Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Beauty — and Plagiarism — of The Shape of Water


It’s either a sign of Guillero del Toro’s genius or the lackluster slate of films (or both, of course) that Shape of Water has become the film du jour in Hollywood’s pre-Oscar hysteria.

The odd fairy tale has already racked up seven Golden Globe nominations, a raft of other nods, and it’s expected to be among the titans when the contenders for the Academy Awards are announced are announced January 23. After seeing the film’s trailer, Kevin Smith tweeted he was embarrassed to call himself a director. It even received what is surely del Toro’s proudest honor, a HollywoodBowles Oughttabe for The Most Beautiful Film of 2017.

But in all fairness (despite what President Orangutan tweets, most media prefer truth), we must admit: As beautiful and worthy as Water is, it’s still the most blatant ripoff in Oscar’s history since Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture.

That’s not to say Water doesn’t deserve the praise — or the laurels —  it will inevitably garner. Being derivative doesn’t make entertainment any less worthy. If anything, it’s more remarkable, for it’s elevating a genre whose path has already been cut.

And del Toro, an avid and open nerdboy (he owns more action figures than I do, somehow), is absolutely blunt about his love of The Creature of the Black Lagoon, the 1954 film that he concedes was the inspiration for the monster in his own movie.

What he failed to mention was that its sequel the next year, The Revenge of the Creature, laid the foundation for everything else, from aesthetic to attitude.

I wouldn’t have noticed it myself, had I not been such a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the 10-year series that made fun of awful films (in some ways, the boys at MST3K were the snarky harbingers of social media).

MST3K is my Ultraman, my TV American cheese food, the crap that slops over my entertainment nachos. Confession: If given the choice between a documentary on the universe’s creation or a rerun of MST3K, I’ll often choose the latter. Frighteningly often.

And it was in that embarrassing choice the realization came. The guys were riffing on Creature one evening when two epiphanies struck:

  1. This actually isn’t a bad movie (it features Clint Eastwood in his big-screen debut).
  2. This is The Shape of Water, with but a single plot twist.

The twist, of course, is something of a whopper (spoiler alert): The creature and the beauty want to be together.

Aside from that, though, there is frightening little that separates the two movies. They monsters look near identical. The creature in both films wears an oversized, near-comical chain preventing love. Creature and beauty have  the same meet-cute, through the pane glass of a makeshift aquarium, both are allegories for a Cold War paranoia.

And it’s easy to see how go del Toro got the inspiration; with a simple question of movie logic:  What if King Kong and Fay Wray liked each other? We all know twas beauty that killed the beast. But what if they just wanted to get it on?

What if, indeed? Screw originality. We live in a nation that wants to reverse the old-fashioned, outdated principles of overthought and inner debate.

Long live the beautiful heist.




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And the Oughttabe Goes To…


There’s a certain anticipation — and dread — that comes with every Oscar season.

On the one hand, the Academy Awards are a clear demonstration of film as art.

On the other, that art often sucks.

But this year will mark a seismic shift, at least in tenor, to the annual self congratulations: Expect a kinder, gentler publicity campaign for Oscar gold.

There was a time when diplomacy during awards season was as rare as truth in a political campaign. Rumors would swirl about difficult directors. Stories would circulate about cast unrest on set. Studios would fact-check each other in their sprawling biopics — the industry’s Best Picture half-nelson of choice.

Not this year. The reason? No Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein was a personal publicity force — and took personal blame for the Academy’s  reputation for seasonal dirty politics from January to mid-March.

In retrospect, it’s hard to argue with the griping that, at the time, sounded simply like sour grapes. Sure, everyone considers Shakespeare in Love one of the greatest heists in Oscar history (it stole the gold from Saving Private Ryan). But, given the Nixonian level of the accusations, expect an anti-Weinstein approach to campaigning. Already, his name has come off all the credits of films and TV shows he produced (and there were dozens). The Weinstein Company  still hasn’t decided on a name change, but it has decided not to do any serious lobbying for films,  including the well-regarded The Founder.

And with no backbiting, rumor mongering and mudslinging, that leaves us with the hallmark trait of the show, which turns 90 this year.


This wasn’t a big deal when the gala was a private dinner party, as it was in 1927, held at the regal Roosevelt Hotel. Now, though, it’s a ratings bonanza, Hollywood’s Super Bowl. Which makes its traditional awards, like sound mixing, makeup and honors for best animated, live-action and documentary short film, irrelevant. Or at least unwatchable. I’ve covered the movie industry for more than a decade, and cannot name a single winner from any of those categories, let alone the actual people who went onstage to thank the world.

Eventually, Oscar will have to accept what TV learned long ago: If it runs more than three hours, it’s too long. For a TV show, a movie, a play, a concert, a class and a conversation. Three hours is about the human American capacity for attention span.

Fortunately, the key to brevity couldn’t be simpler: Get to the point. In that spirit, the HollywoodBowles presents its first annual Outtabes, dedicated to films and categories that out to make up the entirety of the back pat annually trumpeted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (plus winners):

The Most Enjoyable Film of 2017: The Lego Batman Movie

Yes, the film industry is overrun by cartoons and comic books movies, which will ultimately be the ruination of moving pictures. For now, though, Warner Bros. put out the most clever, dry-witted skewering of genres. It deserves the Outtabe for this line of dialogue alone:

Computer: What is the password?

Batman: Iron Man sucks.

The Most Beautiful Film of 2017: The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s literal wet dream: A misfits love story between a mute and The Creature of the Black Lagoon. The concept is as unique as the vision, a collection of gray and steel blue hues that out to have the beauty of a federal prison. But from aesthetic to action, del Toro has made the most touching movie of his career — and continues the Latino New Wave Movement that Hollywood historians will eventually note.

The Most Thought-Provoking Film of 2017: Marjorie Prime

While this visual essay on Artificial Intelligence had its thunder stolen by the sublime Her, Prime is even more original. While Her imagined a romantic relationship between human and computer, Prime goes a step further: If your Alexa could use a hologram to replicate the shape, voice and memory of anyone who has passed on, what memories would you feed it? How old you make your dearly departed? Alas, the film will likely suffer the same fate as human memory: to be forgotten.

The Most Over-Hyped Film of 2017: The Post

Why does Hollywood get newspaper movies so wrong? Given how much time the industry spends lying to and cajoling the media, you’d think they would have a better idea of how the fifth estate works. And this looked liked a shoo-in, with Meryl Streep and Ben Bradlee as the heads of my old employer. But the raves for this flick are as misleadingly hyperbolic as the ads for the latest Star Wars. When your lead actor is less handsome and colorful than the man he’s portraying, your movie’s in trouble.



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No Time to Wallow in the Mire

As a reporter who began in Arkansas, I was a quick study in natural disasters. Tornadoes, river floods, even Arkansans.

And I thought I knew fire. Once, my photographer buddy Spencer and I worked a massive house fire. As reporters gathered in front of the house, the wind suddenly shifted. Blue sky became black. And when you turned your back, closed your eyes and coughed your lungs out, there was a weird disorientation. The commander in charge yelled at us to freeze until the wind shifted, lest any of us walk blindly into the inferno.

But nothing compared to the fires this week, particularly the Bel Air blaze, about six miles south of me. The smell was as if the city planned a romantic evening in front of the fireplace and forgot to open the chute. I awoke in the middle of the night from the acrid stench, certain a room was ablaze. My living room was speckled with Esme’s small footprints as she walked inside from the ash-covered back patio.

California isn’t going to break off into the sea. It’s going to burn to the ground.

Still, it got me thinking: Is there any place safe from disaster?

The answer, of course, is no. A recent study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that the safest place to live to avoid a natural disaster is actually Montana’s Sweet Grass County, located just 160 miles southeast of the capital Helena (apparently, volcanoes are no longer an issue).

Conversely, the most dangerous county to live in is Ocean County, N.J. Nestled  along the Jersey Shore, Ocean County offers little in terms of a buffer for severe weather and hurricanes, most recently sustaining massive damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a storm that displaced as many as 26,000 people in Ocean County alone.

But here is their list, based on frequency (not fatalities). The study, for some reason, does not consider dimwits a natural disaster. I guess that’s more a political study. Mother Nature’s favorite wrath by locale:

  • Alabama — Tornadoes
  • Alaska — Wildfires
  • Arizona — Wildfires
  • Arkansas — Tornadoes
  • California — Earthquakes
  • Colorado — Wildfires
  • Connecticut — Snowstorms
  • Delaware — Snowstorms/Hurricanes
  • Florida — Hurricanes
  • Georgia — Tornadoes
  • Hawaii — Hurricanes
  • Idaho — Wildfires / Flooding
  • Illinois — Tornadoes
  • Indiana — Tornadoes
  • Iowa — Tornadoes
  • Kansas — Tornadoes
  • Kentucky — Tornadoes
  • Louisiana — Hurricanes
  • Maine — Summer Storms
  • Maryland — Hurricanes
  • Massachusetts — Blizzards
  • Michigan — Tornadoes
  • Minnesota — Tornadoes
  • Mississippi — Hurricanes
  • Missouri — Tornadoes
  • Montana — Floods
  • Nebraska — Tornadoes
  • Nevada — Earthquakes
  • New Hampshire — Floods
  • New Jersey — Blizzards
  • New Mexico — Wildfires
  • New York — Blizzards
  • North Carolina — Hurricanes
  • North Dakota — Blizzards
  • Ohio — Tornadoes
  • Oklahoma — Tornadoes
  • Oregon — Floods
  • Pennsylvania — Blizzards
  • Rhode Island — Hurricanes
  • South Carolina — Tornadoes
  • South Dakota — Tornadoes
  • Tennessee — Tornadoes
  • Texas — Tornadoes
  • Utah — Earthquakes
  • Vermont — Floods
  • Virginia — Floods
  • Washington State — Wildfires
  • Washington, D.C. — Blizzards
  • West Virginia — Floods
  • Wisconsin — Tornadoes
  • Wyoming — Landslides



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