THE SHAPE OF WATER (USA 2017) ***** Top 10 of the Year

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The Shape of Water Poster
Trailer

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.

Writers:

Guillermo del Toro (screenplay by), Vanessa Taylor (screenplay by) |1 more credit »

The film opens with voiceover by Giles (Richard Jenkins) who tells his story that turns into a beautiful poem at the end of the film.  It braces the audience for sappiness, but as the film unfolds, Del Toro shows how sappiness can be done in movies in a  good way – with the repeated use of the famous Alice Faye song, “You’ll Never Know”.

The film’s subject is Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mousy, curious woman rendered mute by an injury she sustained as an infant.  She works the night shift as a janitor at the Occam Aerospace Research Centre in early 1960s Baltimore.   One day, the facility receives a new “asset” discovered by the cruel and abusive Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) in the rivers of South America.   Elisa has a brief encounter with The Asset (Doug Jones), which she discovers is an amphibious humanoid.  She feels sorry for it and helps it escape by stealing it from the facility.  Helping her are her best friend Giles, one of the centre’s scientists, Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is actually a Soviet spy named Dmitri and her co-worker (Octavia Spencer).

The film’s best and most amusing is the TV (one of many) clip of MR. ED (the talking horse) in which after a newspaper article seen in the background of a monkey sent to space.  Mr Ed Says, “I guess I have to enlist.”  It is a very funny and appropriate segment as the setting is of the time when Russia and the U.S. were engaged in the space race, just as it is mentioned that the U.S. wanted to send the water creature into space because of its breathing capabilities.

Any perfect story has to be brought to the screen by a perfect performance.  This performance belongs to Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, who broke into the film scene with the remarkable portrayal of Mike Leigh’s heroine in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY.  She brings heart to the role as a deaf mute who finally finds not only love but a purpose for living.

A superb film with a message included –  THE SHAPE OF WATER shows a non-tolerance policy towards bullying, and discrimination towards coloured people, homosexuals and lower paid employees like the cleaners.  Most of this is realized in the diner that Elisa and Giles frequent, mainly because closeted Giles fancies the male server.  It is a marvel that a mute can communicate the film’s prime message: “If we do nothing, then we are nothing!”

There is a lot of good similarity between THE SHAPE OF WATER and Del Toro’s other best movie PAN’S LABYRINTH.   Del Toro’s dislike for anything military is shown in the unsavoury character of Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon).  He is given Del Toro’s punishment of bodily injury of his two fingers chopped off (as the colonel in PAN’S LABYRINTH had his face hacked.)

Del Toro is smart enough to prime the audience for what is to come, thus invoking what was Hitchcock’s best tool – audience anticipation.  The audience first sees blood on the sink after Elisa touches the creature.

The film contains lots of the back humour one expects of Del Toro.  The poster “Loose lips might sink ships” is shown on the wall of  Elisa’s (who is mute) locker.  “No negativity”  Strickland utters, just as he realizes he is about to lose everything he has worked for.

The musical fantasy sequence towards the end in back and white where the mute Elisa is then allowed to sing is nothing short of inspired filmmaking.

THE SHAPE OF WATER is filmmaking at its best with Del Toro still in top form, with top talent on display.  He does not compromise on the violence (a few torture scenes involve the metal prod) but amidst the violence and occasional foul language, his latest film is one of the most credible and beautiful romantic stories in cinemas this year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFYWazblaUA

 

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Film Review: THE SHACK (USA 2017)

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The Shack (2017).jpgDirector: Stuart Hazeldine
Writers: John Fusco (screenplay), Andrew Lanham (screenplay)
Stars: Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE SHACK is a faith movie that loses the ‘Christianity’ label but whose theme would probably include the Christian faith. God appears in many forms, as male papa (Graham Greene), female papa (Octavia Spencer) or Jesus (Avivi Alush) or Sarayu Sumire Matsubara.

Though the Christian God’s name is absent, many of the teachings of Christ are present in one form or another. In the film, God appears in the film as a trinity, though the trinity is not in the form of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost but in the form of papa, Jesus and Sarayu. The preaching of forgiveness, very important in Christianity is also emphasized in the story.

The film opens with a young boy, MacKenzie as he witnesses his father abusing his mother and then giving him a beating after he tells on him at church. The abuse obviously flows into the boy’s adult life. The film forwards to the present where the boy is now a grown man, (Sam Worthington), married with two children. Christianity loves to test the faith of its believers and in this case, the patience of the audience as well.

After his young daughter is murdered during a family camping trip, Mack Phillips spirals into a deep depression causing him to question his innermost beliefs. Facing a crisis of faith, he receives a mysterious letter urging him to the shack where the crime occurred, deep in the Oregon wilderness. Despite his doubts, Mack goes there and encounters an enigmatic trio of strangers led by a woman named Papa. Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever.

Director Hazeldine’s straight forward storytelling technique leaves nothing to the imagination. Apart from a few dreamlike sequences, the story unfolds in chronological fashion with hardly a flashback The film is more interesting (though this is not saying much) in the first 15 minutes or so, because there are incidents happening. After, when redemption is the order of the day, the film just ponders along ponderously.

There are no special performances in the film. Worthington appears to be faith blindly walking though his role The same goes for the rather well-known name cast that includes Radha Mitchell, Octavia Spencer and Graham Greene. I have never seen Spencer in such a painful performance, forcing laughter too many times as in this film.

The film is suitable for a family audience. There is no foul language. Even the child beating scene is done without any violence and the reason for Missy’s appearance is mentioned in a ‘too polite’ manner.

An overlong faith movie running at 132 minutes which is as slow and tedious as it tests your faith and patience, see THE SHACK only if you absolutely MUST.
The film end with an equal tedious song “Keep Your Eyes on Me” by Faith Hill and actor Tim McGraw.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CL0yUbSS5Eg

 
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Film Review: HIDDEN FIGURES (USA 2016) ***

hidden_figures_movie_poster.jjpg.jpgDirected by Theodore Melfi

Writers: Allison Schroeder (screenplay), Theodore Melfi (screenplay)

Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons

Review by Gilbert Seah

HIDDEN FIGURES is given a limited theatre release at Christmas to qualify for the Oscar nominations. Obviously, 20th Century Fox hopes the film will strike it big at the Academy Awards.

Movies cover the hot topic of racial tensions in a number of ways. There is the angry rile up the emotions LOVING, THE BIRTH OF A NATION or the quieter FENCES(also opening during Christmas) where racial problem are irked out by hard-working law abiding citizens in the long run. In HIDDEN FIGURES, racial tension is covered in a whole different light – in a feel good crowd pleasing movie.

As the film proudly annoys at the start with the titles on screen “Based on true events”, HIDDEN FIGURES tells the true, little-known story of three brilliant African-American women who worked at NASA in the 1950s and ’60s and played a major role in sending astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) worked as engineers and “human computers” to push the limits of mathematics — as well as the limits of race and gender in the scientific community. Expect a little bit of romance and a look at the racial tensions of the Civil Rights era in this drama that promises to provide some great, real-life role models for girls and people of colour in STEM fields.

There are a lot of silliness in HIDDEN FIGURES. The most obvious of which is the dialogue penned for astronaut John Glenn (he passed away this month) who is the first American shot into Earth’s orbit. When told of the entry velocity of the spaceship into Earth’s gravitational pull, he remarks: “That’s one hell of a speeding ticket.” When informed where the craft will land, he says: “I always wanted to swim in the Bahamas.” If these were actual words Glen spoke, he must have been quite a clownish goon. The lyrics of the films’ songs (apaprently penned by artists like Pharrell Williams) like: “No more running…” and “Look what you done to me…” which underline the events happening in the film are not only unnecessary but yes, silly to the point of laughter.

Performance-wsie, the three female leads can do o harm. It is also refreshing (and funny) to see supporting actor Jim Parsons (from TV’s THE BIG BANG THOERY) in a thoroughly straight role as an antagonist or the only female in his department. Kevin Costner as the boss adds a certain dignity, welcome in the film.

HIDDEN FIGURES could have turned up a really excellent film instead of this mediocrity written down for audiences to feel good during the Christmas season. It is a question that the director and scriptwriter not having enough faith on the source material that it would work on its own without pumping in additional over-sweeteners.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK8xHq6dfAo

 

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Happy Birthday: Octavia Spencer

octaviaspencer.jpgHappy Birthday actor Octavia Spencer

Born: Octavia Lenora Spencer
May 25, 1970 in Montgomery, Alabama, USA

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