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.
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.
Boyz N the Hood made a huge splash in 1991 as an unflinching coming-of-age story for young Black teens growing up in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. Netting first-time director John Singleton a Best Director Oscar nomination at only 24, the film was a critical and commercial success and spawned a decade-long series of imitators. Twin directors Allen and Albert Hughes might’ve walked into a theater to see Boyz and taken it as a dare. Two years later, they’ll have made Menace II Society at a younger age than Singleton while also moving the harsh world of Boyz a few miles south to Watts for an uglier and more raw film that’s no less affecting. It’s no surprise that the easier to take film of the two was more successful, but twenty years later, the Hughes Brothers’ approach is the riskier and therefore more admirable approach. Boyz is a one-who-got-out story while Menace is an empathy test, and all things being equal, Menace’s degree of difficulty makes it one of the better coming-of-age films of the 90’s, regardless of location.
The life of a ‘that guy’ has got to be pretty frustrating. Not that character actors have hard lives necessarily, but they spend a lot of time being adjacent to serious, world-beating fame and power without being of it. People know their face but not their name, and most occasions when they’re recognized in public probably devolve into a humiliating guessing game of which movie the recognizer is thinking of. They make a solid living, but auditions and all the difficulty of that are still a thing. Clifton Collins Jr is one of these guys, cranking out an average of four credits a year for 3+ decades. Often memorable but rarely central, Jockey provides Collins with a starring vehicle about an old pro who’s been doing his thing for a long time without much to show for it. Collins’ real life is surely nowhere near as bleak, but there is some life imitating art in Clint Bentley’s sensitive feature debut.
Immigrant stories are a recognizable kind of film for Hollywood, as the many stories about Italian or Irish or Latin newcomers to America attest to. Most of the time, these flatter American sensibilities even if the experience of the immigrant character is less than hospitable. The fact of the immigrant coming here supports the myth the nation likes to tell itself, circumstances on the ground be damned. Black Americans never get this kind of story because how could they? For anyone brought here as an enslaved person, dreams of a better life or even personal will never entered into it. The connotation for a wider/whiter audience is one of accusation instead of flattery. What makes Daughters of the Dust compelling is that it’s that rare cultural item, an immigrant story from a Black perspective. Thanks to the geography and the history of the Gullah islands on the South Atlantic coast, formerly enslaved people were able to isolate from the wider country and retain the customs of Africa, turning it into the equivalent of the immigrant burroughs in major cities that have a foot in both the old and new worlds. The dilemmas of the Gullah people then become recognizable and universal as they consider the comfort of the familiar versus the adventure of the unknown, heritage versus adaptation, superstition versus modernity.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
Click to set custom HTML