The Shape Of Water *** ½
Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Lauren Lee Smith
Lonely, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works in a secret government facility with only two true friends in her life – her garrulous co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her neighbour, Giles (Richard Jenkins), an aging, unemployed painter, – who also have their own loneliness (of different kinds) to deal with. When a new “specimen” – a curiously scary, possibly dangerous, yet beautiful “fish man” (Doug Jones) – is brought to the facility by the brutish government agent, Strickland (Michael Shannon), Zelda begins to feel a kinship with the creature and stirrings both emotional and physical.
There’s no doubt that Guillermo del Toro is an imaginative filmmaker and in The Shape Of Water he sets his imagination to crafting a modern day (set circa 1963 to be exact) fairy tale. But it is a fable that unfolds in the manner of the original, unexpurgated, unsanitised Brothers Grimm tales – dark, scary, lusty, disturbing and not necessarily ending in a happy-ever-after. Guillermo del Toro also wears his other influences on his sleeve – old creature features (in particular, The Creature From The Black Lagoon), MGM musicals, and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics universe (Guillermo del Toro has also directed the two Hellboy movies) – and his affection and appreciation is palpable and infectious. The director also does transport you to a strange yet strangely familiar world yet, for all its positives – including Hawkins’ excellent performance and the empathy that all the characters evoke – Water doesn’t quite manage to punch you in the gut as it is meant to because the central relationship between Elisa and the creature never quite convinces.
The Shape Of Water has received a leading 13 Academy Awards nominations for 2018, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor), Best Actress (Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer). The film has also been nominated for 12 BAFTAs and it has already won this year’s Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Original Score.
Cut to chase: An engrossing fairy tale for adults that doesn’t quite hit home.
Call Me By Your Name ***
Dir: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothe e Chalamet, Amira Casar, Michael Stuhlbarg, Esther Garrel
Working off the screenplay by 92 year old James Ivory (of Merchant-Ivory fame) adapted from Andre Aciman’s novel of the same name, director Luca Guadagnino gives us a sensuous tale of sexual and emotional awakening in Call Me By Your Name. The movie is set in the summer of 1983 in the idyllic north of Italy and begins with the arrival of American graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer) at the 17th century family villa of eminent Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), an academic specialising in Greco-Roman culture, his wife Annella (Amira Casar) and their 17-year old son, Elio (Timothee Chalamet). The multi-lingual, multi-cultural (Italian-American Jews) family is intelligent and sophisticated – they read romantic French poetry in German – and Elio is a talented musician who appears mature beyond his years. But his sexual awakening beckons and Oliver’s presence unnerves and confuses him, shaking his centre. Despite the presence of his quasi-girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel), Elio finds himself attracted to the confident, older male. But does Oliver reciprocate Elio’s feelings?
Chalamet and Guadagnino do manage to catch the yearning and turmoil of first love and director bathes the movie in gorgeous Italian sunlight and a sensory voluptuousness – and there is a nice, effective speech by Stuhlbarg near the end – but I also found the movie too drawn-out and a bit dull and not particularly original (if you take out the gay aspect of the potential romance). Also, the barely legal aspect of the relationship is troubling.
Call Me By Your Name has been nominated for five Academy Awards in 2018: Best Picture, Best Actor (Chalamet), Best Adapted Screenplay (James Ivory), and Best Original Song (‘Mystery of Love’). It has also been nominated for four BAFTAs: Best Film, Best Director, Best Leading Actor (Chalamet) and Best Adapted Screenplay
Cut to chase: A sensuous tale of awakening but too drawn out and, ultimately, prosaic.
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Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection