The Shape of Water
Monster Meets Girl in Romantic Sci-fi Fantasy

  The Shape of Water is the early favorite in this year’s Oscar sweepstakes. The sci-fi fantasy about love across species lines was nominated for the most Academy Awards, 13, including in a half-dozen major categories: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Lead Actress (Sally Hawkins), Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer) and Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins). 

  Writer/director Guillermo del Toro was ostensibly inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon, a classic horror flick from the Fifties which spawned a couple of sequels as well as a comedic spinoff, Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon. This variation on the theme turns the scary merman from malevolent to merely misunderstood. 

  The story is set in Baltimore in 1962, and unfolds inside a top-secret government laboratory. There, a half-fish/half-human (Doug Jones) is being kept under wraps in a giant vat of gelatinous, green soup by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) who dragged the primordial monster out of the muck in the Amazon. 

  Strickland mistreats the savage since he lost two fingers trapping it, while marine biologist Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) has been ordered to study its unusual lungs. The plot thickens when cleaning ladies, Elisa (Hawkins) and Zelda (Spencer), discover the classified amphibian’s vat.

  For, Elisa is a lonely mute with nothing going on in her life, to her, a merman is better than no man at all. So, she starts communicating with him. Friendship blossoms into mutual attraction, and it gradually becomes a curious question of just how far can this forbidden romance be taken. The answer? Pretty far.

  After all, anything can happen when you’re dealing with Magical Realism. Some other examples of this otherworldly genre are Black Swan, Birdman and del Toro’s own Pan’s Labyrinth. While this critic generally prefers pictures solidly grounded in reality, The Shape of Water certainly is sufficiently engaging and visually-captivating to recommend for open-minded fans of the supernatural. 

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality and frontal nudity
Running time: 123 minutes
Production Studios: Double Dare You Productions / Bull Productions / TSG Entertainment
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

 

 

Call Me by Your Name
Gay Teen Seduces Dad’s Doctoral Student in Adaptation of Bittersweet Bildungsroman

  Dateline: Lombardy, 1983. 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) is spending another summer in Northern Italy. Each year, Elio’s dad (Michael Stuhlbarg), an archaeology professor, invites a different doctoral candidate to live with his family while serving as his research assistant.

  This go-round, the lucky guest is Oliver (Armie Hammer) who happens to be both Jewish and gay. That’s just fine with Elio who’s in the closet and dating a local girl (Esther Garrel) when the handsome hunk arrives at the villa.

  But it isn’t long before the curious lad starts sending out subtle signals which 24-year-old Oliver is quick to pick up on. Next thing you know, the two are spending long stretches of time together shamelessly flirting, whether swimming in the lake, canoodling at a cafe, or taking proverbial romantic walks along the shore. 

  So, despite the agonizingly-teasing, Kabuki dance of a courtship, there’s never a question of whether they’ll sleep together. Eventually, the relationship is consummated during a midnight rendezvous, igniting the spark for a secret affair that will last for the balance of Oliver’s stay. 

  Thus unfolds Call Me by Your Name, a deliberately-paced adaptation of Andre’ Aciman’s coming-of age novel of the same name. Directed by native Sicilian Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), the homoerotic love story landed four Academy Award nominations in the Best Picture, Lead Actor (Timothee Chalamet), Screenplay and Song categories. 

  Fair warning, the film never even addresses the questions of statutory rape likely to arise in the minds of many audience members, given today’s hyper-sensitivity to sexual abuse issues. Nevertheless, this bittersweet bildungsroman deserves all the accolades it’s been showered with for its plausible portrayal of a gay teen apprehensive about sharing his sexual preference with his folks. 

  What makes the movie memorable is the very delicate and supportive manner in which Dr. Perlman handles his son’s trepidations about coming out. This seminal offering in the gay drama genre features remarkable performances by Michael Stuhlbarg, Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet, who also plays the love interest in Lady Bird

  A visually-captivating exploration of sexual awakening in Lombardy!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and some profanity
Running time: 132 minutes
In English, Italian, French, Hebrew and German with subtitles
Production Studios: Frenesy Film Company / La Cinefacture / RT Features / Waters End Productions / M.Y.R.A. Entertainment
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

 

OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam’s Kapsules
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Feb. 9, 2018

BIG BUDGET FILMS

The 15:17 to Paris (PG-13 for violence, profanity, bloody images, drug references and suggestive material) Clint Eastwood directed this action thriller reenacting the subduing by three American tourists of an Islamist terrorist who opened fire with an assault rifle on passengers aboard a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. Co-starring heroes Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alex Skarlatos as themselves.

Fifty Shades Freed (R for profanity, frontal nudity and graphic sexuality) Final installment of the erotic trilogy finds newlyweds Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana’s (Dakota Johnson) marital bliss threatened by the surfacing of a stalker (Eric Johnson) and his former dominatrix (Kim Basinger). With Arielle Kebbel, Brant Daugherty and Dylan Neal.

La Boda de Valentina (R for profanity) Marimar Vega plays the title character in this romantic comedy about a Mexican immigrant in love with a New Yorker (Ryan Carnes) who’s being pressured by her family to return home to marry her ex-boyfriend (Omar Chaparro). Featuring Kate Vernon, Jesus Zavala and Tony Dalton. (In English and Spanish with subtitles.)

Peter Rabbit (PG for crude humor) Combination live-action and animated adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale about a rebellious rabbit’s (James Corden) attempt to raid a farmer’s (Domhnall Gleeson) garden. Cast includes Daisy Ridley, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, Margot Robbie and Sia. 

 

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS 

Basmati Blues (Unrated) Musical comedy about a brilliant scientist (Brie Larson) who invents a genetically-modified strain of rice with the help of her father (Scott Bakula) only to have it ruin the Indian farmers they’d hoped to help. With Donald Sutherland, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Tyne Daly. 

Before We Vanish (Unrated) Sci-fi thriller about three aliens who each inhabit an earthling’s body in preparation for a mass invasion of the planet. Co-starring Masami Nagasawa, Horoki Hasegawa and Ryuehei Matsuda. (In Japanese with subtitles.)

Entanglement (Unrated) Romantic dramedy about a guy (Thomas Middleditch) who unwittingly uncovers a dark family secret about the woman (Jess Weixler) he’s about to fall in love with. Supporting cast includes Diana Bang, Nicole LaPlaca and Johannah Newmarch.

The Female Brain (Unrated) Battle-of-the-sexes comedy examining the biochemistry controlling women’s romantic impulses. Directed by Whitney Cummings, and featuring commentary by Sofia Vergara, Cecily Strong, James Marsden and Deon Cole.

Fourplay (Unrated) Romantic dramedy revolving around a blind date brunch hosted by a British couple (Colin Firth and Mariel Hemingway) for an American scriptwriter (Mike Binder) and a French makeup artist (Irene Jacob). With Stephen Fry, Jack Dee and Christopher Lawford. 

Signature Move (Unrated) Out-of-the-closet dramedy, set in Chicago, about a lesbian Pakistani (Fawzia Mirza) who falls in love with a Mexican gym rat (Sari Sanchez) she meets in the ring after taking up Lucha-style wrestling. Featuring Shabana Azmi, Audrey Francis and Mark Hood. (In English, Spanish and Urdu.)

When We First Met (Unrated) Romantic comedy about a guy (Adam Devine) who travels back in time to understand why the girl of his dreams (Alexandra Daddario) dumped him after what he thought was the perfect first date. With Robbie Amell, Noureen DeWulf and Andrew Bachelor.

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