The Shape of Water (2017): Del Toro’s Return to Form (Review)

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Guillermo del Toro returns to form with The Shape of Water. This 2017 offering, co-written by del Toro with Vanessa Taylor, stars Sally Hawkins as the mute girl who befriends the creature. Michael Shannon is the villain, Richard Jenkins; the reluctant accomplice and Octavia Spencer the plucky sidekick. Doug Jones plays the South American amphibious creature/god.

The theme of this film is water, naturally, as both the environment for the underwater dweller worshipped by the locals as some sort of god and as the background for most of the events of the film. The creature bears more than a little resemblance to “monster” in  The Creature of the Black Lagoon but unlike good old Roscoe Browning’s creature, this one has no zipper running up its back.

Jones’ creature looks real and, even more importantly, plausible. Hawkins is the isolated cleaning woman trapped in a 1960’s world of racism, class structure and a world run by men for men. Women are second class citizens and one who has a speech impediment is on the very bottom of the totem pole.

Del Toro gives us a heroine that we fall immediately in love with. A woman whose existence is full of routine but who has the soul of a dancer, a singer and a romantic.  Although part of her daily preparations for work include industriously masturbating in a tub of water, deep down, Elisa Esposito has enough imagination to fill in many blanks in her life.

Jenkins is Giles, her next door neighbor. He is a closeted gay, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal, an artist and he is desperately trying to make ends meet and fall in love. Spencer is Zelda, the co-worker who looks out for her mute friend, and translates when required.

Michael Shannon is Strickland; the man who captured the creature and transported it to the scientific facility where it will be studied. Strickland is also, somewhat ironically, a very cold fish. He is humorless, vicious and utterly, it seems, without feeling.

Del Toro’s film asks what would have happened if the creature of the Black Lagoon had been captured at a time when the Russian’s were winning the space race and the Cold War was running full steam ahead. (Michael Stuhlbarg plays a crucial part as a scientist who is not all he seems.)

With The Shape if Water del Toro returns to his roots. The film has all the dark and terrible beauty of Pan’s Labyrinth and the whimsy of The Devil’s Backbone. We fall for the story and all its characters hook, line and sinker. The creature is not terrifying at all, we feel as much empathy as curiosity and Elisa’a inexplicable yearning and interest in the thing is not mystifying at all.

Doug Jones has given us a performance full of nuances, emotions and a certain depth that has never been seen before in a “creature feature.”

The film is classed as an adventure, fantasy, drama and it is indeed all three. It can also be seen as a romance as well as a heart pounding thriller. There are scenes that keep the viewer on the edge of their seat;  breath held as they silently urge the heroes on and others that fill the heart with warmth.

The Shape if Water has sets that are reminiscent of the underwater city in Bioshock and water does feature in practically every scene. Del Toro makes old films an important part of the story and the cast is perfect. Shannon gives us a man we love to hate and when the climax of the film arrives we are satisfied with his fate.

If there is any complaint at all about this marvelous feature it would be that the scars on Elisa’s neck are obvious from the first time we see them and we know that they will provide some sort of plot twist.

This is a full 5 star film that delivers across the board. The story, sets, costumes and performances all come together in a dark bit of art that touches the viewer’s heart. Catch this one when it comes out in the cinema (December 8) and get caught up in Guillermo del Toro’s return to form.

Falling Skies: Reborn Series Finale (Review)

Tom Mason, Hal and Weaver planning strategy, guest star Jeff Fahey watches.

Falling Skies finishes their five season run with Reborn, the series finale that brings everything to a head, including allowing Pope a finish somewhat more befitting his status as resident madman. Last week saw the 2nd Mass trapped  by a wave of hornets attacking the camp before they could make the move to Washington DC. This week the first of a few new character’s bought the Espheni farm when Marty gets taken down by a hornet.

In many ways this series finale felt a little “by the numbers.” Although whoever thought to give the excellent Jeff Fahey a cameo should be congratulated. (It may well be that Fahey is a fan, in either case, his being in the final show was a great touch.) It may well be down to sour grapes, this was a popular series that could have gone on that little bit longer, but this did feel rushed.

Certainly some things worked pretty well. The new “big bad;” the Espheni queen, was a nice touch. Even more impressive was using science fiction  actress Tricia Helfer (well known from TV’s  Battlestar Galactica, Tron and Ascension) to voice the creature.  Lt. Wolf was another new character to bite the big one in the slow move to Lincoln’s foot (The foot of the giant).

Perhaps the only real complaints had to do with the lighting and setting of the final move to the statue, the appearance of the queen and the “almost” death of Anne. It should also be mentioned that a lot was forgiven when a battered and bleeding Pope shows back up. His offering the pistol to Tom Mason was a great moment, but not as much as his own admission that his mad quest to make his adversary suffer did nothing to help his grief.

*Sidenote* His wheezing finish was sad, poetic and much better than being smashed beneath the rubble back at the 2nd Mass camp. Kudos for the show’s makers for bringing John Pope, aka Colin Cunningham back for one last moment.

Back to the camp, after poor Marty dies, this was a particularly touching moment with a choked up Colonel Weaver telling the dead man he will remember him, a group of bikers headed up by Jeff Fahey’s character Enos Ellis head into the camp and are to become Mason’s back up.

Annoyingly, after introductions are made, we have to go through the same old drill of questioning motives and the presence of Cochise. This is cut short after Anne brings out the Dorniya’s magic bullet and things move forward. Not before allowing Anthony his chance at redemption.

The game plan has to be altered after Mason and his team learn of a giant wall around DC that has to be breached via underground tunnels. As the two groups move through the old political tunnels they come across a slew of Overlord eggs. Cochise urges caution as the baby Overlords are more violent than the fully grown ones.

*Sidenote* The complaints: The trip through the tunnels really does feel like a cheat here. Too dark and too minimal to the extreme in terms of set dressing. The eggs are meant to be the focal point here and being the only source of light in the scenes they are. Much more than the actors who are difficult to make out in the dingy surroundings. With all the build up on the danger that the eggs pose, when one is finally “awakened” it proves to be anticlimactic. The death of Anne felt forced and contrived and I really felt that the queen was almost comical in appearance.

As they move closer to the queen, there are casualties. Anne is wounded, literally after telling Tom that she is pregnant. One comic moment; Hal asks Maggie to marry him, twice. Her first response being one of disbelief forces him to ask again.

Tom Mason, after the explosion that kills Lt. Wolf, and the baby Overlord, goes to meet the queen. Cue an exposition scene using stick figure paintings to show that this queen has been punishing the denizens of earth for the death of her “daughter.”

The show has mentioned Peru and Inca before and presumably this earlier queen died after the locals rose up and attacked once the glyphs were constructed. After some white knuckle tension, Mason feeds the magic bullet, via his bloodstream, to the queen. She dies and so does every Espheni on earth.

Anne dies.

Tom remembers the Dorniya reviving him after the moon attack and he takes her body to the water begging them to help him.  After they take Anne away, John Pope shows up. His body is broken and bloody. Pope offers Tom a chance to kill him after wheezingly explaining that he was wrong about everything. John dies, not at Mason’s hand, but of his wounds.

The voice over, that began at the start of the episode (against the recording of the Star Spangled Banner) begins again. It is Matt. He is writing down thoughts and he has to stop for a ceremony where Tom Mason will speak to the survivors of the world.

By the time the end credits roll, we see Anne has been revived by the Dorniya, Anthony has been completely redeemed, Maggie and Hal are together and  the Lincoln Memorial has been repaired. As Tom Mason gives his speech, the sound goes out and into space.

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Tom and Matt Mason “pre-speech.”

Falling Skies has had a long successful run. Noah Wyle and Will Patton as Tom Mason and Colonel Weaver will be missed, as will the rest of the cast, including Doug Jones as Cochise. TNT produced some solidly entertaining science fiction that entertained thoroughly for five whole seasons. Now it is so long to the Mason clan and all those who fought along side them for humanities sake. You will all be missed.

Falling Skies: Reunion (Review)

Tom Mason in Falling Skies: Reunion
The title of this week’s Falling Skies could very well have been “Oops.” There are a number of moments that word could have been used in Reunion. The episode could also have been titled “Anti-Climatic” as in the whole underwhelming return of Pope. With the end sequence of last week’s episode, revealing a excited John Pope learning that Tom Mason was still alive, this episode could have been a real killer.

The total number of “oops” moments are many. The “falling for the Pope deception” which allows the bald-headed nutcase into the 2nd Mass camp is one. The “taking back the fake Espheni Lexi” is another. Granted, Matt really did not have too much choice as the return of Lexi was an awful lot like the return of Tom Mason…without the water.

Perhaps the biggest oops in the whole episode has to do with that Espheni transmitter. The one that Weaver orders destroyed, “in case it has a homing beacon in it,” says Tom… At the end of the episode, just as the 2nd Mass are ready to mount up and head out, an endless swarm of hornets, or flying skitters (shudder) are heading in to overrun the camp.

Oops.

Of course there are two ways that the series can go with this storyline. (Perhaps more than two but only a couple make any real sense.) Either Espheni Lexi really was sending information back to the rest of “her race.” Or…The transmitter was sending out a signal one of two ways; whenever Ben accessed the Overlords messages, or it was working as a beacon from the first day.

There was one amusing moment. Ben telling Anne that the geoglyphs in South America were really made by aliens.

The return of Pope was short-lived and very anticlimactic. After such a long buildup and the tease at the end of the last episode, it looked like John Pope was going to pop up like a malefic John-in-the-box and be a real spanner in the works. Instead we are treated to what amounted to a suicide mission by Pope, who must have known this was the case, and a very short fire-fight.

*Sidenote*On the whole Pope “fire-fight:” Why on earth would he and his minions take cover behind a bunch of red barrels? Granted, Pope has lost all his happy-thoughts since the death of Sarah and his new look but seriously? Taking cover in a place with no back door and a front door surrounded by 2nd Mass troops with guns and superior numbers was not the move of a mad-man but a simpleton. Pope may have been desperate since his “surprise” attack when they got in the gate did not result in the death of Tom Mason…but in all honesty, this whole thing felt tacked on. One can imagine the writers looking at the cast of characters and realizing that they needed to close the door on this conflict. Thumb’s down guys, thumb’s down.

Reunion featured one more Dorniya vision for Tom. (This one was quite unsettling actually, Ben in two places worked very well.) The “Lexi” is back storyline was good. Regardless of Tom Mason’s assertion that he never really believed that this Alexis (Scarlett Byrne) was not real, Noah Wylie was very good at showing how much Mason wanted it to be her.

Standout Moment: That split second when Tom is on the shore and the Dorniya can be seen as it really is and not as Rebecca. Pretty impressive and it felt…right. Kudos on this one.

Standout Moment Two: Marty “saving the day” by being a biochemist who fine tunes the Dorniya secret weapon against the Espheni Queen. It was nice to see the man leave his permanent state of “fawn.”

Will Patton’s line as Weaver about Pope gets the “line of the episode” award. When Pope gets into the camp and begins his short-lived attack on Mason, Weaver says, “Like a bad penny.” Weaver also gets the second “line of the episode” with his “We’re not the only one’s looking for the head of the snake.”

*Sidenote* Does anyone else expect John Pope to suddenly appear later? It would make no real sense and it would make his Kurtz impression more like a Michael Myers one, but…after that disappointingly quick exit, it does feel like he may do a “Jason.” Just a thought.

Frustrating Moment:Just when it seemed that this season used up its quota of frustration with the Captain Katie Marshall storyline, the fact that no-one noticed that bandage and her inability to not touch it when stressed, we have the “foot of the giant.” The climatic fight is due to take place in Washington D.C. Of course it’s the Lincoln Memorial…yet it took ages for anyone to work it out. (Okay, to be fair Ben was pretty messed up from the transmitter “meld,” but…Come on!)

The ending of this one leaves little doubt that Tom Mason will be placed in the position of suicide mission to deliver that new Dorniya secret weapon to the queen. Looking into the television crystal ball, it makes sense that the 2nd Mass, and the rest of the militias will be penned down by this all out attack by the Espheni.

After all, the Dorniya did say that without Tom the war would be lost. This sort of makes it seem like he will need to be sacrificed for this war to be won by the humans…and the Volm. (This scenario does two things, it allows Tom Mason to become even more of a hero and it means that the broadcast he made prior to the pull out to D.C. gave the Espheni the locations of all the other militia units.)

*Sidenote* This theory could be wrong, but it does feel like “kamikaze” time here. It may be another member of the Mason family, but the title of the next episode, the finale, is “Reborn.” Is this a clue? What do you think? Suggestions or ideas can be left below in the comment section.

Falling Skies airs Sundays on TNT and the season finale is August 30. Will Tom make it out alive? Tune in to see how this one ends.

Falling Skies: Pope Breaks Bad (recap and review)

John Pope and Tom Mason Falling Skies
In last week’s episode of Falling Skies Sara died a horrific death when Tom Mason opted to “swing by” to help her after the main mission. John Pope was beside himself with grief and this week in Pope Breaks Bad sadness has been replaced by rage and recrimination. John does not have to wait long to find an ally in his anti-Tom Mason stance, PTSD sufferer Anthony, who was made to stand down and turn in his weapons last week, readily joins the “we hate Mason” campaign.

At the beginning of the episode John is leaning over a shrine that he has erected. It is setting at the spot where Sara died and the monument has her name scratched on the base. Tom shows up and stands back from the area. He tells Pope that he could have had help setting up the statue and that others wanted to say goodbye to Sara. Mason says a number of things meant to comfort John who does not reply. He looks away from Mason with a look of rage and loathing on his face.

Back at camp John angrily berates Mason for his decision to leave Sara until after the mission. He breaks a shovel in half and throws the pieces in a burning barrel. “Say goodbye to this,” he says and then states that Sara meant no more to Tom than the broken tool.

Cochise, reveals to Mason, Weaver and the rest that his “life span has concluded.” The Volm has called his father to share a “silence,” which is their custom. Anne Glass is horrified, as is Weaver. They find out that his version of a kidney, he has only one, is giving out and Anne explains about organ transplants in an effort to save the alien.

Tom asks Ryan to join his group who head to a police station to recon for gasoline and weapons. Weaver has explained that the 2nd Mass will not go very far without extra fuel or vehicles, hence the trip. The youngster grabs his weapon and they all head out.

John begins working to recruit a faction of the militia to join his “Hate Mason” crusade. Anthony complains to John about having his weapon taken away and Pope gives him a pistol. As John continues to connect with others who feel that Tom Mason has killed too many people in his role as leader, the subplot of the Volm and his dilemma continues.

Cochise meets with his father for their shared silence and he tells him of the transplant operation suggested by Glass. After an initial argument, the general agrees to the procedure and insists that Anne do it as the Volm do not have doctors.

Mason, Weaver, Matt and Dingaan Botha arrive at the police station and find a group of vehicles that appear to be in operating order. Matt finds radios and cans of mace. Weaver finds an immaculate muscle car and is overjoyed. They also find a short wave radio and make contact with an English woman outside Bolivia, “It’s the Queen,” says Botha. Ryan discovers the same flesh eating bugs that killed Sara and the lad is consumed in seconds.

Tom is chased by the flying insects and just as it looks like he will be joining Sara and Ryan, he remembers that they have human eyes. He sprays the mace disabling the creatures and escapes.

Anne performs the surgery and Cochise reacts well to the transplant, his father is not so fortunate and the general dies after donating one of his “kidneys.” She heads out to get a car battery from a vehicle to restart the general’s heart and she choses Weaver’s muscle car battery. The men have returned from their weapons and petrol run.

As she collects jumper cables, and Weaver calls for wrenches to remove the battery, Pope very loudly questions Tom about why Ryan is not there. He then begins a tirade against Mason for killing yet another member of the 2nd Mass. Anne removes the battery and heads back to revive Cochise’s father. Pope continues his attack on Mason and then zeroes in on Tom’s deceased daughter Lexi. Mason finally confronts the man. Cocking his pistol, he shoves the weapon in John’s hand, with the barrel placed on his own forehead and tells the Pope to shoot him.

He refuses and walks away. Tom banishes John from the 2nd Mass and tells him not to return, he is no longer part of the battle or the war. Pope leaves but the word is that this is far from over.

The general cannot be revived and Anne offers to undergo the “silence” that Cochise never had with his father. He agrees and as the two undertake the ceremony, Cochise sees the general and Anne sees Lexi, each interact with their “vision.” This takes place in complete silence and is an emotional experience for both Glass and Cochise. Once it ends, Anne whispers, “I’ll be damned.” She and the Volm then talk of grief and he states that he feels relived of a burden he did not know he carried.

Anthony approaches Anne and asks to speak privately with her. He leads her into a room where Pope is waiting. He has shaved off his long hair and it is clear he intends to kill her to punish Tom. Glass talks him out of it and she pushes her way past a disappointed Anthony to warn Mason that Pope has become dangerous.

Mason has another vision, Rebecca telling him that things are coming to a head with the alien threat and Tom angrily asks to speak to the Dorniya directly. He says he does not need his dead wife to talk to them any longer. As he struggles to learn what they want, Rebecca asks where Hal is. This warns Tom that his son has been taken by Pope.

Mason goes to save his son and Weaver tells him to be careful. The captain tells him that the war has changed people, Tom says he knows that Pope has changed. “I was talking about you,” says Weaver. John Pope takes the bag off of Hal’s head and tells Mason’s son that he will not kill him. Instead, he says, Mason will die when he comes to rescue his son.

All the actors this week rocked it in terms of performance. Colin Cunningham was brilliant in his tortured rage and overflowing pathos, not to mention the overwhelming hatred his character reveals for Tom Mason. Moon Bloodgood, as Anne worked equally well in her part which had a lovely touch of comedy. Noah Wyle, as usual, trudges that fine line between angst and single-minded devotion in defeating the enemy at any cost.

Kudos to Doug Jones as Cochise. In his scenes this week, he managed to provoke many emotions. His scenes with the general ran from rebellious young son to tortured adult. The entire subplot of his potential demise was handled very well and the whole thing was incredibly touching.

Falling Skies airs Sundays on TNT and the series is marching toward that final battle. This final season is simply unmissable.

Falling Skies Final Season: An Impressive Run (review)

Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) in Falling Skies
Watching the final season of Falling Skies, number five to be exact, it is plain to see; the show has had an impressive run and watching the first two episodes of the series at its end, the reason for its success is clear. On top of the Steven Spielberg beginnings the verse populated by Noah Wyle, Will Patton and more lately Mira Sorvino and professional chameleon Doug Jones along with talented guest stars like Terry O’Quinn, has a feel of reality. The dirt looks earthy, clinging and muddy. The guns run out of ammo just as they would in real life and do not have magazines with never-ending rounds in each one.

In Episode 5:1 three teams head out to kill the invaders and in at least one firefight, the one with Tom Mason (Wyle) and his crew, as they shoot their weapons, the rounds run out all too soon, just as they do in reality. Later on, in the high school Skitter-shoot in the gymnasium, the weapons, a combination of man-made and alien, the magazines do not run out quite so quickly, but that is a well known device used by film and television to bolster the effect of the shootout and is forgivable.

Episode 5:2 offered up a scenario where constant Skitter attacks lay Mason, Weaver and the rest of the survivors under siege. Titled Hunger Pains the segment focusses on the lack of food and just how desperate people are to eat. One camp defender tries the Skitter leg that is being roasted in the hopes that the alien flesh is edible.

Cue some excellent FX where it looks like the diner who tries a piece of the limb has his lower jaw and mouth disintegrate in a mass of bloody tissue. After finding some cans of pineapple in the wreckage of a building, that turns out to be local produce, a small team go out to retrieve more in the hopes of saving the starving camp members.

In the same episode there is the splendid irony of the search team finding junk food that may just save the camp from starving. The loading of the food is interrupted by someone who has prior claim on the Ding Dongs, beef jerky and chips that the group have found and the team are locked in and forced to lay down their weapons.

A large door behind the women begins trembling as something big starts banging on it. “That’s my brother” says the girl who got the drop on them, “He doesn’t like it closed too long.” A great moment where the team have to talk their captor into releasing them.

Two episodes and thus far Tom Mason seems to be the “vision master.” Where he gets some sort of warning about upcoming events although he does not always understand their meaning in time to be of real help. He has several visions in season five and he is learning to heed their warnings.

The aliens that the 2nd Mass face in season five are called Skitters, there are other aliens that seem to be working in an alliance with the humans, and they are pretty creepy. Arachnid in nature, with several legs and able to skitter like a spider but with a tall body and no thorax, these things are a brilliant touch. Again, not having watched the show from season one, it is not known if these have been there from the beginning but they make an excellent “big bad.”

On top of that, there are “Skitter-ized” humans which sound a little like a Hulked out Tasmanian-Devil. This was the “brother” behind door number one at the depot. At the end of the show, a “wasp” that stung Mason earlier is put under a makeshift microscope and they discover it is a hybrid with Skitter feet and human eyes. The creature turns out to be alive and it escapes.

Mason and Anne (Moon Bloodgood) follow the “wasp” and find that there are a lot more of them along with some other, bigger winged-creatures; not far from the 2nd Mass camp.

The cast list for Falling Skies has some quality names on it, Will Patton as the hardened and grizzled Captain Weaver and Noah Wyle as Mason head up a sterling group of actors. Mira Sorvino may look different from her Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and The Replacement Killers days but she still has those impressive acting chops.

While it is annoying to stumble onto what looks to be a very entertaining science fiction show during its last season, there are enough avenues to binge back to the beginning and catch up. In the meantime, season five continues to air Sundays on TNT. Fans of Noah Wyle will love it and won’t have to wait for the next season of The Librarians to get their fix.