The Shape of Water (2018)

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The masterful and visionary Guillermo del Toro is back; with one of this seasons huge awards contenders, and frankly it isn’t too difficult to see why people have fallen for it. There’s a beautiful twisted charm throughout what can only be described as an odd Hollywood fairy-tale.

A mute janitor by the name of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), ends up cleaning a secretive room in a government facility. In here she discovers and learns more about this amphibian asset (Doug Jones) who she quickly connects to and falls for. It’s soon clear that this water-dwelling creature is in the midst of Cold War tactics and Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) is laser-focused on doing no good to this being.

I never expected to see a film featuring an upright fish man and a non-speaking lead to incorporate elements of such love, engaging humour and aspects of classy glitz a la ‘The Artist’ and ‘La La Land’. Director del Toro has very nearly struck a fascinating gold mine with this film, one that certainly feels like his greatest storytelling achievement since ‘Pans Labyrinth’. I say very nearly because perhaps down to my own over-hyping of this feature, I found the movie to not always keep me immersed and the obscure romance/will they, won’t they element isn’t anything majorly refreshing, even if the romantic partner is green and scaly.

Aside from those points, I found myself enjoying almost the entire run. The cast of characters are believably written and wonderfully acted. There is a healthy mix of fairly absurd comedy to be found considering the subject of this film and what people say is cleverly scripted to elicit humour. The swelling score helps this film feel like a piece of stunning movie-making from a bygone era of classic Hollywood, this can further be realised with the production design of Elisa’s neighbours’ apartment and the numerous visuals of black and white reels on screens. As you might expect with a del Toro picture, there are moments of wincing gore that definitely do their part to make you squeam.

What I think is the best quality in this Cold War set romantic fantasy, is the enchanting rapture of the world we’re presented with; the people within it, the places and the central heart shaped pairing, all mesh together to create inspiring choreography of adoration for movie monsters and Hollywood of old. I don’t know about everyone because this film has been picking up some negative jabs , but for me at least, without any real doubt I can say I was won over by the stylish spin on a love story…and by the glorious amount of key lime pie!

Hawkins gives such a lovely presence throughout, practically saying nothing she manages to tell the story through a spellbinding emotive performance. There’s almost something other-worldly about her and I think she’s the perfect fit for this role. Richard Jenkins is a gem of an actor and character within this movie; he brings great levity, kindness and a loneliness too. Shannon is always someone I enjoy watching and here he has perfect menace in his eyes and a hell bent drive to his narrative, that pretty much only Shannon could muster. Jones is del Toro’s go to guy for making beasts come to life and though it may be no epic Pale Man creation, this amphibian figure splashes with an enamouring touch. Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer are incredible supporting players who have their own moments to shine; in both aiding Elisa’s plot and within their own great scenes.
It may not be the winningly dazzling film I hoped it would be, but it’s certainly a film with visual flair, a film I’d re-watch and a film with classical romance flipped upside down and submerged in the wondrous waters of Guillermo del Toro’s mind.
7.5/10
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Fruitvale Station (2013)

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Not knowing anything about the true life case of this movie’s focus point, I can unequivocally say that this a biographical drama that utterly buries into the life and character of a man who we get to know and therefore like. It’s heart rending, powerful and gripping as it looks at life and death.

Based on the real life events at Fruitvale Station of the Bay Area Rapid Transist system in California, this bio-pic follows 21 year old dad of one Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) who is trying to live a better life for the sake of his daughter and partner Sophina (Melonie Diaz). On New Year’s Eve Oscar, Sophina and their friends go out to celebrate but their night ends up going fatally wrong.

Just the way we see day to day life helps us as the audience get on board with Oscar. He may have had a rocky past, lied and been involved with drugs but what matters is we see his progression and all those negative aspects actually aid in making him more human, a person with flaws like most of us. Every step of his life, from being brilliant with Tatiana, his daughter or caring about his mother shows us what a genuine friendly man Oscar was.

Ryan Coogler directs this film with a very motivated sense to stay true to the heart of Oscar and ensure those that watch feel the pain of the injustice served to a kind and young individual. The family of Grant of course worked very closely and I’m sure they’re humbled and proud of the work Coogler created because with the 16 mm format, the locations, the screenplay, everything feels and looks so real that it’s almost a glossy documentary. Also, the fact it was his debut feature promises great things from Coogler, now with ‘Creed’ under his belt too.

This is a very sobering movie, that leaves you very quiet and sucker punched as the credits roll and see the true life pictures on the anniversary of Oscar Grant’s death. I do admit I didn’t hear or know of this atrocity before hearing about the film so thankfully this movie sheds light on something I feel everyone should know. By placing in the mobile phone footage at the beginning it brings everyone else up to speed with what happened and sets the tone of the film running.

Michael B. Jordan is an astonishing presence in this, he’s outstandingly convincing as a fun yet caring father, trying and loving boyfriend and son. He plays the darker and aggressive edges very well just showing enough but not too much. He makes sure he gives Oscar empathy so we understand his journey and feel moved when he’s subjected to the sadly, very real and current act of police brutality. Octavia Spencer is a tower of strength as Wanda, his mother. Always wanting to seem strong and wish the best for her boy, it’s crumbling to watch her reaction when she knows Oscar has died. Melonie Diaz is a perfect note to compliment Jordan, she’s got a fun side but is very real in her emotions for wanting more of an honest man and of course when she wants answers near the end.

One of the more impacting films I’ve watched, leaving me shocked and saddened to tears for the atrocious handling of a night out. It’s thought provoking, relevant, powerful and so moving.

8/10

Get on Up (2014)

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Fresh and stylish in its portrayal of the Godfather of Soul, this musical biopic is a good insight into the world of James Brown, his past, his rise and for such a towering figure in the realm of music I think this film compliments the icon fantastically. It’s helped by a breathtaking showstopping performance from the lead actor and there is unquestionable dynamic storytelling used in this film.

This biographical drama treads back and forth throughout James Browns’ life taking in his neglected childhood, teen crime and the waking of music showing him the light. James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) gets a shot to make it when offered a house and a place in a gospel group from Bobby Byrd (True Blood‘s Nelsan Ellis). Then with the eye and assistance of manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) James becomes a force to be reckoned with. Through the 60’s and early 70’s it documents Brown’s soul status and powerhouse influence on music, those around him and wide spread audiences.

It’s a well told story that is scripted by John-Henry and Jez Butterworth, that may mix in some fictional aspects but the main flesh of it survives leaving us with a lasting impression of how charismatic, driven and sometimes arrogant this music man was. The shake up in chronology is really effective and gives the biopic some edge. After a cool and atmospheric open we cut to James Brown in his later years kicking off about the use of his private bathroom. The film, more so in the first half jumps around in his timeline, but it works and leaves you seeing more to what made him the man he became.

It has some well shot pieces, the opening for example is slick and the shadowy interspersed spotlighted corridor paving way for Brown’s walk to stage is a superb opening visual, aided more so by echoing words that we gather are dialogues of his past. The near end as Brown is clapped and called for is a nice moment with flashes of Brown in different ages and scenarios also calling, a great way to show the character in three dimensional terms.

Music in this film is without a doubt stellar toe-tapping feel good sounds on every level. The film explodes with character and pizzazz through its music, to mirror the personality of Brown. Soul filled breaks and untamed exercises in dancing and funky shouts make it feel like you’re watching a live James Brown concert. The epic scale of the band, Brown’s precision in moves and know how of music is clear and his smoky vocals are astounding and this is why he was such a star. The songs he created were top form brilliance.

It’s nice to see this film not only focus on the trials of Brown as a person. Byrd is a fascinating man that I knew nothing about and seeing how he truly gave the Godfather of Soul a chance is a welcome fact divulged. Upon researching after seeing this film, I found out Brown only made it thanks to Byrd and the Famous Flames and not the other way around, which this film kind of glosses over. It shows them up and running already but it makes it look like James Brown gets them the fame when in fact that wasn’t the case. I guess some changes here and there are alright but perhaps the true state of his rise should have been done properly.

Chadwick Boseman is just dynamite unforgettable as James Brown. There’s little mannerisms that add to the performance. He gets the voice, look and singing down to a fine art, as if he really is the man himself. It’s a perfect homage and Boseman immerses into all parts of Brown’s shaky personal life to give him more than what could have just been a thin musical look through the curtain. It’s electric and absurd at times but his grasp on the role fits with the style of the film. Nelsan Ellis is a brilliant co-star and brings much needed light to Bobby Byrd through acting his part of strong and straining displays of friendship. He has feel good believable soul running through him too and though he is outshone by Boseman he doesn’t completely fade into the dark, he’s the grounded realism needed to counterbalance the more outrageous feel of the movie.

The bouncing through years may not be to everyone’s cup of tea, it may be a tidbit fast and loose with facts and its eccentricity may stretch somewhat over the running time but Chadwick is a explosive talent, the music is magic and it’s a great life to find out about.

7/10