On my thirteen-hour flight I managed to watch The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Mo., and The Party in a marathon movie extravaganza. Best first. Three Billboards was a much more powerful picture than I had expected. Frances McDormand is the real deal, a strong actress who commands the screen. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell gave fine performances, too. I liked how the film showed the attitudes of the townspeople and the indomitable nature of McDormand's character, even when she is off on a crazed pursuit. As a drama, it was gripping, with one big scene after another. A true movie movie. I would've nominated Sandy Martin for Best Supporting Actress--she turns in a bravura turn as Rockwell's mom.
Shape of Water is no more than a fancier rendition of a traditional monster picture. Sally Hawkins plays an interesting version of the girl who falls for the monster and Octavia Spencer gets into her role as the friend at work who watches out for the girl. But: monster warms to girl, monster escapes, monster shows a few human touches, monster is pursued by Russian spies, chase is the last climactic segment, all predictable. Since the monster doesn't speak, Boris Karloff still is the standout in this kind of role. Best picture? They had to be kidding. Some clever lines and photography and nice use of 1950s settings.
The Party is a Brit black-and-whiter with lots of talk. Kristin Scott Thomas and Cherry Jones are always worth watching--since they remain two of our finest actresses. Jones usually is a stage standout so it's good to get a chance to see her on screen. Last time I had seen her was as a powerful Amanda in a Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie. It was fun seeing Bruno Ganz as an older guy--I remember him as the lead in Wim Wenders's The American Friend, drawn from one of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels. Timothy Spall just seems to stare at the camera. Patricia Clarkson is fun in a way as a real bitchy friend. But it all is a blur and adds up to a whole lot of nothing. These people have the problems all coteries have and their's are not all that enthralling.
Usually I like to relax on long flights with some classics. This time it was the Fred Astaire-Audrey Hepburn Funny Face. It is a classic Hollywood musical, set in Paris, with a collection of Gershwin songs and directed by Stanley Donen. Yes, it's fun but it is so 1950s that I started to have trouble sticking it out. Tried to decide whether Audrey Hepburn was doing her own singing or dancing. If she was, it was very good. Astaire always holds the attention and it is deservedly so. But the silly thin plotting here gets grueling. I kept thinking of the wonderfully titled (and delightfully written) John O'Hara story, Your Fah Neefah NeeFace, in which the characters remember a couple who would do wonderful imitations of Fred and Adele.