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

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The Shape of Water Poster

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.


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.



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Film Review: MAUDIE (Canada/Ireland 2016) ***1/2

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maudieDirector: Aisling Walsh
Writer: Sherry White
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Sally Hawkins, Kari Matchett

Review by Gilbert Seah

MAUDIE is the film about Maud Lewis. Maud Lewis is among the most inspiring figures in Canadian art. Afflicted with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, she spent her early life dismissed for what was presumed to be her limited ability. But Lewis’ colourful paintings, made on surfaces ranging from beaverboard to cookie sheets, established her as one of our country’s premier folk artists.

There is one reason to see the new Canadian/Irish drama about painter Maud Lewis and it is the actress who portrays her, Brit Sally Hawkins. Besides being this reviewer’s favourite number 1 actress who broke into prominence with Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, Hawkins has also garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress playing Cate Blanchette’s sister in Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE. MAUIDE puts Hawkins again in Best Actress category, which should win her at least a Best Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Actress.

MAUDIE, based on a true story (the real images of Maudie and Everett seen in the final credits), is an unlikely romance in which the reclusive Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) hires a fragile yet determined woman named Maudie (Sally Hawkins) to be his housekeeper. Maudie, bright-eyed but hunched with crippled hands, yearns to be independent, to live away from her protective family and she also yearns, passionately, to create art. Unexpectedly, Everett finds himself falling in love. MAUDIE charts Everett’s efforts to protect himself from being hurt, Maudie’s deep and abiding love for this difficult man and her surprising rise to fame as a folk painter. Things change when one day a summer resident comes calling. She’s a New Yorker, wears alluring clothing and talks like Katharine Hepburn. She sees something in Maudie’s paintings and commissions one. Suddenly Maudie’s pastime is recognized as having real value. People come from far and wide. Eventually her work will hang in the White House.

Irish director Walsh concentrates on the drama of the couple’s difficult relationship. It is only after the half way mark that Maudie begins to paint. The secret of Maudie’s daughter still being alive and still existing is only given a fleeting nod, again the film revetting back to the couple’s relationship.

The film is a period piece set in the small village of Marshalltown, 1937. As this is a small village, only small carts and horses are sufficient to convince the audience of the early 30’s setting. Though set in Nova Scotia, MAUDIE was shot in Newfoundland, likely because the Province of Newfoundland poured in money for the production. Still these two are Atlantic provinces and the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Guy Godfree displaying images of the maritime light and landscape. The music is haunting and provided by COWBOYS JUNKIES member, Michael Timmins, even though the music often comes on into the film abruptly at several points.

Besides Hawkins’ outstanding performance, talkative Ethan Hawke delivers one against (his) type as the quiet and moody husband, Everett Lewis. Vancouver actress Gabrielle Rose, recently seen in THE DEVOUT is also a pleasure to watch, playing Maudie’ ailing Aunt Ida.

No reason is given for Maudie’s crippled hands except that the problem is linked to arthritis, which is assumed afflicted Maudie from a much younger age than most. Nothing much is also mentioned of Everett’s background, though one would be curious the reason he became quite the recluse.
Though MAUDIE might be a slow watch for some, it is a well crafted and effective biopic of MAUDIE and her troubled relationship.




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Happy Birthday: Sally Hawkins

sallyhawkins.jpgHappy Birthday actor Sally Hawkins

Born: April 27, 1976 in Dulwich, London, England, UK

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