Film Review: The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi fairy tale The Shape of Water is at times beguiling, at times surprising, and a joy to watch.

Eliza is a cleaner at a high security government facility. She lives a solitary existence punctuated by routine. When a new asset is brought in, Eliza is curious about the creature…

With a screenplay written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water blends a number of genres. First and foremost, the film is fairy tale. It falls within the parameters of this structure, with its character archetypes and plot points. The film distinguishes itself by its setting and the unusual character fulfilling the ‘princess’ archetype.

The Shape of Water places a traditional fairy tale into a science fiction-tinged setting. Dominantly, this comes in the form of the creature itself. However, other markers are there, such as the preoccupation with the space race. The period setting allows for some beautiful production design.

From the first shot of the film, spectacle is almost assured. And the film does not disappoint in this respect. The special effects are excellent, and Dan Laustsen’s cinematography most admirable. There is some beautiful framing in the film, not least the last shot.

The main characters conform to certain archetypes, yet a coloured sufficiently to have their own personalities. It is wonderful to see Sally Hawkins taking the lead in such a big production. The character means she must communicate mostly through expression, and she excels at this. Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer play the type of roles we have seen from them before, but both a great at this. Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg are also on good form.

The Shape of Water is a different kind of fairy tale, but one that offers plentiful spectacle and entertainment.

The Shape of Water is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

Film Review: God’s Pocket

God's Pocket

John Slattery’s God’s Pocket is an engaging drama. Its flecks of dark humour are in keeping with the film’s tone.

When Mickey’s stepson dies at work, his troubles begin. With a mourning wife, Mickey also has to contend with a debt he can’t pay, and a body he can’t get rid of…

Based on Peter Dexter’s novel, God’s Pocket is foremost a tale of a blue collar neighbourhood. The film relies on solid writing and well drawn characters to reel viewers in. And for the most part, God’s Pocket is successful in this endeavour.

Main characters in God’s Pocket are well developed. The beauty of the film is that it does not take viewers long to make the measure of them. As the protagonist, Mickey is a convincing outsider in the close-knit community. Moreover, he is well drawn as the down-on-his-luck archetype, whose problems are at least partly self-inflicted.

There are some stereotypes in God’s Pocket, such as Jeanie the unsatisfied housewife or her delinquent son Leon. The veteran newspaper writer Richard Shelburn certainly follows an archetype. Nevertheless, this character brings colour and is entertaining to watch.

The script contains some elements of humour, which are effective despite the sombre setting. The opening sequence works well to immediately give the film shape. The different narrative strands tie in together suitably, whilst still allowing for some colourful characters. The tone of the film is maintained throughout to engulf audiences into the particular environment of the film.

In one of his final role, Philip Seymour Hoffman is as impressive as ever as Mickey. He is ably supported by a very strong cast. Christina Hendricks is well cast as Jeanie, while Richard Jenkins is perfect as Shelburn. John Turturro and Eddie Marsan are great in smaller roles.

God’s Pocket offers great performance and a good screenplay. John Slattery’s directorial debut certainly shows his promise from behind the camera.

Film Review: Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts is a warm and engaging comedy drama. The themes that Josh Radnor’s film covers are almost universally applicable.

Jesse is a thirty-something admissions officer living in New York. When he is invited to his old professor’s retirement dinner at his alma mater, Jesse is keen to attend. There he meets Elizabeth, a young undergraduate who is an acquaintance of the professor. Jesse and Elizabeth have a mutual interest in one another other, despite the age gap…

Josh Radnor, who writes, directs and stars in Liberal Arts, appears to know his subject area well. There is a level of insight that shines through the entire film. The script is great, with its humour and involving exchanges. The characters are all well written. Radnor has a flair for creating interesting and authentic characters of all ages.

Liberal Arts will be particularly pertinent to those who graduate from university a few years ago. Nevertheless, the broader theme of age and ageing will be applicable to the widest remit. It is not difficult to identify with Jesse, who does not quite feel his age. There is also some solace in the learned professor’s pearls of wisdom. The beauty of Liberal Arts is the way it depicts all of the main characters as struggling with this. The well-crafted dialogue and characters with depth ensure that viewers will find resonance on some level.

The setting of Liberal Arts is what seems to be the quintessential American campus. It is easy to see why protagonist Jesse would feel such a sense of nostalgia about a place like this. The references to literature are amusing throughout the film. The camera work is controlled, and the film features a good use of music.

Josh Radnor plays Jesse perfectly as the likeable bookish protagonist. Elizabeth Olsen is strong as ever as Elizabeth, while Richard Jenkins brings both humour and acute sadness as Peter. Zac Efron steps out of his comfort zone in a welcome manner, while Allison Janney is great as the aloof Professor Judith.

Liberal Arts simultaneously considers the social impact of literary escapism and the anxieties of ageing in a way that is thoughtful, authentic and amusing. Josh Radnor’s film is highly recommended.

Liberal Arts is being screened at Sundance London, which runs from 26-29th April 2012.

Film Review: The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods is a smart and amusing horror hybrid. Viewers should avoid finding out too much about the film beforehand, to maximise enjoyment.

Dana and Jules are college students looking forward to a break away. Along with fellow students Curt, Steve and Marty, the group travel to a remote cabin to spend the weekend. Not long after the group arrive they discover that something is amiss…

The Cabin in the Woods is difficult to review without giving away significant spoilers. It is easy to see the preoccupations of producer and co-writer Joss Whedon. The story is good overall, although the ending does not quite match the high quality of the rest of the film. Although it is not completely original, in terms of type of movie, The Cabin in the Woods is executed in witty and gratifying manner.

Drew Goddard’s film is an interesting play on the horror genre. The Cabin in the Woods excels in mixing genres. The mystery of the overall scheme is nicely juxtaposed by a strong vein of humour that runs throughout the film. The set up is great, with the audience being fed details slowly as the film progresses.

The Cabin in the Woods features some great touches. The cellar sequence in particular is great, with its perfect balance of apprehension and humour. Effects in the film are good overall. Nevertheless, Goddard’s film would have benefited from fewer CGI effects, which more often than not tend to look artificial.

Performances are good all round in The Cabin in the Woods. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford share great chemistry. Fran Kranz provides a good deal of humour as Marty, while Kristen Connelly and Jesse Williams fulfil their roles well.

Showing a good imagination, Drew Goddard directorial debut is a lot of fun. Fans of the horror genre should definitely aim to see The Cabin in the Woods.