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Heavy makeup, wigs, and fat suits can often obliterate an actor. Getting lost in his latex marred Billy Crystal’s performance in the last hour of MR. SATURDAY NIGHT. Armie Hammer’s face was rendered so immobile, he seemed more like a statue than Clyde Tolson in J. EDGAR. Gary Oldman doesn’t have such problems in DARKEST HOUR. The makeup he wears to play Prime Minister Winston Churchill is quite possibly the best ever done onscreen, but it never vanquishes the veteran actor. Oldman is as present as his latex. Even with the taut, wiry actor buried under such a thorough guise, his talent, verve, and passion are as visible as ever. And such attributes are perfect for the Churchill he plays in this crackling historical thriller.
Guillermo del Toro is one of our most distinctive filmmakers. One of the things that makes him so is his blend of whimsy and violence onscreen, juxtaposing childlike innocence with the viciousness of the adult world. He’s a modern fable maker, the cinematic version of a Grimm’s fairy tale. He did it in his 2006 masterpiece PAN’S LABYRINTH, telling the tale of a little girl who immerses herself in a fantasy world to deflect the coming fascism of 1944 Spain. Here, Del Toro treads in similar territory as a child-woman creates a romance with a sea monster against the frosty backdrop of the Cold War in 1962. The name of the film is THE SHAPE OF WAHTER and it’s almost as successful as PAN’S LABYRINTH. It certainly is one of the year’s most provocative, must-see films.
I once judged at a high school speech contest where an entry in the playacting category was a group of teens performing the “Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise” sketch from a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE SHOW done back in 1975. For those who’ve seen the skit, you’ll remember that John Belushi did a hilarious imitation of William Shatner refusing to give up the ship’s bridge even though an NBC executive (played by Elliot Gould) told him the show was cancelled. As crew members disassembled the set, Belushi’s Shatner refused to drop character and leave the premises. So, what was to be judged of the high schoolers’ interpretation of that skit? It wasn’t really acting, or a theatrical piece, of course. It was nothing more than a riff on John Belushi’s imitation of William Shatner playing the character of Captain Kirk, a performance four generations removed.
For me, THE DISASTER ARTIST felt all too similar.