Review: The Shape of Water

Yesterday was Oscar Nominations Day and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water garnered 13 nominations, more than any other film this year.

Of the nine Best Picture nominees, Alli and I had only seen three up to this point so we took the opportunity last night to trek to our local AMC and check out this movie.

I’m not sure what I expected as my experience with del Toro is fairly limited. I saw the first Pacific Rim, but I’ve never seen Pan’s Labyrinth or any of his other movies. The opening scene immediately takes you into Elisa Esposito’s life. As we learn about her, we are introduced to her work, where we meet the rest of the story.

A more well-done version of Splash

I’m hesitant to describe much about the story. I went in with very little expectation or knowledge of the story outside of the trailer. However, after the fact, Alli very accurately described the movie as “a more well-done version of Splash.”

This is exceedingly accurate.

The cinematography and set design of this movie are stunning and Sally Hawkins is fantastic as the mute Elisa. Richard Jenkins puts in another amazing performance as Elisa’s artist neighbor. Michael Shannon provides just enough villainy to push the story along and Octavia Spencer plays, well…Octavia Spencer. I don’t mean to discount her performance…it’s fine. But is it Oscar-worthy? Not really.

Should you see this movie?

It really depends. Are you someone that wants to see all the Best Picture Oscar-nominated movies? Well then, yeah. See it. Are you creeped out by someone falling in love with a fish-man? Maybe don’t see this one, then.

Do you like Guillermo del Toro’s more subtle work? This movie isn’t over the top in its effects or monsters. In fact, I’d argue that this “monster” shows more humanity than some of the human counterparts at times.

It’s a unique take on a love story and I really enjoyed it a lot.

Michael Jackson’s This is It

There are plenty of reasons not to see Michael Jackson’s This Is It.

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I went in with an open mind. Despite his questionable legal history and lifestyle choices, you cannot deny his musical genius and I was interested in seeing the behind-the-scenes look as he prepared for what would be his swan song, a 50-night engagement at the O2 in London, completely sold out.

My dad was lucky enough to see Michael Jackson in Wembley Stadium during the Bad tour. I remember him bringing back the official program, glossy in red and black and white with Jackson in black leather and looking as tough as he could look with that crazy perm.

When I was eight years old, my brother and our close friends Gabe and Shannan put on a breakdancing show with The Jacksons Victory album as our soundtrack. Ridiculous, I know. But we were kids.

The footage that makes up This Is It was intended for Michael’s personal use only; with his passing, it’s the last glimpse we get of a brilliant performer, a quintessential entertainer and a musical talent we are unlikely to see again in our lifetime. We see him rehearsing the iconic songs he became known for over a career that spanned four decades.

Personally, I was always a fan of Michael’s music, but not like with other artists. Michael’s music was just always there, a part of the thread of our culture, and just about everything he did was totally brilliant.

Watching this 50-year-old man sing and dance and prepare to perform a 50-night engagement was fascinating. He was lucid and involved and inspiring to those surrounding him — dancers, backup singers, band, crew. In fact, watching the reactions of those around him as he rehearsed was one of my favorite parts of the movie. Hearing the dancers explain that they had no idea where their careers could go. This was the pinnacle for them. How could it get better?

The thing that really bummed me out was that this tour never happened. It looked EPIC in rehearsals. They also showed many of the extras filmed just for the concert — a new 3-D intro to “Thriller”, an awesome multiplying green screen effect for “They Don’t Really Care About Us” and others. But I left the theater feeling a bit unsatisfied if only that I couldn’t see the finished product. Michael Jackson was a rare combination of accomplished musician and enthralling entertainer.

While this is a nice documentary and great insight into what it was like to collaborate with such a genius, it really just left me wanting more.

The Goods

Jake and I went to see The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard last night at a screening thanks to Scene-Stealers. (Sidebar: if you are not following the Scene-Stealers feed, you are missing out.) You would be hard pressed to keep me away from a movie with Jeremy Piven as the star — I’ve loved The Pivs from way back in the day when he had a significantly bigger forehead.

In fact, his performance in this totally average comedy from Adam McKay and Will Ferrell was extremely reminiscent of his portrayal of James “Droz” Andrews in PCU, the completely underrated Animal House of the ’90s. I’d say that his character Don “The Goods” Ready is closer to Droz than it is to his more popular Ari Gold (of HBO’s Entourage, as if you didn’t know).

Piven carries this movie on his back (as he should, considering he’s the star) with little help from Ferrell/McKay/Apatow stalwarts like David Koechner and Ken Jeong. The movie itself, unfortunately, relies heavily on the mostly unfunny Ving Rhames and a lot of homoerotic jokes from James Brolin. There are some good parts with Kathryn Hahn and Rob Riggle, but they are better left unmentioned. It’s nice to see Hahn with a little bit bigger role. She’s always playing someone’s funny/quirky/sad friend/sister in romantic comedies and I’m glad to see her stretch her legs a little.

I laughed several times during the movie, but I can’t say that there were a lot of standout scenes (or even lines) for me. Just some random silliness about trashy used car mercenaries. When the credits rolled and I looked down at my watch, I realized that the movie came in at almost exactly 90 minutes, which is no small feat, considering that directors these days feel obligated to put at least 120 minutes up on the screen. Even with its short length, there were times where I thought to myself, I hope this gets moving a little quicker. This is particularly true for the obligatory Will-Ferrell-completely-ridiculous-sidebar that nearly ruined the movie for me because it didn’t fit into the story (along the lines of the animated Pleasuretown tangent in Anchorman).

I enjoyed it enough, but I can’t enthusiastically recommend it. If you’re a massive Jeremy Piven fan like me, I’d recommend it without question. But there are only so many of us out there.

(500) Days of Summer

Alli and I caught our second screening of the week tonight — Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the independent romantic comedy (of sorts): (500) Days of Summer.

It’s an interesting movie, a little bit different take on the traditional romantic comedy. It opens up with a very comical letter from the writer, but I won’t spoil that. I’ll just say: don’t be late.

Zooey Deschanel is becoming somewhat of an indie flick darling and she’s really the star of the movie; she is, after all, Summer. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt…well, he’s come a long way since playing the annoying little kid on 3rd Rock from the Sun. He’s really grown into a good actor.

The chemistry between her and Gordon-Levitt is really charming, even if it’s doomed from the start. Or is it? That’s kind of the great thing about the movie. You root for them all along, even if you aren’t sure why or if they’re even right for each other. Plus, the soundtrack is really good. I don’t want to say anything more about it…I want people to discover it for themselves.

We both really enjoyed the movie. I probably liked Away We Go a little better, but it was definitely better than Tuesday’s movie.

Funny People

Judd Apatow is pretty sneaky.

The director of Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin (and producer of lots of other movies with Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill) makes movies with a message. And then he covers up that message with dirty jokes and men behaving badly.

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Last night, Alli and I got the chance to see his latest movie, Funny People, Apatow’s latest movie along those same lines, starring Adam Sandler and Judd’s regulars, Seth Rogen and [Mrs. Apatow] Leslie Mann.

Early on, the movie switches between following the glamorous life of Sandler’s George Simmons — a Hollywood funnyman who has enjoyed huge success from such stellar movie turns as a man/baby in Re-Do and a Merman in…um…Merman — and Rogen’s typical poor schlub Ira Wright, a struggling stand-up who lives with a terrible sitcom star (Jason Schwartzmann) and his funnier, more successful stand-up friend (Jonah Hill).

Simmons finds out he has a rare blood disease and decides to get back into stand-up where he got his start. There he crosses paths with Wright and he hires him to write some jokes for him. They strike up a friendship. And so it goes.

I have this theory that Judd Apatow is on a mission to turn all the fat, lazy schmucks of the world into decent human beings by luring them to his movies with the promise of lewd jokes and relatable characters and then hitting them in the face with [*GASP!*] a life lesson. The 40-year Old Virgin was about being OK with yourself. Knocked Up was about taking control of your life. And Funny People is about living life without regrets. It’s a thin line that Apatow walks between going completely over the line and too sentimental, but I think that’s the point because he might lose that whole generation of unaffected slackers if he didn’t push the limits of taste a little. OK, a lot.

Funny People is pretty ambitious. It deals with death, interpersonal relationships between friends, marriage, and happiness. But it’s also a love letter to stand-up comics, this group of tortured souls who have been so messed up in their lives that they can do nothing but try to make people laugh to try and get them to love them. To see the cameos of stand-up comics throughout is interesting — you realize that the community of comics is pretty tight. And they’ve all got issues.

Adam Sandler is really what makes this movie work though. He’s a pretty horrible guy who is completely believable, probably because he can relate to his George Simmons character so much. (Sidenote: the movie has sprinkles of Sandler and Apatow’s actual home movies from their early stand-up days, which is pretty genius.) You get a sense of the loneliness that Simmons feels and you almost feel bad for him, despite his reprehensible behavior.

In the end, I thought Funny People was a bit long (coming in at about 2 ½ hours). It needed to be tightened up and certainly could have lost the Rogen love interest storyline. It’s probably the least interesting subplot of the movie, but I’m fairly certain it stayed in the film because a studio exec wanted another female in the flick. It’s not a particularly bad subplot, it’s just unnecessary and could have been cut to keep the movie a little shorter.

This is not a movie I would recommend going to with your in-laws or youth group. The language is definitely Apatow-esque (it is about stand-up comics after all), but if you don’t mind it, I’d definitely recommend it. Especially if you’re on of those fat, lazy guys that Apatow’s trying to make into better men.