The Shape of Water

(USA 2017)

“The natives in the Amazon worshipped it like a god. We need to take it apart. Learn how it works.”

— Strickland

I knew only two things walking into The Shape of Water: one, Guillermo del Toro directed it; and two, one of the characters is a sea creature. I expected a dark and fantastical fable with del Toro’s trademark look and feel all over it.

I was right about everything except this being dark; the world where the story is set may be sinister and the color palette may be Cold War drab, but The Shape of Water is an uncharacteristically sweet departure for del Toro, at least what I’ve seen from him.

Set in 1962 Baltimore — far dimmer than the one in the John Waters classic Hairspray — Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute single lady who quietly exists on the fringes. She rents a rundown apartment above a movie theater and works as a janitor in a high-security government laboratory tucked away in a complex somewhere outside town. Her only connections to the world are Giles (Richard Jenkins), her aging homosexual next door neighbor, and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a coworker who acts as her interpreter.

Elisa is drawn to a scaly amphibian (Doug Jones) dragged from the Amazon and kept inside a water tank in the lab where she works. She can’t stand the way Strickland (Michael Shannon), a wreckless government agent, treats him. She forges a bond with the creature, feeding him hard boiled eggs on the sly. He grows to trust her, proving to be a gentle soul under all those scales.

Elisa gets wind of what Strickland has in store for the creature — over the objections of Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a marine biologist who tries to dissuade him. Strickland insists. Elisa takes matters into her own hands to save the poor thing.

Written by del Toro with Vanessa Taylor, the screenplay isn’t as dark, intense, or innovative as, say, Pan’s Labyrinth. Nevertheless, it’s got its charm. The Shape of Water is sexually charged, which is interesting (and frankly pretty funny at one point). The story, a romance, is much sweeter than what I tend to go for. The plot elements are familiar: outcasts, forbidden love, a maniacal plan in the name of science, a dangerous rescue, a fish out of water (literally), even a bit of espionage. It all comes together in a magnificently magical if not exactly unexpected finale.

Del Toro’s execution is what makes this film soar. Visually, he recalls Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children and especially Delicatessen). His use of color is clever and often seductive, even with a lot of brown and grey. The amphibian’s costume is cool, straight out of Pan’s Labyrinth (those eyes).

I love the references to other films — Creature from the Black Lagoon, E.T., King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. An astute friend of mine posits that the real love story here involves movies, with all of us mute viewers who fall for the fantastic. I find his interpretation to be the best I’ve heard.

The Shape of Water seems to be a polarizing film, moreso than any other I can think of this year; some of those I’ve talked to loved it, others hated it — with a passion. I fall into the former category. I can see myself coming back to this one from time to time.

With David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Lauren Lee Smith, Martin Roach, Allegra Fulton, John Kapelos, Morgan Kelly, Marvin Kaye, Dru Viergever, Wendy Lyon, Cody Ray Thompson, Madison Ferguson, Jayden Greig

Production: Bull Productions, Double Dare You (DDY), Fox Searchlight Pictures

Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA), 20th Century Fox (International), Hispano Foxfilms S.A.E. (Spain), Big Picture 2 Films (Portugal), Centfox Film (Austria), Forum Hungary (Hungary), Odeon

123 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) B+

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/theshapeofwater/

Hairspray

(USA 1988)

The original Hairspray never, ever gets old:

https://moviebloke.com/2016/11/05/hairspray/

I can watch it over and over, and tonight demonstrates that much: I just saw it a few months ago, but I had a hankering for it again. Makes me want to dance to it every time.

Production: Palace Pictures

Distribution: New Line Cinema

92 minutes
Rated PG

(iTunes purchase) B+

Hairspray

(USA 1988)

“Mama, welcome to the Sixties.”

—Tracy Turnblad

Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) is fucking fabulous, and all of Baltimore knows it! The humble hair-hopping heroine of the kitschy-sixties John Waters classic Hairspray is lower middle class and fat—or as she puts it, “pleasantly plump.” Her parents are clueless and preoccupied with their own drab lot in life: mother Edna (Divine) irons constantly and father Wilbur (Jerry Stiller) owns a joke shop below their dingy little apartment. Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers), is positively nerdy—not to mention permanently punished.

None of it stands in Tracy’s way of getting what she wants, whether it’s a slot as a regular on a teen dance program on local television, the hottest guy on the show (Michael St. Gerard), or racial integration. She’s a modern kind of girl—she’ll swim in an integrated pool and support the right of “colored” kids to have more screen time than just on designated “Negro Day” on the last Thursday of every month. Tracy is the height of teen fashion: all ratted up like a teenage Jezebel, no one rocks a sleeveless frock, a plaid skirt, or a pastel pink cockroach gown quite like she does. It should be no surprise that she’s got a modeling gig. And on top of it, the girl can move! Who wouldn’t want to be her?

Tracy’s self-assurance provokes the ire of teachers and mean girls alike, especially rival regular and stuck up little spastic Amber Von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick) and her pageant winning mother, “Miss Soft Crab 1945” Velma (Debbie Harry). Tracy commands attention; when Amber gossips about her and sneers, “Tracy Turnblad is a whore,” she reveals the extent of her own intimidation. You know her, come on, rip her to shreds.

Hairspray has John Waters’s trademark demented sense of humor all over it, and stars regulars like Divine and Mink Stole. However, it marked a shift for Waters into mainstream territory (he started with Polyester, but that one is still a bit weird and definitely not as accessible). It’s no shock that it’s his biggest hit. Like his other leading ladies, Tracy is strong; what’s different, though, is that nothing about her despicable—a first for him. In fact, she’s probably the only lead in a Waters film who’s downright admirable. Her confidence is solid, and her heart is always in the right place. Hairspray makes being an outcast look glamorous and accomplished in a way none of his other films do.

I saw Hairspray the first time in a dorm room during my freshman year of college: we rented a copy on VHS tape, which honestly sounds more quaint now than The Corny Collins Show looked to me back then. I’ve seen Hairspray more times than I can count, and I never get tired of it. I’m apparently not the only one, as the multiple remakes and reboots demonstrate. None of them can touch the original. How could anything top Sonny Bono as a dad, or Pia Zadora as a beatnik chick going on about Odetta while Ric Ocasek paints behind her and utters his one-word line: “reefer!”

92 minutes
Rated PG

(Home via iTunes) B+

http://www.dreamlandnews.com/films/hairspray.shtml