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Reviews for December 1st, 2017

Love Beats Rhymes

Directed by Nicole Jefferson Asher


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Lionsgate Premiere.
Opens at select theaters.

The Shape of Water

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

      Sally Hawkins gives a bravura performance as Elisa, a lonely mute who works as a janitor at a top secret government laboratory. Her closest person that she could call a friend is her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins). Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) had found a a mysterious amphibious creature (Doug Jones) in the Amazon and tortures it in lab. He hopes to have it killed for research; Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a scientist, prefers to keep it alive. When Elisa develops a friendship with the creature that blossoms into a romance, she persuades her coworker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), to help her to free it from captivity.

      To lump The Shape of Water into one particular genre wouldn't be fair because, like most great films, it's many things all at once. It's part sci-fi, romance, suspense thriller, horror, action, drama, and, briefly, it even veers into musical territory. That combination could've easily resulted in an uneven, clunky, chaotic mess if it weren't for the intelligent and organic screenplay by writer/director Guillermo Del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor. Del Toro and Taylor ground the film in so much humanism, a truly special effect, that you can feel the palpable passion and chemistry between Elisa and the creature while feeling empathy for both of them. Their romance is just as enchanting as that of Beauty and the Beast. Bravo to the filmmakers for bravely not shying away from showing their sex scene. That scene feels tender without becoming creepy or unintentionally funny.

      Even the supporting characters in the film feel lived-in Colonel Strickland may seem like a villain, but he's given a backstory that makes him more of a victim of a dysfunctional, abusive family which explains why he's so sadistic and domineering. Giles goes through his own struggles as well: he's a closeted homosexual and, like Elisa, is lonely. Every little detail in the film helps to enrich the story: even the key lime pie turns out to be something significant to the story. The same goes for eggs which Elisa feeds the creature while gaining his trust. The filmmakers clearly understand that the more specific a story is, the more universal it becomes.

      The Shape of Water recalls classics like E.T., King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, and Creature from the Black Lagoon, but it finds its own identity without making you feel like it's derivative. After all, it's not important where ideas are taken from, but rather where they're taken to. Fortunately, the film never runs out of momentum, imagination nor its humanism. It also has a strong beginning, middle and end without any scenes that drag or that last too long. Although it's visually stylish like all of Del Toro's films, it also has plenty of substance beneath the surface. In other words, like all truly great films, The Shape of Water has a perfect blend of Truth and Spectacle thereby making it one of the best films of the year. The running time of 2 hours flies by like 90 minutes.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Opens at AMC/Loews 68th and Angelika Film Center.

The Tribes of Palos Verdes

Directed by Karen Croner


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at IFC Center.
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