The Meg

MEGDirector: Jon Turtletaub

Screenwriters: Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber

Cast: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, and Masi Oka

When a movie nails expectations, even expectations that are modest and purposefully withdrawn, does that mean it’s good? This is the question we must ask ourselves when describing The Meg, the latest crazy summer shark movie.

The Meg follows a Naval marine biologist played by Jason Statham (just go with it) named Jonas Taylor. After a mishap during a top secret exploratory mission in the Mariana Trench, Taylor is disgraced having abandoned half his crew and aborting his mission due to his sighting of a 70-foot long shark-like creature that no one else saw. Believing he was crazy or that the decompression sickness had made him delusional, Taylor is dishonorably discharged from his Naval position and from the project.

Five years later a submersible and crew are lost in the same area of the Trench where Taylor believed he saw the massive sea monster. The Naval research group privately funded by billionaire, Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) has yielded some results, discovering a completely new ecosystem below the originally perceived base of the Mariana Trench. This ecosystem is protected by a cloud of gasses allowing the temperature below the cloud to support abundant sea life. Believed to be the only person on earth with the experience and training at such a depth, Taylor is hesitantly recruited back to assist with the search and rescue for the lost submersible. Reluctantly, Taylor agrees in the hopes to regain his honor and prove that the creature exists. Guess what? It does.

The Meg proceeds like every monster movie, only this one is in the ocean. The Meg (short for Megalodon) escapes the depths via a plume of warmer temperature water created by the Naval submersibles penetrating the gas cloud. Now, free to roam the Pacific, Taylor and his crew must attempt to capture the beast before it can cause catastrophic consequences to mankind. The film is actually a lot of fun. Taylor’s team includes all the archetypes we love to see mix it up: the fallen hero, the corporate businessman, the misinformed expert, and the strong-headed scientist, and a Terrier named Pippin.

The Meg is mostly brain candy. It’s like a Michael Bay movie before he totally lost his mind. The performances are weak, the premise is silly, and the story is predictable, but that’s what I thought it would be, and that’s kind of what I wanted it to be. So is it good. The short answer is, yes. The silly premise is not unlike most films in the genre, which is serviceable that some event allows this merging of worlds. It’s nearly 2 hours, but it’s a pretty tight 113 minutes. Most importantly, nearly all of the $130 million dollar budget appears to have been used on the shark, and it works. There are a nice pile of quality visuals presented here. The film has a clear intention of devouring Chinese box offices as well setting an outstanding and highly anticipated scene where the Meg terrorizes a busy beach of swimmers in China instead of San Diego as it happens in the book (yes this is an adaptation of a novel!).meg+banner

My overall point, is I’m a sucker for shark movies, and I like the popcorn element of this one more than many in recent years. I also like Jason Statham in this film, who is underrated in his ability to mix humor and action. He’s done this marvelously in films like Snatch and Spy, but here he does it in a movie that does not begin with the letter “S.” Hopefully this review has successfully communicated the esoteric appeal of this film, but if you fit the niche, dive in! B+

The Meg is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes.

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout

MI6Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett

This summer’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout represents the completion of the second trilogy of the Mission Impossible franchise. The first trilogy’s films are simply titled with subsequent installment numbers (1, 2, and 3), but the second trilogy rejected the number scheme for a more ambitious title sequence (Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, Fallout). Not only did the naming scheme become more ambitious, but the stunt sequences and set pieces also got more impressive in each successive volume, and Fallout is no exception!

Mission: Impossible – Fallout finds our hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) dealing with the “fallout” that follows Hunt’s capture of Syndicate leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Lane’s group, The Syndicate, has reorganized with a terrorist group known as the Apostles, and their plot for creating a new world order through a series of catastrophic terrorist events is still in play. Guided by a chilling refrain, “The greater the suffering, the greater the peace,” the Apostles obtain three plutonium cores in order to construct three nuclear weapons. Hunt is now on a race against time with his loyal IMF team, Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and testosterone-tag-on August Walker (Henry Cavill), an agent forced on Hunt by CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) to keep Hunt accountable. MI6 specialist, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) rounds out the crew, now with loyalties firmly with Hunt and IMF’s camp; her identify crisis from Rogue Nation between MI6 and IMF is seemingly resolved. In fact, going back to the title, one can not overlook the fact that this film, in the original naming scheme, would have been MI6.

As I mentioned, this film has some of the most spectacular action sequences of the entire

mission-impossible-fallout-helicopter-chase-r8-1400x900
Just another day as Ethan Hunt

franchise, or perhaps of the action genre as a whole. I will not spoil anything, but I can not write a review without mentioning that there is a helicopter chase through the mountainous region of Kashmir that will blow you away. That’s right, a helicopter chase.

Stunt spectaculars aside, Fallout is most impressively a true sequel. This is the first Mission Impossible film to resurrect an old villain, and it is the first to carry the female lead into the next installment. This sense of connectedness gives the film more reach and significance in the series than the previous films, which could essentially be mixed up and played in any order. The success of this film’s story, pacing, and strength relies heavily on its writer/director, Christopher McQuarrie. McQuarrie has aligned himself with Cruise now on five separate projects as either writer, director, or both. More significantly as writer/director of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he is the first to helm two installments in the series; an impressive feat in a series of films with directors like Brian DePalma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams. The decision to stick with McQuarrie appears to be a good one, and to champion that, I would like to emphasize a quote from my 2015 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation review that is just as appropriate today as it was then, “This time McQuarrie ‘rounds up the usual suspects,’ and puts together this year’s best action film that does not involve super powers or dinosaurs.” That’s right, 2018 is basically 2015 [brief pause while your minds explode!].

The film also gets a lot of help from its capable ensemble cast. Everyone pitches in and has a moment to shine. Cruise is obviously the central role, but he does not get to steal the whole show. The bumbling antics in the film’s first act between Cruise and Cavill are as entertaining and engaging as anything else in the film. I wanted to find fault with these scenes, but I couldn’t. Mission: Impossible – Fallout complicates the classic movie conversation about those sequels that outshine their originals. Now we have a fifth entry that was superior to its predecessors only to then be outdone by the sixth!

Two key thematic elements within Mission: Impossible – Fallout are time and destruction for the sake of improvement. The film seems to use these themes to meta-style reference itself in that Fallout while representing the culmination of a trilogy, feels like the beginning of something else. Fallout takes some massive swings at the way things have previously been in the franchise making way for some major shifts ahead in future missions that I hope Hunt and company choose to accept. A

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 27 minutes. There is no post-credits scene; this movie decided to have its ending be the ending!

RBG

RBGDirectors: Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Cast: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Jane Ginsburg, and Bill Clinton

For Mother’s Day this year, I gave my mom the greatest gift one can give: a night out with me! Of course, a night out with me means the movies will be involved. But what to see? The Cineplex is just bursting with options this time of year from tent pole mega blockbusters to sleeper studio genre pieces, but my mom, the ever-bleeding-heart liberal, says, “Is the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary playing anywhere around here?” And yes, it was. So onward we walked, past the Deadpools and Oceans, past the Solos and Incredibles, past the Jurassic Parks and Avengers, into the tiny auxiliary theater with folding chairs and a draped curtain surrounding an 80” screen, as it should be. This is one of several documentaries out right now making a splash, and I hope the trend continues.

When the lights dimmed, my eyes were greeted to the petite, wiry Ginsburg in the midst of a pretty intense physical training session, a workout routine she performs regularly and one that she has made available to the public courtesy of her trainer, Bryant Johnson. The point being, this tiny, frail-looking woman is tougher than you think.

Ginsburg, or “The Notorious RBG” as she’s come to be known, is just the documentary subject we need right now. Whether that’s for political reasons, for women’s empowerment reasons, or simply because she’s an interesting person doing an interesting job, her life warrants our attention.

The quote, “I ask no favor of my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” bookends the film. This quote, attributed to abolitionist, Sarah Grimké and made by Ginsburg in her first argument before the Supreme Court in 1973, perfectly reflects the attitude of RBG and its subject. This is a woman whose career was made removing the proverbial foot of the powerful off of the necks of the oppressed.

The documentary is quite linear, and nicely arranges the details of Ginsburg’s life beginning with her childhood and spanning her legal career to the present. Of course, much time is spent exploring Ginsburg’s cases and her ascension to the Court (and her love for opera), but the high points of the film for me are the scenes with her first love and husband, Martin. Their relationship is one for the history books, not that there’s anything about Ruth Bader Ginsburg that is not for the history books.

Political leanings aside, this is an inspirational film that champions ambition, hard work, and love. At the conclusion of RBG, my mom looked at me and said, “Boy, have I wasted a lot of time.” And I can’t think of a better sentiment for this film to leave us with – a desire to enjoy life, pursue happiness, and actively participate in our society. A

RBG is rated PG and has a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes.

Avengers: Infinity War

AIWDirectors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Screenwriters: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Cast: Not Ant Man, not Hawkeye…everybody else is in there somewhere, and Josh Brolin

Is it the biggest movie ever? As of “press time,” the box office for Avengers: Infinity War is about to cross the $1 B mark, making it potentially the fastest movie to $1 B ever. But the real question is, is it the best Marvel movie ever? The short answer is no, but it’s in the top 5!

Avengers: Infinity War is the mega-anticipated culmination of 10 years of Marvel Studio films. It was originally billed as simply a part 1 of a 2 part third installment to the Avengers franchise; however last summer, Marvel backed away from that idea, simply naming this film Avengers: Infinity War. A wise move, as Infinity War is a complete film, and while we know an untitled fourth Avengers film will be released next May, calling this a “part 1,” would do nothing but add a stigma to what it accomplishes independently in the genre.

“Infinity War” refers to a conflict that has been brewing since the first Avengers film opened back in 2012. Essentially, when the universe was created, 6 powerful gems were scattered throughout the universe, and if one were to possess all six, that he or she would essentially be an all knowing overlord to the entire universe. Each of the stones has been referenced one way or another in various Marvel films, and the being who seeks to obtain them all has also had his story woven throughout these films (mostly in post credit sequences). His name is Thanos (Josh Brolin), and when Avengers: Infinity War opens, he has acquired a magic gauntlet that has been forged precisely to be adorned by all six stones. So, why does he want them? Assuming that Thanos’s reputation does not precede him, he believes that there has to be balance between life and death and currently “life” is in excess, so in order bring balance into to universe he plans to essentially kill half of the universe. Now for such a huge task Thanos needs god like power, and the one who holds the infinity gauntlet with 6 gems embedded in it will have god like powers. Hence he needs all the 6 infinity stones.

This sounds like a job for the Avengers, and it would be except, if you remember last time we saw them, they were not getting along so great. The “Civil War” has effectively disbanded the Avengers, and while they are all doing their best to protect Earth from interplanetary attacks, no one was expecting one of this magnitude to happen anytime soon. Thanos is coming, and has band of cronies are searching the universe high and low for each infinity stone, two of which happen to be currently located on Earth.

That’s the conflict in a nutshell, but the film is epically bigger than this simple explanation leads you to believe. Like all of Marvel’s best films, Infinity War is a careful mix of action, adventure, humor, and style. Wisely, producer Kevin Feige tapped the director duo responsible for the best Marvel film ever, Captain America: The Winter Soldier to direct Avengers: Infinity War. Anthony and Joe Russo also directed the excellent Captain America: Civil War, so they were more than ready to tackle a true Avengers film. Now the news on this film was all over the place from, “there are too many characters,” to, “they’re all going to die,” to “this is all a ploy to get our money,” and the reality is that, none of this is true. Remember back in 2012 when Marvel’s Avengers came out, and everyone was saying, “how in the world will they balance a film with all six Avengers in it?” Look how that turned out. Now here we are six years later, 13 films further, and predictably with twice as many main characters, but no damage is done. In fact, I wager Avengers: Infinity War is the best of the three Avengers films, just barely edging out the original. The immenseness of the stakes in this film are only rivaled by the vastness of its scope. Everything you loved about The Avengers is here in this third film along with the vast epic nature of a Star Wars film. The Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely flawlessly balance the top-heavy cast by somehow giving us more than we expected of our favorite characters and still leaving us wanting more. Furthermore, with a running time of 2 hours and 29 minutes, this film lines right up with the running times of each of the previous Avengers films. Additionally, in a film about hidden gems, Avengers: Infinity War is full of hidden little Easter Eggs for the film franchise lover, the comic book reader, and even the Arrested Development watcher that give the film a heavily re-watchable appeal.

Still the fact that I just wrote a movie review without mentioning any of the central characters specifically, save for Thanos, shows you that this is no kind of character study. And while a film with this much going on can not match up to the strength of the more genre-bending, cinematic, and inspired entries in the franchise, Infinity War does offer some emotional punch that few Marvel films have managed to provide, allowing it to just barely outshine its predecessors. Yet another feather in the MCU cap, and another crowd-pleasing and laudable summer blockbuster. A-

Avengers: Infinity War is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours and 29 minutes. Stay until the end for one post-credits sequence that sets up at least 2 upcoming 2019 MCU films.

The Rundown – An Updated List of the People’s Critic’s Rankings of the MCU Films

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A

Thor: Ragnarok – A

Iron Man 3 – A

Avengers: Infinity War – A-

Marvel’s The Avengers – A-

Captain America: Civil War – A-

Iron Man – A-

Black Panther – A-

Avengers: Age of Ultron – A-

Captain America: The First Avenger – B+

Thor – B+

Spider-Man: Homecoming – B+

Ant-Man – B+

Iron Man 2 – B

The Incredible Hulk – B

Thor: The Dark World – B

Guardians of the Galaxy – B-

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – C+

Doctor Strange – C+

Ready Player One

readyplayerone-tributeposter-highres-backtothefutureDirector: Steven Spielberg

Screenwriters: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance

Ready Player One is the highly anticipated adaptation of author Ernest Cline’s best selling novel. The film opens with a shot of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a high school student living in Columbus, OH in the year 2044. We are introduced to Wade as he navigates his way down from his trailer at the stacks, a futuristic “projects” where trailers are “stacked” on top of each other to conserve space due to the widespread poverty being experienced. Energy and environmental crises have rendered the world mostly back to the stone age with petroleum-fuel a thing of the past and poverty running rampant. One advancement has managed to proliferate through the classes however, and that’s the Online virtual world known as the Oasis. The Oasis is a place where everyone can escape their reality by entering a virtual space where they can be anyone and do nearly anything. All you have to do is log on to the Oasis, invent your avatar, and you’re in!

The Oasis is mostly an entertainment device, but it does serve many practical purposes as well. With the infrastructure of the real world crumbling, the Oasis has become a place of commerce, communication, and even education (although exploration of this concept is curiously missing from the film adaptation). The Oasis is the biggest thing in the world and it has made its creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a trillioniare. However, Halliday takes ill, and with no heir or even true friend to designate his estate, he releases a statement that he has hidden an Easter egg, or hidden object, deep within the Oasis. Whoever is first to find the egg will inherit everything.

Wade, under his avatar Parzival is one such egg hunter, known in the film as a “gunter,” a highly problematic term, if you ask me. Wade along with his friends whose avatars Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech, Daito, and Shoto are all attempting to seek out the hidden prize. This sets up an episodic adventure where Parzival travels through the Oasis searching for clues to lead him to various keys that help him unlock gates that will hopefully lead him to the egg. The catch is that in order to really play the game Halliday has laid out, it helps to know Halliday the man, which is to say you’d better know your 1980s pop culture, music, movies, and video games.

The antagonist of the film comes in the form of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the head of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who wants to inherit and monetize the Oasis. Sorrento hires players to search for the egg on his behalf in exchange for suiting up their avatars with the best suits, armors, weapons, credits, and access possible. These sell-out gamers come to be known as “sixers” due to the fact that all of their avatar names are actually just a series of numbers that start with sixes.

So, what’s the verdict? As it happens all too often for many a film reviewer, I am placed in the curious position of having to evaluate a film adapted from a novel that I just adored. So, while my final grade will reflect my core value’s stance of whether the film itself is worth your money as mainstream moviegoer, I must first speak to how the film measures up to the book’s greatness.

First of all, Spielberg is an appropriate choice for envisioning this book as a film. His career and impact on pop culture is precisely what Cline celebrates in his novel, and he does get a few things right here. One scene based on the concept from the book called a “flicksync” finds the characters of the film transported into a well-known film as part of their journey towards the egg. The massively meta and fabulous poster campaign had me hoping this would play a larger role however. This scene captures the spirit of the book brilliantly while also changing things up for book readers and still pleasing non book readers. Additionally, Spielberg and screenwriters Zak Penn and Ernest Cline himself are very successful in their treatment of envisioning IOI and especially Sorrento who is portrayed brilliantly by Ben Mendelsohn. In fact most of the casting is quite good. Rylance is a very fine choice to play Halliday, and I daresay the film treatment of Sorrento’s eventual henchman iR0k (TJ Miller) is superior to the novel’s treatment. This can also be said for Art3mis who receives a more heroic portrayal in the novel than she perhaps had in the book.

That being said, the film mostly falls flat as an adaptation. The film’s focus diminishes the journey element that was so important to the book’s majesty, and instead simplifies the video game-centric quest plotline in favor of a cliché “resistance” storyline in the real world. Furthermore, the overall structure and complexity of the Oasis itself is marginalized. The crux of the novel is our understanding of this new environment as it unfolds. Its economy, its vastness, its rules, and most disappointingly its education system are all abandoned leaving the Oasis to appear cinematically as simply a game. I almost wish Spielberg had decided to take this project to Netflix or HBO in order to give it a longer play. Simon Pegg, who plays the Oasis’s co-creator Ogden Morrow, is also wasted, as much of his purpose from the book is left out leaving him quite flat as a character.

These gripes are clearly subjective, and Spielberg knew as well as anyone that many of these things had to be cut for a feature length film. Therefore, he did do one of the most bad-ass things a director of this film could do as a consolation, and that’s layer in tons of cinematic Easter eggs. There are numerous references to the various omissions I’ve just laid out all over this movie. It’s as if Spielberg is saying, “I know you love this book, but I can only include so much, so here’s a WarGames poster in the background and some fun Back to the Future imagery. The film’s ending, however is actually quite appropriate and rather clever. Some twists are implemented that work well, and overall there’s a lot to be entertained by in the final act. [Minor Spoiler Alert] However, those looking for that brilliant final “flicksync” in the end will be sadly disappointed, which really upset me; I mean the guy’s name is Parzival, how do you not go there!? [End of Minor Spoiler Alert] So here’s my take. This is a really fun movie overall. There are some great Spielbergian moments that play the nostalgia card, hard. However, the film does have its problematic moments regardless of your familiarity with the source material. What could have been a classic, instead is just kind of a pile of visuals with a story savagely butchered and left on life support. B

Ready Player One is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 19 minutes.

Wonder Wheel

WheelDirector: Woody Allen

Screenwriter: Woody Allen

Cast: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi

I’ve been enjoying attending annual Woody Allen theatrical releases since Celebrity was released in 1998; that’s 19 of his films in 20 years that I’ve seen in the theater. Today, that streak comes to an unfortunate end with Allen’s latest, Wonder Wheel. Wonder Wheel is the first Woody Allen film to ever be released in December (December 1st actually, which is Allen’s birthday), and while reviews were mostly poor, the holiday and Oscar films marginalized it within seconds, and it just never opened in any major way. Therefore, as a little birthday present to myself, I rented it on Amazon, and I will turn the frown upside down by making it the first post-theatrical release film I have ever reviewed.

The title Wonder Wheel refers to the Ferris wheel attraction at New York’s Coney Island, the main setting of the film. This is one of Allen’s most minimalist films in years or perhaps ever.  It feels and looks like a play, even more so than films Allen has directed based on his own stage plays! I am unsure if he shot Wonder Wheel at an increased rate, but it’s entirely possible. This decision to go full-Tennessee Williams, or maybe more appropriately full-Eugene O’Neill, is at first rather distracting, and I’ll admit, the film may be an homage to the stage, but perhaps a better story would be more worthy of this treatment.

Wonder Wheel is another mid-20th century period piece for Allen. It’s also another Coney Island backdrop, harkening back to Allen’s childhood, explored in several of his other films like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Radio Days, Purple Rose of Cairo, and Sweet and Lowdown among others, but this is the first completely set within the amusement destination, especially in its heyday. Kate Winslet plays Ginny, a waitress at a Coney Island clam shack who lives with her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi). Ginny ruined her first marriage by being unfaithful, and now she and her pyromaniac son live on the boardwalk with Humpty who also works at Coney Island as a carousel operator. Humpty was also previously married and had one daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), who married a mobster displeasing Humpty and causing him to disown her and kick her out years ago. Suddenly, Carolina shows up on the boardwalk looking for Ginny to help her as she’s on the run from her mob husband and needs a place to hide. She also hopes Ginny can help her patch things up with Humpty. Complicating things one step further is our fourth-wall breaking narrator, Mickey, a Coney Island lifeguard played by Justin Timberlake. Mickey is our narrator, but he also involves himself in the lives of the characters finding himself attracted to Ginny. Ginny returns his favor and enjoys his attention, but she finds herself suspicious and jealous when on a chance meeting, Mickey also meets Carolina. The layers of drama unfold rather predictably, but that’s not to say there’s not an enjoyable arc to everything. Carolina’s immediate danger is nicely balanced with the complicated and adulterous love triangle involving Mickey, Carolina, and Ginny.

Wonder Wheel is definitely sub-standard Woody Allen. Kate Winslet is the main appeal, and her performance is actually quite strong. However, she is still the most developed character in a film full of caricatures. Allen’s three central characters are an adulterous divorcee, an alcoholic divorcee, and a mobster’s divorcee, and most of the time they are as one-dimensional as that. At the end, the story manages a brief bit of poignancy, albeit a duller sense than Allen is capable of creating. This is not the bomb it was made out to be, but like Coney Island itself, it could use a few more thrills. C

Wonder Wheel is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes.

 

The Shape of Water

SHapeDirector: Guillermo del Toro

Screenwriters: Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Doug Jones

Guillermo del Toro is a visionary unlike most working in entertainment today. Del Toro has been the architect of uniquely fantastic films like Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy films, and Pacific Rim as well as the outstanding and underrated television series, The Strain. He’s also a terrific artist whose published artwork notebook is brilliantly impressive and fascinating. His latest and most celebrated film to date, The Shape of Water, is no exception.

The Shape of Water is what del Toro does best, blending an imaginative plot against the backdrop of a real-world historical period. Set in the 1960s in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and an escalating Vietnam conflict, The Shape of Water follows Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a shy, sweet and vulnerable mute woman who lives above a Baltimore movie house and works as a janitor in a top-secret government research facility. Elisa lives a mostly simple and generally isolated existance, except for occasional visits with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and regular “chats,” for lack of a better word, with her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer).

All of this abruptly changes, however, when Elisa’s research lab receives a new specimen from South America, an amphibious man-like creature. The creature is ushered into the facility late one evening during Elisa and Zelda’s shift, accompanied by government agent Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) and research scientist, Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg). Strickland and Hoffstetler are united in a goal to know

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A Tale of Two Michaels – Doesn’t it seem like at least one of these guys is in every good movie or TV show?

more about the creature, but their methods and purposes beyond that couldn’t be more different. Hoffstetler desires to understand and study the creature while Strickland wants nothing more than to determine its usefulness to the United States government, and when Strickland is attacked by the creature, his methods become savage. When Elisa witnesses some of Strickland’s cruelty towards the creature, she becomes determined to save it and enlists the help of Zelda and Giles. Like Elisa, the creature can not communicate verbally, and she also senses the kindness in its soul. What emerges is a twisted Beauty and the Beast narrative that is both beautiful and at times rather horrifying.

Del Toro’s cast is perhaps the most magnificent part of the film. Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins give perfect performances. Both are always on top of their game, but never have their talents been showcased like they are here. Legend has it, del Toro pitched this film to Hawkins at an awards show years ago while drunk. He was quoted as saying, I was drunk and it’s not a movie that makes you sound less drunk.” This is exactly the sentiment one should undertake when viewing this film. Objectively, this is a film that can be written off as ridiculous, but when one looks beneath the surface (pun intended), there’s the makings of a masterpiece. The performances by the cast are outstanding, the direction is deliberate and poetic, and the score by Alexandre Desplat is perfection. Del Toro’s film is reminiscent of the style of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet who directed the films Amélie and City of Lost Children, both of which have a distinct and almost fairy-tale like quality to them.

The Shape of Water is a finely crafted film from top to bottom. It is imaginative and it is spellbinding in a way few films are able to achieve. If I had seen it earlier, it would surely have been on my list of the top films of the year, but I am guessing the 13 Oscar nominations it received will suffice. The cinematic voice of Guillermo del Toro is one I hope only grows and persists. His films deserve to be “events” not unlike those of Christopher Nolan, which makes it fitting that del Toro and Nolan will be duking it out this year for Oscars in eight different categories including the two biggest: Best Picture and Best Director. A-

The Shape of Water is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.