Guillermo Del Toro is a master of the modern fairy tale. In The Shape of Water, he tells the story of a budding love between a mute woman named Elisa and a captive fish creature. Like the very best of Del Toro, the film blurs the line between reality and fantasy and succeeds as an allegorical tale about the transformative power of love. Set in the Cold War Era, most of the story takes place in a secret government facility replete with scientists, gung-ho military jerk-offs, and spies. This setting provides the canvass for Del Toro’s peculiar aesthetic, as well as the majority of the tension. The performances are outstanding, from the supporting characters to the leads to the man in the Fish Monster suit. Simply put, The Shape of Water is a gorgeous little tale and the reason why movies can be so magical.
There’s an underlying kernel of irony at the center of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film is the freshest film in the Star Wars franchise since George Lucas decided to add to the original trilogy. For all its flaws, it pushes the boundaries of the universe in many different directions, intent on being something new. At the same time, it is the tenth film in the franchise (three originals, three prequels plus the Clone Wars animated film, and the two Disney films). The routine solution for the tension between old and new has always been to side with the established lore of the franchise, occasionally to ridiculous levels. To the chagrin of many fans of the franchise, writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) bucks this trend violently.
The fourth entry in Plot and Theme’s year-long look at the filmography of Stanley Kubrick. Check out all entries here.
In 1962, Stanley Kubrick adapted the Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita for his sixth feature film. Though published only 7 years earlier, Nabokov’s novel was already reaching the status of a classic work due to its controversial subject matter, witty wordplay, and themes of erotic fantasy, hebephilia, and sexual predation. Working with Nabokov on the screenplay, Kubrick’s adaptation faithfully recreates the key aspects of the novel, capturing the sexuality, irony, and tragedy of a man who lusts after a prepubescent girl.
Still shackled by the Hayes Code, Lolita was thought to be unfilmable, and the director himself later expressed that had he known how severe the censors were going to be, he probably wouldn’t have bothered to adapt Lolita. Fortunately, he did.
In J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls, the director mixes the hyper-reality of the agonizing struggles of a young boy named Conor O’Malley with a vibrant fantasy world involving a titanic tree monster. Like in Bayona’s previous feature El Orfanato (The Orphanage), reality and fantasy are blended together in fascinating ways, until it is not quite clear precisely what we are looking at. Though certainly a daunting task, Bayona and his performers manage to tell an engaging coming-of-age story about grief, coping, and the power of storytelling.
It is a tricky thing to tell a good story when practically every audience member knows the ending. It is trickier still when you pack your story with abject fan service, telegraphed plot choices lacking any inspiration, and under-developed characters delivering wooden dialogue. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is guilty of all these failings and many more. It is not a complete disaster, though it coasts off the strength of an exciting third act and a near-fatal dose of nostalgia. As a result, though the initial hoopla will be to declare Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as an utter triumph, extra consideration of the film (perhaps with your gender-neuter fanperson beer goggles off) will reveal its many disappointments.
Like many of the wondrous animals that inhabit its world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an amalgamation. Except, unlike the hippogriff, which capitalizes on the strengths of both the eagle and the horse, David Yates’s film compromises the adventures of Newt Scamander with a plodding police procedural. The result is less like the streamlined elegance of the hippogriff, and more like whatever happened to Jeff Goldblum at the very end of The Fly. Every time Newt and his compatriots are on screen, the film is an absolute delight that reminds us why we fell in love with the wizarding world in the first place. And every time they’re not, we’re reminded that David Yates is responsible for two of the three worst Harry Potter films to date. Fantastic Beasts ends up somewhere in the middle, with no time-turner available to right the wrong and spare the life of this innocent little hippogriff.