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The Shape of Water

A beautiful fairy tale for fish out of water 

     Orphan Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins: Maudie) knows hard times. Mute since a childhood throat slashing, she works as an unnoticed janitor at a secret government facility in Baltimore. 
     Her life ticks by in lonely minutes until agent Strickland (Michael Shannon: Nocturnal Animals) introduces an amphibious humanoid called the Asset. Worshiped as a god in South America, the Asset was captured to add to America’s Cold War arsenal. 
     As lab techs torture the creature, Elisa mops up his blood and offers the kindness of shared lunches. As rapport builds, Elisa teaches him to sign, and they dance — when the cameras are looking elsewhere. For the first time in her life, Elisa feels seen and understood. 
     When Strickland announces that the Asset will be dissected, Elisa decides what she is willing to risk. 
     A master of visual storytelling, director Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak) surpasses himself with a feast of green tones, carefully constructed frames and subtle tributes to film history. Movie lovers will enjoy the nods to classic monster movies, musicals and Cold War thrillers. But you don’t need to be a cinephile to enjoy this lush fairy tale. 
      Though billed as a creature-feature romance, The Shape of Water is more importantly a tale of people on the fringes of society coming together to support and uplift one another. Each of the sympathetic characters is rejected by society for some perceived flaw. Elisa’s friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer: Gifted), another janitor, is black. Advertising artist Giles (Richard Jenkins: Kong: Skull Island) is gay and a victim of job discrimination. Instead of remaining on the fringes, these outsiders rebel in a powerful call to arms. 
      Brilliant performances help del Toro tell his aquatic love story. In a nearly silent performance, Hawkins commands the screen. It’s astounding what she can accomplish with just her eyes. Her Elisa is kind, fragile and brave without melodrama. As the Asset, legendary effects-actor Doug Jones is also silent, so the film’s central love story is quietly brilliant. 
      The Shape of Water, my top film of 2017, must be seen to be believed. 
Prospects: Brilliant • R • 123 mins.
 
 
New this Week
 
The Greatest Showman
     P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) dreams. Escaping his boring job, he wants to create a spectacle so amazing people will travel from miles around to see it. With family support, he assembles a unique — and, he hopes, dazzling — collection of entertainers.
      An original musical portraying Barnum as a kind-hearted man who wanted people to feel accepted, The Greatest Showman is the type of hokum Barnum would have used to sell tickets. Viewers who know his history and practices might find it difficult to hum along to this upbeat show. Still, teens and musical enthusiasts might find charm in bright lights and colorful performances. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 105 mins. 
 
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
     Four teens find a mysterious videogame, Jumanji. Like so many mysterious games in the movies, this one is cursed. The kids are sucked into the game, becoming avatars. Can they use their gaming know-how to escape? Or are they stuck in an eight-bit jungle?
     Comedians Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black are the only hope for this reboot of the 1990s’ film updated for the digital age. Can they outdo Robin Williams?
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 119 mins. 
 
Pitch Perfect 3
      The Barton Bellas made their name in college, singing together acappella. Now in the bleak real world, they long for the good old days. 
      To perform together one last time, the Bellas travel to Europe on a USO tour. Pre-performance, they deal with insecurities, bonding and pop hits, repeating their previous two films. 
      Pitch Perfect 3 relies on slapstick comedy, Top 40 hits and countless callbacks to better films. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 93 mins.