Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Shape of Water

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The Shape of Water (20th Century Fox, 2017) – Director: Guillermo del Toro. Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor (s/p). Guillermo del Toro (story). Stars: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones, David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Lauren Lee Smith, Martin Roach, Allegra Fulton, John Kapalos & Morgan Kelly. Color, Rated R, 123 minutes.

It’s difficult to say if Guillermo del Toro is preaching to us or trying to make us laugh but his new fantasy does both in this retelling of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) with echoes of Beauty and the Beast and a hearty guffaw at La La Land (2016).

It’s 1962 and we meet Elisa Esposito (Hawkins), a rather plain-looking, mute girl who works at government nautical research center as a cleaning lady with her best friend Zelda Fuller (Spencer), who is her intermediary with the speaking world. Zelda more than makes up for the vocalizations Elisa cannot manage.

Elisa lives in an apartment over the Orpheum movie theater with her next door neighbor Giles (Jenkins), an accomplished artist who is being phased out by photography. Aside from Giles and Zelda, Elisa’s life is lonely and her job thankless.

Then one day, Fleming (Hewlett), the director of the research facility, announces a new and exciting addition to the center’s assets, and a huge tubular tank is rolled in similar to an iron lung filled with water and equipped with windows. Elisa is instantly drawn to the container and the loud banging and growling sounds of whatever is inside.

Enter Richard Strickland (Shannon), who captured the Amphibian Man (Jones) in the Amazon (same locale as the 1954 movie) and who is not on the best terms with it. His attitude is militarily insensitive toward it and carries a cattle prod to “keep it tame.” His character may look like a Tommy Lee Jones type but he spouts religious epithets and gives equal time to racial slurs like an Archie Bunker.

Strickland is under orders from General Hoyt (Searcy) to capture, kill, dissect and learn from the creature how it can breathe both in water and in air. The goal is to adapt a man to space travel. The space race has already begun; Yuri Gargarin has already accomplished his mission (1962).

Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Stuhlbarg) is horrified that the government wants to kill the beast and argues to keep it alive and study it. He’s overruled. But he’s also a mole for the Russians (his real name is Dmitri) who want the creature destroyed.

As you might surmise, the plot is bizarre and crazy to begin with and the characters exaggerated. But it get more outrageous. Elisa sneaks into the lab where the creature is kept and makes friends with it, using hard-boiled eggs. Eventually, she teaches it some American Sign Language and (surprise!) falls in love with it. She sees Strickland’s cruelty and the creature’s loneliness and learns of the plan to kill it, so she hatches her own plan. She and Giles, Zelda and Dr. Hoffstetler join up to free the creature from the facility and smuggle it to her apartment, where she has a bathtub ready filled with salt water. Also, my mind was hearkening back to the movie Splash (1984) where a man brought a mermaid into a similar living condition.

Definitely del Toro, and it get even more surreal. Elisa plans to release the creature to the ocean when the rains fill the nearest canal and the gates are opened. This is before she falls in love with it and floods her bathroom so that they can have an intimate moment and Giles loses one of his cats to a hungry Amphibian man.

You’ll Never Know” is sung by Vera Lynn on a television show Giles is watching with admiration and it soon becomes the theme for the oddly matched, interspecies couple. Elisa has a dream sequence where she can sing the song and dance with him in an elaborate Hollywood musical. Again, very del Toro.

The story is told with humor but is neither a tragedy nor a comedy. Elements of both exist. It’s entertaining and the underwater scenes are exquisitely done. Sally Hawkins does a superb acting job and Octavia Spencer proves that she can play God and a cleaning woman equally well. Michael Shannon plays a convincingly hateful villain, the kind you hope “gets it in the end.” The Shape of Water is an arty, sexy, adult fantasy that used today’s technology to improve on a classic horror film.

Rating: 4 out of 5 martini glasses.

Freud NYC
506 LaGuardia Place, New York

Named for Sigmund Freud, this contemporary Austrian restaurant surprised me with the quality of its food. Inside, it’s all bare-topped tables, open brick walls and a shiny burnished copper-colored ceiling reflecting the brick red tiled floor. Two autumnal floral displays were the most ostentatious part of the décor, otherwise it was quite simple.   

I was brought a single piece of dense, homemade bread on a slab of slate and a dish of green olive oil with pepperoncini sprinkled into it. After consulting with my server I learned that some of the “shared” dishes were too large, so I adjusted my selection accordingly. I started with a bowl of cauliflower soup. It was an appealing café-au-lait color and had the most amazing flavor. In contained pureed cauliflower with in bacon highlights and a herbal mixture blended into the cream. A startlingly lovely first course, with the slightly salty deep fried cauliflower bits garnishing it adding to the experience.

Next were six oysters on the half shell with apple balsamic mignonette. The oysters themselves were wonderful, not too briny and the mignonette accented the flavor nicely, but the green garnish however, added nothing positive to the dish. In fact, they detracted, were too assertive, and I removed them from the oysters following the first one.

Austrian cuisine is almost as noted for its richness as is French cuisine and the main course provided a perfect example. The roast duck was cooked perfectly, with a nice blush color to the slices. It was accompanied by pumpkin custard, green string beans, savory whipped cream and pecans. The pumpkin custard was outrageous – devilishly sweet and tempting. It had competition, though. A side dish of Brussels sprouts with curry mustard vinaigrette was like vegetable candy, though the sweet onion crisps sprinkled over the top gilded the lily.

The wine list was small and simple. I found a lovely 2014 Rufete, a Spanish/Portuguese wine from the Douro region. Its assertive nose and dark ruby color were as attractive as its tart tannic taste and fruity finish. It balanced the sweetness of my meal nicely.

For dessert, the Austrian Style Chocolate Soufflé, with apricots, candied grapes, and nuts was not like any soufflé I’ve had before. It was more of a light, fluffy cake surrounded by the sweet fruits and crunchy nuts. I followed my usual double espresso with an elegant thistle glass of Schladerer Williams Birne Pear Brandy from Austria. A very pleasant finish to an exciting meal.

When I was about to leave, I was presented with not one, but three business cards. The sister restaurants are Shilling (downtown near my office) and Edi and The Wolf in Alphabet City on Avenue C only presented a small challenge. I’ve already dined at Shilling. Now to try Edi and The Wolf.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment