FANTASY TAKES “SHAPE OF WATER;” “CHRISTMAS STORY” ON TV

FANTASY TAKES “SHAPE OF WATER;” “CHRISTMAS STORY” ON TV

 A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley

THE SHAPE OF WATER (Rated R) The misunderstood monster or mutant has a long history in cinema. Director Guillermo del Toro has obviously been inspired by the amphibious Gill-Man in “Creature from the Black Lagoon” to arrive at his fantasy fable of “The Shape of Water.”

Set during the height of the Cold War in 1962 at an underground secret government facility in Baltimore, “The Shape of Water” takes shape, so to speak, as a romantic love story in the same orbit as “Beauty and the Beast.”

The film opens with a dream sequence in an underwater world where a young woman floats in her own apartment. The dreamer is Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a lonely, isolated mute who works as a cleaning lady at the government laboratory.

Only able to communicate in sign language, Elisa finds a friend at work in colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who serves as the narrator to give voice to whatever Elisa seeks to convey to others in the workplace.

While Zelda is a hard-working African American struggling with the temper of the times, Elisa’s neighbor is Giles (Richard Jenkins), a closeted gay man struggling with his career as an illustrator. Together, all three of these individuals form an odd, minority outsider group.

Meanwhile, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), the square-jawed, sadistic agent in charge of a secret project, has captured an amphibious creature from the Amazon, who is now the subject of experiments under the supervision of Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlberg).

Curious about the creature chained inside a large water tank, Elisa draws him (Doug Jones) out by first offering a hard-boiled egg that is part of her morning ritual at home. She also plays jazz albums and tries to teach him sign language.

A bond forms between these two isolated, outcast beings, and when it becomes clear that the nameless creature will be dissected and destroyed in the name of science, if only to thwart the Soviet spies nosing around, Elisa and her pals plot for a daring rescue.

The press notes indicate that within del Toro’s storytelling, the themes of good and evil, and innocence and menace, “beauty and monstrosity weave in and out of each other, revealing that no darkness can ever fully defeat the light.”

These themes stoke the director’s passion for simultaneously haunting and enchanting audiences. The interspecies romance, which becomes graphic, propels “The Shape of Water” into an uncharted fantasy realm that has not been captured in previous films of this genre.

Against the fascinating backdrop of the Space Race, Cold War and Civil Rights movement, there is plenty of raw emotion running through “The Shape of Water” to create this unusual love story.

A CHRISTMAS STORY LIVE!” ON FOX TV NETWORK

The holiday seasons, whether Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Year’s to name the big ones, deliver television marathons of beloved movies and TV series. “The Twilight Zone” episodes run every year, and the adored holiday classic “A Christmas Story” is a perennial favorite.

And while Turner Classic Movies is running a Christmas Eve and Day continuous loop of Peter Billingsley’s Ralphie being warned that “You’ll shoot your eye out” for so desperately wanting a Red Ryder BB gun, a live musical production is set for December 17th on the FOX network.

“A Christmas Eve Live!” is an ambitious undertaking to create a live musical event based on the 1983 movie and the Tony Award-nominated Broadway production “A Christmas Story: The Musical” which featured music and lyrics by the team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

The same composers are involved in this latest musical version set for airing one week to the day before Christmas Eve, and Pasek and Paul, not resting on past success, have written several new songs for this live television event.

During the summer TV press tour, Justin Paul explained that Ralphie’s fantasies and wild imagination are “sort of screaming out to become musical numbers and to be realized on stage with choreography and production values that are very different from the classic film.”

Matthew Broderick will star as the narrator, playing the part of a grown-up Ralphie Parker who looks back with love and humor on his favorite childhood Christmas, the one where he yearned for the Red Ryder Air Rifle.

Maya Rudolph stars as Mother Parker, and filling the role of her day-dreaming son is 11-year-old Andy Walken from Seattle, discovered as the result of a nationwide digital casting call.

A Christmas Story Live!” may have the feel of a hybrid between the original film and a Broadway stage production. Marc Platt, the producer, noted the intent is to create something “very cinematic” but that is “happening live before our eyes.”

Above all else, this live broadcast of a revamped version of “A Christmas Story” is designed to deliver a family event that complements even the more traditional Christmas favorites that get airtime during the holidays. The FOX network has managed this kind of live magic before.

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