Movie Review: The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo Del Toro

With this film, I don’t really know exactly where to begin. It’s actually kind of fitting that this is the first movie review that I am going to post on my blog, as it is so noteworthy. I almost didn’t see it, figuring it would be just another cheesy, offbeat romance film; a rom-com with the Universal Studios’ Creature From the Black Lagoon playing the leading man; the director is a big fan of that film apparently. That was the sense that I took away from the trailer that I saw. However, I managed to talk myself into the theatre with the argument that if it was even half as magickal as Crimson Peak had been, then the cost would be worth it. I had also seen Pan’s Labyrinth on video, and I had never seen one of his films in the theatre, so I wanted to have that experience. I was more than pleasantly surprised when the film turned out to be so much more than just a simple romance; it’s a dark, lovecraftian treatise on culture, gender roles, the pressure to succeed and conform, and is also almost a love letter to the twentieth century itself, and what the U.S. used to be. There are a lot of cold war references, both media and otherwise, in passing throughout the film.  Some are films on televisions, posters, everything is orchestrated along with an art deco aesthetic straight out of films like Dark City and video games like the Bioshock series.

The script sets up a little microcosm just like a novella. One plotline regarding another country’s desire to possess the creature for themselves is like a cinematic rabbit hole, following one character home at a couple of points. I have heard that certain groups aren’t altogether happy with their portrayals in the story, but it stands to reason, as characters are only human after all, they would be flawed and not some archetypical paragon making people like them look good. That’s not what the film is trying to portray. It’s a fantasy, or fairytale as some have termed it, which uses pure imagination to illustrate what might be if a merman were indeed found in real life and how men of science would try to exploit it. In an almost grimdark fashion, each of the supporting characters has his or her own little sub-story; Eliza’s gay friend is a closeted homosexual artist, and the U.S. was a very different place back then for people who were considered different. But that is absolutely part of the whole backdrop of the narrative, the theme of being the outsider, the ostracized. The palette is all greens and blacks and whites, but with a few moments of genuine golden hue, as if in a daydream. The shots are often pans, sometimes even fixed pans like those old binocular stations like you’d find at the top of the Empire State Building, but rarely follows. So while the film may have a color schematic similar to Fight Club, the cinematography is completely different. If I had to liken the overall narrative style to anything, I would say that it was most akin to dreaming while awake, with time almost folding in on itself as the plot plays out. And it was one of the few films that I’ve seen in recent years that I truly did not want to end. Check it out!

5 out of 5 virtual digital stars.


Book Review: Art of War: Anthology for Charity, Edited by Petros Triantafyllou

Here is my review of the Art of War Anthology, which was edited by Petros Triantafyllou for

Featuring a whopping forty authors, this is an anthology with heart; all of the proceeds are going to the charity organization Doctors Without Borders. A work of art that’s trying to make a difference against the horrors of real-life war, which is obviously filled with heartbreak and atrocity and should be eliminated as much as possible from the face of our planet. Here’s the star-studded line-up, which has both seasoned, traditionally published authors as well as some of the most talented fresh faces from the indie side of the equation: Mark Lawrence, Ed Greenwood, Brian Staveley, Miles Cameron, John Gwynne, Sebastien De Castell, Mitchell Hogan, Stan Nicholls, Andrew Rowe, C.T. Phipps, Rob J. Hayes, Nicholas Eames, Mazarkis Williams, Ben Galley, Michael R. Fletcher, Graham Austin-King, Ed McDonald, Anna Stephens, Anna Smith Spark, RJ Barker, Michael R. Miller, Benedict Patrick, Sue Tingey, Dyrk Ashton, Steven Kelliher, Timandra Whitecastle, Laura M Hughes, J.P. Ashman, M.L. Spencer, Steven Poore, Brandon Draga, D. Thourson Palmer, D.M. Murray, Anne Nicholls, R.B. Watkinson, Charles F Bond, Ulff Lehmann, Thomas R. Gaskin, Zachary Barnes & Nathan Boyce. With a Foreword by Brian D. Anderson.

As for content, most of the stories are standard dark fantasy offerings, with all the trappings you’ve come to know and love … armored knights, gory deaths, castles and steeds and brotherhood upon the field of battle. However, I would like to list the stories that I feel are standouts, in no particular order. The first piece that really jumped out at me was from C.T. Phipps, tapping in with what I understand to be a tie-in to his Wraith Knight Series; demon sex, mansions turning into huge monsters, dessicated undead, and more all make an appearance in this quintessential slice of grim and dark fiction. A very strong showing from Rob J. Hayes as well, almost a short novelette much in the tradition of Joe Abercrombie’s Times Are Tough All Over; the reader actually receives two stories in one, the tale of war veterans trading war stories on the one hand, one a medic and one a berserker, and the story of a green recruit becoming a seasoned soldier over a long timeline.

And Michael R. Fletcher’s offering is more of the dark deliciousness that any fan of the Manifest Delusions Series will expect; a Gladiator-esque tale of life in a fighting pit, but with a serious twist; the vanquished become the living dead, and must remain in the coliseum forever, sometimes as a disembodied head. I won’t say more, but needless to say, the female warrior who is next to fight is experiencing quite a bit of stress as she heads out onto the killing sands. Readers will also greatly enjoy Dyrk Ashton’s story, which is a tale from the world featured in his Paternus series; it’s chock full of teeming hordes, multitudinous armies, enraged gods and other mythological figures, much of which is based on our real-world mythologies. A bit of a contrast in tone, M.L. Spencer’s offering brings the reader back to medieval times, with a vivid tale that has a French or European bent to it. Ed McDonald’s story was a gory bit of surprise; the story of a doomsday weapon, destined to turn the tides in a great war, basically eroding the persons of its handlers. And last but definitely not least, headliner Mark Lawrence contributes a tie-in to the Red Queen’s War trilogy, much in the spirit of the Road Brothers anthology, continuing Jalan Kendeth’s storyline with a journey through the treacherous Aral Pass and some hilarious interactions with a colorful cast of characters.

Overall, 4 out of 5 stars. Available for pre-order on Amazon now, release date: February 13, 2018.