“Sorry to Bother You” is an amazing film. It has elements of Terry Gilliam in how the reality that is presented is warped, giving scenes a surreal feel. This is Boots’s first major film and I love how he takes a surreal approach to everything. It follows the feel of a Gilliam film like “Brazil” or “The Fisher King,” where a character down on his luck is put through a warped hell and comes out of it transformed in some way. The pervasive sense of wrongness and fear that is always on the edges is another part of Gilliam’s films that “Sorry to Bother You” has emulated well. These aspects are essentially what happens here, but add analysis of race, class and privilege. It is Boots Riley’s first film (he also wrote as well as directed it) so I’m curious to see what he does in the future. If his other films are anything like this, I’ll be a fan. This is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
The story follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who takes a job as a telemarketer in order to pay the bills. He soon rises in the job when he adopts a “White Voice.” His bosses take advantage of the fact that his friends and girlfriend Detroit (Tess Thompson) are part of a protest group called “The Left Eye,” leaving him with a choice of joining his activist friends or becoming part of the greater conspiracy, which he soon discovers runs much deeper and is more twisted than he ever expected.
The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. Color is used as a theme and from it there are many scenes that feel dreamlike when the colors are bright and vibrant. When there is danger or tension things go dark and the colors become muted or draped in a sickly pale light. This is how it is when Cash is among the wealthy in the WorryFree CEO’s home. The bright colors are muted and darkness covers everything. Doug Emmett did a great job.
Passing and Voice – A major theme of the film is the idea of passing and privilege. Cash moves up when he starts using the “White Voice.” In the film David Cross is dubbed over Lakeith Stanfield. He does this on the phone when telemarketing and the higher ups notice as the whole point of Telemarketing was finding people who could make the calls for war and exploitation on a global scale. The higher ups are nearly all white males illustrating privilege, and the only way Cash and other people of color can pass with the higher ups is speaking with their white voice. The way it is described by one of Cash’s coworker Langston (Danny Glover) is talk like you don’t have a care in the world. All your bills are paid and you don’t need the money, you’ve never been fired, only let go. It expressed privilege so well and the mentality behind the mindset of not having to care about anyone except yourself.
The Characters – The characters are what makes this film work the most. Cash is a guy who hasn’t had a successful job ever, so the temptation of moving up is easy to see him take. He’s in an existentialist crisis questioning what it means to live and who he is, and when the rat race of power is offered, it is easy to see why he would take it. Tessa Thompson’s Detroit is also shown to be more complicated than the revolutionary artist, as during her show she adopts a British “White Voice” among clients as she sells her work. Yeun’s character Squeeze is also amazing as well as the revolutionary who cares about Cash but is also trying to get with his girlfriend showing that his heart might be in the right place with the other Telemarketers and unionizing but he’s still a sleaze. I loved how they all played off each other and the Corporate bosses were fun in their obliviousness or sociopathy. Armie Shammer as the main antagonist and CEO of WorryFree is especially creepy in how he is charismatic and unhinged.
The Degrading Nature of Reality T.V. – One of the running realities of the world of “Sorry to Bother You,” is a show called “I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me!” The show is in the style of Maury or any of the other countless competition shows where the contest gets humiliated in a physical and degrading way. Cassius goes through the show to reveal the conspiracy behind the corporation WorryFree that tricks people into lifetime contracts where they are provided food and shelter but have to work on site and have their freedom and agency given up. They are being used for more nefarious means that Cash finds when the CEO of the Corporation wants him to be their agent among the protests.
The Exploitation of Labor – Another core message of the film is that those with power and privilege don’t care about the workers, and there are systems in place to keep that it going. From the trap of the golden elevator and being able to “support” protests without ever having to join or speak up. Cash is offered this choice that he takes it. The conspiracy that is revealed is that the workers are being transformed into Horse People (equisapiens) so that they will be stronger more efficient workers. Cash is even turned into one when the CEO wants him to be their MLK and trick the species into following WorryFree’s will. The system doesn’t hold at the end after Cash free’s the equisapiens and the protestors are attacked by the police. At the end, we never see if the telemarketers ever got greater rights, tying the fight to modern day with the seeking of rights for workers and the fight against labor exploitation.
This is a film that I’d highly recommend. It is easily one of the best films of the year. I have a spot for surrealist films and films with a point. “Sorry to Bother You,” accomplishes both and is a beautiful film with complicated characters. I can’t wait to see what else Boots Riley creates, as he truly has an eye for cinema and is an extremely talented writer. I love a film with layers and depth that not only are entertaining but have something meaningful to say. Boots Riley is an activist and that comes out in this story, and he does it in a creative way that elevates the piece beyond more than just entertainment. I really enjoyed the final twist as well, which I will not spoil here. Seriously, check this film out.
Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Only reason it wasn’t perfect (though it gets close) is that the ending kind of tapers off and the transformation that Cash goes through from a man in crisis to high on privilege is a bit fast. If it had been a more gradual transformation the film would have been perfect.
“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.
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
Terry Gilliam is a director whose style has slowly grown on me over time. My introduction to him was through a friend when he showed me “Brazil” a movie that now since I have a great appreciation for his style and storytelling, plan on seeing (and this time reviewing) again.
This is also a film starring two of my favorite actors. Jeff Bridges who is the master of drama and playing a wide array of roles, and Robin Williams…who I’ll be honoring in more of my reviews. He really needs no introduction and in this movie he captures both the manic humor and the intense loss and drama beautifully. I will get into the details in the assessment.
“The Fisher King” was directed by Terry Gilliam and was written by Richard LaGravenese.
The story revolves around Jack (Jeff Bridges) who is a shock jock on the radio who inspires a man to do a mass killing. After a falling off the map for a while Jack is pulled back into the world through his interactions with Parry (Robin Williams) a man who has created a fantasy world to deal with the fact that his wife was killed by the man Jack inspired. From here story unfolds.
Here is the assessment of the film:
The Pros: The Cinematography – There are a lot of great visuals in this movie. From the Red Knight who is Jack and Perry’s demons given form, to the boiler room that Parry is living in where he talks to the little people. The world feels gritty and fantastical and it is here the good as, as everytime it goes real world (mostly corporate) you see how people don’t care and how everything is metaphorically dead in how black and bare everything is. The visuals of the Red Knight as a devil figure are amazing too. The knight is large, breathes fire and has a horse that does the same. The killer also makes an appearance too, both in the flashback, in Jack’s mind when he is getting the Grail and his agent is made to look like the killer.
The Writing – LaGravenese did a great job writing this. He captures the characters so starkly. Each of them feels real and none of them are prefect. They are all contradictions in their own ways (the selfish and selflessness of all of them at different parts). Which makes it really enjoyable to listen to as well as watch.
The Symbolism – The symbolism is in the story of the title. The Fisher King is a grail legend with a few variations. The one that Parry tells in the film is of a King who was asked to protect the grail. He is than wounded by the sin of pride and he says he is thirsty. When the Fool gives him his cup he realizes it is the grail and that none of his heroes could find it, but the fool only gave it to him because he was thirsty. This applies mostly to Jack whose pride blinds him from Anne’s and Parry’s love which allow him to heal and get out of the environment that fed his selfish instincts. He learns to let go of pride and Parry is the fool who gives him the water from the grail.
This is also in how a child gives him a Pinocchio doll and how both he and Parry becomes real people over the course of the film and beyond the doll state of their selfishness (Jack) and denial (Parry).
Parry – Robin Williams is fantastic in this role. Parry is a man who has created a fantasy world (he is a Knight seeking the Holy Grail for the Little People and God) to live with the loss of his wife and her murder right before his eyes. You get glimpses of that night when he is beginning to find happiness and the demons in the form of the Red Knight return. He also became broken as he stalks a women and never really faces the actions from that since she falls in love and is flattered by everything he knows about her (What?). His arc is still really good though, and he never is able to deal with his past identity but he is able to finally morn what happened that night when he experiences it as a dream after Jeff gets the Holy Grail for him.
Jack – Jeff Bridges does an amazing job as the man seeking redemption. He knows that his selfishness and looking down on others inspired a monster, so doesn’t allow himself to feel love or connection to anyone. It takes Parry saving his life in order for him to begin to change, and it takes the loss of Parry (when Parry gets attacked by his demons, thugs and goes catatonic) that he is finally able to admit his love for his girlfriend Anne and leaving the industry after he breaks into a millionaires castle to steal a grail for Perry.
Anne – Mercedes Ruehl plays the only character who holds Jack accountable, and she does a good job. I wish we’d seen more of the reasons that she loves Jack though, considering he does take her for granted in most of the scenes until the end (with exceptions here and there). She is the one who supports him with Parry getting together with Lydia.
Lydia – Lydia is awkward and clumsy, much like Parry. They also are very alone and don’t know how to connect with people. It takes Anne and Jack to help them do so. Lydia learns that she can have a mean personality and is able to face her inadequacy of fear of being used by Jack and ends up taking care of him when he goes catatonic. She is a great character who could have only been a plot device. Thank God, she was not and actually grew over the course of the movie. Her sparring with Lydia was fantastic as she is pretty cheap and Lydia is a business owner. She was played by Amanda Plummer.
The Homeless Cabaret Singer – This is a bit part that is played by Michael Jeter, and he does great. He sings a song for Lydia for her to pick up her reward at Anne’s movie shop as part Jack and her’s plot to hook her up with Parry and it is his heart and soul that help open Jack up. Jeter is wonderful in this role and I wish he’d gotten more scenes.
John De Lancie – He appears as a corporate big wig wanting to make tv show mocking the homeless as them living in a fantasy world, which is the final straw that wakes Jack up. He is good at playing the selfish git in the few scenes he has.
Cons: Parry’s Stalking of Lydia – I don’t get why this wasn’t shown to be a bad thing in the film. I get that Parry’s gone through trauma but that doesn’t justify stalking, nothing does. i wish Gilliam and shown this is bad rather than rewarding it by her seeing that as love. What is this “Twilight?”
Would I recommend this film? Yes, it makes me want to see more Terry Gilliam and is a favorite. Minus the fact that Parry’s stalking of Lydia is never seen as bad, he is good at helping people see the good in themselves and his fantasy world and visions enrich the film as his and Jack’s demons are given form in the forever stalking Red Knight. I highly recommend this film.
Final Score is 9 / 10