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It was great festival and we pretty much loved everything we saw. My festival favourites seen during the 2023 festival (in viewing order) are Radical (2023), Still (2023), Cat Person (2023), A Thousand and One (2023), Rye Lane (2023), and Eileen (2023) with honourable mentions (in viewing order) for Shortcomings (2023), Bad Behaviour (2023), Polite Society (2023), The Persian Version (2023), A Little Prayer (2023), and Young. Wild. Free. (2023).
The Shape of Water (2017)
Pure movie magic in my favourite film of 2017
I fell in love with this movie from the opening scene. It is everything a great movie should be -- a compelling story with wonderful characters; it looks amazing, both through natural cinematography and visual effects; it is familiar enough to be warm yet new enough to be boldly original; the casting is perfect.
I originally saw this at a press screening at The Toronto International Film Festival in September and I was so enthralled that I did something I have never done before: I went back to see the same movie again at the same film festival. The second viewing was in The Elgin Theatre in Toronto which is used as a key location in the film, so the audience erupted into applause when we reached the main scene set there -- we were watching the characters standing in a cinema in 1960s Baltimore, yet they were in the very cinema in which we were watching them! It was the icing on the cake in terms of sealing the magic into the viewing experience. I even sat in the same row of the cinema as the characters in the movie were placed.
I had the privilege of attending writer/director Guillermo del Toro's screen talk at The London Film Festival and hearing more about the production, including its childhood connection to Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Simply wonderful.
A thrilling, intense modern war film based on real events
I was privileged to attend one of four UK regional charity premieres on Tuesday 25 November ahead of the UK general release at VUE Cinemas on Friday 28 November. Each premiere was located in or near the home town of one the soldiers portrayed in the film such that family and friends could attend, and where possible, the actual people portrayed on- screen too. Bristol is the home town of Stu Hale who was portrayed on- screen by Benjamin O'Mahony. Stu was present at the screening and answered questions with the cast and crew at the Q&A afterwards. A portion of all the ticket sales across the UK goes directly to charities supporting returning servicemen and servicewomen. This all speaks to the very special nature of this film. In his introduction before the screening, director Paul Katis described it as a modern war film. It is indeed, and it takes an honourably neutral view of the conflict. At its heart this is the true story of a group of extremely brave men facing a difficult situation.
The action takes place back in September 2006 in Afghanistan where a British army unit is responsible for the security at a key dam, which when fully commissioned, will provide hydroelectric power. Unbeknownst to them, the area is also home to a minefield left-over from the Soviet invasion in 1979/80. On a routine security patrol some of the unit find themselves trapped in the minefield when one of them is seriously injured after stepping upon a mine. Over the course of the film we get to learn more about the characters and see many examples of extraordinary bravery, all of which actually happened.
This is powerful storytelling and writer Tom Williams has crafted a screenplay which reflects the truth and helps the audience understand the complexities of the situation. It walks the difficult line between intense and life-threatening action vs. the humour which people can use as a coping mechanism in such situations. Director Paul Katis holds nothing back and the full horrors of war are on display here, including some graphic injuries. This is all done in a non-gratuitous way and is part of the brutal and uncomfortable honesty of the events.
I, along with the rest of the audience, sat on the edge of my seat and there are several moments of shocking surprise throughout this tense thriller. This is a film worth going to see in cinemas with an audience and at my screening several spontaneous rounds of applause broke out at key moments in the end credits. Highly recommended.