The Shape of Water

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Shape of Water

This is a tough one. On one hand, The Shape of Water offers us hatred, cruelty, nudity, violence, murder, and beatings. On the other, it offers a tender love story between two afflicted people who lose themselves in a beautiful romance. The time is the Cold War. The place is a dark, decrepit Baltimore building that is a lab space for creating a creature that will become a weapon against the Russians.

Close friends Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Zelda (Octavia Spencer) have janitorial work passes to clean the building without oversight. Eliza’s sharp intelligence allows her to pick up on the clues left behind by the men who are working on the secret project.

The studio puts it this way: “At a top secret research facility in the 1950s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.” True enough, though I would add “in deepest covert Cold War secrecy” in order to explain the dark gloom that surrounds their relationship. The amphibious creature (Doug Jones) has been created for deep cover use by U.S. Intelligence.

We endure the comings and goings of brutal intelligence agents whose presence is lightened only by Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a man who has a formal, abiding respect for the creature. His American colleague is played by Michael Shannon who is convincing as a government agent wrapped in physical brutality – especially when carrying an electric prod.

When Elisa enlists the support of her lonely upstairs neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), this sweet, bumbling fellow agrees to help her save the sea creature she now loves. The always fine Octavia Spencer creates Zelda, the loyal, wise friend who will stand by Eliza through the nightmare that lies ahead. She understands the gestures and signals of her silent friend.

Elisa is a lovely young woman who can’t speak a word. She has walked silently through life with only the friendship of Zelda and Giles, that nice guy across the hall. In this role, Sally Hawkins utters not a word for two hours but tells us everything through the subtlety of her facial expressions and the language of her hands and eyes. Here’s a salute to Hawkins for making Elisa the woman who turns the movie – against all odds – into a sweet fable. After you are thoroughly on Eliza’s side, look forward to one of the most lovely dream sequences ever to grace the screen.

Throughout this strange and riveting story, one question rumbles in our heads: who thought this up? Who has the brain that could imagine these odd pieces and fit them together? If an ordinary person tried to write and film this story, rejection would surely follow. But Guillermo del Toro is not an ordinary person. He and the extraordinary Sally Hawkins, have turned his odd idea into a stunning fable. It is marred only by the barbarism of the ludicrous American Intelligence agents. The Academy overlooked that and gave this film 13 Oscar nominations.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Shape of Water
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 2:03
Rating: R
Date: 4 February 2018


Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi unfolds in two utterly different locations: an austere, treacherous island in the most remote part of the Galaxy and the vast, infinite sky that is the setting for war. The steep, rocky island establishes a mood of danger while Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to lure Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) away from his isolation (“It’s time for the Jedi to die”) and back to the life in the sky that he left.

That sky is alive with the turmoil of war that roars at the audience in superb designs of modern abstractions. The sound designers have created aerial turmoil, death, and danger in nearly constant fiery explosions that blow up all manner of futuristic space vehicles and men. The ability to create this spatial chaos has grown since the first Star Wars movie in 1977 to the point where we feel nailed to our seats as the screen morphs into fiery orange violence. We marvel at what artists in 2017 can do to bring a digital story alive.

The visuals are extraordinary, the acting excitingly appropriate. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) are terrific as the alienated brother and sister who are older and wiser than the younger warriors. Laura Dern endows Vice Admiral Holdo with the great dignity that comes from calm presence. Daisy Ridley turns Rey into a young woman who injects intelligence and power into her violent trade along with an underlying sense of fair play and kindness. She is enormously appealing.

Because the whole thing is imagined, writer/director Rian Johnson was free to create a marvelous mix of humans and animals who navigate the violent warfare. There are no rules in this world of the imagination and Johnson’s work is creative artistry.

But there is something else going on here. In this year’s other big success, Wonder Woman, the terrific actor Gal Gadot stamped the women’s movement with approval and encouragement and gave young girls the super hero they’ve never had. Ask any teenager; they love their new role model. After that unexpected twist, women began to get stronger roles in movies just as they have begun to assert themselves powerfully in real life.

Now, in this Star Wars episode, three good actors portray three strong women leaders. Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, and Laura Dern have created characters whose attitudes establish the tone of the story. This is another movie that has stepped into the tide with public recognition of the strength of women. Along with the new “Me Too” movement, this is what’s happening in the real world at a fast, long overdue, and exciting clip.

There is one possible cause for worry: the dark side of the explosive expansion of Star Wars style robotics. How soon will we see robotic tools of warfare and relationships erupt in our own life on earth? Perhaps next year’s Star Wars will give us some answers. Until then, they’ve given us the questions.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Word Count : 498
Running Time: 2:32
Rating : PG-13
Date : 24 December 2017