The Shape of Water * 2017 * Rated R * 2 Hours 3 Minutes
😸😸😸😸😸 Rated 5/5 Happy lap cats
The Shape of Water is a dreamy fairy tale directed by Guillermo del Toro, who also wrote the screen play, along with Vanessa Taylor. It’s more Grimms’ Brothers than Disney, but has additional layers of Cold War era tropes that are deconstructed over the course of the film, so that by the end of the story many truths are revealed
The Shape of Water takes place in Baltimore, in the year 1962, the height of Cold War paranoia and espionage. Eliza Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute maid who uses sign language to speak and works as a custodian in a government research facility. Despite her disability (she’s been mute since birth and has a series of scars on her neck), lack of family (she was found abandoned by a river as an infant), and lack of wealth, she has a rich imagination and a few good friends. Her best friends are her chatty coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her starving artist neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins).
I was a kid when the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers were big news, and in junior high school when the Watergate scandal seemed to go on forever. As an adult, I understand the importance of these events, but, as they were happening, they bored me to tears. At a time when our entertainment options were limited, the struggles of the Nixon administration took over the airwaves for years.
So I don’t seek out movies like The Post. However, silly me, I married a political junkie, and Mr Metawitches loves a political thriller or a political history film. This review will be heavy on his insight, since this is his genre. Given all of that, it’s impressive that The Post kept me engrossed for the entire movie, with its perfectly timed pacing, snappy dialogue, and enough intrigue to turn the story into a political thriller.
The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, follows the story of the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 by The NY Times and The Washington Post. The Pentagon Papers, top secret documents which exposed the futile nature of the US involvement in the Vietnam War, and the lies that were told over the course of various presidential administrations to cover this up, had been leaked to both newspapers by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study and had access to the finished product.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned this Oscars season, it’s that the current generation of filmmakers are certain that the past was sepia-toned and covered with a misty film of dust, which sometimes added a soft glow, and sometimes thickened to dirt or mud. Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright and written by Anthony McCarten, is the dustiest and crustiest of the films which follow this trend. It’s very entertaining, but it’s steeped in its own sense of importance.
This biographical film tells the story of Winston Churchill’s (Gary Oldman) first few weeks as Prime Minister of Britain, after Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) has been forced to resign in 1940 because of his preference for appeasement of the Nazis. Churchill is invited by King George VI, known to those closest to him as Bertie (Ben Mendelsohn), to become the next Prime Minister. He accepts, and begins an awkward, strained relationship with the King and virtually everyone else in the British government.
Call Me by Your Name * 2017 * Rated R * 2 hours 11 Minutes
😸😸😸😸½ Rated 4½/5 Happy lap cats
Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino and with a screenplay by James Ivory, is a beautiful movie in many ways. The film, which is adapted from André Aciman’s novel, is a character study and coming of age story that follows a 17 year old boy as he explores his sexuality and falls in love with his father’s summer graduate assistant, a 24 year old man. It takes place in 1983 in a small town Northern Italy, which is so lovely it seems almost idyllic, except that the couple have to keep their relationship a secret and can’t even kiss in front of others.
Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his family spend summers and holidays on the estate that his mother inherited, in the town of Crema. The region embodies every gorgeous thing you’ve ever heard about Italy. The film is brimming with old stone work, old tile work, newly discovered ancient statuary, turquoise waters, orchards dripping with fruit, golden sunshine, and patios with tables overflowing with delicious fresh food and wine. Even the rainy days are perfectly enticing times to sit by the antique fireplace and listen to Elio’s mom, Annella (Amira Casar), translate medieval romance novels.
Lady Bird, the semi-autobiographical coming of age story written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is a perfectly constructed film that does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it beautifully. It’s a counterpart to the many, many thoughtful male coming of age stories that have been filmed over the years. The most recent one that comes to mind is Richard Linklater’s acclaimed 2014 film Boyhood.
Except Boyhood was so long and dragged so much that I don’t think I even finished watching it, while Lady Bird is a brief 93 minutes that’s evenly paced, charming and has no padding. Lady Bird follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson through her senior year in high school, as she navigates life in a liberalish Catholic high school; tries on various identities and friendship cliques; dreams about life in a more exciting, glamorous place than her hometown of Sacramento, California; and tests the waters of sex and romance.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri * 2017 * Rated R * 1 Hour 55 Minutes
😸😸😸🌑🌑 Rated 3/5 Happy lap cats
Let me start out by saying this won’t be a traditional review and it will contain spoilers. This film is difficult for me to write about, and I almost skipped it. But I set a goal to watch and write about as many of the 2018 Academy Award Best Picture Nominees as possible, so here we are.
This film is the epitome of what’s wrong with Hollywood, the system of film criticism, and the awards organizations in this century. It’s a prestige film by every measure, awards bait that’s worked. It was written and directed by Tony-nominated playwright Martin McDonagh. It stars three respected actors, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell in roles that call on them to give their all. It tackles some of the hot button topics of the day in a unique, original way. It’s a dark dramedy with a script filled with witty banter and poignant moments, as you’d expect from an acclaimed playwright. That’s why I looked past my anger enough to give it a 3/5 rating. I’ll probably debate with myself over that rating forever, and think it should’ve been a 2/5.
But it left me so angry that I had nightmares overnight, and I never have nightmares. The film should really be titled Two Racist Cops in the Good Old Boy Midwest, because that’s what it’s actually about. Sure, we see a lot of Frances McDormand’s Mildred, but she doesn’t get the redemption arc or the character growth that Sam Rockwell’s racist cop does. She’s a rage monster running around town ruining everyone else’s lives with her inappropriate anger.
After a long wait (for the audience), the King of Wakanda has finally returned home to be crowned. The country he returns to is a glorious place, a perfect blend of environmental preservation and cutting edge technology. The people are strong, beautiful, and intelligent. The traditional culture is thriving as technological updates improve the quality of life. Women are front and center in Wakanda, in positions of importance. The King’s teenage sister is even the main inventor and scientist for the country. Imagine that- a teenage girl who acts like a normal girl, but is also one of the smartest people in the room at all times, and given the respect of everyone around her.
But Wakanda isn’t actually a utopia. It just appears to be, because it’s so much closer to it than almost any place else on earth, other than maybe some of the Scandinavian countries. And those are too cold and dark for most of us.
The film Dunkirk, written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Inception) is a 1 hour and 46 minute long slow motion action sequence. It’s like watching snails race, with stops for a chat about the state of the world and a cup of tea every few minutes. But the snails don’t actually have much to say, certainly nothing that hasn’t been said before, and better, by others.
Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk Beach in France in 1940, early in World War 2. 400,000 soldiers were stranded there, with Germans pressing down on them and not enough ships to get them out. A flotilla of small civilian boats crossed the English Channel to pick up 300,000 of the stranded soldiers and return them to Britain, many more than were expected to be rescued.
The film follows men in the air, sea and on land who are fighting to get the soldiers home. Each element highlights a few characters and their journeys, but doesn’t develop them as compelling individuals. The focus is exclusively on the tasks at hand and the immediate difficulties they face. The only character background we learn is what affects getting the men home. What would, in most movies, be a few small vignettes is meant to pass as the plot of Dunkirk.
Jordan Peele has written and directed a powerful, thought-provoking movie with layers of statements to make. He’s also made a taut psychological thriller that combines the racially motivated social awkwardness of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” with the justified paranoia of “The Stepford Wives”and the slowly revealed evil of “Rosemary’s Baby”. Get Out reveals the truth about its premise incrementally, at just the right pace, so that the viewer, like lead character Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), ends up similar to a frog in slowly boiling water. When he, and we, finally become sure that things have gone bad, it’s already too late, and it’s unlikely any of us will forget what we’ve already seen. As with any horror movie, there’s no escape left, so the best way out is through.
Along with Chris, Get Out follows the story of Rose Armitage (Alison Williams), a white woman who’s been dating Chris, an African-American photographer, for 4-5 months. Rose has decided that it’s time to bring Chris home to meet her upper class parents, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) who live in the exurbs of New York City, where the nearest neighbor is so far away that they can’t hear you scream. Chris asks his best friend, Rod, a TSA agent (LilRel Howery), to take care of his dog while he’s gone. They check in with each other several times during the weekend.
Mudbound is a family saga of life in the 1940s Mississippi Delta for two farming families. One family is made up of hereditary black sharecroppers descended from former slaves. The other is a white family of former landowners and slaveowners who’ve fallen on hard times. They’ve bought land in Mississippi hoping to reestablish their wealth. The families become intertwined as their lives intersect and affect each other over the years, until a tragedy changes everything.
Mudbound was directed by Dee Rees, who also wrote the script with Virgil Williams, adapted from the book of the same name by Hillary Jordan. It’s been nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Original Song for Mighty River, sung over the closing credits by Mary J Blige; Best Supporting Actress for Mary J Blige, who plays Florence Jackson, wife and mother of the Jackson family; and Best Cinematography for Rachel Morrison, the first woman to ever be nominated for this award.