Showing posts with label Russian cinema. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russian cinema. Show all posts

Friday, February 16, 2018

"The Shape of Water" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "The Shape of Water" as well as the DVD "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" and "A Futile and Stupid Gesture," now streaming on Netflix.  The Book of the Week is "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors"]

The Shape of Water

A strange yet touching love story between a mute woman and an amphibious creature.

I used to go to the movies with my Dad and one of my first movie memories of a horror film was a preview for "The Creature from the Black Lagoon." I was six. My Dad always liked war movies, westerns and romantic comedies, never a horror film, but once in awhile there would be a preview of a horror film, and I vividly remember that one, a huge amphibious creature carrying a helpless woman in his arms.  I am sure there is something Freudian in my early fascination with that film but we won't go there.

However, this film does go there,, but not in a horrifying way. It pays homage to that film but this film is so much more.

It's the 1960's and Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Zelda (Octavia Spencer) are janitors at a mysterious research laboratory.  Elisa is a mute who lives alone in a shabby apartment over a movie theatre, but her best friend, Giles (Richard Jenkins) lives next door.  He is a fussy graphic artists who likes to spout trivia, who laments the state of the world and keeps his TV tuned to happy sit-coms like "Mr. Ed" and black and white musicals starring Betty Grable.

One day, a secret specimen arrives at the lab.  It's a human-sized amphibious beast (Doug Jones) who looks almost like a man.  His keeper is Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who is the real beast here, a cruel guy who has it out for our creature and considers him only as "the asset." He carries around a cattle prod and seems to enjoy using it on the creature. When Elisa witnesses the sadistic treatment of the creature, her heart goes out to him and she slowly earns his trust, first by sharing her lunch of boiled eggs, playing music for him, and eventually by creating a way to communicate with him, using her sign language. 

Elisa has a mysterious past that is only hinted at but the two share the fact that they both are different and her recognition of that fact and her compassion draws her to the amphibian.  When the treatment of the creature gets to be too much, Elisa enlists Giles' help to save the creature.  When they manage to escape, Strickland makes it his mission to hunt them all down and kill them.

This film is this year's "La La Land."  Like "La La Land," it's a romantic fantasy - yes, Elisa and the creature have a thing - and it's a film that you will love or hate.  I loved "La La Land" and was shocked when others said they hated it.  I loved this film, too, and will be shocked to hear that anyone would hate it but I am sure some will because it', different.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro who gave us another fantasy, "Pan's Labyrinth" and the less successful "Crimson Peak," this film has garnered 13 Oscar nominations including Best Director for Del Toro, Best Actress for Hawkins and Best Supporting nods for Spencer and Jenkins.  This is the second highest number of nominations for any film (14 is the record - "All About Eve," "Titanic" and "La La Land.")  As we all know, "La La Land" did not win "Best Picture" last year in a stunning faux pas.  This year, I think "Shape of Water" could just do it.

There is a lot going on in this film.

First, it's a romantic fantasy with Elisa falling for the sea creature and I must say, I too, found him curiously attractive.  It's also a sort of musical with a whimsical score and even a song and dance routine.  But there is a deeper undercurrent.

Giles always has his TV on, tuned to black and white musicals and many of the inane TV shows we Baby Boomers grew up with, and Giles' favorite activity is to go eat pie at a very hokey All American diner.  It's all sweet and friendly and apple pie America, until we realize that one of the reasons Giles likes to go to the pie shop is to interact with the handsome soda jerk who shows us just what a jerk he really is when he tells a black couple to get out of his shop and, realizing Giles' crush on him, orders Giles out too.

When the film took that turn, I couldn't help but think of President Trump's campaign slogan - "Make America Great Again." When he was campaigning, I kept wondering what "again" he was talking about, though it seems when people think wistfully about the good old days, they usually think of the 50's and early 60's.  So does that mean that most people want to go back to the time when The Beav and his family ruled the air waves, when Father knew best?  Do they want to relive a time when women knew their place, when there were no civil rights, no sexual revolution, no gender equality, we knew nothing about Viet Nam, we were in the throes of the Cold War, scared of "The Bomb" and gays were closeted?

This romantic fantasy is about those who are different but it also subtly shines a light on the supposed "good old days," another American romantic fantasy.

Hawkins is a marvelous British actress and is deservedly nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance. Without speaking, she expresses a thousand words with her eyes and facial expressions, an ability only the greatest actresses can pull off.  She has been nominated before (she should have been for "Maudie"), but few Americans know who she is.  I hope she is rewarded with an Oscar for her wonderful performance here and that she will become a household name, because she is just a brilliant actress. 

Octavia Spencer came to the fore in "The Help," as the feisty smart-talking no-nonsense Minnie Jackson and she has been playing that character ever since.  It seems like she gets an Oscar nomination every time she does.  I was upset she was nominated once again for playing that character in "Hidden Figures" when Taraji P. Henson did not get a nomination, since I thought Henson was the heart and soul of that film.  But I have to say that Spencer has grown on me and here shows the real depth of her acting skills.  Yes, she is still big on the quips, but she shows a real warmth and depth here that I haven't seen before.

But speaking of depth - Richard Jenkins is amazing and shows his versatility as Giles, the nervous neighbor who is Elisa's loyal friend and a gay man in a world that doesn't know he exists.

Finally, this extraordinary ensemble cast is rounded out by Michael Shannon as Strickland, who seems to embody the American Dream.  He wears a suit, drives a Caddie, lives in suburbia, reads "The Power of Positive Thinking" but he also just so happens to carry around a cattle prod and has kinky sex with his wife. He is a horror version of the American Dream, like a character out of a David Lynch film.  Shannon does evil very well but taking a look at his resume, you realize he can play just about anything.  I also have to give props to Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler AKA as "Bob," who is actually a Russian spy who has designs on the creature but who is also sympathetic toward him. 

These fully formed characters are all brought together by Del Toro's vision - the story is his as is the screenplay (with Vanessa Taylor) - and it's a beautiful tale about difference triumphing over a world of conformity and restriction, beauty and kindness transcending cruelty and bigotry.

As I said, this could be a polarizing film like "La La Land." I can understand how you might not have liked "La La Land," if you are not a fan of fantasy and couldn't get past Ryan and Emma breaking into song, but then you would have been shutting yourself off from a film that was an extraordinary homage to movie-making while at the same time reminding us that life isn't like in the movies.  Likewise, here you might have a problem with a young woman falling in love with an amphibian, but if you let that get in your way, you will miss out on a charming uplifting fantasy that has much to say about our lives now.

Rosy the Reviewer says... And the Oscar goes to....

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

On DVD  

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

After befriending a strange young man, a successful surgeon's life starts to fall apart and he is presented with a "Sophie's Choice."

Colin Farrell plays Steven Murphy, a heart surgeon, so to make sure we know he is a surgeon we have to endure some heart surgery up close and personal, a movie cliché I can do without. Next we see him meeting a young man in a diner.  They act like they know each other but their relationship is not clear.

Steven is also married to Anna (Nicole Kidman), herself a doctor (an opthalmologist) and they have two children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic).  I have to say that Bob as a name for a young boy seems funny to me and speaking of funny, this film is funny and I don't mean in a comic way. I mean in a strange way. Whenever my mother expressed distaste for someone she would say he or she was "funny" as if they were somehow off.  That's how these characters appear.  For example, Steven and Anna have a sexual ritual where he says "General anesthetic?" and she wordlessly disrobes and lies on the bed as if anesthetized while he pleasures himself.  See what I mean?  Kind of funny.

We learn later that the young man is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a sixteen-year-old who seems to have some kind of nefarious hold on Steven. We think this because whenever Steven is with Martin the music is ominous and strident.  Steven invites Martin to his home and everyone talks in a very stilted and inappropriate way such as Bob asking Martin if he has hair under his arms and Kim volunteering that she started her period.  Like I said, funny...but also ominous, like something bad is going to happen.

And it does.

Martin starts stalking Steven and all of a sudden, Steven's family starts to fall ill.  Now the music is really ominous and strident, and this film becomes one of those films where a family is terrorized by someone seeking revenge.  It seems that Martin blames Steven for his father's death and wants to settle the score in a very unique and macabre way.

It took about an hour for this film to get going but once it did it was horrific.

Barry Keoghan, who also starred in "Dunkirk," is a frightening Martin just because he is so flat and emotionless and Farrell is uncharacteristically toned down and less fidgety than usual.

Written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, who also wrote and directed "The Lobster," which I loved, I found this film to be less accessible.  "The Lobster" was strange and dark and quirky as is this one, but it seemed to have more heart.  This one is just strange and dark.  It also had a musical score that was very dissonant which makes sense because this film is a sort of horror film but it got on my nerves after awhile.
As for Nicole Kidman, you have to hand it to her.  She is not afraid to take on controversial roles that are not necessarily glamorous ones.  There is a scene where she kisses Martin's feet and that's when this film kind of lost me.  Like I said, these people are funny.  The whole film was kind of funny.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a dark tale about love and sacrifice that seems to say that we only sacrifice when it isn't going to hurt us too much.  And that's not so funny.

Streaming on Netflix

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018)

A docudrama and biopic about the origins of the National Lampoon and its founder, Doug Kenney.

Straight from the Sundance Film Festival and snapped up by Netflix, this film chronicles the beginnings of the National Lampoon, the humor magazine that dominated the 70's and 80's and highlights the life of Doug Kenney who started the magazine and who also brought us "Animal House," and "Caddyshack."

You have probably heard of the National Lampoon but Doug Kenney is probably not a name you recognize but he was the brains behind the edgy humor that fueled the National Lampoon.  He was also a bit of a jerk.

Narrated by Martin Mull, who plays the older version of Kenney, an interesting device considering how the film ends, the film begins with the young Kenney growing up in white bread America and then attending Harvard where he (Will Forte) meets Henry Beard (an almost unrecognizable Domhnall Gleason, who is everywhere these days), a young man who sports tweeds and pipes, the "oldest guy who was ever a teenager."  The two were both smart ass Harvard guys who were always on, ragging each other and others so they bonded and took over the Harvard Lampoon, the campus humor paper, and together wrote a Tolkien satire, "Bored of the Rings."

Henry was going to go to law school after graduation but the success of the Harvard Lampoon gave Kenney the idea that together they could launch a national humor magazine so Henry forgoes law school and the two approach magazine publishers to no avail until they talk to someone at...wait for it... "Weight Watchers."  You can't make this up, and how appropriate and yes, funny, that an edgy humor magazine would be funded by one of the publishers of "Weight Watchers Magazine."  So funded, the two go about hiring writers and the first was Michael O'Donoghue (Thomas Lennon), who became one of the main writers on SNL and wrote some of the strangest sketches.  If the sketch was very, very dark and very, very out there, it was usually by O'Donoghue.  Kenney and Beard gathered other subversive comedy writers (many who went on to work at SNL) and started putting out edgy satiric commentary like this:

"If Ted Kennedy drove a VW he'd be President now."

And subversive covers. One showed a dog with a gun to its head with the caption: "If you don't buy this magazine, we will kill this dog."

That kind of thing.

The magazine was outrageous and controversial (they were getting sued by everyone) but it took off.

The film is awash in pop culture icons from that era:  Tom Snyder, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Chevy Chase, John Belushi.  All were involved in the early days of the National Lampoon.

And then Doug came up with the idea for a movie about college and "Animal House" was born, a film starring unknown actors that turned out to be the highest grossing comedy in movie history and then "Caddyshack." Doug was on a roll.

Enter cocaine. In those days, cocaine always seemed to come with success and Doug succumbed to it as well as other excesses.

And as I said, Kenny was a smart ass.  I guess you would have to be to launch a humor magazine and write some of the funniest screenplays ever.  But I am not a big fan of smart asses and guys who are always on and that for me was the problem with this film.  Some of the things he did and said were just cringe worthy. If we are to care about Kenney, he has to come down to earth some time and we have to see the real man behind the wisecracks and the bravado, but he never does and we never do.  He is a total goof off and not a very nice guy.  He was a womanizer, a cheater and not a very loyal friend and he eventually went over the edge literally with his excessive lifestyle and when he did, I just didn't really care.

Written by Michael Colton, John Aboud (based on the book by Josh Karp) and directed by David Wain, the film boasts an all star cast and is a reminder that the great comedians and comedy writers of our time were often the most messed up.  Comedy is serious business. But the film tried to do too much and ultimately felt like a superficial run down of Kenney's life and lacked real heart.  Doug Kenny as portrayed by Will Forte is a guy who is really, really hard to like or relate to and Forte's wigs were awful.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I know Kenney influenced magazine, movie and TV history but I found his portrayal in this film to be so obnoxious that I just didn't care about him or the film.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

155 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965)

A Carpathan folk legend about Ivan and Marichka, two young lovers from feuding families, who fall in love, and but then Marichka dies, and we are left with the tragic dirge of a life that follows for Ivan.

Set in the 19th century Carpathian mountains in the Ukraine, this films uses a series of vignettes to tell the story of Ivan (Ivan Mykolaichuk), who meets Marichka (Larisa Kadochnikova) and falls in love with her. However, she is the daughter of man who killed Ivan's father, which doesn't go over very well, but they marry anyway.  Then Marichka gets pregnant. Then she dies.  Then Ivan falls in love again.  Then he is betrayed and things don't end well for our Ivan. That's basically it and it's all very grim. But while this is all happening, there is crop harvesting, horse-showing, bread making, dancing and singing. It's a celebration of Ukrainian folk life so it's almost a documentary except for the occasional death by drowning and a bit of cheating.

Directed by Sergei Parajanov from the novel by Mikhaylo Kotsyubinsky (adapted by Ivan Chendej), the film goes back and forth between color and black and white and I never figured out why. It's also all very folkish and folk songy and takes forever to get to the point.  Very arty and very boring, and the strident score for this film is the one of the most annoying I have ever heard.

So why was I supposed to see this?

Why it's a Must See:  "[The director's] merging of myth, history, poetry, ethnography, dance, and ritual is one of the supreme works of the Soviet sound cinema..."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like Russian folk music or you enjoy watching crop harvesting and horse shoeing, you might like this but for me, zzzzzzzzz.

***Book of the Week***

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-To Book by Dan Harris (2017)

Dan Harris wants us to be happier...and he thinks meditation is the key.

Harris is a recognizable correspondent for ABC News and a regular Weekend news anchor.  He is also the author of "10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works - A True Story." What you may not know is that Harris famously had a panic attack live on air which led him to some major soul searching and that first book.  

So how do you get 10% happier?

Well, one way, according to Harris, is to make meditation a regular part of your life.  Like most converts, Harris is a zealot for meditation.  He and his co-author even went on tour by bus to get the word out.  Before that famous panic attack, he was a self-described a**hole who was consumed by work and the path to success, and he wants the world to know that he at least now knows he was an a**hole.

So this book is an accessible and self-deprecating tale of Harris's journey to meditation and its benefits.  His mantra now is, if he can do it, you can do it.

Likewise, if I can do it, you can do it.

Yes, I am also a believer. 

I have been following the Oprah/Deepak school of meditation and wrote about how it has helped me in my blog post "A Little Meditation on a Little Meditation by an Unlikely Meditator" which I wrote back in 2014.  So I am not a skeptic and not necessarily fidgety, but I was drawn to this book to give me some pointers because I am always interested in the insight of others.

Whenever I tell someone I am into meditation, the first thing that person says is, "Oh, I could never shut off my mind" or "I could never sit still that long" or "I don't have time" or "If I go into my mind like that, the devil might get inside me."

And that's the point of this book - to clear up those misconceptions and show you how easy it is to take a break from all of those thoughts in your head and get some clarity.

I know this is difficult to believe, but you are not your thoughts.  Thoughts are just thoughts and you get a better understanding of that when you start practicing meditation.

There are many ways to meditate, but this book is all about "mindfulness meditation," which is derived from Buddhism but does not require adopting a belief system or declaring yourself to be a Buddhist.  This is just a "simple, secular exercise for the brain," that promotes calm, focus and mindfulness.  You can do it for 30 minutes, 10 minutes, or even just one minute.

Here are some tips for the beginner:

  • Approach the establishing of a meditation habit an an experiment.  You're not making a lifetime commitment.
  • Be willing to fail. Know that it's part of the process.
  • Start small.  Don't take on too much too soon.  One minute counts!
  • Try attaching mediation to a pre-existing habit (For example, 'After I shower or run, or have my morning coffee, I meditate for a minute)'
  • Stay on the lookout for the life benefits. Let them pull you forward.

Harris ends the book with this:

" a kind of disembedding from the various which we live our lives...But it is possible to burst your own bubble of self-absorption...what comes forward is greater attunement to other people...and also closer connection to life's fundamental mysteries.  You shift from being stuck in the content of your thoughts to being amazed that you are thinking in the first place...[you] undestand the sacred fact that you're alive."

Rosy the Reviewer says...this book is a down-to-earth, easy to understand primer on meditation that will help you find the road to happiness.

Thanks for reading!
See you next Friday 

for my reviews of the Oscar Nominated films

"The Darkest Hour"


"Call Me By Your Name"

as well as
The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 
I Die Project." 

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to copy and paste or click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at

Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.
Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.