Review: ‘The Shape of Water’ (and other things, too)

Loneliness, love, violence, and water.

Set in the early 1960s against a Cold War backdrop, a secret lab in Baltimore, Maryland becomes the staging ground for research of a strange new life form caught in the Amazon: a fish man (Doug Jones). Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) has been tasked to test, assess, and appropriate the creature, a service he feels he owes his country but counts on being well rewarded. Also employed at the lab is a janitor named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a lonely woman with a big heart who was born a mute. Stumbling upon the creature and making a nonverbal connection, Elisa takes it upon herself to care for the so-called monster, but she’ll need the help of all of her friends and then some if she’s to save her aquatic friend from a terrible end.

It isn’t difficult to spot writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s inspiration: The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Like most of del Toro’s work, however, it isn’t the creatures that are monstrous but humanity itself, and this fish tale is no exception. Very little in this film is politically correct, especially since it involves Cold War U.S. vs Soviet policies and world superpowers making decisions for people “for the greater good” and with little thought to the collateral damage to imagined insignificant people. In spite of all of this, The Shape of Water is getting serious awards buzz with Best Picture talk; does a del Toro dark fantasy really stand a chance?
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Review: ‘Deadpool 2’ (rhymes with “wholly split-dolls”)

It’s more of the same and makes even less sense, but does it really matter?

After going international and making bank taking down bad guys worse than himself, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) endures a personal tragedy and finds himself lacking direction. Like a bad steel penny, Colossus (voice of Stefan Kapicic) turns up and drafts DP into the X-men long enough to get him and a pyromaniac kid (Julian Dennison) thrown into a mutant prison called “The Icebox.” Faster than you can say “DMC,” a time-traveler named Cable (Josh Brolin) arrives to shoot up the place, prompting Mr. Pool to put together a super-duper team to go after Cable, save the kid, and destroy as many people, places, and things as possible in the process.

Yes… he’s back. Yes, it’s R-rated. And yes, it breaks the fourth wall and even literal walls spewing merc-with-a-mouth-isms all over the screen. An assault of trailers and general Deadpoolery has been going on for months, from a Thanksgiving painting session to a Celine Dion tie-in video. Since the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the advertising has reached maximum overdrive, from photoshopping DP onto old movie covers in Walmart to popping in on late-night talk show monologues. It’s hard not to know a new Deadpool movie is coming out, but is it everything the first one was and then some?
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Review: ‘The Post’ (Washington, not NY)

Nobody doesn’t like Tom Hanks.

An American military analyst discovers a decades-old cover-up by US presidents over the futility of the Vietnam War and takes a chance making illegal copies of military records: the Pentagon Papers. New-in-charge Washington Post owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is operating in the shadow of her late husband’s business when her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) reveals the New York Times has scooped the Post on the existence of the papers but not their full content. When an opportunity presents itself to expose everything and the implications of the papers themselves, the owner and editor must decide whether to back down and comply with a federal judge blocking the information as a state secret or show journalistic integrity by risking their careers, the newspaper, and criminal prosecution to do what they believe is right.

Unsuccessful with Lincoln, director Steven Spielberg shoots for the moon again with The Post, a semi-fictionalized account of how the Pentagon Papers were exposed. For any kids out there who don’t know about them, it was the scandal that came out before Watergate completely overshadowed it. As a dramatic recreation, can The Post capture the imagination and capitalize on the current scandals in the US, or will it be seen as too obvious for trying to be incidentally relevant?
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Review: ‘Ouija House’ (these movies are popular now, right?)

It’s one thing when characters make bad decisions; it’s another when the plot gives them no choice.

As a young woman, Katherine (Tara Reid) used a Ouija board at an off-limits family property where a tragedy once occurred, barely escaping with her life. Thirty years later, Katherine (now played by Dee Wallace) is about to lose her home, but not if her daughter Laurie (Carly Schroeder) has anything to say about it. In an attempt to complete a book deal with her college thesis and get an advance to save the house, Laurie invites her boyfriend Nick (Mark Grossman) and two friends (Derrick A. King, Grace Demarco) up to the same house she never knew her mother had escaped from. Faster than you can say “heebie jeebies,” bad things start happening and evil makes its appearance known… insert sinister laugh here.

First off, the title does generate a bit of confusion as it has nothing to do with the Hasbro-funded Ouija and sequel Ouija: Origin of Evil. Meeting the filmmakers at the screening revealed another bit of info: what if the Ouija board was the entire house? Aside from the fact that Ouija is specifically a trademark of the game — are they allowed to use it like that? — the idea isn’t terrible but could fall apart in the execution. How does one turn an entire house into a talking board… and how can you make that scary for the occupants inside?
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Review: ‘Coco’ (death is only the beginning)

What you do in life matters — even the misunderstandings.

Born into a family where music is unwelcome, Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming a musician like his idol, the late and much-loved Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Needing a guitar to prove himself in a local Day of the Dead contest, Miguel sneaks into the mausoleum of de la Cruz to borrow the singer’s famous skull-necked guitar… only to find himself transported to the Land of the Dead. With the clock ticking until sunrise, Miguel takes a chance to fulfill his musical destiny, but he’ll need the help of a local trickster named Hector (Gael García Bernal) who has problems of his own.

With the exception of sequels, Pixar has become experts at giving audiences no clue to what their newer films are about until they’re experienced; if you’ve seen Up, you know what that’s about. Coco is an amazingly complex and layered film, expecting that audiences can keep up with the nuances for a family friendly story with dark undertones and far-reaching consequences for one’s actions. While similar conceptually to The Book of Life, are audiences ready for a far more mortal and personal tale about the choices we make and how people relate to one another?
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Review: ‘Ferdinand’ (pacifist bull)

You will believe a big-hearted bull who refuses to fight won’t be dinner later.

Having escaped his father’s bullfighting legacy to a peaceful flower farm outside of a Spanish town, Ferdinand (voice of John Cena) is a prize bull who’d rather sniff flowers than impale an opponent waving a red cape. When a mishap during a festival gets Ferdinand nabbed and returned to the stables he once escaped from, his old stablemates see him as competition. With the assistance of a helpful but hyper goat named Lupe (Kate McKinnon), Ferdinand plots to escape, save his friends, and return to the little girl he grew up with. Unfortunately, renowned bullfighter El Primero (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) already has his sights on the bull he wants to fight — publicly and to the death — before retiring undefeated.

Considering how short the book upon which this movie is based, a lot of plot and characters needed to be created to expand the concept into a 108-minute film. The advertising features actor/wrestler John Cena as the voice of the adult Ferdinand and appears to be relying heavily upon fans of the children’s story. With so many new elements expanding a short book into a full film, are there enough Ferdinand and/or John Cena fans to pack seats in theaters?
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Review: ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ (Maze Runner 3: The Apology)

No, it isn’t an actual cure for Death, but it is the end of the trilogy — yay!

When we catch up to Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), he’s still trying to save as many of the immune children as he can but still hasn’t found Minho (Ki Hong Lee). His quest leads him and a small band of friends (read: survivors) to the last city, now secured behind a vast weaponized wall yet teetering on the edge of total infection. The traitorous Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is still pushing to find a cure thinking she can save everyone, but the villainous Janson (Aidan Gillen) has a far different plan for the cure if one can be found.

Are we tired of running mazes yet? The Scorch Trials fell a bit flat after an abrupt cliffhanger ending that looked more like running out of cash than a planned conclusion, but Dylan O’Brien’s accident in filming the final part on the first week of shooting derailed not only Death Cure but hampered the final season of MTV’s “Teen Wolf” as well. After some soul-searching and recovery time, the actor got everything done he had promised to do, but can the much-delayed part three measure up to the promise of the original Maze Runner?
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