Into the Labyrinth

Wednesday July 25, 2007 in films | recent cinema

I had it all planned out…

This is my favourite time of the year for lounging, and due to a combination of having the house to myself for a while and being in the middle of a transition period (I am starting a new job in August), I’d decided to take it easy over a long stretch of summer evenings, reading in the garden as the sun set in front of me…

Well it hasn’t quite turned out that way, and it’s mostly been snatched moments in between rain, wind and cold. It’s cold now, and although not yet seven o’ clock I’m inside. No sunset worth seeing tonight.

But the nights drawing in a little quicker than expected has meant that I’ve finally got round to seeing Pan’s Labyrinth. This is a film that caught my eye sometime ago, and following several passionate recommendations from the film critic Mark Kermode (a man I have the greatest respect for, despite his extraordinary hairstyle) I decided to rent the DVD.

Pan’s Labyrinth, or El Laberinto Del Fauno, is a Spanish language film by the director Guillermo del Toro. I was expecting out and out fantasy from the trailers I’d seen and this is satisfied by a large part of the film. There’s some extraordinary imaginary creatures, both charming and terrifying. Perhaps the most well known image from the film is … well … this one:

Pan's Labyrinth

But this definitely isn’t for children; apart from the fantasy scenes being the stuff of disturbing nightmares there’s worse to come. The backdrop of the film is fascist Spain in 1944, and the fantasy world that a young girl called Ofelia buries herself in only hides her momentarily from brutal reality. Her mother is heavily pregnant and both are in the charge of a sadistic army captain called Vidal, brilliantly played by Sergi L√≥pez. Rebels haunt the nearby woods and Vidal makes it his duty to destroy them, resulting in some unforgettably powerful scenes in recent cinema.

Pan’s Labyrinth is an incredible film; Ofelia is scolded for the books she loves reading and the fantasy world she creates, but I left the film wanting to join her to forget the terrible darkness of the Second World War. It also made me question myself; did I find fairytale scares as chilling as real human brutality, was I enjoying cinematic violence (both real and imaginary) in equal measures – what’s real and what’s imaginary on the cinema screen?

Ultimately this film asked me, if you indulge in fairy tales and then meet a real life bogeyman, what do you do? The most frightening thing to face of all…


Bridge to Terabithia

Tuesday May 29, 2007 in recent cinema | children

For our Bank Holiday film treat, my daughter asked if we could see Bridge to Terabithia. I agreed, although I wasn’t expecting great things from this film, and was ushered into the cinema imagining a poor rehash of The Chronicles of Narnia. After the titles had rolled I realised we were in for something different. The trailers and posters had wildly misrepresented the film; no abuse of CGI, no over egging of the Fantasy pudding and no British actors in mildly villainous roles. Bridge to Terabithia is a quite brilliant children’s film that doesn’t simply rely on technical wizardry and British thesps hamming it up.

This is an adaptation of Katherine Paterson book, where Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) is a quiet schoolkid who befriends new girl Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb). While only child Leslie’s parents are dreamy authors, Jesse has three sisters and his parents are struggling with their debts. His father (played by Robert Patrick – still as creepy as he was in Terminator II) berates his son, a gifted artist, for dwelling too long in imaginary worlds and not gaining a foothold on reality. Indeed, Jesse and Leslie do make a fine pair, escaping from the harsh real world of classroom anguish and school bullies to their imaginary world of Terabithia, just a short rope swing across a backyard river.

Bridge to Terabithia keeps its special effects in check, relying instead on the two excellent leads. It’s a very well paced and thoughtful film. There’s also one of the most shocking twists I’ve ever encountered in a children’s film. No spoilers here – but be warned. This is a film that might bore the under-eights, especially if they’re expecting their fill of imaginary creatures and fantasy. But my daughter, thinking we were in for another Narnia, really enjoyed it. Something different from the usual Multiplex fare and well worth seeing.

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Fuzzy Monsters

Saturday March 17, 2007 in recent cinema | comedy

Hot Fuzz is the new British comedy film starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, last seen together in Shaun of the Dead. I was particularly interested in seeing Hot Fuzz because it was filmed on location in Wells, very near to where I work in Somerset. I like to play the spot the location game when watching British films, as well as playing:

The spot Bill Nighy and Jim Broadbent game

How long before Bill Nighy turns up on screen in a British comedy? In Hot Fuzz it’s exactly four minutes. A little longer for Jim to make an appearance, but he’s there within half an hour.

The spot the obviously themed soundtrack game

Wells is doubling for a fictional country village, with the usual fetes and village greens. The soundtrack includes Village Green Preservation Society and Village Green by The Kinks. Hmmm, not very original.

The quickly decide on the type of plot we’re in for game

Hot Fuzz explores the fish out of water scenario. An outstanding London policeman is promoted to Sergeant but relocated to work in the country. There he must adjust to the quieter pace of life and the eccentric ways of the locals. In many ways it is similar to the TV series Life on Mars, with the strange country life being just as alien to the hero as being stuck in 1973.

My games aside, I enjoyed Hot Fuzz very much until about half an hour from the end when the film decides to dance through as many film genres as it can. It’s a very funny comedy, but it just goes mad. There’s horror suddenly thrown into the mix, with violent murders taking place, and for a moment I thought it was going to descend into either The Wicker Man (there’s even a cameo from Edward Woodward) or The Hills Have Eyes. Eventually it settles for being a buddy-buddy cop film with cartoon gun battles. Not bad, but I would have preferred more of the gentle comedy and more use made of the excellent supporting cast who include Paddy Considine, Kenneth Cranham and Billie Whitelaw.

Apparently the team who brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are working on a third film already. They haven’t revealed what genre they’ll be tackling, although I’ll still be playing my games when I go to see it.

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