An Amphibian Affair – The Shape of Water (2017), dir: Guillermo del Toro

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Guillermo del Toro named The Shape of Water his best film so far and he might be right to think so. Admittedly, the film represents a distinct and mellow fairy tale that not only is masterfully shot but also, carries important symbolism and commentary on human nature.

The characters that surround the two unlikely lovers are unique caricatures; the sensitive gay neighbour, the chatty, good-hearted colleague, the spy doctor with a conscious, the cocky, brainless General and the cruel racist and sadist Colonel. In an imaginary world, replete with villains and heroes, were find our outwardly couple, a mute woman and an amphibian creature with special powers. Although a romance like this pushes the boundaries of our tolerance to imagination, their relationship is approached so delicately and sensitively that becomes smoothly integrated into our soft fantasy circle.

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The opening scene is a miraculous entrance to Elisa’s world and introduces us to the blue and green shades that colour the film. In that first glimpse of our heroine, floating in her sleep in Alexandre Desplat’s melancholic score she strikes as an underwater Amélie. The circular movement of the del Toro’s camera feels almost like a dancing sequence that familiarises with the space and the characters by also enabling a feeling of visual cosiness, warmth and comfort.

In Elisa’s kingdom where silence reigns, so does loneliness until she makes a new friend in the secret government laboratory where she works. That new friend is a male humanoid amphibian that succumbs under daily torture and is soon to be terminated. If there is one thing we can say about the monster is that it looks gorgeous, powerful and fragile all at once.

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The first half of the film can definitely be considered its best part, its most romantic and dreamy compared to the slightly disjointed, out-of-tone action of the second. The courtship and establishment of trust is the most exciting and captivating state we find our protagonists in. Sally Hawkins assumes a demanding role that relies completely on physicality and she does a great job. Elisa’s sensitivity and independence are radiating, her courage and determination make her glow. Her soulful eyes transmit her sweetness and capacity for love but also her painful loneliness and unbearable sentiment from the upcoming separation. She seems delicate and soothing while a fire is burning inside her.

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Richard Jenkins is superb as the sensitive, reality-avoidant friend. His struggle to find companionship has left him with a fridge filled with hopeless unsavoury, green pies and a handful of life lessons. Michael Shannon is haunting as the impersonation of pure evil and draws a thick, dark energy into the film. Octavia Spencer gives a funny and distinctive performance, and Michael Stuhlbarg is remarkable in conveying his moral struggle.

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As a child Guillermo del Toro was marked by the cruelty and injustice done to the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and now he has finally made cinema do right by him. A team of experts assisted him in his vision, creature designer Mike Hill, Legacy Effects Supervisor and co-creature designer Shane Mahan, and visual effects supervisor Dennis Berardi brought the “Asset” to life and Doug Jones employed his acting skills to complete the task.  The team managed to give us an attractive figure with a perfectly-shaped mouth, expressive, wet eyes and an impressively impeccable body with cyan details on his forehead.

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The Shape of Water is a film created with meticulous care and passionate cinematic love. Its details and unique fabric comprise del Toro’s masterful vision and place the film among the classics with a several scenes amounting to perfection. The dreamy opening scene, the man seating on the bus stop bench holding four balloons and a cake, the first time Elisa and the Creature gaze into each other’s eyes, Giles opening the flooding bathroom door to find the couple sharing a glowing hug, the camera following two rain drops becoming one and the magnificent lightening of the ending scene are the most memorable gems for me. However, despite its beauty and profoundness, the film doesn’t render the hypnotic fairy tale that is promised by its riveting opening.

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After the film you might feel like going to the nearest beach for a swim, bring to mind other unlikely love stories from both art and life and contemplate whether Giles’ advice to his younger self (“Take better care of your teeth and fuck more”), no matter how superficial could actually leave no room for future regrets if acted upon. Finally, you might embrace the film’s argument about loving the “otherness” as experience has taught us that the greater the difference between two individuals, the more fascinating are the discoveries in on another and in oneself while sharing a loving relationship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales/ Salazar’s Revenge (2017), dir: Rønning and Sandberg

 

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Low expectations had already infested my mind when I entered the theatre to watch the fifth film of one my most beloved franchises. I fell in love with the first film in 2003, watched it countless time and dreamed of white shores, boats, rum and crazy, lowlife companions. I liked the second and third but they didn’t quite live up to the fun and the thrills of the original. As to the fourth film, we can all pretend it never happened. Coming now to the fifth time that Jack Sparrow’s adventures are brought to the big screen, I have to tell you it’s a film worth watching if like me, you follow the characters since the beginning. Being a loyal fan, you will be able to experience all the breadth of emotions, laughs and victories with the characters along the way. 

Salazar’s Revenge is directed by the Norwegians Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, known for their Academy Award-nominated high sea film Kon-Tiki who managed to bring back some of our favourite elements of the first films, mostly their simplicity and humour. There were also many artful shots that reflected their expertise in using water as the perfect setting for creating engaging visuals.

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The plot lacks twists, the alliances formed are easily-followed and the ending although predictable is source of pure joy for fans. There is a new ‘couple’ of course, Elizabeth’s and Will’s son, Henry Turner, played by Brenton Thwaites and the accused-of-being-a-witch astronomer Carina Smyth, portrayed by Kaya Scodelario both of whom do a great job, being fresh, witty, and convincing by setting the right tone of romance, friendship and rivalry. 

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Captain Hector Barbossa, my personal favourite, is in a fantastic state of wealth and sea-domination when Jack’s past sins take a toll on him too, being a pirate and all… Geoffrey Rush is once more an absolute master of the art, and revives a character that has shown multiple layers through the series. In Dead Men, his devotion and protecting nature emerges once more and not only for his beloved Black Pearl. His signature laughter and scornful grimace can rightfully compete with Depp’s zigzaggy and rock n’roll persona. 

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Speaking of which, if there was one thing I didn’t feel as familiar here that was Jack Sparrow! Bizzarely, he felt heavy and tired, as if he was reluctantly awaken in the middle of a good dream and went along with the action only because there was no other choice (just like in his actual opening scene in the film). What I mean is that there wasn’t much passion in the performance that the teasing and cunning look he delivered every sentence with in the past is missing here. Perhaps it was intentional, as part of the character’s development and in order to reflect his downfall given that he hits bottom when in the absence of the Pearl, his crew and his rum, he trades his once most precious possession after his ship, his magic compass. 

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Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) is a dark, tormented and merciless figure that has been consumed by hate all his life and all his death! Salazar and his crew, who have fallen victims of a curse – just like Barbossa and his own in the Curse of the Black Pearl – that turned them into ghosts and kept them trapped in the Devil’s Triangle and we all guess who was the culprit… Having read reviews that accused the film of being overly surrealistic, I expected outrageous additions to the Pirates’ universe however; I found more similarities to the first film than contradictions. If surrealism and fantasy is not your cup of tea and you expect an accurate depiction of pirate life then I suggest you not to watch it or if you do, to not criticise the film for not being something that it has never pretended to be! The whole franchise is based on mythology, magic, curses and monsters. In my case, it was only the fish-like crew of the Flying Dutchman that seriously challenged my aesthetics and posed a threat to identification with the character of David Jones, as it was simply too hard to see the man beneath the mollusc. However, it didn’t feel far-fetched because I’ve embarked on the adventure with the Pirates on a ship of skeleton-looking fellas under the moonlight, admitting there were supernatural creatures in the unknown sea…

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Salazar’s Revenge is an entertaining vision with memorable bits, including the bank robbery attempt, finding the stunningly sparkly island where Poseidon’s trident lies, hearing the tale from Salazar’s mouth and all the ending scenes basically (yes I cried, so what?!). It is also rich in funny moments, like when Jack encounters the very French guillotine, when Carina is trying to explain to pirates that she is an astronomer and a horologist, when Jack is brought into a horrifying marital engagement etc. 

Love of many kinds is touched upon again in the franchise: the father – son/daughter bond and sacrificial nature of the relationship, friendship, romance, and of course the love for the sea/freedom and for the beauty that captured both Jack’s and Hector’s heart, the Black Pearl. 

The ending brought me tears because I’m soft, a sucker for romance, sacrifices, reunions, and that signature score of the Pirates of the Caribbean that is embedded in my brain and brings about strong emotions every single time it touched my ears without fail. 

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After the film, you might want to watch once more your favourite Pirates of the Caribbean film (chances are it’s The Curse of Black Pearl), start counting the stars, you might develop an interest about astronomy, have a drink with rum, say “hombre” with unprovoked hostility, call your dad to declare your love for him and fantasise that your next holiday will involve a boat.