Picofarad #8 Movie reviews

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El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) (2006)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Running time: 112 minutes (USA) (119 minutes uncut)

Once upon a time during the Spanish Civil War, a girl (Ivana Baquero) and her mother (Ariadna Gil) were travelling into the countryside to meet her stepfather (Sergi L&ocacute;pez), when the girl encountered a magical insect. Following the insect led her to the last remaining gateway to the underworld, where a faun told her that she was the princess of the underworld, whose spirit had been lost and wandering the earth for centuries. And all she had to do to prove it was perform three little tasks...

Pan's Labyrinth is that seeming rarity, a serious non-Hollywood fantasy movie that's nearly willing to admit flat-out that it's fantasy. Oh, there's a little playing coy about it at the end, but by then it's too late.

Ofelia, the heroine, has plenty of reasons to want to escape to the underworld. However terrifying the trials she faces, the world of the adults around her is even more so. Her stepfather, a captain in Franco's army, represents the dictatorship: a ruthless, rigid, obstinate, sadistic, hard-drinking, magic-denying, patriarchal, male-chauvinist, bullying control freak who casually shoots captured guerillas and clearly cares for Ofelia's mother only insofar as she is pregnant with his son. Meanwhile, the guerillas in the woods elude him, partly because his doctor (Álex Angelo) and maid (Maribel Verdú) are quietly working against him. Ofelia takes it all in, and tries ever harder to do what the faun asks.

It's a fairytale in the old tradition. Good triumphs-- well, but not entirely, not without sacrifice, some of it extremely brutal and graphic. This movie has a well-deserved R rating-- think twice before taking the kids.

Children of Men (2006)

Review by Chris French

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Running time: 109 minutes

Synopsis: The year is 2029. Despite the fact that the human race has been unable to produce a baby for eighteen years, the planet is not one iota less noisy or filthy than before -- however, the nature of the noise (babies crying and screaming replaced by adults screaming and crying; the gunfire levels remain as normal) and the filth (filled diapers replaced by filled graves) has definitely changed.

From this Valhalla for the socially-challenged steps Theo (Clive Owen), a standard-issue cog in the great governmental machine who is contacted by his one-time missus, now a full-time terrorist, for a set of forged "travel papers" for a young lady who has something in her womb that isn't a "this space for rent" sign. Yup -- after eighteen years, someone finally been knocked up, and I don't mean in the British sense of the term. Now she just has to get out of Britain.

Being a film made by a non-American, the main noticeable feature of the feature is that there are no lovingly-rendered shots of people being violated by 7.62x54 NATO loads; when someone is shot, there is a spurt of something, and the target falls over. Also, the deaths are rarely-if-ever placed square in the center of the frame. Being an Alfonso Cuarón film, there are a lot of "oddball" camera shots, including a lot of hand-held shots; think the opening of Saving Private Ryan, and you'll have some idea. There are also some very long (2-3 minutes) cuts, rather than the ferret-on-heroin-and-four-double-espressos editing style beloved of Hollywood. And the use of natural lighting for pretty-much every scene also reminds Your Obedient Servant & Humble Narrator of Saving Private Ryan; afterwards, if you feel like you need a shower from watching this flick, don't be surprised -- natural lighting plays up the griminess of the piece.

There are a few American-movie cliches which manage to slip in, demonstrating that no film, however lovingly crafted, is immune from Hollywooditis. Having seen what some parts of the so-called "Civilized" world look like, the backgrounds and settings seem not quite gritty enough for a civilization which has spun off the pavement and is sliding through the wet grass towards the guardrail which is extinction. But at least it's not one of these 3-hour "sweet-merciful-Jesus-mother-of-all-things-holy-I-gotta-use-the-restroom-well-I-have-these-two-empty-receptacles-and-it's-dark-in-here" epics. All in all, it's definitely NOT Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban -- which is probably the best compliment which can be paid to it.

Review: A hearty "eh".

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