Archive for 2001

Pan’s Labyrinth * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Horror, War with tags on March 28, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Guillermo del Toro.
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro.
Starring: Sergi López, Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones, Ariadne Gil, Manolo Solo, Roger Casamajor.

Despite being quite a prominent name in cinema just now, director Guillermo del Toro hasn’t actually made that many movies. He came to attention in 1993 with his excellent feature debut “Cronos” before Hollywood quickly took note and employed him on such films as “Mimic” and “Blade II“. However, his strengths lie in his own original work where he retains creative control. Of which, there are three that really stand out; the aforementioned “Cronos” is one, “The Devil’s Backbone” another and “Pan’s Labyrinth” – which to this day, remains his masterpiece.

Following the Spanish Civil War in 1944, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) moves to a rural town with her pregnant mother (Ariadne Gil) to live with her Fascist military stepfather (Sergi López) who is determined to weed out resistance fighters to Franco’s dictatorship. It’s in this remote town that Ofelia meets a faun in the centre of a labyrinth who tells her that she is a princess. However, to claim her rightful place in this magical land she must perform certain gruesome tasks to prove her royalty.

It’s hard to pigeon hole a film like Pan’s Labyrinth as there are so many facets to it’s structure. On the one hand, it’s a political/historical drama and on the other it’s a fantasy/horror. Few (if any) films will spring to mind when these genres are mentioned in the same breath which reflects the very craftsmanship that’s at work here. One thing that you can undoubtedly count on, though, is it’s highly imaginative nature. Sure, we’ve had fantastical stories before where a young girl escapes her constrained life to enter bigger and more possible worlds. We’ve also had commentaries on the brutalities and restrictions of fascist regimes but to combine them into a wondrous journey of life, struggle and imagination is an amalgamation that I have rarely witnessed. Such is the case with this film and such is the skill of del Toro in his writing and handling of the material. He incorporates an abundance of childhood fantasies, from delving into books and mythology – that feature fauns and fairies – to the power of a piece of chalk on the wall. This may be built around the point of view of a child’s eye but its also not afraid to explore the darker recesses of that very imagination and construct some of the most monstrous creatures that can inhabit that realm. Del Toro is in absolute command here and he’s aided, immeasurably, by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro in capturing and contrasting his world within a world; one is a visually striking and enchanting fantasia, the other a stark and brutal reality. It’s a balance that’s difficult to achieve but with deft handling of coexisting genres, del Toro’s vision is able to come to fruition and manages to be both a reminder of the rigidity of fascism and the escapable ability of an imaginary youthful mind.
To embody the young protagonist, we are gifted an outstanding performance from Ivana Baquero who carries a heavy weight on her young shoulders and does so, with a skill beyond her years. Sergi Lopez also provides marvellous support as the bestial Captain Vidal who’s a smouldering villain that’s on a par with any of the war genre’s nastiest characters.
It’s very difficult to find criticism in this film as there simply, isn’t any. The only one that stands out is in the film’s title. It’s slightly misleading as “Pan” never actually features here. The original international title translates as “Labyrinth of the Fuan” which is probably the most pedantic gripe you’ll ever hear from me.

A stunning piece of work that’s both beautifully and horrifically executed. Modern masterpiece is a term that gets brandished around too often these days but this is one that’s certainly deserving of such praise.

Mark Walker

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Amelie * * * * *

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Foreign Language, Romance with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Jean-Pierre Juenet.
Screenplay: Guillame Laurant.
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Yolande Moreau, Artus de Penguern, Urbain Cancelier, Dominique Pinon, Maurice Benichou, Jamel Debbouze.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s collaboration with co-writer/director Marc Caro resulted in a couple of marvellous and inventive films in “Delicatessan” and “The City of Lost Children”. Those two had a dark element to them but now that Jeunet has went his own way, “Amelie” shows that he is the one that possesses the lighter side of the duo.

In the heart of Paris, Amelie (Audrey Tautou) brings joy to her friends, secretly sorting out the sad little problems in their lives. But when she discovers a strange photo album belonging to Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) she realises that she is in love and has problems of her own to sort out.

I struggle to think of a contemporary film that boasts such richness in detail and creative, infectious enthusiasm as ‘Amelie’ does. It’s playfulness, poetry and emotion are rarely touched upon these days in film and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet deserves applause for his uplifting achievements here. It’s also stunningly shot by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (inspired by the paintings of Brazilian artist Juarez Machado) lending an artistic look to the highly creative and artistic content. Without being overly elaborate though, it finds its art in the simple things in life, observing people’s individual pleasures and pains. Quite simply, the whole film is a complete joy to behold. The performances are also delightful. As much as I’m an admirer of actress Emily Watson (whom the role of Amelie was originally intended) I’m glad the relatively unknown Audrey Tautou got the part. She is absolutely adorable and captures the essence of this wonderful character perfectly. With flair and originality that’s hard to come by these days, ‘Amelie’ is one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema I have seen and will always be one of my favourites.

The humour; the look; the characters and performances; the delightful and fitting music by Yann Tiersen all culminate into the ultimate feel-good film and confirmation of the creativity and inventiveness of French cinema. A heartwarming modern classic.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker

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The Lincoln Lawyer * * *

Posted in Drama, thriller with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Brad Furman.
Screenplay: John Romano.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Josh Lucas, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo, Michael Pena, Bob Gunton, Frances Fisher, Bryan Cranston, Trace Adkins, Shea Whigham, Michael Pare.

Court room drama’s and legal jargon can be surprisingly gripping entertainment, which makes me wonder why there isn’t more of them. Unfortunately, we’ve been fed a staple of John Grisham stories throughout the years which I find empty and do very little for me. But it was John Grisham adaptation “A Time to Kill” years ago that Matthew McConaughey was actually any good in a film. Until now.

L.A. criminal lawyer Mick Haller (McConaughey), who works out of his chauffeured Lincoln Continental car, takes on an unusually high-profile case defending Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), the scion of a wealthy family who’s accused of beating and raping a prostitute. There’s clearly more to it than meets the eye though, and it may tie into a case Haller tried some years ago.

Slick, fast and cool. This starts with an energy that Grisham adaptations lack and it’s good to see McConaughey drop those abysmal rom-coms and tackle a role more suited to his style. However, with such a strong opening and fast pace, it soon gets bogged down around the midway point and struggles to recover. McConaughey goes from confident and fast talking to angst ridden and desperate rather quickly. It’s a sudden change that doesn’t suit but McConaughey shows impressive range nonetheless. And just when he gets back to his old self, the denoument then feels rushed. His once strained relationship with his ex-wife becomes unrealistic and the whole affair is wrapped up rather quickly, leaving what was a very strong and potentially great film falling flat.

A good legal thriller that moves at a brisk pace with several twists and turns. It starts to eventually trip over itself and doesn’t fulfill it’s early promise but it just about manages to get by on McConaughey’s charisma.

Mark Walker

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