in a story like this) – just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.