The Shape of Water (2017)

One of my earliest Guillermo del Toro films that I’d seen and loved was Cronos, a small little flick about an ancient artifact that grants eternal youth. It featured a great supporting character, the nephew of an old wealthy man, played by a young Ron Perlman. Perlman really chews up the role and the scenery, bringing a sort of omnipresent, vibrant energy to the ancient mythology within the films narrative. The Shape of Water has del Toro returning to these character-centric roots, filling the frame with well-defined, and often funny, characters.

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Set in the 1960s, del Toro uses the period as a lift to his films overall atmosphere, packing the mise en scene with mossy green highlights, narrow hallways, and plenty of gargantuan laboratory devices to house the creature in; each scene gives off a very steampunk-like vibe.

The film stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a mute cleaning woman working in a semi-secret government facility (how secret can it be if these cleaning ladies are flying in and out-of-doors as if they were working at a Holiday Inn?) alongside her friend, Zelda, played sympathetically by Octavia Spencer.

There may be a satirical effort being made for the reason that the two women have free range access to the labs, as if the men of the 60s felt that women were so puny and impressionable that it wouldn’t matter what they saw or heard.

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Richard Jenkins, typically a terrific but minor character actor, brings a refreshing amount of depth to his character, Giles, a proverbial ‘starving artist’ whose only friend is Elisa. Given that he’s a gay man in the 1960s, Giles struggles to express himself or create meaningful relationships, making it either ironic or just very on-point that his best friend, Elisa, is mute and can’t speak at all. But that doesn’t stop him from rambling on about Old Hollywood musicals and the like.

The creature in The Shape of Water isn’t your typical one, though he may look and move a lot like Abe Sapien, the aquatic creature who happened to appear in del Toro’s Hellboy series. There is an espionage war over the ‘asset’, as they refer to him as, with the Russians infiltrating the facility by way of Dr. Hoffstetler, though Hoffstetler’s heart is more on the side of scientific ethics than it is with the goals of his government.

Michael Shannon plays the clear-cut actual “monster” of the movie, though even his character has an added layer of complexity. Director del Toro explores the values and feelings of an everyday American family man in the 1960s, fresh with a fancy teal car, a nice home and a cold, mentally unstable interior life.

The fact that The Shape of Water is critically acclaimed and earning del Toro a series of directing awards is a fitting cap to del Toro’s fantastic filmography and career. It wouldn’t feel like a lifetime achievement award if he ended up winning best director at the Oscars. The Shape of Water is a sensitive and highly imaginative piece of film art, drawing very close to the same incredible awe and gravitas of del Toro’s undisputed masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth. 

 

 

 

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Bob the Gambler, Bob le Flambeur (1956) – Film Review

bob gamblerDirected by Jean-Pierre Melville

Bob the Gambler was the first Melville movie I’d ever seen, and as most said it was an uncharacteristic piece for him, I was a little sad; I really liked the movie and wanted to dive into other Melville films that were just as quirky and sly as this one.

The film is about a man named Bob, and yes, he’s a gambler; he has a gaming slot machine in his closet, a little taste he indulges in at home for fun, and spends a lot of his time in gambling houses and casinos.

Bob has had one stint in prison and we find out that he’s got a bit of a guardian angel in the form of a cop. He gets picked up in a police car for a generous ride; one of the cops wants to make sure he stays out of trouble. He has them drop him off a couple blocks before his destination though, so as to not hurt his reputation.

Bob has a young apprentice, Paolo, a quasi son of sorts, but without any consent or censoring between them. He tries to keep Paolo out of trouble, or at least out of the hands of hotheads and their criminal schemes. The atmosphere and sense of place is a movie-lovers dream. The misty streets, long, narrow roads filled with high light-posts, and small little bars where people go in as fast as they pour out; ideal surroundings for a man who fancies himself a gangster.

Bob has started to run out of money as a result of his obsessive gambling, and when a friend tells him how much money a certain Casino holds in their safe, he instantly decides he wants to rob it. But he doesn’t act on sudden impulse like a lowly street hood, he tightly plans it out.

He hires distractions, men to hold-up the staff, and a professional safe-cracker; one of the more clever scenes involves the gang standing around the safe-cracker as he uses an amplifier to listen to the small clicks and movements of the combination lock, practicing for the future head-to-head with the real lock, the one that matters. He needs to softly listen for all the right internal whistling gizmos and clicks, while at the same time keeping in mind the need for it to be cracked under four minutes.

Bob      The plan and heist, of course, brings with it some very real obstacles. Earlier in the story, a young hothead, Marc, gets tangled around some trouble and the police subsequently offer him a deal: if he leads them to a bigger, top-of-the-top racket, and said tip results in a legitimately successful arrest, they’ll drop the charges against him.

Paulo, even after Bob tells him never to tell a dame their plans, goes off and brags about their upcoming plans. Then, when Paulo’s girl plays around with Marc behind his back, she tells him this, not thinking Paulo is going to go through with it, and, of course, Marc tips the police. One-by-one, the domino’s fall on top of Bob’s carefully articulated plans.

A heavy dose of irony presents itself towards the end, while Bob’s a bit distracted; his strict schedule for the heist is interrupted once he begins winning considerable sums at the tables, at the exact casino he’s about to attempt to steal eighty-million from. During the entire course of the film poor Bob has the worst of luck: It’s only good when his luck is just moments away from tipping back to the ‘bad’ spectrum.

Shutter Island

7/10

Shutter Island is not a low-point in Scorsese’s career, but simply an indulgence. It has similar elements to his past films, with 40s dressed men and a classic, noirish feeling and tone, but doesn’t satisfy on all aspects. With a plot as complex as Shutter Island, after the fact plot-holes keep appearing in the after-glow thoughts, and that is the kind of distraction that takes attention away from the main themes. Yet, what are the themes of Scorsese’s recent film? Confusion, denial, desperation..

The movie does not at all lack beauty in its camera-work; its first scene is a wonderful pan onto a mist-covered boat, with detective Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) leaning on the handling with his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) smoking a cigarette; Teddy leave s soon, his sea-sick rising in his stomach, for the bathroom. They are headed to investigate the merit of a psychiatric institution, but what their looking for is not told to us from the start; and even if it was, it would end up an entirely different thing. The movie strives on paranoia and fear, from conspiracy to mystery: the two investigate a case where a woman seems to have disappeared from her room, while at the same time not being seen escaping by the night guards. The island is searched, nothing found. The rest of the film is dedicated to finding her-as well as Teddy dealing with his own past troubles.

Their were flash-back sequences in the film, or dream-sequences, of Teddy with his wife as she fades away and out of existence from him. These I feel are derivative and a low-point for Scorsese’s cinematic inventiveness. She flakes away like a burning newspaper, and she is gone leaving Teddy teared-up and devastated. It creates no mood, nor visual ecstasy,  and is like a sequence trying to mock Lynch’s methods; a hand flying up as he was thinking of her, or hugging a corpse even: He resorts to the weakest of metaphors and imagery.

The film easily sums up its whole with facets of the mentally ill; this character acted like this, because he was paranoid or delusional. But this seems like the only thing that does work right, there are other things that are never bothered to be explained or elaborated; you can definitely get the feeling that this could have been smarter if Scorsese wasn’t making a movie for commercial success. It’s a bold horror entry no doubt-but with more assumptions being done than an actual plot, it’s a misty film in itself.

Memento

Christopher Nolan’s memento takes the narrative linearity of film and flips it upside down; Leonard, played by Guy Pierce, must work backwards to find out his wife’s death because he no longer has a short-term memory. The premise of this is fulfilled to its fullest: He writes notes, not on a pad, but tattooed across his body. The motel-clerk has him booked for two rooms, so he can receive two payments. And everything that Leonard encounters could potentially not be what it seems.

Tense, provocative, and highly intelligent, Memento displays British director Nolan’s talent,and sets the tone for his later, also highly psychological films.

Blade Runner

Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford
Runtime: 1h 54m

Blade Runner is a meditative auto-pilot of a film, in which we are led by our philosophically-minded host Rick Deckard through the eerily-lit cityscape of L.A. 2019. His android cohort and ambivalent sex-doll, played by the porcelain Sean Young, creates a baby-like contrast to the films consistently brooding tone. It’s performances are universally well supplemented and the direction by Ridley Scott is sharp and dimensional.

The story follows Rick Deckard, a Blade-Runner whose sole job is to find and destroy rogue androids. He is troubled by doing this after so long, similar to a public defender’s self-consciousness, but this feeling he sort of diagnoses as the normal hatred for working,and irrelevant; and in the Philip K. Dick book this would be even more reasonable to think, as they woke up to mood-alarms and selected which mood they wanted for the day. Then he gathers the attention of an android woman upon visiting the prism-shaped Tyrell complex, and is released from his self-described sinning after seriously considering having sex with the woman Android. He continues his search for the rogue androids, the posse that sent a fellow Blade Runner to the grave, with the hesitation of the android-woman Rachel wallowing beside him in her lucid thoughts of who she, having found out to be a patented Tyrell Android, really is.

The structure is well-kept throughout, matched with solid operatic musical entries that one can imagine
echoing through the metallic structures where the Rogue androids reside. In fact, everything in the movie seems of the same proportions: huge. Do we ever see small apartment complexes or homes? The set design I have no problems with, although I may say the bleakness of it all makes the prospect of monochrome seem well fitting; I’m surprised they never released a DVD in such format, as it would undoubtedly make a few bucks.

Blade Runner flows like a lofty philosophical talk with a well-acquainted friend. It is about human contradiction, human responsibility, morality and the realization of the bigger ‘reason’ for doing things that may be morally transparent to some. It explores the the cause for exploitation with human artificial intelligence, a concept dismissed in the simstim prostitution of most sci-fi films. And most of all, it displays that even in a world of programmed-action, you can choose the right path.

Blade Runner, to put it emphatically, is a masterpiece. It’s provocative morality along with the ethereal tone bring about a not well-known mixture: Tough guy sentimentality. And with this comes entertainment-discrepancies for a shell-pumping culture, which would explain its meager box office on first release. Philip K. Dick, the author of the source novel ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep?’ had seen some movie shots of the L.A. design and apparently was very much in awe. This was before his seizure and consequential death, when soon thereafter a solid chunk of his body of work was adapted to the screen. Recommended to all sci-fi and even open-minded drama connoisseurs.

Alphaville

Jean Luc-Godard seems to think if you correlate number-tags to a woman’s neck you can call yourself science-fiction; although it may not be the normative spaceship piloting fair, Alphaville is unique in its philosophical approach. William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, cites Escape from precinct 13 as an inspiration to his writings, a John Carpenter film, when a character mentions, paraphrased, “I flew over Normandy during the invasion”, and by this single strip of contextual dialogue, it emits a time and place unrealized simply by exteriors; this is done often in Alphaville, as the time in which filmed does not permit the use of special-effects that we have today.

Near the end of the third act the director positions aerial shots stationed on Lemmy backing out by way of a stolen car and zigzagging out of the parking lot, causing the whole scene to feel predetermined; above, a deity, spectating the intergalactic missions of Lenny.

The stark black and white camerawork sets a somber mood, and the lengthy film, when pushed past its own pretensions, is also very interesting and engaging.

Film Review: Chinatown

Chinatown, directed by the acclaimed director Roman Polanski,  is a feat of modern noir, and an equally crowning achievement from Robert Towne, whose screenplay made the show. It takes place in a classic Los Angelos, and is about a private investigator named J.J. Gittes, who gets a call for help from a woman looking for an investigator of her husband’s murder. This woman turns out to be in a very complex case, one that has to deal with the power behind the Water supply of Los Angeles, and a series of murders. Mr. Mulroy was the partner of Noah Cross, (John Huston), and is found dead in the waters of Los Angeles. Tons of water is being poured meaningless into the bay: Why?

The movie takes a contemplative look into the world of the private-eye, and into the world of a woman who has been confused about herself and family for a very long-time; “She’s my sister! She’s my daughter!”. I feel as though the film shows J.J. Gittes as a man who goes after the controversial-cases, a sort of light mobman, and this case is him trying to set his reputation, both internally and publicly, straight. The film boasts great scenes of light-decor filled with smoke, and tense, mysterious gestures from the characters: We, because we follow Mr. Gittes, never know what the other characters are doing or why, especially Mrs. Mulroy and Noah Cross, her father, though one can assume she has been subjected the most unfairly. You can see it in her eyes, and the dark, careless way she speaks.

Their is a famous scene with Roman Polanski as a stand-in actor, a gangster-like figure around the water-supply area, who cuts Gittes nose off, leaving him with a metaphorical bandaged nose for the rest of the film, a lack of scent. And it couldn’t be more true, though not out of incompetence; He takes pictures, keeps his findings hidden from colleagues, and blasphemies politicians as he attempts to get information, truly seeing for himself and for us, the corrupt world of covering the tracks in political life. The water’s are muddy, and we sense it early on.

Roman Polanski’s ‘Chinatown’ is a tense and suspenseful movie: It takes us through dark alleys and clouded actions, and out the end with still unsettled grounds: It’s what happens in Chinatown. A jarring, wild ride of classic noir film-making, and a great testament to Polanski’s talent of atmosphere and meticulous staging.

Scarlett Street


Scarlet Street is a masterful piece of film noir, featuring pulpy characters and two-faced women. The main character, Christopher Cross, played by Edward G. Robinson, leads us assured and clear-eyed through the film’s moral ambiguities.

Christopher is put under the spell of ‘Kitty’, a sharp dressed girl he rescues from the shadowy arms of a thief after a drinking party with fellow workers. This leads to Kitty and he going out on the spot at a sulky and suave underground bar and results in Kitty making wild assumptions of Chris’ personal life, thinking in cloudy retrospect that he is a wealthy old man.

Chris finds refuge from his brutal life and wife, who hangs a portrait of a double-chinned Welles-looking man, her dead ex police husband, by painting pictures in a small narrow room she “kindly” sets aside for him. These paintings are properties of the con-jobs that Kitty follows up on after their late-night date, with the nudging of her boyfriend, a ruthless and conspicuous thief…

Inception

Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” has penetrated pop-culture’s vein in the 20th Century, creating a suavely paced, intelligent and versatile thriller of the mind. The word Inception is used in culture falsely here-forth, and most people don’t realize that Nolan didn’t invent the word Inception. It means to begin or incite, but in a sense there is a modular meaning to the word now: According to Online dictionaries, the term inception in the realm of science means “the act of instilling an idea into someone’s mind by entering his or her dreams.” And Nolan has incited ideas into many people’s minds: layers of knowledge, of impenetrable realities and uncontrollable human emotions. Though vital, the film could use Fellini as the director of the emotive moments, which consist of long gazes and dream-like stillness, that ultimately seem empty and forced. Without them, the movie would be a structure of constructs, ideas, and tasks; but Nolan at least knows that a movie consisting only of logic like so is not much of a movie at all.

Inception surrounds the circumstance of Dom Cobb, who is an extractor of dreams, performing tasks for corporations against rival companies. He does this with unexplained dream-intervention technology. After a devastating situation of death and sabotage of Cobb’s wife, which he is considered as the main suspect, he must flee from his children and out of the country. Now, after sporadic jobs, he finds a corporate-entity who pronounces shadily that he can return him to his kids for doing one job for him, and this job involves inception, an operation Cobb’s done only once, unsuccessfully. They must incite, meaning actually create an idea instead of removing one, that Robert Fischer wants to break up his father’s empire. To do this, Cobb assembles a mighty team of specialists, Arthur, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) the point-man, who finds out information on all persons involved, Eames (Tom Hardy) who can morph into a new body and pretend to be a close person in the dreamers life, and Ariadna (Ellen Page), the young architect student who designs the dream.  The crew conflict with each other and their pasts, especially Cobbs, since it can appear and harm them in a dream, and confront multiple layers of dreaming for the single-goal of an idea.

What is left in the dark, on a cerebral level, is which layer of the dream we are currently watching. Nolan is able to do this without making the viewer frustrated, but I think he fails on the part of human mystery. There is nothing abnormal about the human scenario, only the dream: All that we think or hesitate about before entering the dream is what ultimately does happen: Cobb’s wife, security in Fischers dreams, and the like. But what of the personality of Fischer: What if he was not as easy-going, or melancholy to the point of vulnerability, but instead there was a traumatic shock to the crew. Like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, Fischer could use more subconscious mystery and deceit, maybe with a pinch of Lynchian terror. Yet, this would not compromise to the consistent nature of Nolan’s filmography, which is essentially psychological noir, not abstraction.

On a critical level, the film has flaws. But don’t mistake these as meaning I didn’t or don’t like Inception; I saw it three times when first released and still find it an enticing and unique movie experience. It is truly revolutionary, in fact, as it took in a large gross while still being intelligent and visceral. Filmmakers will hopefully soon realize that people are more capable of understanding what’s on the screen than Hollywood assumes.

Minority Report – Film Review

Although I’m not a surging fan of Spielberg’s movies, “Minority Report” is an overlooked gem in his filmography. It features a super sci-fi atmosphere and a universe as special as it is bizarrely complex.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

Tom Cruise leads as  John Anderton, traversing the viewer through a journey of corporate corruption. The film poses a complicated narrative about the various contradictions within the concept of free will. The movie is based off of a short-story/novella by Philip K. Dick, an author who specialized in dissecting the legitimicy of our reality.

Their is a gloomy, closet-light sort of decor to the whole film. It isn’t a romance sci-fi, or even a extremely flashy science fiction movie, but a dark, sometimes depressing outlook on loss; in parts it reminds one of Ridley Scott’s noirish Blade Runner.

In this world, in 2054 A.D., government has the ability to predict future murders and stop them in their mind-dwelling tracks; It’s called the Pre-cog program, and involves three telepathic visionaries of the future outputting  information to the agency.

The troops flee out and arrive at the potential murder area to conflict with the violence. Chief Anderton is the best at his job: Spielberg confidently shows Anderton’s confidence with full frontal views of him moving his arms with virtual information, swinging it, and looking for clues on the motherboard.

The staging is excellent in the way it takes the plot with the utmost sense of importance, even if most of the film is frantic getaways. I don’t think its much of a criticism to say it consisted only of getaways, because each pit-stop is revealing of the times; he’s not hiding behind garbage cans, but getting his eye-removed so he can re-enter his past-employed  building, or finding an elderly women with an odd love for botany.

It reveals the society’s technology all at the same time: Much of this was of Spielberg and crew’s own invention, since Philip K. Dick’s story has little explanation of devices used, and was never one to bother on such descriptivism anyway, being a writer concerned mostly with character and plot.

The film is a masterpiece of super-detective science fiction, wildly synced action sequences and incredible art and concept design. The actors fill out their characters skillfully, including Max von Sydow as the president of the pre-cog program and Collin Farell as a snoopy investigator.