Tag Archives: Michael Stuhlbarg

The Shape of Water (2017)

I arrived late to the party for The Shape of Water, having finally caught the movie a few weeks ago after months and months of dodging reviews online. Guess I’d better add my voice to the fray, huh? Maybe a piece on how writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s creativity allowed him to get away with a smaller budget…but, no, someone’s already written that. How about an article detailing the Creature from the Black Lagoon-inspired genesis of the film? Damn, that one’s been up for three months. Use of color in the film? Been there. Political subtext? Done that. Seems a movie as rich as this should have a surplus of accoutrements on which to festoon my opinions, should have that pliability typical of great films allowing for different readings, interpretations, criticisms, attitudes and judgments.

The irony, in a way, is that explicit analysis of The Shape of Water is sort of counter to the themes of the film. More than that: forcing words onto Shape, which thrives largely on sight and feeling, might actually be detrimental to one’s enjoyment of and identification with the message at hand. Despite having seen the film only recently and only once, I suspect that removing the words entirely — watching it with the volume muted — wouldn’t take anything away from the overall experience. It might even heighten it, highlighting just how different “words” and “communication” actually are.

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Steve Jobs (2015)

97% of Steve Jobs is nearly perfect. Much like the products borne of the man’s unparalleled creative vision, everything in his latest biographical film is optimized, streamlined, rounded when the edge should be rounded, sharp when the edge should be sharp, forward-thinking, life-changing, and pitched to be perfect. The performances are subtle and explosive, depending on which character you’re dealing with. The drama is heavy-duty; the comedy is excitingly witty. The pacing of the whole film is breathless. And the writing — whew, the writing — Aaron Sorkin has probably never been this good or done this much with a film script. This is ostensibly The Social Network 2.0, a story about a genius/jerk who defined the times for the rest of us, except Steve Jobs has a richer character in the driver’s seat.

And in comparing the two, that leftover 3% only becomes all the more glaring. The structure of the film is unique, built over three days in history: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the launch of the NeXT computer in 1988, and the launch of the iMac in 1998. The aforementioned breathlessness of the film is derived from setting each episode immediately before these launches, as that’s probably the most stressful and nerve-wracking collection of hours in any product launcher’s life. No different in Steve Jobs. Jobs needs everything to be perfect, every address to start exactly on time, every personal grievance from his staff and family (of which there are many, and between which the words staff and family mean less and less) to be voiced and dealt with. “It seems like five minutes before every launch, people go to a bar and get drunk and decide to air their grievances,” says Jobs.

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Miles Ahead (2015)

The 53rd New York Film Festival came to a close Saturday night with the world premiere of Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s longtime passion project about the late great Miles Davis. An actor of Cheadle’s caliber attached so fully to a single film might be a rarity, and in this case it’s the lead role, the directing, and the writing that all fall in the man’s wheelhouse…and he co-produced and wrote original music for the film. And he was in Avengers: Age of Ultron just a few months back.

Interestingly, the similarities between the vigilante War Machine and the musician Miles Davis make it evident what Cheadle saw in both charac…just kidding. Miles Ahead is the best thing Cheadle’s done since Hotel Rwanda, or at the very least the most substantial role since then, and thus an overdue reminder that Cheadle is a fantastically likable leading man. He’s likable even when he’s playing Davis at his lowest point, a five-year creative drought fueled by cocaine and loneliness that makes up the majority of Miles Ahead, and through all the stubbornness and figurative horn-tooting (sorry) Cheadle still conveys the fact that Davis was overflowing with passion for his art. It’s fitting that the actor, who took eight years to craft Miles, matches the musician in passion for his own art.

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