Film review – The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Starring Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

Certificate 15

Baltimore, 1962, and a mute cleaner at a high-security government laboratory embarks on a relationship like no other in Guillermo Del Toro’s BAFTA-winning masterpiece The Shape of Water.

Sally Hawkins, giving one of the best performances of her career, is Elisa Esposito, the mesmerising heroine who lives above a cinema, is friends with a neighbouring artist (Richard Jenkins), and lives a lonely existence. While he has designs on the cafe worker nearby, she’s an achingly solitary figure who cleans up at the lab a bus ride away.

This is a world of classic Bakelite gadgets and Cadillacs, the sort of nostalgic design you’d expect from a visual maestro like Del Toro. (He’s a film maker who could shoot a movie about the phone book and I’d happily hand over my cash).

Following the fascinating misfire that was Crimson Peak, he’s hit the bull’s eye with this heart-rending tale which feels like a mash-up of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Amelie, Delicatessen, Frankenstein, Hellboy and ET. And yet despite its influences, it’s also like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

Witnessed after the mega bucks Black Panther, where I didn’t believe in any of the characters, each of Del Toro’s protagonists here feels like they live and breathe, whether it’s air or water.

The casting is spot on, probably because the role was written for Hawkins, and Michael Shannon personifies the tough government stooge so well I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is a perfect accompaniment to the unfolding drama that washes over me, and though I try and remind myself it’s only a movie, the fate of the amphibian man at the heart of the drama is as compelling as ET’s in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic.

I’m on edge throughout as I just want a happy ending. While i’ll obviously not spoil a thing, I’ll happily see this again to soak up the wondrous imagery, nail-biting action and beautiful romance.

Having been hooked on Guillermo’s work since he started making waves in world cinema in the late 1990s, it’s a relief to say he’s finally made his masterpiece.

Don’t wait for the home release. Rush out and see it at a decent art house cinema, and not a certain multiplex where they turn the lights on the split second the credits roll.

Easily one of the best films of this or any other year.

Gracias Guillermo.



Crimson Peak: Review

I’m 30 minutes in to Crimson Peak and my eyes are closing. I’ve already spent 20 minutes talking to actual people to get two cinema tickets because it’s sometimes nicer than just booking online. The assistant misheard me, gave me two tickets for Hotel Transylvania 2 and it took two more people and another 18 minutes to rectify the situation. I’ve already given a Paddington hard stare to the Chatty Cathy behind me and now I’m nodding off. 

Not because it’s a bad film. It’s not, but I’m still on Florida time after a couple of days back in Blighty, and dark cinemas are not conducive to that wide awake feeling. 

The first hour of Guillermo del Toro’s latest is a sumptuous affair. Mia Wasikowska on fine form as Edith Cushing, the aspiring novelist with a rich father seduced by the Byronic Brit Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) who seeks funding for his clay mining enterprise. A genuine dragon’s den this it seems as assorted other potential investors are already “out” and Thomas is desperate. 

Then there’s his rarely blinking, ivory tinkling enigmatic sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Hard to believe this is the same actress who proved so compelling in The Martian and assorted other films released recently. 

Her scenery chewing performance is a joy to behold. Alas, the weak link in the chain is Charlie Hunnam as Ms Cushing’s concerned doctor and old friend Alan McMichael.

As with GDT’s Pacific Rim, I just don’t buy him in either movie. 

Crimson Peak looks terrific and like Tom’s mining machine, really gets going after building up a head of steam in the third act. 

Any jet lag was buried as revelations were revealed and the plot became as clear as Ms Wasikowska’s doll-like skin. 

There are a few wince-inducing moments here and there, but this is less a horror film and more a gothic romance. 

Guillermo is a master of the genre, and after the comedic Hellboy movies and occasionally clunky Pac Rim (as the fans call it), good to see him get his teeth into something a little more adult and full blooded. 

Of course Hammer used to do this on a fraction of the budget 50 years ago, but despite the elaborate set, it doesn’t overshadow the drama too much. Yes, the house is a key character, like the Nostromo in Alien, but there is much to admire here as well as the fancy costumes and Haunted Mansion-style proscenium. 

It’s not as good as I’d hoped it would be, and could have done with a serious shot of adrenaline in the first act; it’s as inert as a still pendulum at times, but eventually the machinery kicks in and makes you glad you stuck around. 

Yes, eventually it does peak. 

Trans-Four-mer: why does Pacific Rim looks like a quartet of other films welded together?

“Go big or go extinct’ is the tagline for Guillermo del Toro’s new movie Pacific Rim, a snappy phrase for the supersize generation, where bigger is supposed to be better.
Back in the summer of 1998, posters for Godzilla screamed a similar soundbite: ‘size does matter’.

Maybe, but monsters can be as big as you like in these ground-rattling, Imax-friendly days, but without a decent script and a likeable cast, such films can be dead in the water.

Thankfully del Toro is one of the most creative, original film-makers working in Hollywood at the moment, and has been since he made breakthrough movie Cronos more than a dozen years ago.

I’m proud of the fact my first date movie with my wife was Hellboy, a film I never tire of watching, while his arthouse offerings The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth deserve every bit of praise thrown at them.

So when I heard he was making Pacific Rim, a multi-million dollar sci-fi epic about giant mechanoid warriors fighting huge monsters, my first thought was ‘Robot Jox versus Godzilla’.
“Robot what?” you may quite rightly say.

Well, back in the 1980s, cult film-maker Stuart Gordon, the man behind icky horror classics Reanimator and From Beyond, helmed a low budget fantasy epic about warriors in giant mechanoid suits who square off against one another in vast arenas. It was ‘Rocky with rivets’ if you like.

Inspired by the Transformers toyline (17 years before Michael Bay turned the idea into a multi-billion dollar franchise) it crashed and burned at the box office.

Given the fact Iron Man 3 made around $1.1billion worldwide, it’s little wonder Hollywood money men are falling over themselves to find another project in which guys in mechanical suits spend a lot of screen time trading blows.

With Gareth Edwards, maker of low budget cult hit Monsters, now hard at work on a new version of Godzilla, there are big hopes that can succeed where Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version failed.

If anyone can stitch together assorted genres such as robot warriors and Godzilla-style monsters then it’s Del Toro, the man who perhaps wisely dropped out of The Hobbit after months of pre-production to work on this epic instead. (A version of HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness also fell by the wayside).

Given the fact Peter Jackson’s opening movie in the Tolkien trilogy was a bit of a let down, let’s hope Guillermo can work his magic on this mecha-monster mash up.

Naturally it comes with a rallying speech provided as standard in all fantasy epics these days, though given the fact Idris Elba is the brilliantly named Stacker Pentecost inspiring the troops, it’s worth ignoring that nagging sense of déjà vu from Independence Day and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.