THE SHAPE OF WATER: I’m convinced that a childhood love of movies motivated co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro (PAN’S LABYRINTH) to become a filmmaker of the kind of works that must have stimulated his youthful imagination. Cinematic allusions abound in this elaborate fairy tale of a fantasy about a mute maintenance worker’s (Sally Hawkins) attraction toward an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) who’s an obvious homage to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). But what if Gill Man from that enjoyable ‘50s monster movie had consummated his attraction for the coed “science” major (Julie Adams) that he abducted before those pesky humans intervened? That’s what del Toro’s narrative sort of answers with the angle that the unlikely paramours are both regarded as “oddities” in the eyes of the world. Dan Laustsen’s cinematography has a haunting quality, especially in the underwater sequences while the production design of Paul D. Austerberry reflects the Cold War austerity of the super secret research laboratory where the “affront” (That’s something offensive.) is held in captivity. Alexandre Desplat’s score is consistently on cue to convey the given tone or emotion of a scene. All of the best actors working can convey expression and thought without saying a word and Hawkins (BLUE JASMINE) masters non-verbal performance all throughout the film. She’s aided by strong performances from character actor Richard Jenkins (BURN AFTER READING) as a down on his luck commercial artist whose homosexuality in that time period makes him an outcast, the always watchable Michael Shannon (99 HOMES) whose rigid facility director is the real “monster” and Octavia Spencer (THE HELP) as Hawkins’ chatty co-worker. In some of his previous movies, del Toro’s unique visual style has occasionally overwhelmed his prowess that he has as a storyteller. But in this near superior film, the script and writing enriches a lavish tale that fuses romance with a vintage Hollywood monster picture. Like this movie’s amorous pair, it would appear to be an unlikely match. But boy, does it work. CRITIC’S GRADE: A-

 

DOUBLE FEATURE: A cultured American teenager (Timothee Chalamet) living in northern Italy struggles with his sexuality and attraction to an older graduate student (Armie Hammer) in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. James Ivory’s screenplay moves at a rather languid pace before unspooling its primary plot while Luca Guadagnino’s direction often feels more suited for a travelogue with its lingering shots of lazy flowing rivers, rolling fields and guys walking around without shirts. What elevates this coming of age love story is a breakout performance from Chalamet (LADY BIRD) who’s aided by Hammer (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) playing against type in an extremely complex role. Intelligent dialogue permeates the movie whose final close-up shot reflects the joy, heartbreak and memories of first love. CRITIC’S GRADE: B-