The story goes that at the 2014 Golden Globes awards, Guillermo Del Toro bumped into Sally Hawkins, sweeping her off her feet as he told her that he was writing a movie for her, “You fall in love with a fish man!” he added. Well, true or not, Sally’s character, Elisa, does indeed fall in love with a creature from the deep in this fantastical tale and thriller (of sorts!). With a stellar cast that also includes Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water is captivating, romantic and made wonderful by the remarkable performances from the cast. As you would expect from Del Toro, the production design is spectacular, and there are magical layers to the character ‘Elisa’ a young lady with no apparent family, who does not speak, yet can communicate with more articulation and humanity than any of the characters in her world. While it does not have the depth and darkness of Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone, this film is a delightful fairytale for adults, worthy of the Oscar accolades it has received, and one I will watch again and again.
I have seen this film twice now, the second time when I was lucky enough to view it at a screening attended by director Aisling Walsh and actor Ethan Hawke. Based on a true story, the film is a compelling portrait of Canadian folk artist, Maud Lewis, played by the wonderful Sally Hawkins, and focuses on her relationship and subsequent forty-year marriage with Everett, a fisherman, living hand to mouth. A cinematic treat for the senses, Maudie reflects the 1930’s small town mentality, particularly through the prevalent attitudes to her free spirit and her disability, rheumatoid arthritis, a painful condition that grew progressively worse as she aged. The film also charts her path to becoming an accomplished folk artist while never flinching from the hardships endured by Maudie as she shares her life with Everett in their tiny shack. No spoilers here, but there is also a particularly poignant element to Maudie’s story that I guarantee will bring on the tears! An Irish / Canadian co-production, Maudie is a study of the resilience and tenacity of a gifted artist in the face of adversity.
Maudie | 15A | 1 hour 55 mins | 2016
What a beautiful gothic horror film. Directed by Brian O’Malley and written by David Turpin, The Lodgers is set in rural Ireland in 1920, and filmed on location in Loftus Hall, Wexford. In a crumbling mansion filled with secrets, twins Edward and Rachel keep to themselves, cursed by the nightly visitors who keep a tight reign on the brother and sister with a set of rules that have dire consequences upon breaking. Until that is, Rachel encounters a young man from the local village, a wounded war veteran, and she begins to see another life outside of her prison home. The production design on this film is stunning, the story highly original, and the ending, just perfect!
The Lodgers | 1 hr 32 mins | Tailored Films | 2017
Frances McDormand plays a determined mother who rents three billboards to bring attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, this film is searing in the level of violence and diverse characterisation that covers racism, suicide, grief and revenge. And it works, probably due to the perfect casting of McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson et al. And there is comedy, mostly black, that keeps the viewer from going under at the sheer harshness of the subject matter.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri | 15A | 1 hr 55 mins | 2018
Written by Greta Gerwig, this is also her directorial debut, and is, perhaps semi-autobiographical. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird is a delightful coming of age drama, set in 2002, that explores a teenage girl’s challenges at school and home, and in her relationships with friends, boys and quite poignantly – with her mother – played superbly by Laurie Metcalf. Christine insists on being called Lady Bird, and thinks her life will be better once she gets away from her hometown of Sacramento, and to a college that her parents can ill afford. Aspiring for a life on the better side of the tracks, as she sees it, Lady Bird is funny and strong-willed, stumbling along as she reaches out to find her place in the world. Already such an accomplished actress, this is yet another captivating portrayal from Saoirse.
Lady Bird | 15A | 1hr 34 mins | 2017
A collection of short stories that won the Eludia Prize, all weaving to connect several generations of a family living through the turbulent times of Northern Ireland’s troubled history. It took me quite a while to finish this book, there was so much to absorb in each story. These narratives are succinct and deeply rooted in characterisation, connection to land and to identity. There is an energy in the writing, a defiance that emanates from the characters as we journey with them through their dilemmas. The tension seems palpable – the mother determined to drive her child to school under threat – a harsh reminder of the menace encountered for so long by the communities in the north. There are universal themes too – the young woman left pregnant and abandoned – and not just by the American GI she fell for. With undulating humour and poignancy, relationships are at the core of this collection, a sense of place hovering in the folds of each scenario, The Accidental Wife is altogether a compelling debut from this prize-winning author.
Based on a real character, Sarah Winchester, the grieving widow of the famous William Winchester, inventor of the Winchester firearm. A tragic figure, Sarah has never gotten over the death of her husband and beloved child, and is haunted by the spirits of the people she believes died violently by the Winchester gun. Rich beyond her means as the sole heir to her husband’s fortune, she is compelled to build room after room in her rambling mansion (still standing and now a tourist attraction in San Jose, California) to house these spirits, and it is here that the film begins – when psychiatrist, Dr Eric Prince, is hired by the Winchester company shareholders to assess Sarah’s mental health and to diagnose her as mentally unfit and thus remove her as head of the company. However, Eric has demons of his own. The film is sprinkled with things that go bump in the night and some typically standard tropes, but overall, I very much enjoyed this film. Directed by identical twins, the Spierig Brothers, the film has some powerful visual effects and gorgeous production values. The classic haunted house, this one based in reality, Winchester, starring the perfectly cast Helen Mirren as Sarah, is well worth a viewing.
PG 13 | 1 Hour 39 mins | Blacklab Entertainment. Imagination Design Works | 2018