Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pan's Labyrinth

"I've had so many names... Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce."

Directed by:
Guillermo Del Toro

Written by:
Guillermo Del Toro

Ivana Baquero
Sergi Lopez
Maribel Verdu

My rating: 5/5

The really striking thing about Pan's Labyrinth is how it is able to surpass any expectations that it's hype had suggested. It is a film like nothing I have ever seen and while it may not be everyone's cup of tea, the quality of the story and its storyteller cannot be denied.

The story cuts between the harsh world of the end of Franco's fascist reign in 1940s Spain and the world of an isolated little girl and the magical underworld she encounters. The film is not to be confused with children's films like Labyrinth or Harry Potter. It is full of violence and very complex themes of tragedy.

Ofelia, our young hero has moved to an army base where her mother's new husband lives. As they wait for her mother to deliver her new baby, Ofelia learns the true nature of her evil new stepfather. Because of the horror of her new life, Ofelia retreats to a world in which she meets a Faun who tells her a story of how she is a princess but must perform three tasks in order to prove it is truly her. While completing these difficult and gruesome tasks, Ofelia grows so attached to the notion of living in this magical world, rather than the real one that she grows increasingly determined to succeed in her endeavours. As the story twists and turns, it becomes increasingly dire and nasty, leading Ofelia deeper into her magical world. It is never specified whether the magic is real or imaginary but both possibilities are open to interpretation.

The story is both warm and tragic. It seduces with it's stunning visuals while at the same time repelling with the viciousness of its violence. However, with it's stunning cinematography, it's perfect performances and its unprecented mix of childish innocence and cold, tragic cruelty it is definitely the type of film which will be remembered in years to come and hopefully in February when the Oscar nominations are announced.

- Charlene Lydon 30/11/06

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


"Letting everyone down would be my greatest unhappiness."

Written & Directed by:
Sofia Coppola

Kirsten Dunst
Jason Schwartzman
Asia Argento
Rip Torn
Judy Davis

My rating: 4/5

The notoriously reviled Cannes disaster turned out to be a surprisingly accomplished third film from the wonderful Sofia Coppola. The reasons for the Cannes audience's hatred for it are unknown to me but I can only believe that historical conficts and perhaps inaccuracies caused the uproar. Cinematically, I can't believe an audience could have too much trouble enjoying it.

The film's conceit is to portray the lavish lifestyle of Marie-Antoinette as a hedonistic, punk youthful extravagance. She is not portrayed as selfish and evil, but merely oblivious. She was so involved in the microcosm of Versailles that she was unaware of the social issues going on around her. Whether this portrayal is historically fair or not is the main reason to suspend your disbelief and sit back and enjoy the parade of aesthetics on offer.

The film's soundtrack is composed of contemporary artists from the 1970's to present. With names such as Aphex Twin and Bow Wow Wow, the soundtrack is bizarrely out of place. However, this actually worked far better than it should have. The music was impeccably chosen and stayed away from very recognisable tunes (Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" being a notable exception) so it managed to be reasonably low-profile.

The film's strength lies in it's dreamy elegant visuals. The set and costume design is gorgeous and Coppola chooses to pace the story as painfully slowly as with her other films. This also helps to enhance the dream-like oblivion of the world of Versailles. There is a certain amount of mesmerising intimacy created by putting Marie-Antoinette squarely at the centre of every scene. All perception is from her point of view and her innocent good nature is counterpointed by her addiction to material possessions. Her relationship with her husband is most interestingly handled. They have a practically non-existent sex life and have very little in common but there seems to be a coy, child-like love between them that neither are sophisticated enough to know what to do with.

The performances are fantastic from all involved. Kirsten Dunst handles the task of portraying the 19th Century's Paris Hilton very well. She has the right mixture of childish opulence and soullessness. The role is a difficult one as it is intricate and her character must be revealed through very small gestures. Dunst perfectly captures what Coppola was trying to show the audience.

Jason Schwartzman also deserves a mention for his portrayal of King Louis XVI. Even though it isn't much different to his usual persona, he poignantly captures the man who never grew up but must now control one of the most powerful countries in the world. It works very well and the relationship between him and his wife is suitably squirm-worthy.

Overall, I believe this is a film to be watched for surface pleasures. With barely a mention of political unease, it is certainly not a film of history buffs. It is merely an investigation into a very sheltered but harshly judged girl whose unfortunately high social stature resulted in her very early demise. But for the cinematic beauty on display, for the affecting performances, and for the floating, beautiful screenplay, I think this is definitely one of the best films of the year.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Little Children


Directed by:
Todd Field

Written by:
Todd Field
Tony Perotta

Kate WInslet
Patrick Wilson
Jennifer Connolly

My rating: 4/5

Little Children paints a very interesting picture of middle-class domesticated thirtysomethings whose lives intertwine through their children. As relationships become more complicated they find themselves facing some hard truths about parenting and growing up.

This film is Todd Field’s greatly anticipated follow-up to 2001’s In the Bedroom, which got five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and a handful of acting nominations. Here, Field demonstrates his winning formula again by writing characters that are easy to relate to despite their often selfish and careless motivations. Similarly to In the Bedroom the storyline, although not full of twists, never allows the viewer to know where it is going. The plot is deliberately slow paced to allow the intricacies of the character’s relationships to reveal themselves, giving the audience a genuine examination of the complications of choosing what is right and what is wrong. With sordid affairs, hot tempers and a reformed paedophile taking up most of the story it is clear that the director wanted to keep morality firmly in the “grey” area without becoming judgmental of the characters.

A large part of why this film works so well is the fine performances from the extremely talented cast. Kate Winslet plays dowdy young wife and mother, Sarah who seems to resent the fact that her child needs so much of her time. She embarks on an affair with a dad she meets at the playground played by Patrick Wilson. Their dependence on the excitement of their sexual encounters forms the basis of the plot of the film. Both actors do a great job of leaving their souls at the door for these characters. Jennifer Connolly also performs well as Wilson’s pushy but caring wife Kathy. As with his last film, the Academy may reward Todd Field’s cast with another round of nominations.

- 20/11/06

The Last Kiss


"What you feel only matters to you. It's what you do to the people you love. That's what matters. That's the only thing that counts."

Written by:
Paul Haggis

Directed by:
Tony Goldwyn

Zach Braff
Jacinda Barrett
Rachel Bilson
Blythe Danner
Tom Wilkinson

My rating: 3/5

This film examines the love lives of 5 couples, four on the brink of their 30's and one couple well into their golden years. The story focuses on four friends, each representative of various stages of life. Kenny represents adolescence as he screws around and doesn't have any plans to settle down, Izzy has just had his heart broken, Michael (Braff) is recently engaged with a baby on the way and Chris's wife has just had a baby and they are going through a break-up.

The main focus of the story is Michael and his charming, kind, innocent girlfriend. He is struggling with a fear of commitment and faces all the horrors of settling down; the fear of never sleeping with another woman again being the main fear. As the film's protagonist, he is very unlikeable and after recklessly cheating on his girlfriend with a silly college girl (Bilson) he only feels remorse when he is found out. This is the film's main weakness. It is hard for the audience to believe that Michael genuinely made a mistake and has now learned his lesson. It just feels like he has had the rug pulled out from under his comfortable life and his regard for his girlfriend is merely a selfish comfort zone and she deserves much more. Presumably, the director cast Braff because of his "loveable screw-up" persona but here he just comes across as an arrogant, soulless yuppie. It is the women in this film that carry the performances. They do most of the work in capturing the tragedy of the maturing relationship. Mostly, the men descend into "American Pie" characterisation that should have been avoided at all costs.

The film, however, has a lot going for it. The interweaving stories work very well and the film is an enjoyable watch and inarguably well-written by Oscar-winner Paul Haggis. The relationships are realistic and if viewed as a cynical comment on the cruelty of frivolity, it may have worked very nicely. However, the ending of the film proves that this was not the writer's intention.

The film is beautifully shot, has a great soundtrack but by the end of it you are very sorry you have no real hero to root for.