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Thread: THE SHAPE OF WATER (Guillermo del Toro 2017)

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    THE SHAPE OF WATER (Guillermo del Toro 2017)

    GUILLERMO DEL TORO: THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)


    SALLY HAWKINS IN THE SHAPE OF WATER

    The call of the aquatic

    Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water is a superbly crafted film. Its theme's touching ad heartwarming, if a little complacently so even in the view of its greatest fans. The message and emotions are delivered through a weird mix: interspecies romance, Cold War spy story, exposť of bigotry and cruelty to animals, musical, fantasy, and fairy tale. It is sometimes ugly but also subtle and beautiful to look at. The whole is made with conviction, and probably could only have been made by del Toro, an auteur with his own unique and thoroughgoing vision. At the same time it's different from his other movies and may have wider appeal. It has met with universal acclaim: many critics have raved and none has been harsh or dismissive.

    And yet, I must personally confess that I just don't get it, never really connect emotionally; that I find this movie's cruel and evil character, played with his usual unrelenting intensity by Michael Shannon, too dominant and repellant and its subversive romance unmoving, its fantasy artificial and not quite having the magic it's meant to have, partly, no doubt, because the non-human object of the interspecies love story isn't given much of a personality.

    The story concerns a top secret facility in Baltimore in the early Nineteen-Sixties. (The town is trashed by Shannon's evil character, and never defended.) The focus is on two cleaning ladies who work there, one black , named Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), the other, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a sweet, sensitive woman who hears but is mute. Zelda lives with a husband who rarely speaks. Elisa shares space above a movie palace with Giles (Richard Jenkins), a sad and lonely gay man who has lost his job as an advertising artist. At work, Zelda and Elisa are inseparable. Zelda understands Elisa's sign language, and protects her.

    The main action begins when a strange humanoid aquatic monster (played in costume by Doug Jones) is brought to the facility by an unpleasant, cruel man, Richard Strickland (Shannon), who liberated it from the Amazon, where it was worshipped by natives as a god. But Strickland is the real monster, condescending and bigoted toward Zelda, for her race, and Elisa for her communicative disability.

    Strickland's bigotry and cruelty are primarily focused on the aquatic creature, which he not only tortures with an electric cattle prod but wants to kill so it can be dissected, instead of keeping it alive and studying it. Elisa not only fearlessly makes friends with the frightening, sometimes ferocious monster - which bites off part of Strickland's left hand, which leads to disgusting consequences later - but falls in love with it, and contrives to save it, with help from Zelda - and importantly, to have sex with it. There's a kindly scientist, Dr. Hoffstetler (the suddenly ubiquitous Michael Stuhlbarg), who turns out to be a Russian spy.

    The actors are very good, but in the genre mix the characters sometimes seem to be acting in their own separate bubbles. Eliza and her sad roommate are a tad too kindly and pitiful. Zelda is just a bit too warm and down to earth (though Spencer avoids cliche or any feel of duplicating earlier roles). The two women seem on their own in the facility, snooping around freely till they're caught by the mean Strickland. Dr. Hoffstetler dithers too much, a good guy among bad guys, since he wants to save the creature, an idea seen by his Russian handlers as a sign of weakness.

    Strickland is a non-stop ogre, and unaccountably he has a Main Street mainstream family, with a curiously unreal loving little boy who kisses him on the cheek when he goes off to school. Strickland's simplistic boss is a dumb five star general. Del Toro is sparing in his use of the wonders of CGI, and the "Amphibian Man," as the credits call him, looks very much like a man in a monster suit - the better to make this clearly a fantasy. He is, Del Toro has pointed out himself, a reference to the old "Creature from the Black Lagoon," and this movie will be better appreciated by all those with an incestuous familiarity with pop movie fantasies like that. It also has a bit of singing and dancing to underline the fantasy element.

    I was hoping I'd appreciate this, on its own terms, wonderful movie by seeing it as completely fantastic, but that simply didn't work. Unfortunately though its ugly moments, mostly involving bigotry and cruelty, racism, sexism, homophobia and condescension toward other species, are all too real for one to be lulled into the dream. But that there is beauty and magic here as well as ugliness is without question.

    The Shape of Water, 123 mins, debuted at Venice, winning 4 awards, including the Golden Lion for Best Film and it has won many Golden Globes awards and its Oscar prospects are high. It opened (limited) in NYC 1 Dec. 2017. Limited release in other UIS cities 8 Dec. Wider release 16 Feb. 2018. Metacritic rating 86%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2018 at 06:55 PM.

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    Chris's First Paragraph Captures This Movie

    Only if Chris has stopped his commentary with his first paragraph he could have summed up and captured the totality of this movie perfectly. The rest of his commentary downplaying this movie is not as convincing, but more of a personal opinion. He complains using an oil and water argument of so many difference movie genres that in his opinion don't mix well. The evil is too evil, the romance not enough. Yet when considering the stylistic fairy tale format del Toro is using, the breadth and latitude permitted for accepting the various movie genres are quite flexible and del Toro holds this movie together very well. The evil of the 1950s can't be underestimated and the potential for its explosive and catastrophic outcome in today's political environment can't be ignored either. As a God fearing as well as American First policy of the 1950s took hold in this movie that allowed a pervasive moral evil to take hold, the idea of a moral evil that condones torture of a demon-creature is not beyond the pale. The romance for some people in the audience is strikingly powerful, especially since non-verbal communication can represent upwards of 70% to 80% of actual meaningful communication and in this movie the emphasis on non-verbal is quite obvious. The Shape of Water and its various positive movie critics and nominations are well deserved.

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    I recognize Guillermo del Toro's accomplishment in The Shape of Water (my first paragraph?) but it's a film that just doesn't work for me at all for myriad reasons. It is certainly true: in my review I express my taste. That's what one needs to do, though, isn't it? I can swoon over surrealism, but I shrink from the grotesque. I love things that are elegant and beautiful. That's why I admire and enjoy PHantom Thread so much. I have a problem with Sally Hawkins as a heroine. But I liked her better this past year in Maudie,in modest biopic about a Canadian folk artist. (New York Movie Journal Sept.-Oct. 2017) It's a true story, more or less. Even Maudie takes us too far into the realm of the grotesque for my taste. But the material is closer to my comfort zone. I can make sense of it and Sally Hawkins seems right in it.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2018 at 05:55 AM.

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    Highest Recognition

    Sometimes it nice to have an opinion that is shared by others as this movie demonstrates. At least for a non-theater major, sometimes, it's an affirmation of the universality of so movies.

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    I am very happy this movie won Best Picture. There were other "perfect" movies out there (I find it hard to fault anything in Dunkirk, for instance) but The Shape of Water is the rarer accomplishment. It's about damn time Mr. del Toro gets properly recognized for his unique ability to mix conventions from different, often disparate, genres and to make them coalesce into something socially resonant and historically grounded. Sometimes he reaches for the sublime and philosophical because he is willing to go there. His monsters and villains are so captivating because their characterizations borrows so freely and imaginatively from the artist's ample knowledge of human civilization. One example: the monster known as "Pale Man" in Pan's Labyrinth includes traits from the life of St. Lucia, a Medieval Saint who gouged her eyes out rather than let them look at a man with lust. But the monster ALSO has characteristics of the deity Saturn. It's the kind of thing that yields movies that feel new at the same time that they reveal their roots in the past.

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    I finally watched the version of Mimic (1997) assembled by Guillermo del Toro for release in 2011. The original theatrical release is the product of all sorts of interference (Harvey Weinstein and friends) and commercial accommodation. The original film includes a lot of shots filmed by a "second unit" at the behest of the suits. The color timing of the truncated, original version is entirely wrong too (against the filmmaker's intentions). I am happy that del Toro invested substantial time and effort to fix what could be fixed and re-edit Mimic. Only the new director's cut is available on BluRay and it's very good. I like it more than Alien, which has a well-deserved stupendous reputation.

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