tsowp

Water You Waiting For? Go See The Thoughtful And Engrossing Romantic Monster Movie Drama The Shape of Water

Fairy tales have always been used to impart larger ideas regarding the societies they originated in within the confines of something palatable to the general public and Guillermo Del Toro, a fellow whose filmography clearly indicates a love for fairy tales, has used his movies that are heavily informed by fairy tales of old as ways to explore all kinds of weighty ideas or societally relevant concepts. The Devil’s Backbone is ostensibly a ghost story but it’s also a tale of how people show off their true selves in times of war while his project most explicitly evocative of fairy tales, Pan’s Labyrinth, is set in the real world conflict of the Spanish Civil War. Even his movies about robot and monsters punching each other takes time to demonstrate how walls dividing countries only create more problems, a concept that’s become all the more relevant as the years go by.

For the newest and perhaps best overall movie from this director yet, The Shape of Water, Guillermo Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor have penned a screenplay that feels very much like it’s like a traditional fairy tale while fully taking advantage of it’s American 1960’s setting and all the political overtones that are inherently baked into such an era. Our lead character for this piece is Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman going through the motions in a mostly humdrum life that works, along with her best friend Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), at a government research facility that’s just taken in a strange new creature, a kind of blue-colored sea monster, referred to in the credits as Amphibian Man (played by Doug Jones), from the Amazon jungle.

The creature is being held in a single room by the cruel Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who violently abuses Amphibian Man daily. Elisa and Zelda are tasked with cleaning up the beast’s room daily in a quick order but after the two engage in some brief chance encounters, Elisa begins to form a bond with Amphibian Man. What you have heard and seen in the trailers and other promotional materials for this film is 110% the truth, The Shape of Water is unabashedly a fish-monster/woman love story, the kind of concept that sounds like a joke but is brought to heartwarming and engrossing life here as Elisa’s bond with Amphibian Man grows more and more intimate over the course of this beautiful story.

As I’ve said many times before, any story, no matter how seemingly ridiculous or preposterous, can work, it all comes down to the execution of such a story that makes all the difference. Del Toro and Taylor have decided to make the brilliant decision to make The Shape of Water a classical tale, one that treats its fishy lead character with an immense amount of love and zero cynicism. I knew this approach was both in full swing and a good idea early on in the story when the Amphibian Man is simply introduced into the story as a newcomer to the research facility, we don’t get extensive monologues explaining how he works, where he came from or any other extraneous background details like that, only some offhand lines of dialogue shed the tiniest bit of light about what this creature was like before he was whisked away to his containment.

Why should we get such information? That’s irrelevant to the story at hand, which is instead about Elisa and the relationship she forms with a fish-man in a tank. Even better is that this frequently stripped-down narrative doesn’t come at the cost of exploring social issues of the era that reverberate in today’s society, on the contrary, the movie heavily orients its plot around how women, people of color and the LGBTQA+ community were treated in this decade. The Shape of Water knows when to keeps things streamlined, but it also knows how to explore real-world problems of the 60’s (which still register as problems today, tragically) in an insightful fashion. While speaking of the storytelling of The Shape of Water, it should be noted that another one of its best facets is how it treats the central romance between the two leads with complete sincerity and it works like gangbusters,. We’re given such insight into Elisa as a character that one can completely buy why she falls for this Amphibian Man while a gradual escalation to the romantic affection shown between the two individuals allows their romance to feel organic & natural. There’s a compelling sweetness here that’s vividly captivating, I found myself getting thoroughly swept up in these two societal misfits finding solace in each other’s love.

Maybe, among other reasons, such a romance works is because of how Elisa, as well as the other characters in this story, feels so vivid and alive. Our lead character, Elisa, is herself an especially fascinating character who reveals herself to be that tragically elusive figure in fictional storytelling who isn’t solely defined by her disability (in her case, being mute) while also being thoroughly insightful on how it is to live with such a disability on a day-to-day basis. Being someone on the Autism spectrum myself whose struggled with social interactions with other people on a regular basis, I can handily say I’ve rarely seen a film depict the process of struggling to communicate emotions in ways that come naturally to everyone else so poignantly and accurately.

Just as The Shape of Water has a palpable affection for its romantic storyline, it also has a love for Elisa, and the other societal outcasts in her life (including co-worker Zelda and her closeted neighbor Giles, the latter of whom is played by Richard Jenkins). That’s why we get those recurring beautifully subdued scenes that just show Elisa on a bus ride as she lets emotions, sometimes good, sometimes bad, wash over her, this story doesn’t want to just rush past what she’s going through key moments of reflection for this lead character it loves so much. Instead, it wants to let her feelings in these introspective moments wash over the audience, which creates a powerful effect thanks to a combination of those well-realized characters as well as gorgeous visuals and some excellent music cues coalescing into something thoroughly engrossing. It’s in these scenes that the mere sight of two raindrops cascading a bus window before colliding takes on a massively heart-rending meaning that’s found in spades in this movie.

Of course, Elisa wouldn’t be anywhere without Sally Hawkins performing her since the actor does impressive work portraying this character. Hawkins, a pro at using body language in subtle ways (just look at her work in her other 2017 drama Maudie), uses that skill to make her frequent use of ASL (American Sign Language) look and feel so natural while her facial expressions are also terrific, she’s just working wonders in handling a character that relies solely on verbal communication. Playing off her for a good chunk of the movie is Richard Jenkens as her neighbor Giles and Jenkins is just charming with a capital C in his role, the guy gets some of the most hilarious moments in the entirety of the film. Doug Jones also deserves major praise for his performance as Amphibian Man, this guy, whose working underneath outstanding makeup and prosthetics, is remarkable in his movements, the tiniest twitch of his head emerges with a clear level of thought put into it. Meanwhile, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Michael Shannon also deliver strong work in pivotal supporting roles in a story that ensures their individual characters get plenty of room to breathe and become actual human beings.

It’s nice how it isn’t just this collection of actors that fall in line with the unique atmosphere conveyed by the writing and directing of The Shape of Water, the whole rest of the cast & crew just seem to be in sync on what kind of idiosyncratic film they’re working on here. Cinematographer Dan Lausten, who has worked with Guillermo Del Toro multiple times in the past, is especially adept at creating some luscious visuals that would feel right at home as illustrations in any classic fairy tale, while on the music side of things, both Alexandre Desplat’s score and the licensed songs scattered throughout the runtime are excellent at cementing the intoxicating romantic vibe of the entire production. The Shape of Water is a top-caliber affair that is like the best fairy tales it’s so clearly and cleverly emulating in that we’ll all still be talking about it for years to come.

  • Drunk Napoleon

    What did we watch?

    • Drunk Napoleon

      LOST, Season Four, Episode Seven, “Ji Yeon”
      “I need the panda.”

      “Every decision takes twice as long, cause you gotta talk them into it.”

      That is a fantastic and painful prank with the simultaneous flashback/flashforwards, something even more specific than Lost’s usual effect because it’s something the show could only really do with Sun and Jin. I even remember my initial reaction being something like “oh, right, obviously”. The plot of Sun wanting to switch teams is one you gotta have in any story with teams, though it makes sense that she wouldn’t go through with it. Jin and Sun’s aggressively romantic story takes a huge step forward, as both forgive each other for their past, accept their own mistakes, and commit to moving forward together.

      Meanwhile, on the boat, Grant Bowler! Ridiculously awesome to see a familiar Australian face on an American show, though it’s too bad he’s basically an exposition device. We see the island is making the crew lose their minds, which is Gothic as hell.

      Ownage: Sun owns Juliet over the face for telling Jin about her affair.

      Straw Dogs, Sam Peckinpah
      Holy Christ. My first step after going back through all my old favourites was to watch something I’d probably like but I otherwise was totally unfamiliar with; on the advice of Son Of Griff, I decided to pick up a few Peckinpah movies, and I started with this one. SoG suggested that Peckinpah would appeal to me on both aesthetic and thematic levels, and he was completely correct – this was a thoroughly dramatic film about ownage, where every shot served a purpose and pushed the story forward.

      I think this is the most physical reaction I’ve had to a film since End Of Evangelion. Right from the beginning, I felt a weight in my stomach, which I contribute mainly to the most shocking part of Peckinpah’s style: his sense of empathy. He constantly tracks what people are thinking, which reaches a climactic high in Amy’s trauma after her rape, but is a constant presence throughout the film – people are reaching conclusions about each other, and making decisions about what to do next, and deciding not to do things. The constant sense of judgement and evaluation plays havoc with one’s social anxiety. It’s strange to me to say this was a great movie despite having few, if any positive emotions attached to it.

      (This also lead to an interesting case where I could see other 70s filmmakers copying something but missing the point. In the first act, there’s a lot of seemingly plot-irrelevant dialogue; the way Peckinpah shoots it conveys power dynamics and evolving relationships, to the point that when I had to pause it so I could pee, I was shocked to find I was only forty-five minutes in)

      Ownage: It feels absurd to even put this here.

      It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Season Eight, Episode Ten, “Reynolds vs Reynolds: The Cereal Defense”
      One of the all-time greatest episodes of this show. It’s a great example of Dennis’ anger going from perfectly reasonable to ridiculous (“I WILL CUT YOUR EYES OUT!”). Charlie Day’s delivery of Charlie’s simple country lawyer routine is perfect, one notch below proper. Mac contributes “blows everybody’s nips off” to the vernacular, and it’s hilarious to me that he apparently reads about science. Dennis kicking the whole thing off with his cereal thing, making him the initially crazy one, is an inspired touch. We also get several beats developing running gags like Dee’s car being destroyed or Frank’s ‘donkey brains” certificate.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        I cannot wait for you to watch Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, which is a messy, heartbreaking, uber violent piece of work and one of my top ten movies of all time. If you want to learn a certain amount about me you must watch it.

        • Delmars Whiskers

          In a perfect world, Warren Oates’ performance in Alfredo Garcia would be universally acknowledged as one of the best things ever projected on a screen.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            “Why? Because it feels so goddamn good.”

        • Drunk Napoleon

          In an age when every movie is dissected to death before I ever get the chance to see it, I’m excited to watch one movie where I know nothing about it aside from I’ll probably like it.

      • There are only two moments in cinema that guarantee a scream from me: the end of the final battle in Seven Samurai (“THERE’S NO ONE LEFT!”) and the man-trap in Straw Dogs. You absolutely nailed what makes this great, what makes this in fact the definitive tragedy of the man whose flaw is his inability to recognize his will-to-own:* Peckinpah’s ability, his need really, to make us empathize with everyone. I have to come back to this movie at some point, and there’s no rewatch I’m dreading more.

        I wonder just how well Jay Karnes and Shawn Ryan know this movie, because there’s so much David Sumner to Dutch. He actually gets a relatively painless version of the recognition that Sumner has in Straw Dogs at the end of season four, and Dutch really does find a home then.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Peckinpah’s greatest gift that his critics never quite saw was that empathy – his movies could be generously called sexist yet they never undermine the humanity of the men and women in them. Its a fascinating dichotomy.

          • There are aspects of myself that Straw Dogs made me empathize with, and that was a really uncomfortable and dislocating experience. Great art does that.

          • DJ JD

            It’s the point that I wish more current directors would get: empathy is what makes violence work in a movie. Even something as faceless as the Star Wars original trilogy: we still get to see them bored at work, waving by landspeeders that most certainly have the droids they’re looking for, or discussing the latest tech to hit the scene when they get crucially distracted. It’s not supposed to make us feel bad when they a-a-a-all get blown up at the end, but they still do actually exist as something more than cardboard cutouts.

          • Peckinpah had some definite beliefs about violence, men, women, and the past and present, but he was compelled to tell stories about them, not make arguments. His characters exist for their own sake, not as markers in some larger game, and that’s a pretty basic requirement of storytelling.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            You know, having slept on it, that whole ‘very good despite being totally unpleasant’ thing makes Straw Dogs a perfect argument in favour of drama. Strip out pleasant emotions, strip out positive moral statements, strip out beautiful imagery (nothing is actually bad in the movie, just not beautiful for its own sake), and drama still works.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          The thought that kept coming up as I was processing the movie was “I need to watch this again, I don’t want to watch this again right now.”

          There’s also a lot of David in Walter White, though it goes the other way.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      Rome – Episodes 2+3. I can see why @ZoeZ calls this show soapy now, as the WHO’S THE REAL FATHER stuff is kinda goofy, but these episodes do a nice job advancing the Civil War and Titus Pullio and Lucius as characters. I am myself a semi-hedonist with a very dim view of law and order as ethical viewpoints, so I see more of myself in Titus than Lucius, but Titus’ indulgence coupled with no strong moral compass makes him more destructive than he intends. Lucius in contrast has a faith both in the gods and the Republic but his ethics are so embedded in Roman order that he can’t say a single good thing to his wife or children until guilted. Ray Stevenson is way more fun here but Kevin McKidd has a harder job playing Lucius’ dickish repression and then vulnerability when he finds out how much he’s damaged his marriage. Titus and Lucius seem like allegories for the two general sides of the Republic (law and excess) but the writers make them palpably human.

      Best jokes: Lucius not knowing what a clitoris is. James Purefoy’s delightful deadpan on Kerry Condon’s impression of Attia: “She’s got you down.”

      Ownage: Pompey and the nobles leaving Rome without a single battle because Caesar is so freaking audacious and just marches in (and they have no legions).

      First episode of Lovesick season 3 – Yay! Its back. Loved Angus and Holly realizing maybe they have little in common and curious where it goes.

      Also I finished White Jazz, which I had difficulty with at first but this might be a masterpiece. The culmination of the Quartet and a portrait of earnest, fraught damnation. The final pages are Klein telling himself he will undo the past, not understanding the impossibility of the task. It’s Ellroy reaching to Fitzgerald, to our futile, heartbreakingly human need to tap into memory and wipe out all regrets. How beautiful.

      • One mark of how great Ellroy is: I can’t decide on his best book. All his great works are unmistakably his, and yet they don’t resemble each other. I’d give the #1 slot to White Jazz on intensity, American Tabloid on classicism, My Dark Places on thematic unity, and Blood’s a Rover on sheer goddamn daring.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          I’m very, very excited to start his USA trilogy. I haven’t been this eager to keep plowing forward with a writer since Ballard.

      • DJ JD

        I think Rome benefitted massively by that cast, which has managed to continue to find work afterwards but never received the fame and fortune I thought sure they would find. I haven’t seen it in quite awhile now, but I remember thinking that Stevenson, Purefoy and Condon all killed roles that could’ve flopped hard in lesser hands.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Stevenson in particular is really fun and charismatic here and he really should’ve been able to parlay that into better roles.

      • Miller

        Well said on McKidd, he has a very tight rope to walk of being honorable vs. being an uptight prick and he does a great job. He and Pullo are such great bros!

        And Tabloid will rock your fucking world.

    • lgauge

      I’m back, baby! At least until the next time work gets too crazy and then the holidays happen. I hope you’ve all missed me, but if not, too bad! I’m back anyway.

      Since I’m not crazy, I’m not going to tell you about everything I’ve watch since last time, but I’ll go back about a week…

      The Emigrants: A grand epic. Certainly one of the great Scandinavian films. Filled to the brim with fantastic actors and realized with impressive vision by Troell (who not only directed and co-wrote the film, but also shot and edited it, a most impressive feat). A stunning film from start to finish and certainly a most harsh one. Each moment of pain, both physical and spiritual, can be clearly read on Ullmann and von Sydow’s faces. Though much is similar, compared with Bergman this is a more psychologically grounded affair, but both of them handle the necessary adjustments with impressive ease. It’s probably not an easy film to recommend (what 3 hour string of misery is?), but I was never less than riveted.

      The New Land: Not as good as The Emigrants, but then again what is? Still great, particularly the middle section with Robert and the continued relationship of Karl Oskar and Kristina (an all-timer). These two movies are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen and together are certainly among the best one-two punches in cinema. Jan Troell is a true legend for directing, co-writing, shooting and editing these two epic beasts back to back.

      Star Wars: The Last Jedi (re-watch): As expected, this improved quite a bit on re-watch, with re-adjusted expectations for what kind of story this would be and for some of the tonal choices. A lot of the small things that stood out negatively last time faded away this time and what was good before was still good. It’s certainly one of the most visually accomplished Star Wars films in terms of using color and the widescreen frame, and the big character moments that matter are played very well. I still have some minor issues in terms of a few things that could have been cut, the film definitely suffers from “too many endings” syndrome and at the end of the day it’s a blockbuster, so its politics never go beyond surfaces (which, with its largely diverse cast and clearly stated “lessons for cocky men”, is probably still more useful and admirable than 95% of other movies of its kind). Overall, I’d say this is pretty good and in retrospect I think I have similar feelings comparing this to Force Awakens as I do comparing Empire to Star Wars (A New Hope). This is more objectively speaking the better film (in most respects), but I still think I have a slight personal preference for the quiet awe of the first movies of each trilogy compared with the more balanced and grounded sequels. I do wonder what’s left to explore in the last film though. As interesting as I find both Rey and Kylo (separately and together), it seems like they both traversed the most interesting parts of their character arcs in this film and won’t have much more to do except fight in the last chapter.

      The 400 Blows: Ultimately plays it a lot more straight than I would have imagined. As one of the first films of the nouvelle vague, you have to look quite a bit more closely to see its innovations and genre synthesis compared to something like Breathless, which is so in your face with it (from which one’s miles immediately start to vary as to which approach makes for the better film I’m sure). I don’t feel quite confident enough in my film history knowledge to explicate the ways in which this does represent something new, though I’d at least guess it has something to do with taking subject matter and certain formal concerns from Italian neo-realism and combining them with an irreverent tone more associated with Hollywood comedies (and perhaps certain domestic works by Renoir and others) and filming this in a traditionally “less serious” ‘scope ratio and with an at times more freewheeling camera. In any case it’s clear that Truffaut’s primary concern is character and story, both of which are handled with admirable empathy and impishness as the individual moments require. Though (if it wasn’t already clear) I’m more team Godard in this particular divide, this film is certainly very good and already at this young age it’s hard to deny the magnetism of Leaud’s presence on screen. And if the rest of the film isn’t quite the shot across the bow of the nouvelle vague I had expected, then the final shot more or less takes care of that.

      Mudbound: Starts out a bit inelegantly with a barrage of different viewpoints and first person narrations that make the first act feel almost more like a plot summary of a previous film than the actual start of one. Mostly recovers from the second act and forwards, though the film at times suffers from a strained multi-threaded narrative style that seems too directly carried over from the novel it’s adapting. Also, one of the ways in which the film does try to use the medium to its advantage, the occasional very beautiful image, more often than not comes across as a bit too much One.Perfect.Shot.; nice to look at in isolation, but does little to converse with the images before and after and does not inform us much about character or themes. All that being said, this is still pretty good. Mostly due to a pair of wonderful performances by Blige and Mitchell and from the way the story (on it’s own terms nothing too special) foregrounds the psychology of black American lives, as much as the film’s split focus allows anyway. While we’ve seen stories like this before (if not often set in this particular period), the art is in the telling and that works quite well here (despite the aforementioned issues that do pull the overall quality down a little). Anchored to a strong ensemble (spearheaded by the two performances mentioned above), this story makes the film undeniably gripping and a notable effort.

      Beach Rats: Wonderfully realized film about the tensions arising when young, insecure queerness bumps up against the constraining traditional masculinity of the peer group. Especially revealing when it comes to the enforced fluidity and ways of adapting to the environment that’s required to navigate this psycho-social territory. Perhaps textually nothing too revelatory, but the visual realization here and the working class setting makes this a more than worthwhile take on the issue. I suppose in all fairness I should confess my personal weakness for this kind of 16mm aesthetic, but I just love the way this looks and in particular how Hittman and Louvart uses it to probe at all these bodies, both in isolation and as part of their environment, and how they use the colors and grain to capture the characters’ youthful energy and carefree attitude in conflict with the anxiety induced by their personal situations. While it’s been a staple for decades for directors (especially women) to make evident the inherent queer angle of a bunch of shirtless dudes frolicking around, this counter-narrative wrapped around the depicted hetero-macho milieus never ceases to be pleasing. Great score and a fantastic lead performance too.

      Nashville: The perfect mosaic film.

      This simultaneous love letter and spoofing of country culture, the entertainment industry and more generally post-60s American society and politics is such a non-stop pleasure that it takes a while to register just how impressively elegant the interweaving of all the different characters and storylines is. I don’t think I was confused for a second about what was going on (only, intentionally I think, at times a bit confused about certain character motivations) and considering the amount of information thrown in our face, the sheer amount of cutting back and forth, that’s really an undeniable accomplishment. Yet, the film’s most prominent pleasures are the many joyous musical numbers, both the serious ones and the ones played more for laughs, and the endless choreography of both overlapping dialogue and people shifting around and in and out of focus. The latter aspect of the film reminded my a bit of Tati’s Playtime in fact.

      If I don’t quite give the film the highest possible marks, it’s mostly because of a few threads that give me slight pause. For one thing I feel like I’d need a bit more insight into the culture of the time (and perhaps place) to really get all the different modes and angles Altman is playing with, especially perhaps with regards to the ending. Secondly, I got the uneasy feeling that almost all of the women in the film (female screenwriter notwithstanding) remain in positions where the story is always happening to them, where the men to a much larger degree are allowed to be subjects with a certain amount of agency. For the most part though, this is film is a pure delight and as a mosaic film it’s a true all-time accomplishment.

      Irma Vep: Woah. For a film that’s as much in conversation with the past as this is, it sure feels extremely of its time in the best way possible. There are moments here that are just dripping with the 90s, though luckily not in a way that would cause too many blips on the nostalgia meter. There’s a kind of modernist punk energy to the whole thing that’s as inscrutable as it is lovely. In any case, this feels like the ultimate film about the European/French movie industry in so many ways. Especially due to the incredible meta-casting of Leaud as the has-been genius director. Even with the feeling that Leaud has been meta-casted many times, this is really the one to bring out something a little different. He emits such a different energy than usual. Mostly very calm and then when he explodes he explodes not like the youthful firecracker we know but as something more slow and encumbered. And though there isn’t a one particular characteristic that can be mapped onto any particular individual, you just know that Leaud is using his many years of experience with the nouvelle vague auteurs and others to construct this perfect and studied portrayal of a very particular kind of male director. Yet, this is just a small thread in a fascinating tapestry. As an at times boundary-breaking and out there film about the film industry, it almost feels like a Europe-set precursor to Mulholland Dr.

      Very obviously, bringing in Maggie Cheung is such a genius move that doubles the brilliance of why she’s there in the story. Obviously a bit lost in an unusual place, she retains a much more controlled demeanor than usual for this type of character. She always lets show the confusion and incredulousness that certain moments induce, but first and foremost she’s a professional who knows how to deal with this kind of environment. In a way, it’s almost strange how nice she comes across as. She also plays wonderfully against Richard’s Zoe, who gets her own story in a way that nicely deepens the film’s world and cast of characters without distracting from the main events playing out. A lesser film would play the (most likely one-sided) attraction as a bigger plot point, but here it’s allowed to fade into the background and imply a life and world outside the film once it has played out its purpose. Richard also has a wonderful scene with the perfectly cast (and always welcome) Bulle Ogier. In summation, this part of the film really shows once again (even though this is only my third film of his) how well Assayas crafts these films about women. I honestly struggle to think of another modern day (relatively speaking) male director who makes films about women that are both really films about women and never distractingly so in the way many other men do. He genuinely makes the type of film where you wouldn’t be all that surprised to see a woman’s name under the director’s credit and certainly ones where you’re not left feeling that there should have been.

      Visually, Assayas lets the film play out in mostly long takes and close-up and medium shots. This has the dual purpose of both giving the film an appropriate “behind the scenes of a film production” feel while also really capturing in great detail the many important conversations, both the intimate ones and the ones where people are walking back and forth yelling. This of course breaks down in two key sequences, which I won’t go into in detail to avoid spoiling them, but which are certainly the standout moments of an already incredible film. Suffice to say that both completely break open notions about what this film is and could be and that the latter sequence, which also ends the film, essentially blows the whole thing wide open (or maybe blows it up, not sure which is the better descriptor).

      Though completely its own thing and with a narrative and characters that are quite distinct, key aspects of the film certainly places it in a rich legacy of films like Persona, Celine and Julie Go Boating and Mulholland Dr. If not quite reaching the level of those films (though reaching there in its best moments), I’m not sure I can give much higher praise to a film.

      Munich: Mostly plays out very nicely as a well crafted spy story with a particular thematic subtext, but Spielberg’s usual studied classicism seems to me very ill-suited for what is really a very thorny and messy narrative and subtext. Despite the personal aspects of the film, in both text and subtext I’m sure, I’m just not convinced Spielberg was the man for the job in this case. His occasional forays into more explicit and/or brutal material (with some exceptions) also feel kind of awkward. There’s a very poorly conceived use of a woman’s dying, and then dead, body in one scene. One sequence towards the end, where a cross-cutting between Bana angrily thrusting at his wife and previously unseen moments from the tragedy at the film’s beginning, rather than convey emotion or meaning just comes across as laughably bad. I don’t necessarily object to the film’s final shot, but it sure makes it extremely clear what the film is really about. Speaking of which, I’m not sure the film ever really gets anywhere with its depiction of and treatise on terrorism and state retaliation. Not that I’m expecting answers, but the film mostly seems to say “well this sure is a messy, bad and difficult subject”. Which is obviously better than “rah rah kill them all”, but that’s surely too a low a bar to set for our major filmmakers?

      • DJ JD

        I am increasingly amazed at how different a film different people seem to see The Last Jedi as. This veers into me talking about myself instead of your post – for which I apologize – but your comments on TLJ reminded me that I had the most frustrating conversation with a group of my friends who went to see it. They all kinda-sorta tolerated it, giving it a 5 out of 10 or so, and thought it was massively, profoundly flawed. I adored it and gladly defended its many virtues–and it became obvious in the ensuing discussion that they just didn’t see them. They started explaining to me ways that it could’ve done a better job of what I was saying if only it had _____ (Optimus Prime’s death in the Transformers animated movie came up as a better example of a Pyrrhic victory, to set the tone here) and they just plain didn’t see what I saw in it.

        Honestly, it reminded me of the 2016 American presidential election cycle all over again, where sane people I love and respect came to conclusions I couldn’t wrap my head around in the most basic details, no matter how far out we discussed it.

        Okay, rant over. I liked TLJ better than you did, for sure, but at least what you’re saying makes sense to me.

        • lgauge

          My main takeaway comparing my own opinion of TLJ to those who liked it more seems to be that while I loved the best moments as much as you guys, there were a lot of other moments that you either loved or really liked that I thought were merely okay (mostly I think due to the more general blockbuster fatigue I’ve been feeling in the last couple of years than any particular problems with the specifics). I also didn’t love a lot of these changes that some of you really seem to (by which I mean on reflection I thought they were fine and completely fair, nothing objectionable, but also nothing that really did all that much for me).

          • DJ JD

            Fair enough. I was careful to tell my friends I wasn’t there to tell them how to see the movie and the same goes here, of course. I was more just struck by the phenomenon.

          • lgauge

            Oh for sure. Though I’ve mostly seen it through other people complaining about it, the hyperbolic negative reactions have been pretty strange (or even pathetic in some cases). If I do feel the need to push back a little bit, it’s only because I’m also seeing a backlash to the backlash where it’s now almost impossible to complain about certain elements of the film without becoming persona non grata in certain film circles.

        • At our annual NYE party, someone was ranting that TLJ was an obvious Disney product, designed for theme parks and toys sales, and not in the true artistic spirit of the originals. I just walked away from that one.

          • DJ JD

            That was my reaction to the Optimus Prime comment too. I mean, we kept talking, but I just pretended he didn’t say that and carefully moved on.

    • DJ JD

      Mostly junk food in the background while we family’d or whatever.

      Tron: Legacy – This movie held up surprisingly well on a rewatch. I saw it in theaters and gave it a solid B at the time: it captured the sense of awe and dread that the first one did, it looked great, there were some fun performances in the margins (Michael Sheen just kicks things up a notch, habitually) and of course I was thunderstruck by the soundtrack. But the whole thing suffered from a certain airlessness. It all happened in a hard drive somewhere…the end. They tried to give it real-world stakes by threatening some sort of real-world invasion, but that came off mostly as silly to me, and I never connected much with the “miracle” Quorra and hers represented. On a rewatch, though, I’m not sure what more I could’ve asked for from the movie. So I’m back to that question we come back to occasionally about comedies and genre fare: is it a “solid B” if it aims for a specific bar and clears it, or is it an “A-asterisk” because it did great for what it was trying to do, but it wasn’t trying to rewrite history? I dunno what the answer is, but I enjoyed myself.

      Relevant sidenote: I’m convinced I adored the first one as much as I did as a kid because it felt like the perfect metaphor for a child looking at the adult world: exhilarating, beautiful and awe-inspiring, but terrifying and fundamentally alien. The first seems to me now as a silly, strange and inspired movie in turns, but I never shook that sense I had as a li’l tyke, watching it. T:L got me right back in that headspace, so I have some respect for it on that point no matter what. And this thought, in turn, puts my B/A* discussion in an odd light, because the original Tron was almost bizarrely ambitious (T:L was probably wise to leave out all the religious doubt and agnosticism) but not in the directions that it connected with seven-year-old me on.

      Lord of the Rings: Return Of The King – I straight up don’t get the backlash against this movie. Okay, fine, speech/action/battle/repeat; it’s still an amazing piece of some amazing movies. I have to really squint to find things that…I mean it’s not even a question of “dislike”, but just threatens the immersion it offers.

      Independence Day – Okay yeah not everything held up that well on a rewatch. I loved this movie as a teenager, but sheesh.

      For my fellow Americans and/or anyone who watches the Rose Parade, is it dreadfully heretical of me to find the whole thing cheesy nearly beyond the bounds of enjoyment? I enjoyed the floats as floats and I liked that Japanese high school band (who put some *work* into their march), but otherwise my cold black heart went full Scrooge in response to all the saccharine.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        The lighting of the beacons is still an instinctive “the heart soars” moment and one of the biggest in 2000’s movies.

        • Jake Gittes

          One of the positive sides of Jackson’s showmanship is (was?) his ability to take a purely transitional moment like that and make it spectacular in its own right. There are fewer such moments in today’s blockbusters than ever, too often everything is too compressed, constantly just rushing to the next action beat.

      • lgauge

        RotK may have 5 endings or whatever, but you can bet all your dollars that I cry ugly man tears at every single one.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Also it could’ve been way worse and included the Shire getting taken over by fucking Saruman.

          • lgauge

            Now there’s a show stopper. I mean, I like the idea of that in the abstract but as some point you just need to end the fucking story.

          • DJ JD

            Aww, I loved that denouement. It gave us the aftermath of the war, for good and ill, and Frodo’s “where will I find rest?” question felt like the closest Tolkien ever came to staring directly at the camera as he wrote.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Oh I totally get it thematically, its just pacing wise it shoots itself in the foot. All the LOTR fans I knew as a kid skipped that on re-reads.

          • DJ JD

            Heh, not me–it was always one of my favorite parts. I always found it to be the unquestionable “real” ending, and an immensely satisfying grounding to all of the fantastic elements. (Which, back to praising Jackson: he did a phenomenal job of making some pretty abstract material feel so tangible.)

        • Jake Gittes

          Since I always revisit the trilogy in its entirety (not in one day but over a weekend) I just always saw the 20-minute ending as being that of a 10-hour story and never had a problem with it. It’s a wonderful chance to take a breath and savor your last moments in this world.

          • lgauge

            Indeed.

        • Miller

          “My friends, you bow to no man.” What is this salty discharge?

      • Jake Gittes

        The only element of ROTK I dislike is the business with the ghost army in the extended edition, where it not only runs too long but also their agreeing to take part in the battle lessens the impact of their arrival. Just for that reason it’s the only LOTR film that I prefer in its theatrical cut.

        • The Ploughman

          LOTR:FotR Extended > Theatrical
          LOTR:TTT Theatrical > Extended
          LOTR:RotK Theatrical = Extended (lose ghost army and some of the other fat, keep Mouth of Sarumon and extended wins)

          • Jake Gittes

            I always thought TTT was the most improved in the extended version thanks just to the Boromir-Faramir scene.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Also Faramir quietly musing over the corpse of the soldier. It’s more lip service than anything (don’t serve up huge piles of bodies as entertainment AND lament the horror of war) but Wenham sells it.

          • The Ploughman

            Mine is the minority opinion. I like the extra Faramir stuff on its own but I think the theatrical version is a really well-paced film and the additions only lessen that. The Ent drought scene does nothing for me and there’s a line Gandalf repeats nearly verbatim three or four times.

      • The Ploughman

        Your A/B question reminds me of a similar conversation – now I can’t remember if it was on a podcast I was listening to or what prompt it – but I come down on the side of adjusting for difficulty, like a gymnastics judge. You submit the difficulty of your routine ahead of time and that becomes a multiplier on your score (ie – an easy routine that you nail will not reach as high as a difficult routine nailed). I’d rather see a movie aiming something higher and succeeding, but I’ll equate a movie with higher goals that doesn’t quite pull it off with a movie that nails only familiar beats.

        • DJ JD

          I like that a lot. I do fear that comedy still gets a short shrift in some eyes, though–it’s tough stuff, and a movie like Hot Fuzz seems almost impossible to make.

          • The Ploughman

            Yeah, the ability to have a consistent theme and thought-out story and be just plain funny is quickly becoming a lost art.

    • glorbes

      I watched Pottersville. It wasn’t very good.

    • A Talking Banana!?!

      All the Money in the World (2017) – A film that is much more interesting to talk about than it is to actually watch. I don’t know, I can’t really see this one being remembered except for the whole last-minute switch-up (and speaking of which, Plummer is really good in the role, even if the role of J. Paul Getty isn’t much on paper). For a “thriller” it drags something fierce in the second half and I didn’t need some half-assed attempt to make us sympathize with one of the kidnappers. On the other hand, Michelle Williams is pretty good (I didn’t even mind the accent!) even if Mark Wahlberg is totally miscast, and uh, I guess Getty’s mansion looks cool, so Scott continues his streak of using excellent production designers.

      Quiz Show (1994) – A film that is the same length as All the Money in the World and yet doesn’t feel nearly as long. I think this may be my first Robert Redford-directed film, and from what I’ve heard, this is easily his best. Even with that “daming with faint praise” bit, the film is really strong, with everyone bringing their A-game and a compelling story that really ,really reminded me of The Bubble episode from 30 Rock.

      • The Ploughman

        I’m thinking Plummer might be headed for another Oscar. The story is just too irresistible.

        • CineGain

          Dafoe is standing in the way for the Oscar, though wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to awarded Plummer.

          • The Ploughman

            Is Dafoe supporting? The Florida Project comes to town in one week.

          • CineGain

            Haven’t gotten around to the film yet, Dafoe has been winning many of the critic awards for supporting actor.

          • Jake Gittes

            Seems it’s gonna be either him or Sam Rockwell on the Oscar stage in March.

        • The Narrator

          Nah, All the Money looks to be enough of a bomb despite the publicity that I can’t imagine him even getting a nomination.

    • More Monk. Two episodes from the fourth season of the MiB cartoon. A couple of Harold Lloyd shorts.

    • Delmars Whiskers

      One Million Year BC–Despite its (not unearned) reputation as a camp classic, what with Raquel Welch in a fake leather bikini and more fake beards than a dozen Oliver Stone films, this is actually a surprisingly solid movie. A pre-credits semi-abstract journey through the stars, followed by several still shots of primitive landscapes, clearly anticipate 2001, and given the lack of dialogue, it amounts to a silent film, well-staged and easy to follow. The main attractions, of course, are Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs, and they don’t disappoint. There’s one shot of a brontosaurus (as they were still called in 1967) casually ambling through the background that is as fully convincing as anything in Jurassic Park, and throughout they have a sense of weight and personality. The matte work is pretty dire, but what do you want from a Hammer Films quickie?

      • glorbes

        It’s really weird that they decided to feature a giant lizard by matting in an actual lizard. I assume that was a producer driven decision, with no extra budget. I assume Harryhausen was less than enthused about that decision.

        • Delmars Whiskers

          He might have just been being diplomatic, but Harryhausen claimed he hoped using an actual living critter as the first thing we see would make audiences more willing to accept the animated monsters yet to come. Of course, since the lizard barely moves and has dead-looking eyes, it really doesn’t work.

      • The Ploughman

        Dinosaur fights and bikinis. This was essential viewing as a young man when it would play late at night.

        • Delmars Whiskers

          I like to think the actual Godard quote is, “All you need to make a movie is a dinosaur and a fur bikini.”

    • The Ploughman

      Downsizing, for which I’ll post something up here later. Summary: it’s not great, but I think it warrants a place for discussion.

      The Gates the Maysles (and fellow credited directors Antonio Ferrera and Matthew Prinzing) follows artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude as they attempt to explain and execute a large-scale art project consisting of hundreds of bright orange steel-frame and fabric “gates” along the walkways of New York’s Central Park. The most precious footage comes first, during the artists’ first aborted attempt in the 80s to get the project off the ground. It’s a great document of the resistance to just about anything in the system, as Christo and Jeanne-Claude are guided by their lawyer and New York native through a system of spineless Parks Department heads and hostile public commenters. That Christo will only use his own money does not help his case, and is somehow spun as an extra insult. The project goes nowhere as a frustrated Christo sweats out his explanation to the most frequent question – why?

      Cut to mid-2000s and Mayor Bloomberg greenlights the project with no public input (maybe because he can’t declare war in Iraq as a distraction, one news commentator suggests). The project proceeds at quadruple the cost to Christo, but the reactions aren’t any less mixed, with one passerby suggesting it’s something akin to a rich guy shitting on your lawn.

      This is all great stuff, with questions of property rights and that recurring question from the public – why – bouncing around the typically hostile natives of New York. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are earnest figures, maybe a little too earnest when they declare the art is not for the New Yorkers and that the entire idea is completely irrational. When the gates go up, the film documents them in lengthy detail (with a little too much mid-2000s digital photography, unfortunately) and I find I’m more interested in seeing the process it too to get them installed than seeing them actually installed. More disappointingly, the actual presence of the Gates is shown to have a calming effect on the population, and only awed voices of excitement and congratulation speak of the project now. Maybe the art won the day or maybe all the curmudgeons just stayed away from the park for two weeks.

      • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

        To the question of why: I believe they were just trying to build a BBQ Pit and it got out of hand.

    • Jake Gittes

      I finally rewatched A Star Is Born, the best film I saw for the first time in 2017. Found myself in tears (of both happy and ugly variety) on at least four sepatate occasions; this number might yet go up on future viewings. A few things:

      1) If there’s one semi-consistent criticism I’ve seen of the movie even from people who like it, it’s that Garland looks/is too old for the role, but it is one of my favorite aspects of the film that she’s not some wide-eyed starlet suddenly thrust into this different world, but clearly a woman of some experience who gets an unexpected chance to change up her life and decides to go for it, bringing along both newfound determination and a certain appealing practical sense (best expressed in her reaction to her new name: “Vicki Lester?! Vicki Lester… Vicki Lester!”) It also puts her on a more equal ground with Mason’s Norman Maine, and makes their relationship more heartbreaking. Her pursuing him and standing by him knowing what he can be like comes from a more adult place and feels like an example of agency rather than script contrivance; I’ve no doubt that plenty of people today might watch the film and find it #problematic, at least on the surface (the prideful alcoholic doesn’t deserve her devotion and sacrifices, etc., I can imagine the thinkpieces going) but what I get from Garland’s performance is that this is a woman who understands love and commitment more deeply than I could imagine, and would kick my ass if I dared suggest that her love was in some way unhealthy, or unearned, or wasted. She’s a strong character because of this devotion.

      2) Meanwhile, if there was one thing that left me scratching my head after my first viewing, it was the “Born in a Trunk” medley, which seemed like a visually striking but overall inessential way of loading the movie with another musical setpiece. On rewatch, though, I could see it as the most ridiculously layered and ironic sequence in a movie heavy on layers and irony, especially when you consider the extra-textual level: here’s Judy Garland selling her comeback to her peers and audiences by playing Esther, an up-and-coming actress who in turn achieves success by playing yet another (unnamed) up-and-coming actress who goes through some of the same struggles we’ve seen Esther go through, with the whole number bookended by Judy-as-Esther-as-unnamed-actress performing a song (“Swanee”) that Garland herself had first recorded while a teenager. It adds to the film’s many wry observations about showbiz, which occasionally veer in tone into viciously funny (the entire “Someone at Last” number) or just straight-up vicious, and is yet another reason it’s probably simultaneously the greatest celebration and the greatest critique Hollywood could ever produce about itself.

      3) I finished reading Ronald Haver’s book about the making of the film and its famous restoration today, and it’s a gripping, dizzying read in its detailed demonstration of just how many balls were in the air at all times, and how unfortunately easily the wind could change direction after months and months of work and result in the butchering of the finished film despite its great early success. I’m not giving up hope that one day a complete 181-minute cut may yet see the light of day.

    • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

      Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This Martin Mcdonagh guy is good. I remember being impressed with In Bruges, however, I didn’t see Seven Psychopaths (probably because I missed Psychopaths 1-6) and this new one has the same mix of dark humor and pathos.

      The three leads, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are all great. Watching 3BOEM is akin to how I felt watching Good Time in that I never knew where it was going but I was fully along for the ride and very happy with the experience.

      • Miller

        I liked In Bruges a lot but the characters as mouthpieces for McDonagh’s musings worked there in their weird purgatory. Billboards is trying to be somewhere and say something and it doesn’t work, as opposed to Good Time, which is just about being somewhere with someone and is superb at that.

        • The Voice of A Gnu Generation

          The comparison to Good Time is because I couldn’t predict where either of them were headed. Although, 3BOEM is more of a conventional movie than GT. I think what McDonagh is saying in 3BOEM works. Hate leads to more hate and the whole cycle continues until you can let go of the hate and find some kind of purpose in your life.

    • Rosy Fingers

      I wrote yesterday about Ingrid Goes West and how intensely discomforting I found it, because I identified a little too strongly. Well, because it’s movie of the week on the “The Next Picture Show” podcast, last night I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley for the first time. It’s the exact same goddamn movie! Ingrid Goes West just transposes every character and most plot points from Ripley into a contemporary Californian setting. Most bogus. The former movie has now been retroactively ruined for being such a shameless ripoff.

  • The Ploughman

    Dammit, why is this not coming to my town for another two weeks? Star Wars is soaking up an inordinate number of screens.

    • CineGain

      It’s like if we need to place an monopoly law that would allow smaller films to have equal standings with the Star War’s and Marvel’s of the world!

    • Rosy Fingers

      At least it’s coming to you. Here’s what’s on the ‘Coming Soon’ page of my town’s cinema:

      All the Money in the World
      Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
      The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature
      Tad the Lost Explorer & the Secret of King MIdas

      THAT’S IT. These are slim pickings.

      • CineGain

        That looks like the lineup of what’s coming to the dollar theater. We’re in the dawn of award season and the only contender that’s coming to your region is a middle-reviewed Ridley Scott film that no one cared about until a certain name was cut out of the picture. Theatrical distribution is a tricky business, with studios trying to max out the market, the smaller boutique/indie distributors hoping to find room in an increasingly hostile media climate where such films don’t have the audience of a summer blockbuster.

      • The Ploughman

        I don’t envy you having to avoid Nut Job 2 spoilers all this time.

        • Rosy Fingers

          The first one ended with the squirrels dancing with an animated Psy to Gangnam Style. I can’t see how this sequel could hope to top that.

  • Jake Gittes

    Anyone else getting the “Database Error” thing trying to open the main site? What’s going on?

    • The Narrator

      I’m getting the same. Had to sneak in through the Disqus page.

  • CineGain

    Relating to those of us who don’t live in major metropolitan areas with major film scene, read Noel Murray article on growing up as film geek in Arkansas.

    http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-ca-mn-arkansas-movie-watcher-20171228-story.html