The Shape of Water Review

Guillermo del Toro has left quite the impact on the world of cinema. His alternating between Spanish-language fantasy films and more mainstream American features have allowed him to cover a wide range of genres, sprinkling in his uniquely vivid imagination throughout them. Though not all of his films are equally as enthralling, Guillermo del Toro has become one of the few fantasy filmmakers to manage to win over more traditionalist critics. His most recent film, The Shape of Water, even managed to become the second-ever fantasy film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Despite this acclaim, along with its terrific acting and a handful of inspired elements, The Shape of Water often stumbles due to its inability to make its central relationship resonate, and for its over-reliance on its clichéd, psychopathic antagonist.

Set during the midst of the Cold War, The Shape of Water centers around woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaner at a secret government laboratory. Though her inability to talk makes her something of an outcast, she has at least two friends in her closeted neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a struggling commercial artist, and fellow cleaner Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who works as something of an interpreter for Elisa at the workplace.

One day, the government lab receives a mysterious creature from South America, captured by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). The lab intends to study the amphibious creature under Strickland’s eye, in hopes that it can help them gain an edge over the Russians.

Elisa, curious about the creature, sneaks into its containment center to get a better understanding of it. She soon learns that the creature is capable of displaying reason and emotion (it quickly picks up on Elisa’s sign language), and also finds out that Strickland has been torturing the creature. Feeling a connection to the creature as a fellow outcast, Elisa soon forms a secret bond with it, one which blossoms into romance.

On paper, it sounds like something of a contemporary fairy tale. But sadly, the film only feels like ‘magic’ in small bursts. The idea of a mute woman falling in love with a fantasy monster sounds interesting in concept, but the grave flaw with this central relationship is that the creature isn’t given enough human qualities to make their romance have any real emotional weight.

As it is, taking an amphibious monster – even a humanoid one – and turning it into a romantic interest is already a hard sell. But The Shape of Water fails at making its creature feel like a worthy significant other for Elisa, as it comes across as more animal-like than anything. Yes, the creature can understand sign language, but that’s about as far as its human traits go. Even Giles refers to the creature as a “wild animal” after it devours a cat, and explains that they “can’t expect it to be anything more.” Sure, it’s sad to see the creature get electrocuted by Strickland, but that almost seems like a cheap ploy to get audiences to empathize with a creature that, otherwise, doesn’t boast many empathetic traits.

Sure, The Shape of Water tries its hand at a few other tricks to build sympathy for its monster (the creature even possesses healing powers, which seems like a requirement for all misunderstood monsters by this point). But the romance between Elisa and the creature never really clicks because it doesn’t so much feel like a love between two people – with one of those people just happening to be a fantasy monster – but between a human woman and a wild animal, which makes things feel more awkward than beautiful.

This is only magnified by the film’s inconsistent pace. The earlier half of the film moves so quickly that the romance between Elisa and the creature feels like it just kind of happens out of nowhere, while the second half seemingly comes to a dead stop, with the characters’ personalities and stories coming to a stand-still. This whiplash-like pacing of moving too quickly before stopping in its tracks makes the development of Elisa’s relationship with the creature feel non-existent.

The film’s other great narrative flaw is its over-emphasis on Strickland. Michael Shannon’s acting in the role is brilliant, but he really only has so much to work with. Not every villain has to be a three-dimensional human being, and sometimes the irredeemable psychopath villain can work. But it’s an archetype that’s so overplayed that it’s hard to make it standout, and while Shannon’s acting might make the role a bit more memorable than it would otherwise be, Strickland still comes off as like he’s just ticking the boxes on a checklist of the requirements for a despicable villain. The film makes an attempt to turn him into something of a commentary on the traditional American “man of the future” archetype (he has two children, a nice house, and a seemingly perfect wife to thinly guise his twisted nature), but even that’s a commentary that feels overly familiar. So even thematically, Strickland comes across as clichéd.

Despite its narrative shortcomings, The Shape of Water still has its merits. Again, it needs to be repeated that the acting is top-notch, and though the creature may not be able to win us over emotionally, it is a visual marvel, as are the set and costume designs. Perhaps the film’s best attribute is its musical score, which may linger in the memory more strongly than the film itself.

There are bits and pieces of greatness sprinkled here and there in The Shape of Water, but its core themes of love and feeling like an outcast from society just don’t resonate, its pace feels off, and it falls prey to the old movie trope of dedicating too much time to showing us how cruel its one-dimensional villain is.

I won’t say it’s a flat-out bad movie, but The Shape of Water is far from great, and one of Guillermo del Toro’s clunkier efforts. If it weren’t for the obvious Oscar-baiting elements the film provides, it would be a complete mystery as to how The Shape of Water managed to snag Best Picture while so many other fantasy films got the cold shoulder.

The Shape of Water may boast some merits that rise to the surface. But on the whole, it sinks.




Toys ‘R Us Memories

It was announced last week that, as the rumors suggested for a while now, Toy’s ‘R’ Us is officially closing up shop. While this was expected in many ways, due to the rise of online shopping and such, the news still stings for those of us who grew up in the last several decades, as it was the go-to toy store for many kids for generations.

Of course I’ve long-since moved on to the likes of Amazon and such to do most of my video game shopping, but in my younger days, Toys ‘R’ Us played an important role in my introduction to the video game medium. Naturally, it was the place I would go to as a kid whenever it was time to pick up whatever game I had been eagerly waiting months for, with Nintendo Power and its ilk often directing me straight to Jeffrey the Giraffe’s abode on launch days.

Those were the pre-EB Games days (which in turn were the pre-GameStop days, which predate these days of online shopping). Granted, I still visited more independent game stores than most kids my age at the time (at least I like to think so), but in my early years, Toys ‘R’ Us was the first destination I’d go to when it was time to pick up an anticipated game.

Perhaps more notably, Toys ‘R’ Us was the place where I first encountered and discovered many games. At the expense of sounding like just another of the countless nostalgics on the internet, I do have to admit that kids in this internet age really will never understand what it was like to have toy stores play such a large role in gaming (that’s not a bad thing of course, just a different thing. But one that stings the nostalgia bone knowing that it’s a thing of the past).

One has to remember that the internet only really came into prominence during the 2000s. In the 1990s, a kid wouldn’t get an alert on a cellphone informing them of the announcement of a new video game. And for me personally, Toys ‘R’ Us was my introduction to many video games before I even knew about video game magazines (when I say I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember, I mean it quite literally).

“Behold, the location at which I first saw Super Mario 64, Yoshi’s Island, DKC and Pokemon.”

I can remember the first time I saw Yoshi’s Island was at one of Toys ‘R’ Us’s gaming kiosks. For the sake of better context, I was born in 1989, and the Mario games (along with Zelda, Mega Man and Sonic) were a a big part of my childhood. I was still a wee tyke in 1995 when Yoshi’s Island rolled around, so every Mario game at that point was either long established before I was born, or released during my infancy, when I couldn’t really understand the concept of them being ‘new.’ And I must repeat that this was before the internet, and before my knowledge of gaming magazines existed. So for me, the Mario games that were out at the time were the Mario series. I didn’t know franchises could expand beyond the games I had sitting next to my NES and SNES. Suffice to say my mind was blown when my five-year old self was just on a regular trip to Toys ‘R’ Us and suddenly I see a TV screen with Yoshi’s Island on it. Yoshi was that dinosaur from Super Mario World, wasn’t he? What the hell was he doing in his own game? Why did this game look like a drawing (which was, and still is, one of the best art directions in the medium)?

For a five-year old kid with no knowledge of the game’s development or promotion (if that gross-out disgrace of a commercial was on at the time, I hadn’t seen it); this was like some kind of phenomenon.

Similar experiences happened the year prior and the year after. In the case of the former, it was Donkey Kong Country, whose state-of-the-art visuals certainly caught my eye in that Toys ‘R’ Us aisle (though the details are a little fuzzier on that one). In the case of the latter, it was Super Mario 64. Now, unlike Yoshi’s Island, I had actually heard that Nintendo was making some kind of “3D Mario game” beforehand. But I hadn’t seen anything of it up to that time. Once again, stepping into Toys ‘R’ Us and seeing Super Mario 64 at a kiosk and, actually taking a controller in hand this time, playing it for the first time, is a gaming moment I’ll never forget. I can even tell you what section of the game it was.

It was the hallways of Peach’s Castle where you can follow that Boo to the castle garden, though I instead went into the lower chambers of the castle by using the key you get from beating the first Bowser fight (or the “Key from Zelda” as I called it at the time, as the key in question is basically identical to the boss keys from A Link to the Past).

Going back to the era after I discovered video game magazines, my first time playing Majora’s Mask was also at a Toys ‘R’ Us, in which I fought against the game’s first boss, Odowla, whose shamanistic chanting has stuck with me ever since. Though unlike the previous memories listed, the “Majora’s Mask experience” was at a differing location than my ‘childhood Toys ‘R’ Us.’ The location of said Majora’s Mask experience is long-since gone, while my childhood Toys ‘R’ Us, for the time being, is still standing (yes, I can still remember the exact locations of where these gaming kiosks once stood).

Okay, by now this is starting to sound more like “Video Game Memories” than “Toys ‘R’ Us Memories,” but the fact of the matter is, without Toys ‘R’ Us, I wouldn’t have these specific memories. And such memories spawning from Toys ‘R’ Us continued for a good while, and not just for games. Whether it was tracking down action figures from the upcoming Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (a movie that would surely be good), or collecting every last one of those Digimon miniature figurines (which I proudly still have), Toys ‘R’ Us gave me plenty of childhood memories.

The funny thing is, I even have some relatively recent memories of Toys ‘R’ Us. Around Christmastime of 2010, after seeing a Christmas stage show with my sister, we decided to stop by the nearby Toys ‘R’ Us on a nostalgic whim, where I was greeted by a beautiful “25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros.” kiosk. Sadly, the very next year when me and my sister tried to recreate the experience (after seeing the same stage show), the Toys ‘R’ Us in question had closed down. That was the first time in years I had stepped inside a Toys ‘R’ Us, and a few years later I would find another item to bring me back to the once iconic toy store: Amiibo.

Now, I’m not exactly a big Amiibo collector (I own eight total, two of which came bundled together), but there are a few that I simply couldn’t resist forking over the thirteen-or-so dollars for. The only problem is that Amiibo have a tendency to sell out quickly in online stores, and most of the ones I had interest in were gone from GameStops within minutes. And well, I really wanted the Shovel Knight Amiibo. After being unable to find one online or at GameStop, I decided to check out Toys ‘R’ Us (my childhood Toys ‘R’ Us, as I happened to be in the area at the time). Lo and behold, they had at least a dozen Shovel Knight Amiibo. From then on, whenever I wanted an Amiibo, I knew exactly where to go, and it never failed.

Sure, this was maybe telling about the future of the store chain (if a popular item can be easily found at a specific location, how many people are going to that location?), but it certainly was convenient whenever I wanted an Amiibo (what’s that? The Zelda 30th anniversary Amiibo are impossible to find? Not at Toys ‘R’ Us they weren’t!). More importantly, it gave me a means to revisit the aforementioned memories, and many others.

“See that blank space between the door and the gaming shelves? There was once a Donkey Kong Country 3 poster there. Why the hell do I remember this?”

Yes, Toys ‘R’ Us is only a toy store, and its inability to adapt with the times probably had as much of a hand in its downfall as its online competition. But for many of us, those trips to Toys ‘R’ Us were pure childhood bliss. For those of us who grew up with video games, Toys ‘R’ Us was a contributor to our love of the medium. And for someone like me, who hopes to one day make a game or two (or five, or ten) of my own, these early gaming memories of my life have clearly left an impact. I can still make my dream of making games a reality. It’s just a shame no one will ever get to see them at a Toys ‘R’ Us kiosk.

10 Things I Want to See in Super Smash Bros. 5

Can you believe it? A new Super Smash Bros. is on the way to the Nintendo Switch this year! Man, we didn’t need to wait seven years this time!

Now, of course, is the time when fans start to express what they hope to see in the newest entry in Nintendo’s crossover super-franchise. And although I usually try to refrain from getting too hyped about a game with so little information to it, when it comes to Smash Bros. I have to have a little bit of fun.

Here are – in no real order – ten things I hope to see in Super Smash Bros’ outing on the Nintendo Switch. I may make a list of my most wanted characters at some point. But for now, here’s ten different ‘things.’ Some are things I’d like to see added, others are things I’d like subtracted. Either way… All aboard the hype train! Toot toot! Continue reading

Happy Mario Day 2018!

Today is Mar. 10, which means it’s Mario Day! I had originally planned on getting a review for a certain Mario game up today, but I was unable to get it done in time (be patient, my loves). To compensate, let’s celebrate Mario Day with every Mario review I’ve written thus far (Plus one by Mr. AfterStory)! Here we go!

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker 

Dr. Mario 64

Luigi’s Mansion Arcade

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Arcade) 

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Mario Golf (N64)

Mario is Missing

Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX

Mario Kart: Super Circuit 

Mario Party 2

Mario Party: Island Tour

Mario’s Time Machine

Mario Tennis (N64)

Mario Tennis Open

New Super Luigi U

New Super Mario Bros.

New Super Mario Bros. 2

New Super Mario Bros. U

Paper Mario: Color Splash

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D World

Super Mario 64

Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Kart 

Super Mario Maker 

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey (AfterStory Review)

Super Mario Sunshine

Super Mario World


Yoshi’s Story

Yoshi’s Woolly World

Yoshi Touch & Go 


Happy Mario Day, everybody! Let’s-a go!

Ask Me Anything: Episode III – Revenge of the Questions

Okay, so a decent amount of time has passed since the last time I did this (over a year), and since I’m approaching my seven-hundredth blog here at the Dojo, I figured ‘what the hell,’ let’s give this another go. And well, the fact that I’ve been slow in writing reviews as of late has me feeling like I need to write something. So hopefully this can tide me over until I write some reviews proper.

So yeah, this is another “Ask Me Anything.” It is what it sounds like. Just ask me some questions, and I’ll answer them in my 700th blog. You can ask me about this site, my opinions on things, what’s happening with my learning game-development, pretty much anything of the sort.

Not surprisingly, I’ve never got too many questions in the past, and I don’t expect that to change here. But since I’ve gotten some new followers in the past year I figured I may as well give this another go. I do recommend leaving any questions you want to ask me in the comments section of this particular post, but I suppose you can write them in one of my other blogs as well (though I recommend informing me that your questions are for the AMA if that is how you go about it).

So yeah, ask away, and I’ll answer in blog 700. And don’t worry your pretty little head, I’ll get to those reviews ASAP.

It’s What’s on the Inside that Counts (Even in Fiction)

For whatever reason, I decided to watch the 90th annual Academy Awards the other night. Some good movies won stuff and other, more boring movies won others (it’s almost like the movies the Academy decides to nominate has something to do with their consistently decreasing viewership). Amidst it were the usual politics thrown into the mix (which is fine, whether or not I agree with someone, it’s their right to share their beliefs), but less tolerable was the air of self-righteousness that usually emanates from such events, which seems particularly misplaced given everything that’s been going on in the Hollywood scene over the past year.

Okay, I’ve come to expect all that from the Oscars. We are talking about an event where the wardrobes of those who walk on the red carpet take center stage more than acknowledging their own craft, after all. It isn’t exactly a practice in humility.

The reason I’m writing this isn’t about the general attitude that I’ve come to expect from the show, but rather, one particular theme that persistently echoed throughout the show. For (very understandable) reasons, one of the recurring talking points of the show was greater inclusion of women and minorities in movies, which is wonderful. I’m all for inclusion, equal rights, and all that jazz. That’s all well and good.

What got me though was one particular statement (I can’t remember exactly who said it or when, so if anyone can clarify please do). During one of the montages, someone was discussing the new wave of super hero films such as Wonder Woman and Black Panther showing a greater display of representation (the former of course starring a woman, and the latter starring an African-American) with one particular statement saying something along the lines of (pardon the paraphrasing) “It’s empowering to see these kinds of roles. White men get to have this feeling all the time with super hero movies.”

Hold the phone…what now?

Now, this is something I’ve talked about before, and it’s something that a lot of people would probably vilify me for. But I just don’t understand this idea people seem to have these days that, unless a character shares one’s sex or skin color, that an audience is unable to identify with them. Again, I’m all for inclusion, but for reasons being that we’re all human, and different kinds of people exist. I do not, however, think that someone should/could only be able to identify with a character who looks like them.

For one thing, I can tell you that I don’t go to super hero movies to feel empowered because x-super hero is a white dude like me. I tend to go to super hero movies for entertainment, and maybe to witness a strong story with memorable characters. And I think that’s why everyone goes to super hero movies.

Yeah, it’s awesome that we now have characters like Wonder Woman and Black Panther on the silver screen, and I happily welcome it. But I think this idea that people need a character who shares their race or sex in order to relate and empathize with them is incredibly superficial. It’s essentially telling people that things such as skin color and body parts are their every last defining trait, which, to me, seems insulting to them as individuals.

As children, we’re taught that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and that is indeed sound advise that rings true for us as adults. There’s far more to people than their race or sex, and to imply that it isn’t possible for someone to relate to someone else – even a fictional character – because they aren’t of the same race or sex is an incredibly shallow outlook on one’s self and on art.

It is very much possible for any audience to identify with any character, depending on what the character is all about and who they are. I’m not a woman, and I found Wonder Woman to be a very relatable character, and one who was incredibly easy to empathize with, due to who she was a character. She was kind-hearted and brave (certainly more so than myself), and had an endearing quality about her that made her incredibly easy to root for. Similar sentiments can be said for Black Panther, who was a man trying to do right for his country, but becomes conflicted when he discovers a dark secret about his father. These are all human elements that transcend their outwards appearances (just like real life!) and make them universally likable.

If I might venture out of the super hero genre for a second, I can say that I felt a personal empathy for Elsa’s story arc in the Disney film Frozen. Yeah, she’s an animated princess/queen, but she’s also a character who had inner struggles that could be easy to read as an allegory for depression and social anxiety. Those are certainly issues I can say I personally feel for, and have experienced. And that’s something that certainly rings louder than the fact that the character in question was an animated sorceress in a kids’ movie.

Again, I certainly hope I don’t sound anything like those jack-holes who seem to have a problem with seeing someone who looks different from themselves on the big screen. I’m all for diversity, but I also think it’s wrong for someone (even a fictional character) to be a token. And thinking that X-character needs to cover a certain demographic because said demographic would be unable to connect with them otherwise is kind of insulting when you think about it. It more or less sums someone up by their outward appearance, and isn’t that exactly what people are trying not to do?

The Video Game Movie Curse is Lifted (Sort of)!

Movies based on existing video games tend to suck. Sure, I might have some guilty pleasure in the occasional viewing of the Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter movie, but I would never tell you they’re good movies. At least those two examples had some excuse for their poor execution, however, seeing as they were among the first of their kind (in Mario’s case, the first), it’s understandable that studios would have trouble trying to translate the nature of a video game into the movie world.

Even now, however, when games have become more and more movie-like, filmmakers still can’t seem to get things right. And in fact, video game movies may be worse now than ever before (I said I take guilty pleasure in the cinematic versions of Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter, I can’t make that same claim for more recent entries). Granted, some (including myself) might argue that video games becoming more and more like movies makes actual movie adaptations of them entirely redundant, but at the very least it should allow them to be translated onto the silver screen with less appalling results than what we’ve been getting.

Well, it seems the video game movie curse has finally been lifted…if only partly.

I say only partly because, well, this strangely miraculous occurrence of a good video game movie comes in the form of a ten-minute short film. So while the short manages to successfully capture the essence of the game it’s based on, we still have to wait for a feature-length film based on a game to, well, not suck.

The short film in question is Papers, Please: The Short Film, based on the cult classic 2013 indie title, Papers, Please (one of my personal favorite indie titles, which I now feel I underrated in my original review).

Papers, Please was a game all about the immigration process, which may not sound like the most enticing video game concept, but managed to pull off its goals in spades. It managed to somehow be fun, while also being incredibly dramatic and forcing players to face serious ethical dilemmas in the role of a passport inspector in a war-torn nation.

The short film adaptation, released via YouTube in February of this year, manages to capture the game’s look and feel, as well as its unique sense of suspense and emotion (it probably doesn’t hurt that Lucas Pope, the creator/designer of Papers, Please, was one of the short’s writers).

Here is the short film for all of your viewing pleasure. Now let’s just hope that someone can make a video game feature film that so strongly embraces its source material while also providing a good movie in its own right.