Posts Tagged Guillermo del Toro
Spoilers might surface.
Guillermo del Toro is a master storyteller. You don’t need me to tell you that. If there is any doubt, you can just watch his latest movie, The Shape of Water. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a wonderful, enchanting and well crafted film with a solid storyline. There’s a sense of fairy-tale wonder set in the classic monster genre.
You might want to debate that there is no such thing as a monster genre, but Guillermo del Toro already proved that argument wrong back in 2006 with Pan’s Labyrinth. I know a lot of reviews have made comparisons to Hellboy but this seems a lot closer to the atmosphere from Pan.
The movie starts with a bit of narration. Now, don’t panic. There is close to zero exposition in the words. Actually there’s hardly any exposition in the movie. It’s the 60’s and Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a lonely woman who cleans a secret laboratory and is a mute. Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is her workmate and friend, an African-American woman in a time where racism is still rampant. Giles (Richard Jenkins) is Elisa’s neighbor, an artist trying to make it in advertising with a crush on a pie shop owner.
We are never told any of these things. We are shown them. When new boss Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) talks to Zelda, he never employs an explicit racist epithet. Yet, when he says “you people” the racist overtones will make you cringe. Giles is very much in love with a pie shop owner, but we are never told he’s a homosexual. We learn that by watching him.
The same goes with the amphibian man that is brought in. The creature is never analyzed or explained fully. We don’t get someone explaining his stats or his physiology. Every other movie I’ve seen in the past decade would feel the need to stop and explain everything. Guillermo del Toro simply shows what we need to know. Any other made-up science stuff is inconsequential.
The 60s are very much alive in this film. Even the machinery in the lab looks the part. The amphibian man, played by Doug Jones (also the fawn in Pan’s Labyrinth), does have a resemblance to Abe Sapien from Hellboy. He does also feel like a completely different character.
Extremely recommended. The story is similar to a lot of other beauty-and-the-beast movies but it’s well crafted with solid performances by the entire cast. The attention to detail all the way from music to clothes, cars and attitudes is excellent. Well worth the ticket, but if you’re looking for action or gore you should probably try something else.
That will do for now.
Guillermo! The audience went wild chanting his name, and Guillermo del Toro was elated to receive their applause along with the Cheval Noir Award. He was charming, he was funny and he had no problems laying his craft out. He introduced the movie and would come back for a very inspiring master class.
But before that, there was the matter of the documentary. Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex was supposed to be a love letter to the rock stars of special effects, the movies and the directors that, for better or worse, took their efforts and triumphs to film. More or less following the chronology of horror and science fiction, the documentary narrates through each craftsman how rubber suits and masks slowly turn into animatronics and full blown moving robotics. With the likes of masters Phil Tippet, Rick Baker, Matt Winston and directors such as Guillermo del Toro, Joe Dante and John Landis (both in past footage and current) we’re introduced to the craft of Lon Chaney, Jack Pierce, Ray Harryhausen, Stan Winston and the almost mythical Rob Bottin. Special guest appearances by Greg Nicotero and Kevin Smith.
If you are an enthusiast of special effects, you’re watching this film. There’s a lot to consume and to hear each person talk shop about the different technologies is an invitation to nostalgia. It develops into an almost conflicting moment when practical and physical effects met the computer generated era. There’s an old school versus new school moment, that for the most part takes the side of the classic when it condemns studios for doing away with practical effects due to lack of patience. For the most part, it resolves this conflict by letting each director reconcile with both sides. However, it was heart breaking to hear Phil Tippet’s statement from the set of Jurassic Park: “I’m extinct.”
There’s a lot to take in, and this is where the narrative of directors Gilles Penso and Alexandre Poncet suffers. I welcome the fact that we don’t get an over-arching disembodied voice like in other offerings, instead each person introduced becomes the narrator. However, we hit a bit of a lull as the rhythm is always the same. The inclusion of Kevin Smith at some point seems a bit out of left field, but at least having him be funny breaks the monotony at some point. One funny anecdote from John Landis and Joe Dante on how the effects for An American Werewolf in London ended up benefiting The Howling could’ve been played up a bit more, but it got Fantasia’s audience laughing. Newcomers and casual audiences who’ve seen the movies but are not hardcore fans might not make through the entire film. I found myself dozing off past the middle point. You need some sort of thrill for your audience to perk up once in a while.
The weakness also lies in the nature of the material. Background footage and props go only so far. You can mention a ton of the movies involved but there’s little footage of the finished product. A discussion of Frank Oz’s Yoda puppet from The Empire Strikes Back versus his less than stellar CGI equivalent in the Star Wars prequels is left a bit unfulfilled as we’re not treated to film evidence. It’s a case in which Lucasfilm/Disney would not give away clips of their franchise films without a hefty bill. The case repeats itself with every other major studio. You won’t find any final footage of Alien or Robocop because of the same reason. Adding clips from those films would have considerably increased the cost. It’s understandable but also frustrating because any kid in YouTube can do an amateur film analysis just piecing clips together and hope it doesn’t get taken down by DMCA infringement. Professional filmmakers can’t play that card. Hence, we get props, renderings and the occasional old footage.
As for Guillermo del Toro, he came back after the credits for a master class. He was charming, he was inspiring, he was ready to answer any question you had and he was frankly honest. His rhetoric was off the cuff full of healthy and heartwarming humor and insolence. He was ready to incite a rebellion and inspire you to take a camera and start shooting a film then and there. When prodded about how producers often turn their nose at the time consuming nature and preparation of practical effects versus the easy route of post production added CGI, Guillermo was adamant as he was on the documentary that they both should advance together. He was also adamant that one or more of the people in the audience were now responsible for making sure that practical effects should live on. Homework has been given to the filmmakers of the next generation.
I would recommend listening to Guillermo del Toro’s master class anytime to anybody that has a creative brain and a beating heart that loves film.
As for Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex, that’s recommended it only to special effects junkies who’re willing to sit through the entire thing. Casual viewers will not last. For someone like myself, who exists somewhere in the middle, it was fulfilling albeit a bit tiring to watch throughout. I’d say wait until you can watch it at home so you can grab a drink and a snack.
Bonus! Here’s Guillermo del Toro speaking to Fantasia on special effects.
- Saturday, July 16: Terraformars (Japan).
- Sunday, July 17: Beware the Slenderman (USA) / As the Gods Will (Japan).
- Monday, July 18: Three (Hong Kong) for a healthy dose of action / The Wailing (South Korea).
- Tuesday, July 19: The Lure (Poland).
That will do for now.
Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead. I will try to keep them small, but the less you know the more you’ll enjoy this movie.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim knows what kind of movie it is. The genre is giant mecha, but the movie is still about people. He knows his audience. We’re looking for giant robots, science-fiction opera, and the heroic human component. You will find everything you’re looking for in Rim but regardless of whether you know what’s coming you will be entertained.
It’s been done before. It has just been a while since I’ve seen it done this good. We get the introduction to the giant monsters, the Kaiju and the giant robots, the Jaeger, before the title sequence shows up. But then the action is transferred to Hong Kong and I really, really enjoy the fact that Guillermo del Toro owns up to the fact that he’s essentially doing a live action adaptation of an anime love letter.
There’s lots of everything you love in this movie. Crazy holographic heads-up displays. Giant machines powering up. Old, beat up, battle armor. Huge doors with crazy locking mechanisms. There’s chinese slums built on top of Kaiju skeletons. There’s huge walls being build where people are willing to work with little safety for food rations.
The human component gives the film his heart. You will get your Kaiju vs. Jaeger battles soon enough, but we do get some decent human interaction here. Charlie Hunnan plays Raleigh Becket. He’s the reluctant hero, a former Jaeger pilot who quit after losing his brother. Idris Elba plays Stacker Pentecost, the commanding officer of the Jaeger program who brings Raleigh back for one last desperate attempt at winning the war. They’re both what you would expect. Pentecost will actually gain a lot more edge as the plot moves along.
Things get a whole lot more interesting when Rinko Kikuchi takes the screen as Mako Mori. Her character has a lot more depth than the rest of the Jaeger crew. She’s the rookie, shy and reserved. At the same time, she can be intense and can certainly hold her own in hand to hand combat. As it becomes obvious that she’s got potential to be a Jaeger pilot, she also becomes the most interesting character of the film. To pilot a Jaeger, you need two operators that must share memories in a synchronization process known as the drift. As Raleigh synchs with Mako, we are exposed to Mako’s memories – which will give Pentecost heart and Raleigh purpose. Rinko’s Mako also does something even nicer: it makes this movie better than the average film.
We will get our share of crazy scientist schemes, slight gags here and there and Ron Pearlman playing a Hong Kong gangster named Hannibal Chau. It’s a blockbuster, the movie never forgets what it’s going for. But there’s a rich world built around the central plot that makes the movie a delight to watch. You almost want to visit the fictional Bone Slums.
You will have to endure a hefty serving of cheese. There’s a few scenes and plot points that do seem to be taken right out of Independence Day (then again, that film learn those from other films). Pentecost will deliver a speech like every coach before the big game is played. Raleigh will stand up for Mako against a bully (we knew Mako could’ve taken him alone). A lot of secondary characters are one-dimensional caricatures. The final desperate plan does involve a nuclear bomb, but there will be a twist. EMPs affects all electrical devices, not just digital ones (and regardless of what your energy source is, almost all electronics are digital, Gypsy Danger).
It’s not flawless, but for the most part this is a very slick vehicle. I’d hate for someone to miss Pacific Rim thinking this is Michael Bay’s Transformers all over again. A thousand times no. Guillermo’s camera angles always give us a clear view of what’s ahead. There’s no jarring camera movement or unnecessary panning. You will believe you are on the ground staring up at a giant monster fighting a giant robot.
Heavily recommended. You can’t miss this film. Take the IMAX 3D plunge for this one. For once, it does employ the technology effectively to warrant the price.
That will do for now.