Friday, 9 February 2018

'The Shape Of Water' (2017) Review: Beautifully Different

Big Screen Watch: Perhaps the most unique film of 2017

If I told you about the best film of the year, what would I say? Certainly not that it's 'The Shape of Water'. No instead, what I will say is that 'The Shape of Water' is a movie that is unlike any other, which is par for the course with director Guillermo Del Toro. It's set in the early 1960s and follows the strange love story of a woman and a man. Only the woman is a human and the man, is covered head to toe in scales.

If that description is enough to scare you off, then you have no business seeing 'The Shape of Water'. It is definitely a film that explores the unconventional, to say the least. With a story so submerged in fantasy, you'd think the film would be more of a fairy tale. In fact, while 'The Shape of Water' can feel very surreal at times, I was surprised at just how gritty the film was.

The first half of the film shows this the most. You spend ample amount of time watching Sally Hawkins character Eliza Esposito silently go about her day as a cleaning lady at the facility where she finds her finned lover. What you benefit from this is a real sense of what this world is. More importantly, who the people in it are.

Eliza is a mute, communicating mostly by sign language with her roommate, played by Richard Jenkins, and her coworker, played by Octavia Spencer. Both brought a sense of humanity to this movie, as their relatable characters grounded an otherwise unbelievable tale. It's a pity then that the film doesn't succeed at this on all accounts, particularly as it relates to Michael Shannon's character, a villain too obvious for a Disney movie. Michael Shannon already exudes creepiness. Why would you play that up?

Even well lit he's unsettling.
From the moment he steps into frame, there's no mistaking the character. Enveloped in shadow, and clad almost entirely in black, with a dark hat. The character helps to bring across the movie's storybook quality. Its villain is as evil as he can b because there needs to be one for the fairy tale. In that way, it works, but so much of 'Shape of Water' dives into developing real characters that it nevertheless feels out of place.

It wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't given so much screentime. I'd appreciate it if he was treated as a figurehead. A literal object of opposition, but instead the film gives him so much screen time that it only repeats itself. Having a one-note character so prominent in the film just becomes grating. Still, there was plenty I still enjoyed in 'Shape of Water'. Its marvelous aesthetic beauty is surpassed only by its touching message of kindness and empathy, in the face of adversity. All that and a near perfect score by Alexandre Desplat.

Seen here trying to get into the mind of a fish man with "hand fins"
'Shape of Water' is a movie that takes its time to tell its story. Perhaps a little too much time in parts. While some might find the film's pairing unnerving, underneath the surface there is something entirely relatable to it. Many people feel like outsiders in their lives and strive to find a person to connect with. While I didn't always connect with 'Shape of Water', I commend it for daring to be different. It plays with an old type of story and creates something that is entirely its own.

Rating: Big Screen Watch 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

'The Cloverfield Paradox' (2018) Review: Easy Come, Easy Go

Catch It On Cable: I mean it's not like you had a choice, but even if this were on the big screen I'd say wait for Netflix.
After what seemed like the beginning of a descent into development hell, the third chapter in the loosely aligned Cloverfield saga has emerged. The film 'The Cloverfield Paradox' was previously known as 'The God Particle', which tells you a fair bit about the film already. Set immediately prior to the original 'Cloverfield', the movie shows us a desperate last-ditch attempt by humanity to solve the world's energy crisis, demonstrated of course by...pretty long lines at the gas station.

What follows is, unfortunately, much of what you've come to expect. There's a ship, a crew, and a mission. A bunch of technical jargon is hurled at you a mile a minute, and nothing goes as planned. I don't want to be reductive in saying 'The Cloverfield Paradox' is your standard space exploration horror flick...but it kind of is. That's not to say there aren't elements of it that I didn't enjoy, but the whole time I couldn't shake the feeling that this had all been done before.

And quite recently too, just can't seem to recall where...
What hasn't been done before, at least not very often, is having the lead in a movie of this type being played by a person of colour. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays the lead role of Hamilton, and she's joined by quite the cast. David Oyelowo as the crew's captain, Daniel Bruhl, John Ortiz, Chris O'Dowd, Askel Hennie, Ziyi Zhang and Elizabeth Debicki all play different types of scientists. They're well-acted roles, and the film has a diverse cast, but aside from that, there's nothing to discern them from any other crew on any other ship, in any other movie.

Just can't seem to remember where I've seen this...
It's a pity that this happened with 'The Cloverfield Paradox'. The film series thus far had seemed to take advantage of the audience's familiarity with sci-fi horror tropes. Each installment in the past took an existing idea but presented it from another perspective. One that was wholly unique and gave you something you already knew, in an entirely new form.

'Cloverfield' is not just another a giant monster movie. It's a giant monster movie that sticks with regular people affected by an incredible disaster. You're not concerned with the military, or the government response any more than the average person ought to be in the situation. You become deeply invested in the characters and their survival. For all 2014's 'Godzilla' failed to present the lizard king as akin to a natural disaster, 'Cloverfield' made it seem effortless.

The same goes for '10 Cloverfield Lane'. Remember in 'Independence Day', immediately after the destruction of the White House, there's a sense that the world has been completely lost? What if you could see a story where the characters ran with that idea, gave up hope, and burrowed underground. What would those people be like? That's '10 Cloverfield Lane', and it's an entirely more intelligent film than the ones it takes its cues from.

But with 'The Cloverfield Paradox', you aren't given a clever take on the space exploration movie, you're just given yet another space exploration movie. One that doesn't seem to know what its central plot point is. Throughout the movie, you will be witness to a series of strange and, extremely unsettling scenarios. They're inventive, and play on your feelings of uneasiness for things that ought to be one way, but aren't. The problem is, the movie moves so quickly from one scenario to the next, you quickly shake off that uneasiness, and sort of just sit in for the ride.

That's partially also due to the movie's tone. It feels like it should be darker than it is, but just the way the film is lit doesn't exactly convey that. It doesn't help that the characters never truly feel like they're affected by the things they see. When Steve Buscemi gets a bout of space dementia in Armaggedon, it's stupid. It comes out of nowhere and feels entirely unearned. To use it is a lazy way to convey tension and conflict within a character. I would've killed for someone to get space dementia in 'The Cloverfield Paradox'.

I think this movie broke me a little.
On the whole, 'The Cloverfield Paradox' is not a very good film. It is also not a very bad film. It is simply a movie that is. Things happen, and then they're moved on from. The visuals stick with you, but not at all because of the context the movie gives them. There's plenty of creativity in 'The Cloverfield Paradox', but not very much of it ties together.

Rating: Catch It On Cable

Monday, 5 February 2018

37. Movie Money 04/02/2018

Movie gods, forgive me, for I have sinned.

Last week I reported that Jumanji January was over. That finally, the long and exhaustive run being had by 'Jumanji:Welcome to the Jungle'. A movie that was bested by a Star Wars movie, only to best it back after only 3 weeks. I assumed that finally, after being knocked off the #1 spot yet again, it would throw in the towel, celebrate its phenomenal run, and mosey on out the top 5. Oh movie gods, I have doubted your wisdom, for this week Jumanji is once again, the #1 movie of the week. It's made $11m this weekend, bringing its domestic total to $352.6m and $855.7m worldwide. What a run.

For the rest of the top 5, it's less impressive developments all around. At #2 we have last weeks big winner, 'The Maze Runner: The Death Cure' with $10.2m this weekend bringing its domestic total to $39m and a $182.6m worldwide. Not at all bad considering its $62m budget, but considering that the first two made almost double that amount, it's safe to say this is the last we'll see of The Maze Runner kids.

Beyond that the #3 spot went to 'Winchester' with a domestic and worldwide total of $9.2m. No word on its budget but considering horror movies rarely cost an arm and a leg, I doubt the film won't at least break even, despite harrowing reviews. #4 was maintained by 'The Greatest Showman' with $7.8m this weekend, making bank with a domestic total of  $137.3m and a worldwide total of $290.4m. Finally at #5, changing at the last minute is 'The Post'. This post previously belonged to 'Hostiles' which brought in $5.1m, but 'The Post' has reigned supreme by a hair with $5.2m.

That's the report for this week and here's the podcast:

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