178 posts categorized "War"

October 28, 2023

PAN'S LABYRINTH — SHOCKTOBER!

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ColeSmithey.comColeSmithey.comGuillermo del Toro Relishes the Horrors of Childhood

ColeSmithey.comIn discussing the leftist political themes of "The Devil’s Backbone" and "Pan’s Labyrinth," gothic horror maestro Guillermo del Toro responds by condemning what is considered "normal" because "normal creates inadequacy immediately." The transplanted director from Mexico embraces abnormality and moral ambiguity in "Pan’s Labyrinth." It's a film he wrote and directed as a deeply personal treatise on the defense mechanisms of a child dealing with war and death. "Pan's Labyrinth" is a surreal and dark fairy tale about resistance and sacrifice from the point of view of a resourceful child.

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Ofelia (played with immeasurable grace by child actress Ivana Baquero) is uprooted with her ailing pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) during Franco's 1944 postwar Spain to go live with Ofelia’s stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) of Spain’s Civil Guard. Mother and daughter arrive at an abandoned rural mill that Vidal has converted into a military headquarters to oppose the local "maquis" freedom fighters. Ofelia momentarily escapes the farm’s oppressive ambience to explore an old garden labyrinth where she meets a peculiar faun (Doug Jones) who acts as a mentor. The strange creature assigns Ofelia three tasks to prove her royalty as a princess.

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Ofelia's dark fantasies of fairies and monsters are matched by the savage hostilities incited by Captain Vidal’s obsessive reign of power. The hideous but friendly faun gradually becomes beautiful as Ofelia fulfills his commands of obtaining a key from a repulsive toad, visiting a pale monster with eyeballs in the palms of his hands at a banquet from which she must not eat, and releasing the blood of an innocent. This is thought-provoking stuff that del Toro presents with fluid attention to detail. You couldn't hope for a more visually lush experience.

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After the film’s premiere in Cannes del Toro said, "In this movie, I think the fascist is more terrifying than any of the creatures Ofelia encounters in her fantasy. I feel that the more humanist point of view is the one that I like. I love "Beauty and the Beast" by Jean Cocteau. I love "Frankenstein" by James Whale. I like "Night of the Hunter."

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Taking into account del Toro's stated influences, you can see where each have an impact on the film he has crafted from every angle. Here we have gothic horror combined with fantasy in a purely original way that nevertheless breathes with a sense of tradition.

Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 1.12.53 PM

"Pan’s Labyrinth" is set at the end of World War II when the Spanish resistance still had a fighting chance against Franco’s regime if allied support arrived in time. The movie works intriguingly opposite Steven Soderbergh’s "The Good German" as a phantasmagorical reflection of an underground reality seething beneath the scorched and bloody soldier-inhabited earth above.

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Guillermo del Toro is a bold creator of modern fairytales in the tradition of the Grimm Brothers, as mixed with a healthy sprinkling of Greek mythology. In planning his films, the director draws colorful drawings of the creatures he will bring to life, such as the mandrake root that Ofelia places in a bowl of milk-and-water beneath her mother’s bed to cure her sickness and protect her unborn child.

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As del Toro points out, "There is a mythology that you can grow a baby out of a mandrake." Mandrake is another name for ginseng, but del Toro proposes the plant was traditionally born under the gallows at the feet of hanging victims who spasmed as they died. "You had to look for it under a full moon with a black dog and wear protection on your ears because, when the dog digs for it, the mandrake screams and the dog dies. And if you don’t have protection, you die." The childhood desperation that permeates his dramatic sensibility is elevated by del Toro’s sincere devotion to imaginary belief systems rooted in cycles of nature.

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Del Toro says, "Pan’s Labyrinth" is an adult movie about being a kid. My favorite kid movies are "The 400 Blows," or "Au revoir, les enfants" by Louis Malle or "The Tin Drum." None of these are movies that I would play along with "Chicken Little" for my daughters, but they are movies, nevertheless, about childhood."

Add "Pan's Labyrinth" to that list.

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Rated R. 120 mins.

4 Stars ColeSmithey.comCozy Cole

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October 27, 2023

STARSHIP TROOPERS — SHOCKTOBER!

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does. This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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Starship_troopersPaul Verhoeven's presciently cynical satire of American politics is loosely based on Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 science fiction novel which went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960.

The movie is equal parts comedy, war action, spectacle, and satirical commentary.

Verhoeven's outrageous sci-fi epic piles on layers of observations about the nature of militarization in a story about young-and-lovely high school graduates (equal opportunity for girls and boys) going off to war against an invading army of giant arachnid bugs from the planet of Kelndathu.

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All this wasted beauty. 

In the film's near future, American society has fully integrated political indoctrination through a constant barrage of public media propaganda to effect its fascist motives.

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In a world where "Service guarantees citizenship," even if the rich don't have the right to be citizens, every kid wants to do a great job for the Fatherland — and die! Oh, the glory of war. 

Starship-troopers

"Starship Troopers" is a canny war satire that outshines even Kubrick's great satire "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."

The bugs, the bugs!

Rated R. 130 mins. 

5 Stars MR. CLEANCozy Cole

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October 25, 2023

FORBIDDEN GAMES — SHOCKTOBER!

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does. This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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ColeSmithey.comRene Clement's 1952 adaptation of Francois Boyer's 1944 novel is an exquisitely pragmatic film about the corruptive effect of war on children. Fitting then that the wartime movie received a “G” rating upon its release.

The documentarian-turned-feature filmmaker Clement tells the horrifying story of devastating familial loss from the eyes of two traumatized adolescent protagonists.

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It is June, 1940. After her parents are killed beside her on a street leading out of Paris during the Nazi blitzkrieg, five-year-old Paulette (played by Brigitte Fossey) reaches out to compare he mother’s dead cheek with her own.

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In this one bitter moment the filmmaker sums up the depravity of all wars. Things can only get much worse before they get better. Paulette may have survived the attack, but she is doomed as a human being.

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The newly minted refugee carries her dead dog with her. She doesn’t even cry because she isn’t old enough to even begin processing the cataclysmic loss she has just endured, much less imagine a future for herself. Death will forever be her constant companion, mentor, and parent. War has turned Paulette into a monster in the blink of an eye.

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Later, Michel Dolle (Georges Poujouly), a 10-year-old peasant boy, discovers Paulette wandering alone in the countryside. Michel naturally convinces his family to take the little girl in to live with them.

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Puppy-love blooms. Sadism arrives.

Paulette requests that Michel go out and kill animals to add her private animal cemetery in an abandoned mill. Stolen crucifixes are a necessary part of Paulette’s alter of death. This little female Hitler has plans to eventually include human corpses in her collection. What starts out as a children’s game has far greater implications for the future. The traumatized little girl attempts to reenact her parents’ deaths that haunt her conscious and sub-conscious thoughts.

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"Forbidden Games" caused a scandal when it was released in 1952 because it co-opted a fictional story and embellished it with the recent realities of World War II. The film is every bit as controversial today for its transparently fuming view of the permanent damage that war inflicts on its youngest survivors. You’re never too young to repeat the atrocities of your elders, is a message that comes across loud and clear in this disturbing film, made all the more powerful via Rene Clement’s neo-realist approach.

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At the time of this picture’s release, Rene Clement was already a household name connected to war films due to his popular Resistance docudrama “Battle of the Rails” (1945) and “Les Maudits,” about intrigue on a German U-boat near the end of World War II.

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Clement’s early years spent studying architecture informed his ability to articulate the power of buildings, streets, bridges, rivers, and objects over the variable ability of children to extrapolate personal truths about their place in the world around them. Hope is just so much wasted effort in the face of bombs.

Not Rated. 86 mins.

5 Stars SF SHOCKTOBER!
Cozy Cole

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