Archive for the ‘Octavia Spencer’ Category

The Shape Of Water

14 Jan

The Shape Of Water – written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. Thriller Fairy Tale. 123 minutes Color 2017.
The Story: An Amazon river god is imprisoned in a U.S. research installation, where he is tortured and threatened with dismemberment until a cleaning woman nurses and rescues him.
Of course, fairy stories are true. Myths are true. Allegory is true. That’s how come they last and carry weight in the spirits of children and indigenes. What “true” means is that fairy tales and myths and allegory mimic the inner procedures of the human psyche. The reason fairy tale and myth and allegory endure is that their method of communicating the most important human truths has never been supplanted.

So we see the kindness of the cleaning woman to be the real food she offers the creature, along with hard-boiled eggs.

But what use has this scary creature? The use is, as with all gods, that they never die. What goes with that territory is that they can heal death in others. Mercury, the god of thieves, medicine, tricks, and messages, is the winged avatar of this still, but Hindu religion is crammed with others. In all cases, they heal.

Not always in the way you might want, and in this case the healing teeters perilously before it is revealed. For the god has taken the shape of a merman, and his aspect is daunting. He is played by 57-year-old Doug Jones, lithe, sensual, sudden.

I can’t think of an actor who might have better played the cleaning woman who becomes his mate. Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito (which in English means “exposed” or “transparent”) opens her character up not just to him but to her colleague played by Octavia Spencer whose every word one always believes and so it is here. Over a movie house which seems to be playing forever the same B-Toga epic, Hawkins lives in generous neighborly conjunction with with a commercial illustrator whose style has dated him.

Richard Jenkins does him perfectly. He is the artist who cannot make a difference, the old fool, The Failed Father Figure Of Fairy Tale. Rather like the sad king with the unmarriageable daughter whom you find all the time in those stories. Either she herself or someone beyond unusual must rescue her from the doldrums of the kingdom. And in this case, the doldrums are enforced by a vicious tyrant played with his usual perfection by the handsome, hard Michael Shannon.

Mortal stupidity swirls them around – by the American military bureaucracy typified by Nick Searcy as the general in charge of everything – and by the Russians who want to steal the merman, and whose plans are foxed by Michael Stuhlbarg, who who plays a scientist/spy bent on saving the merman.

So you see, you have a full complement of forces, modern and fantastical, to urge our attention and our loyalties on.

The film is beautifully filmed and imagined. Just what you want for such a tale.

And what is it that you want?

What you don’t want is to be told. So both the merman and the cleaning woman are mute and must, nonetheless, make themselves perfectly understandable to themselves and to us. We see that it is not hard to do.

What you really want is resurrection.

And that’s what the picture provides.

Enjoy yourself. See it.


Black Or White

26 Feb

Black Or White – written and directed by Mike Binder. Drama Lite. 121 minutes Color 2015.


The Story: The grandfather of a little girl of mixed race fends off adoption by her black grandmother.


I think I’ll stop going to movies written by the director. I’ll find out beforehand and save my time and fee.

For I’ve grown tired of seeing films as ill judged as they usually are by author/directors. Films such as this one where only one half of the story is honored, where only one half comes to life. Directors who write their own stuff have virtually no sense of the quality, needs, or truth of their material. It’s their baby. They just want to get it on. Blind love, like the love of the grandmother for her worthless son.

In this case the film comes to life because of the rich playing of Kevin Costner. The camera and the story monopolize him to the point of such absurdity that he is even provided with a comic gremlin in the form of a tutor for his granddaughter, that is a waste of time and an insult to the audience’s credulity.

All this while, the black side of the “or” is under-written and played essentially for comic relief. Which is shameful. Aren’t those black folks funny! Are they musical, though! Don’t they know how to yell! Isn’t Ebonics entertaining!

The grandmother needs to be a lot crazier than Octavia Spencer is allowed to act her, and her son, the father of the child, needs to be extracted from the stereotype of a drug addict, which is all the writer is capable of. The writer knows nothing of black drug addicts. Or black people entirely. Their presence here under his pen is a rude imposture. A deed of racial profiling. The writing of the black folks lacks, not fairness, but the essential ingredient for all story-telling: imagination!

This means there is no real drama, no true pull, nothing deep at stake. For there is nothing human on the black side of the “or” in a story that requires absolute balance of the weightiest sort to get itself told in a way that counts.

What we leave with is a hugely improbably kitchen table speech of Kevin Costner at the courtroom, which he does beautifully, however, and which has so much truth to it, it is almost worth seeing the film for it.

As it is, without true, significant opposition to him, we have nothing to digest, nothing to stick to our ribs.

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Posted in DRAMA LITE, Kevin Costner, MIDDLE-CLASS DRAMA, Octavia Spencer, Social Drama

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