Writer/director Alexis Dos Santos sets his distinctive coming-of-age comedy/drama in the small town of Patagonia, Argentina where 15-year-old Lucas (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) and his best friend Nacho (Nahuel Viale) create Violent Femmes-inspired music for their band. Lucas and Nacho share an ambivalent crush on Andrea (Ines Efron), a bespectacled girl with similar lustful thoughts as the boys. Dos Santos intercuts reverie sequences shot on Super 8 to give internal meaning to his teen characters’ awkward sexual confusion that veers between polarities of gender. "Glue" is an inspired artistic effort at capturing the sense of urgency, freedom and alienation of a group of teenagers growing up in a cultural vacuum that ironically gives them space to experiment and explore. As part of the New Argentine Cinema, "Glue" is a bold and tasteful film that wears its warts well.

In Spanish with English subtitles. (Picture-This Home Video) (B-)

November 15, 2007 in Foreign | Permalink


Childhood Fantasies
By Cole Smithey


"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. In discussing the leftist political themes of his films ("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 Mexican director embraces abnormality and moral ambiguity in "Pan’s Labyrinth," a film he wrote and directed as a deeply personal treatise on the defense mechanisms of a child dealing with war and death. It is a surreal and dark fairytale about resistance and sacrifice from the point of view of a resourceful young child.

Ofelia (played with immeasurable grace by 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 while exploring an old garden labyrinth where she meets a peculiar faun (Doug Jones) who takes over as mentor and assigns Ofelia three tasks to prove her royalty as a princess. Ofelia's dark fantasies of fairies and monsters are matched by the savage hostilities incited by Captain Vidal’s obsessive reign of power. The once 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.

The Special Features on this 2-disc set are so lavish that you could easily spend a rainy day and a night pouring over them. On the first disc is an audio commentary by Guillermo del Toro. The articulate and passionate director gives generous descriptions of his inspirations for creating the story, and gives colorful anecdotes about his process, including minutiae about camera angles, color considerations and overall intentions. For budding filmmakers or appreciative fans, del Toro’s evocative narration provides great insight into the mind of master filmmaker.

The second disc is made up of several making-of featurettes. "The Power of Myth" is a fourteen-minute discussion with del Toro talking about the movie’s origin in fairy tales, not the least of which is "Little Red Riding Hood."

"Pan and the Fairies" is an in-depth look at the visual effects and make-up designs that were created specifically for the movie. There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes material displaying the inner workings of Doug Jones’ beautiful costumes. This is one featurette you could watch several times without getting bored.

"The Color and the Shape" is a brief featurette about the movie’s color palette, and "The Lullaby" provides a look into the development of the film’s haunting musical motif.

The "Director’s Notebook" segment is a compilation of excised footage and an interactive storybook with brief clips and a storyboard gallery.

Most fascinating is a full episode of "The Charlie Rose Show" with Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Babel") and Alfonso Cuarón ("Children of Men"). Regarded as the most original minds working in cinema today, the three directors prove to be kindred spirits playing on the same team of creating vital cinema on an international scale.

Aspect ratio is 1.85:1, with sound processed in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, 2.0 Surround and DTS-ES 6.1. (Movie: A / DVD features: A) (New Line)

July 3, 2007 in Foreign | Permalink


Best Foreign Film Oscar winner "Tsotsi" is a solid-if-predictable drama set in the ramshackle townships of Johannesburg, South Africa where Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae), a young thug, gets more than he bargains for when he car jacks a BMW with an infant in the backseat. Tsotsi struggles with keeping the baby alive as he desperately attempts to reconcile his life of crime with the newfound respect for life he learns from the woman that he enlists to help take care of the baby. Writer/director Gavin Hood shows great promise with a socially relevant drama that could just as easily take place in America. Special features include a director’s commentary track, three alternate endings with director’s commentary by the director, deleted scenes with optional director’s commentary, a making-of featurette, a music video, and a short film by Gavin Hood. Aspect ratio is 2.35:1, with sound quality processed in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.

(Movie – Four Stars, DVD features – Three Stars) Rated R, 94 mins. (Buena Vista Home Video)

August 9, 2006 in Drama, Foreign | Permalink

Black Orpheus


Marcel Camus’ reinterpretation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice reaches epic dramatic heights and dark emotional depths in this winner of the 1959 Palme d’Or at Cannes and of the 1960 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Attributed as the cultural milestone that introduced Bossa Nova music to the Western world (via Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa’s musical score) "Black Orpheus" sets its mythic tale against Rio do Janeiro’s Carnival where popular streetcar driver Orpheus (Breno Mello) falls madly in love with a lovely country girl named Eurydice (played exquisitely by Marpessa Dawn). A ‘snake bite’ from an electrical wire robs Orpheus of his dream lover and his is driven to explore the mysterious land of the dead to reunite with her. Infectious Samba and Bossa Nova rhythms permeate the beautifully filmed earthy Brazilian atmosphere of Carnival. "Black Orpheus" is an unforgettable classic of cinematic poetry, music and myth. Special features include the full uncut version of the film (with four minutes of previously unseen material), a French-dubbed soundtrack and the French theatrical trailer. Aspect ratio is 1.33:1, with sound quality in remastered monaural.
(Movie – Five Stars, DVD features – Three Stars) Not Rated, 107 mins. (Criterion)

August 1, 2006 in Foreign | Permalink