Tag Archives: pan’s labyrinth

The Shape of Water – Review

17 Dec

Anyone who’s read my reviews knows that I’m a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro. I recently reviewed one of his earlier films, The Devil’s Backbone, and gave it all the praise it rightfully deserves. What makes del Toro’s movies so excellent you might ask? It’s the way he uses fantasy and horror to show that sometimes the scariest parts of life aren’t the creatures we create, but humanity itself. It’s truly hard not to feel for the characters in his films or get lost in the sweeping cinematography or awe at his outstanding creature effects. Now we have The Shape of Water to add to his continuing filmography of magical fantasy pieces that hold a mirror up to the world. It’s everything you could possibly want with a movie written and directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute janitor at the Occam Aerospace Research Center. Her only friends are Zelda (Octavia Spencer), another janitor at the research center, and Giles (Richard Jenkins), a washed up artist struggling to get back on his feet. Elisa’s life completely changes one day when a new “asset” (Doug Jones) is brought to her work by the sadistic Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who makes it quite clear early on that he’s not a man that can be trusted or related to in any way. After some investigating, Elisa learns that the asset is a humanoid amphibian that’s capable of learning, understanding, and emotions. The two become very good friends, but Strickland’s intentions of killing the creature and dissecting it soon become clear. Elisa can’t allow that to happen, so with the help of Giles, Zelda, and an undercover Soviet scientist named Dmitri (Michael Stuhlbarg), rescues the Amphibian Man and brings him to Giles’ home until they can release him. As Elisa’s relationship to the Amphibian Man grows, Strickland’s mission to find him and kill him becomes more and more obsessive and dangerous.

There’s so much packed into this movie, it’s sort of hard to know where to start. The first thing that I really started picking up on was how strong the characters were. By strong, I mean they all felt real and had their own small quirks that made them all unique. Michael Shannon’s character was always biting down on the same green hard candy, Octavia Spencer’s character was constantly going on about her husband and how much her feet hurt, and Richard Jenkins’ character has his love for old film stars and anxiety about his hair. One of the main themes of this movie is togetherness and relationships, and seeing these rich characters’ personalities meshing and clashing added something really special to the movie and it made the idea of relationships feel solid.

While The Shape of Water is definitely about the power of relationships it also dives into the realm of political fears and conspiracies, accepting people’s differences, and understanding of the positives and negatives that shape our world. This really is a fully developed movie, but I’m always going to see The Shape of Water as a love story. It’s a story of romantic love, love between close friends, and also the dangers of the absence of love. Elisa may not have much, but the people around her all love her, even if it’s only her neighbor and a friend from work. Col. Strickland, on the other hand, has lost all connection with love of any kind. His family is the perfect nuclear family living in suburbia who still get excited whenever he walks in the door. To him that feeling is nonexistent and that clouds and darkens who he is as a human being and how he treats other humans, and in this case, humanoids.

This film is filled with some of my favorite performances of this year. Sally Hawkins is downright incredible as Elisa and she hardly speaks a word in this movie. She doesn’t even have to, and we all know exactly what she’s trying to say. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins are great side characters to Elisa and Doug Jones once again shows his talent with work like this. Michael Shannon is my favorite actor, and even I was surprised with how he treated his character. My only real complaint about this movie was some of the writing. The reason the government wants to dissect the Amphibian Man is because of space research? I can’t say I really see the connection and leaving it as open as possible might have been better than giving a vague reason why. It just seemed kind of like an afterthought in del Toro’s grand scheme.

The Shape of Water is one of Guillermo del Toro’s finest works. He’s created a unique love story that’s also filled with fantasy, espionage, comedy, and an often dark and sad examination of character. Some of the writing could have used a little more attention, but this is still a movie that’s making my brain work on overdrive. The characters and their performers were all top notch, the creature effects were brilliant, and the connections between all of the characters felt organic for better or for worse. The Shape of Water is truly an excellent movie.

Final Grade: A

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Crimson Peak – Review

20 Oct

Has Guillermo del Toro ever done any wrong? Maybe just once, but he continues a streak of interesting and beautiful films with Crimson Peak. Let me just get something out of the way here. This film is nothing like what you may think it’s going to be based on the trailers and the other advertising done for it. What this film actually is is a Hammeresque fairy tale brought to you by one of the masters of the fantastical, Guillermo del Toro. Is Crimson Peak perfect? Absolutely not, in fact it’s one of this film makers weaker movies, but it’s still a good means of escape.

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As a young girl, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) was warned by the ghost of her mother, “Beware of Crimson Peak.” Some fourteen years later, Edith is all grown up and aspiring to be a writer of ghost stories. Her life starts going through a major change when she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet who came to America to raise money for a new machine he has designed. After someone close to Edith dies under mysterious circumstances, she marries Sharpe and moves to his family’s mansion in England where he lives with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Both of the Sharpes begin acting a lot differently to Edith once she arrives. Not only that, but she begins getting visited by ghosts in the night who suffer from all sorts of physical deformities. Obviously, not everything is what it seems which reminds Edith once again of he dead mother’s mysterious warning.

The closest movie in del Toro’s filmography that I can compare Crimson Peak to is Pan’s Labyrinth, although it’s not nearly as epic as del Toro’s masterpiece. Like I said, this film is not exactly what you or I would call a modern horror film. There are horror elements to the story, but this mostly feels like a Grimm fairy tale told through the lens of del Toro working for Hammer Studios. That’s kind of a stretch in terms of descriptions, but that’s just how I see this movie. Edith’s last name is Cushing for heaven’s sake. Anyway, if you go into this film expecting to see a horror film or ghost story like Sinister or Insidious, you may be sorely disappointed.

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I’d love to say that Crimson Peak is a flawless movie, but that simply is not true. There are some aspects of this movie that really began to put me asleep in my seat. For one thing, the first half hour or so is excruciatingly boring. I get that it’s set up for everything that’s about to happen, but Edith’s character isn’t really interesting enough to make this part of the movie really anything special. There’s also the manner with which the ghosts are used in this movie. First of all, there were far too many jump scares. This film doesn’t need these cheap tricks. It’s already creepy enough. The ghosts also didn’t do as much as they were maybe intended to do. I loved their designs and how they moved, but I just wish their role in the story was tweaked a little bit so they could show off how cool they were some more.

Now let’s move on to what was awesome. First of all, this is a beautiful film with the best use of color I’ve seen this this year. The beautiful colors and the gorgeous costume and set design only add to my theory more that this is meant to be seen as a fairy tale and not a horror movie. The acting in this film is all fine too. Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska work well together and both really look and act the parts that they are trying to play. The real scene stealer in this movie though is Jessica Chastain. I’ve seen her in a lot of movies, but this may be my favorite performance of hers. It’s a side of her acting that I’ve never really seen before and I was really impressed. Finally, the whole movie just has a magical tone to it where things seem to float on air in some instances and crumble before your eyes the next. It’s hard to explain but it’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of Crimson Peak.

While the advertising for Crimson Peak really blows the big one, the film itself does not. That being said, it’s far from being Guillermo del Toro’s best work and may even be one of his weakest in terms of storytelling and pacing. The film does succeed, however, in providing some legitimately cool scares, creating a creepy yet startlingly beautiful atmosphere, and telling an archetypical fairy tale. While Crimson Peak is a mild disappointment, I certainly wouldn’t mind revisiting it sooner rather than later.