The Shape of Water (2017): A Transcendent Romantic Fairy Tale

   “The Shape of Water” might end up being my favorite film of the year. This is a film that is beautifully told and reminds me of “Beauty and the Beast,” meets “Amelie” but with so much more going on than either of those stories. This is a film where every character, whether minor or major matters and out of it we get a compelling love story that is so much more. This is a story about characters who aren’t given a voice (both literally and metaphorically) finding their voice and from there, a level of transcendence or change within themselves or their situation. The cast was wonderfully done and for my non-spoiler thoughts…I can’t wait to watch it again. This is easily one of Guillermo del Toro’s best work, and given that he was co-writer and co-producer as well as the director, this story was clearly his vision and it is beautiful. Seriously, check this film out if you get the chance.

The film was directed, co-wrote and co-produced Guillermo del Toro, co-written by Vanessa Taylor and co-produced with J. Miles Dale.

The story follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works at a secret government agency with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and sharing an apartment with her closeted friend Giles (Richard Jenkins). Her world is soon changed when a government agent Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a mysterious “asset,” a creature who changes Elisa’s life forever.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is that of the 1950’s of the United States but with fairy tale, fantasy and sci. fi. elements…both in how the story is presented and the amphibian man being so central to the plot, as well as the abilities he has. It is also a world full of twists since spies and government agents inhabit this cold world universe and the secret lab where most of the action takes place.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. From Octavia Spencer’s Zelda, who is Elisa’s translator and calls out how bad their situation is (as the help no one notices or cares about them, just takes them for granted), Giles, who understands Elisa’s love for the creature and helps protect them and both rescue the creature from the lab and getting them both the docks. He is the narrator. Michael Shannon’s Colonel is unhinged and broken and is sympathetic in that, even though he never stops being a threat and monster. Elisa’s and the creature’s romance drives the story and it is awesome. I loved how confident Elisa is in her sexuality and her attachment to the creature as well as the creature’s humanity slowly being revealed as he opens up to her. Doug Jones once again owns this alien type role he is in. I can’t wait to buy this movie when it comes out.

The Soundtrack and Cinematography – The soundtrack has a fairy tale and jazz feel to it, intermixed with this dark foreboding when we are at the lab and the Colonel is on screen. The cinematography is amazing too, it reminded me of “Amelie” with the use of color contrasts but focusing in on Elisa’s perspective. Alexandre Desplat did a great job on the soundtrack and I loved Dan Laustsen’s cinematography.

The Romance – The romance is the main drive of the story and it is beautifully done. It starts with Elisa and the creature touching hands separated by glass, to her leaving him eggs, to eating in his area with him and teaching him sign language…to his rescue and eventually having to let him go as he dies not being in the salt water but has given Giles back his hair and healed a wound he caused on Giles accidentally. The romance is the core of the film and because it illustrates different aspects of the characters and the world they inhabit.

Surrealism and Fairy Tales – The Fairy Tale element is revealed most profoundly in the opening shot where Giles is giving the premise of a monster who turned two lovers’ world upside down…as we see a drowned how with Elisa floating, as if sleeping in the water. There is other imagery like this that gives the film a surrealist element and from that the fairy tale elements of the love story are given more power in their presentation. I love stories like this (“One-Hundred Years of Solitude, most Haruki Murakami, etc.) and this is one of the best presentations of this type of story.

Fighting Adversity and the Voice of the Voiceless – This is a film about giving voice to the voiceless in both the literal sense (our heroes being a mute and an amphibian creature who cannot speak), Zelda, who is black lady with an oppressive husband and Giles being in the closet and kept out from the wealth he once bad before as the marketing world just sees him as a has been. Each of them are trapped (the monster) or oppressed in different ways in a society that ignores them and it is the rescuing and finally freeing of the monster that Zelda finally speaks up against her husband and calls the cops on the Colonel, Giles fights and defends the monster and Elisa and Elisa transcends as she sacrifices herself to save the creature and her cuts she received as a baby are turned into gills, she is reborn by the creature and free to be with the creature, something that would have never been possible before. It is also her drive that helps the others to change their lives too, as she is directly fighting to system by freeing their “asset.”

Okay: First Act Goes a Little Long – The only real criticism I could find with the film is the first third of the film does go on a little long, but it picks up the moment the rescue plan is put into action by Elisa and after that, it doesn’t stop…and it does a good job setting up the world so I can’t put it is a con.

I highly recommend “The Shape of Water.” This film is going to make my Top 5 films of 2017 and if you are looking for a film where you will notice more each time around, as well simply enjoying a beautiful fairy tale that gives voice to the voiceless and has wonderfully compelling characters, who each get full arcs. I cared about where each their arcs were going, even the villain as no one was as simple as they first appeared to be. The film was all about layers and reveals, both in the nature of the characters and the creature and the payoff of their arcs. Check this film out, if you haven’t yet. Guillermo del Toro has done it again and I can’t wait to see what masterpiece he makes next.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – A Fun Adventure That Gives Justice to the Characters and Plot

Hellboy 2 Poster

        The blog is finally back! I’ve been on a bit of haitus since I’ve been moving to a new apartment, my sister got married this week and I had car trouble in Seattle and had to replace a flat, which took a few days. There are reviews upcoming, the first of which is this one that I’ve been working on. Enjoy.

       “Hellboy 2” is a lot of fun. This is a film that takes everything that worked about the first film and focuses it (with some of the same problems still around as well) and creating a few new problems. It is the better film though, as the characters in this are more memorable and Hellboy isn’t the only character driving the plot this time. Non-spoiler thoughts, check this film out if you like the Hellboy comics and enjoyed the first film.

    The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro and produced Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin.

    The story involves Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and the team working top the evil elf Prince Nuada from summoning the immortal Golden Army from ancient that nearly wiped out humanity before.

The Pros: The World – Guillermo loves the dark world of fairy mythology (see “Pan’s Labrynth”) and here he gets to show and express that love in the mythos on display. His world is fascinating and all characters look so real and alien. This is really him in his element as this film had some of my favorite character designs.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman once again creates a powerful score! This is a guy who specializes in dark fairy tales and that is what this Hellboy film is. he does a masterful job capturing the tragedy and loss in scenes and the soundtrack is worth checking out just for what it is.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning. While the last film was too dark at times this one embraces the dark but also the light to create beautiful contrasts in locations and characters, giving the film and otherworldly feel. Guillermo Navarro did a fantastic job.

The Introduction – A little Hellboy is being red a story by his adoptive father Trevor (yay, John Hurt is back!). It is a touching scene as we learn that fairys and humans lived in harmony until humans started destroying the land leading King Balor to create a Golden Army of magic. He regrets it all after the death toll rises and makes a peace treaty with humanity. His son leaves in exile as he wanted humanity wiped out and he and his daughter hide the pieces so the army may never rise again.

The Characters – The characters are what drew me into the world of Hellboy (though Hellboy isn’t as interesting as Abe of Krauss in my opinion) and they are the reason I will continue to see these films.

King Balor – The King is awesome and shuts down his son when his son tries to call for war again. It takes his son killing him for him to be stopped. I wanted more of this guy as he was a fascinating and powerful character.

The Goblin Smith – This guy makes a deal to save the life of Hellboy and we learn he was the smith who made the Golden Army and fears his creations. He brings Liz to the Angel and she makes the deal to bring Hellboy back even knowing it could lead to the end.

The Angel – The Angel sees Hellboy’s future and in it only destruction. She is a dark and haunting figure with eyes of a large cranium and great black wings. She has my favorite design in the film and if they make more I hope we see her again. She saves Hellboy’s life.

 Hellboy – Hellboy’s arc is learning to communicate with Liz and work on a team. He is by the end and has rubbed off on Krauss who rebels against the agency. His arc is cool as we see even though he is stupid, his heart is in the right place and he is a talented fighter.

Liz – Liz makes the choice Hellboy made last movie where he risks all to save her, she does the same this film. She is the one who has gotten control of her powers (I would have liked to see more of how that happened) and is the one helping Hellboy become responsible.

Abe Sapien – Abe has a character arc as we see him love and lose as he brings the crown to Nuada that awakens the army (and rightfully calls out Liz and Hellboy for doing the same thing). Sadly not all love works out as Nuala dies to save them all. It is a touching scene and we see how perceptive Abe is. I really liked his character after this film.

Prince Nuada – The Prince is in it for revenge and has a great design as a dark warrior. He trained for centuries and his plan nearly works because he is the only one who doesn’t love and only wants to control. Luckily he is stopped in the end by his sister, who it turns out was the only one who could unless the heroes were willing to kill her by killing Nuada.

Princess Nuala – Nuala should have got more screentime. We see she is compassion and a healer, while her brother is the warrior and she is shown to be wise as she knows that the war will only end in the destruction of all as the Golden Army is only built to destroy. She also falls in love with Abe and is lovely until she kills herself to stop her brother keeping up the theme of tragedy that pervaded the film.

Johann Krauss

 Johann Krauss – Krauss is awesome! He is pretty much immortal because he is living ectoplasm in a suit. This leads to him being both smarter and stronger than Hellboy and a better leader on all counts as he doesn’t depend on brute forcing his way through situations. He does see the value in it though and resigns from the agency with the rest of them as they are tired of being tools, given that Hellboy’s existence is shown to be just a tool for his father to cause the end of the world. All of them, including Krauss, reject that control.

Okay: The Ending – It is cool that Liz and Hellboy are going to be parents, the freeze frame for the final shot was a bit annoying though.

The Cons: Disposable Agents – So many agents die, they are basically red shirts and I feel the stakes would have been hire if they’d felt more like characters rather than disposable bodies.

The Prince’s Long Term Plan – What was his plan after humanity was wiped out? He never talks about it and it seems that the Fairy Realm is largely afraid of him. He lived only for revenge when he could have been so much more since he wanted to rule and killed his father to do so.

  I enjoyed this film much more than the first one largely because the side characters got a lot more exploration while still keeping the Hellboy mythos key with him being son of a Demon Lord. The price and cost of choices was explored really well too and using the Fairy World to do so was masterful since in mythology they are all about dealmaking. Krauss was my favorite character and his character growth was a big part of what made the film so fascinating outside of the great world and character designs that we’ve all come to expect from Guillermo del Toro.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Hellboy (2004): A Solid Overall Arc That Drags in Parts With Missed Opportunities

Hellboy Poster

   Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors and I’m glad he tacked the “Hellboy” comics as they are a lot of fun and I like the subversion of what it means to be a demon in popular culture that these comics do. Hellboy is a flawed human whose issues of anger are made worse by what he was born as, but it doesn’t wholly define him, so he gets actual character arcs in the films he’s had thus far. These are solid films, I wouldn’t call the first one great, as it does have a few things that bring it down from being that, but it is good.

      The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro with the producers being Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Llyod Levin. Peter Briggs was the creator of “Hellboy” and also worked on the initial story with del Toro.

     The story involves Hellboy’s (Ron Perlman) arrival on Earth when the Nazi’s led by Rasputin (Karel Roden) are using a Portal and magic to bring about the end. It is here his adopted father Trevor (John Hurt) takes him in as they must deal with the fallout of the failed Nazi Plot and the fact that their enemies aren’t through with Hellboy yet.

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing and captures the look of the comics really well. The fact that Guillermo del Toro was the one creating in this world is to his credit as he clearly loves it. The visuals are stark and everything feels like it is from another world at the right time.

The Soundtrack – Marco Beltrami is fantastic and manages to capture both the magical and historical mixture of aspects that make up the film. Whether it is the opening or even capturing humorous moments, his score captures them brilliantly.

The Cinematography – Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job of bringing the visuals of del Toro’s imagination to life as each scene feels like it is out of a comic book and tension is created in how the shots are set.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film outside of the world and design.

Agent John  Myers – Myers is one of the blander characters but he is our outsider perspective of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense in which Abe Sapien and Hellboy are agents for. He is good at showing the wonder at each new revelation and at his core is a good guy.

Liz Sherman – Liz has an arc outside of Hellboy but her relationship to Hellboy really drives the plot. Her main arc is learning to control her powers and to face the anxiety she has attached to it from all the people she has hurt.

Abe Sapien – Abe doesn’t really have an arc in this but gives us the alien Spock perspective as he doesn’t have the unstableness of Liz and Hellboy. I liked his character a lot and wish more could have been done with him as he showed himself to be the brains of the operation multiple times.

Trevor Bruttenholm – John Hurt plays Trevor, who is the leader of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense and has a great arc as it is through him we meet all the villains and the one who truly cares for and loves Hellboy. It is Trevor’s love that helps Hellboy find himself when he is being used as a weapon by Rasputin and even though he is killed, his legacy lives on through his team.

Grigori Rasputin – This villain was good but not great. He fits the standard evil wizard trope but with demons…but shows he can be more too as he clearly loves Isla and is devoted to the cause as he was granted immortality by a demon inhabiting his body. I felt more could have been done to explore his motivations and backstory, but he works as someone who does have some level of honor.

Karl Rupert Kroenen

Karl Ruprecht Kroenen – This Nazi assassin is one of my favorite characters. He looks like Voldo from the Soul Series and no matter how many times he gets killed he keeps coming back. He’s a masochist who lives for inflicting the pain he feels on others and is a zealot. This is the guy who kills Trevor and has the highest kill count of our heroes. I was hoping he’d survive this film if they decided to bring him back since not only does he have a great design but as a villain he is very much his own perfect terror.

Hellboy – Ron Perlman really does a great job as Hellboy, a teenage demon just trying to do right by others and himself while still dealing with anger issues and a big ego. The character has a big heart that shines through multiple times as we see him become more fully aware of his issues and face them over the course of the film.

Okay: Isla Haupstein – I liked her character as she brings back Rasputin, sadly that is all she does though. I wanted to know her motivations beyond her love of Rasputin as she deserved more and Bridget Hodson does a great job with what little she is aloud to do.

The Demons – These guys are tentacles, except Hellboy, which is boring. The Hellhounds did look cool though and they did feel like a threat even if they didn’t have all that much variety.

Cons: Women Only Exist to be in Relationships – Liz and Isla largely exist in the plot in relationship to the ones who love them. Everything they do is a reaction to this which doesn’t give them a chance to be full characters in their own right.

Pacing – There are times this film really drags. Many scenes could have been cut and would have brought the film’s score higher.

Faceless Agents – So many agents get killed and none of them really stand out besides Myers. The rest are Red Shirts and exist to die to establish a threat.

   This is a solid and flawed film that is well worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of del Toro you will probably enjoy this. The designs are fantastic and Kroenen is a great villain. I loved his design. Hellboy is also a great flawed protagonist dealing with the role everyone wants him to play (both good and bad) and growing up since he is pretty much a teenager in a whole new world. I wish the women had been written better as Isla fascinated me and Liz seemed to exist to be with Hellboy, though I’m glad they had her face her anxiety and grow from it. Del Toro is one of my favorite directors and this film illustrates some of the things he excels at in his films.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10