With Conan the Barbarian being a success, it was inevitable that a sequel would follow. And while Conan the Destroyer has its good moments, it doesn’t quite compare with its predecessor.
The warrior that is Conan(Arnold Schwarzenegger) is still alive and mourning the death of his lover Valeria. He is now joined by clumsy Malak(Tracey Walter), a thief who can’t help but get himself in trouble because of his magpie like love of jewels. He comes across the mysterious Queen Taramis(Sarah Douglas)who offers him a deal. She will using her magical powers being back the love of his life on one condition. Conan must escort her niece, the naive and virginal Princess Jehnna(Olivia d’Abo) , to retrieve a magical gem that will lead the way to the horn of an ancient God. Jehnna must do this as it is her destiny and Queen Taramis insists on it. What no one realises is that the ruthless and sly Taramis is in fact plotting to sacrifice Jehnna in order to use the power of the horn for nefarious purposes. She assigns her trusted Captain of the guard Bombaata(Wilt Chamberlain) to join the quest, but kill Conan once the jewel is obtained. So Conan, Malak and the rest of the venturing group begin their journey to find the fabled jewel. Along the way, Conan frees a fighter called Zula; who he finds being tormented and forced to scrap in chains with brutal villagers. As thanks for setting her free, the feral Zula joins Conan’s quest and proves to be a vital ally. The quest is perilous and fraught with danger, especially when Conan uncovers the deceit at the heart of it. Now it’s a battle to stop the evil power of Taramis from taking over.
In the directors seat this time is Richard Fleischer, who at least manages to make this film watchable and reasonably entertaining. Although the tonal shifts are all over the place, Fleischer is at his best with the action scenes and danger, which does help in the long run. While no one would consider the first Conan movie high art, it at least had some form of grit to it. I’m fine with incorporating humour into films but it feels a bit much in Conan the Destroyer. It starts pretty well with humour and action benefiting each other. Then things go south as idiotic occurrences happen and mount up. The first film had some humour but it was controlled and it felt a little more brutal than your average fantasy outing. It wasn’t deadbeat drama throughout, but it at least had some sense of stakes being high. Conan the Destroyer seems to forget this and just chuck things at us in ridiculously rapid speed. Yes I did say that the first film was overstretched with its runtime, but this sequel is too quick and rushed. And events feel a bit watered down and not as brutal as before, which does hamper events in this movie as it feels a bit too light and humorous. I believe behind the scenes there was a conscious decision to tone down the gore in order to increase box office takings, I think they still could have been successful even with more bloodshed and brutality on show. Now things aren’t all bad in Conan the Destroyer, there are actually moments of greatness to be discovered. I’ll admit sometimes the goofy atmosphere is fun and once again the set pieces are rather fantastic. One in a hall of mirrors is very well executed, thanks to sterling production design and action present. This movie is most enjoyable when it’s serving up action and fantasy, instead of trying to make the film more child friendly.The score doesn’t let the audience down, providing boundless adventure and majesty to the film courtesy of Basil Poledouris. It’s again a highlight for how it immerses us in this fantasy world.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is once again an imposing presence as the titular fighter on another quest. He gets the and when the humour lands , he succeeds while still casting a long shadow of skill in the fighting department. Though it is very strange to hear Schwarzenegger talk as much as he does. Previously, he only speaks a number of lines which adds to his impact as we are more focused on his actions. Though this is a niggle, Schwarzenegger is still an amazing Conan and delivers the goods you want. Grace Jones, of striking bone structure, agile yet rippling physique and high top fade hairstyle, acts as a great asset to Conan and the movie. Her very stare projects a menace and aggression of a warrior, complete with the fact that she’s always on the prowl. Jones lends her unique look, wild abandon and electric being to Conan the Destroyer and lights up the screen every time she’s on it. Wilt Chamberlain, who was a basketball player of immense height, has the physical goods to deliver a slippery turn as the wavering Captain who you just know is going to stab you in the back if you’re not careful. Tracey Walter is passable enough as Conan’s latest sidekick, though his clumsy antics get a bit repetitive as the film continues. More effective is Mako, returning as the wise and all seeing wizard who balances seriousness with some levity. However Olivia d’Abo is pretty grating and irritating as the innocent princess, mainly because she’s so naive and the character is pretty bland to begin with. This isn’t helped by her delivery of lines which is stilted and without resonance. I get that she’s supposed to be sheltered and immature, but she mainly comes off as a pain. Sarah Douglas does villain shtick very well while being darkly seductive at the same time.
Conan the Destroyer has bright spots to it and has a fun, goofy quality, it just feels rather redundant and watered down when it could have been better
Based on the character in pulp comics and featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in an early role that put him on the map just before he hit superstardom , Conan the Barbarian is nothing if not a dazzling, testosterone filled action-adventure fantasy that has its share of problems but is still riotously entertaining and a fun ride to experience.
In Ancient times, a young boy by the name of Conan is the son of a blacksmith and a loving mother. Unfortunately, brutality strikes when the followers of the evil cult leader Thulsa Doom( James Earl Jones) attack his village. His father is wounded and then mauled to death by dogs, while Doom himself hypnotises Conan’s mother before beheading her in front of her terrified son. Doom then takes a powerful sword owned by Conan’s father before leaving the carnage in his wake. The children of the village are spared and sold into slavery, being charged with pushing a giant wheel in back breaking fashion. Over the years of pushing the wheel, Conan( now played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a muscle bound mountain of a man with incredible strength. He becomes a gladiator of immense renown and is taught many things by his master. Later he is set free into the wild, which is where he starts trying to track down Thulsa Doom, where he discovers an ancient sword, a strange prophecy and encounters three important people in his quest . Firstly he meets thief and archer Subotai(Gerry Lopez) , then he encounters beautiful and lethal bandit Valeria(Sandahl Bergman). Lastly there is Akiro the Wizard(Mako), who provides the narration for the film. Valeria and Subotai are soon faithful friends and in the case of Valeria, a romantic interest who assist Conan on his journey, while Akiro instils wisdom and prophecy. The trio of wonderers hear of a jewel that they decide to steal, mainly because the snake symbol is something that Conan believes will lead him to his nemesis. They are then summoned by the old King Osric( Max Von Sydow), who knows they stole the jewel but doesn’t wish to imprison them, he actually wants their help. His daughter has fell under the influence of Thulsa Doom and he wants Conan and his friends to retrieve her for a good reward. They decide to accept this offer as Conan continues on his path of vengeance hoping to meet Doom and enact brutality upon him as retribution for what he did to his family.
John Milius and his work here are the definition of macho and it’s perfectly suited to this kind of film. He’s the well appointed director of Conan the Barbarian and he keeps events ticking over, even when it gets a bit laboured and indulgent towards the end. got what you want from a swords and sorcery; lots of violent action( standout being the opening raid on Conan’s childhood village), unusual fantasy, well muscled heroes and buxom ladies, alongside traps, tricks and magic. And it’s unapologetic and upfront about it too which is rather refreshing in that way, especially as the violence isn’t sugarcoated . The action set pieces are staged with verve and efficiency, making them very memorable as Conan fights his way across a desolate land. Now at two hours, Conan the Barbarian does feel a bit longwinded in the grand scheme of things and that is a flaw. But for the majority, the adventure, excitement and brutality of the movie is done to a high standard. You don’t need to invest intellect into the story as it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Though that, in my book at least, is not something that should be seen as a fault. Sometimes it’s great to go into a movie that takes you to another place and doesn’t require you to think about it deeply. And I for one don’t mind when a movie does that when it does it as well as Conan the Barbarian. Sure it’s not going to stimulate your mind in a sense of depth, but who can begrudge this swords and sorcery concoction that simply wants to thrill? Saying this however, it feels more rough and gritty than some fantasy and that does make it stand out a bit from the crowd. It’s not Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination, but nor is it trying to be. So sit back and lap it up the best way you can with enjoyment in mind and thrills by the minute . The largely practical effects are decent for their time, though looking through modern eyes they look rather dated. Still at least the film isn’t overblown when it comes to effects, instead when they are used in scenes of the spirits healing but also attempting to snatch our hero away and a fireside vision by a seductive but lethal witch, they are impactful. And the look of Conan the Barbarian is one of its strongest aspects with the vast open spaces, mountainous terrain and creepy atmosphere of the opulent Snake Cult rendered with great detail. Things feel epic here and this contributes well in keeping the whole highly charged atmosphere alive. One of the finest elements of Conan the Barbarian is the stupendous score from Basil Poledouris. With thundering drums aplenty and a sweeping scope that benefits the action, it’s one score you won’t forget in a hurry.
Arnold Schwarzenegger heads proceedings as the eponymous warrior out for revenge and makes quite an impression. Physically, he is a hulking being that is intimidating and strong from the moment we see him and the fact he doesn’t speak a lot adds to this feeling of immense presence. Schwarzenegger isn’t known for being the finest actor out there, but his work here is an example of fantastic casting as he exudes strength, intense vengeance and physicality throughout. I can’t imagine anyone else filling the role of Conan quite as effectively as Schwarzenegger. Embodying an eerily menacing villainy, James Earl Jones is the ideal counterpart to our hero. He’s got such a chilling presence( mainly through that iconic voice)throughout that comes from his seeming calmness that belies inner psychopathic tendencies. Gerry Lopez provides some comic relief and sense of friendship as the skilled thief Subotai . He works well against with Schwarzenegger; the two of them being opposites physically but in terms of mindset definitely on the ball and understanding of each other. Ferocity and athleticism is provided by Sandahl Bergman with added doses of sex appeal to boot . Though not what you’d call the most versatile or nuanced performer, Bergman nonetheless contributes a physical charm and action to that can’t be denied . Mako and his off the wall appeal that is twinned with his impressive narration adds a layer of epic awesomeness to Conan the Barbarian. The only person who feels wasted is the great Max Von Sydow as the elderly king. Someone of his calibre should at least have been given more to work with, even if his role is small. Most of the acting isn’t what you’d call award worthy, but not is it trying to be. The cast is called upon to play these characters in a certain way and they each do what the film demands handsomely.
So aside from some flaws along the way, Conan the Barbarian still stands out as a fantastic spectacle of action and fantasy that is enjoyably full of action set pieces and sweeping spectacle.
I was saddened to read the news that director Michael Apted had passed away at the age of 79. He was a prolific director who turned his hand to many genres, from innovative documentary series to biopic and even a Bond movie. He will be missed, but his legacy of great movies is for all of us to enjoy.
This year has been so up in the air and I know I’ve not been on here as much as I usually would be. I’ve just been dealing with the eventful year day by day. I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my followers a lovely Christmas. Obviously it’ll be different this year, but I wish you all amazingly. I promise that next year I’ll be back on good form
Guillermo del Toro indulges his love of old Gothic chillers and ghost stories with the visually sumptuous Crimson Peak. It’s not one of his finest movies, but is still one that has a level of pizzaz and a well appointed cast.
In the late 19th Century in New York, young Edith Cushing(Mia Wasikowska) lives with her businessman father Carter(Jim Beaver). She has been tormented by ghosts since childhood, the first being a spectral visit from her deceased mother warning her “Beware of Crimson Peak” . Edith is a forward thinking woman when we rejoin her as a grown up and about to experience great changes in her life. The primary one is her meeting with Thomas Sharpe(Tom Hiddleston); an English baronet visiting America with his piano playing, all seeing sister Lucille(Jessica Chastain). Though Edith is a woman who chides at society’s placing of woman as just objects to be married off, she can’t help but be intrigued by the dark, handsome yet immensely charming Thomas, who we learn has a title but who has not much in the way of money. Her father disapproves of this match and has a detective do some digging. He learns something sinister, but the audience doesn’t know what. Brutality intervenes when Carter is gruesomely murdered, leaving Edith the heiress to his fortune. At this point, she decides to impulsively enter a whirlwind romance with Thomas . This results in marriage, which crushes the hopes of local doctor and family friend Alan McMichael(Charlie Hunnam). He has been in love with Edith as long as he can remember and was close with her father, so he’s naturally left feeling despondent by Edith’s rejection. Thomas brings Edith over to his large house in the English countryside. Although a grand house, it is dilapidated with a hole in the main roof that. The fact that the house is built atop a clay mine, which causes the substance to appear red against the wintery surroundings and often it leaks through the walls. The foreboding and decaying house also houses Lucille, who is regularly icy towards Edith and warns her not to wander around the house as there are areas deemed ‘unsafe’. With the house being so mysterious and a certain uneasy tension in the air with regards to the relationship between Thomas and Lucille, it’s not long before Edith begins seeing ghosts throughout the house. She’s understandably terrified, yet determined to figure out why they are haunting her new residence. Upon learning that the house is often referred to as Crimson Peak , she begins her journey even as she seems to be suffering in terms of physical health and emotional instability not helped by Lucille’s cryptic nature and how enigmatic Thomas is. Soon the history and secrets of the eerie house begins to surface gruesomely and things get more unbalanced for everyone involved, especially the increasingly tormented Edith. But what will the old house known as Crimson Peak reveal?
Guillermo del Toro is in the directors and writers seat and his style is evident from the get go. Even though it’s not one of his finest films and doesn’t quite have the power we usually expect from his output, del Toro still has a cinematic touch that can’t be denied. Crimson Peak isn’t exactly an out and out horror movie( as del Toro has stated numerous times in interviews), though it involves ghosts and much in the way of grisly and thrilling events. It owes quite a lot to Gothic romance and atmosphere of old school chillers of which del Toro is evidently a fan. And that isn’t to say, it just isn’t creepy in parts( it delivers on crafting something eerily lurid and unsettling). From the opening of Edith being tormented, there’s something unusual and on edge about it. Crimson Peak just isn’t your standard horror film in the conventional sense of the word even though it seems it is. It is in the horror genre and that is evident from its influences, yet its more of a ghost story with horror elements and dashes of twisted romance vibe going for it that’s very del Toro. There’s a level of almost fairy tale darkness and dramatic feeling to parts of it, mixed with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre esque ambience with the house becoming a looming and haunting presence throughout. This is something del Toro is known for, as well as splicing both beauty and brutality side by side. Both shock and ravishing visuals are present in Crimson Peak, with production design and simply bewitching cinematography that takes us into this creepy world of darkness and ghostly happenings. The special effects are used amazingly to craft the ghosts; often red and with what’s left of tissue flowing away like leaves in the wind. There’s a disquieting nature to the spectres and they sure are very spooky to behold. Plus when you’ve got the mind of del Toro working, you know you’re in for something unusual and lavishly baroque. If Crimson Peak was judged purely on its visual content, it’d be heralded as a Fantasia and cinema at its best. Sadly, there is more to a film than just what we see. It’s just a shame that sometimes the elements don’t mingle together as well as they could and some parts are left very vague. I think the sometimes predictable parts and how it can get long winded are what stops Crimson Peak being in the illustrious company of del Toro’s impactful masterworks. It just falls short of reaching those heights, but the score is one of cool atmosphere and melancholy refrains that suits the tone of the movie.
The cast adds strength to the uneven film, with the three principal stars all excellent. In the lead, Mia Wasikowska , with her arresting face and air of strength blended with vulnerability, is ideal casting as the young lady finding herself haunted by her surroundings. Yet Wasikowska wisely makes Edith not a shrill victim, in fact although she’s put through the emotional wringer, the character is determined and has agency despite the confusion surrounding her. Tom Hiddleston is all moody yet troubled soulfulness and Byronic charm as the husband who is clearly involved in something, we just aren’t sure how on board he is with it which adds to the ambiguity.
However it’s Jessica Chastain that provides the true acting standout in Crimson Peak. Alternating between icy, knowing and ultimately unbalanced, Chastain navigates this terrain with verve and really gets into the part. It’s through Jessica Chastain that Crimson Peak kicks into high gear in the layer stages as she’s so amazing to watch as her character goes off the deep end and then some. It’s obvious that she’s enjoying playing such a layered and unbalanced character and she truly delivers. As the noble and honest doctor pining after Edith, there is Charlie Hunnam. He probably has the least developed part but he does what he can with such scant material in the way of growth. An entertaining appearance comes courtesy of Jim Beaver, exuding wisdom and fatherly concern.
A ravishingly beautiful Gothic horror film influenced by the genre of old school horror, Crimson Peak has that going for it as it does have del Toro at the helm and a fine cast. I just felt that it did get a tad predictable and long winded for me and that stopped it from being in league of del Toro’s other films. Saying that, there is much to enjoy here I’ll give it that.
A seasonal horror comedy , Krampus provides a respite from the overly cheesy and schmaltzy stuff that gets dished out this time of year. Not perfect by any means, but very fun and creepy enough, with a good message at the core, Krampus is a dark Christmas delight.
It’s just before Christmas for one family and it’s going to be one to remember. Young Max(Emjay Anthony)still believes in the magic of Christmas and Santa Claus, though he’s struggling with the knowledge that he’s going to have to endure the dysfunction of his extended family over the holidays . His parents, Tom(Adam Scott) and Sarah(Toni Collette) are good people who work hard and do their best and even they are sort of dreading this family get together at Christmas as they believe they know the outcome. Arriving at their house for the holidays are gun-toting arrogant spitting Uncle Howard(David Koechner) , his put upon wife Linda(Allison Tolman), their four kids, and drunken, foul mouthed Great Aunt Dorothy(Conchata Ferrell) . Also in this family are Max’s sullen sister Beth(Stefania LaVie Owen)and the knowing Eastern European mother of Tom, referred to as Omi(Krista Stadler). Tensions rise over dinner when the bratty, nasty children of Howard and Linda read aloud Max’s letter to Santa Claus. Feeling embarrassed and that everyone has lost their spirit, Max renounces his joy at the holiday and storms off to his room. He tears up his letter and throws it into the wind. Quickly, a blizzard arrives and knocks the power out at the house and the entire neighbourhood. The squabbling family panic with what to do. Beth goes out to see if she can find her boyfriend who lives nearby, but she doesn’t return. This puts everyone into desperation as horror begins. are attacked while searching for people by a strange creature from underground, a mysterious sack of presents comes to life and there’s something sinister lurking in the attic. And to top it all off, a demonic being with hooves and horns seems to be controlling this. He is Krampus, a sort of anti-Santa who punished those who don’t believe in the spirit of Christmas. When , he inadvertently summoned the demon which is now enacting its brand of retribution to what he sees as ungrateful people. Now it’s a battle for survival as Krampus and his minions lay siege to the house and death begins to envelope the dysfunctional family inside. It may not be a Holly Jolly Christmas for all if they can’t make it through.
Michael Dougherty keeps the atmosphere building well and the humour present( watch for a hilarious opening sequence of frenzied shopping and scrapping between customers portrayed in slow motion to the sound of ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’) as we enter the story with a message of togetherness after much horror and how it’s navigated. Krampus isn’t necessarily insanely terrifying and bone chilling as it could be, but it’s undeniably tense and boasts a sprightly, creepy nastiness to it once chaos begins to rain down. The humour parts work, the characters are mainly archetypes but I think that is the main point of them as it adds a level of familiarity to the proceedings. The family in question actually learn quite a bit once they come under attack and Dougherty has a good understanding of this and the way that often in times of hardship or shock, pulling together is the only thing to do in order to make it out of the situation. Events are played lost entirely straight, which allows both the creep factor and underlying biting humour to nestle next to one another. Plus, I enjoyed the mythology surrounding Krampus( who can be discovered by looking up Ancient European folklore) where it stems from. From my research, it’s something very intriguing and the film fills us in too via Omi who recaps her own experience and it’s displayed quite strikingly in stop motion. This sequence took me by surprise and really made an impact on me, while also clueing the audience up on the scary creature that’s on screen.
And speaking of visual effects, the ones used in Krampus are a fine mix of practical and CGI, though the majority are practical and boast a certain old school appeal while being immensely creepy. There’s an army of viciously vindictive gingerbread men who take it upon themselves to terrorise eveyone, a spine tingling Jack in the box that boasts a multitude of fangs. Then of course there is the titular demon who we are wisely shown little of until near the end. A little sighting here and a bit of a reveal there is enough to keep us on the edge of our seats and entertained in this Christmas horror comedy. And for a film with bad 5ings happening, it’s refreshing to see that Krampus doesn’t really on blood and gore for chills. There’s hardly any blood to speak of, but that doesn’t mean that horrible things don’t happen in an atmosphere that grows more tense as it continues. The film does feel a bit stretched in its run time and parts of it sag for no apparent reason, this is especially present in the middle half which meanders. But the opening build up showing us just how dysfunctional this family is and the latter stages that show them truly understanding that their bickering actions have caused this horror, is very well executed and should be praised on that score alone while making up for the parts that don’t work. The ending is a divisive point which I won’t spoil. All I’ll say is that I’m on the fence regarding it and how it capped off Krampus. I’ve not made my mind up on whether I think it’s a satisfying and open ending or a cop out. Time will eventually tell no doubt I’m sure about that, but I feel like it’s growing on me as I write this review. A score of devilry and mischief compliments the film very well by being so strangely cheerful at the start then switching it up as horror engulfs.
A game cast is a big plus in Krampus. Adam Scott and Toni Collette are excellent as the stressed out parents who have to do battle with horror as they attempt to reconnect once more. It’s nice how they actually come across like genuine people too, instead of just overly cliched. Most of the characters in Krampus are by and large familiar but that doesn’t detract from what the cast does with them which is rather entertaining.Young Emjay Anthony stands out as the kid whose faith in the holiday is tested and whose actions accidentally lead to the arrival of Krampus. Anthony is a likeable kid and this transfers to us as we can sympathise with his feelings of alienation from family and how he just wants a nice Christmas. David Koechner gets a lot of the laughs as the boorish uncle who puts the red in redneck; though he comes in useful as the gravity of the situation hits home. He undergoes a convincing transformation as does Allison Tolman as his much neglected wife, evolving from doormat to fierce. Conchata Ferrell gets some of the best moments of the movie and the best lines. Playing the slovenly, trashy and acidic Aunt with a major attitude problem, Ferrell is evidently having a total blast. She’s both despicably funny and capable as the story intensifies, showing a strength that is unexpected but welcome. A quiet yet haunting presence is found in the hands of Krista Stadler. Essaying the part of the wise old Aunt who knows more than she’s initially letting on, her sagacity and eventual revelation about the creature allow her to really strut her acting stuff beautifully and have probably the most emotional arc of Krampus. Stefania LaVie Owen is saddled with an uninteresting role as eye rolling sister who goes into the blizzard and never comes back.
So while it’s got issues of its own that stop it from being truly excellent and a Christmas horror classic, Krampus should satisfy fans of horror comedy at Christmastime with its humour and dark chills. And I for one found it to be a surprise and mostly a positive one I must say.
The winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, The Shape of Water throughly merited this acclaim with its imaginative and universal story, beautifully haunting direction from Guillermo del Toro and top notch performances from an outstanding cast of actors. Plus, it stands as one of Guillermo del Toro’s finest films put to screen.
The year is 1962 and in a coastal area of Baltimore, Maryland, Elisa Esposito(Sally Hawkins)lives above a picture house that screens old movies to a pretty absent audience. She has been mute since childhood when she was found by the river with marking on her neck. An orphan who lives an ordered, almost ritualistic life, Elisa’s forms of companionship are closeted gay artist Giles(Richard Jenkins) and wise cracking and loyal co-worker Zelda Fuller(Octavia Spencer). Elisa and Zelda work in a government facility as cleaners, where they are expected to make things tidy and not ask any questions about the goings on within their workplace. One day, the facility has an arrival of a humanoid creature(Doug Jones) that comes courtesy of the finding of nasty government agent Colonel Strickland(Michael Shannon). He is head of the operation regarding investigating the creature, which mainly involves torturing it as he sees it as unholy, yet who himself is a self righteous hypocrite. Elisa becomes curious about the creature and begins to spend time with it. The creature responds to her and though it doesn’t talk either, they find a way to communicate with one another. Over time, a genuine love forms between them. This places her in danger as the people higher up than Strickland want to vivisect the creature and an enigmatic scientist by the name of Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) has his own motives for studying the humanoid. Elisa, feeling emboldened by her newfound love and understanding, decides to help the humanoid escape. Though this is not going to be an easy operation and Strickland has grown suspicious of her and the consequences could be deadly for Elisa if she does not succeed in saving her lover.
From the moment The Shape of Water opens with a submerged dream sequence involving Elisa’s water filled apartment and with narration from Giles, you know it’s a film by the masterful Guillermo del Toro. His strong presence and boundless imagination are on full display, twinned with a sensitive story of acceptance, love across the boundaries and understanding of what is deemed different. He was rightly rewarded with an Oscar for his poetic direction of this dark yet endearing movie that pays homage to monster movies of the 50’s, old Hollywood and Cold War intrigue, all wrapped in the confines of his exceptional vision. The Shape of Water is many things that it can be difficult to classify it as it mixes intense thriller suspense, socially aware drama and budding romance. His script, co written with Vanessa Taylor, grounds fantasy in a historical prism, exploring prejudice within the narrative. The main players in the story are all deemed outsiders;Elisa is mute, Giles is having to conceal his sexuality and Zelda faces adversity due to her skin colour. By featuring this aspect, it seems wholly appropriate that Elisa would find solace in the arms of a humanoid creature, who himself is tortured for being different at the hands of the ignorance of others. The message of accepting everyone’s differences and uniqueness is rendered excellently into the fantasy realm with a very human touch that’s simply irresistible. The Shape of Water is a beautifully engaging and unusual fairy tale, that retains a sense of almost childlike curiosity and wonder but is definitely a fantasy for mature audiences owing to violence, brutality and sexuality displayed in the story. This is aided by amazing, award winning production design that captures a darkness of the 60’s in terms of historical context and the ravishing cinematography( blue, green and red feature heavily) that transport us into the distant past via a fantasy romance that’s not afraid to be strikingly adult or daring. Alexandre Desplat earned his second Oscar for his sublime score that captures a wistful, romantic longing and sense of dreamlike joy, coupled with darkness and action when events start to deepen and the stakes of the story increase.
One of the strongest aspects of The Shape of Water is the sensationally talented cast it boasts. Front and centre is the talented Sally Hawkins, who never lets me down when it comes to convincing acting that feels so true. She’s required to not speak a word, but displays a silent symphony of feelings from quiet delight, aching sadness and growing, admirable bravery in an exquisite anchoring portrayal. You buy all of this because of just how darn good Sally Hawkins is in this part. Hawkins injects Elisa with a deep humanity and sense of authenticity that it stands as one of her finest performances that truly shines in this romantic fantasy. She’s the beating heart of The Shape of Water and it simply wouldn’t be the same without her layered performance of dazzling emotion and winning, hopeful clarity. Hawkins is supported delightfully by Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer as the two people closest to her. Jenkins, who has been one of the most reliable character actors in what seems like forever, gives life and pathos to his acting as the artist having to suppress his sexuality in a world of ignorance. He’s something special here it must be said with his notes of humour and sympathy splendidly telegraphed. Octavia Spencer also brings her A-game as the loquacious best friend with attitude and conviction. You feel the energy of Spencer and also her understanding of the part, which shows her as tough but deep down longing, hurting yet extremely loyal to those closest and willing to defend them until the end. All three actors were rightfully nominated for Oscars for their respective performances here and they were much deserved.
As the Amphibian creature, Doug Jones, although covered entirely in a scaly suit and make up, brings out a curiosity and sinuous movement in his role. It’s a credit to him that we see the soul of the misunderstood creature and that’s high praise indeed. Although the humanoid is seen as the monster in the story, that title actually the fits the part of the vicious Strickland, played by the incredibly reliable Michael Shannon. He’s excellent as the bible spouting, bullying government agent who always needs to be in control. Shannon is fine when giving voice to Strickland’s frustrations and nastiness, but it’s often when he is silent with emerging rage and intensity that he’s most riveting to watch. Not to say that he’s better at one than the other, he’s amazing at blending both but there’s just something about the way he uses body language and his face that really sells it. Michael Stuhlbarg displays his skills as a secretive scientist with more going on that it seems behind the appearance of studious investigation. He’s nicely understated with his subtle turn as a man who ends up conflicted on what to do with regards to the creature.
A beguilingly unusual but very touching fantasy romance about acceptance, love and bravery, The Shape of Water is a different but enthralling film that knows how to move the audience with its story, compelling craftsmanship by Guillermo del Toro and simply stellar cast, headed by the sublime Sally Hawkins.
Sophia Loren, following an absence of ten years from screen comes back gloriously with a wonderfully warm, fierce and emotionally nuanced performance in The Life Ahead. The story is rather familiar but is nonetheless very moving and the acting from Sophia Loren and newcomer Ibrahima Gueye is something to behold. It’s a great movie I discovered on Netflix and I recommend it to my audience.
In a seaside town in Italy, Senegalese orphan Momo(Ibrahima Gueye) lives an existence of aggression and mixed up feelings. Though he is cared for by Dr. Cohen(Renato Carpentieri), the 12 year old Momo feels isolated and not at all happy with life. He takes his anger out on others, while resorting to theft and drug dealing with others. One day, Momo steals the belongings of Madame Rosa(Sophia Loren), a former prostitute who is now seen as a respected figure in the community. When Cohen gets word of this crime, he takes Momo him to her to say how sorry he is. The ageing Madame Rosa recognises as the one who stole from her and is not at all interested in helping Momo. Cohen is getting older and feels he can’t look after the troublesome Momo, yet senses that Madame Rosa might have something more to offer. Knowing that Madame Rosa makes money as an unofficial carer to the children of streetwalkers, Cohen persuades her to take care of for a decent amount of money. From the start, the two do not get along. Momo is a tough kid with a chip on his shoulder and a feeling of loss that he expresses with violence and dealing drugs to people nearby, while Madame Rosa is kind but firm, yet haunted by a past that includes her imprisonment in Auschwitz because of her being a Jew. It looks like things won’t be going well for the mismatched duo as they are both incredibly stubborn in their own ways. Over time and little by little, a bond develops between and they seem to bring out the best in the other while attempting to overcome their adverse pasts and unknown futures.
Edoardo Ponti, Sophia’s son, beautifully directs this gently touching tale of two people of different backgrounds and forming an unlikely bond across the. Ponti knows how to strike the right tones of feeling to the piece and elevates the rather simple material into something a step up from the usual wrought dramas, his chief asset being the development of the two central characters of Momo and Madame Rosa. The Life Ahead does strike many familiar notes that you’d expect but it should detract from the emotional heft of the story that make it worth treasuring. I feel the movie could have ran a little longer for some more details, but the relationship between is nicely explored enough to compensate for that. Italy is captured beautifully through the cinematography of Angus Hudson, while most of the often sparse music score is nicely heard and though sometimes intrusive, it does the job well enough . There is a heartfelt song, given stunning voice and resonance by Laura Pausini and with lyrics by Diane Warren by the name of ‘Io sì’. It is quite a beauty song that rounds off The Life Ahead gorgeously and deeply.
Sophia Loren is the big standout and takeaway from The Life Ahead. The biggest piece of praise I can give to the wonderfully talented Loren is that the film wouldn’t be the same without her. She is ideally cast and embodies so many shifting feelings in a way only she can with her innate magnetism. She’s spiky yet hauntingly vulnerable, funny yet morose, sparky yet slowly succumbing to the ravages of old age. You warm to her so much and it’s a treat to see all of these emotions displayed, often with only a simple look that speaks volumes from those dazzling eyes. It’s fantastic to see her back on screen and on sensational form with this vivid portrayal of maternal love and haunted memories. Newcomer Ibrahima Gueye plays beautifully off the classic Loren with a feeling of naturalism and authenticity to his work. It hardly seems like he’s acting at all, that’s how convincing Gueye is as the scrappy kid discovering that happiness can occur in what he originally saw was a life of sadness. And considering he’s starring opposite an icon of world cinema, he shows no nerves whatsoever and rises to the occasion. They are commendably supported by the gravitas of the excellent Renato Carpentieri as the doctor who sets things in motion, the fantastic Abril Zamora as a loyal trans woman who is best friends with Rosa and Babak Karimi as a carpenter/shop owner who takes Momo under his wings at work. But above all, The Life Ahead is a showcase for the undimmed power of Sophia Loren and a great introduction to Ibrahima Gueye.
A touching film of emotion and heart directed with grace and elegance by Edoardo Ponti, The Life Ahead won’t win any awards for originality but should definitely be in contention for plaudits for acting, partially from the iconic and still amazing Sophia Loren.