A mute maid in a government lab hits it off with a scaly creature abducted from the Amazon.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, and Octavia Spencer
Review by Jon Kissel
It’s easy to dismiss The Shape of Water as that light fantasy movie about bestiality between a human woman and male frog-man. Even its Best Picture win doesn’t stop the jokes at its expense. In the spirit of accuracy, the dismissive stance is a factual statement, in that interspecies sex does indeed happen, but the fish-man also chomps on a finger. Why isn’t The Shape of Water the finger-chomping movie? Joyful director Guillermo del Toro’s most commercially and critically successful work deserves better than late-night jokes, because under its outre logline is a stunning and endlessly enjoyable film that reserves its greatest sympathies for cripples, bastards, and broken things (to borrow a phrase from George RR Martin) at the end of the conservative and stilted pre-60’s era. If that happens to include a lonely yet horny frog-man, then so be it.
We don’t do a lot of comedies at the Mediocre Movie Club because they can be hard to talk about. A film whose goal is laughter can be distilled into how many laughs it got, and what one person finds funny can be wildly different, to the point that laughing at a risqué or taboo joke, no matter how well constructed, might alienate someone offended by it forever. It’s easier to explain why a film makes me tear up than laugh. Laughter feels more unknowable. That’s all to say that on the whole, Monty Python and the Holy Grail doesn’t make me laugh. The guys who make up this British comedy troupe have surely inspired the things that I do find foundationally funny, like The Simpsons or Conan O’Brien, but what might have been innovative in the 70’s has since been perfected by better writers and become hacky, a fate all comedy is destined for and one which Monty Python has long since arrived at.
Iconic gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s most well-known work is a series of dispatches from Las Vegas, published piecemeal in Rolling Stone before being assembled in the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. As he and his companion Dr. Gonzo trip acid and observe the goings on at a dirt bike race and a law enforcement convention, Thompson watches what will come after the deflated and defeated 60’s and suffocates whatever remained of his optimism in a hedonistic drug binge. The decades-later film adaptation is taken on by Terry Gilliam, a director with a taste for satire wrapped in the comedic genre-bending of Monty Python or the sci-fi delirium of Brazil, and stars two actors unafraid of heightened eccentricity in Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas loads itself up with assets and zooms off onto the desert highway, giving this viewer his sought-after historical trending and root causes within a package of druggy psychedelia and splayed-leg acting.
Drumming is one of those things that film and TV tend to treat amateurishly, something for bored teens to try out and then stash in a closet. AJ Soprano giving drums a half-hearted effort before selling them for club money comes to mind, or Nick Andopolis from Freaks and Geeks adding new pieces to his set without becoming good at the ones he already has. Along comes Whiplash to fully justify that trope. As depicted here, becoming great at this instrument seems next to impossible, an artistic/athletic act that requires gallons of sweat, pints of blood, and ounces of sanity. In the world of Whiplash, an amateur or a dilettante gets a cymbal thrown at their head.
For my money, Paul Thomas Anderson’s never made a film that deserves less than an A-. He’s made more A+ movies, at three, than any other filmmaker. That kind of consistency makes him my favorite director, and though it’s not my favorite of his films, There Will Be Blood is the thing he’ll be most remembered for. It’s won the most Oscars, made the most lists, and found a place on the Sight and Sound list only five years after its 2007 release. This is his objective masterpiece, though I prefer the raucous Boogie Nights and the mysterious Master. It’s no surprise that a film this overwhelming and epic and ostentatiously important would receive the most critical acclaim. There Will Be Blood stomps around in its frontier setting and therefore can’t help but have something grand to say, set as it is in a grand environment. In his homage to the expanses of John Ford and the chilliness of Stanley Kubrick, PTA gets the most prestige-y of pictures checked off his resume.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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