Academy Dips Its Toe into Wild Water

Now that the hype over last Sunday's Academy Awards has receded, we can get down to the less ritzy but more revealing Oscar post-mortem. Looking at 2018's winners, for example, we can ask how The Shape of Water, which has been described as that "woman-on-fish-man sex movie," could possibly be thought of as a safe choice for Best Picture. Since when are scaly interspecies romances - the big love scene takes place in a flooded bathroom - considered uncontroversial?

The Academy has made a concerted push for inclusion in the last two years, expanding its membership to a younger and more diverse demographic. Certainly, the ceremony, buoyed up on waves of political feeling from the #MeToo movement and the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, made a stab at 21st-century relevance with revved-up speeches and symbolic lapel pins.

What about the winning movies, though, which will remain as the more permanent Oscar record in years to come? Do they match the ceremony's explicit calls for self-examination and transformation?

In many ways, The Shape of Water Best Picture Oscar represents some crucial changes in the mainstream movie world. Its director and co-scripter, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, started his career alternating between dark Spanish-language features and more commercial projects. He is active in the push for increased Latino representation in Hollywood.

The Shape of Water also makes a bold claim for genre diversity, having gleefully brought sci-fi - and some fabulous B-movie creature-feature tropes - into a winners' circle usually reserved for earnest historical dramas and high-minded biopics. The movie's Best Picture gold is a resounding victory for del Toro's particular form of movie magic, such a visually distinctive mixture of the familiar and the strange.

Even with these fantastical and fishy outlines, however, The Shape of Water remains a sweet but surprisingly conventional movie.

Lady Bird is a prickly, specific look at the lives of girls and women.

Call Me by Your Name is a delicate and very particular 1980s-set gay love story.

In comparison to these films, The Shape of Water - essentially a good-vs.-evil fable unfolding in a stylized Cold War America - feels a little fuzzy and generalized.

In del Toro's world, good is represented by a poor African-American woman, a gay older man and a mute woman. On the side of these determined, disenfranchised angels, we also have old movie theatres, sad songs and true love.

On the bad side, we have the whole military-industrial complex, with some rigid, Bible-thumping religiosity and crass consumer capitalism thrown in. The villains are associated with conformist suburbs, crappy franchise restaurants, green Jell-O and electric cattle prods.

Well, which side would you want to be on? With del Toro's either/or characters and neatly wrapped ending, the story basically does all your thinking for you.

Get Out , on the other hand, is designed to disrupt and discomfit. Jordan Peele's scathing indictment of racism in America deftly mixes exaggerated horror movie plotting with ugly real-life details of day-to-day prejudice. And sneakily, the movie's terror is rooted - at least at first - not in vile, violent bigotry but in the polite complacency of white liberalism.

The Shape of Water is a lovely, likable work. But Lady Bird, Call Me by Your Name and especially Get Out would have been more in tune with the Oscar ceremony's often angry, urgent calls for change.

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Olympics: North Korean Cheerleaders Spark Fashion Envy
More than 200 sharply dressed North Korean cheerleaders decked out in expensive fur smiled and posed for the media and onlookers Wednesday after arriving in South Korea for the Pyeongchang Olympics.The 229 chic young women wore tailored knee-lenth scarlet coats with fur hats, fur collars, and matching cuffs to ward off the winter chill."By the way, I love the North Korean cheering squad's outfit. It's quite something! I want that hat!" said one South Korea fan on Twitter."I think they are very pretty," said a South Korean onlooker of the women who were part of a 280-member delegation who crossed the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas at a border post north of Seoul.They were immediately whisked away in a convoy to their hotel in Inje county, a small rural town located 120 kilometres from the Games venue in Pyeongchang."I am happy to see you," said one cheerleader, beaming broadly but refusing to disclose their cheerleading routine."You just wait. If I tell you now, it would be less exciting when you see it."The cheerleaders are reportedly the product of a careful selection process in North Korea, screened for their family backgrounds, looks, skills and loyalty to the ruling Workers' Party.The North has sent cheer squads to three international sports events hosted by the South -- the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the 2003 Summer Universiade in Daegu and the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.One of those in the 2005 group, Ri Sol-Ju, went on to become the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un."I don't want to say it but North Korea's cheering squad is quite pretty. You can throw stones at me but the truth is the truth," said another observer on Twitter.- 'Nice to meet you' -The young women were given a quick bathroom break at a rest area in Gapyeong, located about halfway to their hotel destination. They strutted past South Koreans onlookers, who snapped out their smartphones for photos of the rare sight.In the bathroom, the cheerleaders stood side by side in front of the mirror, each checking and fixing their make-up while chatting among themselves.Banners welcoming the North's Olympic participation in the February 9-25 Olympics lined the hilly drive up to the Inje Speedium, a four-star luxury resort with a car racing theme park.Surrounded by mountains and seemingly secluded, the resort is seen as an ideal spot for enforcing tight security while at the same time maintaining close surveillance on the large group of Northerners.But hours before the arrival of the guests, the hotel was bustling with media and police officers who had put barriers up at all entrances to the resort.The cheerleaders got off the bus one by one and scurried past the media, who fired questions at the young visitors ranging from their halth to the chilly weather.Most quickly walked into the building without saying a word but some occasionally smiled and waved at the camera, and said: "Nice to meet you."- Scallops and beer -At a dinner banquet hosted by South Korea, the cheerleaders -- in matching bright red two-piece jackets and skirts complete with Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il lapel pins -- were seen chatting among themselves at round tables."A new era of reconcialiation has been opened," said a North Korean delegate leading the cheer squads, rferring to a thaw in North and South Korean relations ahed of the Games.The guests were served grilled scallops, shrimp wrapped in pickled radish, barbequed beef, beef stew, fruit and beer.With only 10 North Korean athletes competing for their country at the Games, and another 12 on the roster of a unified Korean women's ice hockey team, the cheerleaders will reportedly support South Korean athletes when none of their own are in action.The delegation, led by Pyongyang's sports minister Kim Il-Guk, also includes three other officials from the National Olympic Committee, 26 taekwondo demonstrators and 21 journalists.The Olympics have triggered a rapid rapprochement on the divided Korean peninsula, after the nuclear-armed North's leader Kim Jong-Un expressed a willingness to participate in his New Year speech.The two Koreas held a rare high-level meeting last month and the North's ceremonial head of state is due to arrive Friday, the highest-level Pyongyang official ever to visit the South.South Korea's unification ministry said Kim Jong-Un's sister, Kim Yo-Jong, a senior member of the ruling Workers' Party, will also be part of the delegation.But critics in the South allege the North has been allowed to hijack the Pyeongchang Games, dubbing them the Pyongyang Olympics instead.
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