The Shape Of Water

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Guillermo Del Toro

Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg.

Guillermo Del Toro is one of the greatest directors working today. His Spanish language movies being some of the best made in the 21st century. His English language output has, so far, been mainly studio blockbuster fare, with films such as Blade 2, Hellboy 1 and 2, and Pacific Rim. These were all great, and had plenty of heart, but felt like Del Toro paying his studio dues. His last film Crimson Peak felt like a return, and now with The Shape Of Water, Del Toro is finally starting to challenge his Spanish language output. A film truly worthy of the man behind Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Shape Of Water follows Sally Hawkins’ Eliza. A mute cleaner at a government facility in the 60’s. Her usual daily routine is interrupted with the arrival of the facilities latest asset. A creature of the black lagoon style amphibian man. Brought in by head of security Richard Strickland (played menacingly by Michael Shannon). What follows is a love story as Eliza learns more about the amphibian, and they start to connect. When Eliza discovers that the creature is to be killed, and dissected, she hatches a plan to break the creature out, enlisting the help of neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), work colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and Russian spy Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg).

Del Toro’s film is one of the most gorgeously shot movies of the year. It’s a true love letter to cinema. Every frame stunningly lit, inviting the audience in until it becomes all absorbing. This is a heightened version of the 60’s, creating the feel of a fairytale for adults. It’s a film about fantasy, it’s characters are outsiders who find comfort in each other, and their escapism. You have to question wether or not the film isn’t happening in Eliza’s head. The dream like quality of the movie, and Richard Jenkins’ narration adding to the bedtime story nature of the film. Eliza and Giles’ obsession with old movies, and how these influence their lives. Eliza starts by mimicking a dance routine, until she’s the star of her own fully blown Hollywood production. It’s not hard to imagine Del Toro as a boy, an outsider finding solace in films, dreaming up this story whilst watching Creature From The Black Lagoon. It’s in the rare moments that the real world starts to break in, that we can really question this reality. TV news broadcasts showing police brutality quickly shut off, racist and homophobic characters, the threat of the Cold War, it’s the real world which makes the outsiders retreat further into their fantasies.

Del Toro populates his film with so many interesting characters, making you want to know more about them. Take the man at bus stop holding a cake with one slice missing. It’s the only time you see him, but you know there’s a story behind him. The actors who portray these characters are equally as impressive. Sally Hawkins finally getting the roles and recognition she deserves, and she is breathtakingly good, filling her Eliza with a naive innocence, and a raw sexuality. Octavia Spencer makes good work with the screen time she’s given. Doug Jone turns a scary looking creature into something you care for, which is no mean feat. Richard Jenkins is fantastic, and Michael Shannon is Michael Shannon. His villain a man who has bought into the fantasy of what a man should be in the 60’s, representing all the toxic masculinity that comes with it.

Music, and how music is used in film is also incredibly important to The Shape Of Water, and Alexandre Desplat’s score is beautiful, haunting, and mesmerising. Eliza lives above a theatre called the Orpheum. This means house of Orpheus. Orpheus being a character of Greek myth who uses music to charm. Eliza and the creature first connect over their shared love of music. Orpheus was eventually killed by those who couldn’t hear his music. Which is incredibly apt for a film about the people who live on the margins and feel like they are invisible.

There’s no shortage of things I loved about this film. It’s funny, moving, tense, and heart breaking. It’s a love letter to the power that cinema has. It shares a lot in common with Pan’s Labyrinth, in particular a main character who is referred to as a princess, and then descends into a fantasy world. It’s Guillermo Del Toro’s best English language film, and in his filmography only comes second to Pan’s Labyrinth, which really is saying something.

10/10

Paddington 2

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Paul King

Starring: Ben Winshaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleason

 

When Paddington arrived in 2014, stepping off the train at the station he was named after, we were treated to a family classic much better than anything we could have hoped for. A film which pleased all ages with its sense of British charm. Expectations were high for the sequel and it’s with great joy, and relief, that I can say that Paddington 2 is as good as, if not better than its predecessor.

The plot revolves around Paddington, voiced by Ben Winshaw and still living with the Brown family, finding an old pop up book of London in Jim Broadbent’s antique shop. The book will make a perfect gift for his Aunt Lucy, his adoptive mother who now lives at the home for retired bears in Peru, and who has always dreamt of seeing London. Paddington starts to save up for the book, in a sequence which hilariously shows him trying his hand at a number of jobs, best of which is his brief stint as a barbers assistant. Things go awry though when Hugh Grant’s has-been actor hears about the book and steals it, leaving Paddington to take the fall. The Brown family will have to clear Paddington name, whilst Paddington tries to survive prison and, in particular, head chef Knuckles, played fantastically by Brendan Gleason.

 

The film is a joy from start to finish. “Nice and polite makes everything alright” is something Paddington learned from his Aunt, and this film follows that advice to the letter. Paul King conjures up a fictionalised version of London which comes across as though Wes Anderson has directed an episode of BBC’s Sherlock. It’s not quite the London we know, but it’s the London we wish we could live in, or perhaps could if we followed Aunt Lucy’s advice too. The CGI is fantastic, with Paddington a perfectly believeable creation, brought to life with warmth and innocence by Winshaw. The comedy is mainly slapstick, and always laugh out loud funny, relying on the Buster Keaton-esque antics of the titular bear, but beneath this humour is a huge beating heart. You will laugh, and you will cry.

 

Another delight of the film is watching top actors understanding exactly what type of film they are in, and giving there all. Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, and Julia Walters all return, and are all terrific as the family whose lives have been touched and affected by the bear. Brendan Gleason as mentioned before is also great as a prison chef. It’s to Paul King’s credit that whilst Paddington does go to prison, this is not the darker sequel, and the tone is always kept light, avoiding the taxidermist mis-step the first film made. Full regard must go to Hugh Grant though, who gamely switches to full scenery chewing mode as the villain of the piece, has-been actor Phoenix Buchanan. Grant is a revelation, giving us a performance completely unexpected.

 

From beginning to to end this film is completely entertaining. The effects and character work completely melding together to give you a story which will thrill you, make you laugh, and make you cry in equal measure. This is no more evident than the final act. A steam-train chase which shows that no matter how much money, explosions, and cgi you through at a film, nothing is as thrilling or compelling than having characters you’re actually invested in and care about. It’s the rare sequel that’s as good as the first, now I just can’t wait to see Paddington 3.

 

9/10