Tuesday, February 13, 2018

THE SHAPE OF WATER -- my review

Okay, I’ll admit it. I was not excited to see THE SHAPE OF WATER. I’ve had the screener for several months. I had heard mixed reviews. When the first thing people say is that it is “visually stunning” that is generally code for boring, pretentious, no story, three hours. But since THE SHAPE OF WATER was nominated for so many awards and I plan on reviewing the awards for my podcast, I decided to see it. And I figured, to really give it the fairest shot, I’d see it on a big screen (even if that meant paying). Plus, I always enjoy going to the Landmark in West LA because I’m still the youngest person in the theatre by 30 years.

Happy to report I was very pleasantly surprised by THE SHAPE OF WATER. It had a good story, was well-acted, very original, ambitious… oh, and it was visually stunning.

Essentially THE SHAPE OF WATER is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST meets SPLASH. Sally Hawkins is Belle who can breathe underwater. Michael Shannon is Gaston. Shannon is becoming the new Robert Shaw – the villain in every movie. And is it just me, but he always reminds me of “Jaws” in those James Bond flicks? Richard Jenkins plays a version of the kindly older man “Belle” is looking after.

Sally Hawkins was quite wonderful. I hope she wins the Oscar, but her performance was very subtle and quiet (VERY quiet, her character was a mute) and Oscars tend to go to more “showy” parts or Meryl Streep for showing up.

Richard Jenkins, a venerable character actor, also deserves a statuette. On the other hand, Octavia Spencer is nominated for best supporting actress and her competition is way more deserving. I’m sorry but Spencer plays the same part in every movie she’s in.

Doug Jones, who played the creature was snubbed. Diversity still doesn’t recognize monsters I suppose. For my money, he was way better than the guy who played the Gimp in PULP FICTION.

Oh, and I also loved Michael Stulberg, who is the new Stanley Tucci. He morphs into whatever role he plays and he’s always excellent.

But the real gold goes to Guillermo del Toro for both his inventive screenplay (co-written by Vanessa Taylor) and dazzling directing. If the Academy wants to give Greta Gerwig an Oscar (and I think to be politically correct they do), they better give her screenplay because her directing wasn’t in del Toro’s league (under the sea). Sorry, I had just to get that pun in. I mean, it was just sitting there.

In a very weak year for movies – when a derivative coming-of-age teen movie is up for picture of the year – my vote for 2018 would be THE SHAPE OF WATER. It’s a lovely homage to old Hollywood films with romance, tension, social commentary… and visually, wow, it’s just STUNNING. Glad I finally saw it.


Roger Owen Green said...

You liked this WAY more than I. The cartoon villain, who was so evil that he wouldn't even wash his hands after going to the bathroom, I pretty much hated. I LOVED Jenkins' arc, though. Beyond that, there are accusations he pilfered the screenplay.

jcs said...

Thanks for the review, Ken. - Michael Stuhlbarg's family probably had the minor misfortune that the e in "berg" turned into an a somewhere along their way to the New World. I keep track of Stuhlbarg ever since watching his great performance in the excellent film A SERIOUS MAN. (I also keep track of Amy Landecker since that time.)

WendyW said...

I don't get your hate for Lady Bird. My love for this movie has nothing to do with it being politically correct or anything. It was just a damned good movie with superb acting by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.

On the other hand, Shape of Water for all its amazing performances and beautiful cinematography left me kind of cold... and I love romance. You're not the first to use the Beauty and the Beast analogy, but I don't think it holds up here. The point of Beauty and the Beast is that Beauty and the Beast must be in conflict with each other, and then overcome that conflict. He's not just "ugly" or weird-looking. He's a Beast on the outside because he is a Beast on the inside.

In Shape of Water, there is no internal relationship conflict. The two are really just Romeo and Juliet, except Romeo is a fish guy. And I never much cared for the Romeo and Juliet story.

tavm said...

Yes, I'm with you: The Shape of Water should win Best Picture and Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. (Though I now have to admit, I've yet to watch the other BP nominees except for Dunkirk which I think is overrated.)

Rock Golf said...

Ken: Jerry Howarth, the voice of the Toronto Blue Jays, announced today that after 36 years - practically the entire history of the team - he is retiring.
As another member of that fraternity of announcers, did you ever meet or work with him?

Chester said...

I agree the film was visually stunning - but I was disappointed with the story. It really is similar to Beauty and the Beast. Other than the few scenes of nudity, it too is a children's story. It's very simply, linear, and straightforward. For an Oscar-nominated screenplay, I was expecting a bit more -- no, a LOT more -- complexity. That's not to say that it's bad, it's just not very original or thought-provoking.

Sally Hawkins was wonderful, but if you want to see her really standout, check out the film "Maudie". Ethan Hawke is pretty solid in that one as well.

Anonymous said...

W C Fields was quoted as saying he didn’t drink water because “fish f*ck in it.”
I’m that way about “Shape of Water”

Roseann said...

I've worked with Richard Jenkins so many times. Always on time and has all his lines. He's just a regular joe.

I also worked with Michael Stuhlbarg only once. But he was so lovely and such a gentleman that he made a giant impression on me. I'm so glad to see that he's gotten so much work.

therealshell said...

Sally Hawkins is also wonderful in the film "Maudie" - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3721954/

VincentS said...

Okay, but why do "important films" have such pretentious titles?

Buttermilk Sky said...

I like Sally Hawkins's chances. Oscar has always shown a fondness for women who can't talk (or talk with their hands): Jane Wyman (JOHNNY BELINDA 1949), Patty Duke (THE MIRACLE WORKER 1963), Marlee Matlin (CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD 1987), Holly Hunter (THE PIANO 1994). Make of that what you will.

Also a Michael Stuhlbarg fan since he stole BOARDWALK EMPIRE with his portrayal of Arnold Rothstein. Did you see A SERIOUS MAN?

Peter said...

I'm sure Sally Hawkins is a nice person but unfortunately I've had an aversion to her ever since I endured the torture that was Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky. Her character was SO unbelievable, it bordered on science fiction. Excruciating.

I'll still see this, but I hope people also go and see HOSTILES while it's still in cinemas. A truly beautiful and moving film featuring Christian Bale's best performance ever.

Oliver said...

You said, you weren't excited to see the film, because you had heard bad things about it, and found it actually quite all right afterwards. My question: Isn't it often the case that your expectations will influence your judgement of films or tv series? And how do you handle that knowledge? I did expect much more from Edgar Wrights last movie and was disappointed - but was it a fair judgement, or did I have too high expectations? Other way around: I read your opinion on "Three Billboards" - and did like the film very much, maybe more so, because I didn't expect me to.
How do you handle that, how do executives, how does anyone - even more so, if one is on board of a tv or movie production and excited for the ride you're on - how do you keep a clear judgement of the quality of anything?

JAC said...

I don't understand the remark about Meryl Streep. She may get nominated a lot (usually deservedly, I think), but in a 40-year movie career she's won just 3 times -- twice (one of them Supporting) when she was someone new, then a 29-year gap before the third one, and 7 years since then. It would be much safer in any given year to bet she won't win.

Jeff Maxwell said...

I was pleasantly surprised by "Water," too. Performances were all engaging and fun to watch. And the best blinking from a fish ever!

The one thing, however, that immediately took me out of the ether was how a couple of housekeepers from a Holiday Inn were allowed free, unrestricted access to an intensely top-secret government project: hmm, I'm bored mopping, I think I'll wander over and tap on the window of that fish tank thing. Wow, there's a fish in there blinking at me!

A writer friend wrote a story published in 1986 in a magazine catering to Syfy fans. He, too, is questioning certain issues with the film that are almost identical to his story.

Other than that, I really enjoyed the movie.

I think I'll BBQ some salmon tonight.

Liggie said...

That title always throws me off. The "Inspector Montalbano" mystery novels by Italian author Andrea Camilleri, and subsequent feature-length TV show, began with a novel called "The Shape of Water".

Glenn Eibe said...

Agree with your review and feel Mr. Del Toro will get the win for this one as a nod to all his collected work - he's put in the years and he's due for Oscar love. And Hawkins and Jenkins deserve to share the stage as well.

As for Meryl, I surprised the AMPAS "Lifetime Pass" hasn't been announced by now in her honor. They expanded the Best Pictures to up to 10 nominees, time to bump up the acting categories to 6 each.

Peter said...

I know this is off topic but I just have to mention this. A former Canadian prime minister has said it's demeaning for female newscasters to show bare arms.

Bare arms.

I wish I could say I was making this up, but this is what happens when political correctness goes full retard. As the character in Tropic Thunder said, never go full retard.


D McEwan said...

A friend of mine, after seeing The Shape of Water said that she liked it until it turned into a remake of ET.

Arthur Mee said...

Hey Ken...

Blue Jays radio announcer Jerry Howarth has just announced his retirement, effective immediately, due to health issues. For 36 years, many of them with Tom Cheek, he was the voice of baseball in Canada; certainly I've listened to him for thousands upon thousands of hours. I (and probably many, if not most) Torontonians associate his voice with baseball (and summer) far more than any American broadcaster. Any stories about him in your baseball travels?

By Ken Levine said...

On Thursday I am devoting my entire column to Jerry. He's one of my mentors.

Arthur Mee said...

Looking forward to reading the column, Ken!

Andy Rose said...

Speaking of baseball and broadcasting, a Friday Question:

When you first called minor league games, how bare bones were your resources? Did you have to ride on the team bus? Share hotel rooms? Eat concession stand dinners? Pay for any of your equipment out of your own pocket? If so, was that a surprise after your large-market experiences, or exactly what you expected?

Pat Reeder said...

Like most of the films up for Oscars, I haven't seen this. But I've heard it was more like "Fifty Shades of Gray" meets "Creature From The Black Lagoon" ("Fifty Shades of Green"?)

And to WendyW: I suspect that sex with a fish guy would leave anyone feeling kind of cold.

MikeN said...

If The Shape of Water wins, Bruce Lee will be rolling over in his grave.


cadavra said...

The real inspiration is CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, specifically the legendary swimming scene. del Toro saw it as a child and always wondered what would happen if the Gill Man and Julie Adams could have an actual romance. And now we know.

Steve said...

Hope you've seen del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, Ken. Great film and, again, visually stunning. One note: He made The Shape of Water for a very low $30 million and said he had to work like crazy to get it to look like a big budget picture. Talented guy.

Cap'n Bob said...

Well, Pete, I saw HOSTILES yesterday and I can't agree with your glowing assessment. Other than some good action scenes I found it painfully slow, ponderous, and glacial. There was so much pausing between each character's lines you could take a bathroom break between them.

I hate when characters do stupid things. {SPOILER ALERT} The movie opened with an Indian attack on a settler's cabin. So what does he do? Stands in front of the building to shoot at the Indians. God forbid he should take cover. And when he's inevitably shot, his wife, who was herding the kids towards the woods, yells a cliched NOOOOOO! She saw this because she stopped running to watch her husband die.I was badly disappointed.

But it WAS visually stunning.

mike said...

The scene where the beauty ballroom dances with the Creature From the Black Lagoon was about the lamest thing I've seen in the movies. And Lady Bird, which I thought would be about Mrs. Lyndon Johnson, was lame too. But at least the season will start soon. Play ball!

-bee said...

I agree with so much of what you say - I put off seeing this film a long time - in my case because I had never felt some unfulfilled desire to see the Creature from the Black Lagoon get it on with a human lady.

But like you I was pleasantly surprised - Del Toro really pulled off the development of love between two species so yay for bestiality I guess.

And the film just creates such an enchanting world with set design and lighting that really draws you in. He is also one of the rare filmmakers who gets that setting a film in an earlier time (in this case '63 I guess) means a lot of other earlier eras being much more 'present' - like with the old movies being often playing on TV.

My one two-part complaint is way too much time was spent on a one-dimensional villain that could have been spent on developing the central relationship more. And I didn't like this Michael Shannon character when he played it on Boardwalk Empire (though I have like Shannon a lot in other types of roles).

Agree also with your opinion this was overall a bad year for movies and that Ladybird was way overrated.

Did you see Florida Project though? That was one really good movie that slipped through the cracks.

Unknown said...

los movies - Typical for a beautiful movie to be underrated by most people. The difference in meta and user score was to be expected.

In my experience, this movie was captivating from the first scene and ended on a high note, with a simple frame, music and quote. Del Toro takes you on a journey, that never goes full-blown fantasy. The minor details in both film and music are sublime. It really brings the story to life. In my opinion, this is one of those movies that don't need any questions. You have to experience is.

Perhaps it is a story that is only enjoyable for people that daydream. The ambiance and message are set up in a way, a hopeless romantic could feast on for days. Seeing as most Hollywood movies are complete rubbish, this one really shows what a movie is capable of. Bringing the love of a celebrated director on screen. Go see this movie!
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