Posts Tagged ‘Michael Shannon’

Seducing an Amphibian

The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, David Hewlett, Martin Roach

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro reinvents cinematic magic realism in this darkly sublime fantasy adventure The Shape of Water featuring a stand out performance by British actress Sally Hawkins and character actor Michael Shannon.

Set in a covert government laboratory in Baltimore in the early 1960’s at the height of the cold war, The Shape of Water deftly weaves an extraordinary and compelling story of a young mute woman Elisa Esposito played by Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky, Blue Jasmine) who along with her co-worker Zelda Fuller played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) play observant cleaners in this secret facility ruled by the vain and cruel manager, Richard Strickland, wonderfully played with an ambivalent menace by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Revolutionary Road).

Elisa lives with a repressed homosexual Giles who is struggling to reignite his graphic design business. Giles is played with an exuberant flair by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Visitor).

What is so magnificent about The Shape of Water is the brilliant script co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor and the intriguing plot is underscored by a tantalizing musical score by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat who also provided the fantastic original score for director Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Highlighting the duplicitous Cold War, is the fastidious scientist Dr Robert Hoffstetler beautifully played by character actor Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Trumbo, Miles Ahead).

Eliza, the sexually charged mute cleaning lady develops a sensual bond of the most unusual nature with the Amphibian man played by Doug Jones, who is both exotic, dangerous and restorative. This Amphibian was discovered in the South American jungle and worshipped as a God by the indigenous tribes only to be snatched by sinister American agents to be used as a guinea pig in a space race against the murky and nefarious Soviets.

The Shape of Water is an intelligently woven allegorical tale about the exotic entering a decade of American consumerism which was as paranoid as it was dictatorial: the 1960’s. Set against the Cold War, this augmented paranoia is heightened through various well placed TV images of the rising tensions of the civil rights movements permeating in the background, along with many other counter-cultural movement which eventually undid the 1960’s completely and changed America forever.

Visually, The Shape of Water is rich with symbolic imagery and director Guillermo del Toro relishes in mixing the brutal with the gorgeous.

The love of cinema shines through in The Shape of Water, which I consider to be del Toro’s best work with the exception of his Oscar winning foreign language film, Pan’s Labyrinth.

The performances by a mostly ensemble cast are exemplary in a film that will dazzle the senses aided by exceptionally high production values and a quirky story which is both lyrical and tragic.

Highly recommended viewing, The Shape of Water gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.

 

 

The Genesis Chamber

Man of Steel

man_of_steel_ver3

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Christopher Meloni, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Richard Schiff, Ayelet Zurer

Director Zack Snyder’s ambitious retelling of the origins of Superman in Man of Steel is visually dazzling and grittier than the cheesier Superman movies of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. With Christopher Nolan as the producer and co-writer of Man of Steel, Snyder’s vision of Superman is darker, edgier and more realistic with the occasional humorous nod, but ultimately its firmly rooted in Sci-Fi with Krypton taking a centre stage in the spectacular production design of the opening sequences which shows influences of Snyder’s previous darkly toned blockbusters, 300 and Watchmen.

With newcomer Henry Cavill in the titular role fresh from his role on the TV series The Tudors and relatively unknown outside of the UK, he does a fairly good job of becoming one of America’s iconic figures. In Man of Steel, the comic and sci-fi iconography is rife, with Snyder paying homage to a range of influential Sci-Fi films from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to War of the Worlds, while firmly rooting the narrative in the celestial journey that Kal-El takes from Krypton to Kansas to Superman saving America. There is even a scene of the conflicted Superman in a Kansas church, complete with religious imagery mulling over whether to save his adopted planet Earth from destruction or side with his extraterrestrial origins that of his Kryptonian heritage represented by the ruthless General Zod, expertly played by Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Premium Rush) who after a period of isolation tracks Superman to Earth and soon brings a wake of devastation from Smallville to Metropolis.

The trick which makes Man of Steel so compelling is that along with the dazzling visual effects, the casting was spot on surrounding newcomer young British actor Henry Cavill with a galaxy of veteran Hollywood stars from Russell Crowe as his birth father Jor-El to Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as his adopted parents Jonathan and Martha Kent. Then there is the brilliant Amy Adams (Doubt, Julie and Julia) cast as the adventure seeking tough investigative journalist Lois Lane, who plays the part in stark contrast to the goofy, slightly dizzy take on the role by Margot Kidder in the original Superman movies.

From Krypton to Kansas…

The narrative is deeply rooted in origins mythology and told through a series of expertly crafted flashbacks about how Kal-El was naturally conceived on Krypton by his birth parents without the help of the sinister looking Genesis Chamber on the doomed planet Krypton and shunted off to earth as the last surviving hope for his celestial race. Kal-El, better known in Kansas as Clark Kent soon discovers his extraordinary powers as a growing boy and transforms into the mature, measured and slightly emotionally stunted Man of Steel, complete with X-Ray vision and high-speed atmospheric flight capabilities. The narrative arc closes when Lois Lane discovers Superman’s origins and naturally as most Superheroes do, he must don the fetching red cape and suitable attire, complete with underpants in the right place saving Earth from the Warrior General Zod, whilst balancing his newfound status as an alien with that of being a saviour of mankind.

Man of Steel is a superb cinematic retelling of the original comic book hero, worth watching for the fantastic opening and closing sequences, with Snyder desperate to cram all aspects of the Superman mythology into this slightly long and explosive action-heavy blockbuster. The only criticism is that the penultimate sequence of the film could have been effectively edited for effect, as the action outweighs the narrative and character development and often resembles a CGI-laden video game.

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Snyder’s Superman version in Man of Steel is destined to become a cinematic blockbuster and firmly establish him as a skilled action film director. Whilst not as thrilling or tightly written as Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, Nolan’s influences are apparent in Snyder’s darker more stylized vision of Superman as another conflicted superhero having to choose between his own dying civilization and becoming the new found saviour of Earth. Recommended viewing for Sci-Fi and Comic book fans, Man of Steel is sure not to disappoint Zack Snyder followers who have eagerly traced his quirky directorial growth from 300 to Watchmen to Suckerpunch and beyond…

Life and Death on a Bicycle

Premium Rush

Cheeky Bike Messenger from Hell

David Koepp’s adrenalin filled action film Premium Rush is an entertaining look at the subculture of bike messengers in New York City. Featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee an energetic and evasive bike messenger who has to deliver a promissory note within 90 minute across downtown Manhattan. Michael Shannon plays the corrupt NYC cop Bobby Monday with a penchant for gambling in Chinatown and is hell bent on getting that promissory note as an exchange for $50 000 to pay off some gambling debts.

Premium Rush signified by the racy poster is a hazardous and wonderfully executed cinematic joyride especially with Koepp’s creative directorial style often using time frame lapses and GPs co-ordinates so that the viewer can get a sense of the dangerous navigation involved in riding as a bike messenger in the Big Apple, the ultimate urban jungle.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt normally cast in supporting roles in big budget movies like Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, has the talent to hold his own as leading man in an action film and is fast becoming a rising star. Gordon-Levitt will next be seen opposite Bruce Willis in Looper.

In Premium Rush  Gordon-Levitt’s cheeky, energetic and daring bike messenger with no brakes Wilee is played to the hilt and with some great editing incorporating all the elements of this dangerous and little known profession in one of the world’s busiest cities. This is a different take on a chase movie as it is about high speed urban cycling and all cyclists should definitely see this film not just for the entertainment value but also for all the cycling skills highlighted in this film which is like a Tour de Manhattan with an angry Michael Shannon helplessly chasing after Levitt who constantly evades him as well as much frustrated NYC bike cop.Dania Ramirez plays Wilee’s love interest, Vanessa, a fellow bike messenger with brakes.

There is not much plot and limited backstory, but Koepp keeps the film firmly in the Manhattan urban jungle highlighting a low-paid, dangerous street profession which is a culture in itself, the adrenalin energetic time driven world of metropolitan bicycle messengers.

Shannon who brings some of his unpredictability to Premium Rush channelling his characters in the series Boardwalk Empire and in Revolutionary Road in which he garnered an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

Premium Rush with all the directorial quirks, fast editing and catchy dialogue is a great way to spend 91 minutes viewing life and death on a bicycle, showing off all the street culture of NYC in mid-summer featuring two highly talented upcoming actors, Gordon-Levitt and Shannon playing a cat and mouse game with a Chinese twist.

Through the White Picket Fence

Revolutionary Road

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Last year there was ample hype about the Sam Mendes film, Revolutionary Road starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio. Whilst the Oscar buzz only got a best supporting actor nod for Michael Shannon, the film itself about the brittle deterioration of a marriage in 1950s suburban Connecticut was seamless and superbly acted. Kate Winslet reprised a similar role as she did in Todd Field’s brilliant 2006 film, Little Children as a anxious housewife trapped in the monotony of a soulless marriage.

The Random act of Infidelity

The Random act of Infidelity

Whilst both films are worthy of attention, more notably Little Children, the novel, Revolutionary Road is an absolute must-read. Deftly crafted with superb subtle characters whilst referring to major themes of discontent, disillusion and the nature of insanity.

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The novel, Revolutionary Road, written by Richard Yates and is an ironic, sometimes humourous and especially scathing look at the hollowness of the Great American Dream especially piognant in its depiction of a society bound by the virtues of marriage, fidelity, corporate ambition and the myth of the white picket fence. Highly recommended novel, even better than the film adaptation.

 

Revolutionary Road will resonate now, nearly  fifty years on, as when it was first praised in 1962. The prose is wonderfully crafted with such detail and poignancy that clearly aims to undercut the sophisticated era it was meant to evoke.

Both the novel and the film version of Revolutionary Road are highly recommended but its always best to read the novel first before seeing the cinematic version.

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