The Shape Of Water (2017)

An Adult Fairytale For Our Time.

At once both dark and sorrowful this exquisitely made masterpeice is also at its core an uncynical romance that seems so essential now in our time. Set in Cold War 60s Baltimore, the film follows the journey of a lonely mute cleaning woman, as she falls in love with a captured sea monster that she encounters while cleaning a secret US government facility. At first the story may seem familiar as its master director Guillermo Del Toro creates a pastiche of many classic fairytales mixed with a homage to cinema in particular the post WW2 B monster movie. And yet as the film goes on its weirdness, singular beauty, and style makes it quiet unlike any film of its genre I have ever seen. Sure Beauty and the Beast has a romance between a woman and a beast, yet The Shape Of Water, in which the heroine is a mute and her love interest a muscular sea man, creates images and a story that will stand the test of time for their sheer uniqueness. A certain waltz old Hollywood fantasy scene particularly springs to mind as pure cinema. It is the ultimate postmodern Fairytale movie, a pastiche of genres, references and tributes. Let this sink in, the heros of this film include: a mute cleaning lady, an older artist gay man, an African American cleaning lady, a Russian scientist spy and a muscular sea monster man all classically marginalised, unrepresented or vilified by Hollywood. The villains include: a 5 Star US general and a top US government misogynistic heterosexual man, classically the hero. The main villain, played with manic intensity by Michael Shannon in many ways, represents the Trump man, might is right doctrine, with a deep hatred of the unknown and different. The fantasy love story that comes out of these eclectic characters is an impassioned plea for beauty, passion and the wonder of the strange or different. The best film Guillermo Del Toro has made since one of my all time favourite films Pans Laybrinth, Del Toro once again shows his affinity and love of ‘monsters’, subverting our notion of what is truly monstrous. We are all ‘monsters’ in our own weird way and the real monsters sometimes are the ones society glorifies. The scene that most made me cry involved the protagonist, play by Sally Hawkins in one of the best performances of the year, makes an impassioned monoglogue using only her face and sign language to speak about how similar she is to the ‘monster’ with her perceived disability. We are all Sally Hawkins in that moment. She reminds us of the fierce intensity of Silent movies when they had only their faces to make us believe. There’s isn’t a note wrong in this film. Every department from the art direction, Cinematography, script, to the production design and direction all deserve their historic 13 oscar nominations. But what really carries the film is the sensation cast particularly Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer who create characters that within moments you love. We need this film now more than ever in our at times cynical and ugly world. A love letter to old Hollywood, a tribute to sci fi B movies but above all else an adult Fairytale romance that makes you fall in love with the unlikeliest of beings. Pure cinema, one of the best films of 2017. 10/10


Still Alice (2014)

Still Alice 2014


Director: Richard Glazter

Stars: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kirsten Stewart.

The light in the darkness.

Julianne Moore can already start practising ‘I’d like to thank the Academy…’. Her Oscar for Best Actress of 2014 is in the bag. Not only is her performance the best female performance of 2014, its also the best performance all round in 2014. A career high mark, Julianne Moore navigates what could be a sentimental and over-the-top dramatisation of a woman’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease with such deft subtlety, humanity and beauty as to leave the viewer emotionally bound to the fate of her character. Moore carries a rather direct and straightforward film, making her dialogue entirely hers. You believe every moment. You are there with her for her journey. Julianne Moore simply is one of the greatest actresses of her generation. She makes you believe. The film never becomes a film about Alzheimer’s disease it always remains a film about a powerful female character and her journey.

The premise of ‘Still Alice’ may strike you as a kind of horror film, a brilliant academic’s descent into early on set Azlheimers. She loses all the qualities that she held most dear, her intelligence, her articulation and her career. Indeed I started watching the film with deep trepidation. There is simply nothing I fear more than losing my memory and mind. And yet ‘Still Alice’ is anything but a horror story. The genius of the film is to, in a very subtle way, show us what true wisdom looks like. She may lose the things that she previously cared most about, but in the process she gains a humble and true sense of wisdom. As terrible as any disease is, there is always an opportunity for true wisdom, a perspective on life that only tragedy and suffering has brought.

Life affirming, wise and heartbreaking, ‘Still Alice’ is simultaneously emotionally draining and uplifting. I have not cried so much in a film for a while. At the last scene I wept. And yet the film is far from depressing. Amidst a dark journey ‘Still Alice’ shines a light of hope and beauty. 9/10

Advanced Screening Review: Saving Mr Banks


Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Director: John Lee Hancock.

Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks

Advanced Screening:

For Every Laugh, There Should Be A Tear – Walt Disney

Forget everything you think you know about ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ and the Mary Poppins story. Going into a Disney studio film about the uptight Australian born British author P.L Travers being seduced by a charismatic Walt Disney to give away the rights to her famous children’s story ‘Marry Poppins’, and coming from the director of the sentimental ‘Blind Side’, one is overcome with a foreboding sense of an impending onslaught of schamltz and sentimentality. The result, however, is a surprisingly film which is insightful, splendidly acted and deeply moving.

Although the first act of the film begins with a good helping of light-hearted schmaltz and overacting, as the film progresses the expectations of the audience are slowly subverted through a darker tone present in the flashbacks revealing the true story of ‘Marry Poppins’ from P.L. Travers childhood. After 20 years of trying Disney finally persuades the hard-nosed and rational Pamela Travers to come to Hollywood to discuss a film adaptation of her story. Disgusted at Hollywood’s book to film adaptations and Disney’s style of filmmaking the imperious Travers does not trust the system to capture or understand the true essence of her beloved story and what it means to her. However just as Pamela Travers is slowly seduced by the savy business man Walt to the Disney magic entertainment-machine so are we the audience seduced by the charm of the film and happy to be. The film is also a journey of closure and victory over a traumatic past in which Travers used the story of ‘Mary Poppins’ as a way of saving her tragic whimsical alcoholic father.

The movie simply wouldn’t work without the bravura Oscar worthy performance of Emma Thompson, the heart, eyes, ears and soul of the film. Starting out as a prickly unlikable woman, Thompson is able to create a rich character portrait of a woman who could not forgive herself for her past. Strictly speaking ‘Saving Mr Banks’ doesn’t always appear entirely historically authentic with the edges softened and the ending white-washing how conflicted the relationship between Travers and Disney really was. The film also doesn’t reveal that Pamela Travers was actually a feminist and bisexual, nor does it hint at Disney’s notorious anti-Semitism. The flashback to her childhood is set in an Americanised ‘Gone With The Wind’ romantic Australia populated by people with dubious accents.

The duality between the fun, comedy and wonder of the fictional story of ‘Mary Poppins’ and the darker, deeper and tragic reality of Travers childhood represent the two overarching themes of the film. Firstly Walt Disney’s storytelling philosophy that ‘for every laugh, there should be a tear’ which illuminates a much greater truth of life and drama: for there to be light there must be darkness, suffering makes joy sweeter, death makes life more alive. The flashbacks to Travers childhood deal with some heavy subject matters including suicide, alcoholism and depression. The second theme is the idea of the creative reinvention of the self through art. The pain that comes when art personally created has to be given away, akin to giving a part of yourself away. I cried. I laughed. And as scenes from the original classic played I felt like a little kid again watching ‘Marry Poppins’ with an adult sense of how it came to be.

8/10              A-            ***1/3

My review at The Feed Magazine: