It’s time for another review round-up, this time taking on Black Panther, Lady Bird, Annihilation, I, Tonya, A Fantastic Woman, Mute, and The Shape Of Water. Tasty.

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Black Panther

In previous Marvel films it has been established that vibranium, the rare alloy from which Captain America’s shield and the evil robot Ultron, amongst other things, are made is a jolly useful metal, all things considered, but not really much else. In Black Panther, Marvel’s latest, though, vibranium is now magic. Oh, not in an Arthur C. Clarke “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” sort of way. No, more in an actual magic sense. While there have been aliens like Thor, the MCU thus far has largely been based on technology, rather than superpowers or mutations (technology in the universe’s terms, and not actual science – don’t think too hard about the regular-sized man transforming into a green giant, OK?). But eating some vibranium makes you a god, and somehow having a lot of it allows you TO HIDE AN ENTIRE COUNTRY.

That country is Wakanda, a nation that has benefitted for a thousand years or more from a vast supply of vibranium, delivered to them from space. Wakanda, we are told, is a hugely advanced civilisation that has hidden their true power from the world and maintained an isolationist policy because they are so very advanced that they want to keep out of the affairs of others entirely. A nation so advanced that they are still ruled by an absolute monarch who, it must be pointed out, can only be replaced by being beaten in single combat. And I say “monarch”, but of course I mean “king”. No equal opportunities here. Oh, and despite this apparent longstanding tradition, and the general reverence given to tradition by the people of Wakanda, it’s apparently OK to abandon this entirely and try to undo it if you just happen to dislike the person who won the combat, even if they did so legitimately. Advanced my arse.

The unwelcome pretender to the throne is Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Stevens, a.k.a. Killmonger. And, yes, that is the stupidest name you’ve ever heard. A monger being a seller or purveyor of something, but rather than purveying death or war or whatever, Erik is apparently selling “kill”? But whoever came up with that name clearly didn’t think too much about it, so nor should you. Just know that he apparently went through all sorts of military training and killed several hundred people so that he could get to King T’Challa, despite the fact that he was always able to just walk into Wakanda any time… No, none of this makes any sense. Look, over there, something shiny!

Ironmonger has a bit of a beef with T’Challa because of something T’Challa’s dad did to his dad, and the sins of the father are always the sins of the son in this sort of thing. But he also happens to think it’s a bit bad of Wakanda to have sat by in their invisible futuristic super-country while hundreds of thousands of other Africans were sold into slavery, and for them to continue to pretend to be a third world country when their vast resources could help so many. But as Costermonger is a pretty bad guy (he claims that each scar on his body represents a kill, so his headcount is at least in the several hundreds, if not thousands), and wants to atone for slavery, murder and colonisation with murder and colonisation, he must be stopped, leading to the allegedly advanced nation falling into civil war if not overnight then certainly in no more than two or three nights.

Fishmonger, to absolutely damn him with faint praise, may be the most interesting Marvel villain yet (though Michael B. Jordan is kinda, well, crap, as he was in Fantastic Four, but he had plenty of company there at least. I did like him a lot in Creed, and I’ve heard great things about Fruitvale Station, his first collaboration with Ryan Coogler, so I wouldn’t let his performance here put you off checking that out, as I have been meaning to do). But even while he undeniably has a point, and it’s rather interesting to have your possibly psychopathic, certainly mass-murdering, villain also happen to be, in many ways, in the right, nothing useful comes from this because this is a big, dumb blockbuster, and the gods of action must be satisfied.

Marvel films like to think they’re clever or important, but they’re not. They are often very entertaining, and I have enjoyed a great many of them, but their plots, such as they are, are basic frameworks on which to hang action sequences and, sometimes, interesting or amusing character beats. Without doubt Black Panther contains some interesting themes: non-interventionism and the morality, or lack thereof, of not doing something to help your fellow humans when you have the technological or financial means in particular, but the MCU has resolutely proved it is not the place to address these ideas. Especially not when the climax of your film is a prolonged battle; one, incidentally, fought with largely close quarter weapons, the film’s characters having established a disdain for guns, despite their obvious tactical superiority (though I’ll forgive such blinkered thinking for the sake of it being something different to be bored by in an extended action set piece.) I will not, however, forgive shitty CGI war rhinoceroses, with armour plating and aluminium foil over their horns. Come back when you’re Battlecat. The conclusion of the “clever and thoughtful” part of the film is an afterthought, and a pretty insultingly and insensitively-handled one at that.

The superlatives for Black Panther have been overwhelming and, frankly, bewildering, given that it’s not even in the top half of Marvel’s output. And when I see gushing praise like “Black Panther Is Marvel’s First Genuine Masterpiece” I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. Where it has genuine, undeniable, merit, however, is in the number of black faces both in front of and behind the camera. Being a white man, and having had all of the films ever made for me, I can at best acknowledge, but never truly comprehend, the importance to so many people of seeing so many African faces on screen in a film with so high a budget and that has been so astoundingly successful.

There was a saying in the entertainment industry for many years that the only colour Hollywood cared about was green, as if naked greed was somehow nobler than naked racism. And, of course, it was nonsense, simply a justification for racism, with the narrative being that large films with a significantly non-white cast wouldn’t, or couldn’t, be successful. While, beyond something fresh to look at in the MCU, the runaway success of Black Panther is most probably neither due to nor in spite of the ethnic makeup of its cast but rather to it being a part of that money-vacuuming machine, it has nonetheless thoroughly and, one fervently hopes, permanently discredited that ridiculous notion, and that is its true importance and probable legacy. Well, that and its huge success requiring writing even more characters into Infinity War. I think we’re genuinely into triple digits now. As a film, though? You could take it or leave it, though I’d suggest the latter.

There are some positives worth mentioning, though. While Chadwick Boseman is extremely bland in the bland central role, and Forest Whitaker is much as he was in Rogue One, which is to say wheezing and terrible, there are plenty of quite engaging performances amongst the supporting cast, particularly a hammy Andy Serkis, Winston Duke as a noble and honourable tribal chief, Danai Gurira as warrior and general Okoye and Letitia Wright, who seems to have captured the audience’s attention as T’Challa’s sister Shuri.

Daniel Kaluuya fares less well, though, and I absolutely don’t buy him as any sort of warrior. I also don’t buy some of the special effects, including the waterfall scene, which is unforgivably ropey in a film with a budget of $210 million, nor the war rhinos. It would also be nice if more than 2 or 3 of the actors were actually African, and not just of African descent, or if a single frame had been shot in Africa.

To sum it up, acting aside: different worlds and places, great. Different faces: really, really great. Everything else? Absolute horseshit.

Also: War rhinos. Do one.

Lady Bird

Life in sleepy Sacramento, CA seems like a dull series of disappointments to teenage Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who would very much like to leave her Christian school and escape to the faster pace of an East coast university. Unfortunately, this seems to be a dream that’s not compatible with either her families current economic state, or indeed her current grades.

This leads Lady Bird into a seemingly continual argument with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), about pretty much every aspect of her life, in a way that eventually edges over the usual teenage awkwardness into being quite openly disrespectful and ungrateful towards her family.

At school, growing pains continue when she finds out that her idyllic, theatre loving boyfriend is gay, but soon meets Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), the apparently cool local musician with a fine line in conspiracy theories and other lies about his personal life, and before long Lady Bird is projecting an entirely different view of her family’s situation and moving in a different social circle than her previous best friend. When, with a sad inevitability, this comes crashing down, she’s left alone, but not for long, as this is one of those rare films where schoolkids are reasonable people and not reenacting the Lord of the Flies.

And, well, so it goes, providing a slice of maybe a year of the life of Lady Bird, with a constant dry wit, very good, entirely believable performances and characters, and a coming of age story that’s not based around a dramatic, singular trauma, but the much more mundane, tiny slings and arrows that graze us until the point we think we’ve gained enough scar tissue to call ourselves an adult.

I’m unreliably informed by the internet that this, of the year’s Oscar contenders, has the biggest gulf between critical acclaim and audience acceptance. I suppose I can see why, as it has a very dry sense of humour across the piece that is perhaps not to everyone’s taste. I however, am British, and we like our humour so dry that it may not technically be humour any more, so it’s very much to my taste.

As mentioned earlier, it’s great to see a teen drama that has people acting like, well, real people, and a school that’s not a set of cliques on the verge of going Battle Royale on each other. Even the characters other media has trained us to expect to be horrible people, such as the pretty rich kid Lady Bird becomes friends with, are just normal, not-pointlessly obnoxious humans just trying to get on with life.

You could, I suppose, argue that there’s not a lot of narrative meatiness to get your teeth into – this is a character study in the main, but when it’s doing that this well, this charmingly, then there’s no reason to think of that as a negative. Likewise a few scenes that do a great deal to inform character, but otherwise feel rather like they belong to a different story, such as Lady Bird’s mother counselling the old theatre teacher are a little odd, in the overarching scheme of things, but great scenes on their own merit. What sort of monster would complain about that?

It also contains my favourite bit part character of the year, the American football coach drafted in to enthusiastically teach the school theatre production by his old playbook.

Very enjoyable, and well worth watching, even despite the complete lack of exploding robots.


So, what do you do if a film like, say, Arrival has, however unexpectedly, shown you that there is a market (modest, perhaps, but a $200+ million return on a budget of $47 million isn’t chump change) for thoughtful, intelligent, deliberately-paced and original science-fiction, with a female lead? And that your new property, which has all of these attributes, happens to come from the writer and director of arguably one of the best science-fiction films of the past decade to boot?

Well, if you’re Paramount Pictures, obviously you give it a limited release in US cinemas and dump it onto Netflix everywhere else, pretty much ensuring a poor box office performance and allowing your pathetically risk-averse executives (who threw a tantrum after producer Scott Rudin, who had final cut, overruled their wrongheaded requests for change) to say “see, I told you so”, and further help to ensure the self-fulfilling prophecy of mainstream cinema audiences being considered too dumb for even mildly intellectual cinema. In what may become a common refrain from me, studio executives are wallopers (and I very much mean that in the Scottish slang sense, not the standard English.)

Somewhere on the south coast of the US (played here, interestingly, by both Windsor and Norfolk in England) a projectile from space makes landfall, and begins to affect the environment. A slowly expanding bubble, dubbed “The Shimmer”, like a rainbow oil slick in the air, grows around the epicentre and begins to affect the nature of the world within. Various military teams have been sent in to investigate, but no-one has ever returned. Until, that is, Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns to his wife Lena (Natalie Portman) after having been missing for a year, but with no clear idea of how he got there or, indeed, who either he or Lena is.

Kane soon becomes very ill, and the ambulance carrying him to the hospital is intercepted by an army unit, and Kane and Lena are taken to the Army’s “Area X” facility, where Kane is isolated and Lena interrogated. While there, Lena meets Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Dr. Ventress who, in a very Star Trek: The Next Generation way, is a psychologist with a surprising amount of authority and seniority. With Kane likely to die, and feeling guilt about something she did to hurt him, Lena, a cell biologist, volunteers to join the investigation party that Dr. Ventress is going to lead into The Shimmer, a group which also contains Tessa Thompson’s physicist Josie, anthropologist Cass (Tuva Novotny) and paramedic Anya (not Michelle Rodriguez, though the dress, belligerence and general temperament would make you think otherwise).

In The Shimmer they discover what befell the previous groups that entered, and attempt to ascertain the nature of the alien lifeforms, if such they are, that have invaded the Earth, while trying to keep a grip on their sanity. As we know from the film’s structure that no-one else makes it out, with sole survivor Natalie Portman telling the tale in flashback while being interrogated by a belligerent Benedict Wong, we are, alas, robbed of any suspense in terms of character survival.

I wanted very much to like Annihilation more than I did. I really appreciated the atmosphere and the slow building of tension and unravelling of story and character. This last in particular was very welcome, trusting in the audience’s patience instead of front-loading character attributes so that we could pigeonhole each cast member from the start. There’s also some fantastic, and fantastically interesting, design work on display, from crystal structures resembling trees and gory people-based wall displays to unusual animals and brightly-coloured lichens. At times the effects are a little ropey (but with its relatively low budget I take no issue with that), and some of its low-budget effects, like the aforementioned lichens and various plants and flowers, are both effective and visually striking. And one creature in particular, in both its visual and sound design, may be one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.

But it kept getting in its own way, like when Tessa Thompson’s physicist declares that The Shimmer is “refracting the DNA”, which is totally not a thing. It would have been far better not to try to create some explanation, and leave it at “The Shimmer is doing to the world what cancer does to cells in the body”. That would’ve been more than sufficient. And then there’s not Michelle Rodriguez, for some reason refusing to believe the evidence of her own eyes and then going crazy, feeling very much like she’d been grafted in from another film entirely. And there’s Natalie Portman.

Well, she’s just not a great actor, is she? She doesn’t have a lot of range or nuance, though to be fair she’s serviceable in this and does a pretty decent job of shouldering the weight placed upon her, so it’s definitely one of her stronger performances. Jennifer Jason Leigh may have taken her morose role a little too far, but she’s really solid, and if anything Tessa Thompson is too successful at being the timid and quiet one, and not Michelle Rodriguez is, in all honesty, considerably less distracting a presence than the real Michelle Rodriguez would’ve been.

Even as I say these things I’m aware that my negative points don’t seem particularly strong, so perhaps with a few days distance from it I appreciate Annihilation more. Certainly I’d be willing to watch it again somewhere down the road, and I absolutely would like to see more of this type of material, and preferably with the possibility of doing so on a cinema screen. Recommended.

I, Tonya

It’s a bit hard to know how much to go into the generalities of I, Tonya – after all, the incident that brought her to infamy still seems relatively well remembered, but I realise that aside from that nonsense, I didn’t know all that much about Tonya Harding’s life. The problem is, as this film is a biopic in much the same vein as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, I’d trust this film as an unvarnished source of truth as far as I could throw something that I can’t lift.

So, the basics – as a youngster, Tonya, played in the main by Margot Robbie, is “encouraged” to get into figure skating by her mother LaVona (Allison Janney), who provides a perfect opportunity to break out the word “harridan”, if not outright criminal child abuse. Allegedly / disputably. This film’s not too keen on taking one position on any fact of the matter, when instead it can be used as a chisel on the fourth wall.

The kid has talent, and a fierce training regime that sees her produce excellent routines at events, but is routinely discriminated against by judges whose decisions are based more on her working class upbringing, home made outfits and brash manner than skills on the ice.

Tonya’s relationship with her mother flares into fights frequently, no more so than when she meets and soon marries Jeff Gilhooly (Sebastian Stan) to escape her house, but this relationship soon grows as abusive as any other. Again, allegedly.

The real crux of the matter comes during training for the 1994 Winter Olympics, when, following a death threat Jeff suspects came from Tonya’s main rival Nancy Kerrigan, he asks his friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) to retaliate in kind. Unfortunately, Shawn’s a straight-up liability to himself and anyone around him, so of course, he instead hires two of the world’s least competent goons to attack Nancy, badly injuring her knee.

These criminal inverse masterminds are quickly arrested, and the plot soon unravels, with Tonya’s career being the collateral damage of associating with these titans of ineptitude.

Now, I, Tonya hews closer to being a mockumentary than a documentary, and is played more for laughs rather than truth. And, well, it works. It’s a greatly entertaining film, with strong comedy performances from the cast that are also more than talented enough to carry the dramatic moments too, and sensibly it restricts the bulk of its fourth wall breaking moments to the comedy portions. I’m glad that some of these performances were recognised at the Oscars, and Allison Janney’s ghastly but entirely relatable mother is a deserving winner, in the type of film that I’d not normally expect to get near the awards circuit.

And, well, in truth, I don’t think I’ve a lot else to say about I, Tonya other than that it amused me, but left me with a vague sense of this being somewhat exploitative and mocking someone who has not had the easiest life, in the main through no fault of her own. There’s a less generous interpretation of this being a film than mocks the working class for aspiring to something better than the circumstances they find themselves born to, which with a small amount of earbending I could probably get behind, but that wouldn’t change the fact that it’s a funny comedy, so, well, I suppose that’s enough for it to serve it’s prime function. Well worth watching.

A Fantastic Woman

Chilean film Una mujer fantástica (A Fantastic Woman), then, winner of the Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars.

After a hard day at work, and misplacing a birthday gift, a man goes to a restaurant in Santiago to meet his partner for a meal to celebrate her birthday. He, Orlando (Francisco Reyes) is 57, his partner, Marina (Daniela Vega) is probably half his age. Otherwise there ought to be nothing remarkable about this couple – they seem happy and loving, at least as much as one can tell in the few minutes we spend with them. But when Orlando wakes in the middle of the night in distress and dies in hospital an hour and a half later, we soon see just how not unremarkable and normal things are going to be.

Forced to wait outside the treatment room while the medics attend to Orlando, Marina is framed in a corridor with a conspicuous sign on the wall which reads “Dirty Area”, a very pointed indication of how the world will treat Marina over the course of the film. And why? Because Marina is a trans woman.

She is treated like a criminal; forced to use her dead name; humiliated, demeaned and embarrassed by a police detective who claims she is trying to help her; described as a thing and a chimera; forced out of the home she had just moved into with Orlando; attacked and tormented; and, perhaps most cruelly given the events of the film, denied the basic human decency of being allowed to say goodbye to the person she loved. And all because she doesn’t fit neatly into any of the slots available in the worldview of these narrow-minded douche canoes. It’s pretty harrowing.

Trans actress Daniela Vega is fantastic as Marina; a powerful, compassionate, tender and above all dignified performance and, I mean this in a potentially very literal sense, a brave one, given how exposed this role has made her. I used the word “dignified”, and I think that’s a good word to sum up the character, too. The litany of indignities and abuses which Marina faces is mindboggling, but only too easy to believe rings true for many trans people. While she has moments of both despair and outrage, in the end she maintains a level of dignity far beyond what I suspect many of us could muster – I have strong suspicions that were I in her place I’d have been arrested for assault or murder by the end of the tale – but a dignity that doesn’t feel difficult to conceive of in the real world.

Sebastián Lelio’s direction is assured, and his obvious yet apt use of mirrors throughout is the perfect device to examine how Marina sees herself and how she is seen by the world, though his most important contribution is in the excellent script, which Lelio co-wrote with Gonzalo Maza. While the standout acting performance is clearly Vega’s, there’s strong support from Luis Gnecco as Gabo, Orlando’s brother and the one family member who attempts to accept Marina, half-arsed and pathetic as that attempt may be; and Aline Küppenheim as Orlando’s ex-wife Sonia, Nicolás Saavedra as his son Bruno and Amparo Noguera as the police detective who, together, are three of the most loathsome and despicable characters you could imagine seeing.

I thoroughly recommend this film, difficult to watch as it can certainly be. I perhaps suggest taking some blood pressure medication before beginning your viewing, though: your circulatory system will thank you if you, like me, end up screaming four letter epithets at 95% of the characters, 95% of the time.


As part of the Amish community, there’s many dangers to contend with, their technology averse lifestyle of course making them highly susceptible to the kind of powerboat related accident that befalls a young Leo, as with so many before him. Sustaining wounds to his neck, he survives, but is rendered mute. Hence, I suppose, the title of Duncan Jones’ latest film, and long standing passion project.

An older Leo, played by Alexander Skarsgård finds himself working as a bartender in a nightclub in near future Berlin. His quite life contrasts with the bustle of the city, but some liveliness is provided by his co-worker and girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). Things seem to be going swimmingly, until Naadirah says that she’s not been entirely honest about her past. Before any salient details can be extracted though, she disappears.

Seemingly unrelatedly, their boss and underworld kingpin Maksim take a goon to the local black market medical facility, staffed by ex-U.S.A military surgeons Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux). Turns out that they’re on the lam from the military police, deserters from some hinted at war that I presume isn’t going well, with Bill in particular working for Maksim to earn fake papers for himself and his daughter Josie to get out of the city. Duck, however, seems quite happy to stay, running his sideline of fitting cybernetics to young children, for, it is eventually revealed, all the wrong reasons.

Leo starts investigating the disappearance, which will bring him into conflict with all of the above, and indeed a bunch of others in the Berlin underworld that I’ll skip over party for brevity, and partly because a fortnight after watching this, I have no memory whatsoever of those intervening stages were, or, indeed, why I was supposed to care about any of it.

Saying Mute wears its influences on its sleeve would be an understatement – Mute has, in fact, clubbed Blade Runner over the head, dragged it back to a disused industrial unit, skinned it, and is now wearing that skin as a suit. And has then written “I am fond of Blade Runner‘s aesthetic” on the sleeve of that skinsuit, just to avoid any confusion. Sometimes that works pretty spectacularly – not on the same level as Blade Runner 2049, but there’s some scenes that are in the ballpark at least – but there’s more than a few scenes that undercut this by simply being Berlin with bad haircuts and more neon lighting than you’d expect.

Visuals, and indeed soundtrack aside (hello Clint Mansell), the rest of Mute is, unfortunately, a bit of a misfire, at levels where it ought not to be misfiring. This is, we’re told, an idea Jones has been cultivating for years now, so why it’s so pedestrian is bewildering. There’s plot developments doled out at the appropriate pacing, but none of them are particularly interesting. In the end, it’s so busy following the thread of whodunnit that it never stops to consider in the slightest whydunnit, or indeed plausible character motivation for pretty much anyone in the film.

On the general subject of “what”, why this particular paedophilia angle was inserted in the first place, or survived any pass of editing, is a mystery for the ages, and only adds an air of creepiness to an already far too muddled film.

The performances are, I suppose, in isolation, fine. Skarsgård does okay, and when called into action his physicality works effectively, but there’s no opportunity to evidence much subtlety which would be needed to build enough sympathy to care about his character. Much as I like Justin Theroux, his character here just ought not to be, and on reflection Paul Rudd gives a decent performance, he’s cast so against type that, unfortunately, it’s just not possible to take him seriously as the credible threat the film needs if there’s to be any of the tension it hopes to build.

I am not, by nature, prone to believing in conspiracy theories. I suppose that’s just the chemtrails doing their job. However, I’m starting to believe there may be one when critics are reviewing a Netflix Original. I’m certainly not saying Mute is a work of genius, or even that it succeeds in doing even half of what it’s set out to do, but worse than The Cloverfield Paradox it is not, by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve seen many worse, better reviewed films in cinemas, but I wonder if part of that review calculus takes into consideration how few people will need critics when a film is already available to them without leaving the comfort of their sofas?

However, for evidence of a critic cartel curtailing commendations, we’ll need some better films that are bounded by the qualities of Bright, Cloverfield Paradox, and Mute. Bright was mediocre at best, and I suppose there’s some “so dreadful it’s good” qualities to Cloverfield Pardox that makes it a watchable film, but it is hot garbage. Sadly, too often Mute is “so average, it’s average”, which makes it very hard to hold interest in, regardless of how pretty it looks. It’s not an experience I’d recommend anyone partake in.

The Shape Of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, then, or “Mute Woman Falls in Love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

Maryland, 1962. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaner at a military aerospace research facility. Though mute and communicating through sign language, Elisa isn’t particularly lonely or isolated as such characters often are in film, having good friends in co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins). But she does seek romantic entanglement, which comes to her from the most unusual source.

Into her place of work is brought a scaly fish monster, dragged all the way from a river in South America, where it was worshipped as a god by the locals, to the good ol’ US of A by human monster Strickland (Michael Shannon). And why? Because they believe this creature’s unique breathing physiology will allow them to gain the edge on those damn Ruskies in the race for the moon, physiological research which is apparently best achieved by… torture?

When Elisa, who, in being a woman, a cleaner and disabled is more or less invisible to those around and above her, accidentally spies the creature, she begins to take an interest in, and eventually falls in love with, it. She creates a plan to free the creature from the research facility and return it to the sea (despite it having come from a river), and receives help in so doing from Zelda, Giles and another, very unexpected, source. The creature then stays in Elisa’s apartment for a while as their relationship progresses and while an obsessed and enraged Strickland continues to search for it.

It’s commendable that Elisa’s friends, in particular Zelda, aren’t judgmental about her relationship, but at the same time I don’t understand why they’re not saying, “dude, you fucked a fish!” And that’s my biggest issue with The Shape of Water: while I have no problem with interspecies romance in, say, a Star Trek kind of way, that’s a romance between intellectual peers. But here? It’s just not. Beyond the creature’s bewilderment at its unfamiliar location and the torture and trauma it has suffered, it remains that: a creature. It always felt to me more like a pet than a person, and I just didn’t buy Elisa falling in love with it. Look, what I’m saying is Guillermo del Toro has made a film about bestiality, and I’m not OK with that.

My other big issue is the film’s colour design. I wonder if perhaps Guillermo del Toro is a fan of the works of Krzysztof Kieślowski? This is my head-canon explanation for The Shape of Water ‘s oppressively green palette: that this is to be the first part of his trilogy based on the colours of the Mexican, rather than the French, flag; Tres colores: Verde.

This greenness is supposed to represent an unwelcoming and unromantic future. Whit? The colour and lighting of Elisa’s apartment makes some more sense, in that it is supposed to have a watery feel, but while it may have a few slightly more blue-tinged greens, it’s still green. And that green really gets wearing after a while (about 22 minutes, to be precise). Other living spaces in the film are coloured yellow and orange, and though orange is supposed to represent a 60s ugliness, what it mostly represents is a blessed visual relief, even when it’s in the home of Michael Shannon’s thuggish Strickland.

I enjoyed The Shape of Water well enough as a fairy tale (or a fish story, if you will), but it is resolutely nothing special, and I am beyond baffled at the praise that has been heaped upon it.

Richard Jenkins is a likeable presence, Sally Hawkins does a really great job in a role where she can’t use her voice to act and Michael Shannon is a wonderfully creepy and sinister villain, but beyond that? Ordinary at best. And Best Picture? I think someone’s putting something in my water supply.


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