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New Releases for Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Shape of Water

Genre: Fantasy

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Run time: 123 minutes

Rating: R

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: Good for Guillermo del Toro, he finally has received the recognition he deserves, and with two Oscars to boot. Simply put, The Shape of Water is a beautifully realized fantasy, a 1950’s monster movie cloaked as a spy thriller with a fully-formed love story anchoring its core.

This is the kind of movie that wears its love of movies openly, and unabashedly, on its gilled sleeve. It’s also the most personal story del Toro has created since Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006.

As the film opens, we meet Elisa (Sally Hawkins, whose eyes alone deserved to received Oscar gold), a mute cleaning woman who works at a shadowy government facility. Elisa and her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer, who should never complain about being typecast because she gets the best, meatiest roles) share a connection that transcends spoken words.

One day, the facility is interrupted by the arrival of a square-jawed government spook named Strickland (Michael Shannon, doing his best Michael Shannon glower) and a curious human-sized container filled with water and a thrashing creature. Elisa and Zelda are soon called to clean up a bloody mess when another government operative gets too close to the creature (Doug Jones, doing a great job distinguishing this amphibious oddity from his iconic Abe Sapien in Hellboy). Elisa and the creature share a brief moment, but that’s all she needs to feel an otherworldly connection.

Soon, she’s sneaking into the top-secret lab to leave fruit for the creature, now contained in a deep liquid pool. Though mute, they still communicate, mostly with glances and facial expressions.

The creature’s arrival awakens something in Elisa that del Toro only hints at initially, showing an odd series of scars on her throat. But it’s clear that they will not be kept apart.

The Shape of Water immerses viewers in a vibrant, green-hued world that feels watery even when it isn’t. The film’s score, as well as the intricately-detailed sets (a del Toro hallmark) transport you back in time and carry you along for the adventure.

In one truly magical sequence, Elisa, who lives above a movie theater, ends up as a viewer herself with the creature before launching into a wonderful bit of ballroom dance.

The Shape of Water is virtually unclassifiable in today’s cinema, and unmistakably del Toro through-and-through. If it feels like the culmination of a career built on the creation of characters both whimsical and terrifying, who engage in a myriad of fantastic exploits only to discover a greater truth about themselves or the world they inhabit.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot Chicks – Not really.

Nudity – No. Gore – No.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – Michael Shannon, boo hiss.

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

I, Tonya (Universal, 119 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): The Academy absolutely nailed it when they bestowed Oscar gold on Allison Janney for her blistering portrayal of LaVona Golden, the chain-smoking, caustic coach/mother (yes, in that order) of Tonya Harding. But if not for Frances McDormand, this scathingly funny, wholly subversive docu-drama would have raised two gold medals because Margot Robbie is absolutely deserving, and spellbinding, in the title role. Less of a 20/20 news-hour special report than a deconstructed fairy tale where the would-be princess withers on the vine waiting for her coronation, I, Tonya tells a story that most Americans already know in a way that adds so many layers to this controversial moment in Olympics history. Its masterstroke? Barely showing Nancy Kerrigan at all. Using flashbacks, dual-and-triple-narratives and the razor-sharp dialogue that punctuates its fantastic script, I, Tonya actually makes you feel sympathy for Harding, the scrappy blue-collar trailer-park Olympian who was given the gift of fearless flight anytime she skated onto the ice. If not for her boneheaded taste in men, and Golden’s consistent badgering of her daughter to sacrifice every inch of her soul to win at all costs, Harding just might have bested Kerrigan where it counted, on the ice. As it was, her career became the mother of all cautionary tales and her character was picked apart by a Greek chorus of, well, everyone, until finally she simply gave up and gave in to any public appearance spectacle just to pay her bills and survive.

Justice League (Warner Bros., 120 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Five films in, and the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) still can’t figure out how to make a decent live-action comic-book movie.

Since 2013’s Man of Steel, through 2016’s woeful Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and underwhelming Suicide Squad, and even 2017’s critically-lauded Wonder Woman, the rival comic book/fledgling movie competitor to Marvel Comics/Studios has churned out a bunch of hackneyed exercises in rudimentary filmmaking that failed to produce a single credits-to-credits winner.

Yes, I hear you, oh mighty supporters of Diana Prince, but here’s the truth: Wonder Woman was a pivotal benchmark for equality, and a joyous celebration for women ‘round the globe, but as a slice of entertaining comic book pulp, it fell flat after the first 30 minutes and devolved into a bloated morass of over-indulgent CGI during its incomprehensible third act.

Justice League should have been better, but nothing works. The eleventh-hour humor inserted by Joss Whedon feels out of place and shoe-horned into the shadowy seriousness of the DCEU’s template. Three of the six heroes (Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash) have little to do except react to each new plot twist, and one (Aquaman) spends more of his time flying through the sky than swimming in the ocean.

Skip the live-action and rent LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: The Flash instead. If there’s one area where DC actually has the upper-hand over Marvel, it’s the studio’s direct-to-disc animated films and properties.

Also Available:

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season One

LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: The Flash

The Soultangler

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