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El laberinto del fauno (2006)
Harmful at best
As I see movies made within the past 20 years climb the ranks of the IMDb top 250 with alarming speed, I wonder what on earth is happening. I see that this movie is at #41, higher than Chinatown, The Third Man, To Kill a Mockingbird, Alien, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Metropolis, and even The Wizard of Oz. Does Pan's Labyrinth deserve such high praise? Yes, it is steeped in intellectual metaphor and is crafted in such a Philip K. Dickian manner that the audience is left wondering what was real in the film. I applaud the filmmakers abilities in this manner, but regarding what they are willing to portray, they have the restraint of sociopaths. This movie contains some of the most wretched, horrific violence and psychologically uncomfortable character interactions I have ever seen in a film. Early in the movie, we watch as the cruel Captain Vidal crushes the face of an innocent young man while his helpless father watches. Vidal shoots the father moments later, after the man had to watch his son die in front of him.
Art is no longer on the minds of movie makers, instead they revel in their abilities to accurately replicate grisly murders and terrible nightmares. Suggesting violence gives way to indulging in the talents of the make up artists and the FX men. Subtlety and metaphor are discarded so the audience is not simply a witness to gruesome murders, but is forced to be a part of them. The story, fascinating as its concept may be, is buried under layers of constant uncomfortableness. There is no relief for the audience. Thanks to the movie establishing the evil of Vidal early on, the audience squirms in dreaded anticipation for what his next cruel act will be, and who he will direct his wrath towards. The movie ultimately delivers, committing the cardinal sin that a movie can make: showing the graphic death of a child. Pay It Forward tried this bit of emotional manipulation, and lost any credibility it had as a story. The narrative was lost, the escapism destroyed. Once the innocent little girl died in Pan's Labyrinth, the audience remembers that they're watching a story and their emotions are being toyed with.
I despise seeing such films because I ultimately feel anger not towards the characters in the films, but at the filmmakers themselves for presenting me with such atrocities. I know Pan's Labyrinth is based in folklore, but I don't believe for a second that this is any kind of fairy tale. When a parent reads a child Hansel and Gretel, the visuals are very cartoony and are relayed through the buffer of said parent. With this "film," there is nothing but blood seeping from the mouth of an innocent little girl to tell the audience that the fairy tale is over. A fairy tale for adults? That's false advertising and I hope that all with weak stomachs are fairly warned.
Children of Men (2006)
A very poignant warning
...to stop seeing movies that critics like. I had the unfortunate experience of viewing this "film" one evening. A friend was in from out of town so my family decided we'd buy a movie for the evening's entertainment. I was instructed to buy this critically acclaimed movie that had just come out titled, Children of Men. I remembered the previews, such an interesting premise. Why was humanity no longer bearing children? What sort of message would the film put across? Clive Owen was supposed to have been lucky to miss out on playing Bond for this role, so I was excited.
Wow, was I wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
We watched. Slowly, our suspicions that the reviewers had duped us (misery loves company as they say...) were panning out. Now, normally I dislike when I see overly negative reviews on the IMDb. "Just don't watch it," I think, "please don't drag the rating down." But, when I saw this was in the top 150, beating out such classics as Yojimbo, Annie Hall, The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The General, and even Gone With the Wind, I couldn't take it lying down. What I will do is outline, briefly, the many problems I see with this film.
1. An obvious agenda with which the makers feel they must bludgeon the audience. Michael Caine's character is a pot growing ex-reporter hippie who lives with his disabled wife (whom he helps commit suicide halfway through the film). He has various stickers in his home that are common these days, rather brainless political stickers with slogans like, "No more Bush," "War is Bad." I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea. Kinda funny that even though the film takes place in the year 2027, this guy would still have anti-Bush stickers. Any message you're trying to get across, producers? Also, there is a constant "big brother" idea running throughout the film, any democratic government is pretty darn oppressive and evil. Also, the Greenpeace... I'm sorry, I mean a boat called the Tomorrow shows up at the end of the film to save the day. The people who own the Tomorrow are part of the never defined Human Project. The audience has little clue as to the identity of the people in charge of the Human Project and the movie sure as heck isn't going to tell anybody.
2. Constant uncomfortableness. In movies where the characters are running from someone, the audience needs occasional reprieves. The characters need to get to a place of safety, even if it's momentary. Otherwise, the audience begins to squirm. Children of Men, however, wants to make sure that you feel as though your television were chaffing you. This is indicative of a movie-making philosophy that is steeped in the literal rather than the metaphoric, and is indicative of lazy writing. Yes, the characters are uncomfortable, and that is necessary to portray, but once the audience is made to feel uncomfortable, the movie has lost focus. The main characters are always running, always being double crossed, always watching loved ones die, always getting in gun battles. They rarely get a chance for dialog, and when they do, it's out of place because their talking in the middle of a skirmish.
3. Neverending gore, shooting, violence, and gallons upon gallons of blood. For some reason, modern filmmakers have decided that their audiences want to see what it's like when a person gets shot, stabbed, blown apart, disemboweled, etc. The reason these things weren't shown much in the films of yore was not just that they didn't have the technology to accurately replicate the human anatomy, it's that graphic violence is a cheap way to toy with the emotions of the audience. It's why people look down on slasher flicks; they're gratuitous and unnecessarily gory. It's more artistic to see the facial reaction of the person who's doing the shooting rather than seeing the blood spray from the wound of the person getting shot (see Lawrence of Arabia, this was actually a plot point). In this movie, they show anything they can. Limbs are torn off (in the first five minutes, actually), people get holes put in their heads, blood pours everywhere. In the scene where Micheal Caine gets shot, it takes about five minutes and twenty bullets for him to die. I don't want to watch that. And I question the sanity of people that do.
4. Bland performance after bland performance. Everyone seems bored, high, or full of caffeine. Clive Owen's character is a typical indie film anti-hero in a movie that desperately needed a hero. I never felt a connection with him because the movie never presented a reason for me to like him. Owen's character is dissatisfied with everything, rarely showed any emotion other than squirming fear, and never makes a concrete decision that wasn't already made for him. The character of Kee, played by Claire-Hope Ashitey, never allows the audience to find anything likable about her. She smokes some pot while still pregnant with her child, she swears constantly, she admits that she has no idea who the father is, and instead of telling Clive Owen she's pregnant she decides to strip for him. I thought the "Code" in the 1930's, banning pretty much everything we plop into movies now regarding drugs, sexuality, and violence went too far. If the "Code" were still in effect, we would not have films like The Godfather, Braveheart, or The Matrix. But, I'd rather watch nothing but "Code" films if it means Children of Men is the crap that's going to get pushed on us.
So, if you like this film, please feel free to explain why. I don't mind the discourse, really. But please, put this movie in its place. Don't rate it higher than The Conversation, It Happened One Night, The African Queen, Duck Soup, and Groundhog Day.
Loonatics Unleashed (2005)
This is nothing I haven't seen before. Teen Titans, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League. It does have a slight twist, however. These superheroes are based on characters from a series of cinema shorts from the 1930's through the 1960's that featured a rotating cast of wacky characters performing acts of violence on each other. Few Superheroes have such lineage. The result is, well, mixed. I get a sense of forced characterization, that the show is constantly reminding me that, yes indeed, these are descendants of the Looney Toons. The characters are: Ace/Bugs, Danger Duck/Daffy, Lexi/Lola (a character added to the canon in Space Jam), Slam/Tasmanian Devil, Tech/Wile E. Coyote, and Rev Runner/Road Runner. I think that it would have been more interesting to allow the characters to hint at their heritage rather than try to act like their ancestors. Ace sounds way too much like Bugs, and the accent is merely distracting. I would prefer a voice closer to that of Robin in the 1992 Batman series. Something youthful, but mature. Not a surfer dude Bugs Bunny. Similarly, Duck sounds far too much like Daffy. The odd thing is that Tech sounds nothing like Wile E. It's a bit confusing that they would have Ace and Duck sound so much like Bugs and Daffy, but have a completely different voice for Tech. And it's unfortunate that they would make Rev talk so fast. I understand that the character's fast, but the Flash from Justice League doesn't talk fast. Rev's motor mouth makes it difficult to give Rev very many lines, which is unfortunate because he is voiced by the very talented Rob Paulsen. Also, some of their superpowers seem arbitrary. I understand the Tornado power of Slam, as the Tasmanian Devil always looked like a small tornado. I understand the genius intelligence and regenerative powers of Tech, as Wile E. was a super genius who could fall off a cliff and be OK. Rev Runner's speed is obvious. But I don't really understand Duck's teleportation, Lexi's "brain blasts", or Ace's laser eyes. They seem like they're "cool powers" added because the writers couldn't think of anything else. The Incredibles did an excellent job of matching personality to power. Dash's speed, Violet's invisibility, Bob's invulnerability, Helen's flexibility, etc. I suppose time will tell if the show will give us more dimension to the characters. Teen Titans excels at that.